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"Commanding Officer DOWN!"

Wing Commander Vance DRUMMOND, AFC, DFC,
US Air Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.

- Died in Mirage training accident, 17th May 1967.


3SQN Commanding Officer, WGCDR Vance Drummond, stands up in the cockpit of a 2OCU tandem-seat Mirage trainer A3-106 at Williamtown, early 1967.

Vance Drummond, a New Zealander from Hamilton in the North Island, came from a very aviation-minded family.  (Vance’s older brother Fred had enlisted in the RAAF in WW2 and sadly was killed in 1941 in a Spitfire accident in Scotland.)  Vance joined the RNZAF in mid-1944, aged 17, and was demobilised after VP Day in 1945, having just completed his training as a Sergeant Navigator.  He then served as an Interpreter with the New Zealand Army in the post-war occupation of Japan.  When he got back to NZ he tried to re-join the RNZAF as a fighter pilot, but was rejected as “too old”.  So he came to Australia and was accepted by the RAAF (!) in 1949. 

Flying a 77SQN Meteor fighter in the Korean War, Vance was shot down by MiG15s in a swirling battle on 1 Dec 1951.  He ejected safely and then survived some dreadful experiences as a POW in North Korea, making several escape attempts before being released through the cease-fire line at Panmunjom in September 1953.  He returned to the RAAF, flying Sabres, and was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1965 for his work in No.75 Squadron and his leadership of the 'Black Diamonds' aerobatic team.  Vance then flew 381 missions in Vietnam with the Americans as a Forward Air Controller, flying USAF Cessna 0-1 Bird Dogs.  

https://static.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/VN%2F66%2F0037%2F02.JPG
33624 Wing Commander Vance Drummond, of Hackett, ACT, with his Cessna O-1 'Bird Dog' (nicknamed 'Snoopy') at Vung Tau airfield, South Vietnam.  For the past eight months, WGCDR Drummond has been on exchange duty with the USAF in Vietnam.  WGCDR Drummond's first months in Vietnam were at Saigon with the Tactical Air Control Centre.  Now Wing Cdr Drummond flies 'Snoopy', snooping along in the air just high enough to clear the tall Vietnamese trees growing out of the jungle, looking for Viet Cong (VC).  He is the only RAAF officer [as of mid-1966] in Vietnam flying a Forward Air Control (FAC) for the USAF.  He only sees other RAAF members when he calls into the base at Vung Tau on a monthly basis to collect his mail and pay.  His job as FAC is to search for columns of VC moving through the jungle; and when spotted, he calls up the strike aircraft and directs them to the target with the four 2-inch smoke rockets carried on his wing pods.  [AWM VN/666/0037/02.]

Vance won US and Vietnamese decorations for valour in this role and was recommended for an Australian DFC (despite policy tensions between Australia and England at that time limiting Royal assent for Vietnam awards) for saving the lives of an encircled US Army unit. 

Vance’s remarkable career ended in May 1967 when, holding the rank of Wing Commander and three months into his appointment as C.O. of 3SQN, his new Mirage fell from altitude and crashed into the ocean off Newcastle.  3SQN had just returned from Malaysia and was converting from Sabres to Mirages with the assistance of No.2 Operational Conversion Unit in Williamtown.  Mirage A3-77 had only been in service for a few weeks before being lost and appears to have still been on the books of 2OCU when it crashed.

The exact cause of the crash was never explained, as no wreckage was recovered (other than a single cockpit gauge, netted by a fishing trawler). 

A training exercise had been taking place at 35,000 feet and Drummond’s aircraft was seen to break off suddenly from the engagement and go into a steep dive.  His wingman followed him down through the cloud and saw him go into the sea.  The wreck settled into deep water 50 miles out from the coast.  No radio transmission had been received from WGCDR Drummond and there had been no earlier indication of any sort of trouble.

Eleven months later, Vance’s widow Margaret and his 9-year-old son David attended Government House at Yarralumla to receive Vance’s Distinguished Flying Cross from the Governor General.

[This text based on Vance's Australian Dictionary of Biography entry.]

Vance's crash was just one of a number of unexplained Mirage losses at that time.  It led to a former 3SQN WW2 Commanding Officer, Ron Susans,
getting his name in the paper.  (And that of his son Martin, a 3SQN Mirage pilot who had to eject!)

Canberra Times, Tuesday 17 October 1967

SUPPORT FOR JET CRASH THEORY

SYDNEY, Monday. —The Director-General of Operation Requirements for the RAAF, Air Commodore R. T. ['Ron'] Susans, today backed a claim that trouble in the accessory drive may have caused three of Australia's six Mirage jet crashes.  His son, Flying Officer Martin Susans, [flying 3SQN Mirage A3-52] ejected minutes before a Mirage crashed three weeks ago.  Search parties have failed to find the wreckage.

The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Sir Frederick Scherger, has put forward a theory that trouble in the accessory drive—which supplies fuel to the fuel pumps of the jet's engines - may have caused three of the crashes.   Air Commodore Susans, who left on a world tour today said it was quite possible that the accessory drive was at fault.

During his tour Air Commodore Susans will have talks with the French designers of the Mirage, the Italian manufacturers of the Macchi jet trainer, and the American designers and manufacturers of the F-111.   He said during his talks with the Mirage designers he hoped to discuss the extension of Australia's manufacturing rights of Mirage spare parts.  But he would not mention the crashes of the Australian-built Mirages.

Air Commodore Susans will also fly the controversial F-111 in America.
 

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