Sunday, December 27, 2009

Howard T Murley DFC AFC* 1923-2016

Wing Commander Howard Murley flew four-engine bombers with Bomber Command before spending a number of years as a test pilot.

When Murley joined No 218 Squadron in May 1944 as the pilot of a four-engine Stirling bomber, he was barely 20 years old, the second youngest member of his seven-man crew.

His early sorties were to northern France during Bomber Command’s campaign to destroy vital targets, particularly rail marshalling yards and infrastructure, in the lead-up to D-Day. On one such sortie, as he was heading south over London, one engine of his bomber failed. The Stirling was at maximum weight and unable to maintain height. By the time Murley reached the Wash to jettison his bombs, the aircraft had lost more than 10,000 ft in height.

The squadron soon re-equipped with the Lancaster and bombing over Germany was resumed in August. Flying over Homberg on Bomber Command’s first major daylight raid for three years, Murley’s aircraft was badly damaged by flak and its hydraulics and undercarriage were damaged, but he managed to return to his base in Suffolk and land safely. After 39 operations over Germany he was rested and awarded the DFC.

After his tour with No 218 Squadron Murley had a spell as a bombing instructor before transferring to the air transport force and flying Dakotas on routes to Italy and the Middle East. He later joined the Transport Command Development Unit and during this period flew sorties on the Berlin Airlift, operating from an airfield in West Germany. He was also seconded to the USAF as an RAF representative, during which time he flew as co-pilot on a C-54 Skymaster as one of the team transporting the much-publicised millionth sack of coal into Berlin.
In July 1949 Murley was selected as one of the first two RAF exchange students to train as test pilots at the United States Navy Test Pilot Training School in Patuxent River, Maryland, where he met and married his wife. A year later he returned to Britain to take up a post as a test pilot at Farnborough, flying a wide range of different aircraft types.

In 1953 he became the flight commander of the Aerodynamics Flight, at a time when the first of the V-bombers were being tested. One was the Avro Vulcan, and to provide aerodynamic data for its revolutionary delta-wing configuration a small number of third-scale single-engine research aircraft, the Avro 707, were built to provide aircraft handling data. During the 1953 Farnborough Air Show, he flew one of four of these aircraft in formation with the first two prototypes of the Vulcan, providing a stunning spectacle.

His flying duties also included photographing live trials of the Martin Baker ejector seat, and he flew some of the initial test flights investigating the spinning characteristics of the early high-performance jet fighters. He was then awarded a bar to his AFC.

While flying a Sabre fighter he suffered a pneumothorax as a result of being subjected to high g-forces while breathing 100 per cent oxygen at low level. Although unknown at the time, this is now a recognised risk. He was grounded, returning to flying in July 1960.

After three years in Malta as a staff officer, he returned to the test-flying arena when he was appointed as the Officer Commanding the Experimental Flying Wing at Farnborough. Again he flew a wide variety of aircraft, but he enjoyed none more than a replica SE 5A bi-plane of First World War vintage, which he demonstrated at several air shows.