One of the country’s most qualified pilots of First World War aircraft died after he lost control of his rare replica plane, an inquest has heard.
John Day, 68, from Horsham, died at the scene of the crash at the Army Aviation Centre in Hampshire – where Prince Harry underwent his flight training.
The inquest in Winchester yesterday was told Mr Day finished building the Fokker Eindekker III (EIII), a single-engine, single-wing replica, in 2012.
The plane, one of only a handful in the world and the only one in use in the UK, was notoriously difficult to fly.
David Linney, a retired RAF and civilian pilot, told the hearing the Great War Display Team gathered at the airfield on April 27 last year to rehearse its routine ahead of the display season.
They completed a successful fly-through in windy conditions, but the weather improved during the second practice that afternoon when the incident happened, he said.
Mr Linney described how Mr Day was carrying out a 180-degree turn but the aircraft continued to turn before nose-diving into the ground from a height of about 150ft.
He said: “This turn steepened, nose low, until the aircraft struck the ground. Shortly after it hadn't rolled out I realised something was wrong, I could do nothing but watch.”
He added: “On impact it almost immediately caught on fire. The fire was very rapid, it almost obliterated the aircraft.”
The incident was investigated by Hampshire Police and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
Nicholas Dan, AAIB accident investigator, said no cause for the accident had been found but added the difficulty of flying the aircraft combined with Mr Day’s relative inexperience of the plane might have been contributory factors.
Recording a verdict of accidental death, Coroner Graham Short said: “I think it is significant that John did not use his radio to tell other members of the team of the problems, which reinforces my view he suddenly found he couldn’t control the plane and was desperately trying to do that rather than call others.”
Mr Short said Mr Day died instantaneously of multiple injuries and would have died before the fire caught hold.
In a statement, members of his display team said: “John was a superb aircraft builder, excellent display pilot and a lovely man who will be missed by all in the team.”