The RAF Pilot Who Went Missing Then Flew a Jet through Tower Bridge

It was the 50th anniversary of the Royal Air Force’s foundation in April 1968. No celebrations planned, much to the disgust of Hawker Hunter pilot Alan Pollock. There were no balloons, streamers, or cake to offer to the planes. More crucially, there were to be no airborne displays to commemorate the event. Pollock, a person whose birthday should never forget, felt that this was not good enough and took matters into his own hands. 

“There had been no particular celebration for the airmen, that critical body of talents, service sacrifice which had made the Air Force strong, other from the march as elsewhere,” he remarked years later. “There will be no anniversary dance, celebration, or half-day off. The mind seems to have forgotten about the heart’s importance!” He persuaded his commanding superior that instead of bombs, he and his squadron should permitted to load the planes with “a celebration warload of Anniversary leaflets,” which would subsequently be dropped on civilians below. Like if, everyone forgot your birthday and you went about shouting “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME” at random individuals on the street.

This, however, was just a front to hide his true intentions. On the day of the drop, he chose to “lost communication” with his squadron and aim for downtown London at a low altitude. He put his plan into effect shortly after departure. “I backed off the throttle, reverse rolled, and slipped away from the others to the north, quickly sinking to low level.” “After a one-and-a-half-minute wait, I notified the formation leader that I had ‘lost’ visual contact and feigned my radio had broken, utilizing wordless broadcasts to prevent any additional uncomfortable exchanges on the R/T.”

The RAF Pilot Who Went Missing Then Flew a Jet through Tower Bridge

Pollock flew near Heathrow and then traveled to Richmond Park before following the Thames, calculating that this would create the least amount of interruption. When he passed it, he did not give this courtesy to Parliament. “Then I switched on the electricity.’Stuff it, let them hear some noise!’ I thought, “He later revealed this to the Daily Mail.”The strange thing was that they were talking about noise abatement at the time.” He proceeded on his way when he came upon a landmark that he had completely forgotten about: the Tower of London.

“I had no notion that Tower Bridge would be there until this particular moment. Flying over it was simple enough, but the notion of flying through the spans came to me unexpectedly “In regards to the incident, he stated.”I just had ten seconds to consider the alluring proposal, which few ground attack pilots of any nationality could have turned down. My mind began to race as I tried to make a choice. The decision was clear after years of quick low-level strike flying.”

Pollock was an excellent pilot and one of the first members of the Red Arrows demonstration squad. He flew through the tower, above the road, and beneath the spans, scaring the living daylights out of everybody on the bridge or nearby. He then went to a number of other bases and conducted low and noisy flyovers before returning to his post (sometimes upside-down) to arrested, figuring he had gotten himself into too much trouble to avoid court-martial.

The public, as you might expect, was largely supportive of his prank, especially once he made it plain that he was doing it to raise attention to what he viewed as the government’s underfunding of the RAF. MPs even spoke on his behalf in parliament. He was not court-marshaled because of the maneuver, but he dismissed from the RAF on medical grounds, a decision that overturned 13 years later. He had made history by becoming the first person to fly a jet plane across the Tower Bridge without authorization and get away with it.