On October 12th Group Captain Peter Bedford, son of Hawker Chief Test Pilot Bill Bedford, came to Kingston to talk about his life in aviation. When Peter was a young boy Hawker’s Chief Test pilot had the use of Primemeads Farm cottage so Peter grew up living on Dunsfold Aerodrome, where he used to shoot rabbits to sell to the nightshift. The Dunsfold pilots were part of his family.

Peter was 14 years old as he watched his father make the first vertical takeoff in the P.1127 prototype. At 17, with a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) flying scholarship he learned to fly at Fairoaks Aerodrome flying Piper Colts and Tiger Moths. In thirty hours of free flying he gained his private Pilots Licence.

    At 18 he enlisted in the RAF and went to Cranwell for 2 years where he joined the Jet Provost course. The course  pattern was 6 months academics and officer training, 6 months flying, a further year of studies and then the final flying phase. His father flew up to see him at Cranwell in the last Hurricane, PZ865, and was not permitted to perform a display!

Born Into Aviation

Toptop toptoptop

Peter’s first operational posting was to No 30 Squadron at Fairford on Hercules transports learning to fly at low level making air drops. In 1969 he, together with a small force of Police, was sent to the West Indies where Anguilla had staged a rebellion for independence from St Kitts-Nevis. He had six weeks in command of the airstrip on a tropical island with no tourists and beautiful beaches. Back at Fairford he observed Concorde 002’s flight testing with which 30 Sqn shared the airfield.

Then to the Central Flying School at Little Rissington for six months to train as a flying instructor (and also observe the Red Arrows Gnat operations). He was awarded the Top Hat Trophy for coming bottom of ground school, thus winning the honour of giving a speech at the final guest night. During low flying a rather bluff Australian instructor told him how to judge height; “250 ft you can see the sheep but you can’t count their legs”. At Cranwell again he instructed for 18 months on the much improved Jet Provost JP 5. He was lucky enough to get a loan appointment to Singapore to teach students on the delightful piston engined SIAI-Marchetti SF 260 on which Peter became a solo aerobatic pilot.

Back in UK he applied for fast jets and posted to Coningsby got fly…the simulator. He then volunteered for the Hercules force and joined No 47 Squadron at Lyneham - back to low flying and air drops. Notable tasks were taking a gorilla to Gerald Durrell’s wildlife conservation trust in Jersey, flying the Bishop of Salisbury around his diocese and supporting the Red Arrow’s last Gnat display.

    On an exchange posting to the French Air Force he learned to fly the Transall transport and to cope with French hospitality which included a very liberal approach to alcohol consumption, even away from base. The Transall squadron flew low-level to Quimper en masse, were royally entertained then flew home at 1,500 ft. Peter spent some time with the Special Forces Flight of 47 Squadron and then moved to command the organisation that taught all low level flying and airdrop techniques.
    The Falklands war provided some excitement. The Hercules had no air-to-air refuelling capability so probes were speedily fitted by Marshalls; the first aircraft was completed in just 19 days. Peter then taught in-flight refuelling and wrote the manual for a 2 day course. The Victor tankers were faster than the Hercules so refuelling was carried out in a manoeuvre descending from 20,000 ft to 5,000 ft. The Falklands was reached staging via Ascension from where it was a 3,500 miles leg to the Task Force, which needed two in flight refuellings. After dropping personnel, including the replacement 2 Para Commander after the death of Lt Col H Jones, or stores the Hercules returned to Ascension with another refuelling, the total flight time being 25 hours.
    Peter then attended the Department of Air Warfare and the Staff College at Bracknell. He became the personal staff officer to the Air Officer Commanding, No.1 Group, Upavon, before moving to Lynham as the boss of the Hercules Operational Conversion Unit where he kept current on formation flypasts. In the First Gulf War in1991 he spent ten weeks in command of a detachment of seven RAF Hercules and 14 crews in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Two RNZAF Hercules and crews were also attached. They flew into 2,500 to 3,000 ft desert strips carrying up to 100 equipped troops per aircraft with a lot of 250 ft low level flying. In the six weeks of the air war the Hercules flew 1,300 sorties, carried 14,000 passengers and 7 million lbs of freight.
    Back at Lynham Peter was promoted to Group Captain and posted to the Force Planning Branch at the NATO HQ in Brussels where all NATO forces requirements were planned. He also spent three years with the UK Delegation. It was a difficult task to get military and political agreement amongst the 28 nations. Then, retirement from the RAF but not from the life military as he was employed to advise on NATO relations with the European Union (EU) at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or as it was known Superior Holidays At Public Expense) working for DSACEUR (Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe), via a two star Air Marshal.
    In England once more Peter, neatly completing the circle, became involved with 1034 Squadron, Surbiton ATC which had Harrier GRMk3 XZ130 on the premises. However, the MoD sold the aircraft because it had “become a health and safety hazard due to its age and rapidly deteriorating condition”. At Jet Art Aviation it has been fully restored and is for sale. However, the squadron has kept the link with Hawker and is now the guardian of  the Rev Vernon Lidstone’s large scale flying model Hurricane.
    The vote of thanks was given by the editor.