Doug Bianchi & Neil Williams

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16 years 9 months

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It was 30 years ago this week that both Doug Bianchi and Neil Williams died.

Strangely (for the two were so closely connected) within a day of each other. Doug Bianchi on 10th and Neil Williams on 11th of December 1977.

If anyone has any memories, annecdotes or photo's of these (now near legendary) figures from the early days of the British historic aviation scene, please post them here...

Tempus Fugit.

Blue Skies Gentlemen. We remember you.

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17 years 8 months

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The classic Neil Williams pose.........

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Was it Neil Williams whose Zlin wing started to fold up? He rolled it against the fold and flew inverted until near the ground when he rolled level again and got down safely.

Roger Smith.

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24 years 4 months

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I was five when they died, so I wouldn't have heard at the time. However, that is the Neil Williams story I have heard as well. It makes the mind boggle with all the "what if?s", doesn't it?

Adrian

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Was it Neil Williams whose Zlin wing started to fold up? He rolled it against the fold and flew inverted until near the ground when he rolled level again and got down safely.

Roger Smith.

It was indeed.

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20 years 9 months

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At the end of the documentary "Spitfire", there's a lengthy sequence showing MH434 being put through her paces by Neil Williams.

It's been posted on YouTube, so I'll see if I can find it...

And here it is:

MH434 - Neil Williams

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18 years 5 months

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One story I remember is when Neil Williams was flying at the RAE Farnborough, he was tasked with taking a Hastings to foggy Bedford, the plan being that if the vis was too bad they would return to Farnborough.
On the way there he could hear another aircraft talking to the Bedford Controller as it flew circuits, so he assumed the fog was not too bad.
He did his approach and all the way down could see nothing, then just as he was about to abort the landing the runway lights came out of the fog.
Out of interest he waited near the runway to see what the other a/c, who seemed so happy in the bad conditions,was. Then a Varsity with BLIND LANDING EXPERIMENTAL UNIT painted on trundled past.

I always remember him best at Old Warden, hopping from one type to another, from the Spit to the Boxkite, the Yak11 to the Bleriot, then doing a superb aerobatic routine in a Pitts. Sadly missed.

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Was it Neil Williams whose Zlin wing started to fold up? He rolled it against the fold and flew inverted until near the ground when he rolled level again and got down safely.

Roger Smith.

If you want to hear it in the pilot's own words, check this out: http://www.aerobatics.org.uk/repeats/zlin_wing_failure.htm :eek:

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Doug used to have a sign on the door of his office at PPS. Words to the effect...'This a business trying to make a profit, please do not just drop in for a chat'. Of course everybody did.

Approaching Booker with Neil in G-AKIF and a pretty stiff cross wind.

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http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v634/Mark12/Album%203/NeilWilliams01-001.jpg

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If you want to hear it in the pilot's own words, check this out: http://www.aerobatics.org.uk/repeats/zlin_wing_failure.htm :eek:

Hell's teeth! It makes the mouth go dry reading it! What an astonishing piece of analysis - one cannot help thinking that most pilots this happened to would have been making their report to St Peter... :eek:

Adrian

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Hell's teeth! It makes the mouth go dry reading it! What an astonishing piece of analysis - one cannot help thinking that most pilots this happened to would have been making their report to St Peter... :eek:

Adrian

IIRC Neil Williams had graduated from the ETPS, and so was both a fully trained test pilot, and a world-class aerobatic pilot, so if anyone stood any chance of getting out of the situation in one piece it was he. Still an absolutely incredible piece of airmanship though, demonstrating what can be achieved with the necessary skills, and with detailled knowledge of the airframe structure around you - and very worthy of the subsequent award for outstanding airmanship.

As Pogno said earlier, I too remember him hopping between very different types at Old Warden shows, and elsewhere. And his displays in MH434 were perfection - pre-dating the arrival of a certain Mr Hanna at her helm.

NW regularly flew aircraft from the PPS fleet for Doug Bianchi, including the Yak 11 which DB had restored. He also flew Tiger Club types at displays, test flew Des St Cyriens Sopwith Pup rebuild at Fairoaks, and flew Patrick Lindsays fleet (IIRC). NW also represented UK in World aerobatic championships ona number of occasions, and his input helped bring the UK-built Cranfield A1 (G-BCIT) into being, in hope of competing with the Russian and US-built specialist aerobatic types starting to dominate the competition (Pitts, Sukhois etc), as UK were still flying Stampes, Tiger Moths and things like the Cosmic Wind "Ballerina" against them, with little real chance of success.

Despite all this "excitement" in his career, he also flew relatively "straightforward" ferry flights on various types, and piloted executive charters. It was whilst ferrying a CASA 211 back to UK from Spain that he was killed.

For more info, try looking out second hand copies of "Airborne", a compilation of the autobiographical articles he wrote for Pilot magazine amongst others, which includes the tale related by Pogno, and also recounts the Zlin wing-folding incident in detail. I have read, and re-read my copy many times.

DB also wrote short articles for Pilot magazine, all with a very wry sense of humour - I could rarely read one without laughing out loud. Both he and NW had the ability to capture technical detail on the written page yet not leave the armchair-bound non-expert behind.

RIP Neil and Doug, you both did much to help get the UK restoration and Warbird scene get on it's feet. We all owe you so very much.

Paul F

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For more info, try looking out second hand copies of "Airborne", a compilation of the autobiographical articles he wrote for Pilot magazine amongst others, which includes the tale related by Pogno, and also recounts the Zlin wing-folding incident in detail. I have read, and re-read my copy many times.

Paul F

Thanks for the heads-up, Paul. One to order from the Bodleian when I have a quiet day, I think!

Adrian

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As Pogno said earlier, I too remember him hopping between very different types at Old Warden shows, and elsewhere. And his displays in MH434 were perfection - pre-dating the arrival of a certain Mr Hanna at her helm. Paul F

Ray was always 434's chief pilot, Neil only covered when Ray was unavailable which wasn't very often.

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Given their closeness, one might imagine that Neil was affected by the news of Doug's death, though to what extent nobody will know. It may have added a degree of urgency in returning to the UK. For readers who do not recall, Neil and two others lost their lives in a Casa 2-111 being ferried from Spain to Blackbushe for Doug Arnold.

Doug Bianchi was an inspired writer, and his articles in Pilot were superb and hilarious. He wrote about bringing back the Mew Gull from France, filming Aces High, taking a Fokker Triplane to Germany to promote 'The Blue Max' and numerous other subjects. They really deserve to be re-released.

Neil did his first Spit solo from Swanton Morley, but it nearly didn't happen, as he could not get in, not knowing there was a little button in the cockpit frame to open the hood!

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Seven....now six, secondhand copies of Airborne on Amazon. Get those Christmas pressie commitments in quick :D

By coincidence last weekend I discovered the attached picture of G-AISA, being flown by Neil at Eastbach farm strip on the Welsh borders. He was probably one of the last to aerobat a Tipsy Trainer before its aerobatic certification was withdrawn in deference to the age of the airframe.

With only 60hp on the nose, the display was described by his brother (Staaken Flitzer designer) Lynn, as a "downhill, energy management exercise". I can only assume this picture was taken near the end of the display!

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Pilot articles etc

I was lucky that during the 70's my father developed a healthy interest in light aviation.He took his ppl and qualified in early 1974,by this time he was subscribing to both Pilot and Aeroplane magazine where as mentioned Bianchi and Williams featured regularly.By this time I was an interested 10 year old who flew regularly but also squirreled away the magazines incase they were thrown out !! luckily I still have the whole collection so can revisit those amazing tales.The flying club also held annual air shows and I remember Neil Williams bringing the Yak 11 G-AYAK to display at a time when a privately owned Russian military aircraft was almost unheard of.I remember meeting NW and asking for his autograph before he displayed the Yak.Of course the book Airborne is full of great stories that allow the reader to feel like they are there in the cockpit,but there are many others in the pilot magazines that still are equally breathtaking.
Doug Bianchi's tales are very amusing too ,and it seems that life was far more casual and laid back in the days when Doug was busy repairing Auster's and assorted Moths etc

Regards

Steve

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20 years 4 months

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It was parents buying a keen 14 year old a copy of 'Airborne' as a Christmas present in 1977 that got me interested in the kind of aircraft Neil Williams flew at the Tiger Club. As soon as i got my PPL and had gained the required 100hrs necessary to qualify for membership, I joined the Tiger Club and have never looked back. It was Neil's 'Pilot' flight test of a Jungmann that provided the 'heads up' for my own first flight in one.

So thanks Neil for enthralling me with your fantastic tales, and spurring me on to greater things. I sometimes wonder where i'd be if I had never read that book? (Thinks - Must dig it out and read it again):)

As for Doug Bianchi, his story published in a mid 70s Pilot Magazine of going over to France and attempting to buy a Stampe makes me laugh even after reading it countless times.

RIP both of you, you did more for UK aviation than most.

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Doug and cheap wine!

My father was operating his Mk V Proctor from White Waltham early sixties, and PPS looked after the maintenance. Tony Bianchi told me that his first flight was in the Mk V. My father had a bladder tank fitted in the centre section, where a bespoke long range tank would normally have been positioned on the V. This was filled with wine in France, and imported, Doug was in on the secret, and both he and father spent a good long hour late at night beneath the Proctor decanting it into bottles!

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Was it Neil Williams whose Zlin wing started to fold up? He rolled it against the fold and flew inverted until near the ground when he rolled level again and got down safely.

Roger Smith.

YES INDEED IT WAS ROGER - On Wednesday 3rd June 1970 Neil was at RAF Hullavington, Wiltshire practicing for the World Aerobatic Championships (which eventually took place in July 1970).

He was flying in the blue & white Czech - built Zlin aircraft G-AWAR when this memorable incident took place and he was about 3 minutes into the flight when he radioed the tower to say he was in trouble. At less than 40 feet from the ground, on the grass parallel with the main runway, he managed to flip the aircraft over on its back and the wing tip of the undamaged wing hit the ground - the other wing having sheared off just beforehand.

Miraculously Neil clambered from the wreckage without any injuries. Two days later he was back in the air practicing again - demonstrating what a fantastic pilot he was !!

I have a press cutting from the Daily Mail of Saturday 6th June 1970 where Neil gave an account of this remarkable escape - I hope it's readable here as an attachment. There's another account of the incident at http://www.eaa309.org/News%20Letter/Mar02/page8/page6.html and a first hand report by Neil as published in Flight International of 18th June 1970 http://www.aerobatics.org.uk/repeats/zlin_wing_failure.htm

I have a personal reason to remember this event as I was at Hullavington on that eventful day working on Lancaster NX611 ('Guy Gibson' as she was then christened) in 'Hangar Building 85' at RAF Hullavington. We were busy at the time preparing the Lanc. for her impending flight to Blackpool 'Squires Gate' Airport so unfortunately didn't actually witness Neil's ('controlled') crash landing but soon became acutely aware very soon after !

Those of us working for 'Reflectaire' in the hangar at the time had our hearts in our mouths as details of the crash emerged - Neil was scheduled to be our pilot (once again) on the Lanc's ferry trip to Blackpool so you can imagine our deep concern. This turned to audible relief at the news that he had walked away from the crash site and was OK.

As is now history - NX611 did indeed fly to Blackpool on Friday 26th June 1970 piloted by the 36 year old 'legendary aviator' Neil Williams, the man who in fact piloted 'our' precious Lancaster on every one of her flights since she returned to the UK from Australia on 13th May 1965.

Here's a shot of Neil (2nd from right) as he made his way to the flight debriefing soon after he had successfully landed Lancaster NX611 / G-ASXX at Blackpool Airport following what has subsequently proved (to date anyway ! - I'm not going to revive that Forum subject here !!!) to be her last flight (RAF Hullavington, Wiltshire to Squires Gate on 26th June 1970).

THANK YOU NEIL - YOU ARE GREATLY MISSED.

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Thanks for starting this thread Lord Roxeth, both great lads who are sorely missed, I've heard the story about the sign that Mark 12 refers to before, make me chuckle every time :)

I just hope that somebody will publish Doug's memoirs in the future, from what I've heard it would make a great read.

Tom

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A couple of shots by Ray Wood.

Mark

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v634/Mark12/Album%203/204BoxkiteNeilWilliamsShuttleworth0.jpg

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v634/Mark12/Album%203/203BoxkiteNeilWilliamsShuttleworth0.jpg