Charles Frederick Hughesdon, one of the Society’s oldest members, lived a very full life to the great age of 104. Born on 10 December 1909 near Richmond upon Thames he enjoyed speed while still at school when his father gave him a motorcycle for passing his General School Certificate examination. He obtained his first pilot’s licence in 1932 less than 30 years after the Wright brothers’ historic flight in 1903 and subsequently flew almost 10,000 hours on fixed-wing aircraft and over 1,000 hours on helicopters.

He had some hairy moments in the air such as the time he was test flying a Spitfire inverted at 10,000ft when the engine stopped and the control column stuck fast. Rapidly losing height he decided to bale out but the canopy was jammed and when he pulled the emergency toggle it came off in his hands. How he got out of this tricky situation is related in his very readable autobiography ‘Flying made it happen’ published in 2003. Subsequently he became a powerful spokesman for the prevention of Foreign Object Damage because the cause of this incident was a spanner which had been left in the cockpit and became jammed between the aileron cable and a pulley.

His enthusiasm for rotorcraft led Charles and his first wife Dessie (the actress and entertainer Florence Desmond) to hold the legendary annual RAeS Helicopter Garden Parties in the grounds of Dunsborough Park, their country house in Surrey. All the helicopters would land on the far side of the ha-ha then the pilots and other guests came across the bridge to the lawn for refreshments in the Harrods marquee.

It was a different world then when, for example, following the Society’s annual Wilbur Wright Lecture each December there were two separate Wright Dinners at Hamilton Place, one for the men and one for the ladies. I am reliably informed that Dessie (Mrs Charles Hughesdon) would get up on the tables and entertain all the lady guests with singing and dancing much to their delight.

Charles served the Society well as our Honorary Treasurer and Chairman of Aeronautical Trusts Limited from 1969 to 1985. It was during the latter part of this period when I was the Society’s Finance Manager that I got to know him. Occasionally we would lunch together at the nearby RAF Club and reminisce about our RAF days, in particular about long-distance route flying in piston-engined aircraft even though from 1943 he was a pilot on Yorks with 511 Squadron based at RAF Lyneham and I was only a fourth crew member flying in Valettas of 84 and 114 Squadrons within the MEAF Command area in the mid-1950s at the time of the Suez crisis.

Apart from flying his main career was in insurance and due to his foresight and business acumen he became a pioneer of aviation insurance, now a worldwide industry.

Charles Hughesdon died on 11 April 2014. His first marriage in 1937 was to Florence Desmond, the widow of aviator Tom Campbell Black. After she died in 1993 he married Lady Carol Havers, the widow of Lord Havers a former Attorney General. He is survived by his second wife Carol, his adopted son from his first marriage Michael Hughesdon and two stepsons from his second marriage Philip Havers QC and actor Nigel Havers.

Charles Frederick Hughesdon was an exceptional pilot and a unique Fellow in every sense of the word. Truly a legend in his own long lifetime.

David Lang MRAeS ACMA

30 May 2014