ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

16 March 2004


Air Commodore Norman Jackson
Norman Jackson
At their last meeting at Fairoaks Airport, members of the local branch of the Aircrew Association were given a fascinating insight into the career of Air Commodore Norman Jackson, which spanned engine manufacture, engineering and pilot service in the Royal Air Force, Civil Airline management, and finally international regulation of civil air transport operations.

Having been born and brought up in Middlesborough, where he took a keen interest in his local airfield at Thornaby, he moved south where his Mother, serving in NAAFI, became involved with the Schneider Trophy team. This led to a determination to get involved with making aircraft, and resulted in him serving five years as an apprentice at the Rolls Royce factory in Derby. He served in every part of the factory which at that time was making Merlin engines, whilst studying engineering on day release courses.

With this experience he became a field representative at the age of 20, and there received an offer that, if he joined the RAF, he could return to Rolls Royce at the end of his term of service with appropriate seniority. This he accepted with alacrity, and was posted to 81 Squadron in Singapore, operating Canberra PR 9s. This led to an offer of a Permanent Commission, with the opportunity to do a 2 year advanced degree in aeronautics at Southampton, and to learn to fly on Jet Provosts.

After sundry technical postings (with the opportunity to keep his hand in by flying in Chipmunks from time to time), he was posted to HQ Coastal Command as their Engine Specialist on Gnome and Griffon engines. At that time, the Shackletons, which were double the all-up weight of a Lancaster, were powered by Griffon engines, and at one point, three Shackletons were lost in a week at Kinloss, due to engine problems.

As a result, during a course at the Staff College at Bracknell, he wrote a thesis on how the Engineering Branch should be reorganised to minimise the possibility of this kind of experience. His next posting, to Wittering, saw him overseeing the technical evaluation of the Harrier, and the mounting of an extensive exercise to see what Harriers could do to resist a major tank attack.

Following this, he was posted as Station Commander to RAF Sydenham in Belfast at a time when no-one was supposed to know it existed, despite the fact that it employed 2000 civilians as well as many Navy and RAF personnel, and was the major maintenance base for Buccaneers. During this posting, he had the misfortune to be the only Commanding Officer in the RAF who suffered the indignity of having his Fire Station burned down! It didnít seem to do him much harm, though, as his next posting was as Air Commodore to Headquarters Support Command.

From this position, he received, and accepted, an invitation to become Director of Operations at British Caledonian. They sent him on business management courses, which was useful in a business which had huge expenses and huge revenues, with only about 1% difference between them! At that time, they were operating DC 10 aircraft, which he described as a superb aeroplane, whose magnificent General Electric engines were operating with high reliability Ė and one of them ran for 50,000 hours without incident!

After five happy years at this airline, he was offered the job as Head of Operations at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Montreal, where the airlines wanted somebody to make sure that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which was also based there, and which made international transport possible by imposing worldwide standards to be observed by Civil Aviation Authorities, airports and operators, didnít do anything unacceptable from the airline operation point of view. In this respect, his brief included Flight Operations, Safety, Security, Airports, Engineering, Avionics and Regional Procedures.

Branch Chairman Eric Smith, in thanking Air Commodore Jackson for his spellbinding account of his remarkable career, opined that few men could have combined so many facets of military and civil aviation in one lifetime.

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