The following is based on the tribute given by Chris Roberts at Gordon’s funeral on 18th December at Guildford Crematorium…

In paying tribute to Gordon and his legacy, there would be little that could not be summed up in one word – Hawk. The characteristics infused into this aeroplane are those that were part of him: honesty, quality, reliability, commitment and hard work. And above all else he was a thoroughly nice man.

As a young man Gordon was a keen and active air cadet, with the knack of taking advantage of what was available to youngsters. He has since put back so much for others. His adventure started in July 1944 hitching rides in an Oxford and a Lancaster from Waterbeach. Tagging along when something looked interesting was his way and this pretty much covered anything that smelled of fuel, dope or oil; or made a noise and left the ground.

In 1946 he won an SBAC (Society of British Aircraft Constructors) scholarship to de Havilland as an engineering apprentice where he absorbed the basics of aircraft design. He learnt to fly at Panshanger making his first solo, in a Tiger Moth, on 18th December 1948, exactly 64 years before the date of his funeral. Gordon was very proud of his flying achievements, and rightly so. His National Service was with the RAF, gaining his wings in Canada on the Harvard. Back in the UK he flew Meteors and Varsities.

Gordon Hodson, ‘Kgh’

Toptop toptoptoptoptop

On leaving the RAF he returned to de Havilland and worked on the Venom and Vixen programmes at Christchurch. His only career move was to the Folland Aircraft Company, to join the Gnat and the Folland escape system projects. The success of the Folland ejection seat was outstanding - they ‘did it themselves’ after Martin Baker could not meet the Gnat specification. The first Gnat was rolled out in 1955 and when it progressed onto the flight test phase at Boscombe Down Gordon went with it, as he did later with the Gnat Trainer. When Folland was merged into Hawker Siddeley in 1965 Kingston creamed off the talent from Hamble, bringing Gordon to the famous Richmond Road factory as the Design Engineer in charge of the Gnat.

His attention to in-service needs greatly added to the RAF’s ability to operate this excellent trainer, despite its complexity and dense engineering. Following one particular Gnat meeting with the MoD (Ministry of Defence) in 1968 Gordon adjourned with four others to ‘The Dive’ pub on Tottenham Court Road where he first expressed his ideas of what sort of aircraft should replace the Gnat, although the RAF was planning to use the two-seat Jaguar. Gordon wrote a draft specification for a low-cost fast-jet trainer with a close air support capability, and later, as Head of Preliminary Design P1182 which matured into the Hawk, Gordon carried his concept through the critical early stages. His enthusiasm and relationship with the MoD contributed to the success of the difficult contract negotiation process.

As the Hawk settled down in service with the RAF and many overseas customers Gordon’s eye fell on the United States Navy (USN). Many voices at Kingston doubted whether Hawk could win the T-45 contract for the new Navy trainer but Gordon’s tenacity resulted in substantial company funding and a teaming agreement with the Douglas Aircraft Company in California. Those ‘voices’ continued to argue that Kingston should not be trying to sell Hawk to the Americans because the USN had a requirement for a twin engine trainer on safety grounds and therefore Hawk could not succeed. So Gordon also had to persuade the Navy that they did not know their own business, a difficult and dangerous marketing strategy. The only ‘failure’ was the chopping of 100 aircraft out of the order; the T-45 Goshawk was so dammed good that the Navy did not need as many aircraft as they had initially thought.

The relationship that Gordon and his team developed with the Navy was one of absolute trust and respect. But Hawker Siddeley was Douglas’s sub-contractor and the Navy was only allowed to talk to the prime contractor so ‘smoke-and-mirrors’ phone calls became routine. At about midday the phone would ring at Kingston or Dunsfold - 7am in Washington and the Navy had started work. Sometime after 3pm the phone would ring again - 7am in California and Douglas had started work. Douglas had been called by the Navy and needed our help with the answers. Gordon would tell them what he had told the Navy, but usually ‘forgot’ to mention the earlier call from America. Sometimes the phone rang again after 6pm – the Navy telling Gordon what they had been told by Douglas, because they realised that Gordon needed to have another conversation with Douglas! This was why sometimes Gordon did not get home before 9pm in the evening. Also, Gordon celebrated his 100th crossing of the Atlantic in 1988.

The US Naval Air Systems Command and the T45 Programme Office gave Gordon a plaque on his retirement inscribed: “A True Friend of Naval Aviation - Fair Winds and Following Seas.” Douglas also loved and appreciated him but it did take them a while to realise that the USA could learn a thing or two from little Britain, the Hawk and particularly KGH.

Things that are very successful have many fathers. Others have not been mentioned because this is about Gordon. However, they all know who they are and he always acknowledged their part. To quote Gordon, “Hawk is the product of a dedicated team of experienced and enthusiastic professionals”. He regarded himself as just part of the team. The Hawk has generated thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of revenue for the industry and the country. Some 988 Hawks and derivatives are on the books, with a re-order for 20 in hand. Who in 1968 would have believed that sales would top 1,000 and that it would still be selling over 40 years later? Well Gordon would, and the content of his Mitchell Memorial Lecture in 1989, “Beyond 2000 with Hawk and Goshawk”, has already come to pass and there are still over 25 years of in-service time to go.

After retiring in 1991 Gordon became a member of the Grading Committee of the Royal Aeronautical Society and a Professor at Southampton University passing on his wealth of knowledge and encouragement to the next generation of engineers.

In conclusion, tribute must be paid to the family, particularly Thelma whom Gordon married in 1953 and their son Christopher. Behind every successful man is a solid family and the Hodson team was truly solid. Unwavering support through thick and thin was elevated to another level during the last 2 years of Gordon’s cruelly failing health. Gordon will be very sadly missed in so many places but remembered with great affection. There can be few working lives leaving such a rich legacy.