Sitting on the tail of a Spitfire

Ground crew are sometimes seen sitting on the tail of a Spitfire when taxiing before take-off or after landing. You may wonder why.

They are not hitching a lift.

Ground Loop

A ground loop is a sudden tip to one side while on the ground: in aviation speak "a rotation in the horizontal plane". In a severe case, a wing-tip can touch the ground. On soft ground it can even dig in, causing the aircraft to cartwheel.

Ever since war time there has been a 'rough weather procedure' which includes providing ballast on the tailplane while it taxies, to reduce the risk of the aircraft 'ground looping', especially on uneven ground. The risk is made greater because of the Spitfire's narrow landing gear. The easiest ballast is a person sitting on the tail.

On 9th February 1945 a WAAF at RAF Hibaldstow, Lincolnshire, Margaret Horton, was called on to sit on the tailplane of a Spitfire during rough weather, while the pilot taxied to his take-off position. However, the pilot forgot that Margaret was on the tail and turned to take off. As she could not jump off safely, the WAAF held on to the upright element of the rudder. When the plane refused to handle normally, the pilot realised what had happened and returned to the airstrip after a single circuit, landing with Margaret still holding on. The Spitfire in question was AB910, which is still flying and with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.