David Learmount – a brief aviation history

I learned to fly at the Airways Flying Club, Booker, Buckinghamshire, England where, in 1969/70, I earned my PPL, IMC rating and night rating.

At the time I was learning to fly I was working as cabin crew for British European Airways in Tridents and – occasionally – the Comet 4C (only used for charters by then). This gave me a taste for working with a crew.

Accepted into the RAF in 1970, trained on Jet Provost Mk3 and Mk5 at RAF Linton on Ouse, did multi-engine training in the Vickers Varsity (loved the big Bristol Hercules radial piston engines – machines from another era) at RAF Oakington near Cambridge, then on to the Operational Conversion Unit  for the Lockheed C-130K Hercules at RAF Thorney Island, followed by my first operational post as a working copilot on LXX Sqn based at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.

In 1976 I was posted to the Central Flying School (RAF Cranwell) to train as a Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI), and on graduation returned to RAF Linton on Ouse, but this time as an instructor.

After about two years as a QFI I lost my aircrew medical category because of a mysterious neurological illness, and reckoned I’d better do something else for a living because I didn’t see myself getting my aircrew medical category back again.

I had always dallied with the idea of being a journalist, so I thought I’d try it, and applied to Flight International. In 1979, after 6 months’ probation, they took me on as Air Transport Reporter.

The rest is Flightglobal history, but in parallel I worked freelance for international news broadcasting media and for documentary channels like Discovery and National Geographic. I still do.

And I still work with Flightglobal as their Consulting Editor.

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PS: Just to clarify – for those whose comments suggest they presume I have been desk-bound since arriving at Flight in 1979 – I do get some proper flying in from time to time.

I have to do that, just to stay up to date with cockpit technology.

Although my medical category still does not allow me to fly solo or in command, I fly all sorts of aircraft, but by law there has to be a captain in the other seat.  Even more regularly I “fly” simulators.

Types I have flown for real since then (always at the manufacturer or with an agency like the FAA) include the Airbus A300, A320, A340-600 the Boeing 727-100, 737-500, 777-200, and Bombardier’s Twin Otter and Dash 8 series. And a Supermarine Spitfire Mk 9 (the Boultbee Spirfire)!

Simulators I have spent recent time in include all the current production types from Boeing and Airbus, including the A380. And a few years ago, Concorde!

I don’t consider myself current in anything, but at least I can talk with – and understand – active line pilots and manufacturers’ test pilots when they tell me about their jobs, the aeroplanes, cockpit equipment, and developing techniques or SOPs.

I spend time with the manufacturers’ test and training pilots while they are developing training programmes for new types or marques that have not even entered service yet.

With airlines that are permitted by law to do this, I am sometimes made supernumerary crew so I can jump-seat on line flights to observe SOPs, best use of automation, and new GNSS-based approaches.

That’s what my job is: learning from people who do it for a living so I can write about it.

14 thoughts on “David Learmount – a brief aviation history

  1. Très Impressive Lord Flasheart.
    My career is far less illustrious, alas. Quite a bit in reverse indeed, from Eurocracy-Eurocontrol to aviation F/E and ATP practicality, thankfully. So, the best is upon the horizon, I hope. Still, my Buddist sainted better half, Teru Arima, paternal granddaughter of the illustrious Masafumi -15 years and 2 days apart from departure to arrival- puts me into Learmount perspective.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masafumi_Arima
    That is to say, whenever I am delayed for anything from a rendezvous via roster or Force majeure or both, her stock answer is aptly, “Your delay, is my holiday!”. And she has diagnosed my, not so, mysterious neurological illness as well. It is, like myself, fairly simple. I’m an addictive Learmount reader and occasional correspondent, for better, if not worse.
    Also, I’m an avid voter. And I am off-roster and on-plane to Dublin and train to Cork on Friday May 22 from Brussels to vote Yes to the constitutional referendum on same-sex civil marriage and No to lowering the eligibility age of constitutional president to 21 chronological years from the current 35. That is inviting the possibility, albeit remote possibility, of 16 year-old Scots residents voting for a 21 year-old protest muppet to be president.
    My regret is that the ballot text of this constitutional referendum did not contain my optimal sub-text, “Bunreacht na hÉirean recognizes the equality of civil marriage between same-sex couples and different-species couples”.
    As you noted aptly from our first meeting in Brussels on Nov 23 2006, I am nothing if not perverse in perpetual reverse moving forward. Indeed, you were a pilot first and journalist second. Norman Tebbit, ex-BOAC B-707 1969, was an FT journalist first and pilot second. A man I have had innate admiration for, for 31 years in general. And taking stoic command responsibility in particular.
    I am privileged to be peripherally associated with such retro-reversal company. And Nov 23 2006 was the date of the demise of Alexander Litvinenko via Vlad the Impaler. My wife, sorry, social worker, was herself in the midst of cheomo-therapy then. So far, so good, touching many woodlands. Litvinenko’s doctors described his polonium-210 nuclear attack, as “the worst sunburn you have had from the inside”. So, time flies, memory stands still. Life hands you mysterious lemons ?, make lemonade and fail better. Time flies, memory stands still. Hope springs eternal. And retirement’s longevity is a box in a plot under a headstone. Just ask HM’s opposition ex-leader Ed Milkybland making his epitaph with his Ed Stone before the election. One would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh hard.

    From: TEBBIT, Lord [mailto:TEBBITN@parliament.uk]
    Sent: jeudi 19 mars 2015 19:52
    To: david.connolly@numericable.be
    Subject: FW: St. Paddy’s in Michael Collins Pub in Brussels March 17 2015. It would have been more normal with a Norm. QED!

    Dear Mr Connolly
    Thank you for your email dated 18 March.
    I think I really ought to correct you on one point.
    As I made clear in my memoirs ‘Upwardly Mobile’, published I think in 1990, I had not really intended to be elected in 1970 (the Labour majority at Epping was over 8,000) as I was still only a Senior First Officer and for reasons of both pride and pension, I wanted to be promoted to Captain.
    I had completed all my checks and trips in Command under supervision in the spring of 1970 and was at the top of the seniority list and simply waiting for a vacancy which was expected in the autumn.
    Nonetheless, it was all great fun!
    Lord Tebbit

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  2. Hi there David.

    I suppose you must have seen that news about a passenger dying on a Ryanair plane today http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3126315/Mother-two-47-collapsed-died-toilet-Ryanair-flight-plane-wasn-t-carrying-defibrillators.html

    Never mind Ryanair itself : I suppose it could have happened on any short-haul plane. The question is tough, should this be a security issue to be addressed ?

    And could you provide us with an article dealing with this specific issue ?

    Regards,
    Patrick

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  3. However unfortunate this event, there won’t be an article on this subject here or in Flightglobal. The reason is that this is a very rare occurrence that is not specifically related to flying. Flying doesn’t cause heart disease or exacerbate its symptoms – if it did we would write an article.

    Defibrillators are carried voluntarily on almost all long-haul flights, but not most short-haul. As the surgeon who attended the lady said, defibrillators are the best chance of getting the heart going again, but they are not guaranteed to work, especially in a case like this one where the event was not witnessed, so a defibrillator would not have been applied until after her husband raised the alarm when she failed to return to her seat. As the Coroner said, “she died of a naturally occurring disease”.

    The Coroner says he will write to the European Aviation Safety Agency urging them to make the carriage of defibrillators compulsory on all flights, but EASA would only make such a rule after examining the statistical chance of cardiac events in flight and the effectiveness of defibrillators in such events on aircraft.

    I hope that helps.

    DL

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  4. Interestingly enough quite a few airlines do routinely carry defibrillators on shorthaul flights and train their flight attendants in their use. For example Lufthansa and Air Berlin, but as far as i know quite a few more. Training and equipment costs money and yes, a defibrillator does not help in all circumstances. But it is yet another reminder that for some airlines the bottom line always beats passenger safety. Be it by not carrying sophisticated medical equipment, or by not providing flight crews with the normal tools of their trade, like ACARS/Datalink, HF or even a dual battery setup that is usually standard on a 737.

    It just goes to show that one can get away with saving on safety, if it is in an area where the public rarely notices it.

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  5. On a totally different subject but still to do with aviation careers. Are you able to write something in support of the Air Cadet Gliding scheme which the Government is about to curtail? And, if so, encourage your readers to sign this petition. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/124333

    I enjoyed an 40 year career flying with BOAC/BA and then working for IATA which was all started through the ATC by gliding and then gaining a RAF Flying Scholarship. I wonder how many others have started this way, not only in the RAF but in all the other branches of aviation.

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    • My first solo was in an ATC Sedbergh glider at RAF Tangmere 1970 or 71. I started training on a Saturday and was solo by Sunday afternoon. The thrill of it will be with me forever. Tangmere was decommissioned then as an RAF base and we stayed the night at Thorney Island which was then full of sand coloured Herculese aircraft.

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  6. Hey David. There is another David learmount in Carlisle Cumbria with your name!! He is 49 year old and works at cavighan and grays. And would like to get in touch.

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  7. Which is when you say: “This is not what it seems. On the contrary, it is a considerable degree worse than that !”…Sounds a bit Nigerian.

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  8. David, I have long enjoyed your contribution to public knowledge on aviation safety. Nat Geo programmes are very reassuring that all that can be done to minimise risks is done. Consequently I enjoy every flight every time i get the chance to fly as a a passenger and I love to understand what is happening and why as I hear changes in engine sounds and as various parts of the plane do something, such as lowering flaps with increased revs on finals as I mush down into my seat regretting that this wonderfully exhilarating experience is almost over for now. The drive home is almost always an anticlimax. My first flight was at 8 years old in a Proctor 3 and my best was in the last Comet 4 of Airtours to Vienna on my honeymoon! Thanks for making it all so interesting. Rod

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  9. Hello David,

    An interesting career, even if there was ‘an illness enforced u-turn’.

    That was a great shame, as you are/were obviously a hugely capable,
    and enthusiastic pilot/ instructor.

    The reason I looked for your bio, was this….

    I must have watched the research into air crashes on one of the ‘cheap’ T.V. channels,
    and your name came up, probably because of your work with Flight International.

    I think you commented on the work of was it the AAIB, and you sounded very knowledgeable
    with plenty of common sense…

    So I hope your work in that area is rewarding, I imagine saving lives and the work of the
    aircrash investigators must be just that.

    It hopefully must bring you into contact with some very interesting and talented people,
    who share common interests.

    I don’t quite understand why someone hasn’t designed a replacement for the Pitot tubes,
    that seem to ice up when an aircraft flies directly into a storm by mistake, instead of
    steering around it.

    Unfortunately, as an interested layman, my flying has been limited to control line aircraft
    as a youngster!

    Regards,
    Stewart Bliss.

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