The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome
No. 7 Winter 2001
A. R. 'Bob' Crowhurst
by Chris Parker
Pictures: David Crowhurst
Bob Crowhurst (left) and Tom Attley pose with
their favourite aeroplane - Northants
Aero Club's Tiger Moth G-ADIA circa 1957.
One of Sywell's most active and popular personalities in the three decades following the Second World War was A.R. 'Bob' Crowhurst - widely known to his aviation friends and colleagues as 'Crowie'.
Medical problems in the early 1970s sadly forced Bob to give up active flying, although he was still regularly to be seen at the airfield, relishing the aviation scene and reminiscing over old times with friends in the Motel bar.
Although Bob died in 1982, the Sywell connection with the Crowhurst family is still strong - his three sons David, Brian and Peter all being very active pilots.
Bob was born a Londoner in 1910, and by the mid-1930s was employed by London Transport as a bus driver. London Transport was very unusual in those days in having a flying club and offering subsidised flying to its employees. Bob was thus able to indulge the great passion that he had for flying and aeroplanes, and he obtained his 'A' licence with the club at its home airfield of Broxbourne in Hertfordshire.
Bob (third from left) at Broxbourne with Dart Kitten
G-AEXT after its recovery from a forced landing
over central London.
It was whilst flying single-seat Dart Kitten (G-AEXT) from Broxbourne over central London in 1937 that Bob suffered one of his many aviation scrapes. The Kitten's engine failed and Bob made a successful forced landing in one of the central parks (possibly Regent's Park) without damage to himself or the aeroplane.
With the onset of war Bob volunteered for the Royal Air Force and was accepted with the rank of Sergeant Pilot. He was initially deemed to be too old for operations, but with his substantial flying experience was selected to train as a flying instructor. Bob became a fully qualified flying instructor, being commissioned later as a Flight Lieutenant. He served with many different units throughout the UK as an instructor during the war and flew several types including the Tiger Moth, Miles Magister and Master, and the twin engined Airspeed Oxford.
Fate played its hand on more than one occasion ensuring that Bob was able to survive the war. He had been transferred to operational flying as second pilot on Halifax bombers and had completed five missions when he was called away from his squadron to give instruction on night glider flying (he was one of a handful of people qualified to do this) to Army special operations pilots. His Halifax was lost with its crew on what would have been Bob's sixth mission.
David Lloyd (left) and Bob with David's Tiger Moth
G-AIXD at Old Warden in 1972.
Another fortunate escape came when a weekend pass enabled Bob to make a rare visit home. Had he remained on duty he would have been flying with his long term friend test pilot John de Havilland (son of Sir Geoffrey) on a test flight in a de Havilland Mosquito from Hatfield, in the event the Mosquito crashed, killing John.
Bob's instructional flying was not without incident either. The most hair-raising moment was probably when an Australian student being instructed by Bob in aerobatics pulled the control column too hard as they exited from a loop.The resulting high loading caused part of the upper surfaces of the wings to detach. Bob was able to pull off a skilful forced landing on Ford aerodrome in Sussex.
At the end of the war Bob decided to remain in the Royal Air Force and accepted a flying instructor post with No 6 Reserve Flying School at Sywell, moving his family (wife and three sons) from London to Northamptonshire.
The Reserve School at Sywell (known as the Volunteer Reserve or VR) in the years between 1946 and 1953 operated Tiger Moths, Chipmunks, Percival Prentices together with Airspeed Oxford and Avro Anson twin engined trainers. Bob was one of the keenest participants in the Sywell School's activities during those years - both on the flying and social fronts. He combined his instructional duties, which became part-time with VR, with the job of running the Airport Garage (later to become Day and Coles Agricultural operation).
Jack Linnell (right) with Bob and Jack's Comper Swift
G-ABUS - raced and displayed by Bob in the 1950s.
When the RAF finally closed its VR operations in 1953 Bob joined Wards of Wellingborough as a part of their sales team, but continued enthusiastically to take opportunities to fly whenever they presented themselves. He retained his flying instructor qualifications, and for a period acted as CFI for the US Air Force flying club at Chelveston. At Sywell Bob regularly flew the Tiger Moths of the Northamptonshire Aero Club, and also many of the aircraft operated by private owners who welcomed the assistance and advice that Bob's substantial experience enabled him to give. He particularly enjoyed flying in the single-seat vintage Comper Swift racer owned by Jack Linnell, and piloted this aircraft (G-ABUS) in various of the National Air Race series, as well as giving demonstrations in it at RAF display days in the area (including Cottesmore and Wittering).
Bob was in regular demand to accompany Sywell pilots to the Air Rallies which were very popular in the 1950s and 60s, Jersey being a favourite destination. His twin-engined qualifications were also put to good use and he regularly flew Jack Linnell's Miles Gemini G-AKER, as well as the first of the modern American tricycle twins based at Sywell, Peter Day's Apache G-APFV.
Many of the cine film and photographs of the Aero Club's activities in the 1950s with its Austers and Tiger Moths originate from Bob's friendship with fellow member and pilot Tom Attley. Particularly atmospheric are shots of the Club's Tigers G-AHMN and G-ADIA flown by Bob in their natural element amongst summer cloud scapes.
Aerobatics were a favourite activity for Bob and, as well as winning various club competitions, he was one of the first pilots in the area to sample the Tiger Club's aerobatic 'Super Tiger' G-APDZ (named 'The Bishop' after the Club's CFI C.A. Nepean-Bishop). Bob's connection with the Tiger Moth at Sywell continued to the end of his flying career through his association with David Lloyd and their group operation of David's all-red Tiger Moth G-AIXD.