Page last updated at 14:25 GMT, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 15:25 UK

RAF pilot's warning 'not heeded'

Hercules C130K
US Hercules planes have been fitted with ESF since the 1960s

An RAF pilot's call for aircraft safety modifications were not acted on until after a crash killed 10 servicemen five years later, an inquest has heard.

The British fleet was fitted with explosive-suppressant foam (ESF) only after a C-130K transporter was shot down in Iraq on 30 January 2005.

A retired RAF Hercules captain told the dead men's inquest that he requested the changes in two letters in 2000.

The foam prevents fuel tanks exploding after they have been hit.

No reply

Nine RAF servicemen and a soldier died in the crash, between Baghdad and nearby Balad.

The plane, which had not been fitted with ESF, came down after a fuel tank was hit by enemy small arms fire and exploded, blowing one of the wings off.

At the time, it was the biggest single loss of life among British forces in the Iraq campaign.

American Hercules planes have been fitted with ESF since the 1960s and Australian Hercules planes also have it.

The anonymous ex-RAF 47 Squadron serviceman, giving evidence from behind a screen, told the inquest at Trowbridge in Wiltshire that his first letter was sent before he was posted to Sierra Leone.

He said he had been prompted to write after speaking to an American airman, who told him that "self-sealing fuel tanks" were standard in the US air force.

When the RAF pilot received no reply he wrote another on his return from West Africa, dispatching a copy to the Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington.

The letter was headed "C130 susceptibility to small arms," the inquest heard.

It said: "The aircraft is vulnerable to small arms, particularly in the area of small arms... A self-sealing system has been available for some time."

The witness told the inquest: "I did not get a response to that letter."

After the deaths of the servicemen, the Ministry of Defence pledged to retrospectively fit all RAF Hercules with ESF at a cost of up to 600,000 per plane.

The MoD estimates that between 20 and 30 of the UK's 44 Hercules have now been fitted.

All RAF Hercules currently flying on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq now have ESF, according to Jonathan Glasson, barrister for the MoD at the inquest.

Better communications

Earlier, the inquest heard from Wing Commander Stuart Stirratt, officer commanding operational intelligence wing at RAF Waddington, who told the court that communications had been improved since the crash.

He said a coalition computer system for telling all US and British intelligence staff about enemy fire incidents had been set up, rather than separate UK and US systems.

This meant all coalition staff could now see all incident reports on a feed in real time, no longer relying on "a man in the loop" or e-mails.

The inquest had heard on the previous day how a report of enemy fire on two US Blackhawk helicopters three hours before the Hercules went down was e-mailed to UK support staff, but the e-mail was not read nor its contents passed on to the Hercules crew.

The 10 people killed in the crash included eight crew and two passengers.

The crew, who were mainly based at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, were:

  • RAF 47 Squadron's Flt Lt David Stead, the pilot, 35
  • 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.

The passengers were:

  • Sqn Ldr Patrick Marshall, 39, from Strike Command Headquarters, RAF High Wycombe
  • Corporal David Williams, 37, a survival equipment fitter.

Graphic showing how explosive-suppressant foam works
1. Without foam: Explosive mix of fuel vapour and air above liquid fuel ignites easily. Once this ignites, a compression wave pressurises the remaining gas, increasing the explosion.
2. With foam: Foam expands to fill space in tank as fuel level drops. Vapour ignition is confined to the area close to spark, stopping explosion.

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