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EAC Loses a good friend

Dieter Thomas

The Board of the EAC has lost one of its original Members who was an enthusiastic founder and supporter of the European Airshow Council when it became a more formal organisation meeting annually in Belgium.  Dieter Thomas participated in the early meetings that decided to make “Safety and Excellence at Airshows” the central theme of the new multi-national Airshow organisation.  With his enormous experience as a test and display pilot, Dieter was an important member of the Board and he played a full part in setting the objectives and ethics of the EAC.  An active Board Member he also was a forthright and clear speaker at the annual Conventions and his contribution to discussions amongst all delegates earned great respect.  In recent years Dieter stood down from the duties of Board Member but continued to give technical advice and support. His many friends and admirers within the world of airshows will miss his mischievous and infectious sense of humour and his willingness to help and advice to those who were less experienced than himself.

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Tribute to David Boddington

David Boddington

David was raised in Irchester, Northamptonshire and was the younger of two brothers.  Their home was close to Podington aerodrome and the sound of USAAF 8th Air Force B-17 Fortresses must have had a huge influence on their childhood and both their future passions. David spent his post war National Service in the RAF and trained as a pilot on Provost and Vampire aircraft.  His slightly cavalier attitude to regulation was shown when, on a solo cross country in a Provost, he made a very low pass over the fields behind his parents home.  He learned the hard way never to make such a spectacle twice as an observant neighbour reported him to the authorities.  Retribution followed which probably eliminated any further progress in the service. Having qualified as an architect David went into practice in Wellingborough but never ceased his interest in aviation.  His speciality was in radio controlled model aircraft and he was one of the foremost designers and builders of such machines.  Ultimately there must be countless thousands of modellers that have used his plans and kits to make successful and practical aircraft over past decades.  No doubt this will continue into the future as a fitting memorial to a talented and dedicated modelling legend. He was also a gifted writer having published many classic books on aeromodelling and was the editor of the best selling RCME magazine for many years along with other related publications. Ventures into the world of Film and TV led him to masterminding the “Wings” TV series.  This involved designing, constructing and flying large scale radio controlled replicas of early Edwardian era aeroplanes and into WW1 types.  He made Dakota’s for the “Airline” series and even ventured into full size aeroplanes when he designed the extensive modifications needed to a Tiger Moth to transform it into a BE2C for an American film company.  This was test flown at Sywell by his brother Charles.  However the film was never put into production.  The aircraft went to the USA where it was wrecked in an accident.  That very aeroplane is now being lovingly restored at Sywell by Charles’ son Matthew and should take to the air again after nearly 40 years of dust collection during 2010.  The Biggles biplane will rise once more.

David pioneered the flying and filming of large scale R/C model aircraft from a helicopter.  I remember being a passenger at Sywell in an Alouette 2, flown by the incomparable French chopper ace Gilbert Chomat in close, very close, formation with a “Mighty Mannock” semi-scale WW1 biplane.  David was in the back with his transmitter controlling the model with the utmost precision right from takeoff to landing.  Quite an experience for me but David was as cool as the proverbial cucumber. Full size aviation was never David’s consuming interest however when his elder brother Charles was killed in 1970 while filming in Ireland and flying a Miles built replica of an SE5A WW1 fighter he filled a vital role.  Charles, along with a number of fellow flying enthusiasts, had formed the Barnstormers Flying Circus in 1963 and by 1970 they were putting on up to 20 airshows each season right across the UK and Ireland.  Charles was the lynchpin of the organisation and its prime manager for, essentially, a loose association of like minded airshow pilots and enthusiasts.  His loss was an enormous tragedy but, no doubt after considerable thought, David stepped into the breach.

The pattern of previous years continued almost seamlessly under David’s guidance though there were times both happy and sad.  I well remember him driving me back to Sywell the day following my horrendous mid-air collision with Colin Goodman at Weston-Super-Mare.  We had been doing a flour bombing routine, Colin in his Tiger G-ANMO and myself in a borrowed Rothmans team Stampe  G-AYGR.  We collided at around 150 feet, meshed together and literally plummeted to earth.  Colin and his Blue Eagles team pilot passenger were badly injured but with the luck of the devil I escaped with a smashed bonedome, slight concussion and a huge bruise all the way down my right side from shoulder to ankle.  Our conversations on the way home certainly helped me come to terms with what had happened. Eventually the demands of his architectural practice and his modelling commitments meant that his management of the Barnstormers had to be passed on.  Mike Parker took over for many years before handing the reins to Ross Willis who, with the ever escalating costs associated with airshow organisation, gently let activity run down in the early years of the 21st century.  Displays right across the UK and many European venues had been organised for the entertainment of millions over some four decades.  The Flying Circus concept continues under the experienced guidance of Captain Dennis Neville and based at RAF Henlow.  Dennis cut his display wisdom teeth with the Barnstormers along with his delightful wife Tricia, now an accomplished display pilot herself. So many of the aerodromes where displays were mounted are no longer in existence.  Doncaster, Sunderland, Weston-super-Mare, Badminton, Dornsode, Ghent, Podington, Portsmouth and Fochabers come to mind…………  Ah well, tempus fugit…………….. As those with a classical education might say. But we sure had fun while it lasted and it lasted through well over half my lifetime.

After David had been diagnosed with cancer his condition deteriorated until he was admitted to hospital for an extended period.  The eventual prognosis was bad and he was recently discharged to go home.  Devoted care from Jill and the family made his final days as comfortable as was possible and this was aided by McMillan nurses who spent many hours looking after him.  The end was made easier with morphine to soften the pain but David finally slipped away from us in the late dark hours of 9th April   May he rest in peace and may Jill and his family derive comfort in the knowledge that their husband and father was an immense personality in General Aviation.  In fact he truly was a general and I am proud to have known him so well. Thank you David for being such an important part of my life in aviation.  Along with countless others I will miss your talents and humour.  Perhaps we may meet again in the fullness of time.  I do hope so for it would be a magic reunion with all those aviation friends who are now no longer with us.