Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Wednesday, 1 October 2008 16:10 UK

Hercules 'fault' known since WWII

Hercules C130k
The inquest was adjourned in April after three weeks of evidence

A weakness in the design of a type of RAF plane that exploded killing 10 servicemen had been known about since World War II, an inquest has heard.

The men died in Iraq in 2005 when their Hercules C130k exploded after its fuel tank was hit by enemy small arms fire.

A 1971 document revealed by the Wiltshire coroner stated the risk of RAF planes' fuel tanks exploding if hit "had been looked into for 30 years".

The inquest heard the plane had not had a recommended anti-explosion foam.

'No defined limit'

Nine RAF servicemen and a soldier died in the Hercules C-130k crash, which happened between Baghdad and nearby Balad.

The hearing was told a military research document said the risk of tanks exploding had been a concern since World War II - long before the Hercules came into service.

Despite prior recommendations, the Hercules C-130k had not been fitted with explosion-suppressant foam, which prevented fuel tanks exploding if they were hit.

Earlier, coroner David Masters said the recommendation that the aircraft should be retro-fitted with the foam came in two widely-circulated military reports in 2002 and 2003.

But the inquest heard that an un-named squadron leader, referred to as EJ, who was in charge of upgrades to the Hercules C130k in 2002 and 2003, had not been told about the recommendations by his commanding officer.

If true, that is extraordinary
Coroner David Masters

EJ told the inquest he regretted not being given the information because at the time, which was three years before the men's deaths, the Ministry of Defence provided funds with "no defined limit" for these types of safety measures.

He added: "We struggled to get documentation through that particular group captain.

"There were other group captains in the building who would help us get around that particular blockage."

Mr Masters said: "If true, that is extraordinary."

'Wing swapping'

EJ said that during the time he was overseeing work on the Hercules, there were grave concerns about the airworthiness of the ageing aircrafts' wings.

Despite the fact the life-spans of many of the planes' wings were drawing to an end, there was no money to replace them.

Instead the aircraft were kept in the air by a "wing swapping programme" that re-used the wings of from other aircraft, some of which had already been taken out of service.

The Hercules which crashed was due to have its wings replaced when it returned from the Gulf, EJ said.

Those on board the stricken plane were:

  • RAF 47 Squadron's Flt Lt David Stead, 35, the pilot
  • Flt Lt Andrew Smith, 25, the co-pilot
  • Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, 42
  • Flt Sgt Mark Gibson, 34
  • Australian airman Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, 35, a navigator
  • Chief technician Richard Brown, 40, an avionics specialist
  • Sgt Robert O'Connor, 38, an engineering technician
  • Acting L/Cpl Steven Jones, 25, of Fareham, Hampshire, a Royal Signals soldier
  • Sqn Ldr Patrick Marshall, 39, from Strike Command Headquarters, RAF High Wycombe
  • Corporal David Williams, 37, a survival equipment fitter.

RAF pilot's warning 'not heeded'
09 Apr 08 |  Wiltshire
Hercules safety change not made
02 Apr 08 |  Wiltshire
Truth urged at Hercules inquest
31 Mar 08 |  Wiltshire
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01 Feb 05 |  In Pictures

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