Accident Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c 453, Tuesday 10 March 1914
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Date:Tuesday 10 March 1914
Type:Silhouette image of generic be2 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c
Owner/operator:CFS RFC
Registration: 453
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Upavon, Wiltshire, England -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Departure airport:RFC Upavon, Wiltshire
Destination airport:RFC Upavon, Wiltshire
Confidence Rating: Information is only available from news, social media or unofficial sources
10.3.1914: Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2a 453, Royal Flying Corps Central Flying School, RCA Upavon, Wiltshire. Written off (destroyed) when broke up in dive, Upavon, Wiltshire. Pilot - and sole occupant - Capt Cyril Percy Downer (aged 36) of the Northamptonshire Regiment - was killed. He allegedly pulled out too quickly after a steep dive, tearing off his B.E.2's wings, though John W R Taylor in "C.F.S. Birthplace of Air Power" suggests that the elevators had jammed down. According to the following transcript from the Coroners Inquest into the death of Captain Percy Downer:

"Downer, Cyril
March 13th, 1914

Flying Disasters
Three Officers Killed on the Plain

Following a remarkable immunity from serious mishaps, the Royal Flying Corps has this week struck a patch of very bad luck, and in two successive days the valuable lives of three officers have been lost.

On Tuesday Captain Downer, attached to the Flying School at Upavon, had been out for a trip, and fell from a height of something like 2,000 feet. Scarcely had Salisbury people read the details of the disaster in their morning papers on Wednesday, when news came through that another disaster had occurred in the air at Netheravon, where an Army biplane, with two officers aboard, had come to ground with terrible results.

An inquest in connection with Tuesday’s sad affair was held at Upavon on Wednesday afternoon, when, Captain John Maitland Salmond, Royal Flying Corps, attached to the school, said that as instructor he directed Captain Downer to make the flight about a quarter past nine o’clock. Captain Downer had been up in this biplane before, and had made twenty-three flights since he had been at the school, sometimes alone, sometimes with dual control. The wind was twelve to fifteen miles an hour. He watched the flight for a short time. The aeroplane was under control. He himself flew the aeroplane just before Captain Downer went up. After watching Captain Downer for a short time, he flew another machine, and saw Downer coming down. It was an easy flying morning. Downer was descending very fast after having been up 2,000 feet. He had evidently lost control, judging by the speed and angle he descended at. Witness saw one wing break. Downer did not fall from the machine; he was strapped in. The machine was completely destroyed with Downer underneath.

Albert MacDowell, War Department labourer, said he saw the machine about twenty minutes to ten. It appeared to wobble when about twelve hundred feet up. After the biplane passed over it came down with a swoop at a steep angle. It came down spirally, like a top, split up, and fell like a firework. It was two hundred feet up when he heard an explosion like a shell leaving a gun.

Replying to the Coroner, witness said that Captain Downer was not travelling faster than usual, and in his opinion had perfect control, even when wobbling, until the explosion.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and expressed their sympathy with Captain Downer’s relatives.

Captain Downer was originally at the Vicker’s School, Brooklands, where he took his brevet with a Vickers biplane on August 29th. He joined the Central Flying School at Upavon on January 27th, and had been under instruction there for about six weeks. He was 36 years of age and unmarried, and was the son of a Sussex clergyman."

Questions were asked in the House of Commons about this crash, which, as referred to above, was the third RFC fatality in two days:

"Ln the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for War was asked if he would give an explanation as to why so many accidents had occured with the BE biplanes belonging to the Army; why the rudder has no stays to strengthen it, and why the main spars of the machine have such large bolt-holes drilled throughout them...

Mr Baker, who replied, said that if the number of accidents in connection with BEs appeared to be large, that was because there was a large number of them in use and because they are continuously in the air. The details of construction are based on most careful and long-continued calculation, and the strength of these machines is in every way satisfactory..."

The official accident report. published in Flight magazine July 3 1914 page 703 (see link #3) was as follows:

Brief Description of the Accident.—
Capt. C. P. Downer was flying a B.E.2 Biplane, No. 453, fitted with a 70 h.p. Renault engine, at the Central Flying School, Upavon, on Tuesday, March 10th, 1914, at about 9.15 a.m. It was the intention of the pilot to practise spiral descents, and he had reached a height of about 2,000 ft.

From that height the aircraft was observed to descend in a steep spiral, the angle of descent being nearly vertical. After descending some 1,500 ft., and still about 500 ft. above the ground, the right wing collapsed upwards and a portion of the lower plane was observed to leave the aircraft. The aircraft then fell to the ground after making several turns and was completely wrecked. The pilot was killed.

Capt. Cyril Percy Downer (aged 36) was granted his Aviator's Certificate, No. 608, on August 29th, 1913, by the Royal Aero Club.

The Committee sat on Monday, March 30th, Tuesday, May 26th, and Tuesday, June 16th, 1914, and received the report of the Club's representative, who visited the scene of the accident within a short time of its occurrence, together with the evidence of eye-witnesses. The calculations of the design and results of tests carried to destruction on a similar aircraft were placed at the disposal of the Committee.

From the consideration of the evidence, the Committee regards the following facts as clearly established:—
1. The aircraft was built by Messrs. Vickers Ltd., in September,1913
2. The wind at the time of the accident was about 14 m.p.h.
3. Prior to the accident, the aircraft had been flown by another officer, who had found everything in good order.
4. An examination of the wrecked aircraft revealed the fact that the elevator planes were both bent downwards to the extent of several inches.
5. The control pillar was bent backwards.
6. The control wires were found to be intact.
7. A portion of the lower right wing was observed to leave the aircraft at a height of about 500 feet and was picked up about 25 yards away from the spot where the aircraft fell. A strut was also picked up some 40 yards away from the aircraft.
8. The aircraft was constructed in accordance with the official design and passed all the War Office tests.
9. The strength of the aircraft was up to the accepted standard.

The Committee is of opinion that the accident was solely due to the steep and protracted descent of the aircraft followed by an attempt, due to inexperience, to flatten out too suddenly when descending at an excessive speed, thus subjecting the aircraft to abnormal stresses and fracturing the wing.

The Committee is further of opinion that the bending of the elevator and control pillar was caused by the pilot's violent efforts to flatten out."

There is a memorial plaque to Captain Downer on the north wall of St. Mary's Church at Upavon. Captain Downer, however, is buried in the Deepcut Military Cemetery in Surrey.


3. Flight Magazine July 3, 1914 page 703 at

Revision history:

21-Nov-2018 20:34 Dr.John Smith Added
27-Jan-2019 05:35 stehlik49 Updated [Operator]
11-Jun-2023 20:46 Nepa Updated

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