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Fleet Air Arm acclaims courage of pioneer pilot

THE BRAVERY of a pilot who made the first aircraft landing on a ship at sea, and then died five days later repeating the exercise, was commemorated yesterday, writes Charles Oulton.

Seventy-five years ago, Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning, 25, landed his aircraft, a Sopwith Pup, on the deck of the battlecruiser HMS Furious as the ship steamed at 26 knots in Scapa Flow, Orkney. As fellow officers grabbed the aircraft and held it down, sailors and pilots congratulated the young pilot on his courage. He had helped to pave the way for the modern aircraft carrier.

But five days later, those same sailors and pilots were mourning the death of Squadron Commander Dunning who had repeated the landing three times, but who failed on the fourth. His aircraft bounced on one wheel and went over the side; its pilot, who had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his earlier bravery in action, was knocked out, and drowned.

Yesterday, a replica of the Sopwith Pup stood in the Taverner's hangar of the Ark Royal at Portsmouth as its modern descendant, a Sea Harrier, landed on the carrier and was lowered to stand alongside.

Graham Mottram, curator of the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, Somerset, said: 'Without his brilliance and ultimate sacrifice there would be no Ark Royal today.' Among those at yesterday's ceremony was Judith Janes of Knowle, West Midlands, the pioneer's great-niece.

The replica aircraft will be on display with its modern-day counterpart at the Navy Day in Portsmouth this weekend.