Friday, March 31, 2006

David William Morgan M.B.E. 1923-2004

Dave Morgan (right) with Jeffrey Quill prior to a ferry flight to Pakistan

David William Morgan was born on April 15 1923 at Heanor, Derbyshire. His family moved to north London, and he was educated at University College School, where his flair for precise technical description was evident when he was commended for an account of "how to mend a puncture in 50 words" - an activity he had seen but never performed.Morgan volunteered for flying duties in the RAF in 1941, but was rejected on medical grounds, specifically because of his poor hearing, which he blamed on too much shooting at Bisley without ear protectors. Six months later the same doctor passed him as "exceptionally fit". After training at Cambridge and in South Africa, Morgan spent a period on air traffic duties at Woodhall Spa, the home of No 617 Dam Busters Squadron, where he flew unofficially on attacks against the V-1 rocket sites. Because there was a surplus of pilots in the RAF, he transferred to the Fleet Air Arm in 1944, flying Seafire fighters from the aircraft carrier Stalker in the Indian Ocean.
After the war Morgan became a flying instructor, before completing No 7 Course at the Empire Test Pilots' School; he flew in a formation of Hawker Sea Fury fighters that broke the London to Malta speed record. In June 1950 he joined Vickers Supermarine as a test pilot. Morgan test-flew the Navy's Attacker jet fighter, which was also purchased by the Pakistan Air Force. While ferrying the prototype aircraft to Karachi, he was forced to land en route at Baghdad on one wheel; engineers quickly repaired the aircraft, and he was able to touch down at Karachi in time for the Independence Day flypast.

Morgan was one of the pilots that flew a Supermarine experimental swept-wing aircraft in David Lean's film The Sound Barrier (1952). For the purpose of the film, the aircraft was called "Prometheus"; and, with the exception of a few acceptable pieces of artistic licence, Morgan felt that the film was a reasonable portrayal of the time, the characters and the professional setting.The Swift was an aircraft that had a number of significant shortcomings; and the Hawker Hunter, which was being developed at the same time, enjoyed a much better reputation. Morgan lost no opportunity to show the Swift in a better light, and, flying to an air display in Belgium at 667 mph, he reached Brussels in the record time of 18 minutes.In the event, the RAF chose the Hawker Hunter for its new fighter. But the Swift found its niche in a low-level, highspeed fighter reconnaissance role operating from RAF airfields in Germany. It performed very well, and Morgan always believed that the FR 4 version of the Swift was "the best that was available at the time to operate at really high speeds on the deck".Morgan then became heavily involved in the development of the Navy's powerful and rugged Scimitar fighter-bomber. He was responsible for the weapons and engineering development of the aircraft, and carried out most of the test flights on the then-new toss-bombing Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) manoeuvre.He was then appointed the project pilot for the TSR 2's nav/attack system; but the Labour government cancelled the project before he could make his first flight.

The aircraft's demise marked the end of Morgan's test-flying, and he began a new career in marketing with the new British Aircraft Corporation. He combined his grasp of technical issues with an easy charm and a fine network of contacts as he sold military aircraft and missile systems (in particular, the Rapier air defence missile) to countries in the Far East.In 1986 he was appointed MBE for his contribution to British aviation over 40 years.