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Sqn Ldr Neville Duke DSO, OBE, DFC**, AFC

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Sqn Ldr Neville Duke DSO, OBE, DFC**, AFC

Old 10th Apr 2007, 13:27
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Sqn Ldr Neville Duke DSO, OBE, DFC**, AFC

Sqn Ldr Neville Duke DSO, OBE, DFC**, AFC died on Saturday, aged 85.

He was taken ill while flying with his wife, landed safely at Popham, and collapsed as he got out of the aircraft. He passed away in hospital during the evening.

The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators awarded Sqn Ldr Duke the 'Guild Award of Honour' in 2002.
His hand must have been aching by the end of the evening, given the great many of us who wanted the honour of shaking it.

Neville Duke joined the Royal Air Force in 1940 at the age of 18 as an AC2 pilot-under-training. After learning to fly at No. 13 Elementary Flying Training School, White Waltham, he received his wings in February 1941. Newly commissioned, he converted to the Spitfire at No.58 OTU, Grangemouth, and joined No. 92 Fighter Squadron at Biggin Hill in 1941, his first "Kill" being a Messerschmitt Bfl09 over Dunkirk. He was then sent to the Middle East for what was to be a six weeks' detachment, but which, in the end, lasted to near the end of the War.

Flying Spitfires, Tomahawks and Kittyhawks on Nos. 112 and 92 Squadrons in the Western Desert and commanding No. 145 Squadron in Italy, he became the top scoring Allied pilot in the Theatre credited with the destruction of 28 enemy aircraft confirmed, 3 probably destroyed, plus 5 damaged. In these three years, he was awarded the DSO and the DFC with two bars. At the end of the War, he was 23 years old.

In 1945, he was posted to Hawkers as an RAF test pilot, graduated from No 4 ETPS course in 1946 and then joined the RAF High Speed Flight, which gained the world speed record in 1946 in a Meteor 4. He completed two years as a Squadron Leader at A&AEE Boscombe Down, being awarded an AFC in 1948, before being invited to become a civilian test pilot with Hawker Aircraft, then at Langley.

There, he test flew production Furies and Tempests and also the first Hawker jet aircraft, the prototype P1040. During this period he established world records on Fury delivery flights to the Pakistan and Egyptian Air Forces - from London to Rome (1949), London to Karachi (1949), and London to Cairo (1950).

He was the owner of a Hawker Tomtit, now in the Shuttleworth Collection, which he flew regularly at air displays. He also joined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, becoming Commanding Officer of No 615 (County of Surrey) Squadron at Biggin Hill, equipped with Spitfire Mk 22s and later Meteor 4s and having Winston Churchill as its Honorary Air Commodore.

He held the post of Chief Test Pilot at Hawkers from 1951 to 1956. His name will always be linked with the test flying of Sydney Camm's P1067, which became the Hunter. He flew its first flight on 20 July 1951 from Boscombe Down in WB 188 (becoming, almost certainly, the first pilot to wear a Bonedome in a British aircraft) and led the test flying programme of the RAF's first aircraft capable of exceeding the speed of sound.

In it, he planted the first sonic boom for all to hear across Southern England in a shallow dive from 30,000ft on 24 June 1952. The following year, again in WB 188, this time modified with addition of reheat, he set a low altitude world speed record of 727.6mph, averaged over three runs, flying a course off the South Coast near Tangmere on 7 September 1953.

Neville Duke was awarded the OBE in 1953 and the next year was the recipient of the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club and the Segrave Trophy. Additionally, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Danish Aero Club in 1953, two De La Vaux FAI Medals in 1954,and a Queen's Commendation in 1955. In 2002, he was recipient of the Air League's Geoffrey Quill Medal.

His books including Sound Barrier, Test Pilot and The Crowded Sky, have brought home to his readers the realities of test flying at a time when flight approaching the speed of sound was an unknown quantity and literally a Sound Barrier.

For his unique and incomparable record as a RAF fighter pilot and for his outstanding contribution to British aviation in the investigation of high-speed flight and development of the Hunter, Neville Duke is awarded the Guild's Award of Honour.
The Guild Award of Honour is awarded on rare occasions to individuals who have made an outstanding lifetime contribution to aviation.


Last edited by Flying Lawyer; 11th Apr 2007 at 13:47.
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Old 10th Apr 2007, 13:42
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Sad news - another hero passes away. But from what you say it sounds like about a good a way to go as they get?
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Old 10th Apr 2007, 14:23
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Another of my boyhood aviation heroes has passed on. I well remember his superlative Hunter displays at Farnborough in the early 1950's. Met him on a few occasions over the years and his quiet unassuming manner made a great impression.
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Old 10th Apr 2007, 15:14
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It is always very sad to hear of another of the great aviators, of these last many decades, leaving us for the heaven they graced for so long. One last flight and then to sleep is the way I feel he would have liked.

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Old 10th Apr 2007, 15:43
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Thanks for leading me into this great adventure, Neville.
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Old 10th Apr 2007, 18:01
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Another boyhood hero gone to the great upstairs.... A true inspiration to a generation of youngsters in the 1950s.

On the 25th anniversary of the Hawker Hunter, I flew as part of a 4-ship formation of Hunter F6As from Brawdy to meet OC Ops and Neville Duke coming in from Dunsfold in a T7. We then flew as a 5 ship vic over the aerodrome for the press, before coming back for the break. Then a session with the press and a few words from the great Neville Duke. A memorable day indeed!

Sadly the press didn't use it - the spotterish ones just took pictures of 'Winston' and one of our 'Strikemouse' JPs and the serious ones dropped the story because the Americans had just landed something on Mars.

But it was great to have met one of one's boyhood heroes!
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Old 10th Apr 2007, 19:27
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Landing at the Dunsfold display last year. No-one noticed, except the commentator. When he announced his arrival I recall the representative of one of the Aviation Press saying "Neville Who?"

Edit: This is the great man's own aeroplane, with him at the controls.
RIP and thank you Sir!

Last edited by Man-on-the-fence; 15th Apr 2007 at 20:27.
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Old 10th Apr 2007, 19:48
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Met Sir Neville at the hunter line up at Exeter a few years ago.......a gentleman from a bygone age

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Old 10th Apr 2007, 19:51
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neville duke

I was at popham on the day when Mr Duke was taken ill .
A local doctor was flying at popham and landed to attend him until the ambulance arrived. I believe Mr Duke walked to the ambulance.
There will be one really good airshow in heaven with the passing of all these great pilots.
R Dawes.
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Old 10th Apr 2007, 21:32
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.....with a red Hunter as gate guardian.

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Old 11th Apr 2007, 12:06
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a gentleman from a bygone age
Agreed, I had the pleasure of working with him on the Optica back in the '80's.
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Old 11th Apr 2007, 16:53
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From a couple of years back.

"One of the most decorated British fighter pilots of the Second World War
has sold his medals, diaries and other memorabilia partly to pay for a hip
replacement operation for his wife who faced at least a six-month wait on
the National Health Service.
Sqn Ldr Neville Duke, 83, the Royal Air Force's top-scoring ace in the
Mediterranean theatre who set a world air speed record of 728 mph in 1953,
put the collection up for auction rather than subject his wife Gwen to
months of pain and discomfort while she waited for an operation. "

(from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main...08/nduke08.xml)

And a reference to him embedded in the article about John
Derry's demise at Farnborough:-

"There was a short break in the display, then Neville Duke did a supersonic
dive in a prototype Hawker Hunter. There was a deadly silence from the
crowd, who were very nervous about this being repeated." (from
http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/w...00/4219540.stm )
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Old 11th Apr 2007, 18:40
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Sqn Ldr Neville Duke

Header says it all.

Duke was famous for, among other things, holding the world air speed record.
In 1953 he achieved 727.63 mph flying a Hawker Hunter.

I met Sqn Ldr Neville Duke at RIAT last year, what a fine man !

I am sure many on here and in the aviation fraternity would like to pass on sincere Condolences.

I for one will drink a toast this evening to a TRUE Flying legend !
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Old 11th Apr 2007, 19:37
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I still have (or rather my son does) my autographed copy of "Neville Duke's Book of Flying" from around 1957. Excellent description of his first Spitfire "op", and naturally of the speed record flight.
A gentleman--and one who was more interested in his profession than in the "managing upwards" tendency so apparently prevalent more recently.
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Old 11th Apr 2007, 19:57
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I first met Neville Duke when he presented me with a flying badge after I requalified for my PPL. After that I occasionally bumped into him in the Bournemouth Flying Club on his return from some trip or other. Although they hardly knew us they would quite happily have a drink with us as if we were valued friends.

The last time, he and Gwen had just flown back from a garden party given by Rolls Royce for surviving test pilots and they were telling us how few of his contemporaries were still alive. In fact, he was the only one still flying. To be honest, it was Gwen who told us all this because Neville was so self effacing that he just sat there looking slightly embarrassed at being the centre of attention. An absolute gentleman and an inspiration. I feel truly priviledged to have met him.
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Old 11th Apr 2007, 22:45
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But not forgotten

As someone who grew up with Neville and Gwen as our 'next door' neighbours on the perimeter track at Dunsfold, my father being the Chief Production Pilot, I am immensely sad to hear the news of his death. I have fond memories of Dunsfold, Farnborough air shows and many pilots who sadly have gone over the years before him, he will stand out for many of us as one of our heroes and whilst I grieve for Gwen, I cannot but applaud that in the finest tradition of test pilots, he managed to get the plane down in one piece one last time and I donít take anything away from others in the plane at the time. None of us could find a more fitting finish to such a long and distinguished life. It is a pity that the national press seem to have missed a worthy story over the long running tripe of the last couple of days. Let us hope that the aviation press donít let us down. Michael .
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Old 12th Apr 2007, 00:40
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It is a pity that the national press seem to have missed a worthy story over the long running tripe of the last couple of days.
I couldn't agree more.

I eventually called The Times newsdesk today expressing surprise that there hadn't been a mention. I was told 'it's not really a news story', 'people would be more interested if it was someone famous now' (a so-called 'celebrity' no doubt ) and was advised to contact the Obituaries section. I did, so hope something will come of it.

I happen to know the person who writes aviation obituaries for the Daily Telegraph. He hadn't heard the sad news, but is now writing so I think we'll see an obituary later in the week. (Subject to the Obituaries Editor's discretion obviously, but the DT is usually good re aviation obits.)

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Old 12th Apr 2007, 08:51
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Nice point Manxcats4me. Had Mr Duke been taken prisoner, do you think he would have said on TV everything his captors wanted him to, and then sold his story for a fast buck and 15 minutes of celebrity ? Absolutely not ! Different generation. RIP, and say hello to Mr Trubshaw up there for me.
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Old 12th Apr 2007, 10:51
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Neville Duke...

Farewell to a man who inspired me 'from afar' as a 'youngster'.

I too have a copy of "Neville Duke's Book Of Flying".
It was a birthday present to a very enthusiastic young kid who just wanted to fly...
First published in 1954, Copyright by Neville Duke and Edward Lanchbery.
Cost my folks 12/- then, in Sydney (AUS), and I thought it was just 'GREAT!'

I now have that book in front of me, and it is still 'GREAT!'

In those days of my young life, I was enthralled and excited by his description of
"Dawn Readiness" (By an ex-Fighter Pilot) (sic)....
And the last para;
"But as you throttle back and fly slowly round
the circuit, you listen to the exciting sound of
the wind whistling in the gun ports through
the torn canvas covers. You have fired your
guns for the first time in battle. You are
nineteen. You have shot down your first enemy
aircraft. Life is great."

His Hawker Hunter speed efforts were also inspiring, but his real 'story' for me was his Chapter One - "Learn To Fly A Jet" - a story of student and instructor in a 'Vampire', complete with photos and drawings etc.
And, at that time, I dreamt that student was me!

RIP, and condolences to Family, Colleagues and Friends.
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Old 12th Apr 2007, 15:38
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The Daily Telegraph will definitely publish an obituary.
There is a "strong probability" that it will appear tomorrow.

The Times Obituaries section is "considering" my suggestion.
I've no idea what there is to consider.
Update -
Just received an email which includes "We shall certainly be running an obituary in due course."


Last edited by Flying Lawyer; 12th Apr 2007 at 17:03.
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