Obituary: Monique Agazarian
Monday 22 March 1993
MONIQUE AGAZARIAN was a widely known and much-respected name in civil aviation circles from the time of her introduction to wartime flying in 1943 as a pilot with Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). In more recent years she distinguished herself by her innovative work on utilising a Gatt flight simulator as a means of expediting ab initio pilot-training as well as by the publication of her very well- received manual on advanced instrument-flying procedures.
Monique Agazarian's father, Berge Agazarian, fled from the persecutions of the day in his native Armenia to land up on a Liverpool dockside in 1911 in his late teens with little more than what he stood up in and a deep sense of relief. Later he met and married Jacqueline Marie-Louise de Chevalier, a young French woman of genteel background and cultural tastes then studying in London. England became their permanent home and in time they produced four boys and two girls, perhaps to emphasise the point.
Family fortunes prospered in Berge's capable hands and a successful family electrical company emerged allowing the family to become comfortably well-off. In those (for some) balmy pre-1939 days Monique completed her convent education and was dispatched to finishing school in Paris.
The outbreak of the Second World War brought the dispersal of the Agazarian boys to the armed forces and Monique, not to be outdone, became a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) stationed at the Royal Air Force establishment at Uxbridge. Three of her brothers had joined the Royal Air Force. One of them, Noel, fought as a Battle of Britain fighter pilot. In 1941 he was shot down and killed serving in North Africa. (The Spitfire he flew in the UK is preserved in the Imperial War Museum, in London.) Jack Agazarian was seconded from the RAF to Special Operations Executive (SOE). After being parachuted into occupied France to assist the French Resistance he was caught, tortured and executed by the Gestapo. Her eldest brother, Levon, flew Thunderbolt fighters from Calcutta.
By persuading Air Transport Auxiliary in 1943 to accept her for ab initio pilot-training Monique Agazarian became one of only 10 young women similarly accepted, thereby realising a childhood dream to fly induced by once having been taken to see Peter Pan. ATA was an organisation mainly composed of over-age, ex-airline captains with a sprinkling of well-qualified women pilots whose task was to ferry replacement aircraft of every type to operational squadrons to relieve the workload on combat pilots.
At her flight medical a compassionate RAF doctor 'stretched' her height just to match the minimum requirement demanded by the authorities. 'Aggie' could be very persuasive at times. Despite the tragic loss of her two brothers these were heady days for her, and in time she flew every type of front-line fighter then in service; it sparked off a lifelong love affair with the Spitfire, her all-time favourite to fly.
The hazards of wartime flying should be remembered. Apart from the varying reliability of weather reports, completely blacked-out towns and landscape after dark, the necessity of keeping radio silence and the absence of today's sophisticated radio beacons and satellite navigational aids, there was also the ever-present possibility of meeting an enemy aircraft, not to mention simple engine failure.
After the Second World War, Monique Agazarian gained her commercial pilot's licence and embarked on a career in civil aviation starting with piloting for Island Air Services, a small charter company. By 1948 she had become Managing Director of IAS, which was expanding. She married Captain Ray Rendall, a fellow commercial pilot, who took over as MD of IAS while Monique became chairman as well as chief pilot.
For many years the dynamic Monique Agazarian combined active management of the business with constant flying and bringing up three daughters, Annette, Mary and Lou-Lou, all of whom were literally introduced to flying in infancy, much as other mothers teach their children to wash behind their ears. Lou-Lou persevered and obtained a private pilot's licence.
I first met Monique in 1973 and quickly succumbed to becoming her pupil and friend. After 10 one-hour sessions on her flight simulator (improbably housed at the time in Room 129 at the Grosvenor Hotel, in Victoria, central London) plus a further five to six hours under instruction in the air, I was sent solo to wobble up into the urban haze over north-west London, wander around, make my way back to Leavesden aerodrome and complete a perfect landing. I believe I was the third 'guinea pig' she and her late partner, Graeme Percival, had subjected to their methods.
As Monique continually pointed out, her method was not intended to produce ace pilots overnight. What it did establish was that many people could be trained to fly an aeroplane safely, confidently and in a surprisingly short period of time with the aid of simulator instruction.
Her notion of using a sophisticated, computerised simulator - essentially designed as a 'refresher' for professionals or qualified pilots studying for their instrument flying exams - as an aid to beginners was a prime example of lateral thinking. The sad loss of this splendidly professional airwoman, brilliant tutor, hugely energetic, ebullient, and lovable friend will be felt deeply by all who knew her.
I believe there could be no more appropriate epitaph than remarks written by a perceptive Sister at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, who wrote in an early school report of Monique's, 'She is a delightful child but very pleasure-loving.' She was all of that and so very much more besides.
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