Mike Oliver – Obituary

Mike Oliver. Publicity shot.

Mike Oliver was born in Farnborough on 13th February 1921.

Mike was passionate about aeroplanes as a boy and his flying career started in 1940 when he joined the R.A.F. as a volunteer reserve and started his flying training in October of that year. His first active posting was to Malta flying Hurricanes; he took off from H.M.S. Ark Royal for Malta on 30th June 1941 to join 185 Squadron. 

On 8th August 1941 Mike was forced to bale out of his stricken Hurricane 55 miles out to sea, qualifying him membership of the Caterpillar Club; he was very fortunate to be picked up by a Swordfish in appalling sea conditions. On 21st February 1942, whilst attacking a ME109, he was jumped by 2 other ME109s and his aircraft was hit by 4 explosive canon shells; much to the surprise of the ground crew, he managed to bring the badly damaged aircraft home but, according to the unofficial squadron diary, he was more concerned that his only decent pair of trousers were ruined by glycol than the fact that he was nearly killed!

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Queen Wilhelmina visits Dunsfold

In 1940 no. 320 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF was formed by members of the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service, who had flown from the Netherlands when it was invaded. On 12 June 1944 Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands visited Dunsfold to award medals. In all, 320 Squadron were awarded the Dutch Military Order of William four times and the Dutch Airman’s Cross, 176 times. 

The Queen arrives in a fairly rare aircraft the De Havilland DH95 Flamingo. The film also shows how extensive were the dispersal areas to the South and East of Dunsfold airfield.

P.1127 on Ark Royal – story behind the image

Bill Bedford and P.1127 XP831 on the deck of HMS Ark Royal

February 3rd 1963. Here is XP831 on the deck of HMS Ark Royal after Hawker Test Pilot Bill Bedford had completed the deck landing. This was the first ever vertical landing of a fixed wing aircraft on an aircraft carrier and the last of significant milestones in the proving the prototype’s potential. 3 months later XP831 would crash at the Paris Airshow.

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Sea Harrier – story behind the image

XZ450 Sea Harrier at Dunsfold August 1978

It was late in a sunny warm Sunday afternoon in August 1978.

XZ450 just at start up for the first Sea Harrier flight at Dunsfold. the photo was taken by Dunsfold Photographic Dept. John Farley is in the cockpit, Trevor Davies is sitting on the ground and I’m standing with the cine camera.

Dick Poole, formerly of Dunsfold Flight Test Department

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Mitchells approach Dunsfold film discovered

Original footage courtesy of Imperial War Museum

Searching for more information on the operations of 180 Squadron I chanced upon an obscure reel of unedited film shot by the RAF Film Unit. It sits in the Imperial War Museum archive and it is poorly labelled, dated 1944, without specifics of the content. However certain sequences are unmistakably Dunsfold in the very early years of operations. There is a sequence of bomb loading crew working on Mitchell B-25s and followed a sequence of landing filmed from the bomb aimers seat of a Mitchell. The aircraft approaches from the South-East banking to align with the main runway. The newly built A281 and truncated fields are below and the Dunsfold aerodrome technical areas are seen to the North. Blackdown Hill is in the far distance. Most significant is the give-away “experimental” runway part built parallel to the main run way. This has previously only been seen in distant aerial photographs.

We have taken the raw footage and re-edited into a coherent piece, perhaps as originally intended when the photographer shot the material.

Still from the archive film: F/S Cyrille ‘Cy’ Poissant RCAF

Whilst most of the scenes look to be Dunsfold the air to air scenes look to be the South Coast with a group of Mitchells seen over Ovingdean heading East, an unidentified kinked coastline, and then returning over the Seven Sisters.

Aircraft that are seen include Serial no. FW184 Mitchell II – this aircraft was lost in France on 11th June 1944 and FL207, lost in 1943.

98 Squadron RAF – aircraft code VO

98 Squadron were posted to Dunsfold in August 1943 to take part in pre-invasion attacks on Northern France and on V1 launch sites in the Pas-de-Calais. After the Normandy landings the Squadron operated in close support of the advancing Allied armies, and from October 1944 was based at Melsbroek in Belgium, moving to Achmer, Germany just days prior to VE Day.

180 Squadron RAF – aircraft code EV

The Squadron was equipped with Mitchells at RAF West Raynham It then flew its first raid from RAF Foulsham and suffered heavy losses including the aircraft of the squadron commander. After supporting the breakout from the Normandy beachhead in June 1944, the squadron re-located to Melbroek. It supported the allied advance across Europe and from April 1945 it operated from Achmer, Germany.

320 Squadron (Dutch) RAF – aircraft code NO

320 Squadron (Dutch) had a NO code and orange inverted triangle marked beneath the cockpit.

On 30 March 1943, the squadron moved to RAF Attlebridge then was reassigned to Second Tactical Air Force on 1 June with the squadron attacking enemy communications targets and airfields. The squadron relocated to RAF Lasham on 30 August and to RAF Dunsfold on 18 February 1944. From these airfields the squadron participated in many ” Ramrod” and “Noball” operations and bombing attacks on construction works, railway yards, fuel dumps and V-1 Flying Bomb sites in the North of France, in advance of Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944 (D-Day).

After D-Day the bombing of tactical targets continued and changed from France to the Dutch coast of Zeeland, and in September 1944 the squadron was involved in bombing German troops in the surroundings of Arnhem. In September the squadron started bombing targets in Germany along the Rhine for the advancing allied troops. In October 1944 the squadron was transferred to Melsbroek in Belgium. From there the bombing of bridges and airfields in the east of the Netherlands and Germany continued. During 1943 and 1944 the squadron took heavy losses. On 30 April 1945 the squadron moved to Advanced Landing Ground B.110 at Achmer, Lower Saxony in Germany.

All three squadrons were part of 139 Wing.


You can find the 14 minutes of original footage film here.https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060021114


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400 Squadron Mustangs

This is a curious piece of propaganda, “Train Busting Mustangs” – a Pathe newsreel. Whilst not identified this film is dated 1943 and noting the names and aircraft serials it appears to feature Mustang I’s of 400 Squadron. 400 Sqdn. had their Tomahawks replaced with Mustangs in July 1942. Whilst the gun-camera footage looks to be from a variety of different sources, some of the ground scenes look to be Dunsfold.

Two notable names are Flight Officers “Bitsy” Grant and J Morton:

MORTON, F/L John Alexander (J7451) – Distinguished Flying Cross – No.400 Squadron

GRANT, F/O Duncan Marshall (J5982) – Distinguished Flying Cross – No.400 Squadron


Harrier Story – Presentation by John Farley

Former Dunsfold Chief Test Pilot John Farley’s presentation of his story of the Harrier development from 1951 to 2015. This hour long presentation is a unique insight into the early development of the “jump jet” and the evolution of Hawker’s prototypes P.1127 to the Harrier as a military aircraft. This recording was made by the Brooklands Museum Trust in 2015.

Video Copyright Brooklands Museum Trust ©2015 (digitally remastered 2020)

Video Copyright Brooklands Museum Trust ©2015 (digitally remastered 2020) The original slightly longer video is here.

The Harrier story – transcript of 2015 presentation

Now the Harrier story goes back to 1951 and the meeting at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Now 1951 is a long time ago. I mean that’s 64 years, isn’t it? And to try and get ourselves in the sort of mindset to thinking how long ago that was. It was two years later that our queen came to the throne. It was two years before Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing wandered up Everest and it was two years before the Supreme allied commander in Europe, Dwight Eisenhower now became president of the United States. That’s a long time ago. It’s also one year after I started my engineering apprenticeship at the Royal aircraft establishment. Now in those days, the main gate looked like that. And in the evening, this is the sort of thing you saw, people went to work on their feet in buses or on bikes. There were very, very few cars and indeed the number of bike sheds that Farnborough was astonishing. 

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Kestrels – where are they now?

P.1127

  • XP831 Hawker P.1127 1st prototype f/f 21/10/60 now at the Science Museum, London,
  • XP836 Hawker P.1127 2nd prototype f/f 7/7/61 w/o 14/12/61
  • XP972 Hawker P.1127 3rd prototype f/f 5/4/62 w/o 30/11/1962
  • XP976 Hawker P.1127 4th prototype f/f 12/7/62 crashed Tangmere 12/7/61, scr. Faygate
  • XP980 Hawker P.1127  5th prototype f/f 24/2/63 taller fin, anhedral tail. Yeovilton UK
  • XP984 Hawker P.1127 6th prototype f/f 13/2/64 (effectively the 1st Kestrel) with swept wing and Pegasus 5. Now fitted with early P.1127 wing at Brooklands Museum UK

Kestrels in the US

All with swept wings and larger tail than the P.1127s

  • XS688 Hawker Kestrel FGA1 f/f 07/03/1964, to USAF 64-18262,Wright-Patterson Museum, Ohio
  • XS689 Hawker Kestrel FGA1 f/f 28/05/1964, to 64-18263, NASA521, Virginia Air & Space Museum
  • XS690 Hawker Kestrel FGA1 f/f 05/08/1964, to USAF 64-18264, now Pima Museum, Tucson, AZ
  • XS691 Hawker Kestrel FGA1 f/f 05/09/1964, to USAF 64-18265 w/o at Edwards AFB
  • XS692 Hawker Kestrel FGA1 f/f 07/11/1964, to USAF 64-18266, NASA520, Hampton, Virginia

Kestrels in the UK

  • XS693 Hawker Kestrel FGA1 f/f 25/11/1964, w/o 21/09/1967 Boscombe Down UK
  • XS694 Hawker Kestrel FGA1 f/f 30/01/1965, to USAF 64-18268, now Wings Museum, Balcombe UK
  • XS695 Hawker Kestrel FGA1 f/f 19/02/1965, w/o 15/03/1967, to A2619, now RAF Cosford Museum UK
  • XS696 Hawker Kestrel FGA1 f/f 05/03/1965, w/o 01/04/1965, West Raynham UK

Pre-production Harriers

  • XV277 Harrier 2nd pre-production Harrier f/f 9/11/66 now at National Museum of Flight Scotland
  • XV278 Harrier 3rd pre-production Harrier f/f 13/12/66 Luftwaffenmuseum, Gatow Germany

Download the PDF file .

Evolution of Harrier – in Newsreels

The evolution of the Harrier from prototype to the last variants has generated press interest from the early 60’s onwards. Pathe Newsreels visited Dunsfold on a regular basis to tell the story.

1963 Hawker P.1127 XP831 1st prototype at Dunsfold. Pilot Bill Bedford ©Pathe News
1962 Farnborough Airshow first sight of the Hawker P.1127 XP972 (the 3rd prototype ) and G-APUX Hunter. Air to air filming and XP831 (1st prototype) STOL demonstration ©Pathe
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