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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. P W D Heal


Philip William Dunstan Heal was born on 15th January 1912 into a family construction firm, but was set on the idea of flying as his father had been a fitter in the RFC in WW1.

Heal joined 604 (County of Middlesex) Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force and started flying in 1936 at Hendon on Hart, Demon and Tutor aircraft. He obtained a commercial pilot’s licence and qualified as a flying instructor. He was commissioned on 24th March 1937.

In the months before the war he was involved in night flying, reconnaissance and target interception training, and in February 1939 completed the Instructors’ Course at the Central Flying School, Upavon.





Above (L to R): F/Lt. J Cunningham, Heal, unknown, F/Lt. GO Budd.


Above images courtesy of the family of F/Lt. RH Scott of 604 Squadron.


Heal was called to full-time service on 24th September 1939.

He married Elizabeth Winteringham on 20th March 1940 at Christ Church, Hampstead.

On 11th April 1940 he was detached from 604 to RAF Farnborough for No. 8 Oxygen Course.

His log books show night operational patrols in late May and early June 1940, notably over Dunkirk during the BEF evacuation.

He was posted away to 5 OTU on 15th August 1940 for instructor duties. However his logbook shows that he was also engaged alongside F/Lt. John Cunningham in developing the new and highly secret Airborne Interception (AI) radar. On 4th September 1940 he flew sorties in three Hurricanes, N2489, L1798 and L1658. The last crashed on landing at Aston Down when an undercarriage leg sheared off.


Above: Heal, looking at camera. The caravan may have been utilised as a dispersal hut when aircraft were on standby at a distant part of the airfield.


Assessed highly as an instructor, in early 1941 he was posted to Southern Rhodesia to instruct at RAF Thornhill. He commanded this active station with personnel strength approaching 1,000 at age 31.



Above: Heal, centre, in Rhodesia with unnamed colleagues.



He was awarded the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in 1943 (gazetted 1st January 1943) and the Air Force Cross (gazetted 8th June 1944).

In 1945 he was posted back to the UK, first to RAF Andover and then to RAF stations at Biggin Hill and Kenley, continuing instructing and training on the Harvard, Proctor and Cygnet among others. He left the Auxiliary Air Force as an Acting Wing Commander on being commissioned into the regular RAF (General Duties Branch) in April 1946.

From 1946 to 1949 Heal served on the Joint Planning Staff of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and for the next two years as Staff Officer in charge of Group Administration. Pressing for a flying appointment, in 1949 he was posted to No. 1 Pilots Refresher Flying Unit at RAF Finningley.

Between 1951 and 1953 he was based at the RAF Flying College at RAF Manby, firstly for the War Course. He then went on to the Handling Squadron, responsible for composing Pilot’s Notes on all aircraft being brought into service and flying a wide mixture of types including the Hastings, Canberra, Athena, Meteor IV, Meteor VII, Valetta, Anson, Vampire, Lincoln and Dakota. He was retained on the Staff to command the Flying Wing.

In 1951 Heal led a number of long distance Arctic flights which were part of the RAF Flying College training experience. In July 1951 he and W/Cdr. RT Frogley OBE DFC headed a team in Avro Lincoln Aries III which staged from Manby to Keflavik then Keflavik over the North Pole to Eilsen Field in Alaska.

Here they had a warm welcome and Heal was made an honorary chieftain of the Algonquin tribe.

He was posted to the Central Flying School at Little Rissington when it became CFS (Advanced) as Chief Instructor. Subsequently he became Acting Commandant and from 1953 to 1954 he commanded the Station. In 1954 his flying ability was formally assessed as Exceptional; he attained his Master Green rating, the highest category in the RAF, and the Commandant, Air Commodore Paul, wrote a warm personal letter to him saying 'With my congratulations upon the most exclusive Exceptional rating in the world!'.

Among the many aircraft he flew, particularly for aerobatic displays, were the Venom and the Hawker Hunter. He also qualified as a helicopter pilot and having been born in the year that the Royal Flying Corps was formed, he had experienced the whole gamut of the development of modern military aviation.

From 1955 to 1957 Heal was loaned as Air Advisor to the Iraqi Government to re-form the Iraqi Air Force, then in difficulties.

In 1957 he returned to the Air Ministry as Deputy Director of Air Staff Policy, but desk appointments were unpalatable to him, and in 1962 he was appointed Deputy Captain of the Queen’s Flight, responsible for flying the Queen, Princess Margaret and other members of the Royal Family as well as visiting dignitaries on official business.

One of the visitors included King Hussein of Jordan, who was himself a highly competent pilot and flew alongside Heal in the right hand seat on various occasions. Later Heal memorably remarked 'I liked King Hussein. He was the only King who ever called me Sir'.

He retired on 24th February 1962 with the rank of Group Captain. He subsequently served as Chief Welfare Officer for the Blue Circle Cement Group but the call of the Service was too strong and he returned to Whitehall, working for the Government Hospitality Fund as a Senior Escort Officer, conducting visiting presidents and Ministers and their spouses around London and other cities to theatres, dinners and official meetings.

His energy, charm and attention to detail were much appreciated by (among others) Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa, and Lord Louis Mountbatten.

Heal continued as an Escort Officer until he was 80, less frequently in the latter years, before retiring to his home at Inkpen, near Newbury.

He died in December 1997, aged 85.

The majority of research courtesy of Jeremy Heal (son).



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