My Friend George Paul
Once in a while you meet a person who makes a long lasting impact, one you feel honoured to meet and even more honoured to count a a friend. It has been my privilege through the world of aviation to meet a number of such people, including the brilliant pilot Alex Henshaw MBE, Kings Cup Winner, holder of a still unbroken Endurance Record, Chief Spitfire and Lancaster Test Pilot during WWII, and and a true gentleman.
In the same mould was George Paul. Who was George Paul ? No, you probably won’t know the name unless you were fortunate enough, like myself, to meet George at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, where he worked for many years giving talks to school children, guided tours and escorting VIP visitors.
I first met George several years ago when he organised, on behalf of a friend, for me to fly a Duxford based Tiger Moth over the Duxford/Cambridge area, a wonderful and memorable experience. Also with the generous support of my friend, former Atlas Copco Australia MD (later MD of Atlas Copco UK) Mike Tatum, George arranged for the official model maker to the Imperial War Museum Duxford, Findlay Mackenzie to make from scratch a fabulous metal scale model of a Short C Class Flying Boat in Qantas livery.
It was a great moment for me personally when I took George to meet Alex Henshaw at his lovely home in Newmarket, UK. Although they had long known about each other’s achievements, George and Alex had never actually met face to face !
Born in 1927 at Portsmouth, England, George was fascinated by aircraft at an early age. In 1936 George recalled seeing many aircraft unknown to most of us today, including a Westland Wessex 3 engine Airliner, Vega Gull, Airspeed Envoy, Hawker Nimrod, Hawker Osprey, Blackburn Shark, Fairey Swordfish, etc.
His father was killed in WWII in 1940 when HMS Gloworm engaged and, finally, rammed the heavy cruiser KM HIPPER (Battle of the April Storm). During that year George witnessed a great deal of the Battle of Britain from his Grandmother’s home in Kent, and his home town of Portsmouth became a target of the terrible blitz.
George Paul’s career in aviation began as an apprentice in 1942 with Airspeed/de Havilland as an office boy. A member of the Air Training Corps (ATC) George had his first flight in a Hampden of the Canadian Torpedo Bomber Squadron. At this time the famous author Neville Shute was Director of Airspeed, and kept own aircraft, a Percival Proctor (G-AKIW) on site.
Working hard and attending Portsmouth Technical College (and despite Airspeed being bombed by the Lutwaffe), George progressed through the company as an Apprentice Engineer, advancing to Methods and Production Engineer, working on a wide variety of aircraft. Where possible George took advantage of every opportunity to go flying, including one flight with famous test pilot John Derry in Oxford. In 1949 he observed the flight tests of the (well before it’s time) Aero Car by Portsmouth Aviation.
Deciding it was time to be a pilot rather than a passenger, George took his first instructional flight on the 13th of April, 1952, going solo in a Tiger Moth just one month later. In September that year George married Dorothy (also a trainee pilot), and gained his PPL on the 20th of September, 1952. de Havilland subsidised flying for employees, charging just £1 per hour ! Aircraft types flown by George at that time were the Tiger Moth, Auster, Magister, Proctor, Gypsy Moth, Gemini, Consul and Chipmunk.
In June 1954 George reported to the RAF Recruiting Office, Southampton and was accepted as an Officer Cadet on his 26th birthday. During his RAF career George flew an amazing variety of aircraft in the UK and overseas, with service in Malaya, Borneo and Singapore. These included the Piston Provost, Vampire 5, Meteor Models 7, 8 & 10, Canberra T4 B2, Lincoln, Varsity, Pembroke and Javelin All Weather Fighters (George referred to Javelins as “Flying Manhole Covers”) and finally, Wessex Search and Rescue Helicopters.
George’s often hair raising tales of aerial photographic missions in incredibly bad weather conditions would make you hair stand on end ! On one night flying occasion, George entered violent cumulus nimbus at 26,000’ which was hidden by another layer of cloud. He mmediately hit extreme turbulence which kept the VSI swinging from stop to stop. Hanging on to stick with both hands, he was unable to use his radio !
To make matters worse and very disorientating, the cockpit was covered in St. Elmo’s Fire. Heavy hail and a lightning strike on a wing tip added to the misery ! George finally emerged from low level cloud over the Straits of Malacca. Inspection after landing revealed paint stripped off and dents all over all leading edges, with two holes in wing tip from the strike.
George lamented : "My most terrifying flight ever!"
In 1957, while still in the RAF, George joined the Singapore Flying Club and became a Flying Instructor, after being checked out by FO Bill Middlemiss RAAF, who was then flying Lincolns at Tengah. George later became Club Captain.
He gave many hours of flying instruction, including converting wife Dorothy to Cessna 172 and Chipmunk aircraft. One exercise (fortunately not with Dorothy) ended in a ditching in Singapore Harbour.
After leaving the RAF, George became Commander of the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force, flying Fighters, Helicopters and Short Skyvans, often through blinding dust storms ! George later worked as a Consultant to the Sultan, helping him procure historical aircraft at short notice when the Sultan decided to build an Aviation Museum (George also helped design the Museum) and then worked in the United Arab Emirates.
Returning to civilian life, George put his vast flying experience to use when he joined Fairey Britten-Norman and Hawker Siddeley/British Aerospace in Marketing roles. In the mid 1980s George joined the Imperial War Museum, Duxford as a VIP Guide. He was also much sought after as a procurer of aircraft parts for the many historical aircraft restoration companies based at Duxford.
They, like myself, will very much miss this wonderful gentleman.