Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roland 'Monty' Burton AFC 1918-1999

Monty Burton became the first man to fly from London to New Zealand in under 24 hours, when with his navigator Flight Lieutenant Don Gannon he won the 1953 London to Christchurch air race in an English Electric Canberra jet bomber in 1953, winning the Britannia Trophy.
Monty grew up in Buenos Aires where his father worked in oil prospecting and then in London where he was sent to school. He was apprenticed to an engineering firm but the war gave him the opportunity to fly with the RAF. Part of his training was with the U.S. Army Air Corps, and he was subsequently an instructor on the Mosquitoes.
Afterwards he worked with the RAF Photo Reconnaissance Unit. Monty piloted the Canberra on intelligence and surveillance missions and in 1952 when large areas of East Anglia and The Wash were flooded, he took some of the first aerial pictures which enabled an assessment of the scale of countermeasures needed to control the disaster. For this work he was awarded the Air Force Cross.
R.L.E.Burton retired from the RAF as a Squadron Leader in 1958 and joined a private aerial survey company, Hunting Surveys.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A/Cdre Whitney W. Straight CBE, MC,DFC 1912-1979

Whitney Willard Straight was born into a wealthy American family, his father died in Paris whilst on war service and following his mother's re-marriage in 1926 he moved with her and her husband to Dartington Hall near Totnes in Devon where they set up an experimental community.  Having soloed at sixteen, he gained his private pilot's licence in 1929 and two years later entered Trinity College, Cambridge.   He also began motor racing in the same year and continued to race throughout his studies at Cambridge, keeping a Puss Moth at Marshall's airfield in order that he could fly down to Brooklands for races.  Completing his studies he set up his own motor racing team making something of a name for himself as a professional racing driver, winning a number of international races and setting a number of world speed records.  However, he gave up his racing career in 1935 in order to establish himself in the field of civil aviation.  He set up a number of companies including the Straight Corporation.  Amongst other things the Straight Corporation set up and ran Exeter Airport.  In 1936, Miles Aircraft began building the Miles Whitney Straight two-seater, which he had designed, also becoming a British citizen in the same year.  By 1938, he operated 40 aircraft and employed over 160 people on eight aerodromes and ran a number of flying schools.

Joining No 601 (County of London) Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force in 1939, he was called up on the outbreak of war joining Fighter Command.  However, his obvious experience in establishing airfields was put to use in 1940 when he was sent to Norway in order to find suitable sites for landing grounds.  Unfortunately the scale and pace of the German advance prevented the occupation or development of those found suitable.  He was however, awarded the MC for his work in Norway, especially his efforts in mobilising the local populace to clear snow  from frozen lakes thereby allowing their use as make shift airfields.  Seriously wounded in Norway, he recovered and became Personal assistant to the Duke of Kent until fit enough to rejoin 601, being credited with four victories during the Battle of Britain.  Shot down over France in 1941, he managed to evade capture initially making his way into Vichy France where he was arrested, interned, escaped and repatriated to Britain during Operation Bluebottle I on 14 July 1942.

In the Middle East it had become obvious that air transport was a resource of increasing necessity and the decision had been taken to establish a group in the area to be solely responsible for all air transport requirements.  Initially under the command of  Group Capt B H C Russell, it was felt that someone with a wealth of experience in air transport would be better qualified to fill the position.  So it was that he was chosen to command this unit, No 216 (Transport) Group and as an Act Squadron Leader, being promoted to Air Commodore.  The organisation he developed proved so good that the following year when the decision to form Transport Command was made, the organisation of 216 was used as the pattern for that adopted throughout the whole command.  By 1945, he had returned to Europe and taken command of No 46 Group which was attached to the British Air Forces of Occupation.

Returning to 'Civvie street' in 1945, he re-established himself in the civilian aviation world being appointed to a number of position in the subsequent years including, BEA (Deputy Chairman - 1946 - 47), BOAC (Managing Director 1947 - 49, Deputy Chairman 1949 - 55 and 1957 - 71, Executive Vice-Chairman 1956 - 57, Chairman 1971 - 76), Rolls-Royce (Executive Vice-Chairman), Midland Bank and the Post Office Corporation (1969 - 74).  He was also a member of many professional organisations, both aviation and business oriented, such as the Air Registration Board (1939 - 42 and 1947 - 54), British Light Aircraft Centre (Chairman 1946 - 51, Vice-President 1951 - 68), Royal Aero Club, Institute of Navigation, RAFA, BALPA and RSPB to name but a few.