AFC FRAeS RAF [Retired]


Group Captain John Thorpe died at home in Calgary, Canada, on 21 December 2013 following a challenging illness.

On leaving Dover Boys Grammar School John Thorpe joined the Royal Air Force as a trainee pilot. Following training he was posted to the RAF College at Cranwell as a flying instructor.

Subsequent tours included the Hunter and Harrier. He was then accepted for training as an experimental test pilot graduating from the Empire Test Pilots’ School in 1974 and receiving the Sir Alan Cobham Trophy in demonstrating the highest standard of student flying on the course. He then joined A Squadron at Boscombe Down. His experience was well used as a test pilot on Harrier, Sea Harrier and Hawk programmes, with supporting work on the Jaguar and Phantom. Finishing this tour he was awarded his first Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air. His extensive experience gained on the Hawk was then well used during a flying tour at RAF Brawdy where, on completion, he received the Air Force Cross. Joining ETPS as a fixed-wing tutor, his quiet but effective instructional technique won him many friends. He completed this tour as Principal Fixed Wing Tutor and on leaving was awarded his second QCVSA. Following a ground appointment and a Staff College course he returned to Boscombe Down in 1988 to command Fixed Wing Test Squadron. He subsequently took the position of Assistant Director within the Directorate of Flying MoD(PE), responsible for the regulation and supervision of research, development and production of UK MoD aircraft both at home and overseas. Returning to active flying in the appointment of Chief Test Pilot again at Boscombe Down, he was in post during a particularly difficult time of management and structural change. In 1999, and from the position of Director of Flying MoD(PE), John retired from the RAF. Joining ETPS as a civilian fixed-wing tutor, he also flew Air Cadets in his spare time as a RAFVR officer, initially in the Bulldog, and later the Grob Tutor. For 20 years he was a volunteer at the Royal International Air Tattoo Fairford in the post of Deputy Director Air Operations.

On leaving ETPS in 2005, John and his wife Jenny moved to the Calgary area in Canada where they both became involved in aviation but also taking full opportunities of the great outdoors. John was a pragmatist who would prefer to do things ‘his way’ which to be fair, was usually the best way. Like many, he was not comfortable with some of the management and structural changes which took place within the UK official flight test specialisation during the 1990s. Nevertheless, his personal qualities, based on his flying skills, dealing with people and as an ETPS tutor, remained exceptional, and always pre-eminent.

His final days were happy except for the rigors of an aggressive and complicated cancer but he remained positive and composed during various treatments. His natural good nature never wavered, he never showed frustration, anger or blame despite the unfair, debilitating and unpleasant nature of his illness.

For everyone who knew John Thorpe, memories will be agreeable ones.

Roger Beazley


4 April 2014