Peter Murray celebrates his 90th birthday today (20th June 2018). He is a well know figure around the club and has been for many a year. The following is a summary of his career, to date, written by James Allan following an interview with Peter a few weeks ago at the club.
Engineer of the old school
Few if any LAA inspectors can equal the length and breadth of experience that Peter Murray has built up during his many years with the LAA (previously the PFA). Peter celebrated his 90th birthday on 20th June and is still to be seen hard at work on his LAA inspection duties at Perth Airport most Tuesdays and Saturdays, providing encouragement and useful advice to LAA members, newcomers and old hands.
Peter was born into a farming family in Inverarity, between Forfar and Dundee, and he owes his initial interest in aeroplanes to his older brother who had joined the RAF in 1937, was posted to RAF Montrose in 1938 and took Peter with him to see the RAF Leuchars air show that year. The air display made a big impression on Peter. When he left school, aged 14, he went to work in a Perth shoe shop and also joined the 38F (Perth) squadron of the Air Training Corps. One of his ATC instructors happened to be an engineer who was working for Airwork at Perth aerodrome. Peter’s footwear career came to an early end when, to his great embarrassment, he was moved upstairs from the men’s shop to work in the ladies’ shoe department. When that happened, he immediately accepted an offer that his ATC instructor had already made to him of starting an engineering apprenticeship with Airwork. Before he could actually start his apprenticeship he had to be fifteen years old so Airwork checked that, despite his short stature, he was tall enough to swing Tiger Moth propellers and then kept him busy on refuelling and starting aircraft engines plus some other odd jobs. Once he turned fifteen in 1943 Peter started work as an engineering apprentice on Tiger Moths, Oxfords and Ansons at Perth but in 1945 his apprenticeship was interrupted by his call up for the compulsory two years of National Service in the RAF.
After his ‘square-bashing’ indoctrination at Wilmslow in Cheshire. Peter was posted to RAF Watton near Dereham in Norfolk where surplus de Havilland Mosquitos were being broken up and he found himself sorting out and cataloguing pieces of undercarriages and other aircraft parts for spares. His CO tried to persuade him to sign on for a three-year RAF engagement but Peter said he would rather just complete his National Service and return to Perth to finish his apprenticeship. He applied meanwhile for an overseas posting but instead of him being sent somewhere exotic like RAF Seletar or RAF Habbaniya he ended up a lot closer to home, at RAF Edzell. The Station Warrant Officer at Edzell asked him if he knew anything about publications and after Peter said yes, he finished his National Service working in Edzell’s Technical Library.
He was one of the last National Servicemen to be issued with a demob suit and felt hat, but Peter then found Airwork had no immediate vacancy for him so he went to work temporarily at the Royal Naval Aircraft Workshops in Almondbank to the west of Perth. After six months there he was able to return to Airwork who were at that time obtaining RAF contract work in connection with the Cold War. One of these contracts took Peter to RAF Digby in Lincolnshire where he worked for Airwork maintaining Tiger Moths. Around this time Peter made his first acquaintance with an all-wooden aeroplane, the Czech-designed, Manchester-built Hillson Praga G-AEUT, and he soon became a real fan of wood and fabric aeroplanes like that little machine. In 1953 Peter was sent to RAF Usworth, at that time an Auxiliary Air Force airfield near Sunderland, to work on AOP Auster aircraft. That contract lasted until 1955 when Peter was moved by Airwork to the Royal Naval Air Station at Donibristle in Fife, where he had to tackle a different variety of naval communications aircraft including the de Havilland Rapide, Percival Prince and de Havilland Dove before returning to Perth where he continued with Airwork until 1960. That year Peter was promised an interesting job helping to transfer the Air Service Training technical school from Hamble to Perth but ‘Pooch’ Nugent, Airwork’s boss at Perth, refused to let Peter go to Hamble ‘because he was needed in the hangar’. At that Peter decided to quit Airwork and go to work for NCR in Dundee where there was a shortage of engineers for NCR’s rapidly developing ATM business.
He didn’t lose touch with aviation though and soon became involved with the gliding activities at the Royal Marines base Condor near Arbroath where he not only qualified as a glider pilot but also was authorised in 1970 as an inspector for the British Gliding Association. While visiting the gliding club at Aboyne on one occasion he was approached by the owner of a damaged Fournier RF4 there who asked him why he didn’t apply to become a PFA inspector too, so he could work on powered aircraft as well as gliders and could help get the damaged RF4 back into the air. Peter did just that, applied for and was soon awarded PFA inspector approval in 1973 with licence number 120. Since that time he has gone on providing engineering oversight and willingly given hundreds of PFA and LAA members a guiding hand and helpful words of wisdom from the wealth of aircraft experience he has gained during his long career in aviation. He also became a qualified senior inspector with the British Microlight Aircraft Association in 1985 and is authorised, by BMAA and BGA in the same way as by the LAA, to work on all types of airframe construction (metal, wood or glass-reinforced plastic) power units, auto-pilots, instruments (including ‘glass’ cockpits) and other ancillary equipment. Although Peter enjoyed being a glider pilot and has worked on a multitude of different types of powered aircraft he never qualified as a private pilot of powered aircraft for the simple reason that this man, who has done so much to help so many other pilots fly inexpensively, never felt he could afford to do it himself.
In 1977 Peter’s career involved a return to work with Airwork as an instructor in the Air Service Training technical school which had by then been established at Perth Airport and he remained employed by them until his retirement in 1993 – but he didn’t then retire from his other ‘job’ as an inspector for LAA, BGA and BMAA. Quite the contrary; he has continued in that function right up to his 90th birthday and says he fully intends to go on, so long as he remains fit and able to commute in his car between his home in Invergowrie and Perth Airport. In 2002 Peter was honoured by the LAA with the award of the Frank Hounslow Trophy for services to LAA engineering to whose activities Peter has frequently been an active contributor. He enjoys gardening, playing bowls and often takes his wife out for lunch locally but he is still more than happy to devote most of his Tuesdays and Saturdays to doing all he can, in his own time and without any financial reward, to assist LAA members, glider and microlight pilots to keep flying safely and affordably not just at Perth but also at the gliding airfield of Portmoak and at RAF Leuchars. Private flying in the East of Scotland owes a great deal to the stalwart efforts of Peter Murray.