A “relatively low” annual flying rate probably contributed to the death of a pilot when faced with “a startling, time-critical situation” during an air display, an inquest jury has heard.
Kevin Whyman, 39, was performing an aerobatic manoeuvre at the CarFest North event in Oulton Park, Cheshire, when the plane suddenly disappeared behind a row of trees and crashed in a wooded area one mile north of the festival site.
Mr Whyman sustained multiple injuries from the impact as his Folland Gnat high-performance military jet plane went down shortly after 1pm on August 1, 2015.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
He was one of two pilots in the Gnat Display Team that was performing 360-degree rolls at the time for the crowd at the charity weekend organised by broadcaster Chris Evans to raise funds for BBC Children in Need.
Mr Whyman’s aircraft was performing its second roll when it reached an angle of bank of 107 degrees and the nose of the jet dropped unexpectedly.
Geraint Herbert, a senior inspector at the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, told the hearing at Warrington Town Hall that Mr Whyman was trying to regain control when he carried out an “inappropriately timed” action in bidding to reverse the plane.
That caused the rate of descent to increase and made the situation irrecoverable, he said.
He said: “In this case the pilot was faced with a startling, time-critical situation but one part of the recovery technique was inappropriately timed.
“It was our conclusion that the pilot’s relatively low experience played a part in the inappropriate recovery.”
The court heard married father Mr Whyman had previously served in the RAF but kept up his flying when he left in 2000 for a job in the City of London.
He was employed as a managing director at Credit Suisse at the time of his death.
He had a total of 218 hours of flying time in the swept wing Folland Gnat over 11 years and an average of 12 hours per year over the last five years before the fatal crash, the inquest was told.
His logbook recorded a total of 418 hours as a pilot in command in all aircraft – which classed him as ‘intermediate’ by the Civil Aviation Authority, rather than the 450 hours required to be termed as ‘experienced’.
Mr Herbert said the display team had expected to fly the roll manoeuvre at a speed of 300 knots, but Mr Whyman’s speed was 227 knots on the first roll and 247 on the second.
He said aircraft behave “slightly differently” at a lower speed and it could have been a possible reason for the nose dropping.
Disorientation or distraction in the cockpit before the crash could not be excluded but there was no evidence to support either theory, the inquest heard.
Mark Fitzgerald, a close friend of Mr Whyman and the other pilot performing the 360-degree rolls, queried why investigators had not looked in more detail at why the second roll stopped at 107 degrees.
Mr Fitzgerald, who said he had performed the manoeuvre on more than 1,000 occasions, said: “Something must have caused the pilot to take a very unusual action to stop the roll like that halfway through.
“It is very, very rare you would have someone recover from that point.”
Mr Herbert replied: “We say we don’t know why the nose dropped.
“We concluded it reversed at 107 degrees in recognition that the nose had dropped and something odd had happened and he was trying to recover the aircraft.”
Dr Robin Whyman told the inquest his Chester-born son, nicknamed ‘Jester’ by his flying colleagues, had attended The King's School in his home city and went on to study economics at Peterhouse, Cambridge University.
He joined the university's air squadron and boat club, where he earned a double blue as he coxed Cambridge to victory in the 1996 and 1997 boat races against Oxford.
His son went into the RAF, which included initial officer training and jet training in Tucano, Jet Provost and Gnat aircrafts.
In October 2000 he and squadron colleagues arrived at RAF Valley expecting to fly Hawk jets but were told none were serviceable and they would have to wait until the following January, said Dr Whyman.
In the same year, Mr Whyman was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and was advised he should seek treatment but he declined, said his father.
Dr Whyman, from Christleton, Chester, said: “He was upset about it and thought it would stop him flying.
“He had subsequent examinations and nothing showed up again.”
He said his son did not want to “wait around” to earn his RAF wings, as friends from university told him if he sought work in the City his earnings would mean he would be able to fly privately.
He said he last spoke to his son on the phone a day before the Oulton Park event in which he was scheduled to fly on the Saturday and Sunday.
Dr Whyman said: “He said ‘give me a call and I will come and spend the night with you before doing the second display the next day’, and of course that never happened.
“He sounded full of beans. I think he was really keen about the following couple of days because it was more or less on home ground where he was brought up.”
Mr Whyman’s widow Alexandra, 36, a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley, did not attend the inquest.
The hearing was told the couple had a daughter who is now aged three-and-a-half.
It was previously reported Mrs Whyman was pregnant at the time of the accident and later gave birth to a second daughter.
Alan Moore, HM Coroner for Cheshire, will sum up the evidence on Friday to jurors before they retire to consider their conclusions.
See full story in the Chester Leader