BY RICHARD MADDOX
LONDON’S SCIENCE MUSEUM may seem like a strange place to meet a veteran from the early months of the Second World War that made their last operational flight on 18 August 1940 – when the Luftwaffe made an all-out attack on Fighter Command airfields protecting London – and crashed landed at RAF Croydon. But there on the third floor is a Hawker Hurricane aircraft that did just that and more.
Hurricane L1592 was number forty six in a production run of more than 14,500 aircraft of all marks of the fighter produced from 1937 until 1944. It was to serve with a number of squadrons. Damaged in combat over Dunkirk on 1 June 1940, it returned and crash-landed at RAF Tangmere.
On this occasion its pilot Pilot Officer Tony Woods-Scawen was uninjured but he would loose his life three months later – with in a day of the death of his brother, (see ‘Brothers in Arms post on this blog).
Once repaired the aircraft was issued to No 615 Squadron at Kenley and on 18 August it was being flown by Pilot Officer David Looker when it was attacked by a Messerschmitt bf 109 German fighter near Sevenoaks in Kent.
As the bullets hit, Looker threw the Hurricane into a spin to make the German pilot believe that the aircraft was doomed. Suitability convinced of the imminent death of the British pilot (and no doubt watching his fuel gauge) the Messerschmitt looked for another target.
Having lost his pursuer, Looker thought about what to do next. His plane was damaged and so he undid his seat belts and prepared to bale out.
Just then he sighted RAF Croydon – about four miles from his base at Kenley – below and decided to land there.
With both Kenley and Biggin Hill under attack, and Croydon having been badly hit three days before the defences at Croydon were on full alert and expecting to be under attack themselves at any moment. Seeing an unexpected aircraft approaching they opened fire on the crippled British fighter.
Dodging more bullets – this time British – he crashed landed on the airfield, knocking himself out as the aircraft tipped over on its nose. An RAF corporal left his air raid shelter and pulled the pilot from the wrecked aircraft.
Looker was to spend a month in hospital recovering but remembered nothing about what happened that day. In October 1940 he became an instructor and began training pilots in Canada. He left the RAF at the end of the war and died in 1995.
Meanwhile his aircraft – which was due to be replaced on the Squadron before it crashed this last time – was repaired once more. But it never flew in combat again.
Amongst other things, it became an extra in two post-war films – ‘Reach for the Sky’ and ‘Angels One Five’ – both filmed at Kenley.
In 1963 it was given to the Science Museum as an example of the development of aircraft construction.
Today it remains at the Museum where it has been housed for more than fifty years and is now the oldest surviving example of a Hawker Hurricane in the world.