Airspeed – Test pilots (Part 2)

More of the test pilots connected with the Airspeed story.

Please note: some individuals, particularly those with significant roles in de Havilland history, have not been included here (or are mentioned very briefly).


G B S Errington – George Bertram Sainsbury Errington was born in Hundsdon, near Ware, in Hertfordshire in 1902. He studied at Hamilton House Prep School in Bath. Apprenticed to A V Roe in Manchester in 1929, he qualified for his A licence on an Avro Avian at Lancashire Aero Club in October 1930. He also took an aeronautical engineering course and qualified for his A and B Ground Licences. Once fully qualified he joined Comper Aircraft Company (later Heston Aircraft) as an inspector building and flying the Comper Swift. He also ran his own business as an electrical engineer. It was after Compers moved to Heston that he saw an Airspeed Courier with its then revolutionary retractable undercarriage for the first time. Impressed, he joined Airspeed as an inspector in September 1934. Later became a test pilot and then chief test pilot from 1935 till the company was absorbed into de Havillands. In 1936 he made a delivery flight of a military AS.6 Envoy to South Africa and remained there till the contract was completed. A year later he made another long delivery flight – this time it was to China. He made the first flights of the Airspeed AS.30 Queen Wasp (K8887 – landplane version); AS.39 Fleet Shadower (N1323); AS.45 Cambridge (T2249); AS.51 Horsa (DG597) and the AS.57 Ambassador (G-AGUA). He flew over 100 different types of aircraft during his career. A career that was tragically ended in June 1966. When he took off from Hatfield as copilot in HS.121 Trident G-ARPY on a test flight it was the last time anyone saw him alive. G-ARPY entered a superstall and crashed near the village of Felthorpe in Norfolk killing all four crew.


R E M B Milne – Robert Milne's first encounter with an aeroplane was in his native Canada, when a 'Miss Stinson' gave a display at the local sports day (probably Katherine Stinson – although she received her pilot's licence in 1912 and the event took place in 1911). He travelled to Britain with the Royal Canadians in 1916. Camped near the Air Gunnery School in Kent he watched the planes. Enamoured he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and eventually became an instructor. He finally managed to fly on operations in Sopwith Camels over Italy with 28 Squadron before the Armistice. Back in Britain he did another stint as an instructor before taking part in 'flying off' trials on HMS Furious. Flying off HMS Vindictive over the Baltic during the brief Russian campaign he was shot down by a Russian cruiser and crash-landed in Finland. Back in Britain he was given a commission and posted as an instructor to the first course at Cranwell College, where he spent five years. Among his pupils was Schneider Cup winner F/O H R D Waghorn. In 1925 he was posted to an RAF depot in India and flew DH.9A's and Bristol fighters on test but within a few months rejoined No.23 Squadron in Quetta (now in Pakistan). In total he spent 5 years on the Indian subcontinent (including a stint in Lahore, also now in Pakistan) before returning to Britain in March 1930. He finally left the RAF in 1931. By 1933 he was an instructor with National Flying Services at Reading. Taken over by Philips and Powis (later Miles Aircraft Ltd), he was appointed as chief test pilot. The Cirrus Hawk was his first prototype. He flew the Hawk Major, Falcon, Merlin, Nighthawk and Sparrowhawk before leaving in 1936. Also in 1936 he entered and flew Hawk G-ADGP in the King's Cup Air Race held at Hatfield. After a stint as an instructor with Aircraft Distributors Ltd (till 1938), he joined No.46 Elementary Flying Training School at Portsmouth in 1939 as Deputy Chief Flying Instructor. A year later he was released for special duty and joined Airspeed as a test pilot (during this time he also undertook spotting work at low tide to plot where German bombs and mines had fallen in the approaches to Langstone Harbour). Although he did some of the development flying on the Airspeed AS.39, Fleet Shadower (a four-engine, folding wing, carrier aircraft), AS.45 Cambridge, AS.10 Oxford Mk.V, AS.51 Horsa glider and AS.30 Queen Wasp, the bulk of his time at Airspeed appears to have been spent on testing production AS.10 Oxfords.


R E Clear – Ronald Edward Clear was born in 1917 at Portsmouth. He reportedly joined the Portsmouth and Southsea Gliding Club at the age of 14 and passed his flying tests in seven months (and managed to persuade the Royal Aero Club to lower their age requirement to enable him to get his gliding certificate in 1931 – even though on one occasion the glider flipped over in high wind because of his light weight). He worked as an aircraft apprentice at the Wiltshire School of Flying (commuting 100 miles by motorbike) where he got his ground engineer and pilot's licences at the age of 17 in 1934. An Airspeed test pilot from the late Thirties, and a close friend of George Errington, his personal mount was a Comper Swift (G-ACTF). He did a significant amount of test flying on the Horsa. He was also at the controls when AS.57 production prototype G-ALFR shed its engines at Christchurch on 13 November 1950. He later flew the same plane to Sudan for its tropical testing trials. He retired from test flying in 1980 to become Aerodrome Manager, Hatfield for British Aerospace.

Click here for Airspeed test pilots Part 1


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