Dickie Bird Memorial Flight - Aiglet Trainer & Austers 6 & 9
Ronald Edward "Dickie" Bird C.Eng. F.R.Ac.S
1922 - 2010
Auster & Islander Aircraft Designer
In the history of his working life is written the history of post-war British aviation. From an apprenticeship at Percival aircraft he went to Herts and Essex aviation at Broxbourne as Head Draughtsman. Here he repaired Free French aircraft (twin-engined Caudrons for the aviation nuts amongst us) which had escaped to Britain after the fall of France, using critical spare parts smuggled on hay wagons to the coast and then brought clandestinely to Britain by boat. After the war his French friends took him to France in gratitude where he was feted and ate a good meal for the first time in many years.
Then in 1943 came the start of the period for which he will be best remembered by aviation enthusiasts. He joined Taylorcraft, which later became Auster, and stayed there until 1959, eventually becoming Chief Designer and Technical Director. During that period he carried design responsibility for all the Marks of Auster and this period of his life is written in the array of aircraft in the hangar today at Eggesford. Prime among these is the Auster Mark 9, a distinctive, clever design, in which it is clear throughout that great care has been given to all aspects of the aircraft, from both the pilots' and mechanics' views. That it was ultimately frustrated by the 1950s Ministry of Supply which demanded that he use an unsuitable, underpowered engine and did not achieve the overseas sales success it deserved was not his fault. Nevertheless, it went on to be a highly successful military observation aircraft, seeing active service in Malaya, Kenya, and Aden, loved by its crews and replaced in the end only by the advent of the helicopter.
Examples of all these Austers are still flying today and will fly for many years more, cherished by their owners, symbolic of the best of British wartime and post-war engineering and carrying his legacy every day into the skies all over the world. It is hard to express how warmly and with how much affection Dickie is held in the hearts of all Auster enthusiasts around the world.
Another distinctive design of his from this period was the Auster Agricola, an agricultural aircraft designed for the New Zealand and Australian market. It was not a commercial success, but for reasons of protectionism rather than any deficiency in the aircraft itself, which was superbly suited to its role.
From 1959-65 he was Chief Designer at Beagle Aircraft and responsible for the Beagle 206 light twin, before moving to Britten Norman as Chief Designer, where he was responsible for designing the Islander, a utility light twin aircraft with thousands of examples flying and which is still in production and a best-seller, forty years later. The Islander will probably be his most lasting aeronautical legacy.
After leaving Britten Norman he held a variety of senior positions in the aviation industry, both here and abroad, before finally retiring at the age of 70.
David Berger, May 2010