Friends of the Helicopter Museum

Lt.Cdr. John P G Morton OBE, RN, 1925-2014

  John Morton, naval aviator and pioneer helicopter Test Pilot with Fairey Aviation and Westland Helicopters, passed away quietly, as was his desire and his nature, on 4th May 2014.

John Morton was born on 10th May 1925 and grew up in Manchester. He was educated at William Hulme's Grammar School. In 1942, aged 17, he enlisted in the Fleet Air Arm and was sent to the USA for pilot training at Pensacola, Florida. He later served on HMS Colossus as a fighter pilot flying Corsairs with 1835 Squadron. One of the aircraft he flew during this period, Corsair KD431, is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton.

His test flying abilities were recognised early when he was involved in rechecking modified Seafire XVs after a series of supercharger clutch failures had grounded their naval operations. At the beginning of 1947 John embarked, with 804 Squadron (Seafire XVs), aboard HMS Theseus for an extended tour of South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Morton was one of the first Royal Navy pilots to convert to Helicopters at the Central Flying School. However by 1955 he was demobbed to Reserve status and seconded to Fairey Aviation, flying alongside Peter Twiss, who looked after the fixed-wing division. As a Helicopter Test Pilot with Fairey in the 1950s and early 1960s Morton was involved with much of their innovative tip-jet activities, commencing with the experimental Jet Gyrodyne.

Working closely with Ron Gellatly the two men played a major part in the technical success of the Rotodyne and Morton, having acted as copilot on its maiden flight, became one of the only pilots fully cleared to fly the aircraft as P1 on a regular basis.

He was also well known for the SBAC Shows at Farnborough in the late 1950s, where he would perform spectacular flights of the Fairey Ultra-Light to and from the back of a lorry. Likewise his spirited "at sea" demonstrations of the same little helicopter onto the heaving rear deck of the anti-submarine frigates HMS Grenville, in 1957, and HMS Undaunted in 1958, were hair-raising to say the least.

 
 
  After Westland Helicopters acquired Fairey in 1960 and the conclusion of the Rotodyne programme in 1962, Morton worked on the Scout and Wasp development programme at Yeovil where he became Project Pilot for the Naval Lynx. He piloted the first Royal Navy HAS.2 prototype, XX469, on its first flight and saw the type through its development phase and into service in 1977.

One of life's true gentlemen, John advanced both the science and the sales of British aviation technology with his charm and good humour. His distinguished Flight Test career was recognised by the award of the OBE and the Royal Aeronautical Society's 'Alan Marsh' medal.

In 1982 he retired with his wife Noeline to New Zealand. John crossed the bar aged 88 on Sunday 4th May 2014.

Early in 2014 The Helicopter Museum recorded an interview with John Morton, discussing the highlights of his test flying career. The Museum is currently restoring one of the original Fairey Ultra-Light helicopters for static display. Other exhibits include several early Lynx and many key components from the Fairey Rotodyne.