Among the many skills needed to fly modern jet fighter aircraft, it was once thought, the art of the dogfight was dead. Advanced missile and radar systems had killed off the need to evade, shake off, and pursue in the air - or so it seemed.
But by the late 1970s and early '80s, a new generation of skilled fliers, including a young pilot called Peter Walker, who would become an Air Marshal and Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey, had brought into the jet age the manoeuvrability in the air once associated with Second World War Spitfires.
The dogfight, re-named Air Combat Manoeuvring, was seen anew as a potentially vital tool should the Cold War with the then Soviet Union become hot. Flying Phantoms, Walker proved himself in exercises to be one of the best practitioners of the capability, which could now be performed at supersonic speeds. He first intercepted Soviet fighters with 29 Squadron from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, and later flew sorties far out over northern waters with the celebrated "Tremblers" – Treble-One or 111 Squadron – out of RAF Leuchars, in Fife.
Having risen to be 111's commanding officer, Walker was held by his men in awe as great as that of the elite fighter pilots portrayed in the 1986 Tom Cruise film Top Gun, which begins with a dogfight between Soviet and US jets.
"Peter was a charismatic fighter pilot," one former colleague recalled. "He taught many a novice F-4 pilot the art of ACM." He was, another said, "a fighter pilot's pilot in every respect." It was agreed that "He would have been a great guy to go to war with", and "anyone would have been confident to go to war on his wing." Another former flier with 111 Sqn recalled Walker's ability to mete out discipline Having been warned about his boss on another occasion – "Not now, sonny, if the vein is throbbing, steer well clear" – he remembered also that "six of us had the most monumental hats-on bollocking in his office."
Walker, the son of a military pilot who became an RAF Group Captain, was educated at Pocklington School, Yorkshire, and entered the RAF first as a Flight Cadet in 1968, thereafter taking the path of a recently introduced scheme for those going to university. He went to Durham University, was commissioned in 1969 and made Pilot Officer, then Flying Officer, and continued to RAF Cranwell, where he did his basic flying training in 1972. The following year he was promoted Flight Lieutenant.
He joined 29 Sqn at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and did three years of long-range patrols, flying the F-4 Phantom FGR2 (fighter ground-attack reconnaissance), before transferring to 228 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit), also at Coningsby, as an instructor. It was during his time in Lincolnshire that he met his future wife, Lynda Masters. "I met her in a pub," Walker, who enjoyed a Guinness, recalled. "Lynda was a primary school teacher and I was a young fighter pilot." They married in 1978, and were to have two sons and a daughter.
Walker went on to serve with 92 Sqn in West Germany between 1982 and 1985, before taking command of 111 Sqn. By 1993 his capabilities, long proven in the northern QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) role, had been deployed to the other side of the globe: he became commander of RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands, flying Tornados.
He was promoted by 1999 to be the RAF's Director of Operational Capability at the Ministry of Defence in London, and then Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations), before becoming in 2002 Assistant Chief of Staff (Policy Requirements) at Nato headquarters, SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) near Mons in Belgium.
His final appointment was as commander of Nato's Joint Warfare Centre, for training operational staff, at Stavanger in Norway, and he retired from the RAF in 2007. Still only in his late fifties, he took on charitable work and became president of the Aircrew Association and vice-president for life of the Royal Air Forces Association, European Area.
He and his wife lived in North Devon, and are accorded a mention in the diaries of the former Labour politician – and aviation and technology minister – Tony Benn. In A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine: The Last Diaries, the veteran socialist records being struck, during conversation at a gathering, by Mrs Walker's abilities as a special needs teacher that struck. Walker himself, meanwhile, is remembered in RAF circles as a "superb instructor."
The couple's joint abilities were given full rein in 2011 when Walker succeeded Vice-Admiral Sir Fabian Malbon as Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey, the first in that post to have been chosen with the participation of the island authorities as well as of the UK government. He continued working and attending functions right up to the last hours of his life.
While in office he developed a reputation as a much respected adviser, and the Ministry of Justice in London, which maintains the constitutional relationship with Crown Dependencies including Guernsey, said its officials relied on his advice and his understanding of the workings of government.
He became patron of many charities, his wife carrying out ceremonies such as unveiling a weather vane for an animal shelter on the island, and frequently inviting charity representatives to Government House in St Peter Port for tea. In May this year Walker, as the Queen's personal representative on the island, inspected the parade to celebrate Liberation Day, when Guernsey emerged from Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
His death from a heart attack following a function at the island's Beau Sejour centre caused shock among its population, who knew him well. An air display due to take place was dedicated to his memory, and the Red Arrows made a special fly-past.
Peter Brett Walker, fighter pilot, and Lieutenant-Governor of Guernsey: born Sedgley, Staffordshire 29 September 1949; CBE 1995; CB 2005; married 1978 Lynda Avril Masters (one daughter, two sons); died Guernsey 6 September 2015.Reuse content