Peter Berry, a long-standing and distinguished member of the Prestwick Branch, passed away on Sunday 23 March after a period of illness.
He was born in New Zealand on 19 July 1927, and his first sighting of an aeroplane was of Charles Kingsford-Smith's Fokker VII Southern Cross, shortly after completion of the first trans-Pacific flight from the United States to Sydney. It was a notable beginning to what would become a life-long career and interest in all things aeronautical.
Peter’s family returned to the UK in 1931, and in 1941 he joined the Air Training Corps - a move which would provide his first exposure to the world of air traffic control. In 1945, cadets were offered the chance to volunteer either as stewards for BOAC or as airfield controllers with the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Peter chose the latter and was soon training in the control tower at RAF Westcott, before moving to Meir near Stoke-on-Trent and then on to Rawcliffe near York.
National Service called in September 1945, and Peter spent his as a Flight Mechanic (Airframes). After training he joined the ‘Duty Crew’ section, attending to the needs of aircraft visiting the Telecommunications Flying Unit at RAF Defford. Although a ‘mechanic’, Peter often found himself working in the tower. In 1947, after further training, Peter joined 80(F) Squadron in Germany. The Squadron was initially equipped with Hawker Tempest Vs, although these had been replaced by Spitfire Mk24s by the time he was demobbed in 1948.
Peter then applied to the Ministry of Supply seeking employment in Flying Control. His application was successful and he found himself working in the control tower at Farnborough. Among his duties there was sorting out the parking arrangements for the aircraft attending the 1948 Air Show. This was the exciting and dangerous time of post-war test flying, and Peter experienced his fair share of incidents and accidents. A particular low was being part of the control tower team on 6 September 1952, when the de Havilland DH110 flown by John Derry broke up during that year's air show, killing 29 on the ground as well as the two crew.
Immediately following the 1955 air show, Peter was posted on to RAE Bedford, to continue his involvement with test flying. He was involved in the maiden flights of many iconic aircraft including the Blackburn Buccaneer and Hawker P1127, the fore-runner of the Harrier, and also in the development of blind landing techniques using the instrument landing system, the standard used today throughout the world.
In 1965, Peter gained his Area Control ratings and moved to the Scottish Airways and Oceanic Control Centres at Prestwick. Initially working as a sector controller in Scottish, Peter gravitated towards the Shanwick Oceanic operation, where the early operation of turbo-jet types was demanding a step change in the procedures and technology deployed due to higher speeds and increasing traffic levels. Towards the end of his career, Peter was a key player in the team that introduced the advanced Flight Data Processing System (FDPS) into service in Shanwick in April 1987, heralding the beginning of the end for the paper flight progress strips beloved by air traffic controllers.
Peter retired from Air Traffic Control in July 1987, but his interest in aviation was not limited to his career. Soon after arriving at Prestwick, he became involved with the Prestwick Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society. After spells as Chairman and Secretary he spent 15 years as a very active President before standing down in 2006. Although not a pilot at the time, Peter was instrumental in the establishment of the Prestwick Flying Group in 1973, and gained his private pilot's licence soon after. He was the commentator at the Prestwick air shows of the 1970s and 80s. He was a prolific aviation historian, with many books and magazine articles to his credit. He was the official historian of the Beech Staggerwing type. For a while after leaving NATS, Peter continued to be involved with North Atlantic operations through his work with the US National Business Aviation Association. His many contributions to the world of aviation are too numerous to list here, but his autobiographical account ‘Paraffin Pete’ is highly recommended reading.
Through my own work on FDPS, which commenced a couple of months after Peter's retirement, I knew of him long before I met him. His work was very highly thought of. I eventually met him when I joined the Prestwick Branch Committee, and it was not long before Peter found that I had access to Shanwick technology updates and traffic figures and sought regular updates from me. In return, any request from me for information, photographs or articles for the Branch newsletter was inevitably turned around in a matter of hours. His personal workload was impressive, and he always seemed to be progressing something or other. He contributed heavily to the Prestwick Branch involvement in Aviation Ayrshire 2005, and received recognition from the Royal Aeronautical Society for the number of Branches Conferences hosted at Prestwick, which exceeded the number hosted by any other Branch.
Peter had always supported the Branch with well researched lectures and in April 2012, following the withdrawal of the planned lecturer, he informed the Branch about the Lanark Air Show of 1912. That he did this at all was remarkable, the fact that he did so dressed as a 1912 aviator was truly memorable!
In May 2013, Peter attended the Civic Reception hosted by the Lady Provost of South Ayrshire Council to mark the 50th anniversary of the Prestwick Branch. He was delighted to have been fit enough to attend.
Peter was an unsung giant of the aviation world and his intelligent input and dry humour will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with Jenny and his family at this sad time.
Fair winds, Peter.