RAF pilot who flew through Tower Bridge

RAF 100 is a massive event being marked over the next few months with numerous events, concerts and flypasts organised.

But in April 1968, as the Royal Air Force marked its half-century, things were a little different...

There was an event planned for the summer months but not much else to show for an amazing first 50 years in the air.

On April 5, 1968, the Beatles topped the charts with 'Lady Madonna', Harold Wilson was Prime Minister and one RAF pilot decided that something should be done to mark the RAF's 50th anniversary.

Flight Lieutenant Alan Pollock was a pilot with 1 Squadron at the time.

Along with three other aircraft, he took off from an airbase in Sussex to return to 1 Sqn's base in Norfolk.

Minutes into the flight, he broke away in his Hawker Hunter jet and set a course directly for the centre of London.

 

In 1968, the main event planned to celebrate the Royal Air Force's 50th anniversary was a summer airshow at RAF Abingdon in Oxfordshire.

Many in the service felt let down that nothing else was planned in the air.

There were going to be a few parades and a bit of marching up and down, but nothing that would show the RAF off to the taxpaying public in all its glory.

No1 Fighter Squadron had just returned from a busy exercise in Gibraltar to their base at RAF West Raynham in Norfolk.

They had then been sent to RAF Tangmere in Sussex to provide a flypast for a station event.

Whilst on the ground and chatting with RAF personnel and their families, Flt Lt Pollock was horrified to realise that most didn't even appear to know that the RAF's 50th anniversary was being marked.

The next morning, as he prepared to depart with the rest of 1 Squadron for the home base, he decided that he'd do something to focus attention on the Royal Air Force and its 50th anniversary.

He'd obviously need a map to safely navigate his way to his chosen target and found just the man in flight ops. Wobbles aside, Alan was strapped into his Hawker Hunter jet ready for the flight home.

The RAF Pilot Who Made An Unauthorised Flight Through Tower Bridge
A Hawker Hunter

However, shortly after take-off, he used morse code to let the other three aircraft know that he'd lost visual contact with them and would make his own way back.

It was at this point that he set a new course for the very centre of London and the Houses of Parliament.  By this stage, Alan was flying the Hunter so low that people looking out of the sixth-floor windows at the Ministry of Defence building had to look down, not up, to see it!

A quick wing-waggle by way of a salute over the RAF memorial near Whitehall and it was time to head back down the Thames and home.

The jet passed low and fast over Hungerford, Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges and then Alan looked up and saw the majestic site of Tower Bridge ahead.

At the speed he was flying, he only had seconds to decide whether or not to fly between the car deck and upper span. He decided to fly straight through it.

A quick beat up of the airbases at Wattisham, Lakenhall and Mildenhall and it was time to land back at RAF West Raynham to face the music…

The top brass weren't exactly overjoyed at Alan's efforts but also weren't too sure what to do with him.

It was Alan's own suggestion that maybe they ought to start by arresting him, which they promptly did.

In the aftermath, Alan received hundreds of letters of support from the public, his fellow RAF colleagues and even a barrel of beer from the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) airline, the predecessor of British Airways.

Alan was eventually given a medical discharge from the RAF instead of a court-martial, possibly to prevent him having the opportunity to publicly explain that his actions were due to cuts to the Air Force and the lack of RAF 50th celebrations.

He went on to a successful business career.

He remains one of only five people to fly under Tower Bridge and the only one to do it in a jet - a number which is highly unlikely to ever increase.

More: RAF Releases 100 Amazing Photos To Celebrate Centenary

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