Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rex Shilton 1926-2009

Rex Shilton was born on June 10 1926 at Nottingham and educated locally before joining the RAF in 1942, when he was 16, to train as a radio mechanic.

In 1947 he was selected for pilot training and went on to join No 9 Squadron to fly the Lincoln, a four-engine bomber derived from the wartime Lancaster.
After conversion to the Canberra jet bomber and service with No 100 Squadron, he was approached by Rolls-Royce. After service in the RAF, Shilton joined Rolls-Royce's engine division as a test pilot in late 1954.
On May 15 1956 he was conducting engine development trials on the Avon engine when he experienced a major malfunction that left him well within his rights to eject from the aircraft. He elected to remain at the controls, however, and performed an emergency landing back at Hucknall.

By saving his aircraft he enabled the engineers to identify the fault and design an engine modification. It was an act of courage which, he commented philosophically in later years, had probably enhanced his pension by only a few pence.

During three years with Rolls-Royce he flew 22 different aircraft types, including the Lancastrian, Spitfire, Canberra, Hunter and the engine test rig called the Thrust Measuring Rig (TMR) – better known as "The Flying Bedstead" – which was used to develop the vertical thrust technology to power the Harrier.

In 1958 he joined the Silver City Group ferrying aircraft to customers in India and South America before taking up the routine of flying passengers around the north of England from the Blackpool base, piloting such classics of the British aircraft industry as the de Havilland Heron and the Bristol Freighter.
In 1960 Shilton was seconded to Handley Page to participate in sales demonstration tours of the new Herald airliner in hotly-contested sales drives against Fokker's F27 Friendship.
One tour involved a nine-hour transit from West Africa to Brazil. Shilton put in some sterling performances flying in to and out of tiny and ill-equipped airfields where large crowds gathered to witness the sight of such large aircraft taking off and landing.
The Handley Page and Rolls-Royce sales reps accompanying Shilton were keen to demonstrate the take-off performance of the RR Dart turboprop engines – and he was happy to oblige, his party trick being to cut an engine, sometimes before becoming airborne, and continue to climb away. It never failed to impress.
Shilton was to remain with Silver City and its successor companies, ultimately British Caledonian Airways, for 30 years retiring just before its takeover by British Airways in 1987. He specialised in technical matters and crew training, flying as an instructor pilot on almost all of the aircraft operated by those companies: Vickers Viscount, BAC 1-11, Boeing 707 and McDonnell Douglas DC10.
At the retirement age of 60, Shilton was not ready to hang up his headset and immediately joined Connectair, a small airline based at Gatwick. He effortlessly made the transition to the Shorts 330 "Shed" – flying passengers by day, and mail and newspapers by night.
He probably worked harder, longer and less comfortable hours than at any time in his career, but took evident pleasure in giving many new pilots their apprenticeship in the business.