Andrew Hill was nicknamed ‘The Prof’ due to his flying skills
Shoreham air crash pilot Andrew Hill once simulated an out-of-control plane for an episode of ITV drama Midsomer Murders.
Hill flew his home-built plane for the daytime show, pretending the plane was in a dive as a fictional air traffic controller warned the fictional pilot: ‘You are headed for the crowds.’
He and his wife Ellen, also a pilot, had built their own plane from a kit, and flew it in air shows.
Friends say that in first year after the Shoreham crash he was ‘in a very dark place.’
‘He knew had no right to survive that accident himself – and had caused the deaths of all those people.’ said one.
Hill, now 54, is a Cambridge graduate who was top of the class in the RAF, winning competitions for his flying and being given the military nickname ‘The Prof’.
A captain with British Airways until the tragedy, he grew up in Kent and went to Tonbridge School, a private boarding school that counts Norman Heatley – who turned penicillin into usable medicine – among its alumni.
Mr Hill and his wife Ellie, who were both BA pilots, built their own plane from a kit (not pictured)
Speaking outside court today, Hill said he was ‘truly sorry’ for the men’s deaths and that they would stay with him for the rest of his life
Telling the court he was ‘reasonably academic’ and an A-grade pupil at school, Hill was allowed to enrol at Cambridge University without taking the entrance exam, attending Christ’s College.
He began studying engineering and then transferred to computer science, graduating with an honours degree in 1985.
Going straight into the RAF afterwards, he won a competition when flying a Jet Provost and was a top performing student.
Quickly showing his rare ability while training on the Hawk T1 jet, he was selected – or ‘creamed off’ – to be an instructor. He won an RAF competition and became the RAF Linton-on-Ouse display pilot before he was selected to fly Harriers – one of the most difficult jets to master because of their vertical take off and landing capability.
Bob Marston, a former Harrier instructor and RAF pilot for more than 40 years, said: ‘The Harrier Force was the top of the pile – that’s where the best guys went.’
Hill was fiercely proud of his RAF record flying record after working as an instructor and seeing active service in Iraq
Training in combat, he took part in active service for a month in the 1990s, monitoring no-fly zones in northern Iraq.
He also started to fly a Harrier – capable of vertical take-off and landing – and won an award for his work and ideas on improving aircraft safety procedures.
It was also in the RAF that he was given the nickname ‘The Prof’ – because of his background in computers – which would stick with him for the rest of his career.
Mr Hill displayed plenty of bravery as well as skill. His missions included policing no-fly zones over northern Iraq to protect Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s forces after the First Gulf War.
But Mr Hill’s expertise in computing – which has also seen him dubbed ‘nerdy’ by his peers – continued to set him apart from most of his fellow pilots.
He designed a software package that allowed BA pilots to automatically book their desired shifts. Years earlier he had developed a digital version of the Harrier’s operating manual that was cleared for use by the Ministry of Defence.
Turning to civil aviation, he became a commercial pilot, starting with Virgin Atlantic before moving to British Airways and progressing to the most senior position of captain.
He gained a reputation as an experienced pilot but nearly died at the side of the road after the Hawker Hunter he was flying in 2015 crashed in a fireball on to the A27 in West Sussex.
Hill, who now lives in Sandon, Buntingford, in Hertfordshire, suffered serious injuries and was placed into an induced coma before being discharged from hospital a month later.
He had fractured his nose, ribs and part of his lower spine and suffered a collapsed lung and serious bruising among other injuries.
Speaking for the first time in public since the incident when he gave evidence at the trial, he denied having a ‘cavalier’ attitude, insisting he was known for his safety record.
He has never watched footage that captured the moment of the crash and lowered his head when is was played to jurors.
Footage filmed by spectators showed the 1950s Hawker Hunter seconds before the crash
The court heard this was on medical advice from his doctor over fears of how it would affect him.
Mrs Hill, 56, supported her husband throughout the trial.
He is now in good health, with medical checks before and after the crash showing no signs of a condition that would have affected him at the time, the court heard.
Last night it emerged that Mr Hill began winding up his finances after he was charged over the disaster amid speculation that he could be convicted or sued.
He was the director of a number of successful businesses, including a manufacturing firm called Marindus Group, which had an annual turnover of £9million.
According to Companies House documents, the airman resigned from the business just three days after he was charged with manslaughter in March 2018. He sold the firm to a Swedish business in December, weeks before the trial. It is unclear how much Mr Hill and his two siblings – who were joint majority shareholders – made from the deal.
The stretch of road became a fireball after the plane slammed down minutes into the show
He and his wife of more than 20 years Ellen also liquidated an aviation software company during the seven-week trial, pocketing more than £30,000 in January alone.
It is understood the families of the victims have already settled compensation claims with aircraft owner Canfield Hunter Ltd.
Before flying passenger jets for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, Mr Hill was one of the RAF’s elite Harrier jump jet pilots. Posted to West Germany during the final throes of the Cold War, he also flew sorties over Iraq after the First Gulf War.
Sean Maffett, an air show commentator who worked with Mr Hill for much of his career, said: ‘He has aviation fuel running through his veins. He is an extraordinary man, there is no question about it.’
The 54-year-old spent much of the proceedings taking notes while sitting in the dock or leaning down to follow documents of evidence.
Wearing a dark suit for the proceedings, his manner appeared jovial as he made a few jokes while standing in the witness box giving his testimony.
Described as a competent, ‘safety conscious’ pilot and an ‘absolute gentleman’, he dismissed prosecutors’ claims he took risks, saying he was not ‘cavalier’ and took a ‘very structured, disciplined approach’ to display flying.
He told jurors he held back from flights he was not comfortable with and said the ‘primary aim’ of displays was to ‘avoid risk’.
But Hill conceded he had only limited experience in the Hunter.
He told the court there may have been gaps in his training on what were termed ‘basic’ details of how to fly the plane.
Hill also said he had not read some of the guidance notes on how to safely and properly operate the aircraft.