George Norman Hancock, Old Nottinghamian (3)

As we saw last time, George Norman Hancock was killed on March 31st 1954. At the time he was working with the Ministry of Supply as the Senior Air Force Representative to the Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics in the Ministry of Supply. He was flying a Gloster Meteor F8 with the serial number WH312:

The first jet fighter built by the British, the Meteor would eventually be produced in the thousands and be used by at least 15 other countries. Its shape was not as impressive as the Messerschmitt Me 262 but it was relatively successful and state-of-the–art, until aircraft like the Mig-15 and the F-86 Sabre came along. As somebody once wrote, it was “not a sophisticated aircraft in its aerodynamics, but proved to be a successful combat fighter.” The Meteor had two Rolls-Royce Derwent turbojets and could reach 600 mph and 43,000 feet with a range of 600 miles. It was armed with four 20 mm Hispano cannons and could also carry various combinations of rockets on the wings:

Norman was flying a Meteor F8 which seems to have been a distinct improvement on the F4. It had a longer fuselage, carried more fuel and had an improved tail shape and an ejection seat as standard.

Norman had taken off at 14:30 from Farnborough for what is called a familiarisation flight, which means that he was just making sure that he could fly the plane and knew what it could do and what it couldn’t do. In case of problems, this is often carried out at altitude and apparently Norman had been flying around at about 36,000 feet without any dramas whatsoever. As he returned to land at Farnborough, though, he reported that one of the engines was acting up. Around 15:14, he radioed the Farnborough Control Tower with the words, “This is Wicker 98. Downwind on one” which means that one engine was now not working at all. “Wicker 98” was his call-sign. Apparently the Control Tower asked him if this was just a practice but when he replied in the negative, they scrambled all the crash and rescue vehicles out onto the runway.

As it drew close to Farnborough witnesses saw the Meteor, at first, flying apparently quite normally until it began to plunge down towards Runway 25. The Meteor’s port wing seemed to lose its lift because of the loss in power of the stricken engine and the aircraft began to descend inexorably towards 400 feet and lower. Poor George had lost power and he had therefore lost lift. A catastrophic combination.
The aircraft was now only just clearing the tree tops and then sank so close to the ground that George clipped the cowshed of Mytchett Farm at Frimley Green and then brushed the adjacent roof of a garage. The Meteor performed a cartwheel and hit the ground:

It exploded in a fireball of aviation fuel and broke up into thousands of pieces:

Poor George must have been killed in a split second and hopefully, he didn’t realise what was happening. In the fiery aftermath, both buildings and up to six vehicles were destroyed.

George’s will produced one or two interesting footnotes. At the time of his death, he was living at The Old Manor House, West End, Beeston. Beeston is to the south west of Nottingham and West End is between the Police Station on Chilwell Road and the Recreation Ground and Bandstand on Queens Road. The Old Manor House, is reckoned to be the oldest surviving house in Beeston. Nowadays, it is a Grade II listed building and is currently used as a dance studio:

George left £10,751 and his estate was administered by his sister Grace, who never married.

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20 Comments

Filed under Aviation, History, Nottingham, The High School

20 responses to “George Norman Hancock, Old Nottinghamian (3)

  1. Tragic – and so topical at this time (Boeing crisis)

  2. A sad tale indeed, John. It is good you have helped us to remember him.

    • Thank you. I came across him as I was researching about the School’s WW2 casualties. I found one post-war casualty who died as a consequence of having used up his health and strength on the Burma-Siam railway four years previously, two in crashed Meteors and one in a crashed Chipmunk. The most dreadful was the young man on HMS Affray, the last British submarine to be lost. The book “Subsmash” by Alan Gallop is absolutely superb and well worth reading.

  3. Interesting building, I wonder where the windows went?

  4. It’s tax evasion. In the times of King William in 1696 (I looked up the king and the date), some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to tax rich people who had big houses. They thought the easiest way would be to tax them on the number of windows they had. People with more than six windows had to pay up. In order to avoid the tax, house owners would brick up all their windows except six.
    The tax people reckoned without the fact that the rich people had brains and just bricked up the windows of their house until they had only six windows left and were ineligible for the tax. Lots of small villages out in the country seem to have houses in this category for some reason.
    One thing I did find out was that this is supposed to be the origin of the phrase “daylight robbery”.

  5. Chris Waller

    What an appalling tragedy. Much more so in that he survived a war only to die in what was essentially a practise flight. Notwithstanding the current Boeing débacle, we forget too easily the sacrifices made so that we can fly in such safety these days.

    • Absolutely. I think back in those days every flight undertaken was putting your life on the line. This lasted until at least 1965, with airliner crashes being relatively frequent until well into the sixties. I remember when we were at school a British Midland airliner crashing in Stockport. I was very struck by the fact that on the TV news the aircraft’s paint scheme was exactly the same as the aircraft I used to see flying over our house. Indeed, I may have seen that very aircraft.
      I think the fact that my Dad left the RAF in 1946 and never set foot in a plane again may be a relevant statistic as well!

  6. Nicholas

    This is fascinating – thanks very much for posting it. I have a small correction: Grace Hancock married Angus Fraser in 1969, and they lived at (I think) 265 High Road, Chilwell. They were our next door neighbours while I was a pupil at the High School, and I remember them as lovely people who seemed very happy together. Angus died suddenly in late 1990, and a few years later Grace moved across the road to the Landermeads care home, where she died sometime in the late 1990s. Grace mentioned her brother a few times, but I don’t really have anything of substance to add to your very detailed research. I’ve a very vague recollection that George was known as Norman to friends and family, but I might have misremembered that.

    • Thank you for all those interesting extra details. For the last four or five years, I have been researching the ONs who died in WW2 and I am very hopeful that I will be able to self-publish possibly more than one volume in the near future. There were also five ONs who died in the post war period, 1947-1954 and I intend to include them. Norman George Hancock is one of them and I will add the details about Grace to the story.
      Whether people were known by their first or second name is a nightmare and one which is virtually impossible to solve nowadays. The question of whether Daniel was called Dan, whether John was called Jack, and so on, is very similar.
      Thanks again for your input.

  7. A really interesting account John and a very sad end indeed.

    • Thank you for your kind words. It’s such a pity that an apparently nice pleasant person should be the one to suffer. I am no expert, but constructing a twin engine aircraft that will not fly properly on one engine, and then giving it comparatively unreliable engines does not seem very sensible to me. And don’t forget, he was a really experienced pilot who had worked at Boscombe Down, not a 19 year old beginner.

      • It certainly doesn’t seem the most sensible of engineering achievements does it. I suppose with jet engines being in their infancy, problems were likely to occur. But, as you say, it’s always the nice ones that seem to suffer!

  8. Very sad, he did a lot with his life though.

    • Yes, he did, Lloyd. More than most of us do, although I suppose that however much time we are granted, it never seems enough!
      And how much time we waste, worrying about pathetic things, shopping for stuff we don’t need, and, above all, doing things just because everybody else does it.

  9. Am reminded of the experimental P-80 which took the life of Richard Bong – The jet engine flamed out at low altitude. Highest scoring ace in the Pacific theater, with 40 kills to his credit.

  10. I am sure he would not have realized what was happening, at least that is what I hope so. I feel the same when I read about air crashes. And I keep thinking about the two planes hitting the World trading centre, What would those passengers have felt ? So tragic.

    • I absolutely agree with you. I hope the victims were unaware of what was happening. The events in New York shock me even now. An Austrian gentleman got into a lot of trouble because he called the event “A perfect work of art by the Devil”, but I see little that is wrong in that.
      Mere men should not be deciding the fate of their fellow human beings. That is for greater powers than us to do.

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