Don Riches

Hawker Siddeley Test Pilot 1968-1980

Don Riches

Donald Riches, was a Squadron Leader in the RAF. He was posted to Singapore in the early 60’s and subsequently to Devon and then Norway.

In August 1968, Don Riches completed his posting with the Norwegian Air Force 336 SKV at Rygge and took up his new posting at Dunsfold with Hawker Siddeley as Squadron Leader on secondment from the RAF due to the belief that both the Navy and Air Force would be purchasing Harriers and Sea Harriers in the future.  After a couple of years, he was asked by Hawker Siddeley if he wanted to give up his RAF career and continue as a test pilot for them. 

Don was test flying the Harrier and the Hawk. He flew at the Paris and Farnborough airshows. His contemporaries at his time at Dunsfold were Andy Jones, John Farley, Dick Whittington, Jim Hawkins and Duncan Simpson.

Timeline

1957-1959 43 Squadron at RAF Leuchars, flying Hunters

1957-1959 222 (Natal) Squadron at RAF Leuchars, flying Hunters

1959-1962 RAF Swinderby, training pilots on Meteors and Jet Provosts. Plus flying in an acrobatics team (poor man’s Red Arrows at the time!)

1962-1965 20 Squadron at RAF Tengah Singapore, flying Hunters. Active service medals for Borneo and Brunei rebellion/civil war. Oak Leaf awarded. Tengah 20 Squadron disbanded in 1970 and moved to RAF Wildenrath, West Germany with Harriers.

1965-1966 RAF Chivenor 229 (OCU) Training RAF pilots on the Hunter.

1966-1968 336 SKV Norwegian Air Force, flying Northrop F5 Freedom Fighter.

Then to Dunsfold.

During his time at Dunsfold he was the first man to land a Harrier on HMS Hermes and also the Brazilian aircraft carrier Minas Gerais in 1978.  He was also part of the team including John Farley who made a promotional flying tour of South America in order to sell Harriers to those countries.

St Pancras London, 1969 Preparation for the take-off of the Harrier in the Trans-Atlantic Air Race

Whilst at Dunsfold, Don, Duncan Simpson, Huw Merryweather and John Farley had a lot to do with the planning, logistics and organisation of the Harrier competing in the 1969 Daily Mail Transatlantic Race. This event was to celebrate 50 years since Alcock and Brown crossing. The Harrier pilot pilot was Squadron Leader Tom Lecky-Thompson as it was an Official RAF entry, but the team won the London to New York leg in 6 hrs 11 mins winning £6000.

Don finished working for Hawker Siddeley in 1980 when he decided to take his commercial pilots licence and joined Brittania Airways.  

Don died at the age of 50 in 1985 and at his funeral the eulogy was read by his colleague Duncan Simpson.

All text and photographs kindly supplied by Don’s daughter and son, Sally and Nick.

Don at the controls of one of Britannia’s 737’s
Sea Harrier landing on Brazilian aircraft carrier Minas Gerais, October 1978

Pilots of 320 Squadron Facebook page.

Son of airgunner Richard Heinrich Tessers. I have start a special new webpage on Facebook in memory of all pilots and crews who was at the sq.320 RAF/MLD Mitchell´s at Dunsfold, also at the training schools and later at 8 okt. moved to Melsbroek Belgium. If you have pictures of crews in front of the Mitchell of the Dutch ones, if you know that family had a family or crew member with the sq.320 RAF/MLD let me know that they can tell their stories and put pictures on my webpage, here is the link.

Hawker’s Secret Cold War Airfield:

Dunsfold: Home of the Hunter and Harrier

by Christopher Budgen

A new book will be available in July. Amazon Link

Author Christopher Budgen has spent his life imbued with military aviation. His father and two uncles all served with the RAF during and after the Second World War. His father, Maurice, served in India on Liberators and Tempests before working for Skyways at Dunsfold during the Berlin Airlift and subsequently for Hawker Aircraft as they started production of the superlative Hunter at the aerodrome. Chris followed his father into employment at Dunsfold in the 1970s, initially working on RAF and export Hawks before moving on to Harrier and Sea Harrier. A move to Development saw him become involved in the launch of the Sea Harrier FRS.2 and the HS.125 flying test-bed, as well as numerous trials on the Harrier GR.5 and GR.7. The author of several books on the history of the area and an authority on Hawker aircraft and Dunsfold, Chris is currently engaged as archivist at Brooklands Museum specialising in Hawker and successor companies. Having spent twenty-one years working at Dunsfold, his knowledge allows him to shine a light onto aspects of the company and airfield not widely recognised. Given his family’s close links to the land upon which Dunsfold was subsequently built, Chris is well-placed to tell the story of this previously closed and secretive community.

Napier-Railton parachute test vehicle

In 1951 the Napier-Railton was purchased by the GQ Parachute Company of Woking to test aircraft parachutes at Dunsfold airfield. GQ had the car modified with the addition of specially made disk brakes and fitted with test equipment capable of deploying an aircraft braking parachute at high speed, and then retracting the parachute when the speed had dropped to about 30 knots. The car was normally driven by Sir Geoffrey Quilter but also other members of the company. When the testing work had been completed, the car was sold on to be raced in VSCC meetings.

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VC10 open day 12th October

Brooklands are hosting another open day this month where you can visit the VC10 at Dunsfold.

https://www.brooklandsmuseum.com/whats-on/vc10-za150-open-day-at-dunsfold-aerodrome

We understand their Napier Railton will also be on display. https://www.brooklandsmuseum.com/explore/our-collection/cars/napier-railton

In 1951 the car was sold to the GQ Parachute Company of Woking. GQ had the car modified and fitted with test equipment capable of deploying an aircraft braking parachute at high speed and then retracting the parachute when the speed had dropped to about 30 knots. These experimental trials were carried out on Dunsfold airfield and proved to be most successful.

Crash at Shackleford Heath, Mitchell 30th Aug. 1944

Shackleford Heath, Mitchell crash, 16:45 hrs, 30th Aug.1944

Compiled by Frank Phillipson

16:45 hrs, 30th August 1944

North American Mitchell II, FW268, EV-O, (a 180 Squadron aircraft).

Shackleford Heath (Opp. Cyder House PH(?), Pepperharrow Ln., Shackleford.

Hit trees on an air test and flew into ground.

Crew:

Lieut. Cees Waardenburg DFC (Pilot) Royal Dutch Naval Air Service, 320 (Dutch) Squadron (?)(flying with 98 Squadron), Aged 23 killed. Originally buried at Rudgwick – 1964 moved to Dutch section of Mill Hill Cemetery, London

Flying Officer (Air Gunner) Henry George Payne, 139 Wing, 180 Sqdn., RAF, Age 27, killed. Buried at Rudgwick.

C:\Users\Frank\Pictures\z011 Dunsfold Airfield and crashes and incidents thereon\Mitchell Crash 30.8.44 Shackleford, ORB 180 Sqdn..jpg Continue reading “Crash at Shackleford Heath, Mitchell 30th Aug. 1944”

Crash at Blacknest Farm, Dunsfold of Mitchell FW264 on 6th October 1944

Crash at Blacknest Farm, Dunsfold of Mitchell II, Ser. No.FW264, of 180 Squadron on 6th October 1944 at 10:21hrs.

Compiled by Frank Phillipson.

At 10:00 on 6th October 1944, twelve Mitchell II bombers of 180 Squadron took off from their airfield at RAF Dunsfold to attack a petrol, oil and lubricant dump west of Amersfoort, Holland. As the aircraft climbed away from the airfield two of them collided in cloud with Mitchell FW264 crashing and killing all on board at Blacknest Farm, Chiddingfold Road, Dunsfold. The aircraft was burnt out with three of it’s 500lb bombs detonating, three made safe and two still remaining to be traced (at the time of the police Daybook entry below).

C:\Users\Frank\Pictures\z011 Dunsfold Airfield and crashes and incidents thereon\z059 Blacknest Farm 6th Oct. 44\6th Oct Police Day Book 02.JPG

C:\Users\Frank\Pictures\z011 Dunsfold Airfield and crashes and incidents thereon\z059 Blacknest Farm 6th Oct. 44\6th Oct Police Day Book 05.JPG Continue reading “Crash at Blacknest Farm, Dunsfold of Mitchell FW264 on 6th October 1944”

The end of eras

Sunday 16th June 2019 marks the last time we will hear fast jets flying over Dunsfold. The final Wings and Wheels airshow will have concluded. It is the last because the redevelopment of the airfield will soon be welcoming the construction vehicles to try to pull up the runways and perimeters with the aim of building thousands of square metres of industrial space and 1800 houses. I wonder if any of the construction team will appreciate the significance of what they are demolishing, digging up and dragging into a ditch somewhere.

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The Hemingway story

The “Curley’ Stone” crew flew their 1st op with 98 sqdn. on 22 April 1944. They were screened on 03 August 1944, having put in their 50 trips.  An uncle of mine, Sgt James Le Blanc, was one of the crew’s A/Gs.  
 
The crew, with the exception of a single op, consisted of :
Plt    F/O ‘Curley’ Stones.  RCAF.  (Winnipeg)
Nav F/O ‘Gremlin’ Walkerdine. RCAF.
A/G Sgt James ‘Jofo’ Le Blanc. RCAF. (New Richmond)
A/G Sgt Ed Kornlowitch. (Alberta)
 

A request for information came into the Society from Michael LeBlanc in Canada. Can anyone shed more light on the story recounted?

“To date I have been unable to find more information on the officers – not even initials. Hoping someone can help.
I do have a  crew photo and have a trove of family letters between my uncle, his two other brothers in the RCAF (78 & 425 Sqdns.), all sent to their mother. Lots of great gossip about him and his fellow NCO gunner drinking and lots of chat about chasing pretty British girls together.

 

Uncle Jim was a wonderful story tells, always presented with great humour. He use to tell one about a trip made with Ernest Hemingway on board and the incident, when after being hit by flak, they lagged behind and that to run the flak concentrated on them.

Hemingsway’s then pal and fellow newsman from the News Chronicle Special Correspondent, Michael Moynihan, flew with P/O Stevenson & Rees in ‘U’. He describes the same incident in some detail his book ‘War Correspondent – unfit for service’, but no date is given and an original newspaper clipping of the same story from Jim’s papers has no date.

Moynihan and Hemingway had been haunting the station in that period hoping for a trip of their own while doing some stories on the boys. Getting late notice of the op, they rushed to the field getting there at the very last last moment and hoped on the nearest kites. Their names do not show up in the Monthly Summaries nor in the daily ORBs

Unfortunately, I’m having difficulty identifying exactly what date this took place on with the various clues offered so far.

Time of take-off shortly after 2 pm.
Stones & Stevenson flying.

Can anyone help flesh out more of this crew’s story ?

It would be interesting to know if anyone else has anyone else heard of the ‘Hemingway’ story or others similar to this one ?”

Michael LeBlanc

PS:

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