The Last Flight of B121-120
The Beagle B.121 Pup is a British, single-engine, all-metal aircraft produced in the 1960s.
British Executive and General Aviation Limited, who traded as BEAGLE, designed the Beagle B.121 Pup as a replacement for aging Tiger Moths and Pipers; Beagle Aircraft Limited marketed it as “a pilot’s aeroplane”. I found the designation B.121 interesting. B stands for Beagle and the first digit defined the number of engines. The second two digits were to show the series, where odd was for single-engined aircraft and even for twins.
The two-seater, single-engine aircraft was popular in flying schools in the UK and Europe, whereas in the US the Cessna 150 and 172 and the Piper Cherokee were filling the same role as training aircraft. Unfortunately, the company had burned through over a large amount of capital before the B.121 Pup was produced and was unable to continue, despite finally finding success. The government refused a plea for a further £6 million for further development and the company went into receivership in 1967. The full history can be read on British Aviation – Projects to Production.
Only 226 Beagle Pups were produced and of that, only 176 delivered, with the remaining 50 used for components.
This is the story of how one Beagle Pup, B121-120, was lost.
It was a crisp Thursday afternoon in late October at the flying school. The instructor was highly qualified and the flight was routine, a training flight for a new student. They were in one of the two shiny new Beagle Pups purchased by the school just a few months earlier.
As the instructor and student departed from the grass runway, the engine ran rough and then backfired; a bad sign.
The rough engine and a reduction in power are clear symptoms of carburettor icing: vaporising fuel and a decrease in air pressure cause a sharp temperature drop in the carburettor and any condensed water vapour inside the carburettor freezes. This reduces the air intake of the carburettor which has the same effect as closing the throttle.
The Beagle Pup 100 series has a Rolls-Royce Continental O-200A engine which was more prone to carb icing because of its location in front of the engine, relatively exposed. Later models used Lycoming engines, where the carburettor is located close to the oil sump, which keeps it relatively warm.
The easiest way to clear the ice is to melt it using “carb heat”: an anti-icing system which diverts the hot exhaust onto the carburettor in order to keep the temperature above freezing. It is common to have the carb heat on when in conditions where icing is a risk. This is a trade-off as the aircraft performance suffers as the warm air is less dense; with the carb heat on, the engine will perform badly and require much more fuel.
I was trained to always set the carburettor heat ON during the downwind leg and then OFF before touch-down, so that the full power of the aircraft is available in case of a need to go-around. Since then I’ve heard this is an oddity specific to UK flight schools! However, it’s clear that a pilot would not want to take off with the carb heat on because of the reduction in power, even in icing conditions.
Now in a case like this where the engine is suddenly running rough, a pilot can turn the carb heat in order to melt it; however heating a carburettor which has already iced up takes time, which isn’t available on an engine failure shortly after take off.
The training flight had just reached 250 feet when the engine failed. The Beagle Pup was now a glider.
The flight instructor took control. There was a housing estate straight ahead of them, so the instructor turned hard right to the southwest side of the airport for the emergency landing, aiming for the grassy area near the clubhouse at the other end of the runway.
As he came around, the Pup’s wheels clipped a hedge, which shouldn’t have mattered… except that the hedge concealed a large concrete drain pipe in a ditch. The aircraft then bounced off the pipes and into the car park, where it crashed into the parked car.
Neither flight instructor nor the student were hurt; however, both the Beagle Pup and the car was written off.
The car belonged to the poor student, whose relief at being safe on the ground was no doubt mitigated by the fact the loss of his car. As Rudy put it, the car was not insured for damage sustained by landing aircraft.
For as Rudy and those who read the comments will have spotted by now, this is an analysis of an accident that happened in Rotterdam in 1970. Rudy told the story in the comments when talking about his friend, the flight instructor Nico Pilger. Fear of Landing reader Richard van de Wouw read Rudy’s comment about the (un)fortunate landing at Rotterdam and wanted to know more. Richard found the incident details on Aviation Safety Network to share with us.
The Beagle Pup, by the way, is still around somewhere in the hangars of the Dutch aviation museum, the Nationaal Luchtvaart-Themapark Aviodrome. In 1993, there was some talk of reassembling the Pup for display but sadly, so far it hasn’t happened. Maybe some day someone will put the poor Pup back together again.