Kingston Aviation
Name: Gordon Jefferson
Transcript: 10 – Eric Rubython, Neville Duke’s car and the World Air Speed Record

On 7th September 1953, a Hawker Hunter – painted red for the occasion – broke the World Air Speed Record piloted by Hawker Chief Test Pilot Neville Duke.

At the time Eric Rubython was Company Secretary of Hawker Aircraft and an Executive Director. He went on to become a Deputy Chief Executive of British Aerospace, retiring in the early 1980s. 

Gordon was Liaison Engineer at Dunsfold Aerodrome and played a part in modifying the Hunter for the attempt.

Neville Duke was a nationally known figure in the 1950s although, as this story shows, his influence clearly did not extend to the Hawker boardroom!  

And Rubython, because it was Eric Rubython, wasn’t it.

Yes it was Eric Rubython.

I keep on seeing him in pictures but I know absolutely nothing about him at all. But he’s a face that keeps on cropping up all the time. Is there anything you can tell me about him?

Well, I’m afraid that Eric Rubython probably found me an absolute pain, I don’t know. But the little I did know him was, we were trying to get the World Speed Record.

This is in the Hunter, isn’t it?  In 1953.

In the Hunter, yes.  And we painted the Hunter red and we put a sharp nose on it instead of a radome.  I did that one afternoon, I drew a sharp nose which we made in steel. It took about – the lads about two days to make it. We screwed it on and we also put a new windscreen, plastic windscreen over the actual bullet proof screen to give it a bit of shape. Otherwise it was a flat screen. Whether this really made any difference I honestly don’t know. But the lads in the Project Office would tell you whether it did.

And I thought, what a good idea it would be to paint Neville Duke’s car red. It was already red but it was tatty. So I made a very big mistake.  I rang up Mr Rubython and said, ‘Due to the fact that we are painting the Hunter red, for the record, would he object to having the car painted red at the same time?’  Which wouldn’t have taken the lads more than a few days just to have done.  And he, I had to hold the phone away, he was absolutely livid with me. ‘What in heaven’s name do you think you are talking about, Jefferson?’  he said. ‘You must have gone bloody crazy. Duke is just an inspector at the end of the line, there’s nothing special about that.’ I said, ‘But he’s a test pilot.’ He said, ‘ I don’t give a  —-  what he is, that’s his position in the Company.’

And of course afterwards, he must have told a few people what had happened. But people said to me, ‘You know Jeff, you ought to understand how things are done and you don’t ring up one of the directors for the OK, ’cause he would never dream of giving it to you. You go to the chap who is running the Dope Shop and say how about giving this a coat of paint? And we’d have done it there would have been no problem. But now of course, you’ve mucked it up completely so we can’t touch it.’

So of course, like with all these things one learns from experience. And I’d never applied that, I don’t think, I’d never had the opportunity to provide – to apply that particular piece of information, like don’t go and ask the top man because he couldn’t possibly agree. I’d never had to apply it but if I had, I would have been very careful and just have a word with the guy who was actually in charge of the place where they do the job.

So what you do in effect is you present them with a ‘fait accompli’.

Absolutely, well he probably wouldn’t have even known.