Airwork: A History

Airwork: A History

by Keith McCloskey

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Airwork Ltd/Airwork Services, now owned by VT group plc, has a long and distinguished history. It played an important role in defence support services to the RAF, Fleet Air Arm and overseas air forces, as well as in the development of civil aviation. Created at Heston in 1928, it maintained Whitley bombers and de Havilland Tiger Moths in the 1930s and established the


Airwork Ltd/Airwork Services, now owned by VT group plc, has a long and distinguished history. It played an important role in defence support services to the RAF, Fleet Air Arm and overseas air forces, as well as in the development of civil aviation. Created at Heston in 1928, it maintained Whitley bombers and de Havilland Tiger Moths in the 1930s and established the precursors of the post-WW2 airlines of Egypt, India and Rhodesia. Post-war it was the first airline to be awarded a troop flying contract and expanded into civil aviation, developing flights to Africa and the US. The main independent airline in the 1950s, it became part of British United Airways in 1960, also establishing many airlines around the world, including Deutsche Flugdienst (Condor), Misr-Airwork (Egyptair), and the Sudanese National Airline. Here Keith McCloskey presents the first history of this important airline and reveals its impact on aviation history.

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A History

By Keith McCloskey

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 Keith McCloskey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9459-3


Airwork's Founders

Both founders had followed similar paths: they went to Cambridge University; both served in the army in the Great War; both described themselves as engineers; and, importantly, both were fascinated by flying. In respect of flying, they were both involved in aviation tragedies, the first taking the life of Nigel Norman himself and the other taking the life of Alan Muntz's son.

Before either of them had reached the age of 30, they both left secure, well-paid jobs to follow their vision. Despite their many detractors, their idea was to create the best aerodrome near London.

Frederic Alan Irving Muntz

Alan Muntz was born on 7 June 1899 at Leek in Staffordshire. His parents were Albert Irving Muntz (who was an army major) and Jessica Challinor.

The Muntz family were émigrés who were persecuted landowners and aristocracy originally from Poland, and left that country to move to eastern France. With the French Revolution, the family again moved and settled in the Birmingham area. Alan Muntz's great-grandfather and great-uncle were both Birmingham-based industrialists and Members of Parliament. George Frederic Muntz, his great-grandfather, was MP for Birmingham from 1840 until his death in 1857 and his great-uncle Philip Henry Muntz was also an MP for Birmingham from 1868 to 1885. Philip Muntz was the second mayor of Birmingham. George Muntz owned Muntz Rolling Mills which was very successful and Muntz steel plates were used in a wide variety of areas but particularly in sheathing ships' bottoms. One notable ship that was sheathed in Muntz metal was the Cutty Sark. A report issued by the Cutty Sark Society on 31 December 1963 mentions the pressing problem of replacing the 'wasted Muntz metal plates on the bottom of the ship'. These original plates had been on the vessel for eighty-five years. When replaced, sections of these original plates, along with engraved certificates, were sent to surviving members of the Muntz family including Alan Muntz, with each section carrying the original stamp of the Muntz name.

Alan Muntz attended Horris Hill prep school near Newbury followed by Winchester College where he performed well.

During the First World War Alan Muntz joined the Royal Engineers as a second lieutenant on 30 March 1918 and saw service in France. Although the war had interrupted the studies of many young men, he went on to study for a BA in Mechanical Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1919, gaining his degree in 1922. Previous to gaining his degree, an announcement in the London Gazette on 19 September 1921 stated he had relinquished his commission with the rank of second lieutenant. He had spent six weeks in the summer of 1920 undertaking practical work in the Horseley Bridge & Engineering Company in Tipton gaining engineering experience in the fitting shop, pattern shop and foundry.

During his time at Cambridge he was to meet two people who would become good friends and business partners, namely Nigel Norman and Roderick Denman. He was a classical scholar but unusually also possessed a keen mathematical mind which he put to good use in his engineering work. His profession in his passport was given as 'Engineer'.

After gaining his degree, he joined the Anglo-Persian Oil Company on 18 September 1922 at their Croydon branch on a salary of £250 p.a. (per annum) during his training period. This position was arranged through the Appointments Board of Cambridge University. Upon completion of his training period he was appointed circuit manager at the Croydon branch on 30 April 1923, at a salary of £350 p.a. He went on within the Anglo-Persian Oil Company to work with the company (which later became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and then British Petroleum) in Basra, Iraq, gaining knowledge and contacts that would serve him well in future years. He left the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1928 to join Nigel Norman in building the Airwork organisation.

Family Life

Although he lived in a number of locations in Britain including London and Amport near Andover, he spent a large part of his early life (over twenty years) at Ecchinswell House near Newbury, where his father was closely involved in local life as a district councillor and vice-chairman of Kingsclere and Whitchurch Rural District Council (amalgamated into Basingstoke District Council in 1974) for many years, resigning in 1944. Alan Muntz himself had political ambitions in 1944 and entertained the idea of putting himself forward as a prospective Conservative MP in a constituency within reach of London. However, although he completed a candidate's form, he never proceeded with the application.

He was married three times. His first marriage was to Mary Harnett in July 1923. They had three children: Scilla (b. 2 January 1925), Jasmine (b. 8 July 1927) and Colin Lee Irving (b. 23 March 1929). His son Colin was to follow Alan into aviation, gaining an RAeC (Royal Aero Club) Aviator's Certificate (No. 26754) on 12 September 1950 at the London Aeroplane Club. Colin then joined the RAF and was posted to 600 (City of London) Squadron at Biggin Hill with the rank of flying officer. He was tragically killed in a flying accident near Chelsfield in Kent on 25 April 1953 at the age of 24. He was flying Gloster Meteor F.8 WF747 when the aircraft lost its hood and the ejector seat operated. The aircraft flew on but then dived into the ground. Colin Muntz was found in the ejector seat 7 miles away from the aircraft crash point. He is buried at Biggin Hill Cemetery (Grave No. 189).

Alan Muntz's second marriage was to the daughter of the 7th Marquess of Londonderry, Lady Margaret Frances Anne Vane-Tempest-Stewart on 21 November 1934. Lord Londonderry was the Secretary of State for Air at this time. It was not a happy union and they divorced in 1939. The divorce caused a certain degree of animosity between Alan Muntz and his former father-in-law, particularly as Lord Londonderry had refused to give his permission for the marriage.

His third marriage and, as it turned out, his happiest, was to Marjorie Strickland in October 1948. His third wife was eighteen years younger than himself and had grown up in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka). They had a daughter, Nicolette Mary Irving (b. 23 December 1950), and he also gained two stepsons (Anthony and Jonathan Fitzgerald) whose father had tragically died. It is a measure of the kind of man Alan was that he took on his new wife's bereaved sons and brought them up as his own, paying for them to be educated at Ampleforth.

In his private life Alan Muntz was considered to be a quiet and gentle man by everybody who met him. He generally trusted everybody he met. It was often said that he was a gentleman in both senses of the word.

He enjoyed playing golf, becoming a member of Berkshire Golf Club, Ascot and Swinley Forest Golf Club, where he made a hole-in-one at the eighth hole on 15 April 1957, an achievement of which he was rightly proud.


Alan had always been interested in aviation although his astigmatism had prevented him from joining the Royal Flying Corps. His attendance at the Light Aeroplane Show at Lympne in the summer of 1926 persuaded him to start flying. He became an associate (No. 19) of the Royal Aeronautical Society on 13 April 1926.

He learned to fly with the Henderson School of Flying at Brooklands in 1927, gaining A Licence No. 1534 on 5 August 1927, and bought his first aircraft the following year, DH.60X Moth G-EBWT, which he registered in March 1928. Alan Muntz flew as many visiting Heston aircraft as possible. He also had DH.60X Moth G-EBQH and DH.80A Puss Moth G-ABNC registered in his name.

He was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and an Associate Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

In 1954 he was awarded the silver medal of the Institute of Marine Engineering and in 1958 was admitted to the Freedom of the Guild of Airline Pilots and Air Navigation and to the Livery and Freedom of the City of London.

Final Years

Alan Muntz retired in 1974. He was an ardent Francophile and in his own words he 'emigrated' to France in early 1976 to live in Seillans in Fayence. In his final years he returned to live first at Amport near Andover and finally in Canon Street, Winchester, where he died of heart failure on 7 March 1985. He was cremated and buried at his beloved Winchester College at St Michael's church, Culver Road, Winchester.

Sir Henry Nigel St Valery Norman

Nigel Norman was an exceptionally gifted and driven man. Born in London on 21 May 1897, he was the only child of Rt Hon. Sir Henry Norman, 1st Baronet of Honeyhanger, Surrey, and Menie Muriel Dowie. He had a half-sister, Rosalind, and two half-brothers, Willoughby and Anthony, children of his father and his second wife, Lady Fay Aberconway. As well as being a former MP for Blackburn and a JP, his father, Sir Henry, had a number of aviation interests and was a founder member of the Royal Aero Club. He had also dined with the Wright brothers and was a member of 601 Squadron (Auxiliary Air Force) City of London. Both Nigel Norman's mother and father were also writers and explorers.

He was educated at Horton School, Chipping Sodbury, before going on to Winchester in 1910.

Family Life

Nigel Norman himself became 2nd Baronet of Honeyhanger in 1939. He married Patricia Moira Annesley (the eldest daughter of Lieutenant Colonel William Annesley DSO CMG) in 1926 and they had three sons (Mark, Desmond and Torquil).

Each of his sons made their mark in aviation. His eldest son Mark (b. 8 February 1927 and who inherited the family title) flew with 601 Squadron as a pilot and later became sales director of Britten-Norman.

His second son Desmond (b. 13 August 1929) attended the de Havilland Technical School in 1947, where he met John Britten. He qualified as an aeronautical engineer in 1950 and completed his National Service in the RAF (including demonstrating the Gloster Meteor F.8 and serving in 601 Squadron, going on to SBAC as a test pilot). In 1953 he founded Britten-Norman with John Britten. With another partner, Jim McMahon, they started the successful company, Crop Culture, developing the revolutionary Micronair rotary atomiser. Another company they formed was Hovertravel and a significant amount of research was carried out on hovercraft by the company. Desmond Norman went on to design aircraft, the Britten-Norman Islander being his most well-known aircraft. There was also the Trislander, the BN.3 Nymph (redeveloped as the Freelance) and the later Firecracker (which was beaten by the Embraer Tucano in the competition to become the RAF trainer) and the Fieldmaster Cropsprayer in 1981. Like his father before him he became a CBE in 1970. He died on 23 November 2002.

Nigel Norman's third son, Torquil (b. 11 April 1933), also served in 601 Squadron and was involved with the music world in the 1960s, owning the Roundhouse theatre at Camden Lock. He established the company Bluebird Toys which has been very successful. He too has a great interest in aviation and flies DH.90 Dragonfly G-AEDU, which is based at Rendcomb.

Nigel Norman was a sensitive and thoughtful man as shown in his passion for writing poetry (a passion he shared with Alan Muntz). He also had a great interest in the countryside and enjoyed fly-fishing and deer stalking.


The advent of the First World War interrupted Nigel's education. After attending Sandhurst he served in the Royal Artillery as a second lieutenant (he was commissioned on 27 October 1915) in France. He was commissioned as a lieutenant on 6 March 1918 and was attached to the army Signals Service (then part of the Royal Engineers). In 1919 he left the army and went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he gained a BA in Mechanical Sciences in 1921. He was awarded the MA in 1939 (MAs were normally awarded as a matter of course after three years from the BA, but the long gap to 1939 is unexplained). From 1922 to 1928, he worked for the Metropolitan Railway, but aviation was to become an overriding passion.

Although Nigel Norman had been at Winchester at the same time as Alan Muntz, Nigel was three years older than Alan and was in a different house. They did not become firm friends until they met again at Cambridge University. They shared the running costs of a second-hand Avro 504K until they could both afford their own aircraft.

Nigel became a private aeroplane owner in 1926 and he held the Royal Aero Club Aviator's Certificate No. 8000. This was gained at the de Havilland School of Flying at Stag Lane, Edgware, on 4 June 1926. The type flown was a DH.60. The index card states his then current address as 3 Rex Place, South Street, London W1. His profession was given as 'Engineer'.

He joined the Auxiliary Air Force in 1926 as a pilot officer and served with 601 (City of London) Squadron. He became a squadron leader in November 1931. In March 1940 he became a temporary wing commander and was promoted to temporary group captain in June 1942. In the following year he was appointed acting air commodore.

On the civilian side, Nigel Norman was asked in early 1943 if he would consider becoming the first chairman of BOAC. His response was to say 'Come back after the War'. He also owned a number of aircraft including Avro 548 G-EBPJ, DH.60G Moth G-AAHI, DH.60 G-EBWY (fitted with Handley Page slots), DH.80A Puss Moths G-AAZM and G-AAZN, and DH.85 Leopard Moth G-ACNN.

He became a director of Aerofilms Ltd, Britain's first commercial aerial photography company which had been founded in 1919. Aerofilms were later involved with the PRU (Photographic Reconnaissance Unit) at Heston during the war. Additionally, he was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, a member of the Aviation Committee of the London Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Council of the Air Registration Board, on which body he sat as chairman of the Design & Construction Panel.

In the same year in which he was tragically killed (1943), Nigel Norman was awarded a CBE.

His partnership with Alan Muntz was to give great impetus to their impact on the aviation world. The formation of Airwork and the establishment of Heston Air Park are covered separately in later chapters. However, despite the energy expended on these enterprises, Nigel Norman still found time and energy to become a co-partner with Alan Muntz and Graham Dawbarn in the firm of Norman, Muntz and Dawbarn Aeronautical Consulting Engineers (see Chapter 3).

Crash of Lockheed Hudson IIIA FH168, 19 May 1943

It is tragic that Nigel Norman met his death through aviation. In 1943, he was being flown to North Africa from Netheravon. He had just been appointed to Air Chief Marshal Sir A.W. Tedder's staff and was to attend an Airborne Forces Planning Conference in the Middle East to help prepare for the invasion of Sicily. Air Commodore Norman possessed particular expertise in parachute and glider assaults. On 19 May 1943, he boarded Lockheed Hudson 111A FH168 of 38 Wing RAF at RAF Netheravon. 38 Wing had been formed at Netheravon to provide a link with the 1st Parachute Brigade at Bulford Camp. The Hudson crew were mainly French-Canadians (Royal Canadian Air Force personnel). The pilot was Flight Lieutenant R.H. Jesse, navigator Pilot Officer Arthur Rotenburg and the wireless operator/air gunner was Flight Sergeant G. Russell. The four other occupants were passengers and included Wing Commander R.W. Hurst, Squadron Leader E.W. Armstrong and Corporal H.A. Palmer.

The journey was a long one and the Hudson landed at RAF St Eval in Cornwall to top up with fuel. After take-off the Hudson encountered difficulties with the port engine catching fire. About 7 miles south of RAF St Eval, two local farmers observed the aircraft dipping to the left and losing height. The Hudson attempted a landing in a field at Crugoes Farm, Blackcross, about 180m south-west of the St Columb Royal Observer Corps post. The aircraft just cleared a hedge, hit the ground, bounced and slewed across the field. A wing broke off, as did part of the tail, and the aircraft ended up partly on top of a hedge. Initially there was little fire, although the left-hand wing was broken and beginning to burn. The right-hand wing was almost over a gate, which caused part of the aircraft to be off the ground. The two farmers who had witnessed the crash were quickly on the scene, as was Royal Observer member George Gregory. Two occupants exited the aircraft through a hole in the underside. Fire was beginning to take hold while the farmers looked after two injured survivors. George Gregory rescued four additional crew members. George's promptness in obtaining medical aid no doubt helped save lives. All the survivors were suffering from broken limbs. After the rescue of six occupants, the aircraft burst into flames.


Excerpted from Airwork by Keith McCloskey. Copyright © 2013 Keith McCloskey. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Meet the Author

Keith McCloskey is an export trader with a lifelong passion for aviation and its history. His father was a pilot for Aer Lingus and his mother an air stewardess, also with Aer Lingus. Keith has previously written Glasgow's Airport and Edinburgh Airport. In his working life he met many people who had worked for Airwork, especially in Africa and the Middle East, and was inspired to write a history of this hugely influential company.

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