George Pickering and the SS Fighter
I had an interesting encounter yesterday. Jenny Sherborne, a near-neighbour of mine, lives in the village of Rockbourne and got in touch a couple of weeks ago to tell me about her father, George Pickering, who had been one of the test pilots for Supermarine. She still had all his old logbooks, she told me, and did I want to come over and have a look at them? Well, yes I did, and fascinating they were too, because George had joined the RAF in 1924 and his old-fashioned, squat and very full and fat logbook revealed a staggering array of aircraft flown from flying boats to Nimrods to Audaxes and to the Supermarine Walrus. He had also served a good stint on Malta, flying out of the old sea-plane base at Kalafrana. But there were several entries that particularly caught my eye, particularly those from March 1936…
This was, of course, George’s test flights on K5054, the prototype Spitfire. I know the name ‘Spitfire’ had been reserved for the original Type 224 back in 1933, but I’m not entirely certain when the name was adopted for the F7/30 specification which became the plane we all know and love. Leo McKinstry, in his book, says that it was generally known by either its specification, or as ‘The Fighter’, but George lists it in his logbook as the ‘SS Fighter’ – presumably for Supermarine Spitfire.
There are other interesting entries, not least where his passenger in other aircraft is listed as ‘Mr Mitchell.’ In fact, it was RJ Mitchell who had recruited George to Supermarine in the first place, encouraging to leave the RAF and become one of the company’s test pilots instead. Jenny says they were good friends, a fact supported by Gordon Mitchell. George went on to test fly vast numbers of Spitfires, but although he had an horrific crash testing a Mk V in 1941, it did not, as is variously claimed, kill him. It should have done, however. The wings were ripped off in a dive, but although George managed to bail out, his parachute did not open properly. He survived because he landed in a tree, which broke his fall. Even so, he was off flying for ages, returning to duties at the end of 1942. Soon after, in 1943, he begged a friend in the Irish Guards to take him out in one of the Micks’ Bren Carriers. His friend obliged, but while climbing a steep hill, the Carrier rolled and George was killed. It was a tragic and pointless end. As Jenny pointed out, her father had been insured up to the hilt by Supermarine, but that life assurance did not cover being killed in a Bren Carrier, and so the family were left virtually penniless.
Absolutely fascinating Jamie..The valley is full of surprises !