Jane Egginton is the daughter of former Westland Chief Test Pilot Trevor Egginton and remembers her father starting his flying career with the RAF as a fixed wing pilot
He was at Lucas, flying fighters out of Lucas and then he was posted to Aden where he was flying Hunters. Then, when we came back, at some point during this period he’d learnt to fly a helicopter which he nearly didn’t manage, apparently. He couldn’t get it to hover and his instructor told him that he’d got one more chance and if he couldn’t get it to hover, that was it, he wasn’t going to be a helicopter pilot. But he did actually manage to do it and he was flying air-sea rescue from Chivenor for three years and he used to fly Whirlwinds.
There was one occasion I seem to remember when he forgot something and the airfield was an old World War II airfield so the quarters were built on the old airfield so there were these big open spaces and he landed this helicopter in the field behind the house and hopped over the fence for something. I can’t remember what it was he’d forgotten then but yes, he spent the winter of 1962/1963 delivering foodstuffs to farmers on Exmoor and rescuing people, pregnant women and things like this. He always had lots of stories to tell about that time. There was a time when a sheepdog jumped in the helicopter and they didn’t realise it was there until they got back to base and stuff like that so, yes, he had lots of stories and also lots of the rescues. I mean he was actually decorated for a rescue off Lands End. That was a French trawler went aground. They had to get under the overhang on the cliffs. It was on its side on the rocks, trying to get three blokes out of the wheelhouse. The weather was terrible. The lifeboat couldn’t get anywhere near it. I think if we’d known, well Mum had known half of what was going on out there, she’d have been a lot more worried than she was. But the French government decorated him and he also won a medal here as well for that.
Did you regard your dad as being a brave man?
Oh yes, yes. I mean particularly when he was on an air-sea rescue. I think what he did when he was at Westlands was brilliant and being the first person to fly a helicopter, I just thought that was great but when he was on air-sea rescue, we know that he was on several missions that were actually quite dangerous. We’ve got a little book somewhere which has got the story of that rescue off Lands End and when you actually read that you realise just how close they came to disaster and after I’d read it I remember talking to him about it and I remember him telling me that they were literally, probably, this far away from the cliff at one point because, of course, it was so windy. They’re trying to control that helicopter and hold it above that trawler under a cliff overhang in that sort of weather I thought was incredible flying.
Now, looking back on it, yes, I think he was tremendously brave.