Captain Peter Duffey
Captain Duffey was born in the back room of a pub in Boston, Lincs in 1925 and educated privately. He joined Hawker Aircraft as a Junior Draughtsman in 1941, with part time release to study for Engineering qualifications. He decided to volunteer for the RAFVR and joined up in January 1943. The training took him to Western Canada, and after qualifying as a Pilot, to Prince Edward Island to also train as a Navigator, joining Coastal Command. He returned to the UK in 1944 and served until October 1946, in Coastal and Transport Commands. On release from the RAF he flew for a small charter firm, round Europe and within the UK, but after 6 months he joined Scottish Airlines to fly the civil version of the Liberator, and the DC3 on scheduled and charter routes across the Atlantic, in the UK and Europe.
In 1948, he joined British South American Airways, flying the Lancastrian, and Tudor. He had some time on the Berlin Airlift and flew to Santiago, Chile through many ports of call, and across the Andes to Buenos Aires. When BSAA was taken over by BOAC he was kept on the South American route for several years, but flying the Canadair Argonaut. In 1952 he joined the Comet 1 fleet and served on that until its grounding in 1954, (he believes he is the only airline pilot to have flown both the 1st jetliner, and the Concorde). Returning to the Argonaut until 1956, he then flew the DC7c, the first airliner capable of non-stop westbound flights from London to New York. In 1961 he left the North Atlantic to fly to the East on the Comet 4. Soon he was a Training Captain, and transferred to the Boeing 707 in 1965, becoming a Training Captain on that type for about 10 years. In 1975 he was nominated as one of the 8 pilots to form the nucleus group to bring Concorde into service. They started their training, by the Test Pilots, in April 1975, and were involved in the airline proving flights in the latter half of 1975. For various reasons their number was reduced to 7, and they were much involved in preparing procedures, writing manuals, etc. Gaining his Concorde Operational Certificate on 20 December 1975. On 21 January 1976, the day of their 1st commercial service he was given dual duties, hosting a TV show for the BBC, and he was the standby pilot with his bag packed to go.
After approval as a Training Captain on Concorde, the next few years were spent on flying the services to Bahrain, Washington, and New York and various Charters, alternating with simulator courses. When he had to retire from BA in September 1980 he decided to move to Canada, where he flew as the chief instructor at a flying school and as a corporate jet pilot.
When his flying ceased, life became even busier. His hobbies have ranged from owning a glass fibre high-performance sailplane to a boat, writing a book ‘Comets and Concordes‘ in 1998, fishing, making lovely gardens and for the last 20 years being an environmental activist. He is closely associated with the Seattle Museum of Flight where there is a Concorde that he flew in some disturbing circumstances in 1980 and a Comet 4 that is being restored. He has also had many television, press and other public involvements.
He married in 1947 and had 3 children, a boy and 2 girls. His wife Jeane became a world class Artist and International Editor.
Star Ariel Disaster
At the time, aircraft heater technology was still in its infancy. “The Janitrol Cabin Heater bled aviation fuel on to a hot tube – and was also fairly close to the hydraulic pipes,” he says. A pressure switch should have allowed the heater to operate when it was in the air but it was unreliable and was often deliberately short-circuited by staff, allowing the pilot manual control. The switch prevented inflammable fuel from flowing, but if the heater was switched on manually, gas that may have collected could have ignited. Captain Peter Duffey, a former BSAA pilot who went on to become a Captain of British Airways Concorde, also believes that the proximity of the heater and the hydraulic pipes was significant. “My theory is that hydraulic vapour escaped from a leak, which got on to a hot heater and caused an explosion,” he says. Mr Newton’s report came to a similar conclusion: “If the heater had caught fire down below the floorboards then it could have developed to a catastrophic state before the crew knew anything about it. ” There was no automatic fire extinguisher to put it out like there is nowadays. There was no alarm where the heater was stored… so no-one would know, possibly until it was too late.”
The official accident investigation discovered that because of a communications error, search and rescue teams were not despatched until 7½ hours later. By then what was left of the plane and the bodies would have sunk. The report on the disappearance of the first plane, the Star Tiger, said something which, because it could be easily misinterpreted, helped the accident achieve notoriety. In a moment of philosophical conjecture, the investigators mused that maybe “some external cause may (have) overwhelm(ed) both man and machine”. Those comments from sober-suited British civil servants opened the floodgates for conspiracy theorists, hack journalists and mischief makers, adding to the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.