The first full-length biography of 1930s-40s test pilot Duncan Menzies (‘Flying to the Edge: The Groundbreaking Career of Test Pilot Duncan Menzies’ by Matthew Willis, Amberley Books) was formally launched at the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection, Old Sarum, on Saturday 17 March 2018. The author read from the book and shared a selection of rare photographs relating to the little-known test pilot at the museum dedicated to test flying, to visitors braving the snow, in the presence of Menzies’ son Peter.
The author revealed how Menzies had learned to fly in the RAF in Egypt in the late 1920s, and later encountered the Prince of Wales and famous adventurer Denys Finch Hatton on safari, and became an expert at hair-raising aerobatics. After his return to the UK he became a test pilot, first for the RAF and then the Fairey aviation company, where he negotiated several near fatal incidents in the air through skill and a measure of luck. The most remarkable of these escapes came in 1941, when a Fairey Fulmar fighter he was testing broke apart in a vertical dive at over 400mph. Menzies was thrown through his safety harness and the cockpit canopy before falling 7,000 ft, his parachute finally opening just 1,000ft off the ground.
Menzies worked closely with the test pilots at Boscombe Down during the Second World War, and carried out some test flights there himself. He retained a close relationship with the testing establishments at Boscombe Down until he hung up his flying helmet in 1952.
Menzies had a close connection with naval aviation, conducting a great deal of test flying on naval types including the Blackburn Shark, Fairey Swordfish, Fairey Fulmar, Fairey Barracuda and Fairey Firefly Trainer.
Peter Menzies (left) with Matthew Willis at the launch of ‘Flying to the Edge’
Matthew Willis said: “I am delighted to introduce this new biography at the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection at Old Sarum. It was the perfect place to launch the story of an unsung test pilot who deserves to be better known for his efforts to develop the aircraft that helped win the Second World War. the Museum does fantastic work as a tribute to test pilots like Duncan who ran incredible risks to make aircraft safer and better, and I’d encourage anyone with an interest in aviation to pay a visit.”