Tuesday, May 06, 2014
Peter Thorne was a wartime airman who became one of the leading RAF test pilots in the postwar era of British supersonic flight and aerodynamic development.
Born in Eastbourne, to Donald and Olive (nee Dyson), he attended Culford school, Suffolk; his father died of pneumonia when he was six. Enlisting straight from school in April 1941, after a short course at Edinburgh University and training in Canada, Peter was flying Typhoons in 193 Squadron (1942-43). He briefly flew Mustangs (170 Squadron) before leading a training unit in Peterborough.
Re-enlisting after the war, by 1947 he was a flight commander at RAF Leconfield, East Riding. He first met my mother, Mary (a Waaf radio operator), at her 21st birthday party and they married in 1951. He was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1947, with bars in 1951 and 1956.
In Nicosia (1948-51), he helped to train Middle East fighter squadrons. After the Empire Test Pilots' School in 1951, he was stationed at Boscombe Down, testing second-generation jet fighters, particularly as senior test pilot on the Supermarine Swift programme: his honest assessment of the plane's shortcomings in 1954 influenced the decision not to adopt the Swift as the RAF's mainstream fighter.
In 1955, he became the first RAF airman to undertake a preview flight of the English Electric P1A, effortlessly climbing to 30,000ft, and becoming a member of the Usaf Machbusters club in an F-100 Super Sabre at Edwards Air Force base, California.
At RAF Sylt's Flying Wing, West Germany (1958-60), he oversaw three nations' fighter squadrons flying round the clock. He was awarded the OBE in 1960 as a wing commander. At RAF Farnborough he was in charge of experimental flying (1965-68).
As air attache to Iran in the early 1970s he witnessed the hubristic 2,500th-anniversary celebrations of the Pahlavi dynasty. He was defence attache in Moscow during the Brezhnev era before retiring as an air commodore.
Air-system consultancies followed up to 1998 for Huntings Engineering and Lockheed Martin. In his latter years, he was involved with the Duxford Aviation Society and the Imperial War Museum, where he brought his typical care and exactitude to the information desk