Saturday, February 27, 2010

G/CPT John A. Kent DFC*, AFC, Virtuti Militari 1914 -1985

John Alexander Kent nicknamed "Johnny Kentowski" was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where he learned to fly and obtained his licence in 1931. He obtained a commercial licence in 1933 after working for the Northwest Aero Marine Company and became the youngest to achieve this in Canada.

In 1935, Kent joined the RAF and was posted to 5 FTS (Flying Training School) on March 15 before joining 19 Squadron at RAF Duxford in February 1936 where he remained until October 1937 when he moved to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough. For his research work, during which he deliberately made over 300 airborne collisions with various types of barrage balloon, Kent was awarded a well deserved Air Force Cross (AFC) on 1 February 1939.
Kent was posted to the Photographic Development Unit (PDU) in May 1940 and by early July had converted to Hurricanes while on a posting at RAF Hawarden. On 2 August 1940, Kent joined a newly formed squadron as a Flight Commander containing Polish pilots. This was 303 Squadron which was based at RAF Northolt throughout the Battle of Britain.

His first combat victories came on 9 September when he shot down a ME 110 and a Ju 88. On 23 September, he destroyed a ME 109 and damaged an Fw 58 reconnaissance aircraft while intercepting a raid over Dungeness. He shot down a Ju 88 after a raid over London on 27 September. During a dogfight over the south coast of England on October 1, Kent found himself alone with 40 Messerschmitt 109s. During the ensuing engagement, he shot down two of the ME 109s and scored hits on another.

Kent was awarded the DFC on 25 October 1940 and the following day he was posted to RAF Biggin Hill to take command of another highly successful group of pilots, 92 Squadron. Kent's strict discipline initially proved unpopular with the laid-back attitude the 92 Squadron pilots had at the time. On 1 November, Kent shot down a ME 109 and two more the following day. On 24 December 1940, Kent was awarded the Polish Virtuti Militari decoration for his achievements with 303 Squadron

He was then posted back to Northolt as a Wing Leader in June to lead the Polish Wing of four squadrons. On 21 June, during an operation escorting Blenheim bombers against enemy positions at Saint-Omer, France, Kent shot down a Bf 109. On 27 June, during another raid over northern France, he destroyed a Bf 109 on the ground.

As the raids over France continued from RAF Fighter Command during summer 1941, Kent continued with a destroyed Bf 109 on 3 July, another ME 109 on 20 July before he was then moved again as Wing Leader to command and lead the Kenley Wing in August 1941. His first few operations over northern France with his new squadrons proved successful, claiming ME 109s on 7 August and 16 August. Kent remained with the Kenley Wing until October 1941, when he was posted back to 53 OTU at RAF Heston and then RAF Llandow before he was sent on a lecture tour of Canada and America late that year. Kent was awarded a Bar to his DFC on 21 October 1941.

In June 1942, Kent was Station Commander of RAF Church Stanton where he remained until October of that year when he was posted to Fighter Command HQ as a Wing Commander of Training. Two months later Kent was posted to the Middle East and took command of 17 Sector in Benghazi, Libya where on 25 January 1943, he damaged a Ju 88 during an engagement near the airfield at Benina.

After a posting to Air HQ as a Command Training Inspector at Air Defences East Mediterranean, he returned to the UK during March 1944 for an instructor’s course at the Central Flying School, Upavon. Kent was then posted to Air HQ, British Forces of Occupation and in late 1946 he became the Personal Staff Officer to Sholto Douglas, the Commander-in-Chief, and Military Governor of the British Zone of occupied Germany.

Kent returned to flying duties as Chief Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough in 1948 and was involved until 1952 with many developments of military aviation. In August 1952 he assumed command of the RAF Station at Odiham, a fighter base operating Gloster Meteors. Subsequently he was posted as Station Commander at RAF Tangmere, and in early 1956 accepted his final posting to RAF Newton as Station Commander.

On 1 December 1956, Kent retired from the RAF service with the rank of Group Captain

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Col Richard S. 'Rick' Couch

Rick Couch (right) with Bruce Hinds

Rick Couch graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and entered the Air Force in 1968. He received his wings in 1969 and was assigned to the 20th Military Airlift Squadron in Dover,Del, flying the C-141. In 1972, as part of the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron, he flew 199 combat missions in Southeast Asia as a forward air controller in an OV-10.

After graduation from the Air Force Test Pilot School in Class 75A,Couch was assigned to the 4950th Test Wing at Wright Patterson AFB,where he flew test missions developing the all weather landing system for the C-141,and other research and development projects in the C-141 and T-37. In 1978, he returned to Edwards AFB as a Test Pilot School Instructor.

In 1985, Couch became the first commander of the B-2 Combined Test Force at Edwards AFB. He oversaw development of the B-2 Test Support Facility and building of a test force of over 1,200 people. Couch was the Air Force pilot on the maiden flight of the B-2, and he participated in all early development activities of the stealth bomber. He was later assigned as the Test Wing Vice Commander at Edwards AFB, then as Deputy Director of the Tri-service Standoff Attack Missile System Program Office at Wright-Patterson.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1992, Couch joined Martin Marietta,now Lockheed Martin, where he manages a team that designs,develops and produces support equipment and training systems for the F-16 and F-22 in Fort Worth,Tx.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ronald C.W. Ellison 1908-1971

Ron Ellison (left) in front of a Beaufighter along with Hugh Statham(right)
Few test pilots anywhere can have equalled the total of over 7,000 hours of flying for one firm. Such is the record of Ronald Ellison, when he retired from test flying for the Bristol Aeroplane Co. His Bristol experience embraced at least 36 different types of aircraft and development flying on nine engines—Pegasus,Mercury, Perseus, Aquila,Taurus, Hercules, Centaurus, Theseus and Proteus. He was the first man to take the Proteus into the air (in a Lincoln testbed)and has flown in all some 8,000 hours, on 80 different types of aircraft. Born in 1908 and educated at Bedford School and in H.M.S.Conway, Mr. Ellison spent three years in the Merchant Service before taking a short-service commission in the R.A.F. in April 1929. In 1930 he was posted to No. 17 (Fighter) Sqn. at Upavon,where he flew his first Bristol aircraft, the Bulldog. After a course at the C.F.S., he was posted as an instructor at Cranwell. During the last year of service he flew Wallaces and Wapitis with No. 501 Reserve Squadron at Filton, where he became well known to staff of the Bristol Flying School. As a result, he was offered a post as instructor when, with some 1,000 hours in his log, he left the R.A.F. in 1934. In addition to acting as instructor at the school (then equipped with Tiger Moths), Mr. Ellison was employed on the development flight testing of a variety of Bristol engines. When war broke out, he joined the test pilot staff and on January 1st, 1941,became chief production test pilot at the Company's Weston-Super-Mare shadow factory. Of the total of over 3,300 Beaufighters built at Weston during the next five years, he flew precisely 1,800, including the 1,000th, 2,000th, 3,000th and last aircraft. In 1945 he returned to Filton, where he was engaged on the flight testing of the Buckingham, Buckmaster, Brigand and Freighter and the development testing of Hercules, Centaurus, Theseus and Proteus engines. In 1949, he was made assistant chief test pilot, a position which he relinquished at the end of 1952. Since the war's end, Ronald Ellison had flown many thousands of miles as the pilot of Bristol Freighters. While demonstrating the aeroplane or instructing new pilots, he visited Pakistan (three times), Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Burma and Iraq. Early this year he flew to Johannesburg a Freighter loaded with supplies and equipment for the Britannia's tropical trials. He made the flight of over 6,000 miles with four night stops in a total flying time of 43 hrs.

AVM Donald C.T. Bennett CB CBE DSO 1910-1986

Donald Clifford Tyndall Bennett was raised on a cattle farm in Queensland, his family hoped he would follow a career in medicine but he had different ideas. As a result, he enlisted in the RAAF, undergoing pilot training at Point Cook and like most of his compatriots of the time, found himself attached to the RAF in Britain. After a year flying fighters he applied to undergo training as a flying boat pilot.

Initially he was disappointed with his next appointment which was as an instructor at Calshot where he remained until his service with RAF came to an end. However, during this time he not only managed to pass on his skills and knowledge to others but was able extend his own experience and qualifications. These included the gaining of his 'B' Pilot's Licence, First Class Navigator's Licence, Ground Engineer's A, C and X Licences, Wireless Operator's Licence as well as an Instructor's Licence. It was at this point that he decided his future lay in civilian flying and so armed with his vast array of qualifications he resigned his commission in the RAF. However, instead of immediately looking for a job he married Elsa, daughter of a Zurich jeweler, and they spent the next year traveling around Switzerland and Australia, returning to Britain in January 1936 where he joined Imperial Airways as a First Officer.

From then until mid 1940 he flew landplanes and seaplanes around the world on Imperial's various routes. These included flying the top half of the Mercury-Maia trans-Atlantic mail plane combination as well as taking part in air-to-air refueling experiments in 1939. The early months of WW2 found him undertaking VIP flights around Europe including a clandestine flight into occupied France to collect Polish military and government officials. Finishing his BOAC (Imperial Airways renamed in 1939) service in July 1940, he was asked by the Ministry of Aircraft Production to join the team being set up to ferry aircraft for Britain across the Atlantic from the United States. Appointed it's Flying Superintendent, he led the first flight of seven Hudsons across the Atlantic in November 1940. With the increase in supplies from America, it was eventually decided to replace the 'civilian' ferry organization with and RAF unit and so with the appointment of ACM Sir Frederick Bowhill in August 1941, Bennett returned to London.

He was initially told that he would be appointed a Group Capt in Training Command, but when this was downgraded to Squadron Leader, he declined the offer, He was eventually granted the rank of Wing Commander and sent to assist in the establish a Navigation School at Eastbourne. Once the school was set up he requested an active assignment and was appointed CO of No 77 Squadron. He flew on operations as often as possible but always with a different crew by replacing that crew's pilot, that way he was able to assess the efficiency of all his crews. April 1942 brought a move to the command of No 10, newly equipped with the four-engined Halifax. Later the same month (27th), he took part in a combined raid by No's 10, 35 and 76 squadron against the Tirpitz. Hit by flak his aircraft caught fire and he set course for Sweden. Unable to make Sweden he ordered his crew to bale out whilst he remained at the controls before making his own escape. Landing in deep snow he located his wireless operator and with the help of friendly Norwegians he managed to cross the border into Sweden and eventually return to Britain resuming command of his squadron one month after baling out and to receive an immediate DSO. However, when No 10 Sqn was posted to the Middle East, he did not accompany them as he was summoned to HQ Bomber Command to see the AOC in C, Arthur Harris, his old CO from the flying boat days.

Harris advised him that he had been instructed to form a special marking force in an attempt to improve the accuracy of his heavy bombs, something Bennett himself had suggested to the Director of Bomber Operations about a year before. Harris also informed Bennett that he was to be promoted to Group Captain to command this unit, which would be known as the Pathfinder Force. Setting up his HQ at RAF Wyton, Bennett was allocated one squadron from each group as his initial establishment, resulting in his unit being equipped with four different types - Wellingtons, Stirlings, Halifaxes and Lancasters. With the success of the new unit, following some early teething problems, Bennett's command was upgraded to Group status on 8 January 1943 and given the title - No 8 (PFF) Group with Bennett promoted to Air Commodore as it's AOC. During the remainder of the war No 8 Group continued to lead and mark targets for the Main Force, although he often found himself at odds with his fellow group commander at No 5 Group, AVM Ralph Cochrane, over marking techniques and the need to concentrate marking squadrons in a single specialist group.

At the time of his appointment, he was the youngest Air Vice Marshal in the RAF but on leaving the RAF at the end of WW2, he was the only Group Commander, who having served a full term in the post was not knighted. He resigned his commission in 1945 in order to stand for Parliament, being elected Liberal MP for Middlesbrough West. However, his political career was short lived, losing his seat at the General Election shortly afterwards. He made further attempts to enter Parliament, unsuccessfully, eventually leaving the Liberal Party in 1962 owing to their support of the EEC, which he was against. After the war he also returned to the world of civilian aviation forming British Latin American Airways, later becoming British South American Airways Corporation as their Chief Executive from 1 August 1946 to 31 March 1948. However, he lost his job when he denounced the Minister for Civil Aviation, following the ministry's grounding of his Avro Tudor fleet in 1948. He then went on to form Airflight using Tudors to fly oil into Berlin during Operation 'Plainfare' and in May 1949, Fairflight, which he sold in 1951. He continued to champion the cause of flying boats long after they fell out of favour generally and was a leading advocate in the development of the Saunders-Roe Princess boats, only three of which were built but never entered service.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

John F.Howman 1912-1993

John Howman (right) in cockpit of Bristol 170 for RNZAF

This Filton group before take-off shows the first Freighter's R.N.Z.A.F. delivery crew, with "Bristol" test pilot John Howman, who handled their "conversion" training, left to right: H.H.Burrows (navigator), John Howman, D.Hutton (piot) and G.V.Groves (radio officer), in front of a Bristol Freighter.

Flt Lt. W.Markham

The Air Minister Sir Kingsley Wood with the new Bistol Blenheim bomber, with on the picture from left to right: W.E.Rootes, Chairman of Rootes Securities Ltd.; Sir Kingsley Wood; R. C. Rootes, Deputy Chairman of Rootes Securities; Ltd., G.C.Trowbridge, Manager of the Rootes Airfrane Factory;S. W. Warran, of the Air Ministry, and Sir Edward Campbell, M.P.. Flight Lieut. W.Markham, chief test pilot to Messrs. Rootes Securities, is seen standing in the cockpit. ca. 1936

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ernest Hugh Statham 1910-1957

Hugh Statham (right) at Old Mixon

H. E. Statham learned to fly at the Herts and Essex Aero Club, becoming an instructor there in 1939. He joined Bristols in 1940,as a pilot at Yatesbury W.T. School, transferring to the test staff at the Weston-super-Mare factory in 1943. He handled production testing of Beauforts and Beaufighters and moved to Filton in 1945. He had over 5,000 hr, including a considerable number on the Britannia.

He was killed along with 15 others when the Ministry of Supply's Bristol Britannia 300 prototype,G-ANCA crashed at Downend,Bristol on on November 6th 1957.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

James Wayne Wood 1924-1990

James Wayne Wood was born in Paragould, Arkansas. He received a BS in aeronautical engineering from Air Force Institute of Technology in 1956. Whilst serving with the US Air Force h flew 10 combat missions during World War II and more then 100 in the Korean War. Experimental test pilot at the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards AFB.
He was selected as a pilot for the X-20 Dyna-Soar. After cancellation of the project he resumed his career as a pilot in the USAF. He was appointed Commander, Test Operations, Edwards AFB, California (until 1978). Retired from the USAF with the rank of Colonel. Later test pilot and Director of Operations, Tracor Flight Systems Inc. in Newport Beach, California.

Henry 'Hank' Charles Gordon 1925-1996

Henry Charles Gordon was born in Valparaiso, Indiana and married with four children. He received a BS in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in 1950. Chosen as an X-20 pilot while assigned to the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base. He remained with USAF after the cancellation of the program, eventually retiring with the rank of Colonel.

Russell Lee Rogers 1928-1967

Russell L Rogers was born in Lawrence Kansas and married with five children.He received a BS in aeronautical engineering from the University of Colorado in 1958. He was an experimental test pilot at Edwards AFB when selected for the X-20 program. After the X-20 was cancelled, he returned to active flight duty with the USAF. He was killed in the explosion of his F-105 at Kadena AFB, Okinawa.