View Full Version : Alex Henshaw RIP

PPRuNe Pop
25th Feb 2007, 18:22
It is reported that Alex Henshaw has passed away. One of the very finest of test pilot's and one of the many pioneers of aviation.

RIP sir, you will not be forgotten.

Brewster Buffalo
25th Feb 2007, 18:58
Short biographies here -




25th Feb 2007, 20:14
I have several books by Mr Henshaw. Some signed.

I will treasure these forever.

God Bless You Sir.


25th Feb 2007, 20:16
"Sigh" for Alex.
Loved his books, much underrated.

25th Feb 2007, 21:22
I had the honour of taking wine over a long lunch with him early last year and he was truly magnificent company to spend time with. Not a man to mince words and I learned so much from him.
After my unscheduled arrival on terra firma last Autumn he was most supportive in telephone calls to me stating I had a long way to go to catch up with his unpremeditated arrivals, during the war, and to 'get back in the saddle' as quickly as possible.
The troops at Duxford, in particular, will miss him greatly.
What a pleasure, and huge privilege, to have known this truly great English gentleman.

Flying Lawyer
25th Feb 2007, 21:53
Truly one of the greats of aviation - whom Geoffrey Quill described as "an aviation phenomenon."

Although never a development test pilot, his contribution to the war effort as a production test pilot was enormous - matched, or even outshone, only by his other amazing aviation achievements.

Castle Bromwich, Summer 1941

A couple of years ago, he donated his papers, photographs, trophies and art collection to the RAF Museum, and funded a curator to catalogue the collection, because he wanted future generations to know about the contribution made by civilian pilots in the country's hour of need.
I don't know if they're available for viewing yet, but worth a visit if/when they are.

I agree Fw. A fascinating man and delightful company. He was still as bright as a button and, when not face to face with him, it was easy to forget his advanced years. While speaking to him on the telephone early last year, I asked if he could email something to me. A chuckle was followed by "Email? Dear me, I've just turned 92. I don't use email. I'll post it to you."


Posted in another forum by 'Mark12'

25th Feb 2007, 22:24
This year was the 70th anniversary of Alex' acquisition of 'XF - the famous Mew Gull in which he set the England-South Africa and return record 2 years later.

A record which still stands some 68 years on.

Farewell to one of the greatest aviators of all time.

25th Feb 2007, 22:29
Very sad news indeed.
I was lucky enough to spend a day and a half with him back in the summer while putting an article together. Bearing in mind he was just weeks away from his 94th birthday, I was amazed by his enthusiasm and passion for all things aviation. A true gent. I'm afraid we will never see his like again...:sad:

Flying Lawyer
26th Feb 2007, 07:36

The Mew Gull in which, in 1939, Alex Henshaw set a record for solo flight between London and Cape Town which, as BEagle says, still stands to this day.

He flew the same aircraft to victory in the 1938 Kings Cup, over a triangular course of just over 1000 miles. His average speed of 236 mph remains (I think) the fastest ever Kings Cup victory.


26th Feb 2007, 20:21
Outside the office at Castle Bromwich
Flying again from Duxford in March 2005 (92 years old!)

you never liked computers much so don't know if you'll get this?
You are one of the finest men I have ever had the privilege to know and also call a friend!

You are equally one of, if not the finest aviators my country has ever known!
You were a man of honour, integrity and justice in every sense of the word!
I shall miss our lunches and phone chats putting the World to rights in only the way we could!

Your energy, friendship and encouragement as you know, kept me going during some dark days
over the last 10 years! I only trust I can continue to instil the core values of men like yourself
into my Son as he grows? As I know if he is a 10th of what you were, he shall one day be a fine man!

Our Country and Birmingham has lost one of its heroes!
The Cape records shall always be yours and no one can deny,
when a Merlin is heard in the skies for years to come, it shall remain... Always... Your signature!

I shall miss you very much, I shall never forget you and what you stood for!
You put the 'Great' in Great Britain!
Thank you for all you did for me and my Country, ill raise a glass or two when next in Cape Town
God bless you
Your friend


26th Feb 2007, 20:33
I shall never forget from his book "sigh for a merlin", how he used to navigate by colomns of smokes from factories (Coventry ?) between layers of clouds when testing factory spitfires....he even did that gliding with a dead Merlin in the nose and made it to airfield !
Is there an equivalent today, that we ignore ? I don't think....plastic brains have taken over....

26th Feb 2007, 21:24
CPT, it was cooling towers at Hams Hall power station near Birmingham as I recall. I don't know whether Hams Hall is still there, but I could see steam clouds above a large power station somewhere near Birmingham while flying up to Edinburgh the other day - and I immediately thought of Alex!

I hope that the Breighton folk will be able to air G-AEXF and the Arrow Active (Alex owned and bailed out of the other Active early in his flying career) alongside Spitfires and the Lancaster at a few displays this summer as a tribute to a remarkable aviator.

I shall raise a pint tomorrow night.


26th Feb 2007, 21:49
Hi Treadders,
the towers were taken down some years ago now!
I often glance over to my right when returning back to Brum on the M6 just before Junc 5 Northbound! You can see the entire area that was once the airfield and a huge blue building (betterware) stands in exactly the spot the hangers were! Many times even more poignant when returning from a day with Alex, usually with the sun going down!!

I wonder if the debate of the hidden Merlins shall surface again now?
I heard there was new evidence a few years ago! Would be awesome to dig them up, whatever state they were in?


27th Feb 2007, 11:00
Hello Treadigraph,

Me too ! I use to fly helicopters to offshore rigs, some of them are equipped with very big flares, when flying on top or even between 2 layers of clouds we still can spot the condensed columns....me too I always think to Alex...

Saab Dastard
27th Feb 2007, 16:32
I can only reiterate others' sentiments - a truly outstanding aviator.

Just thinking about it makes me wish that a British version of the film "The Aviator" could be made - about Alex Henshaw, of course!


27th Feb 2007, 16:42
Ive often thought what an awesome film the flight of the Mew Gull would make!
ALL TRUE and a REAL story of guts and determination and just about every other amazing thing someone could say about someone and what they set out to do!!!

28th Feb 2007, 00:06
Many of you might not have seen the Spitfire tribute outside
what was once the main gate to the factory at Castle Bromwich?
The Spitfires were rolled across the road from there onto the airfield for testing!
Alex attended the ceremony some years ago!

Anyway, I didn't like it much at first but have grown to admire it greatly!
At night, the Spitfires are lit and it really does look quite magnificent!

Tonight some cadets from 165 ATC Squadron at Castle Vale and I placed
some flowers on the island below the great aircraft and said a few words to mark the passing of this great man and friend!

I trust people don't mind me posting these but I would like to share them with everyone!
Birmingham shall never forget you Alex!




28th Feb 2007, 15:04
I've found no references in the press/media to Alex Henshaw dying. Maybe it's not surprising in this ungrateful day & age, but are we sure about this rumour? Anyone got any links?

240 Gardner
28th Feb 2007, 15:24
They were a bit slow off the mark, but here's one:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.../28/db2801.xml (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/news/2007/02/28/db2801.xml)

28th Feb 2007, 15:28
Check today's Daily Telegraph's Obituaries.

1st Mar 2007, 07:22
A great pity he's really gone. He was the living contradiction of "there are no old, bold pilots"

"Flight of the Mew Gull" has to be one of the most impressive aviation books ever

3rd Mar 2007, 10:49
Hello to all of you. I am not a pilot and I really ought to be getting down to my work. However I was looking for recent postings about Alex when I discovered your bulletin board. I sincerely hope that you will all excuse my landlubberdness (there's a new word..only a couple of hundred behind Shakespeare:)) and allow me to share some information with you, which I hope will gladden the hearts of all of you as we come to terms with the passing of a Fine Fine Englishman.

I was with Alex for lunch on Wednesday last week. That meeting was to be the last in a number of meetings, the memory of each one I shall treasure for all my days.

Before I continue, let me first of all give you the news. Those of you who have suggested that there ought to be a film, will be delighted to know that "THE FLIGHT OF THE MEW GULL" THE MOVIE. Is now in the pre production financing and planning stages. What follows is how this has come about. For those of you who are interested, please read on and I would love to hear from you all.

For some time I have been working towards a major television project. The story of Birmingham's amazing wartime effort is one that is largely unknown outside of the City. As Alex tells those of you unfamiliar with our City's past, due to a D notice imposed on the City. Like a lot of Baby boomers I grew up with the war being spoon fed to us along the lines of "What we did for you lot!". To most of us as small children in the '50s, it was a world utterly remote from our own and as such all but a few of us learned the lessons we ought to about the darkest period in our country's long and glorious history. My research at first for personal instruction, blossomed to outrage when I discovered the size of the (as I said) unknown destruction rained on my City by Goering and co, yet they still carried on collared to it ( as Carl Chinn a local prof of history points out) and turned out everything that was needed for the front line and the home front.

My research began to form as an idea for a dramatised documentary and then into a full blown drama series. These are important lessons for all of us in these reckless careless and self centred times we live in. Books will be read by those closely interested in a particular topic. Docu dramas collect more than books, but a full on drama works best as an instructional tool, because it entertains. I thus conceived the idea of A MIDLANDS TOWN. This is to be a 6 part television drama series on not just Birmingham(though largely so) but the entire country's Home front experience. It is being planned to have many of the visual and visceral effects of "Band of Brothers", "Saving private Ryan" and "Enemy at the gate". I want the series when it eventually reaches the production stages to be as powerful a document as all of those films. The concept born then, I as a jobbing a ctor had to set about realising my goal.

The nucleus of "A MIDLANDS TOWN" is tThe Castle Bromwich Aeroplane Factory. I have chosen this as the central focus from which a wide range of stories can be told, for several reasons. Firstly, it is one of the few buildings left from the period, that weren't either destroyed by The Luftwaffe or Our vandalistic 60s planners. Secondly, because both I, My father ( ex Lord Mayor of Brum Ken Barton) and my uncle Roland all worked there, at Fishers as it is known locally even now. Thirdly,because of that small area of Birmingham 24, that will forever be linked with that most potent icon of freedom, THE SPITFIRE.

I became a sponge soaking up whatever I could. In answer to an earlier question. Daniel Scott-Davies, Alex curator at the Hendon museum, is happy to accomodate visitors by prior appointment. I spent an enthralling time with Alex log books notes and mementos and an utterly awe struck time standing in front of the three trophy cabinets chock full of his trophys ( with more to come). I knew that I had to meet this man. I wrote to him via Daniel and thought " That's the last I'll hear of that". I could not have been more wrong however. He wrote two days later to say that he was so very pleased that someone in my profession was at last taking an interest in the plight of the people of Birmingham at war. He invited me for lunch and that was the start of an all too brief but highly productive friendship. Despite knowing him for such a short time ( about a year) the effect that he has had on me has been one of complete transformation.

At our first meeting Alex presented me with a signed copy of Mew Gull with no more than the observation " I think you'll enjoy that". How shrewd a judge of character he was. I read it at a single sitting, it is as you all know "unputdownable". At our next meeting we (now a growing film company) asked his permission to make The book into a feature film. In his typically self deprecating way he simply told us to "Get on with it". He then went on to tell me and reminded me constantly that it was his beloved Barbara's greatest wish that it be made into a film.

It had been my original intention to make the series about Brum first and follow it up with the feature film. However getting a serialised TV drama into production is no small task. The pitfalls are even more treacherous than descending on Cannock Chase with one cord on your parachute ( well perhaps not but the sharks are very viscious). Alex agreed with us, that it will make far better commercial sense to make the movie first. It is much easier (though still tough) to finance and secure marketing deals for a feature film, than it is for the telly. The film will cement our profile as a production company and will give us instant credibility. It is after all the last and by far the best of the GOLDEN AGE storys to be told. Alex agreed last Wednesday that it should take the form of a retrospective on his utterly remarkable life, so it will take in a look back from the "Sigh for A Merlin Day" at the BBMF shortly before Alex lost his lifetime pal Jeffrey Quill and the love of his life Barbara.

I have promised Alex that the film will be accurate to both "Gull" and "Merlin", why I should need to embelish what is already unbeleivable I don't know, but that is my pledge and it was repeated in a very sad conversation of condolence with his son. I repeat it now to those of you who are his fans.

Thanks for reading this and please feel free to contact me. I should like to pay a special thanks to Snapshot and to the Castle Vale ATC for placing that wonderful tribute at Tolkiens memorial to the Spit.

Below my contribution to the pictures of the most wonderful Englishman I have ever known. He is not dead, simply off flying again. He loves it so much that none of us shall ever see him again. But die? Never.

http://www.carvery.zoomshare.com (http://www.carvery.zoomshare.com/) [email protected]

John Barton ( known as Jon Carver actor se FlyPast magazine news April edition)

5th Mar 2007, 13:51
Hello everyone. I have posted messages elsewhere on these boards and I should be grateful if you all would help to keep the grapevine going.

Firstly I should like to add my personal thoughts of the man who became my friend for such a brief but amazing time. I have never been particularly struck by celebrity,but my first trip to Alex house for a marvelous lunch was the most nerve wracking thing I have ever undertaken. Mr Henshaw is ( men like him do not die) quite simply one of the last men to rightly be called a true Englishman.

It took no more than 2 minutes for him to insist on my calling him Alex. "If we're to be friends and work together" he said " I can't have you calling me Mr Henshaw all the time". He is quite simply the most magical human being I have ever met. Right up until the end he was securing his legacy for the world. His new collaboration with his great pal Michael Turner and Francois Prins is going to be a wonderful thing to behold and he was with these two great men the day after he met with our exec team for what was to be the last time, to discuss our film.

I shall miss him dreadfully. However I am happy to know that he is reunited with his beautiful Barbara again and they're off flying, who knows where.

On a number of boards, People have been asking about the rumours they have heard about a movie.

I am (amidst the sadness of his passing), delighted to tell all of you that the rumours are true.

Alex had been collaborating and supporting my writing of a six part mini drama series on my home City Birmingham, during the war. At the second meeting we had with him, I boldly asked if I might have his commision to turn The Flight of The Mew Gull into a major feature film. He simply said "Oh yes get on with it". He then went on to tell me that it was actually Barbara's fondest wish that it be made into a film...she even had a star lined up to play her husband....sadly Edward Fox is a tad too old to play the younger Alex but you never know???

The film was moved from the back plate to the hot ring a few weeks ago. Alex and we recognised that commercially it makes a lot more sense to make the film first, for reasons I needn't bore you with here. With a worldwide success under our belts as the Mew Gull movie surely will be, we can then set about telling the story of Brum at war, which was the project that Alex and I first met to discuss and which he was so passionate about.

He was simply the most amazing, kind and generous man I have ever (and will ever) known. What a life. What an amazing life.

Over and out Alex, fly well my friend.

John Barton ( equity pro name Jon Carver)

www.carvery.zoomshare.com [email protected]

Please pass the word around, a sackful of supportive emails will help to ease apart the backers wallets:).

27th Mar 2007, 23:23
I only just found out, seeing it as a small footnote in Pilot magazine. I have his books and they are well thumbed. So I feel I knew him in a way. I always wished I could have seen one of his famous Spitfire displays.

He was something of an icon to me. I hope the film idea comes off. It might be a fitting tribute.

13th Oct 2007, 08:10
When Alex was in Australia in 1998 he gave an hour long radio interview. Talking with him was Margaret Throsby, whose program, Margaret Throsby's Guest, is still going. (A check of the ABC website and a search for radio tape sales might strike oil.)
At one point when Alex was saying how potent was the Luftwaffe, Margaret Throsby came out with the monumental gaffe, "Oh, did the Germans have Spitfires and Hurricanes too?" Alex, ever the gentleman and never the belittler, replied mildly, "No, no; only the RAF and our allies." (A repeat of that interview some years later had the gaffe deleted.)
She also asked him about his feelings in the Mew Gull, southbound to the Cape, to do with the astonishing cloudscape that greeted him with daylight over North Africa. "I'd think your soul would have been filled with the most beautiful, inspiring thoughts." "Not at all. Not at all. My mind was entirely on the job in hand."
As a Chilean reporter filming from a C310 over the Straits of Magellan said about the latter day Sir Francis as he tacked powerfully through in Gypsy Moth IV :

Farmer 1
13th Oct 2007, 08:29
...but not forgotten.

6th Aug 2008, 14:01
Apologies for the thread bounce, but Alex's car is up for auction this weekend.


6th Aug 2008, 14:16
Thank you for the bounce D & C - anyone any idea what happened to the film?

7th Aug 2008, 10:22
"Henshaw learned to fly when he was 20 and took part in air racing, competing against more famous pilots such as Geoffrey de Havilland, a relative of Hollywood actress and Gone With The Wind star, Olivia de Havilland."

I knew I'd herad the name De Havilland before somewhere, an actress, of course, how silly of me...

8th Aug 2008, 04:14
Alex Henshaw is interviewed in the DVD "Supermarine Spitfire - The Pilots Eye View".

Home - Duke Video (http://www.dukevideo.com)

8th Aug 2008, 10:09
A good aviation movie is long overdue. I hope it does this great aviator justice.
I do not know much about subsequent attempts to beat his 1939 record but like all records, they are out there to be beaten and perhaps one day A.H.'s will be and some feat it will be too.
It looks as though one such attempt will be launched on or around the 70th anniversary.

Agaricus bisporus
8th Aug 2008, 10:57
Sadly I find it beyond credibility that anyone nowadays would be daft/irresponsible enough to try to fly for 4 days virtually without sleep, any more than any Aviation Authority would be ditto to allow them to.

The record was taken by a horrendously overloaded British built, British engined aeroplane with (alledgedly) under 200Hp and no autopilot.

Can't see that being replicated anytime soon, and breaking the 200Hp no autopilot ethos would make a mockerey of any attempt, as would relays of pilots. Forget it.

Let AH's record stand.

Flying Lawyer
9th Aug 2008, 16:17
I suppose there were some people who considered Alex Henshaw "daft/irresponsible" when he made his flights in 1939. ;)

"4 days virtually without sleep" is a slight exaggeration. He clearly didn't get much sleep on his 39 hrs 23 mins flight out or his 39 hrs 36 mins return, but (from recollection) he was in Cape Town for about 28 hours in between.

"breaking the 200Hp no autopilot ethos would make a mockerey of any attempt, as would relays of pilots."
I understand your point of view, but there are two sides to the argument.
Henshaw's Mew Gull was 'state of the art' in those days - an already very quick racing aircraft specially modified for his record attempt. If someone attempted to break the record now, it would seem reasonable to use what is a state of the art aircraft these days. If they broke Henshaw's records, the new records would reflect aviation progress in 70 years.
(Relays of pilots wouldn't break his records.)

BTW ......

The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators is commemorating the 70th anniversary of Henshaw's record-breaking Cape flights next February.

There will be a dinner at the RAF Museum on the 5th February (the date he left London) and a dinner in Cape Town during the week beginning Monday 9th February. (Venue & date to be confirmed shortly.)

I'll post more info when it becomes available.

Both dinners will be open to all aviation enthusiasts, not only to members of the Guild.


9th Aug 2008, 17:35
I read his book "Sigh for a Merlin" many years ago and it was brilliant.
I decided to read it again so I ordered a copy 25/8/08, COINCIDENCE OR WHAT ???

9th Aug 2008, 18:46
FL, et al - what happened to the film proposed - any clues anyone? or was it just a barking 'jolly good idea' - "wouldn't it be good if" etc?
Please PM me if you want to know why I can ask this - profiles are dangerous things, but I have 'some' specialist knowledge in this area..:suspect:

dh dragon
14th Aug 2008, 12:42
If the film was made they could even use the ORIGINAL Percival Mew Gull racer G-AEXF which resides at ( and still flies from) Breighton Airfield in God,s own country(Yorkshire). see www.realaero.com (http://www.realaero.com) for pictures.

14th Aug 2008, 18:31
Mew Gull usage

Well, yes. My point precisely. But.. our Equity member friend 'brumbear', has gone strangely quiet - no blame attached, the market for 'good' film ideas is very fickle at the best of times, and even more so now. I should know :(.
However, after lots of puff and trumpeting on what I consider to be an "expert's expert's" site, I believe we need an update. Art Nalls and his Harrier details seem to demonstrate how to use a specialist forum on the web to keep the punters up to date..

I think we should be told.

If it was true in the first place.

Flying Lawyer
18th Oct 2008, 23:45
mustpost FL, et al - what happened to the film proposedI don't know anything about it.

20th Oct 2008, 11:41
Not only have I read Flight of the Mew Gull and Sigh for a Merlin so many times that my copy of the former is falling to bits, but I was also a Thrust SSC 'Gold' member and sponsored Dead Dog's supersonic record. So it will be good to hear what he has to say!

Personally I thought that Noble's next venture, the Farnborough F1 aircraft, was doomed to failure by regulations, no matter how sound the design. Single-pilot single-engined IFR-operation of an air taxi aircraft still hasn't been approved by the CAA - I don't know how things will be under EASA though.

25th Nov 2008, 06:40
Beagle, apologies for slight thread drift, but am I right in thinking that the Farnborough F.1 was built in the States under another name? Anybody with info, thanks.

26th Nov 2008, 07:12
If they broke Henshaw's records, the new records would reflect aviation progress in 70 years.Some are leaders. Most of us are content to sit and watch or at most, just follow. He was one of those who go where none have been before and they are a different breed of men.

26th Jan 2009, 02:23
Well, the guy has done a lot of gassing about this film (Here and on many other forums), but has no actual track-record whatsoever so far as can be seen, other than a lot of aspirations and web-chat on the subject.......Not a pilot, engineer, aviation historian or film-maker. Actually, no specialist knowledge whatsover, apart from having read the book and having an Equity card as a bit-part actor. Umm....:confused: Chances of it getting completed and actually being any good..???...Errr...somewhat less than a newbie PPL lost in IMC.


Flying Lawyer
14th Mar 2009, 19:08
The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (http://www.gapan.org) hosted a Dinner in Cape Town last month to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Alex Henshaw’s epic Cape Flights.

The Dinner, attended by aviators from civil, military and general aviation in both the UK and South Africa, was held in the Officers Mess at AFB Ysterplaat - only a few km from the former Wingfield Airfield where Henshaw landed in February 1939.

Wg Cdr Andy Green, an Upper Freeman of the Guild and the fastest man on earth (http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v140/Rotorheads/Flying%20Lawyer/AndyGreen_ThrustSSC.jpg)
Air Commodore Rick Peacock-Edwards, Master of the Guild, who is originally from South Africa.
Richard Noble, a PPL and former fastest man on earth (http://www.thrustssc.com/richardnobledotcom/Thrust2.JPG)
Tony Ogilvy, Saab-Gripen Vice-President International Sales

Alex Henshaw and his father on their recce flight
(Picture from Henshaw's own collection. Originally posted by Snapshot)

The Master of the Guild paid tribute to Alex Henshaw and read a letter from his son, who was unfortunately prevented by ill-health from attending. Alex Henshaw Jnr expressed his deep gratitude to the Guild for taking the initiative to commemorate the 70th Anniversary in Cape Town, and recalled his father’s exploits and his deep love of South Africa.


Two former fast-jet pilots reminiscing?
Air Cdre Rick Peacock-Edwards, Master of the Guild (http://www.gapan.org/master_profile.htm) (Lightning, Hunter, Phantom F4, Tornado F2 & F3)
Lt General Carlo Gagiano, Chief of the South African Air Force (http://www.af.mil.za/about_us/profiles/caf.htm) (F86 Sabre, Mirage III & F1CZ)

Basil Hersov, Honorary SAAF Colonel (L) and Brigadier-General Derrick Page, Director of SAAF Heritage (R)

In 1994, Derrick survived a forced landing when both starboard engines of a Shackleton failed within 10 minutes - over the Western Sahara at night. The historic aircraft was en route to the UK to take part in air displays. Pelican-16 (http://www.saafmuseum.co.za/shack16.htm)

Basil Hersov was made a Liveryman of the Guild at the Dinner.

Captain & Mrs Chalkie Stobbart

Chalkie, an SAA Captain, is a recipient of the prestigious 'Major Achievement Award for Outstanding Service to Sport Aviation' awarded by the EAA (http://www.eaa.org/) (USA) and is a past President of the EAA in South Africa.
A renowned light-aircraft long-distance pilot, he plans to try to break Henshaw's CapeTown-London record in his Osprey GP-4 (http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v140/Rotorheads/GP4.jpg). Henshaw Challenge (http://www.henshaw-challenge.com/dnn/Aircraft/tabid/55/Default.aspx)

Captain & Mrs Scully Levin

Scully (http://www.flyinglions.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21&Itemid=27), an SAA Captain, is South Africa's premier display pilot. He has been SA National Formation Aerobatics Champion twice.
737 formation at AAD 2008 (http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v140/Rotorheads/Flying%20Lawyer/AAD%20Ysterplaat/737formation4_800.jpg) and the famous water-skiing Harvards (http://www.pprune.org/private-flying/212917-pictures-aircraft-water-skiing-genuine-not.html).
In 2005, he flew at the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day in the UK and won (jointly) a 'Highly Commended' award. His joint winner displayed a Sea Harrier - Scully displayed an SAA B747-400!

Record-breaker Richard Noble paid tribute to Alex Henshaw, and outlined plans to achieve 1000 mph on land (http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v140/Rotorheads/Flying%20Lawyer/BloodhoundSSC.jpg).
Record-breaker Andy Green described going supersonic - on land!
While in Cape Town, Richard and Andy flew to the Northern Cape to conduct a further inspection of Verneuk Pan (http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/_db/_images/GPS_tracks_and_waypoint_markers_surveyed_areas.jpg) as a possible site for their 1000 mph record attempt.

Liveryman Tony Edwards and Upper Freeman John Romain, who both knew Henshaw well, gave fascinating talks about him.
John Romain, a leading Spitfire display pilot, described Alex Henshaw's superb test-flying of a newly restored two-seat Spitfire - when aged 92 (http://www.arc-duxford.co.uk/images/nAlex.JPG)

Captain Scully Levin, Judge Tudor Owen (PPL and a Warden of the Guild), John Romain
Honourable Company of Air Pilots

Wg Cdr & Mrs Andy Green with Skip Margetts & Sarah Dickson of HeliMedia, the renowned aerial filming company based in Cape Town.
Skip and Sarah helped the Guild (enormously) to organise the Dinner. Skip is a Freeman of the Guild, a PPL and a regular contributor to the Rotorheads forum.

It was a truly memorable evening with a wonderful atmosphere - clearly much enjoyed by everyone who attended. Old friendships were renewed and new friendships made between aviators from both countries.
The Guild already has Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand Regions and, if the enthusiasm at the Dinner is any indication, there may well be a South Africa Region of the Guild in the not too distant future.

More pictures here (http://s629.photobucket.com/albums/uu12/GAPAN-SA)

Alex Henshaw was one of the great pre-war pioneers from the golden age of flying - a man of initiative, courage and adventurous spirit.

In February 1939, he took off in his single-engine Mew Gull from the then Gravesend Airfield London to fly to Cape Town and back. He rejected the more well-known Eastern route in favour of the shorter, but more dangerous, Western route which took him over virgin parts of Africa.
He had no radio, no modern navigation aids and no weather forecasts other than those given to him in London and Cape Town

After refuelling at Oran, he set off on a leg of more than 1300 miles across the Sahara. He refuelled again at Gao, Libreville and Mossamedes and landed at the then Wingfield Airfield.
Total elapsed time: 39 hrs 23 mins
Airborne time: 30 hrs 28 mins
Average speed: 209.44 mph

Arrival at Cape Town
(Picture from Henshaw's own collection. Originally posted by Snapshot)

Henshaw enjoyed Cape Town and would have stayed longer but for his round-trip record attempt. After only 28 hours in Cape Town, he set off on the return flight.
Total elapsed time: 39 hours 36 minutes
Airborne time: 30 hrs 51 mins
Average speed: 206.40 mph

Departing for London
(Picture from Henshaw's own collection. Originally posted by Snapshot)

Henshaw completed his epic round-trip in just 4 days 10 hours and 16 minutes - not only breaking all the existing Cape records but demolishing them.

When war broke out Henshaw volunteered for the RAF and, while waiting, joined Vickers as a test pilot. From there, he was head-hunted by Jeffrey Quill, Chief Test Pilot of Supermarine. After test flying Spitfires at the Southampton factory, he moved to Supermarine's Castle Bromwich factory where he became Chief Production Test Pilot for Spitfires and Lancasters.
He test flew some 2,360 Spitfires and Seafires and more than 300 Lancasters - once barrel-rolling the big bomber for fun!
Quill described him as "an aviation phenomenon. The last of the great amateurs who, under stimulus of war, then became a very great professional".

Alex Henshaw with Winston Churchill, Castle Bromwich 1941

As he’d left Wingfield behind him, Henshaw knew his memories of Cape Town would never die and, after the war, he returned to South Africa as a director of Miles Aircraft, carrying out demonstration flights throughout Africa until the company folded in 1948.

Alex Henshaw MBE died on the 24 February 2007, aged 94.
His records in each direction and for the round-trip remain unbroken to this day.


*Photographer (colour photographs): Hanis van der Merwe

Chuck Notyeager
15th Mar 2009, 18:16
Flying Lawyer, thanks for your report on the GAPAN evening, great pictures and links.

May I remind all that Alex Henshaw laid down a challenge; "I would challenge any pilot to fly any aircraft in the world with no more than 200 hp to the Cape and back in less time than did XF in 1939."

That is the Henshaw challenge. Whether the challenger has modern mod-cons is not the issue. London - Cape Town - London, IS the issue.:O

I wish any and all challengers, a safe flight.

Keep it safe. CN.

15th Apr 2009, 11:43
After reading the posts had to immediately get the Mew Gull book and indeed, what an amazing story!

One thing struck me with 1930's record breaking aircraft how little they seemed to care about ensuring a good view out, especially forward (see Mew Gull or indeed Lindbergh's Spirit of Louis which had an even more limited view).

Did lowering the canopy so much really make a massive difference to the top speed of the Mew Gull? It seems it certainly gave him a lot of problems on the rough and ready rock-strewn strips in Africa as he had to just take off on the gyro compass and chance disaster a lot of the time!

5th Jun 2009, 12:58
I've only just come across this posting - an extremely interesting piece Flying Lawyer. Thank you very much for putting it all together with words, links and photographs. :D