Hangar Talk


Comment on historic aviation by the chief executive of the UK’s Light Aircraft Association

David Ogilvy (front row, third from right) with fellow instructors at the Derby Aviation-owned Elstree Flying Club, in front of one of its Miles Magisters — and on the occasion of his recent 90th birthday celebration.

At the end of April, I was privileged to be part of a 90th birthday lunch party for a personal hero. Like many of his kind, he doesn’t lineshoot. Instead, for more than seven decades, David Ogilvy has quietly made his mark, as a pilot (including being the last Mosquito qualified flying instructor), as an author whose books and magazine articles have inspired thousands, and as an ever-keen advocate of vintage aviation.

David’s passion for aeroplanes began in the mid-1930s when a Hawker Hart beat up his school playing field. Thereafter he was a regular fixture on the boundary of Woodley aerodrome near Reading, but even then he found the three resident DH60 Moths far more attractive than the more numerous Miles Hawk monoplanes.

He described his recruitment to the shrinking post-war RAF as being the result of “persistent bludgeoning and refusal to be beaten down by alternative suggestions”. After progressing from Tiger Moth to Harvard in the timehonoured sequence, instead of an Airspeed Oxford his twin-engine conversion was carried out by moving straight on to the Mosquito. As we recounted in our ‘Aeroplane meets…’ feature in the October 2017 issue, David’s Mosquito flying extended from the late 1940s into the 1960s, piloting some of the last survivors during the making of the film 633 Squadron and in displays for Skyfame. Meanwhile, while still in the service, in 1951 he co-founded the Vintage Aeroplane Club, which initiated the preservation and private ownership of many vintage light aircraft. Today he remains the patron of its successor, the Vintage Aircraft Club.

At that time aircraft such as the Tiger Moth and Miles Magister were deemed too modern to be eligible for the VAC, but nonetheless David, while with No 58 Squadron at RAF Benson, purloined the unit’s ‘hack’ Tiger. “Few of the pilots at the time seemed interested, so personal greed was easy to satisfy”, he grins. “I treated the aeroplane as my own and even for a while had it converted to a single-seater for air racing.”

That led to a connection with another well-known racing aircraft of its day: Comper Swift G-ABUS. It had made its name in racing long before David came along, but its ageing owner wanted to see it continue to fly in sporting events. “He said I could have it at no cost, operate it and race it as if it was my own, but that I must return it to him when I was finished with it.”

While still in the RAF, in 1951 David cofounded the Vintage Aeroplane Club, which initiated the preservation and private ownership of many vintage light aircraft

In 1955, David scored a second and two third places in national races with the Swift, but survived a near-miss when an oil pipe on its Pobjoy radial engine burst during the King’s Cup at Coventry. Almost blinded by the scalding oil, David landed straight ahead on the sole area of grass he could see, only to discover he was in the middle of the airfield.

Becoming general manager of the Shuttleworth Collection during the 1960s, David put in place the flying and safety standards which have helped ensure that the collection is what it is today. “We never seemed to show much on the balance sheet each year”, he said, “but we started the work on five major aircraft restorations, built two hangars and extended the airfield in both directions, so we didn’t do too badly.”

The job afforded some exciting flying opportunities, including the Gloster Gladiator and the Bristol Fighter. David adds, though, that the responsibility of flying what were then the sole airworthy survivors was daunting. “With that pressure you can’t really enjoy the moment ’til after you have landed.”

Another unique experience was a flight as passenger on the Bristol Boxkite replica, flying a circuit of Old Warden with — as pictured in the December 2017 issue — the legendary Neil Williams at the helm. “Typical Neil Williams, actually. He had exceptional handling abilities and could coax an aeroplane to do things others would never attempt. Of course it would never be allowed today — and quite right too…”