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Monday, April 16, 2007

Squadron Leader Neville Duke (1922-2007)

Second World War air ace and test pilot Neville Frederick Duke died on 7 April at the age of 85. He enlisted in the RAF in 1940, earning his pilot's wings in February 1941, and was posted to 92 Squadron at Biggin Hill flying sorties over France. After serving with 112 Squadron in the Middle East (where he earned his DFC, the first of many awards), he returned to 92 Squadron, now in North Africa, as a flight commander where he racked up even more 'kills' and awards; his third tour of duty was as CO of 145 Squadron in Italy. His final combat total was 27.

After the war, Duke became a test pilot for the RAF High Speed Flights and Hawker and went on to set speed records in Hawker P1067 Hunter. He retired as chief test pilot in 1956 but continued to do consultancy work and later formed his own company, Duke Aviation. He also produced a number of books, including Sound Barrier (1953), Test Pilot (1953), Neville Duke's Book of Flight, edited by Edward Lanchbery (1958), The Crowded Sky, edited with Lanchbery (1959; also published as The Saga of Flight) and The War Diaries of Neville Duke (1995).

Obituaries: Daily Telegraph (13 April), The Guardian (14 April), The Times (16 April).

In case you're wondering, Duke's connection with comics is a series of articles called 'Into the Blue' that appeared in Ranger in 1965-66 which were credited to Duke and drawn by various artists. The series continued when Ranger merged with Look and Learn and became a long-running (1966-69) feature drawn by Wilf Hardy. Whether Duke actually contributed anything to the Ranger series other than his name is unknown (it's seems unlikely) but the series did include five episodes of a strip series on 'Famous Fighter Aces' which Duke himself could so easily have starred in.

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