Bob Grim­stead

Long-serv­ing Pi­lot Con­tribut­ing Ed­i­tor Bob is a re­tired BA cap­tain who has writ­ten about a huge range of air­craft and now dis­plays the Fournier RF4D

Pilot - - CONTENTS - By Nick Bloom

Ifirst met Bob Grim­stead at the Tiger Club back in the 1980s and im­me­di­ately took a lik­ing to him. He was so friendly and en­thu­si­as­tic that I of­fered him a go in my Sky­bolt. It was only af­ter­wards that I made the con­nec­tion; this was the man who wrote flight tests in Pi­lot. Later, I read his ac­count of im­port­ing two Champs from the USA in a con­tainer and an­other piece about the Bow­ers Fly Baby, in which he flew both the mono­plane and bi­plane ver­sions. Then and now, Bob’s style is easy-to-read, in­for­ma­tive, mod­est (he keeps his pres­ence unob­tru­sive) and, above all, au­thor­i­ta­tive. He’s one of the true pro­fes­sion­als.

In later years, dur­ing my stint as Pi­lot Ed­i­tor, we worked closely to­gether. We were both pas­sion­ate about what went into the mag­a­zine, and even though we were kin­dred spir­its, there were fre­quent clashes. With other con­trib­u­tors I had to be care­ful what I said, but Bob and I were unique in agree­ing to a ‘no-holds-barred’ pol­icy. If he thought I’d been an idiot, he said so, and vice versa. It worked bril­liantly. In those busy days, though, there were few op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet and I had never been to his home, nor asked about his his­tory and how he got into fly­ing.

So to­day I’m driv­ing down the A3 into ru­ral Sur­rey to visit ‘Cas­tle Bob’. He and his wife Karen live in a small vil­lage on a hill, and their house has com­mand­ing views over rolling coun­try­side. The house is charm­ing, built in the 1930s (it still has the ser­vants’ bells in the din­ing room), with some daz­zling dec­o­ra­tive touches, the work of Karen, who is an in­te­rior de­signer and artist. The fi­nal stretch of my jour­ney took me through a small town built around a stately home. It was filled with tourists, its wind­ing streets rem­i­nis­cent of a Cor­nish fish­ing vil­lage, I thought−what a nice place to have on your doorstep.

The Grim­steads di­vide their time be­tween their English home and a sec­ond home in Aus­tralia. Karen, though born in the UK, spent most of her life in Aus­tralia, and Bob took a shine to the place. Com­mut­ing be­tween the two coun­tries avoids the mis­eries of an English win­ter and means Bob can fly all year round, lucky man.

Bob and I sit in the liv­ing room. The ta­bles are spread with a dozen books, all open to pages show­ing a clas­sic pi­s­to­nengined air­liner in which Bob has just had a ride−re­search for a forth­com­ing ar­ti­cle. I be­gin, as I al­ways do by ask­ing when and where he was born; 1948, in Bris­tol. He spent his early child­hood, though, in Twick­en­ham. Bob’s fa­ther was a Cus­toms and Ex­cise of­fi­cer and Bob’s par­ents met when they were both work­ing at the Ad­mi­ralty. His mother was a clerk in the Civil Ser­vice.

I ask what kind of child­hood Bob had. “I was the old­est of three,” he says. “My sis­ters Su­san and Sarah were three, and six years younger. Dad com­muted to an of­fice at Heathrow un­til I was ten, and then had to travel around a lot−he wasn’t at home much. I was al­ways out on my bike and

I’ve al­ways had an in­sa­tiable cu­rios­ity about ev­ery­thing. When I was seven or eight I used to hang around the lo­cal fire sta­tion, and a year or two later I made friends with a gun­smith and started col­lect­ing books on guns. I was an avid reader, es­pe­cially of Arthur Ran­some’s Swal­lows and Ama­zons and had a ca­noe when I was eleven. I was al­ways out­side in those days, al­ways do­ing some­thing. I was a Wolf Cub, and then, from eleven, a Sea Scout. I loved row­ing and swim­ming. It was a tus­sle be­tween the sea and air at that age, be­cause I also joined the Air Cadets.”

His first en­counter with aero­planes was be­ing ter­ri­fied by the Brabazon fly­ing over when he was two. “Dad didn’t want me to have a pho­bia, so he took me to the air­field to see what it was that had fright­ened me, and see that it was won­der­ful, not fright­en­ing.”

Love of the out­doors caused prob­lems at school. “I spent half my child­hood be­ing told off for look­ing out the win­dow,” Bob re­mem­bers, “es­pe­cially when­ever an aero­plane went over.” He bi­cy­cled to school and reg­u­larly de­toured past Heathrow to watch the air­craft. He also bi­cy­cled, or took a Green Line bus, to Red­hill, Gatwick and Big­gin Hill at week­ends. “Mostly, I was on my own,” he says. “I have al­ways found it dif­fi­cult to bond with other peo­ple. Be­sides, other boys were spot­ters and only in­ter­ested in col­lect­ing air­craft reg­is­tra­tions. I wanted to know how aero­planes worked and – even then – what dif­fer­ent air­craft would be like to fly.”

His first flight

When he was fif­teen, he got a week­end job at Fairoaks, sweep­ing hangars and help­ing with re­fu­elling. He also had his first flight in a light aero­plane. “I was at the Cadet Corps Sum­mer Camp at Lit­tle Riss­ing­ton,” he re­mem­bers, “prac­tis­ing on the ri­fle range. It was with some re­luc­tance that I put down my .303 ri­fle when an­other cadet sent to fetch me said I was wanted to take my turn for an air ex­pe­ri­ence flight. It was in the right seat of a Pis­ton Provost. I saw the camp drop­ping away and thought, ‘Wow, this is fan­tas­tic’. And it got even bet­ter when I was given the con­trols. I had read about how to fly, had built and flown a con­trol line model, so I knew what to do and found fly­ing com­ing to me al­most nat­u­rally. From that mo­ment on, I knew for sure that I had to be a pi­lot.” The Provost flight was fol­lowed by an­other in a Chip­munk at White Waltham, in which first the pi­lot, then fif­teen-year-old Bob flew loops. “He pointed out things be­low, like an air­craft fac­tory and the re­mains of the old Ro­man town at Old Sarum which you could only see from the air. It all helped to cap­ture my imag­i­na­tion.” When he was six­teen, the fam­ily moved to Burn­ham in Buck­ing­hamshire. Ear­lier that year he bought his first mo­tor­bike, “and I was off, ut­terly wooed away from ev­ery­thing else”. His school was Hamp­ton, “a rather posh Gram­mar with a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing good aca­dem­i­cally. I’m not the aca­demic type and loathed it.”

Bob was go­ing qui­etly off the rails as a teenager. Through a school friend who was an air­craft spot­ter who had moved on to mo­tor­bikes, he dis­cov­ered a group of rock­ers and spent his time with them. “We were all leathers and at­ti­tude,” he re­mem­bers, “but also we all did our own main­te­nance. I moved up the Tri­umph lad­der, 350cc, then 500 and fi­nally a 650. Mean­while, I was com­ing close to the bot­tom in class in ev­ery sub­ject and more of­ten, last.”

By now, at six­teen, he knew that he wanted a ca­reer as a pi­lot. “I as­sumed that meant join­ing the RAF and for that I would need to have five ‘O’ lev­els and two ‘A’s−and you were sup­posed to sit for three, prefer­ably all sci­ence sub­jects. I told the school I wanted to study maths, physics and ge­og­ra­phy, but they said I was bet­ter at lan­guages and in­sisted on my do­ing English, French and ge­og­ra­phy.”

“I should have thought you’d love English,” I tell him. Bob makes a face.

“Bloody Chaucer,” he says. “The teacher fan­cied him­self as a mas­ter of me­dieval pro­nun­ci­a­tion and he used to faff about, read­ing great long sec­tions in a lan­guage we couldn’t un­der­stand. No won­der I looked out the win­dow.” It wasn’t all bad; Bob joined the school row­ing club and com­peted in small-bore ri­fle shoot­ing.

He ap­plied for an RAF Fly­ing Schol­ar­ship. “I passed ev­ery­thing but the med­i­cal,” he says. “The RAF was cut­ting back and get­ting choosy. Any­thing could fail you and in my case it was hav­ing dry skin, which I’d de­vel­oped from chlo­ri­nated swim­ming pools. They said it could give trou­ble were I posted to a trop­i­cal cli­mate. I was dev­as­tated un­til my form mas­ter pointed out that all was not lost. It hadn’t oc­curred to me un­til that point that there were al­ter­na­tives and I could earn a liv­ing as a civil­ian pi­lot.” So Bob ap­plied to the BEA/ BOAC col­lege at Ham­ble and was ac­cepted, pro­vid­ing he passed his ‘A’ lev­els.

How­ever, he still couldn’t bring him­self to make an ef­fort at aca­demic work and con­tin­ued to come bot­tom of the class. Even­tu­ally the Head Mas­ter sum­moned Bob’s fa­ther and said the school was wast­ing its time and Bob would be bet­ter off leav­ing. “Dad de­cided some­thing had to be done and it was time he took me in hand. A change of job (he was pro­moted at this point) meant the fam­ily mov­ing, but from then on he came home ev­ery night in­stead of his work keep­ing him away. He took me on a tour of Gram­mar Schools in the area and let me ask the ques­tions. Burn­ham was the one I chose−i asked the Head how many school rules they had and he said, ‘Just one: be­have re­spon­si­bly’. The place I’d been to be­fore had dozens in a book. Burn­ham Gram­mar was co-ed, so there were girls. It was much smaller and it had just been opened so there was no school tra­di­tion to weigh things down. They let me choose my ‘A’ level sub­jects, so I chose maths, physics and ge­og­ra­phy.”

“So did that turn things round?” I ask him. “Just enough,” he says. “I got my ‘A’ lev­els, but only just. I was too dis­tracted by the girls. I also dis­cov­ered cars and the evening and week­end jobs I took to pay for them didn’t help.”

One thing I have ob­served about Bob over the years is that he’s a touch rest­less, not a great one for re­lax­ing and sit­ting back. So it’s no sur­prise that while still at school he worked as a de­liv­ery driver for a butcher, as a labourer on build­ing sites, and in a tote booth at a grey­hound race­track. No won­der he only scraped passes at ‘A’ level. Still, it was enough for Ham­ble, and he was ac­cepted.

A late starter

“The only prob­lem was, what with hav­ing lost a year chang­ing schools and other de­lays, I was nine­teen by the time I started there. And I grad­u­ated just as a two-year bulge in pi­lot re­cruit­ment was dy­ing away. Other Ham­ble grad­u­ates my age who got on with things walked into jobs when the em­ploy­ment mar­ket was boom­ing. That meant that, as the short­age of pi­lots kept in step with them, they got com­mands af­ter a mere five or six years. Whereas I, who had en­joyed my­self with girls, al­co­hol and mo­tor­bikes, started work in a shrink­ing mar­ket with more pi­lots than jobs... and I had to wait 25 years to be a cap­tain.” There was a nine-month gap be­tween leav­ing school and start­ing at Ham­ble. “I spent it build­ing a pow­er­ful mo­tor­bike in my bed­room,” says Bob. “And work­ing as a ware­house­man in a paint fac­tory, which ac­tu­ally helped me out when, later on, I went to air­line job in­ter­views, be­cause I had a demon­strated record of cop­ing with long night shifts.” In­ci­den­tally, Bob at this stage had a lot of girl­friends. “I dis­cov­ered at school how much I en­joyed the com­pany of women,” he says, “but I some­how couldn’t quite get the trick of mov­ing from con­ver­sa­tion to bed.”

Ham­ble was a live-in, men-only col­lege. “One bloke who got mar­ried while still a stu­dent there got ex­pelled,” says Bob. It was an eigh­teen-month course with 225 fly­ing hours. Bob bought him­self a Ford Pre­fect to re­place the Anglia he’d had be­fore. Of his in­take of 36, twelve flunked the course and he came half­way up, so he passed through safely. “My mem­ory of it was that it was re­ally hard work.” So at 21, like all his in­take, he was as­signed to work at BOAC. Typ­i­cal of Bob, he dis­cov­ered that the pay rate de­pended on fly­ing hours, fig­ured out he could make a profit if he could get in some fly­ing cheaply enough, and spent the fort­night from grad­u­a­tion to start­ing work hour­build­ing in Fourniers at Big­gin Hill. While on the course, in­ci­den­tally, he had got in some aer­o­bat­ics, via a sym­pa­thetic in­struc­tor and a Chip­munk.

Then came his first take­off in the right seat of a Boe­ing 707 weigh­ing 150 tons.

“That fol­lowed 160 hours in Chero­kees, 50 hours in twins, 25 in Chip­munks and 15 in Fourniers. It was quite a jump.” But first there were three months of ‘talk and chalk’ in BOAC’S class­rooms, fol­lowed by an exam... and twenty hours in the prim­i­tive sim­u­la­tors of the day. He got twelve hours of flight train­ing in the 707 and be­gan work as a Third Pi­lot... “which for the first cou­ple of years meant mostly watch­ing the other two, with oc­ca­sional spells in the right seat. Then you stopped fly­ing for a few weeks to take the ATPL ex­ams”.

Dur­ing those pro­ba­tion­ary two years, Bob kept up his Pri­vate Pi­lot’s Li­cence. In fact he was un­usu­ally keen, not only con­tin­u­ing to fly Fourniers at Big­gin, but tak­ing up glid­ing at Booker (Wy­combe Air Park), and join­ing a group with an Auster J4 and a Cur­rie Wot. “The job did al­low plenty of time for fun fly­ing,” he tells me. He was away from home for around 150 days a year, plus spend­ing around fifty days on standby. Typ­i­cal was a Lon­donTel Aviv-tehran-and-back ros­ter with 24-hour stops be­tween flights, or two-to-three week cir­cuits to the Far East or Aus­tralia and back.

“It wasn’t par­tic­u­larly well paid,” he says, “Prob­a­bly around £20-25,000 in to­day’s money, so I got a week­day job to sup­ple­ment my pay. The fly­ing was mostly at week­ends. I made an­other £12,000 (in to­day’s money) through ware­house work and truck driv­ing. I earned enough to pay for my par­ents to have a two-week hol­i­day in Hong Kong; it was to thank them for their sup­port and cel­e­brate their 25th wed­ding an­niver­sary.”

So, aged 24, Bob had a fresh ATPL and two stripes on his sleeve... and it was at this time, in 1972, that he joined the Tiger Club, although he didn’t be­come fully in­volved in club ac­tiv­i­ties for an­other ten years. Soon af­ter this, BOAC and BEA be­came Bri­tish Air­ways, the INS was in­tro­duced and that made third pi­lots re­dun­dant, so Bob was sec­onded to Monarch. “It was a big cul­ture dif­fer­ence. At BOAC, cap­tains were ‘Sir’ or ‘Skip­per’ and stayed in a bet­ter ho­tel. Monarch cap­tains treated first of­fi­cers as their so­cial equals. Plus I got a lot more re­spon­si­bil­ity. Com­pared to the forty or so land­ings I’d done with BOAC since start­ing, I did forty with Monarch in just six months. It was prob­a­bly the hap­pi­est pe­riod of pro­fes­sional fly­ing in my ca­reer. By the long, hot sum­mer of 1976, I was liv­ing in a cottage I shared with four other Monarch pi­lots, work­ing my socks off and lov­ing it. I was do­ing al­most no pri­vate fly­ing then, but re­ally got to grips with air­line fly­ing... and that did make my re­turn to BA frus­trat­ing.” And be­ing Bob, he al­lowed his frus­tra­tion to show.

Nev­er­the­less, “Af­ter a while I set­tled into a rou­tine. I’d stopped hav­ing sec­ond jobs. I met Kay, a stew­ardess, in 1977. We got mar­ried, moved to the coun­try and started a fam­ily. At this stage I was do­ing just enough pri­vate fly­ing to keep up my li­cence, but no more. I was fly­ing all over the world and made a point of vis­it­ing ev­ery des­ti­na­tion in our route net­work at least once a year to broaden my ex­pe­ri­ence and keep the job in­ter­est­ing− which it was any­way. I get bored eas­ily but air­line work had plenty to keep me sat­is­fied; dif­fer­ent places ev­ery day, all kinds of weather to deal with. And I mean all kinds: ex­tremes of hot and cold, sand­storms, snow­storms, mon­soon rain. Plus I like tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and some cap­tains let me do ev­ery­thing. And I love air­craft. Wher­ever I went, if they had a type of aero­plane or a kind of fly­ing that I had not ex­pe­ri­enced, I would try it: ski planes, float­planes, a Pitts Spe­cial in Los An­ge­les, a Tom­a­hawk in Philadel­phia, a Sch­le­icher glider in Delhi, and a Blanik in Zim­babwe, for in­stance. I saw dif­fer­ent ter­rains like the Rift Valley in Kenya, round­ing the Cape of Good Hope, and Toronto Is­land Air­port in -25°C and blow­ing snow. I was in a cock­pit or wait­ing to fly two-thirds of my wak­ing hours and also spend­ing 130 days a year sit­ting around, sleep­ing or prop­ping up a bar stool. And then it all came to an abrupt stop.

“On Christ­mas Eve 1981, BA sud­denly an­nounced the shut­down of the en­tire 707 fleet. We had an eigh­teen-month-old son and a baby on the way and sud­denly I was laid up on half-pay. I told the Tiger Club my sit­u­a­tion and asked if they had any ideas for cheap fly­ing. And they sug­gested the Tur­bu­lent Dis­play Team, which I joined. Also at that time I bumped into some­one who was a rep for a new kind of aero­plane called a mi­cro­light. He of­fered me a flight− it was a Hun­tair Pathfinder−and I was so im­pressed I sat down and wrote an ar­ti­cle about it and sent it to Pop­u­lar Fly­ing. That was my first pub­lished ar­ti­cle and re­ally got me started.”

Af­ter a while Bob took up the op­tion of em­ploy­ment as an air­line ste­ward, which lasted for six months. “I en­joyed it and it made me a bet­ter cap­tain, when I did go back to my old job in 1982. I got to know the cus­tomers and also it gave me in­sight into what it was like for the cabin crew.”

Now fully em­ployed again, and thor­oughly en­joy­ing his dis­play fly­ing with the Tur­bu­lent Team−which he came to lead in 1983−Bob bought his first aero­plane, a Tur­bu­lent. Then he wrote his sec­ond avi­a­tion ar­ti­cle. “In 1984, the team was down on book­ings. It was its 25th

Wher­ever I went, if they had a type of aero­plane or a kind of fly­ing that I had not ex­pe­ri­enced, I would try it: ski planes, for in­stance

an­niver­sary and we thought a piece in Pi­lot might help. So I wrote one with an­other team mem­ber, Bob Down­ing. James Gil­bert sent it back with a re­quest for more anec­dotes and then pub­lished it. That was my first ap­pear­ance in Pi­lot. I had been read­ing the mag­a­zine since 1969.”

Be­tween 1982 and 1985, Bob flew short haul out of Gatwick on 737s. But in 1986, he was fly­ing the big­ger 747 and was back to long haul. “At this point I be­gan to think dis­play fly­ing was ir­re­spon­si­ble, with my of­ten be­ing jet-lagged and hav­ing a young fam­ily, so I left the Tur­bu­lent Team.”

By then his mar­riage to Kay was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. “We had two chil­dren to­gether −james, who’s now 36 and First Mate on wind­farm sup­port ves­sels and Lucy, 34, who works in for­eign ex­change in the City. They both en­joy fly­ing and we had some fam­ily hol­i­days in the Tiger Club’s Jodels. I flew a dis­play with Kay stood on the top wing of a Tiger Moth− which made an­other ar­ti­cle in Pi­lot. How­ever, things grad­u­ally turned sour and we were in­creas­ingly ar­gu­ing. Air­line work and mar­riage don’t mix ter­ri­bly well and it brought out the fault lines in our re­la­tion­ship.”

In 1988, he and Kay di­vorced af­ter ten years. “I had to pay main­te­nance, and even on a se­nior first of­fi­cer’s pay things were tight, so I looked to writ­ing for avi­a­tion mag­a­zines as a way to sup­ple­ment my earn­ings. Also, I was in­creas­ingly fed up with hav­ing noth­ing con­struc­tive to do dur­ing lay­overs. Writ­ing was the an­swer.” He sold the Tur­bu­lent and bought a Champ, mainly be­cause the Champ would be suited to tak­ing air-to-air pho­to­graphs for flight test ar­ti­cles.

Over the years he’s writ­ten more than 250 ar­ti­cles for Pi­lot, mostly flight tests, and as a re­sult has flown 240 dif­fer­ent types, rang­ing from a pow­ered para­chute with a 25kt cruise speed to a BA Hawk at Mach 0.99. He later bought a Maule for air-to-air pho­to­graphs of faster sub­ject air­craft and for its four seats, as against the Champ’s two. “That way I could take a for­ma­tion pi­lot and pho­tog­ra­pher to the shoot,” he ex­plains.

A few years af­ter the di­vorce, he mar­ried Karen. “I met her as a pas­sen­ger; she was one of eight per­sonal as­sis­tants on a pro­mo­tional trip and I was the first of­fi­cer, told to make them es­pe­cially wel­come. I was struck by her looks, her in­tel­li­gence and her ex­ten­sive in­ter­ests: dec­o­rat­ing ce­ram­ics, stained glass win­dow mak­ing,

in­te­rior de­sign and more. She opened up un­fa­mil­iar ar­eas for me and vice versa. She has sub­se­quently done a ‘safety pi­lot’ course in the fam­ily Maule, nowa­days she takes most of our air-to-air pho­to­graphs and she’s even writ­ten a cou­ple of ar­ti­cles her­self, but Karen says there’s only room for one pi­lot in the fam­ily.”

Bob fi­nally made cap­tain in 1995 and re­tired from BA (but not from other work) in 2003 af­ter 33 years. “Look­ing back, it suited me per­fectly,” he says. “Short haul could be a bit repet­i­tive, but long haul, tak­ing 400 peo­ple 7,000 miles is end­lessly var­ied. I never got bored, and for much of that time it dove­tailed nicely with my par­al­lel ca­reer as a writer. The oth­ers killed time drink­ing in bars and I first scrib­bled in school ex­er­cise books, then tapped away at a man­ual por­ta­ble type­writer− bought for a fiver in a char­ity shop. It was noisy, so I worked in ho­tel lob­bies or busi­ness suites. Later I bought a Sharp por­ta­ble elec­tric type­writer cheaply in Hong Kong, which was OK in my room, pro­vided I rested it on a folded towel. Next an Am­strad at home and a weighty not-so-por­ta­ble for when I was away. Some of my best writ­ing was done through the night when I couldn’t sleep−in­abil­ity to sleep when you want to be­ing the bane of the jet-lagged long haul pi­lot. Fi­nally Aus­tralian Avi­a­tion gave me a Dell lap­top, which I still use to­day, although for the past fif­teen years I have mostly writ­ten at home be­cause the fa­tigue from air­line fly­ing in later life made me too tired to be cre­ative when I was away.

Flight tests and pho­tog­ra­phy

“Orig­i­nally on test flights I made la­bo­ri­ous notes in pen­cil on a flip-top notepad, but later fol­lowed CAA test pi­lot Bob Cole’s ad­vice and printed out pro forma sheets with ap­pro­pri­ate an­no­ta­tions so I just had to fill in the blanks and num­bers. Also, at his ad­vice I bought an Olym­pus Pearl­corder, thread­ing its ex­ten­sion mi­cro­phone into my head­set, so that I could record my ver­bal ob­ser­va­tions. I have a drawer full of old tapes as sou­venirs, should I ever wish to re-live any of those flights. At first our neigh­bour, good friend and pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher Mike A’court took most of the air-to-airs, but lat­terly I’ve taken my own pho­to­graphs when­ever pos­si­ble. Ei­ther that, or Karen did the pho­tog­ra­phy while I flew ei­ther the photo ship or the sub­ject air­craft.

“For years I used an early Olym­pus OM-1, and then an OM-2 and later also an OM-2N with mo­tor-drive, for which I had a whole suite of heavy lenses from wide

Bob fi­nally made cap­tain in 1995 and re­tired from BA (but not from other work) in 2003 af­ter 33 years. “Look­ing back, it suited me per­fectly,” he says

an­gle to tele­photo, although the fixed 80mm fo­cal length was the one we used most in the air. Just be­fore re­tir­ing I bought a Canon EOS400D with zoom lens, which gave way to a Nikon D7000 −and now an Olym­pus OM-D M5.”

The an­nual move to Aus­tralia started in 1998, when a near-for­got­ten in­vest­ment in Stan­dard Life ma­tured, pro­duc­ing just enough to buy a three-bed­room bungalow in a sub­urb near Perth air­port. There was even enough left over to buy an old used car and a half share in a Bow­ers Fly-baby.

Aer­o­batic dis­plays

Bob be­gan fly­ing aer­o­batic dis­plays in his Fournier in 2005. “As a teenager, I hero-wor­shipped Neil Wil­liams and wanted to be an aer­o­batic ace like him. A friend in Aus­tralia had a Fournier for sale and I re­mem­bered see­ing the Sky­hawks and thought it would make a good, af­ford­able dis­play ma­chine, so bought it. I had some aer­o­batic in­struc­tion, but didn’t re­ally get to pol­ish­ing my ma­noeu­vres un­til I read Alan Cas­sidy’s book, Bet­ter Aer­o­bat­ics. I won a lo­cal aer­o­bat­ics com­pe­ti­tion in 2005, partly be­cause I was bet­ter pre­pared for the strong cross­wind, know­ing it was the Fournier’s Achilles Heel, the aero­plane be­ing rel­a­tively slow. The break­through in get­ting dis­play work was to fit coloured smoke can­is­ters to the wingtips.

An­other break was be­ing rec­om­mended for a Red Bull air race dis­play by Mike Den­tith, who had flown with the Sky­hawks and was Nigel Lamb’s PR man. Once I was joined by Matthew Hill in his Fournier for a duo dis­play things got even bet­ter.”

To date Bob has flown 151 dis­plays, around thirty with the Turbs, seventy solo aer­o­bat­ics and fifty more in for­ma­tion with Matthew. Un­for­tu­nately Bob’s Bri­tish Fournier was, for a long pe­riod, il­le­gally with­held, lim­it­ing his dis­play fly­ing in the UK over the last three years. “Still, it’s an ill wind,” he says, grin­ning. “It gave me more time to write ar­ti­cles for Pi­lot.” Bob is a rare com­bi­na­tion. At first sight, he’s ‘Ac­tion Man’, lean, fit and al­ways on the go (he also sails), not the kind of per­son to be con­tem­pla­tive or waste time on de­tail. Yet I know from many con­ver­sa­tions and email ex­changes that he analy­ses ev­ery­thing. He pre­pares metic­u­lously be­fore writ­ing or fly­ing a new air­craft. And he is a self­con­fessed nit-picker when it comes to text, so much so that the mag­a­zine pays him to pro­vide an ex­tra layer of proof-read­ing. He is ex­traor­di­nar­ily good with peo­ple, yet he is also a rather pri­vate per­son who says that as a child he found it dif­fi­cult to bond. If that was true then, it’s a weak­ness he has over­come – he’s a chap I feel close to, and I know many oth­ers feel the same. Given his rather un­promis­ing school­days, Bob is a self-im­prover par ex­cel­lence. And he does have the most strik­ing pale blue eyes.


Metic­u­lous notes and re­search char­ac­terise both Bob’s fly­ing and flight tests, and also the ar­ti­cles he writes, ev­i­denced by the clut­tered study area


Now this is open-cock­pit fly­ing: Bob in (or is that on?) a VP-2 for a Pi­lot fea­ture on Evans ‘Volk­s­planes’, pub­lished in Jan­uary 1991

Repub­lic Twin­bee — one of the many dif­fer­ent and some­times ex­otic types Bob has flight tested


Bob do­ing some win­ter fly­ing in his Tur­bu­lent, sport­ing a sweater knit­ted by his mum


A day at the ‘of­fice’: Bob’s fi­nal po­si­tion with BA was 747-400 Cap­tain


Newly qual­i­fied, Bob was as­signed to BOAC, fly­ing as Third Pi­lot in Boe­ing 707s


Bob’s Bow­ers Fly Baby, painted up in RAF mark­ings as the ‘Bris­tol Balder­dash’

Bob op­er­ates his Aus­tralian Fournier RF4 as an ‘Ex­per­i­men­tal’, al­low­ing var­i­ous mods in­clud­ing an open-cock­pit canopy cover (PHOTO: RICK VERWOORD)


Above: in­verted over Becher Point, where Bob deftly force-landed on a golf course (see Pi­lot, Au­gust 2011) Right: sail­ing has also long been a Grim­stead pas­sion, in both dinghies and yachts


Bob’s ‘Bri­tish Fournier’, dis­played as one half of the Redhawks duo, fly­ing with Matthew Hill, and as a solo act

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