Frank Bullen joined the Hawker Aircraft Co. in July 1949 and was engaged in testing all the companies aircraft, Sea Fury, Seahawk and Hunter. He was appointed Hawker’s Chief Production Test pilot in 1955. He retired from test-flying on September 30 1960.
The following story was written by my father, Ray Mitchell, in 1995, for the newsletter of 139 Wing Association. 1995 was the 50th anniversary of VE Day, and also my parents 50th wedding anniversary. Called up in 1942, Ray had met my mother whilst working in the Air Ministry. He courted her throughout the rest of the war, until marriage in June 1945, a month after D-day. Final de-mob, and my arrival, came in 1946! 2005 will be their diamond-wedding anniversary. 139 Wing Association has now disbanded; living memory of WW2 will soon pass into history and be left to historians and others to argue about. It is important that those who were there tell their story.
Fraser Mitchell – eldest son.
———————————————– “Its May 1995, and I am lying in bed, thinking of all the urgent tasks to be performed that day, such as pruning roses, and suddenly remembering where I was fifty years ago. Yes, its near VE Day, and I am suddenly Corporal Ray Mitchell – Radio Technician, working on those lean and hungry-looking B25 Mitchells at Achmer airbase, Germany.
I came to 180 Squadron at Dunsfold in mid-1944 after a rather soporific career in Training Command working on ancient Oxfords, and clapped-out Blenheims, installing and servicing, believe it or not, battery operated transmitter/receivers run on 120 volt batteries and 6 volt accumulators. Anyone going on leave with a ‘sparks’ badge on their uniform were always being stopped by RAF police in their search for disappearing HT batteries; there was a shortage everywhere in wartime. Training command were always short of airfields and were constantly sending flights of aircraft around the country to odd and empty airfields so that trainee pilots could get the hours in. Ground crews followed and from main base at Grantham I was shuttled around Harlaxton, Bottesford, Balderton, Woodvale, and finally Hawarden (near Chester) where suddenly the Orderly Room announced ‘You’re posted, chum’.
To Dunsfold and 139 Wing, my first posting to a REAL Air Force; where there was pressure and tension in the air; where everything had to work 100% first time; where Form 700 was taken very seriously! Where those B25s with their bobbing noses on tricycle undercarriages would chase you along the perimeter track if your servicing truck dawdled at 40 mph. There was no ‘scrounging’ here, everyone knew that they were an integral part of the fighting machine. Dunsfold was a noisy place in those days. With Wright Cyclone engines and two to three ops a day, and thirty-six plus Mitchells taking off there was always urgency in the air.
D-day approaches; we are now all in tents scattered in the woods around the base. On the ‘Day’, maximum effort puts 9 boxes of 6 aircraft into the air several times. The effort continues month after month, many of us are taught to drive and a few months later we are on our way to Ostend and Brussels. To Zaventum Airbase (now Brussels Airport), and that old convent, a welcoming population and a winter of ops, opera in the Theatre Monnaie, and Pouishnoff playing Chopin one evening.
So many memories; they come flooding back. The day the Luftwaffe strafed the airfield, fortunately after our aircraft had got airborne. And the days in Spring 1945, when the war seemed won. But not quite. Flying bombs started to fall around us. A lone Luftwaffe jet suddenly drops a bomb on a dispersal – an instrument mechanic working alone is dead. I had been working on a radio in that very dispersal shortly before. And now it is April, and in a final push, 139 Wing Mitchells are moved up into Germany to help finish the war, to Achmer near Osnabruck. I flew up with the advance ground crew party. Memories again. We bank over the Achmer airbase. I hear the pilot say “how the HELL can we land there”. We orbited a few times. Down below was a lunar landscape of thousands of overlapping craters; all neatly inside the airfield boundaries. Precision bombing on a vast scale; it must have been the Yanks ! Many craters had, however, been filled in despite appearances from the air, and after a very bumpy landing we unloaded our tents and kit. Next day a large party of German civilians approach us. Our first glimpse of the “enemy”. We are worried. We put our clips into our Sten guns, but no problem. They are the civilian staff of the airbase, and expect to be taken on by the ‘new management’, which they are. First job, digging latrines. Second job, hairdresser.
Memories Fade. Did 139 Wing carry out real ops from Achmer ? It seems that only a few days after arriving there, VE Day was announced. Where’s that photo I had of us all in front of a B25? And the one of the floods after torrential rain?
VE Day and now what? No more bombing, nothing more to “do”. Achmer soon reverts to peacetime. Almost a holiday camp now! Swimming in the Ems-Weser Canal; the Malcolm Club, sunbathing, sightseeing flights over the Ruhr to see the bomb damage, leave in Brussels – and leave back home to marry a lovely London Scottish girl. Our Golden Wedding and VE Day anniversary go together.
And finally! Worries about being transferred to the Far East are over after Hiroshima. (“If only we’d had one to drop” we all agreed, we would have been home sooner.) But the Americans want their B25s back; 139 Wing is converting to Mosquitoes. Fewer ground staff will be needed, demob is in the air and so we all return to Zaventum for dispersal. Old friends and colleagues are disappearing in all directions; 139 Wing is downsizing fast And soon I find myself alone walking into Polebrook, a silent airbase near Norman Cross on the Great North Road, and as I go into the Airmen’s Mess for the first time, American 8th Air Force notices, signs, and insignia are everywhere. I go up to the Servery. On either side are large grey boards bearing, in proud white lettering, dates and places of bombing targets of long departed Flying Fortresses. What catches my eye is of course, the lettering “Achmer” and again “Achmer” amongst the dozens of other target names. So now I know from where those American precision bombers of Achmer had flown. What could we British and Dutch in 139 Wing have done without them? They had provided us with those superb B25s and then took the trouble to get the Luftwaffe out of Achmer for us. This is the reason why I am still pretty pro-American, and why I have made a friend and twice visited a certain Bob Maker in Idaho, who as a captain in the US Army Air Corps, navigated and piloted B25s and other aircraft in the Pacific. But that is another story”…..
139 Wing comprised RAF 98 and 180 Squadrons, and Royal Dutch Navy 320 Squadron. It was part of 2nd Tactical Airforce (RAF), tasked with supporting Allied troops prior to, and after 6th June 1944
Originally published: ‘WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar’
I looked up at the gleaming red paintwork, and the black letters ‘ XX154 ‘ on the side. I knew I was very privileged, few people outside Hawker Siddeley Aviation, and almost certainly no other twelve year old had seen this.
I’d had to duck down low in my seat as my father drove us through the lesser security gate by the Three Compasses pub, the back way into Dunsfold Aerodrome.
Dad was an assistant foreman here for Hawkers, working on famous aircraft such as the Hunter, Gnat and lately ‘ The VTO ‘ – Vertical Take Off, as the workforce called the P1127 prototypes which developed into the Harrier fighter. He had sneaked me in after school on the evening of Tuesday the 20th August 1974. The next day would see the first flight of the new Project 1182 Advanced jet trainer – the Hawk.
David Lockspeiser who has died aged 86, was a leading test pilot and an innovative aircraft designer and engineer who designed and built the Boxer utility aircraft, an “Aerial Land Rover”. Originally named the LDA-01, or Land Development Aircraft, the Boxer was intended as a multi-purpose aircraft for developing and agricultural regions. A single-seat monoplane of metal and fabric construction, it had a canard foreplane, which was the same size as each mainplane mounted at the rear of the box structure fuselage, itself fitted with a four-wheeled landing gear.
With Sea Harrier jump-jets landing on the carrier Hermes in Portsmouth, Frederiksen, who had been testing aircraft at Boscombe Down, inveigled his way aboard as an additional pilot in 800 Naval Air Squadron, under the command of Lt Cdr Andy Auld. A month later he was in the thick of war.
On May 1 Hermes entered the Total Exclusion Zone which Britain had declared around the Falklands, and Frederiksen led a bombing strike by three Harriers on the airfield at Goose Green. After taking his aircraft at wave-top height down the Falklands Sound, Frederiksen flew low over a range of hills and, completely surprising the air defences, destroyed one enemy aircraft as it was taxiing and damaged two others.
Simpson joined Hawker in 1954 and became Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot in 1970. He flew the P.1127 as well as making the first flight in a Hawk. In 2011, the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators awarded him the Guild Award of Honour in recognition of his outstanding lifetime contribution to aviation: “for his long record as a particularly accomplished pilot, his outstanding contribution to experimental test flying, his intimate involvement in bringing three iconic British Fighters – the Hunter, Harrier and Hawk – into service and his exemplary commitment to British aviation generally”.
A comprehensive account of Duncan’s flying time is here.
Hugh Merewether FRAeS(1924-2006)
Merewether was appointed Deputy Chief Test Pilot at Dunsfold in 1956. He was the second pilot to fly the P.1127. In 1963, he was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air for crash landing the P.1127 rather than ejecting and thereby saving the machine to be examined to locate the fault. He became Chief Test Pilot in 1967. Continue reading →
Neville Duke DSO, OBE, DFC & Two Bars AFC, FRAeS (1922-2007) Duke had a “remarkable record” as a World War II fighter pilot, flying Spitfires over France and later, North Africa and Italy. He became a test pilot for the Hawker Aircraft Corporation in 1948. He held the world air speed record in 1953 flying a Hunter but had to retire as a test pilot in 1956 following a serious accident. Nevertheless he continued flying to the day he died, aged 85 – and not as a result of an air accident. He wrote several books including Sound Barrier, Test Pilot, The Crowded Sky and The War Diaries of Neville Duke; and even endorsed a card game named after him in 1955!