The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, has paid tribute to Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Michael Beetham, who died on 24 October.
Sir Michael was the second longest-serving Chief of the Air Staff after the Service’s founder, Lord Trenchard. He introduced the Tornado to service, helped pioneer strategic air-to-air refuelling, and oversaw the Service’s involvement in the Falklands conflict. Air Chief Marshal Pulford described him as “one of the greatest leaders the Royal Air Force has produced”.
Sir Michael joined the RAF in 1941. Following flying training in the USA and Britain he was posted to 50 Squadron as a Lancaster pilot and flew 30 operations over enemy territory. Sir Michael’s early post-war career included service in an aerial mapping role and support for the introduction of the RAF’s V-force bombers. In 1958 he assumed command of 214 Squadron, flying Valiants in the air-to-air refuelling role. Under his command 214 Squadron played a pioneering role in perfecting strategic air-to-air refuelling and broke the speed record for a flight to and from Cape Town.
Sir Michael’s career took in counter-insurgency operations in Aden during a tour as the Station Commander of RAF Khormaskar, then the RAF’s largest station and a major air mobility hub. He was appointed Chief of the Air Staff in 1977 and oversaw the introduction of the Tornado into RAF service from 1979. During his tenure he revived the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and set about improving the capabilities of the RAF Regiment.
Under Sir Michael’s leadership the RAF’s global reach and attack capabilities were used to full effect during the Falklands conflict in 1982. At his direction RAF Harriers embarked on the Royal Navy-led task force, and he instigated Operation Black Buck, in which RAF Vulcan bombers – supported by Victor tankers – landed a significant psychological blow against the invading Argentine forces by successfully bombing Port Stanley airport. Sir Michael retired from the RAF in October 1982 after more than five years as Chief of the Air Staff.
The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford, said: “Marshal Beetham was one of the greatest leaders the Royal Air Force has produced, and the second-longest serving Chief of the Air Staff after Lord Trenchard. During a significant career spanning more than 40 years he progressed from World War II Lancaster pilot to head of his Service. Throughout, he led with distinction, demonstrating levels of commitment, dedication and courage of the very highest order. Importantly, he never forgot the vital importance of the people to the Service, and today’s Royal Air Force, Regular and Reserve, owes much to his vision, foresight, and leadership. The Royal Air Force family is deeply saddened by his passing.”
Sir Michael is survived by Lady Beetham and their son and daughter.
Editor: Sqn Ldr Andrew Wasley
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