Air Cdre Jayne Millington FRAeS

11 January 1962 - 20 May 2017

Air Cdre Millington FRAeS (credit Crown Copyright).jpg
Air Cdre Jayne Millington FRAeS (photo credit: Crown Copyright)

Air Commodore Jayne Millington who has died of cancer aged 55 was a trail-blazer for women in the Royal Air Force and a member of the RAeS Council. Up until shortly before her death she was United Kingdom National Military Representative at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) at Mons in Belgium. An air defence specialist, she planned and commanded the air defence and air counter terrorism operations for the 2012 London Olympics. In 1997 she was a key member of the team that established a new world land-speed record with the THRUST Supersonic Car.

Wendy Jayne Millington was born in 1962 in Chester and grew up nearby. She remained proud of her Welsh heritage and was a passionate supporter of the Welsh Rugby Team. After Hawarden High School she gained an honours degree in physics at Magdalen College Oxford. She was commissioned into the RAF in 1986 after brief periods as a special police constable and as a guided weapons engineer working for Marconi. Qualifying as a fighter controller in 1988, she served as an intercept controller at RAF Buchan in Aberdeenshire and in the Falkland Islands. In 1990 she was the first female to attend the GD Aerosystems Course, an intensive and demanding year-long course. Characteristically, she won the Aries Trophy as the top student. At the time of her death she was President of the Aries Association for alumni of the course. Her talent was quickly recognised and she then filled a variety of appointments: senior controller in the UK and the Falkland Islands; instructor; operational software expert; and as an operational requirements specialist in MoD.

The Desert Witch (credit Louise Noeth).jpg
The 'Desert Witch' (photo credit: Louise Noeth)

In 1997 she joined Richard Noble’s THRUST Supersonic Car team as the run controller, for which she was ideally qualified. The team was based in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada and Jayne adopted the title of ‘Desert Witch’ because, she explained, she was there to make the magic happen and perform miracles. She also broadcast progress reports on citizen band radio to the crowds of spectators and enthusiasts, who were camped in the desert to follow the team’s progress. They dubbed her ‘The Voice of Black Rock’. After successfully establishing a new world land-speed record of 763mph (Mach 1.02), Richard Noble said that “she made a huge contribution to the success of the project in her quiet, supremely confident Jayne way.”

After attending the Advanced Command and Staff Course and gaining an MA in Defence Studies from King’s College in 2001, she was appointed to command the Operations Wing on the Harrier Base at RAF Wittering. Her role included supporting the Harrier force during regular operational deployments to Iraq. For five months she stood in as the station commander. For a female and a non-pilot this was a formidable test that she passed with flying colours. After a spell in MoD as assistant to the Secretary of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and promotion to group captain she commanded of RAF Boulmer from 2006 to 2009. During this period, as commander of the Air Surveillance and Control System Force, she was responsible for protecting the whole of UK airspace against increased Russian activity and terrorist threats and also for deployed operations in Afghanistan. When she left Boulmer a reporter for the Northumberland Gazette described her thus: “Immaculately presented, impeccably polite and eloquent, Jayne is very much the image of the RAF Officer and it is not difficult to recognise her love for the job – and the people – she has devoted her life to.”

Following a year at the Royal College of Defence Studies, during which she wrote a thesis on the prospects for space defence under the Obama administration, she returned to MoD where she was responsible for developing the UK Defence Diplomacy policy for the Near and Middle East to support the government’s Gulf Initiative in response to the Arab Spring. On promotion to Air Commodore in 2012 she moved to UK Air Command as Air Officer Battlespace Management and Deputy UK Air Defence Commander. In this role she planned and commanded the air defence and air counter terrorism operations for the 2012 London Olympics. The complex planning task required her to draw on all her professional experience and her leadership, management and negotiating skills. She was justifiably proud of the result. She later used the plans to provide security in 2013 for the G8 Summit and, in 2014, for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the NATO Summit in Wales. After Air Command HQ she served briefly at the NATO Air Component HQ at Ramstein in Germany before taking up her post as UKNMR at SHAPE in August 2016.

Described towards the end of her career by a French general as “a nuanced leader with strengths of collaborative management, inner resolve and operational competence,” Jayne Millington was noted for her intellect and sense of duty. She was a realist who was highly effective at getting things done. Her ability to analyse and then argue a case clearly and forcefully was recognised across MoD. She was also renowned for her humanity and concern for her people. She was a good listener, a great motivator and she had a devastating sense of humour. She was elected to the Council of the RAeS in 2014 and was recognised as a potential future President. 

Away from work she enjoyed travel, art history and music. She was a skilled squash player and an accomplished horsewoman. She also held a private pilot’s licence. A keen winter sports enthusiast, it was rumoured that she had gone down the Cresta Run. Her ‘Sardine Parties’ – squeezing the maximum number of people into the smallest possible space with a good supply of champagne – were legendary.

Jayne Millington faced her final illness with characteristic courage and optimism, remaining at her post until near the end. Sadly, despite her bravery and skilled medical care, this was one fight that she could not win. She is survived by her brother, Jon.

Air Cdre Bill Tyack CBE FRAeS
11 August 2017