Out of the ordinary

Major Leonard Learmount DSO, MC, RFC, Squadron Commander of No 22 Squadron January 1917-March 1918, and one of his mounts, a FE2b “Fee”

This man did not die for his country. He just came within a whisker of doing so countless times between June 1915 and March 1918 when he was flying over the hellish battle lines of the Western Front in the Great War.

Leonard Learmount is not listed as an ace, but he was an RFC pilot and squadron commander. When I, as his grandson, began researching his military life, I discovered a man who had been a businessman in the Far East before the war, and returned to the same business after it in 1919. He kept no records of his military flying and never talked of it, but clearly retained a love of flying, because he founded flying clubs that still exist in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

As this entry in the RAF Museum’s blog points out, his dogged persistence as a multi-role aviator for nearly three years over the front line, facing high risk every mission and being wounded in action twice, is as much a representation of the spirit of the RFC and RAF as the stories of the aces.

His story, and that of his squadron – No 22 – are told in more detail in the Summer 2020 edition of Cross & Cockade International, the quarterly journal of the First World War Aviation Historical Society. For anyone interested in the history of aviation – indeed the origins of aviation – and history of the Great War, I cannot recommend the Society highly enough. Membership doesn’t break the bank.

Having researched the detail of a specific low-altitude photo-reconnaissance sortie Learmount flew over the Hindenburg Line on 10 May 1917, I commissioned aviation artist Tim O’Brien to paint the scene of the preparation for departure. The return from the mission was more messy, because the aeroplane had been shot-up and Learmount wounded. To get clear photographs of the enemy lines the pilot had to fly the aircraft so low it was within easy range of small-arms fire, let alone “archie” – anti-aircraft fire. And the flying had to be steady, making the aeroplane a sitting duck. But they got the photos back to base, and their quality was high, rendering vital information about enemy readiness states.


Past and future merge at Farnborough’16

The Farnborough International Airshow 2014 Farnborough Air show- 2014. Photo By Phil Weymouth- Streetlight. Bahrain. philweymouth@me.com
Farnborough aerodrome and show site

In July the Farnborough International Air Show will reflect an accelerating world aerospace industry while celebrating and drawing inspiration from its roots.

At the 11-17 July Show one of the world’s great aerospace companies – Boeing – while flying its latest products in the display will also celebrate 100 years of building commercial and military aeroplanes. The company is proudly fielding a Centennial Pavilion to parade its achievement milestones.

BOAC Boeing 707
Boeing’s classic 707 in BOAC livery. The jet airliner that, in the 1950s and ’60s, set the standards for the future

Meanwhile Farnborough International (FI) has just previewed a major development of its historic airfield site.

The company reveals that, in time for the 2018 Show, it will open a new purpose-built, permanent exhibition and conference centre less than 100m from the point where pioneer Samuel Cody took to the air in his British Army Aeroplane No 1 in October 1908, the UK’s first heavier-than-air flight.

Little more than a decade ago Farnborough aerodrome still looked, in some respects, as it did in the 1920s. Now, although most of the historic hangars and structures – like the wind-tunnel – have been preserved, they are dominated by 21st century glass and steel architecture as high-tech enterprises move in, and TAG Aviation’s elegant control tower and hangar/terminal complex define the airport horizon. Even the exhibition halls and chalet lines familiar to Show regulars are increasingly constructed to be permanent.

3 entrance view exterior_LR_AB
Farnborough International’s state of the art conference and exhibition centre to open in 2018

FI commercial director Amanda Stainer confirms chalets and exhibition stands will be sold out for the 2016 show. She says 67% of exhibitors will be international, 33% British, and the event will see its biggest ever participation by China, among 22 countries that have set up national pavilions.

FI has enhanced special reception facilities for delegations, and the proven “meet the buyer” enabling programme for small and medium enterprises will again be active.

Also repeated at Farnborough this year is the Innovation Zone, a showcase for gestating ideas looking for backers and buyers.

And Friday is designated Futures Day, intended to concentrate on the young generation, inspiring them to choose studies that will take them into the exciting world of aerospace engineering, design and operations.

Then as usual, on the final weekend, the public days are a time-honoured acknowledgement of the importance to the industry of generating public enthusiasm for all things aviation.

The air display detail has not yet been finalised, but there will be 3h 30min of it each day, ranging from the Lockheed Martin F35A and F35B Lightnings on their UK show debut to another unusual debutante, Hybrid Air Vehicles’ Airlander, a highly manoeuvrable airship that also generates aerodynamic lift.

The weekend display will show 50 aeroplane types, also including the Red Arrows, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, a P51 Mustang, Catalina amphibian, plus energetic manoeuvring from a Pitts Special and other crowd-pleasers.

Farnborough also presents the UK Drone Show for the first time this year, demonstrating drone racing for sport, providing participative drone piloting simulation, and aiming generally to raise drone safety awareness. The slogan pushing drone safety says it all: “Don’t fly a toy, be a Drone Pilot”.

The romance of aviation is clearest when the brilliance of today’s aviation engineering is seen in its historic context, and to that end the RAF Museum will man a stand at the Show this year, heralding the RAF’s centenary to be celebrated at Farnborough 2018.

Meanwhile the historic aerodrome site’s own extensive legacy is guarded by the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust, founded to “make available to the public the story of Farnborough’s unique aviation history and the air science that it spawned.”