John Ford

Posted by Warbirds Pilot on 4 October 2015 | Comments

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Fordaire Aviation of Seething is Finest Hour’s key engineering partner. Fordaire is run by Rex Ford, who has maintained CAP10B G-BXFE for many years, is nearing completion of the restoration of our second CAP10, co-owns the Percival Q6 with us and will soon embark on the restoration of our Tiger Moth, G-ADGT. Rex has spent his life in aviation but his family’s aviation history goes back further. Specifically, his father, Flying Officer John Ford DFC was a wartime pilot who became a VIP and airline pilot during the early post-war years.

00 Logbook Cover India

As I sit in my Calcutta hotel room (the life of the airline pilot is nothing like as glamorous as some outside the industry suspect!), it seems appropriate to start Ford Senior’s story in India, where he arrived as the war in Europe was drawing to a close in April 1945.  Moving from HQ Burma in Calcutta to the Burma Communications Squadron, flying the Beech 18, his logbook also includes the Fairchild Argus, Tiger Moth, Harvard and even one trip in a 99 Sqn B24 Liberator from RAF Dhubalia before he was posted to the 228 Group Communications Squadron during July 1945, this formation serving units within the geographical area of Eastern (Army) Command. Here, Ford’s main type remained the Beech 18, with the Argus and Harvard making regular appearances, the Lockheed Electra and L5 Sentinel appearing in May 1946.

01 RAF Beech 18 over India IWM

RAF Beech 18 over India (IWM)

02 RAF Beech 18 and Harvard in India IWM

RAF Beech 18 and Harvard in India (IWM)

On 12 August 1945, he was even attached to 240 Sqn to fly as second pilot on a Catalina flying boat searching unsuccessfully for a crashed Liberator. 

08 Catalina + VJ Day
Catalina and VJ Day

03 Expeditor VIP Crew March 1946

Expeditor VIP Crew - March 1946

Clearly, Ford was achieving variety in his flying, which was reflected in his Commanding Officer’s comments: “F/O Ford is a pilot of above average all round ability who approaches flying from both theoretical and practical aspects. He is one of the most experienced pilots on the Flight”. Ford learned of the Japanese surrender on 15 Aug 1945 while flying a Beech 18 during a 5 hr 30 min flight from Jharsogra via Ranchi, a place, by coincidence, I flew over this evening.  July 1946 saw him join the 1 (India) Group Communications Flight, flying the Airspeed Oxford, Avro Anson, Beech 18 and the Douglas Dakota on VIP duties, his passengers including Lt Gen Rob Lockhart (GOC Southern Command), Maj Gen Ashton Wade (Commander Madras Area) and Maj Gen ‘Alf’ Snelling (Southern Command).

05 Logbook Beech pic04 Logbook Beechcraft pic notes

Ford’s logbook of the period contains fascinating abbreviated notes for a number of the aeroplanes he flew and Finest Hour recently had the pleasure of validating his notes by flying Tim Darrah’s Beech 18 near our Chiltern Park home. In a wonderful completion of the circle, Tim’s aeroplane is now one of the Beech 18s maintained by Rex at Fordaire.

07 Finest Hours White Gloves in Tim Darrahs Beech 18 Lawrence Hawthorn

Finest Hour's White Gloves in Tim Darrah's Beech 18 (Lawrence Hawthorn)

09a Logbook Harvard

Logbook - Harvard

09 Logbook Argus Notes
Logbook - Argus notes

De-mobbed from the RAF in November 1946, John Ford remained in India to embark on arguably his most interesting period of flying there yet, employed by Indian Air Survey And Transport Ltd (IASAT), a subsidiary of the Fairey Aviation Company.  As India approached independence and partition, Ford was flying VIPs in a variety of light single-engined aeroplanes, including the Sentinel and Noorduyn Norseman, known as the C64 in military service.

10 Nov 46 IASAT inc VIPs
IASAT inc. VIPs, November 1946

His first passenger was a Mr Khan, Governor of Bengal, flown from Dum-Dum to Dinaspur, the flight of 4 hrs 30 minutes not untypical of the long flights made in these small aeroplanes over this huge land. Other passengers included ‘Honourable Chief Minister’ (of Bengal, I think), ‘Minister of Relief’, a Mr Salim, Parliamentary Secretary and the GOC Bengal & Assam Armies.

11 Feb 47 inc VIPs recce etc
VIPs, recce etc., Feb 1947

As India descended into violence in the run-up to independence, a flavour of this can be seen in Ford’s logbook, where the entries include ‘Local recces to disperse communist gatherings in & around Garo Hills’ between 7-9 Feb 1947 and, on 17 Feb 1947, a flight to deliver the District Magistrate to Naokhali, the scene of sectarian massacres during Oct / Nov 1946.  Ford added the dh89a Dominie, the Boeing Stearman and the Tata Corporation’s dh85 Leopard Moth to his tally of interesting types before joining Himalayan Aviation, a forerunner of Air India, to fly the Douglas DC-3, gaining his Command in November 1948. 

12 RAF Stinson Sentinels in Burma IWM

RAF Stinson Sentinels in Burma (IWM)

13 Fairchild Argus IWM

Fairchild Argus (IWM)

Ford returned to the UK to join Skyways of London, flying Avro Yorks, mainly on trooping flights between 1952 and 1955, when he converted to the Handley Page Hermes, which he flew until September 1958, when he retired from aviation to form John R Ford & Sons, a motor business still run by Rex’s younger brother.

14 Skyways Avro York
Skyways Avro York

15 Skyways Handley Page Hermes
Skyways Handley Page Hermes

This, of course, is only a brief synopsis of Ford Snr’s post war flying, as our research into the detail of his wartime exploits is ongoing; more to follow…