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!
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
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
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
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.