This website is about the aircraft of course, but we have to remember that it was a group of people that designed it, built it, maintained it, operated it and went off on their holidays thanks to the VC10. On this page I have collected all the stories that showcase specific persons, no matter if their contribution to the story of the VC10 was small or large. If you know of someone that deserves some attention here, feel free to send in a story with a photo or two.
A while ago I posted the story below about the Navigator on 5N-ABD's fateful last flight, written by his daughter. This triggered an e-mail from Bob Baker who had been in a very similar situation as he lost his father in that same tragic accident. Here is his story:
Bert started his aviation career in 1937 as a maintenance trainee at Imperial Airways at Hythe, Hampshire. At the outbreak of war he was called into the Royal Air Force where he worked in various locations, including around Lysanders judging by the photo on the right. After the cessation of hostilities he joined Cunliff-Owen Aircraft at Southampton. He was then offered a position with British Overseas Airways Corporation as a Flight Engineer on their flying boats, based at Hythe.
In 1951 he joined Trans Oceanic Airways, based at Rose Bay, Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately, the aircraft that was to deliver him to Australia (a Shorts Solent) crashed on take-off, at Malta, with one fatality. The aircraft was floating upside down with all survivors sitting on the wings, when one passenger tried to swim to the rescue boats but perished in the attempt. Bert lost all of his belongings when the aircraft sank. A second aircraft made the trip, with little effort.
A short time after moving to Sydney (in 1953) the company went bankrupt. Fortunately, QANTAS were looking for "boat" people, and Bert joined the company at its base at Rose Bay. Flying was very different to that of Europe! The early fifties still had the left-over dangers from the Pacific War, and operating any type of aircraft demanded a large amount of skill and luck, especially when flying into Rabaul, Buka, Kieta, or Port Moresby, New Guinea.
The days of the Flying Boats were unfortunately slowly fading away, and after six years Bert moved on to land planes, namely the Lockheed Constellation, considered by some to be the prettiest aircraft ever designed. It was still tough to make a living since the company used to "slip" the crews. This consisted for example of flying Sydney to Darwin, Darwin to Djakarta, Djakarta to Singapore, and then a crew change. The previously rested crew would then take the aircraft on to Colombo and then Bombay. The crew would reach its London destination eventually, using this method. After a few days rest, they would do the same thing in reverse. This method called for about nine days to reach London, and another nine to reach the home port of Sydney. In the pre-credit card era mum would try and stretch five or six pounds left by dad, to pay the rent and keep two growing lads fed and clothed. Since dad would have a couple scheduled days off between flights, he would work at the local garage, fixing cars for a little extra cash.
The family were off again, to Thailand this time, when dad found a position with Thai Airways in Bangkok. Brand new "Super Connie's" were brought on line with Australian and American crews assisting the local lads. It was soon noted however, that they could not make money with the routes they were flying with that type of aircraft. After a short while, we said goodbye to that beautiful country and made our way back to the U.K. Dad found a position as a Flight Engineer, with Hunting Clan Air Transport, flying Bristol Britannias, known as the Whispering Giants due to their lack of cabin and engine noise. Shortly thereafter in July 1960, two major aviation companies, Airwork and Hunting Clan, merged to form British United Airways. Dad was overjoyed to go through the required training and eventually qualify as a Flight Engineer on the VC10.
His first flight was on G-ASIX, Gatwick to Entebbe, Entebbe to Nairobi, Nairobi to Entebbe, Entebbe to Gatwick, on November 22, 1964. Like many other members of our profession, Dad was well aware of the "downside" of aviation and the cruel price some must pay. We are all rather blasé when discussing aviation accidents, since it cannot happen to us, but maybe someone we might know. For the first time in a long career Dad could see that retirement was within his grasp in a short three or four years.
He was on secondment from BUA to Nigeria Airways on November 19, 1969, when the unthinkable happened to VC10 5N-ABD. The aircraft struck large trees on its approach to the airport at Lagos. There were no survivors. There has been a lot of speculation about the cause and information has been hard to acquire in the past. It has been only recently that an accident report has been available. I feel extremely privileged to know a young lady (Claire) who actually went to the crash site, and took photos (bravo!). Her father was Basil Payton, the aircraft's Navigator. We have all suffered in one way or another since then, and I am pleased to be able to enlighten you on the way things were.
Paul Greer sent in his memories of Dicky Brown, an erstwhile neighbour who had a bad accident while working with VC10s.
"I lived from the age of around 10, a stones' throw away from LHR, in a place called Charlton Village in Shepperton, Middlesex. Being only a 10 minutes drive from LHR, it was a popular place to live for those employed in and around LHR. One of our neighbours in Hetherington Road was a chap called Richard Brown, who worked as a ground engineer for the then BEA/BOAC.
I remember coming downstairs one morning in what I think was the autumn of 1972, to hear my Mother asking another neighbour about "what happened to poor old Richard...."
Dicky Brown had very narrowly escaped with his life after being ingested into I believe the nr 2 or 3 (inboard) engine of a VC10 on an engine run-up stand: he'd only recently been issued with a new-style anorak with a drawstring around the waist that when pulled tight made the anorak into a bell-shaped death-trap.
Apparently someone in the cockpit nudged the throttle in question a bit too firmly, the engine spooled up (like it should...) and Dicky Brown was lifted up off his feet and into the powerplant....
The event had been observed from the ground and as a "bump" by the run-up crew on the flight deck, who instantly shut down all the engines.
Dicky Brown was removed more alive than dead a short while later and spent a long time recovering in hospital. He'd tumbled around in the inlet, being rapidly chopped to pieces by the vanes: he'd lost his right arm from the elbow down, and three of the remaining five fingers on the other arm, suffered severe abrasions to the head and ears and legs. His wife and their son and daughter had to learn to live with a changed man, who did fight back to such a degree of normalcy, that he relearned to drive a specially adapted van, had an old-fashioned hook fitted, shunning any 6-million-dollar-man type of prosthetic device, and was given a very responsible desk job back within the BEA/BOAC concern.
I myself went on to become later in life a Line Station Manager for British Airways in Sweden in the 1980's, and had the tremendous good fortunate to remake Dicky Browns acquaintance by chance whilst attending a Disaster Management course at LHR. Dicky was then Duty Manager Operations (Maintenance) at BA's Network Control centre, and I think is probably enjoying well-earned retirement by now.
Progress has, however, given us better equipment, procedures and systems to work with - for that we should at least be grateful. Even if Dicky Brown had had such measures that night he may not have gotten off any better.
If you publish this, and anyone knowing Dicky Brown reads this, please give him my regards. No longer with BA, or even Swissair with whom I spent the last 10 years with, I now enjoy the crazier and more volatile world of passing on IT skills to teenagers.
All the best, Paul Greer."
One of the strange occurances that happened during the VC10's civil career was the ELRAT incident. The ELRAT itself wasn't the culprit here, that role was reserved for a mix-up on the F/E's fuel panel that caused all four engines to run down as G-ASGL was flying over the South China Sea at night. The Captain on that flight was Tony Frish, who retired less than a year after this incident, having enjoyed a long career with BOAC and British Airways. Thanks to his son Andy I can share some details about Captain Frish here.
"Born in Hampstead, London, on August 3rd 1920, Anthony George (Tony) Frish proved to be extremely bright. In fact he was (and may still be, I don’t know) the youngest student ever to go to London University, being only 16 years old at the time. He originally wanted to be a research chemist and was working on the early development of cathode ray tubes but the outbreak of war in 1939 saw him volunteer for the RAF. He learnt to fly in Georgia, USA, in 1941 with the Arnold Scheme. Following completion of his flying training, he returned to UK and was fortunate in being selected to do pilot training. This saw him remain in UK during 1942-43 which of course was when Bomber Command was suffering massive losses. Much of that training was on Airspeed Oxfords, though he was involved with many other aircraft types including Ansons, Wellingtons, Halifaxes and Lancasters before commencing his operational tour on Lancasters with 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds, North Lincolnshire on August 6th 1944. He completed his tour on November 27th 1944.
After the war, he joined BOAC and would go on to fly Yorks, Argonauts, DC-7Cs, the sole CL-44 that BOAC leased and finally the VC10 which, like everybody who has ever had anything to do with the aircraft, Tony loved and always praised. He said it was not only probably the most elegant-looking aircraft ever to fly but it was also an absolute pleasure to fly from a pilot’s perspective. He retired from the VC10 on June 20th, 1975. I had accompanied him on several trips over the years and was also lucky enough to be on that very last trip with him, which was Heathrow to New York and back via Prestwick. I’ll never forget the takeoff from Prestwick. This was on Super VC10 G-ASGD, and it was a positioning flight just to return the aircraft to Heathrow so no passengers, just the crew and myself with minimal fuel needed. He was supposed, in such circumstances, to do a “graduated-power” takeoff, to preserve engine life of course. He said to me “Bugger that, we’re going to go for it!” The acceleration of ‘GD on that day was nothing short of breath-taking! I couldn’t lift my arm off the jump seat armrest, we were absolutely flattened back in our seats! Rate of climb was huge and we passed over the far end of the runway at well over 800 feet!
After his retirement my parents decided to emigrate to Australia, settling there in 1992. At a local airfield a historian friend owned a beautiful Stearman biplane and a few enquiries resulted in Tony having a flight in this Stearman for his 80th birthday. Tony was never one to show a lot of emotion but on that day when he walked back from the aircraft I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grin like it! He said to me “You would have had no way of knowing it, but it’s 60 years almost to the day since I last flew one of those!” Part of his flying training in Georgia had been in Stearmans. It was most gratifying to see him like that! Not only that, but the aircraft had its “built date” on the side ….. 1941!"
Tony passed away on May 8th, 2010, the 65th anniversary of VE-day, surrounded by his family. In November 2010 his youngest son Howard officially opened a private bar at Andy's house called 'The Aviator' that is dedicated to the memory of Captain Anthony George (Tony) Frish D.F.C.
Mr. Quentin Heron e-mailed me the following recollections of his and his father's associations with the VC10. He was on board for the inaugural Super VC10 flight from London to New York, continuing on to San Franciso, on 1st April 1965.
"My father ended his BOAC career on 6th January 1971 as a Senior Captain on the VC10, having previously flown the Liberator, Constellation and Britannia for the airline.
Although we lived as a family in Surrey, my father was an Australian, and he took us all to Australia to visit his relatives and friends in Queensland every few years, using his Free-Of-Charge (FOC) tickets.
The second of these trips Down Under was in March & April 1965 when I was only 9 years old. We departed Heath Row for New York on 30th March 1965, where we spent two nights, before leaving for San Francisco on the 1st April 1965.
On reading through Wikipedia today, I have discovered that this was the same date as the first commercial service by Super VC10. This triggered a memory, and when I went to the top of the stairs in my home where my childhood memories are framed and hung, I discovered - lo and behold - the Super VC10 'First Commercial Flight' certificate issued to all passengers, and signed by Captain Harry R. Nicholls, who was a good friend and colleague of my father.
I can recall visiting the flight deck en route, and standing there asking question after question, all patiently answered by Harry Nicholls - a rare treat for any 9 year old boy.
For those who read your website and might remember, my father was Captain James L. Heron who performed some of the developmental flying on the VC10 and wrote some of the BOAC manuals for the aircraft. His nickname at BOAC was 'Jimmy The Bird', and although he was aware of his reputation for very formal behaviour, Dad knew nothing of this (or any other) nickname until I found out about it and told him in 1975, more than four years after he retired. I am happy to report that he was vastly amused!
I also have my 50,000 mile certificate for the Junior Jet Club, dated 5th April 1965; it is signed by the redoubtable O. P. Jones - does that make it a collector's item, I wonder? :-)
My father used to tell me stories about the old Imperial Airways Captains and about O. P. Jones in particular, and the general fear and reverence with which they were held by the young, post-WW2 ex-RAF recruits (such as my father) to BOAC.
It was O. P. Jones who - according to my father - had been commanding a flight across the Atlantic shortly after the War, in an unidentified aircraft type, and was back at the navigator's table, pouring over the charts and smoking the pipe for which he was universally known and recognised. Jones was head down and deep in discussions with the Navigating Officer, when the FO turned around to ask a question, and the FO's knee hit the gang bar covering all eight magneto switches, turning them all off simultaneously, and thus causing all four engines to shut down at once, some 20,000'+ over the ocean at night. An impenetrable, shocked silence settled over the entire flight deck, with everyone frozen involuntarily in their places and appalled looks on everyone's face. No-one was able even to say a word. O. P. Jones did not turn a hair, and without so much as looking up, he simply took the pipe out of his mouth and said: "Quiet, isn't it?", and replaced his pipe in between his teeth.
Of course, the engines were quickly re-started, and being out of radar coverage with few if any other aircraft in the sky then, nothing else happened and nothing more was reportedly said about the incident. But O. P. Jones was hard to beat for sheer sang froid.
My father also remembered flying with the author, David Beaty, shortly after WW2, before Beaty left flying to pursue his writing full-time. Beaty was senior to my father, and Dad painted him as a rather prickly character.
In the end, of course, Dad became one of BOAC's 'Atlantic Barons' himself, spending much of the latter part of his career flying from LHR to any one of the multiple destinations in North America served by BOAC VC10. I think his fleet seniority number was 3 by the time he retired, and I accompanied him on his very last flight for BOAC in December 1970/January 1971 - I was 15 at the time.
We passengered LHR-Manchester on 27 December 1970 (where we overnighted) under the command of a Captain Futcher, before Dad and his crew operated Manchester-Prestwick-New York arriving 28th December 1970. We spent two nights in New York according to my father's log books (which I am looking at right now). His crew consisted of FOs L.C. James and W.P.D. Jeffries, and FE K. Thorington. I remember there being a young SO aboard too, but his name is not recorded.
The return flight left New York in the evening of 30th December 1970, and involved passenger sectors from New York to Prestwick, and Prestwick to Manchester under the command of Captain Goulbourn, before Dad commanded a positioning flight from Manchester to LHR in G-ARVF. After landing we taxied to the maintenance hangar, arriving at 11:37 Am on 31 December 1970.
There, we found about half of the BOAC Board of Directors waiting to meet the flight and mark my father's retirement. He was due to retire on 6th January 1971, and I guess the company had figured out that there simply wasn't enough time remaining for required rest and another operating trip before that date.
Dad hated a 'fuss', and although he was pleased by the small, informal ceremony he was also a little embarrassed. My father was also disappointed not to have one more, final trip for BOAC. He ended his airline career with 3,290 hours on the VC10, out of an eventual lifetime total of 18,871 hrs 57 mins.
Dad's planned retirement to Inverness in Scotland was initially postponed by a two-year stint in Zambia (1972 to 1974), where he was Chief Operations Officer for the Zambian DCA (Department of Civil Aviation). This was immediately followed by two years as a Technical Expert for the UN, who posted him to Dacca, where he was Flight Operations Inspector and Chief Pilot Examiner for the DCA of the newly-independent Bangladesh from 1974 to 1976.
Amongst the more dubious events experienced in Bangladesh was that of living through the military coup in August 1975, which toppled Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who had been the first Prime Minister post-independence.
Inverness was finally reached in 1976, and my father became first an AFI and then a QFI at the Highland Aero Club at the Dalcross Airport just outside town. I was amongst his flight students, and he taught me to fly to my PPL in 1978. Dad's very last flight was in command of a Cessna 152/G-BIHE ('Dalcross Local') in Inverness on 7th March 1983.
In 1983, after all we children had left home, the house in Inverness became far too large for my mother and father, so they moved to Bowral, NSW in Australia, where they lived for 17 happy years before my father passed away in October 2000, at the age of 86.
Harry Nicholls remained a friend in retirement, and ended up in New Zealand, where my parents visited Harry and his wife sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
Dad was also great friends with Harry Sherwood (another VC10 Captain), who pre-deceased my father. But my mother and Harry's widow, Shirley, remain close and still correspond and visit with each other - the last time being earlier this month, when my mother visited the UK. Thus, the association between BOAC and my family now spans 66 years in all - how many other airlines could claim such longevity of loyalty, I wonder?
I once asked my father which aircraft, of all the numerous types he had flown in a career which ultimately spanned 44 years aloft, was his favourite? He answered without hesitation: "The VC10. It truly was superb."
My father was not a man given to overstatement."
As a nice addition to the story above the following bit puts the inaugural flight of the Super VC10 across the Atlantic in perspective. In anticipation of that first flight a bar on New York's West 44th street called The Berkely Room created the Super VC10 cocktail - half a jigger of Cointreau, six drops of Creme de Cacao, two jiggers of brandy and a sprig of mint. It was shaken and served, julep-style, over cracked ice. Now have a look at this story: VC10 on Times Square, to get a view of how BOAC advertised the Super VC10 in New York in 1965. Together it provides a flavour of how much the VC10's service was appreciated by BOAC and the public that flew on it.
Basil Payton joined BOAC in 1946, at the age of 26, after serving as a navigator with the RAF in Burma. One particular flight across ‘the Hump’ had earned him the Croix de Guerre for service to the French. His BOAC service lasted for 18 years until he left to join BUA in 1964. He really enjoyed flying the VC10 and always spoke fondly of the aircraft. When Nigeria Airways bought G-ARVA from BOAC in September 1969 they didn't have enough crew members to operate the aircraft with a full Nigeria Airways crew and Basil Payton got the opportunity to fly for Nigeria Airways for a while. BUA seconded him to Nigeria Airways where he fulfilled the navigation tasks on 5N-ABD through a validation of his British Flight Navigator's license by the Nigerian authorities.
On 19 November 1969 he had been off duty for six days and turned up at London Heathrow airport to operate Nigeria Airways flight WT925 which left London for Lagos at 22:10 in the evening. The aircraft made transit stops at Rome and Kano before leaving for their final stop at Lagos, Nigeria at 6:24 on 20th November 1969. An hour later the aircraft crashed while on approach to Lagos, killing all on board.
His daughter Claire was just 14 when this happened and remembers the mystery and silence surrounding the accident. Over the years she has done her best to learn more about the circumstances and has travelled to Nigeria to visit the accident site and the, sadly neglected, communal grave on the Atan Cemetary in Lagos where many of the victims were buried. At the site where 5N-ABD ended up there were several parts of the aircraft still scattered around the area, lying in the scrub.
Photos C. Galt
Michelle Van-Stein has fond memories connected to this picture as it shows her father, Maurice Wilmer. While working for Vickers he was appointed Fuselage Project Manager on the Engineering team for the design of the VC10.
This second photo is from the Brooklands Museum archives and shows a scene in the Vickers Weybridge Advanced Project Office in 1957 with four engineers looking over a drawing of an aircraft tail. It does not appear to be a VC10 tail but may be of one of the forerunners that led to the VC10 design. Maurice Wilmer is third from the left. Amongst the others are John Davis, Chief Weights Engineer who was also on the engineering team and Ernie Marshall, Chief Project Engineer.