Sqn Ldr Peter Thomas flew 444 flights in 57 different Vulcans during his RAF career. He was the first pilot to fly XH558 – the world’s last airworthy Vulcan – and made his final flight in the same aircraft in 1965, just before he retired from the RAF.
As he celebrated his 90th birthday, he told how the RAF’s mighty Cold War warrior was brought in to fly film of Princess Margaret’s wedding ceremony in 1960 to Canada so the event could be broadcast across the commonwealth.
Sqn Ldr Thomas was third in line to make the four-hour, 4000-mile flight from Heathrow to deliver the historic footage. His daughter Dawn said:
“I remember watching Dad fly in displays and I grew up with the roar of Vulcans flying overhead. He even let me climb into the cockpit of XH558, when I was seven.”
Sqn Ldr Thomas, awarded the Air Force Cross by The Queen in 1958, left school at 14 with a modest education and just a 25-yard swimming certificate. It was seeing three Hawker biplanes flying in formation that inspired his interest in aviation. He said:
“I first worked as a clerk in a steel works. “As soon as I was eligible, I volunteered and was accepted into the RAF Volunteer Reserve as a potential pilot, navigator or gunner. I was subsequently called up in April 1944. He added: “By sheer good fortune and determination, I managed to survive the various testing and ruthless elimination processes which followed. I finally graduated as a Pilot 4 (equivalent rank Sergeant) in 1948. That was to be the beginning of a 39-year flying career. I retired as Chief Flying Instructor of the Vulcan Operational Conversion Unit and then flew as a civilian pilot for the British Steel Corporation and British Aerospace.”
During his RAF service Sqn Ldr Thomas also flew Wellingtons, Canberras and Lancasters. Senior officers noted in his logbook that he was ‘an exceptional pilot.’ A highlight of his service was taking part in a Canberra flypast for The Queen when she visited Lagos, Nigeria, in 1956.
Peter was most associated with Mk I and Mk II Vulcans. After his 1958-59 tour flying Mk I Vulcans with the newly reformed 617 Squadron at Scampton, he was posted to 230 OCU Waddington as a Qualified Flying Instructor and subsequently became Chief Flying Instructor (Finningley).
Dawn said: “Dad was invited to run one of the big Battle of Britain shows at RAF Finningley in 1965, which attracted around 40,000 people.
“The show’s theme was Doctor Who and the Daleks. The first Doctor Who, William Hartnell, made a special guest appearance there and Dad arranged for a Vulcan to blow up lots of little daleks on the runway.”
Sqn Ldr Thomas also flew on the famous 617 ‘Dambusters’ squadron and served on 9 Squadron at RAF Marham.
Dawn, who is researching a book about her father’s Service career, said: “I always thought of XH558 as my dad’s plane.
“He was always very modest and understated about his achievements. He wanted to be an aerobatic pilot – he would have loved to have been a Red Arrow.”
Editor: RAF News
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