(All images (excluding video) by Urban Ghosts)
For fans of military aircraft and flying, a trip to the Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum in Scotland is a real treat. Set amid the repurposed (and in some cases derelict) hangars of the former RAF Dumfries, now Heathhall Industrial Estate, the museum boasts a selection aircraft from across the world. It’s also located within beautifully kept grounds, at the heart of which is the restored wartime control tower.
One interesting exhibit on display towards the rear of the museum is the tried and tested escape capsule of an American-built General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark bomber. The aircraft in question, an F-111E based at RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire – tail number 68-060 – crashed into the North Sea on November 5, 1975.
According to the accident report, the swing-wing bomber suffered a bird strike over the Wainfleet bombing range on the Lincolnshire coast, which caused a “catastrophic failure of the right windshield and right canopy glass” and caused the weapons systems operator (Robert L. Gregory) to initiate the ejection sequence.
Capt. Gregory was uninjured in the incident, though the F-111’s pilot, Capt. James E. Stieber, suffered a compression fracture of the T8 vertebrae, without lasting neurological defect. The report concluded: “The aircraft crashed and was destroyed causing minimal property damage and no other injuries to personnel.”
The twin-seat F-111 bomber is notable in that the entire cockpit section of the aircraft becomes an escape capsule, which can be jettisoned from the main airframe in the event of an emergency. Most military fixed-wing aircraft employ ejection seats rather than escape pods, making the F-111 somewhat unique in that sense.
Since the capsule is effectively the front end of the aircraft, 68-060 was likely returned to Upper Heyford following the crash investigation for use as a training aid, before passing to the Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum. The robust General Dynamics design did its job that Bonfire Night in 1975, and paved the way for one of the small Scottish collection’s more unusual exhibits.