Author: Bob Derham

My old English Master

Often our lives move in mysterious ways

For some reason I have been thinking a lot recently about my school English Master, perhaps as a result of feature articles on the Dead Poets Society and the Oxford Boys.

With a slightly unusual name, and some knowledge of an area I might concentrate on, I checked the internet and, indeed, found an address and phone number which might tie up.

Bearing in mind I left school in 1968, and probably last saw him in 1970, I was apprehensive about him remembering me.  I called the phone number.

A man answered, “Are you Mr Anthony Weeks-Pearson?” I asked. “Yes”, he said.

“My name is Robert Derham, I was a pupil at your old school during the 60s”, replied I.

“Oh”, he said, “I was thinking about you only yesterday!”

We then proceeded to have an hour-long conversation covering detailed facts from my happy school days. He was as sharp as a button, and had forgotten nothing!

I learnt so much more about him in that conversation and am looking forward to meeting him again next month. Isn’t that wonderful.

But there’s an even more interesting aspect to this event.  That is, what is the nature of coincidences? This video throws some light on this.

By Bob Derham

Georgia O`Keeffe

The Marriott Hotel Home, New York

Due to my work I am one of the lucky people who has the opportunity to stay for short periods in various cities around the globe, and mostly the Hotels we stay in are the best around, and depending where we are, the flavour is often special.

I remember a stay in the Hilton Amsterdam where John Lennon had stayed, and had a week in bed to “Give Peace a Chance”, but a recent stay in the Marriott Eastside Hotel, New York caught my eye.

Georgia O'Keefe, 1918 photograph by Alfred Stieglitz

Georgia O`Keeffe lived here for 10 years!

I remember, she was the lady who painted the large scale flowers, and in particular “The Petunia”, and when she painted that particular piece, she was living in a suite on the 32nd floor of the very hotel I was staying in.

Georgia O`Keeffe was born in 1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She studied art in Chicago, and New York, and became an Art Teacher at Columbia College, South Carolina.

One of her friends had shown some of her works to Alfred Stieglitz the photographer. She came to New York, and there the two eventually married, and moved later into the Shelton Hotel, Lexington Avenue, which is now called the Marriott Hotel, Eastside.

The Petunia picture was painted in 1924, and was one of a large number of her works that were exhibited in 1925.

Her husband Alfred Steiglitz died in 1946, after which she moved to an isolated ranch in New Mexico, but she continued to produce great works. Paintings of Desert Cliffs, Animal Bones, and Flowers are among the worlds most admired works of art, and she continued to draw, paint and sculpt until her death in 1986, aged 98.

Petunia - 1925

I rather liked a comment she made at the age of 90.

Success takes more than talent. It takes a kind of nerve.”

And a lot of hard, hard work, if you ask me!

By Bob Derham

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good!

Iceland’s ash casts an enigmatic spell over Japan

It seems that there has been nothing else on the news following the eruption of Mount Eyjafjallajokull
in Iceland, which was of particular interest to me  because on the 10th April I was flying from New York across the southern area of Iceland on my way to Rome, since which time I have passed through the UAE and Singapore on my way to Japan.

My work replacement was due to arrive on the 18th April after a holiday in the Mediterranean, but the flight which he was on was diverted into Paris because UK airspace was suddenly closed. He managed to continue his journey by train, ferry, car, taxi and bus but was then stuck in England. My duty had to continue but there seemed little point in propping up a hotel bar with other crews, so I decided to turn the situation into something positive.

After an exploratory trip into Tokyo, it was Paul, our Editor in Chief who put me in contact with his sister and her husband in the city, and another friend who suggested I should jump on a train and go to Hiroshima to see his son, who I know, so my travels started.

The transport system in Japan is extremely well organised with instructions and information well displayed in English along side Japanese. Everything is clean and modern, and runs to the second! At short notice I decided to make the journey to Hiroshima in this once in a life time opportunity, and there was the famous bullet train a monster of modern technology, which runs on banked rails at steady speeds of 400 kph.

Mount Fuji - Japan

We sped along through ever changing countryside. Initially the skyline was of mainly high rise buildings which changed to two story properties once we were out of town. The new leaves of spring and the famous blossom of the plum and cherry trees, and the quick glimpse of a Japanese water garden. Industry is mixed with small allotments, and tiny houses, roads and rail lines raised from ground level to make everything fit, and above that cables and wires, because of the threat of earthquakes, and past the stunning Mount Fuji, white with snow against a blue sky.

I never met such polite people, and on the train the guards and girls who pass through the carriage with drinks and food bow when they enter and leave. They are so well dressed and smart. No graffiti here!

Familiar Japanese trading names on local buildings, and strangely a huge Union Jack flag. I wonder how there can be so many buildings and parking areas full of cars ,but seemingly no people in view, but many large span bridges arching across hill sides to join places together.

Through Kyoto where there seemed to be a lot of energy being used, for purposes that were not immediately clear. College students in smart suits with white shirts and blue ties, passed quietly through the train. I noticed each time they had left the train at a station they took their rubbish with them, and put the seat back in the upright position!

The A-Bomb Dome

At last after four hours we arrived at Hiroshima, which today it is a lovely modern city of which to be proud. There is just one damaged building standing in a stark fashion at the waters edge which is all that it takes to remind us of such devastation and the Garden of Peace, there to allow some quiet reflection.

I took a 45 minute boat ride to Mijajima, now a World Heritage site. This beautiful island is probably 15 miles from Hiroshima, and there amongst the beauty of the trees and a 500 year old shrine wander the deer, quite happy to sit as people pass by.

My thought as I came away from Hiroshima was that all leaders of any country with any connection to Nuclear weapons or power should be made to attend the A-Bomb Dome and reflect. As all the plaques say this must never be allowed to happen again.

By Bob Derham

Amazing accuracy

Better navigational accuracy in the air may be approaching its limits.

For passengers travelling with scheduled airlines, times have changed, sadly, and no longer can you visit the flight deck, and see from there the views that pilots get.

New meaning to the term 'on track'.

It was not so long ago, that aircraft navigation was carried out using beacons on the ground, either on VHF, or Medium wavebands.

For longer trips with no ground aids a Navigator would plot your route using Astro (sun or the stars) navigation, until companies like Decca produced other radio systems to give you a position, but these from my memory had their problems.

Today in the modern aircraft we have Inertial Navigation Systems using laser gyros together with radio VHF back up, taking cross cuts from beacons, coupled with Distance measuring equipment to pinpoint your position, and now the magic Global Positioning System (GPS) with it`s startling accuracy.

Often with only 1000 feet between, you can see aircraft either above, or below you, often on the same track. This picture of an Emirates airline Airbus A380 was taken northbound over Turkey. The trails left behind are ice crystals which are left by the water vapour that passes through the engine, and freezes immediately at temperatures of some minus 60 degrees C.

The vortex from the wings causes the rotating trail from each engine to be disturbed, and if you pass through such disturbed air following the wake of another aircraft you often get a bump as your aircraft will be travelling at 500 MPH, some 7 miles per minute, a closing speed of 1000MPH if heading towards each other.

As the accuracy is so good these days, airlines have taken to introducing an offset of one or two miles to the left or right of track, just in case there is an error of timing, or in severe turbulence an aircraft could lose or gain the amount of separation which is between machines.

I think we get the best seats in the house!

By Bob Derham

[Bob is a Captain on a privately operated Airbus A319. Ed.]

Captain Eric Brown. MBE, OBE, CBE, DSC, AFC.

Now Think Sound Barrier!

I was excited to see details of a lecture held recently in Glasgow, recounting the Struggle to Break the Sound Barrier.  [Nice history on WikiPedia, Ed]

FA-18 breaking sound barrier

How easy it is today to jump into an aircraft, and expect to fly safely round the world in the luxury of an arm chair 7 miles or more above the surface of the earth, or know that the modern aircraft of our Air Forces can fly on every limit known, in the knowledge that all the aerodynamic tests and trials have been carried out.

Eric Brown is now 92. He gave up his wings at 70, but still 22 years later is lecturing on a subject which was at the time uncharted territory, a race to fly faster than Mach1, the Speed of Sound. Chuck Yeager got there first, but now ponder the following.

Captain “Winkle” Brown was with the Royal Navy for 31 years, much of it as an outstanding test pilot.

He flew 487 different types, (not variants) and made 2407 Aircraft Carrier landings, both World records.

At University he studied German, so at the end of the war as a linguist he interrogated many leading German aviation personalities such as Willy Messerschmitt, Ernst Heinkel, and Hanna Reitsch..

Capt. Eric Brown

What an interesting life, and still with stories to tell, and knowledge to pass on. There’s a lovely interview with Capt. Brown here.

By Bob Derham

The Hawker Hunter aircraft

What a beautiful aircraft!

On April 2nd, I published an account of a flight in a Hawker Hunter that my dear cousin, Richard, experienced in 2003, the 50th anniversary of Neville Duke’s breaking of the existing world speed record on September 7th, 1953.  Neville Duke died in 2007 at the age of 85.

Squadron Leader Neville Duke, 85, flew 485 operational sorties during the war

It seemed fitting to add a little more information about this marvellous aircraft from an era when Britain built some of the best aircraft in the world.

As always, WikiPedia has an excellent account of the history of the aircraft.  So this Post will just present a few images for readers to ooh, aah over!

Thunder and Lightnings has some excellent images of all the different types including WB188 that Duke broke the speed record in.

Copyright 2009 Damien Burke

F.3 WB188, Hawker Aircraft, RAF Tangmere, 1953; author
As at 7th September 1953, when World Absolute Speed Record of 722.2 mph gained by Neville Duke; pointed nose, reheated engine, additional curved/raked windscreen
Later scheme of Scarlet Red

There is also a distant connection with our erstwhile editor, Paul.  Paul used to fly a TB2o from Exeter Airfield in SW England which is where the Hunter Club is based.  Jonathan Whaley, who commanded the Hunter that Richard flew in, has his own personal Hunter – Miss Demeanour – registration G-PSST so during the summer months it was not uncommon to see Hunters in the sky above Exeter.

Hawker Hunter 'Miss Demeanour'

Finally, a couple of videos to drool over.

and a lovely display at RAF Waddington in rather unpleasant weather conditions

Wonderfully nostalgic!

By Bob Derham

A flight in a Hawker Hunter

A personal story about a wonderful flying experience.

This is a tale about my cousin Richard.  He has never been a pilot but has always been fascinated in flying.  He was reminiscing the other day about an event in a lifetime, flying in a military jet.  But this was no ordinary jet, this was the iconic Hawker Hunter.

These are Richard’s words.

It all started early in 2003. Lynne and I decided to take her son Henry and his friend to Tangmere Air Museum.

We were looking around, and were particularly taken by the bright red Hawker Hunter (WB188), in which Neville Duke had broken the world speed record on 7th September 1953, between Littlehampton and Worthing piers.

The curator of the museum was listening to us, and said – ‘Sad, isn’t it, we were hoping to have a 50th anniversary re-run of the flight. We have the aeroplane and the pilot, but nobody will sponsor us the fuel‘.

In the way that Lynne does, she just said ‘That’s alright, Richard will sponsor you the fuel!’

Well, that was all very well, but how much would it cost?

Anyway, to cut a long story short, a cheque for £1,600 ($2,400) was sent to the Hunter Flying Club at Exeter, which was followed by a telephone call from them. Basically, they said they were going to use a 2 seat Hunter, and as I had paid for the fuel, would I like the left hand seat!!!

On the morning of 7th September, I drove to Exeter Airport, and was introduced to the ground crew, and to the pilot Jonathan Whaley, who has his own multi-coloured Hunter ‘Miss Demeanor’, which I am sure you will have seen on the air display circuits.

WV322 looked stunning with newly painted top, tail and fuel tanks in gleaming red to remind us of WB188, which was painted bright red so that it could be easily seen by the timekeepers.

Settling into the LH seat!

After an hours tuition on the use of the ejector seat, the time came to be shoe-horned into the cockpit, and we taxied out. Special permission had been given for us to take-off towards the East, even though the pattern for the day was to the West. This was to save as much fuel as possible, as we had a long way to go!

A very smooth take-off, and a cruise at approx 3000 feet along the south coast to Chichester, followed by a sudden turn to the left and a dive into Goodwood, where the Revival Meeting was taking place. After nearly taking the roof off the Grandstand, a climbing turn and a low pass over Tangmere (where Neville Duke was watching), and on towards Selsea Bill.

Hunter and me!

A sharp left turn, and we were on our way past Littlehampton, and on towards Worthing Pier, where family and friends were waiting.

Well! We passed Worthing Pier at about 400 knots and at 400 feet, immediately going up into a Derry turn and pulling 4G!

It was unbelievable. I remember seeing the sea a few feet above my head, followed by the pebbles on the beach, at which point I thought ‘He’s never going to get round to the end of the pier – he’s going straight across the town!’

Of course, I was wrong, and we made a slower run back past the pier, and Jonathan gave a nice little ‘Wing Waggle’ for the people watching.

Back to Selsea Bill, and Jonathan said to me that he had heard that Neville Duke had actually done three Victory rolls across Tangmere to celebrate. ‘O.K., we’ll do the same

Three very sharp rolls later, and he realised he had ‘rolled’ over the wrong greenhouses!. (Tangmere these days is covered in greenhouses). So, three more very tight rolls – this time in the correct place – before a fast run back into Goodwood before a sharp climb and three more rolls – wow! Nine rolls in a matter of seconds!

A turn towards the Solent, and we formated with a Russion Yak, with rear cockpit open, and a photographer giving Jonathan instructions so that he could get a good variety of shots.

YAK - photo platform!

Then, with limited fuel, it was time to go. Imagine how I felt when Jonathan handed me the controls! All my birthdays had come at once!

As we approached Exeter, the weather was closing in. We just had time for Jonathan to play his favourite game – Up over a big cumulus cloud, down the other side, banking hard through a small gap between the clouds.

At this point, I confess that the negative ‘G’ had the cold sweat appearing on my forehead. Then it was back into Exeter and a smooth landing, braking hard before the end of the runway.

That’s fine‘ said Jonathan, ‘We’ve still got 7 minutes fuel left‘. Sensing my concern, he added, ‘Don’t worry – You can go a long way in 7 minutes in one of these!!

Taxiing back to our stand, followed by being told to keep still while the ‘seat’ was disarmed, and a shaky me made my way down the ladder onto the ground, where I was offered a cup of tea – it was wonderful. The grin on my face stretched from ear to ear.

The total flight was 70 minutes, and it is 70 minutes of my life that I will never forget

Rather than dilute Richard’s account here, I will add another article with some general background information on the Hunter in the next few days.

By Bob Derham


The snowdrop – a real harbinger of Springtime

The winter can seems very long when the temperature remains extremely cold and the news headlines show dramatic pictures of villages completely cut off by drifting snow.  And the old debate about cold weather payments for pensioners comes around once again.

We are often still able to enjoy time in our garden well into October, but the weeks that follow up to March can be very long and drawn out.  Then comes my favourite flower, The Snowdrop.


There are several different types of this beautiful little plant, and in the county of Hampshire in England [where Bob and his family live, Ed.], in particular there seem to be clumps of this special white flower everywhere.

Heale House

However the other day I was able to see a complete field of them in the grounds of Heale House, a private residence owned by Patrick Hickman,an ex Lancaster pilot, now 89, who is still very active and keeping his yew bushes well trimmed in the art of topiary.

Heale House is open at this time of year for people to visit the lovely gardens and again enjoy the snowdrops.

Spring has arrived, but it is the first flower that is my favourite!

By Bob Derham

Sport – UAE style

A relaxing contrast to high profile events in the UK

During March I was working in the UAE, and there in the hotel where I was staying in Sharjah were the Pakistan cricket first team, and the English Lions representing England and Wales.

Pakistani cricket team

The weather was lovely with temperatures in the mid 70`s during the day. It was interesting to watch the players of each team, relaxing, but really using this time to prepare for the season, running round the lagoon, and getting fit. There were no raised voices, or bad behaviour, in fact quite the opposite, and each team came into the eating area well dressed, quietly enjoying the week.

There were several matches starting in Sharjah at the old cricket ground. No posters, no large crowds, just a few people like myself who had heard about the games and who had wandered along to find a bench  and sit and watch a 20/20 match without the big coverage and hullabaloo which will come later in the year.

One lovely six went flying over the stands and later a young boy came proudly back with the ball which he had found the other side of a main road, stuck in the sand.

The teams later moved on to Abu Dhabi some 70 miles along the coast to play in the new stadium and ground. This, like the new world-class Formula 1 racing circuit is brand new, and full of bright lights and modern style.

Venus Williams

Dubai in between Sharjah and Abu Dhabi likes to host sport during this time of the year, and just as with the cricket, tennis has a big following, with all the big names appearing in the small stadium near the airport in Dubai.

One evening I was watching Venus Williams play, and in the quiet of the late evening, and the general quiet of the match it was interesting to hear the chanting from the minaret as prayer time came.

If you want a winter break, and enjoy cricket motor racing, tennis, or golf you could do worse than stop off in the UAE to relax and enjoy your time.

By Bob Derham

A genius of a teacher

A lesson for all of us

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had once failed an entire class.

That class had insisted that Obama’s socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer.

The professor then said, “OK, we will have an experiment in this class on Obama’s plan“.   All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A…

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B.   The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy.   As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. The second test average was a D! No one was happy.

When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F.   The scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else.

All failed, to their great surprise, and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed.

Could not be any simpler than that.

By Bob Derham