Saturday, December 15, 2007

'Jock' James Webster Still 1920-2012

James Webster ("Jock") Still, the son of a Master Shipwright, was born in Edinburgh on the 14th September 1920. He gained a bursary to study at Boroughmuir School, Edinburgh, where he achieved his Higher Learning Certificate. He applied for Pilot training and joined the R.A.F. in 1940, gaining his wings and the rank of Sergeant.

During the following six years he served as a fighter pilot in Britain, North-West Europe, the Middle East and Burma. Flying Spitfires, he took part in "train-busting" raids over occupied Europe and, when serving with No. 1 Sqn., shared in the defence of the country against flying - bomb attacks.

In late 1942 he became a Flight Sergeant and in mid 1943 was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 1. His first full ‘tour’ was with 41sqn at Tangmere and Westhampnett flying Spitfire Mk XII’s carrying out mainly escort duties to bombers of varying types over targets in France. The Squadron also undertook ‘Rhubarbs’ which were low level attacks (usually in pairs) seeking out ground targets such as train movements. His status as W/O only lasted a few months before he was commissioned in October 1943 as Pilot Officer, then becoming Flying officer whilst with No.41 Sqn at Tangmere.

After this tour he was posted back to his previous non-operational post as instructor at a Technical Exercise Unit at Grangemouth. He was then sent to Hucknall airfield for a short course on test flying (which included talks given by Geoffrey Quill and Nigel deHavilland). For the next 4 months he tested almost exclusively Spitfires and Hurricanes of varying marks.
He was next posted to an A.S.D.U at Millfield where he commanded a flight of Spitfires doing simulated bombing (with camera) on dummy targets – all of which was being guided by ground control operators reading Radar screens from vehicles.
In July 1944, from this posting he was again posted to No.1 Tactical Exercise unit at Kinnell where the flight made rocket propelled attacks on the range at Barry Links with Hurricane Mk IV’s followed by a posting to Eshott airfield as a test pilot on Spitfires. He expected to be there for some months but an emergency blew up and he was rushed down South to join the famous No1 Sqn at Detling, Kent. The work was to fly ‘doodle-bugging’ missions against the V.1 flying bombs, but this role changed to flying Bomber escorts after the V.1 launch sites had been overrun by the Allied armies advancing through France. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant whilst with No.1 Sqn and remained at that rank until VE day by which time he was also a Flight Commander.

Just after VE day he was selected to go to the Far East (via India and Burma) where he was put forward for a Squadron Leader post. However this changed as during the 4 week transit to Bombay aboard a troopship the war with Japan ended. Travelling from Bombay to Poona and Bhopal he flight tested several ‘unserviceable’ planes and was made Squadron Leader (acting). His final posting was to Madras as Wing Commander (acting) where he was on admin duties with no flying until his demob back to the UK.

After the war he was a member of No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Sqn.,RAuxAF. at Turnhouse flying Meteors and Vampires. During the Korean War, the Sqn went to RAF Leuchars where they worked up in preparation for deployment to Korea, however, hostilities ended before they were posted.

He joined Brooklands Aviation as a test pilot in 1950.

In 1952 he went to English Electric in the capacity of production test pilot on Canberra’s, testing various marks of Canberra He visited Venezuela in 1953 when that country bought Canberra’s seeing them into service and training their pilots. He demonstrated the Canberra B.8 at the Farnborough displays of 1954 and 1955.
Of interest, English Electric were contacted by the Mod and asked if they could assist them by performing a flight for them with the Canberra at their convenience. This flight was made by Jock Still after a test flight and involved taking the aircraft across the North Sea towards Denmark and then rapidly climbing to an altitude in excess of 40,000ft and then returning to the UK. The Mod called EE to ask when they would do the test to be advised that they had done it!. The aircraft had not been detected and the powers that be did not believe the flight had taken place (subsequently Jock discovered that this was to test the ground based radars against the threat of Soviet aircraft attacks). Another flight was arranged to be undertaken with an RAF pilot and was duly completed with the same result, they had not been detected. At least 4 Reconnaissance flights were made over Soviet territory by RAF Canberra’s around this time, it’s quite possible that this flight was made after it was recognised that the Soviets would have the same trouble detecting the aircraft as the RAF had done.

He joined the staff of Handley Page as a test pilot in 1955, where he was allotted the flutter test programme on the 2nd Victor prototype (WB775), which had been equipped with eccentric excitation devices in the rear fuselage. Right from the original design studies for the Victor, flutter had been recognised as one of the most crucial and difficult areas. Godfrey Lee (the designer of the wing and tail unit of the Victor) said ‘the test flights were outstandingly and courageously done, and I consider that the crew, Jock Still, the pilot and Frank Haye and Jock Ogilvy, the observers, deserve great credit for this work’. He displayed the Victor B.1 at the 1956 Farnborough display.

During his years of flying Jock Still has completed 3,150 hours on fifty plus types, he retired from flying in 1957 after a serious flying accident in a Victor.
He followed his successful and varied flying career with a successful business career in the Steel Industry and finally with BAC (British Aerospace Corporation) in Saudi Arabia overseeing the Saudi AF Lightning maintenance contract.