Prototype 1 - G-AODE
G-AODE, the first prototype Herald fitted with 4 Alvis Leonides piston engines was completed by July of 1954 at Handley Page's Reading factory on the edge of Woodley Airfield. It didn't make its first flight from Woodley however as Handley Page decided to strip it down and transport it to Radlett so it could make its first flight from the companies main airfield. Having already secured an order from Queensland Airlines, prior to first flight G-AODE was painted in their colours and completed a 30 minute maiden flight from Radlett on 25th August 1955 with company chief test pilot Hedley G Hazelden at the controls.
A nice early air to air study of G-AODE fitted with the Alvis Leonides piston engines. (Photo © Handley Page Ltd)
While G-AODE completed a fair amount of flying fitted with the Alvis Leonides piston engines it was clear that the Fokker F.27 Friendship and Vickers Viscount both of which had selected the Rolls-Royce Dart turbo-prop engine were gaining orders rapidly and this forced Handley Page to redesign the aeroplane in order to accept the Dart powerplant also. Re-designated the HPR.7, a significant amount of redesign was required in order to accommodate the Darts large 12ft 6in propeller and ensure there was clearance at the forward entrance door. The conversion work was started in May 1957 with completion and first flight being made as the newly dubbed Handley Page 'Dart' Herald on 11th March 1958, again commanded by chief test pilot Hedley G Hazelden.
From its maiden flight as the HPR.7, Hazelden managed to complete over 50 hours of test flying in 5 weeks reporting vast improvements in performance and handling. The test flying indicated that the only major modification required was the enlargement of the fin fillet to prevent rudder locking in single engined climb. With the 'right' poweplant now fitted and testing going well, Handley Page were hopeful of being awarded a full Certificate of Airworthiness by the end of 1958 with production planned to start in February the following year. Significant to picking up new customers and slowing the impact being made by sales of the rival Fokker F-27, Handley Page decided that not only a good showing at the 1958 Farnborough Air Show was required, they would offer the Dart Herald at the show to prospective customers £40,000 less than the Fokker F-27. However, sadly that was not to be.
On Saturday 30th August 1958, just two days before the opening of the Farnborough Air Show, Hedley G Hazelden with 8 passengers on board, one of which was his wife Esma, departed Woodley en-route to Farnborough. An air to air photographic sortie with a Handley Page Victor bomber had been planned prior to the Herald and Victor arriving at Farnborough.
In company with the Victor, the Herald met up with the aircraft being used as a camera ship, itself a Handley Page product. This was a Hastings transport aircraft from Farnborough's Royal Aircraft Establishment. At the completion of the photographic sortie and after departing the formation, while flying at 6,000ft, Hazelden reported a loud bang with an associated affect in yaw control of the aircraft. The number 2 engine had exploded which had led to an intense fuel fed fire. With the extinguisher system failing to control the fire and both directional and roll control of the aircraft deteriorating, Hazelden took the decision that a forced landing was inevitable - he radioed Farnborough "I am on fire, I am crashing".
G-AODE in formation with the Victor minutes before disaster struck. (Photo © Handley Page Ltd)
The fire was so fierce that at 1,500ft the burning #2 engine and nacelle broke away from the aircraft. This led Hazelden to quickly assess the options which were limited and he decided to get the aircraft down as quickly as possible. Luckily a flat field came into view at Milford, just outside Godalming and having been presented with this as the best location available in which to make a belly landing, it wasn't until making his approach to the field at very low altitude that he could see there were 11,000 volt high tension electricity cables in his path with trees at the other end of the field. Hazelden managed to make contact with the ground before the high tension cables with the top of the aircraft's fin brushing the lowest hanging cable. The aircraft slid on its belly into the next field hitting a tree stump which ripped a hole in the fuselage. Upon coming to a stop, amazingly he and all 8 passengers managed to escape unhurt through the hole in the fuselage made by hitting the tree stump. The aircraft continued to burn and had largely burnt out by the time the fire brigade arrived on scene to put out the fire. Close examination of the wreckage once the fire was out revealed that besides the #2 engine and nacelle departing in flight, a significant portion of the starboard tailplane had been burned away indicating the size and ferocity of the fire.
Seen from the RAE Hastings photoship, G-AODE is on the ground in the field on fire, the touchdown marks are clearly visible. (Photo © MoD (PE) Ltd)
The port tail plane of the RAE Hastings can be seen in this image as it circles the crash site assisting in co-ordinating the fire and rescue efforts. (Photo © MoD (PE) Ltd)
G-AODE burning in the field at Milford following the forced landing. The high tension cables the aircraft slid under are just discernible in the background.
The #2 engine was recovered and detailed examination found that the primary failure was fracture of the hollow auxiliary gearbox layshaft. That failure prevented lubricant from reaching the turbine bearings, which starved of oil, overheated and failed. Failure of the bearings led to an uncontained failure of a turbine disc. The disc exited the engine casing severing engine mounting struts and the main fuel feed line causing the fire.
The burnt out remains of G-AODE.
Handley Page chief test pilot, Hedley G Hazelden, inspecting the burnt out wreckage later that day.
Given his flying skills had saved the life of his own and his 8 passengers, Hedley G Hazelden was awarded a Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air and as a thank you received a gold watch from Sir Frederick Handley Page at a ceremony held at Londonderry House on Park Lane in London. The ceremony was attended by all the passengers, each of which received a framed, signed photo from the air to air sortie just before the catastrophic engine failure.
He was also awarded the fin top from the aircraft as a memento of the incident. He later donated it to the Handley Page Association who in turn passed it to The Herald Society at the opening of the Museum of Berkshire Aviation. It is now in the custodianship of the museum where it can be seen on display.
Sir Frederick Handley Page presents Hedley G Hazelden with a gold watch at the ceremony held at Londonderry House, Park Lane, London. One of the framed photos taken during the air to air sortie can be seen hanging on the wall behind them. (Photo © Handley Page Ltd)
The Herald Society Chairman, Lloyd P Robinson, receives G-AODE's fin top from Handley Page Association Chairman, the late Harry Fraser-Mitchell, on the occasion of the opening of the Museum of Berkshire Aviation on 27th March 1993. (Photo © Peter J Cooper)
1954 July - Completed at Woodley Airfield, Berkshire. Designated HPR.3 (fitted with 4 x Alvis Leonides piston engines)
1955 August 25 - First flight from Radlett Airfield, Hertfordshire
1955 September - Static and flying display at Farnborough Air Show
1957 May - Began conversion to 2 x Rolls-Royce Dart 527 turbo-prop engines
1958 March 11 - First flight as Dart powered Herald. Re-designated HPR.7 and named 'Dart Herald'
1958 August 30 - Written off after making a forced landing in a field at Milford near Godalming, Surrey, after #2 engine exploded and caught fire