“THE plane snook up on us,” says Ken Baldridge in Darlington, who knows that his statement sounds a little strange given that the plane in question was an Avro Vulcan delta-wing bomber, 97ft long with a wingspan of 99ft, a top speed of 646mph, and a capability of carrying seven nuclear missiles.

Ken was at RAF Middleton St George on September 19, 1959, when the Vulcan bomber was part of the annual air display, as was shown last week.

“There was nothing happening,” says Ken, who was 22 at the time. “It was quiet, but very suddenly and very dramatically it appeared at the east end of the runway. It banked round and the pilot put all the power on and the Vulcan has a very distinctive howl, and it shook everybody in surprise.

“He flew along the runway to the west and then the public address came on and I’m sure it said ‘don’t worry folks, he won’t do that again’.”

The Vulcan was appearing before a 100,000 crowd at the Battle of Britain open day. At the end of the Second World War, the RAF invited the public to visit them “at home” to pay tribute to the airmen who had lost their lives. These open days were held each year around September 15, which is Battle of Britain Day.

RAF MSG’s first open day was in 1948 and its last was in 1963 as by 1964, it had become a civilian airport. RAF Thornaby also held open days, with flying displays, from 1948 until its closure in 1958.

The second open day at Middleton St George featured in Memories 458 last year. The display finished with tanks drawing up outside the airport control tower in a bid to militarily seize it. A Wellington bomber flew over and dropped paratroopers who were supposed to intervene and save the day.

Tragically, one of the parachutes got wrapped around the tail of the plane, causing it to nosedive into the ground, where it exploded. All six crewmen were killed instantly. One of their wives was in the crowd, enjoying the display.

Two of the men came from Redcar, one of Seaham Harbour and the address of a fourth, Flt-Off John Macpherson, 24, was given as The Caravan, Officers’ Married Quarters Site, Middleton St George.

The Stockton coroner said: “It is a melancholy fact that what should have been, and was hoped to be, an occasion of public rejoicing in recollection of the victory of the Battle of Britain should have ended in this unhappy accident. It is a very great loss of six young lives.”