Rusty Russell
Rusty Russell

I was commissioned as an Acting Pilot Officer on Probation on 30th May 1959. After completing pilot training on Piston Provosts at No 2 FTS, Syerston and Vampire T.11s at No 8 FTS, Swinderby, I was awarded my Wings on 18th November 1960. Following the Bassingbourn OCU Course, I was posted to No 31 (PR) Squadron, flying Canberra PR7s on low-level photographic reconnaissance.

In November 1963, I was posted to the OCU at Finningley, to fly Vulcan B2s. I joined No 35 Squadron, Coningsby, in April 1964, moving to Cottesmore in November of that year. The most memorable period during my time in the V-Force (nuclear role at the height of the Cold War) was a Pacific Ranger (complete westabout circumnavigation of the globe) lasting two weeks in September 1967, stopping at such exotic places as San Francisco, Honolulu, Wake Island and Guam.

In January 1969, I left No 35 Squadron and completed a Canberra Refresher Course at Bassingbourn, before joining the Radar Research Flying Unit, RRE, Pershore, where I flew Canberra variants (and hybrids!) and Viscount 837/838s. We were cleared down to 50ft AGL – definitely my best tour in the RAF!

In July 1971, I was posted to CFS Little Rissington, for QFI training on No 258 Course. In January 1972, I commenced an 18-month tour at Linton-on-Ouse, instructing on Jet Provost 3s and 5s. The unexpected swift return to CFS Staff at Little Rissington tore me away prematurely from those glorious Yorkshire Dales. My tour at CFS included instructing on the ‘Waterfront’, Pilot Navigation Instructor (air and ground), HQCFS Air Staff (writing the Commandant’s correspondence, and helping him choose the next Red Arrows – heady stuff!) and Air Cadet Liaison Officer – often all four simultaneously! On 12th April 1976, I flew Jet Provost Mk5A, XW425 in a Formation Flypast – destination, Cranwell, where CFS set up its new home. So, having failed three times to become a student at Cranwell, I finished up on the staff!

I left the RAF on 1st July 1977, not wishing to take up a career flying desks. Then followed ten years as a Commercial Flying Instructor at Oxford Air Training School, mostly on Piper Seneca Mk2s, training the World’s airline pilots up to CPL/IR standard. When my instructional juice had been used up, I joined FR Aviation, Bournemouth (Hurn), flying Dornier 228s and BN2T Turbine Islanders on seriously low-level maritime reconnaissance (Fisheries Patrol, Customs Patrol, Foreign Submarine Spotting, Hush-Hush Stuff, Search & Rescue, Coastguard, Dumping & Dredging, and HM Government General Dogsbody on the High Seas). I was a Flight Commander, Training Captain and Licensed Hooligan – definitely my best flying job ever!

In September 1998 after looming redundancy, I chose early retirement, and reflected upon my incredible run of good fortune, which in many ways felt uncomfortably similar to the tales related by Ernest K. Gann in Fate is the Hunter! Perhaps the Closest Encounter of the Nervous Kind was an argument with an ITCZ thunderstorm at Butterworth, Malaysia, on 15th July 1966. At 700ft on final approach in a Vulcan, we lost 45kts in a split second and literally fell out of the sky in a deep stall, in what was recognised years later as a microburst. My Guardian Angel was quite adamant that standard stall recovery would not work. What He/She gave me in that instant of sheer terror was the only way to survive a microburst. We managed to climb away at 150ft! Many years (and many incidents) later, I wondered – for how much longer in my career could I be this well protected and avoid the clutches of the Grim Reaper? So, when my ATPL came up for renewal in December 2004, I allowed it to lapse, and reluctantly, but gratefully, hung up my flying boots, with a total of 16,000 flying hours. I now live in Oxford with my wife, Carol. We both enjoy walking, beachcombing, geology, and gardening.

8 thoughts on “Lionel “Rusty” Russell”

  1. Hello,
    My name is Ciarán (Carthy). I was really pleased to stumble across this article on Rusty Russell. Rusty taught me how to fly in Kidlington back in 1979 as a very green 18-year-old airline cadet pilot. Rusty had a (rare) blend of professionalism, patience and good humour. I checked my logbook after reading about Rusty here and I see we did 52 flights together in piston singles. It was the perfect start to what has been an amazing 43 year career in aviation.
    The photograph of Rusty with the article certainly brought me back and triggered many, many happy memories. Rusty, though both our hair-colours have changed somewhat, you still look like you did as you stepped out onto the wing of G-BEUK in Coventry, and over the noise of the engine you said “OK Sparks, you’re on your own for this circuit”. Thank you!
    I’ve told all my classmates about the article and many have asked me to pass on their regards and also to let them know if I manage to get in contact with you directly which is something I hope I can do.
    I hope you get this message Rusty and that it finds you in good health and still enjoying your passion for birdlife.
    It would mean a lot if we could get in touch directly.
    Sparks (Ciarán Carthy)

  2. I learned to fly with Rusty at Kidlington in 1979 A great instructor and a gentleman Haven’t seen him since but many great memories.

  3. Dear Sir

    I believe we are related via Len Mynott. My grandad and Len were distant cousins I believe. I’m a historian and very much interested in the WW2. I would very much like to exchange stories.


    Carolyn Mynott

  4. My son in law is the cousin 2X removed of James “Paddy” Maguire. We were delighted to find his story in this wonderful research. With Rusty’s permission we would like to add his story and picture to the ancestry website to serve as a permanent memorial.
    best regards
    Tony Hellyer

  5. Dear Rusty,
    As a board member of the Rotterdam War and resistance Museum and an author of 25 books about WW2 I have researched the sorties of 16 July and 28 August 1941 and written about it in my book En Toen Was Het Stil (And then it was silent), which came out in 1981. During the research I met many next of kin of the airmen killed and some of the surviving aircrew. I was fascinated by your E-book. What a work this must have been. As a former Dutch member of No. II(AC) Squadron (my boss was Wing Commander Jock Stirrup….) I would very much like to get in touch with you. My email is
    Hans Onderwater
    (vintage year 1946…)

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