Newsletter 12
Spring 2006
Updated on 25Feb2006
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents © Hawker Association

Arado crescent criticisms
Association ties
Beyond the Harrier
Christmas lunch
Col. John Driscoll
Comet to Hawk
Double testimonial
Hawk news
Hawker people news
Indian Harrier
Kingston heritage project
News of members
Not boring at all
Programme 2006
RAF Harrier story
RN CVF carrier and F-35b
Sea Harrier finale
Sea Fury racers
Sopwith stories
Thomas Allan Collinson
Who's who?  
On 8th February, Duncan Simpson, at very short notice, gamely stood-in for Afandi Darlington, who was unavoidably delayed in the USA, and entertained a fascinated audience by reminiscing off the cuff about his life in aviation. Illustrated with slides, many made from his personal collection of photographs and drawings, Duncan started his talk from when he was a schoolboy.

 Having seen Alan Cobham's 1934 tour he already had a passion for aeroplanes and considerable ability at drawing them, showing a detailed design he had made for a fighter along, it must be said, Spitfire lines.

His formal training was at the De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School where he saw the world's first jet airliner, the DH 106 Comet, under construction and managed to sketch this beautiful and secret project without being caught!


top toptop top
 From there it was into the Royal Air Force in 1949 where, after training on Harvards, he flew Meteors with 222 Squadron, and suffered a major herring gull windscreen strike, and then Venoms, Sabres, Swifts and the elegant Hawker Hunter whilst at the Central Fighter Establishment. Unpainted "strip Venoms" with non-essential equipment removed were the only fighters that could reach over 50,000 ft to intercept incoming Canberras. The Sabre was underpowered; nice to fly but no interceptor. The Swift was good at low level but hopeless at altitude whereas the Hunter, in spite of its many faults, showed promise of becoming a fine fighter.

 This contact led to Duncan being invited by Neville Duke to join Hawker Aircraft Ltd and, after an interview by John Lidbury and Eric Rubython at gloomy Canbury Park Road, he joined the test pilots at Dunsfold in 1954 where he became heavily involved in Hunter production test flying. An early highlight was being with Len Hearsey's Service Department  team in Peru, in 1956, getting 16 Hunters assembled, tested and delivered in three months.

In the mid sixties he joined the jet V/STOL P.1127 programme, having been the "most seasoned watcher" of the Bedford-Merewether pioneer flying, and was later responsible for converting the Tripartite Evaluation Squadron pilots from Britain, Germany and the USA to fly the P.1127 Kestrel. Five years later he did a similar job for the first RAF Harrier pilots.

In 1970 he became Chief Test Pilot at Dunsfold covering Harrier development, during which he ejected from the first two seater, XW174, following engine failure at low altitude. He also made the first flight in the Hawk and supervised the development programme carried out by Andy Jones and Jim Hawkins. It was Duncan who discovered the "Phantom dive" phenomenon during stalling tests performed, for weather reasons, at the unusually high altitude of 30,000 ft where, again unusually, he retracted the undercarriage before the flaps. This resulted in an uncontrollable nose-down pitch until the flaps were retracted. Further tests show that this tailplane stall occurred at altitudes down to 5,000 ft, albeit less severely. The cure for the RAF TMk1 was to cut back the outboard end of the flap vanes to reduce the downwash.         

Duncan has a strong interest in old aeroplanes and was responsible, whilst with Hawkers, for master-minding the restoration of a Hart and Sea Fury and, against company management opposition, for keeping HSA's Hurricane, "The Last of the Many", flying, in the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The Hart was retired to the RAF Museum, but the Sea Fury flew on with the Royal Navy Historic Flight. He also flew for Scotland's Strathallan Collection, particularly enjoying their Hurricane and Westland Lysander. The latter had naturally fully automatic slats and flaps and it was fascinating, said Duncan, to watch the wing change shape as one slowed down for the approach.

Space allows only this brief summary of Duncan's talk to be recorded here, which in itself was but a part of the fascinating story he has to tell. As Chris Farara said when giving the vote of thanks, perhaps he will return and give us a glimpse of more of his memories.