The Farnborough Air Display is always a showcase for new and interesting aircraft types. The 1953 event was a noteworthy one; there was a splendid display by the Westland Wyvern TF.2 naval turboprop fighter, and a fantastic finale by a formation of two Avro Vulcans and four Avro 707 test aircraft. In between, another, less spectacular, display was given by the Hunting Percival C.66 Pembroke, appearing as an RAF C. Mk 1, ‘WV701′ . This 10 seat aircraft - 2 crew, 8 passengers – had been developed from the earlier Percival Prince feeder-liner, and was powered by two 560 hp Alvis Leonides 127 radial engines. The prototype had first flown from the company’s base at Luton Airport, Bedfordshire, in November of the previous year and the Hunting Group (which had taken Percival Aircraft over in 1944) were hoping for big orders.
Following an initial order from the RAF, the Pembroke C.1 entered service at the end of 1953. Its first job was to augment, then gradually replace the venerable Avro Anson which had given such excellent service in the communications rôle. Pembrokes appeared on the strength of the Bomber Command Communications Flight, the Metropolitan Communications Squadron at RAF Northolt – which later became No. 32 Squadron, then No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron, when it was consolidated with the Queen’s Flight – and many other communications and support flights such as the Aden Protectorate Flight, and the Gulf Communications Squadron, (No. 152 Squadron, RAF) based at RAF Bahrain. The Pembroke had many qualities which made it suitable for rough/short or grass strips – it had twin main and nose wheels (to help spread the load), ‘shoulder’ position wing and tall undercarriage to minimize foreign object damage to the engines and propellers, wide two-piece fuselage doors on the port side to easily load freight/stretchers, capacious fuselage and flat floor, a fuselage which was low and horizontal to the ground, and reverse-pitch propellers to minimize the landing run. As you can imagine, this lead to the Pembroke being used as a freighter (up to 2,000 lbs), air ambulance, radio and navigation training aircraft and photo-reconnaissance and aerial survey aircraft. Indeed, the Royal Air Force ordered six photo-reconnaissance versions, as the Pembroke C.(PR)1, plus converting two C.1 aircraft for the same role; these served in Malaya, with No. 81 Squadron, RAF.
Despite having LESS horsepower available than a Spitfire Mk II (1,120 hp vs. 1,150 hp), the Pembroke could carry two crew and eight passengers at a maximum speed of 224 mph, for up to 1,030 miles - quite remarkable! Export sales were rather sluggish – the Swedish Air Force were ‘encouraged’ to take 16 aircraft, as the Tp83, when they bought Hawker Hunters – and the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) bought 25 of a version known as the C.54. Other operators included the Belgian Air Force (12 x C.51), Danish Air Force (6 x C.52/2), Finnish Air Force (2 x C.53), and Sudanese Air Force (2 x C.55); the Southern Rhodesia Air Force received two C.1 aircraft from RAF stocks. Pembrokes in RAF service started to have their wings re-sparred from 1970 in order to extend their useful life, but the last ones were withdrawn from No. 60 Squadron, at RAF Wildenrath, Germany in 1988.
Here we can see one of only two Percival Pembrokes on the U.K. Register of Civil Aircraft, G-BNPH, ‘WV740′, parked in the morning sunshine at Cotswold Airport, Kemble, Gloucestershire. It is in its last Service colour scheme, that of an aircraft of No. 60 Sqn (motto, Per ardua ad aethera tendo - ‘I strive through difficulties to the sky’). It has had several owners, including one very well-known one; from 1987 to 1990, it was owned by Air Marshal Sir John Shakespeare Allison, KCB, CBE, RAF (Ret’d), one of the most distinguished display pilots, ever. (Aside: I was once fortunate enough to give a short presentation at an aviation conference, immediately after one given by John Allison – you are allowed ONE guess as to which one was better!)
'WV740' is now owned by another excellent display pilot – Andrew Dixon. As well as showing off the Pembroke’s paces at air shows around the UK, Andrew is a Training Captain on the B-17G, ‘Sally B’, G-EBDF. This means that he can be regularly seen at events at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, as well as other events around the country.
The Percival Pembroke, a truly fascinating exercise in light transports!