The history of Roger Byron-Collins
In January 2022 I was kindly contacted by Lord Camster who is a director of Welbeck Estate Securities Group, and in charge of Public Relations. He thought we might be interested in the aviation related aspects of their founder and Chairman, Roger Byron-Collins. I think he is quite correct as the aviation related parts of his long career combine to create a most unusual if not unique account. I have only partly redacted the account sent by Lord Camster in order to concentrate on the aviation related aspects.
HIS EARLY LIFE
"Roger Byron-Collins was born in Cardiff in March 1946 - the son of a Royal Air Force Navigator and his mother a member of the Women's Royal Air Force whilst they were stationed at nearby RAF St Athan. His first home was a Warrant Officer's quarter at RAF Driffield, Yorkshire, until 1949 when he moved to RAF Waddington, Lincoln. In July 1953 he moved to RAF Marham, Norfolk, until March 1954 when his father was sent to Australia for Atom bomb trials at RAAF Toowoomba so returned to Cardiff."
"After his father returned to the UK, he moved to RAF Waterbeach near Cambridge in 1955 and for two years was lead treble chorister with Kings College Cambridge. In 1957 he moved to RAF Watton, Norfolk, and in 1958 they moved to RAF Tangmere, Chichester, Sussex. In 1959 his father moved to RAF Khormaksar, Aden, South Yemen, and Byron-Collins remained in the UK as a boarder at King Edwards School, Witley, Surrey."
This is an excellent example of how often so many RAF personnel, even with families, were constantly on the move. I have never been able to discover the underlying rationale for this policy, but suspect that possibly it was to prevent them from making long term commitments which could compromise security?
"In 1962 he secured a place on the Royal Institition of Chartered Surveyors Land Survey Course at the Southwest Essex College in Walthamstow to study as a Chartered Surveyor whilst living at RAF Northolt." After qualifying he become involved in property and did very well indeed. In 1970 he formed his first property investment company in central London.
GETTING INVOLVED IN AIRFIELD PROPERTIES
"In view of his aviation background, he made a decision to specialise in the purchase, preservation of not only married quarters but technical domestic and airfield sites." He also opened an office in the USA, in Arlington, Virginia, near the Pentagon, also involved in developing domestic sites mostly ex-military. This project also prospered and for several years he commuted every two weeks by Concorde between Heathrow and Washington Dulles airports.
"In 1980 Mrs Thatcher's Conservative government announced there were a surplus of MQ, (Married Quarters), sites and disused airfields which were to be sold." This was a golden opportunity to acquire, renovate and usually make these sites into highly desirable areas to live in.
Here is a list of the UK military airfield sites he became involved in redeveloping, in part at least.
RAF Ballykelly RAF Lakenheath RAF West Raynham
RAF Faldingworth RAF Middleton St George RAF Colerne
RNAS Yeovilton RAF Halton RNAS Eglinton (Londonderry)
RAF Brize Norton RNAS Portland RAF Manby
RAF Brawdy RAF Hemswell RAF North Coates
RAF Sculthorpe RAF Scampton RAF Harwell
RAF Finningley RAF Bicester RAF Upwood
RAF Linton-on-Ouse RAF Cranwell RAF Kinloss
"In 1996 the Conservative government decided to privatise the entire 55,000 Married Quarter Estate in England and Wales occupied by serving UK personnel. In partnership with Bankers Trust, Europa Capital and a few UK pension funds Roger raised over £1.2 billion pounds and formally tendered to HM Government for the MQ Estate." Although this British based bid was within a whisker of the final winning bid, the contract was awarded to a Japanese bank. A legacy started by Thatcher of course to sell off as much as possible of our inherent national 'wealth' abroad. I have never understood the logic.
HIS DIRECT INVOLVEMENT IN AVIATION
Note: This is the front of a brochure for Macedonian Aviation featuring the de Havilland DH104 Dove 5, G-APZU
"On the aviation side of his business early in 1972 he formed Macedonian Aviation to operate passenger and cargo charter flights. He started his entry into the world of aviation whilst living at RAF Northolt with his parents in 1963/64. He wished to obtain his PPL at 17 year old but after his third lesson on the flying course at nearby Denham airfield decided it was only for professionals as a result of a near miss on landing, even though not his fault."
He was of course somewhat mistaken in taking this attitude. Flying light aircraft is a world well away from the arena of professional flying, and indeed, many commercial ATPL pilots get involved in GA, (General Aviation), for precisely the benefits of the disciplines of this type of flying affords them. I would always be more comfortable flying with airline pilots if they also regularly flew light aicraft and/or gliders. These days of course, visits to the flight-deck are strictly forbidden.
"However, he always maintained an aviation interest being the son of an RAF aircrew officer who served in the RAF from 1940 to 1980. His father, Arthur, flew de Havilland Devons and Percival Pembrokes at RAF Northolt with Met. Comm. Squadron and passengers included the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. As a result of his military aviation upbringing decided at 25 years of age to start his own airline in 1972 at Southend airport. It started with the purchase of an 11-seat de Havilland Dove, G-APZU, from Lulsgate Air Services at Bristol airport."
"The airline was initially based at Luton airport operating under the AOC of McAlpine Aviation. Shortly afterwards he was approached by Harry Chang, a pilot of the recently collapsed 'troop carrier' airline, Lloyds International, who had available two contracts with Conoco and the Ford Motor Company. The first was to move offshore oil rig workers around North Sea ports and the second to convey spare parts for the recently introduced Ford Capri between Dagenham and Dusseldorf."
"With these contracts a loan was secured from Williams and Glyns Bank, and he formed Macedonian Aviation, a subsidiary of his London based property company Macedonian Securities Ltd. Macedonian Aviation immediately established their first base at Southend airport. Harry Chang was appointed as chief pilot and with the Conoco and Ford Motor Company's contracts in place, they purchased the 'workhorse' of British Aircraft Corporation, Filton - a Dakota DC-3, G-AMPO, in 30 seat configuration. This aircraft was used to fly the engineers working on the Concorde production between Filton (Bristol) and Toulouse.
Note: The second picture is copyright of Mark Pritchard
THE REGISTERED HISTORY OF THE DH104 DOVE 5, G-APZU
Quite typically in the usually quite chaotic world of commercial aviation, this being at the height of the 'Cold War', (nothing much changes though), G-APZU, had several owners.
D.C. Services 13.04.60 to 17.09.62
Dowty Group Services 15.10.62 to 13.02.64
James White 18.02.64 to 01.04.71
(Aircraft often stood around awaiting a new owner)
Lulsgate Air Services 31.12.71 to March 1972
Macedonian Securities (Overseas) 26.10.72 to 15.03.73
Fairflight Charters 15.03.73 to 03.03.75
Severn Airways 07.03.76 to 24.12.77
Weatherley Marine (Guernsey) 24.12.77 to 18.01.80
RSA Parachute Club 23.01.80 to 14.04.89
A GALLERY FOR G-AMPO
Note: The second item is a painting by John Young, showing G-AMPO over Beirut on the 2nd September 1972.
This picture has the copyright of Tony McGhee. Note that it is sans ailerons, presumably removed to have the fabric replaced. Although the type is typically known as a 'Dakota', in this case it is not strictly speaking correct. 'Dakota' was the name the RAF applied to its Douglas C-47s, called the 'Skytrain' in the USAAF. This example, initially LN-RTO (?), so perhaps operated by SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System?), was a civilian DC-3.
As in common with so many C-47/DC-3s, it had many owners here in the UK and was re-registered with the authorities nineteen times.
For anybody who might be interested, a list is provided below. Otherwise please skip.
1) Jerome Anthony Wilson 25.02.52 to 03.02.53
2) Starways 03.02.53 to 30.04.54
3) Eagle Aircraft Services 10.05.54 to 29.10.54
4) First Air Trading Company 29.10.54 to 29.12.54
5) Eagle Aircraft Services 07.01.55 to 15.10.56
6) Starways 16.10.56 to 20.12.63
7) Aviation Overhauls 24.12.63 to 04.02.68
8) Field Aircraft Services 17.06.69 to 30.09.69
9) British Aircraft Corporation 24.10.69 to 17.08.72
10) Macedonian Securities (Overseas) 17.08.72 to 21.03.74
11) Macedonian Aviation 21.03.74 to 30.12.74
12) Humber Airways 30.12.74 to 08.07.75
13) McDonald Aviation 07.08.75 to 18.02.76
14) The New Guarantee Trust Finance 01.04.76 to 07.04.78
15) Vistair Flight 07.04.78 to 31.07.78
16) Lease Air 31.07.78 to 21.10.81 (T/as Eastern Airways)
17) Air Atlantique 21.10.81 to 06.10.87
18) Aces High 06.10.87 to 09.06.88
19) Atlantic Air Transport 09.06.88 to 18.10.2001 (De-registered)
A PERSONAL NOTE
In the summer of 1983 I had my one and only flight as a passenger in a 'Dak', at an air show at West Malling in Kent. Lo and behold it was G-AMPO - what a coincidence! Then being operated by Air Atlantique. See my WEST MALLING listing for a picture.
BACK TO THE STORY
"In the summer of that year he went before the Civil Aviation Commitee to obtain his own AOC and the chairman at the time was Lord Boyd-Carpenter and when it was granted he passed comment that "Mr Byron-Collins at only 26 years of age must be one of the youngest persons in British aviation history to be awarded an Air Operater's Certificate"."
"In August Dakota G-AMPO's first flight was a weekend inauguration trip to Amsterdam followed by service check with Dan Air at Lasham and being re-sprayed at Eagle Air Services at Leavesen, as was the Dove. The Dakota crew underwent training with Dan Air at Lasham and it paid many visits to Gatwick and Southend during this period. Also in August 1972 Dove G-APZU went into service for passenger charters with several flights to Jersey, Amsterdam, Le Touquet, Hamburg, Copenhagen and Oslo."
"Unexpected publicity was achieved when a special charter for the Dove was undertaken between the 6th to 12th November 1972 when Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five were flown between their concerts in Paris, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Wembley. The following week the aircraft was chartered by Donny Osmond and The Osmonds for their UK Tour."
The compilation picture shows, in the snow, the then Norwegian Prime Minister with a Playboy magazine Bunny girl. Playboy had chartered the Dove after the Jackson and Osmond tours to promote their clubs opening around Europe.
A MOST EVENTFUL TRIP
"In September 1972 G-AMPO undertook a very eventful trip. One of Macedonian's managers, Richard Enders, was to marry an Indian diplomat's daughter at the All Saints Anglican Church in Beirut, Lebanon, and a wedding party of 25 guests flew out on a MEA scheduled flight from Heathrow. After the marriage ceremony the wedding reception was held at the waterfront St George Hotel, owned by Byron-Collin's friend Fady el Khoury, son of the Lebanese President. The following day Palestinian Terrorists murdered Isreali athletes at the Olympic games in Munich. The Israelis retaliated by attacking and besieging Beirut Airport which was closed and there were no scheduled flights to get the guests out of Lebanon."
"He telephoned his pilot Harry Chang who said he would take the Dakota from Gatwick to extract the party. Harry Chang knew Beirut airport well and advised the guests to remain on the beach by the airport which he would overfly and once he had landed the group were to run to the aircraft and they could embark. Some 12 hours later after refuelling at Genoa and Brindisi G-AMPO landed at Beirut airport escorted by Isreali military aircraft. The entire 25 wedding guests climbed over the perimeter fence and sprinted for the aircraft which did not shut down and it took off again within minutes for Nicosia, Cyprus, with the Isreali escort. Some of the wedding party continued their celebrations at The Dome Hotel in Kyrenia (before the island was divided). The wedding guests returned to the UK with Cyprus Airways and the crew and Byron-Collins returned in the Dakota two days later to Gatwick via Genoa."
GETTING BACK TO BUSINESS
"Later in September 1972 after completion of crew training G-AMPO returned to Southend to commence operations. On November 5th it took its first paying passengers to Amsterdam. The Dove G-APZU departed Southend on November 4th, 1972 for a trip to Oslo, Fornebu, for 4 days. Over the winter season the Dove operated a multitude of charter flights to Belgium, France, Germany and Holland. Finally the Dove G-APZU was sold to Shackleton Aviation in February 1973. By the spring 1973 G-AMPO was busy flying almost daily to Jersey, Ostend, Brussels and Saarbrucken. On May 3rd 1973, it flew a service to Grongingen - Bergen - Birmingham - Brussels - Southend."
"By the summer that year the Dakota was working flat out on regular flights between Coventry - Jersey - Birmingham - Cologne - Southend - Castle Donnington - Stornoway. It also undertook many flights for Intra Airways. In November and December, it was flying to Brussels, Calais, Cologne, Coventry, Exeter, Geneva, Glasgow, Lisbon, Malta, Marseilles, Newcastle and Saarbrucken. During these months it was carrying various car components for the Ford Motor Company and transferring gold bullion for the UK Treasury to and from Germany, Belgium and France. In December 1973 Macedonian commenced oil rig support business for the first time and as a result the Dakota was then relocated to Aberdeen in connection with this contract."
A TIME FOR EXPANSION
"With this massive increase in workload Macedonian looked for more DC-3s to buy and in March 1974 they purchased from Jersey, British Island Airways last three Dakotas. The first two aircraft, G-AMHJ and G-AMRA, arrived in Southend on the 8th March 1974. They were convertible cargo/passenger configuration and were moved to Aberdeen on April 24th, 1974, for transportation of crews and equipment to Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands. Dakota G-AMPO arrived in Aberdeen also in April but was moved back to Southend that spring for services to Amsterdam, Belfast, Gibraltar, Hamburg, Hurn, Heathrow, Le Havre, Lisbon, Ostend, Rotterdam, Saarbrucken and Teeside. Then in September the third ex-BIA DC-3, G-AMSV, arrived at Southend. In April 1974 Macedonian Aviation acquired the former Dutch Limburg Airlines route from Rotterdam to Le Havre replacing their Fokker F-27 Friendships with Dakotas."
A LIST OF FOREIGN DESTINATIONS SERVED BY MACEDONIAN AVIATION
BELGIUM Brussels, Ostend
FRANCE Calais, Le Havre, Le Touquet, Marseilles, Paris
NORWAY Bergen, Oslo
THE NETHERLANDS Amsterdam, Groningen, Rotterdam
WEST GERMANY Cologne, Hamburg, Saarbrucken
And of course, with a fleet of aircraft numbering four at its peak! They also covered several of the furtherest UK island destinations such as Stornoway and the Shetland Islands, plus Jersey and that perennial thorn in the side for Spain - Gibraltar.
THE END OF AN ERA
"During the summer of 1974 Byron-Collins was hearing that the oil companies were going to insist on turboprop operations, so he opened negotiations to acquire three Aer Lingus Viscounts and six Air Canada Viscounts or three Eastern Provincial Heralds. These negotiations were not successful and having appraised the cost of running a turboprop operation he was sure it would not be profitable so sold the entire Macedonian Aviation as a going concern to a Ralph Goldstraw."
As is often said in aviation circles, the best way to earn a small fortune in aviation, is to start with a large fortune!
"Following the sale on November 6th 1974, all aircraft returned to Southend and the new owners were unable to raise finance to support turboprop operations and by the end of the year they ceased all flying. The aircraft went to Humber Airways followed by Eastern Airways who operated the Heathrow - Norwich - Humberside scheduled service."
A RENEWED INTEREST
"After a lapse of twenty years Byron-Collins aviation interest was resurrected in 1996 with the purchase in1996 of HRH Prince Philip's former Queens Flight de Havilland DH104 Devon C Mk.1, VP961. He then subjected it to a £300,000 renovation." It appears that after first being built at Hawarden in 1948 and going to the RAF as VP961, it was quickly transferred to the civil register as G-ALFM and registered to the Secretary of State for Air at the Air Ministry from 15.12.48 to 11.3.49. Then being returned to the RAF.
A PILOT MAGAZINE FEATURE ARTICLE
*These are from a double page spread
"This was the aircraft in which Prince Philip learned to fly twins and he captained it on 67 occassions. It appears that when Byron-Collins purchased this Devon, in civilian guise and restored it as a DH104 Dove 8, he re-registered it as G-HBBC belonging to BBC Air with an address in Wells, Somerset. Prince Philip was reunited wih his former aircraft when Roger Byron-Collins invited him to RAF Northolt in October 1998. HRH was delighted with his old aircraft and commented on such a wonderful restoration and it brought him many happy memories. He was taken for a 30 minute flight around London and took over the controls on several occassions.
The last picture is a treat, showing the Dove steeply banked. It was a very strong airframe, and quite possibly capable of gentle aerobatics. Did anybody ever try? It is of course on record that a Boeing 707 was barrel-looped, so why not a Dove?
"A support aircraft was purchased being an ex-RNAS Sea Devon XK896/G-RNAS, built in 1956 and originally at RNAS Yeovilton. Both Doves were based at Filton, Bristol, until 2002 when G-HBBC relocated to Compton Abbas. G-RNAS was stolen from Filton and ended up in a quarry at Chepstow being used by a diving club. In 2001 Byron-Collins also acquired four Cessna 150 and 172s which were leased to Compton Abbas for flying training."
I trust you will agree, a most interesting account indeed.