View Full Version : Thoughts of a Test Pilot

1st Jan 2004, 22:16
David Davies, the CAA test pilot has his obituary in today's Times. He was an ETPS graduate, and tested all the major airliners of his time. His experiences included spinning a Britannia during a stall test. Two quotes stand out: "Anybody who can ride a bike and has passed a few O levels can fly Concorde" and, of the 747, "for the big fat thing that it is, it flies like a dream".

The full obit. is at:


1st Jan 2004, 23:05
His book "Handling the Big Jets" was standard issue for BA trainee pilots. I re-read mine before I finally converted to the Jumbo a year or so ago. Different model of 747, but almost every chapter as relevant today as it was 30 years ago.

3rd Jan 2004, 01:39
Can't Access that Obit

Any chance of Mounting it here?

He was a very knowledgeable gent - and had the ability to keep it all interesting.

3rd Jan 2004, 02:28

January 01, 2004

David Davies
Civil Aviation Authority test pilot who was involved with airliners ranging from the turboprop Viscount to the supersonic Concorde

David Davies was chief test pilot of the Civil Aviation Authority’s flight department for 33 years. On his retirement in 1982 the aerospace journal Flight said of him: “To D. P. Davies, as much as to any pilot, we owe civil subsonic and super-sonic passenger safety.”
Davies and his team of test pilots and flight engineers were responsible for checking the handling of all new aircraft types on the British civil register, from the first jet airliner, the Comet, to the supersonic Concorde.

He was once described as “the test pilots’ test pilot”. When the manufacturers’ design teams and test pilots had done their jobs, he was responsible for checking that their aircraft contained no hidden quirks which could catch out the average airline pilot. This called for the ability to fly a new aircraft as competently as the best test pilot and as “incompetently” as a line pilot on a bad day. He had the personality, wit and command of words to carry off both roles. Such qualities are needed when it becomes necessary to tell proud chief designers and test pilots that their aircraft needs modifying, perhaps expensively, to qualify for a certificate of airworthiness.

Born in Neath, South Wales, in 1920, David Pettit Davies joined the Royal Navy in 1940, serving as a torpedo man and surviving the sinking of the auxiliary fighter catapult ship Patia in May 1941. He then trained as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm, soloing on a Tiger Moth in 1941, and served in 818 (Swordfish) Squadron on the carrier Unicorn. After action off Norway and Salerno he was posted to 854 (Avenger) Squadron in support of the D-Day landings. He saw service in the Far East on the aircraft carrier Illustrious, flying Avengers off Sumatra and Japan and winning the DSC.

After the war he attended a naval test pilots’ course and the Empire Test Pilots’ School. In August 1949, after three years evaluating the handling of new military aircraft types, he joined the civilian Air Registration Board (now the CAA) as chief test pilot.

It was a busy time for the British civil aircraft industry, which was pioneering the new age of jet and turboprop airliners with the Vickers Viscount, Bristol Britannia and de Havilland Comet. Revisions to British civil airworthiness requirements were needed, especially for the jets. Davies drafted the new rules governing aircraft stability, control, performance and flying qualities. He in fact originated the fundamentally new pilot-handling requirements for the jet age.

He checked all the British and American jetliners which followed the Comet: VC10, Trident, One-Eleven, 707, 727, 737, 747, DC8, DC9, DC10, TriStar, the Airbuses and the supersonic Concorde.

One of his most sensitive jobs was persuading Boeing to modify the 707, which BOAC had ordered for delivery in 1960. He did not like its directional control and wanted a bigger fin and full-time rudder boost. Boeing and the American FAA complied, as 707s and KC135s still flying today bear witness.

Boeing also agreed with his insistence that British-registered 727s should have automatic stick-pushers to protect the average airline pilot from the “superstall”, a flaw endemic in T-tailed rear-engined aircraft. Davies had previously had stickpushers fitted to the BAC One-Eleven and Hawker Siddeley Trident, British T-tailers which had killed test crews in superstalls. Davies remembered Trident stalling as the most demanding flying of his career.

He did not catch everything and always regretted that he had missed the Comet 1’s take-off stall, the result of an extreme stick-back movement, about which 30 years later he said: “I simply could not imagine it happening.” Although de Havilland had missed it too, “it was my job”.

He had his share of hairy moments, especially when evaluating stalls. During a Britannia stalling test in the 1950s, the big four-engined transport suddenly flick-rolled and went into a spin. He recalled: “It recovered beautifully — which Bristol claimed was grounds for not complaining!” On the way home, “wondering why we’d ever joined in the first place", his flight observer Roy Burdett lit a cigarette for him and said: “How about a loop as an encore?”

Davies declared a later Bristol product, Concorde, to be “a delight to fly”. He always credited his deputy, Gordon Corps, and French colleague Pierre Dudal for certificating Concorde’s flying qualities, though he double-checked the remoter double-failure cases. “Our job was to ensure that Concorde could be flown home from Mach 2 at 60,000ft after a range of double failures such as engines, computers and hydraulics, and landed with no undue skill or strength.”

Of the superpilot status popularly accorded to Concorde captains, he said: “Anybody who can ride a bike and has passed a few O levels can fly Concorde.” One of his favourite aeroplanes was the Boeing 747, which, “for the big fat thing that it is, flies like a dream”.

Davies put all his experience — 6,000 hours in 150 types of aircraft — into his classic textbook, Handling the Big Jets. Updated and reprinted many times since 1967, it is the jet pilots’ bible, ever present on the shelves of test pilots, airline training captains, line pilots, and even airline passengers. It deals with a technical subject in the simple, lucid English which he spoke.

One of his assistant test pilots remembers Davies’s “wonderful command of English, which made it a pleasure to be told off by him”. At post-flight meetings Davies would say little until the end, when he would sum up the key points in a few words. He liked Dylan Thomas’s expression “the colour of words”, and he attributed his love of good English to a Welsh schoolmistress.

His engagingly Welsh-accented aphorisms included: “Do not believe, prove it for yourself”; “Do not ignore the feelings in your bones”; “Stand by the technical truth, however great the political or commercial pressures”; and most remembered by his staff, “Non fici facio — vera prae ceteris (I don’t give a fig — truth above all)”.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945 and appointed OBE in 1957. He was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Professional honours included the society’s R. P. Alston Memorial prize, the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators Cumberbatch Trophy (he was a master air pilot of the guild), the Society of Licensed Aircraft Engineers Dorothy Spicer Award, the Flight Safety Foundation Technical Publications Award, the Douglas Weightman Safety Award and the Air League Founders’ Medal.

His wife Jean died in 1996. He is survived by their two sons.

David Davies, OBE, DSC, test pilot, was born on April 11, 1920. He died on November 30, 2003, aged 83.

3rd Jan 2004, 10:09
He is "The Legend"

Capt. Amazing
4th Jan 2004, 11:15
Does anyone know what the latest edition of his book is?

They are only selling used copies on Amazon, so it would help me to find the latest print.


cat 3a
4th Jan 2004, 18:56
Thank you David

4th Jan 2004, 21:03
Thank You God for gifting aviation the likes of David Davies.

Few Cloudy
5th Jan 2004, 01:25
Hats Off - to a professional airman author and teacher.

Metro man
5th Jan 2004, 12:41
We all owe this man :ok:

5th Jan 2004, 15:28
After reading the first print in 1968, wondered if the early jets (especially the early model B707's) could be as bad as Davies mentioned...and found out shortly afterward, he was right, they were.

The man will be missed, for sure.

When new jet airliner pilots takeoff and relax in the comfort and supreme accuracy of modern types, give a thought to bygone years, and men like Davies who paved the way so you might enjoy safe flying...always.

6th Jan 2004, 01:01
Such a pity he wasn`t made a Knight of the Realm; much more deserving of the respect than some of the prats we have now!!!!!!:sad: