AN RAF veteran who was one of the youngest pilots to take part in the 168 aircraft flypast of Buckingham Palace for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 has sadly died aged 90.
Roger Wilkins was a much-loved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather – but his family say most of all he was an “aviation man”.
He was one of the last National Service conscripts, called up in 1948.
In a career spanning 20 years he rose from Sergeant pilot to Flight Lieutenant and after retiring from the RAF in 1968 had an outstanding career in civil aviation as a chief pilot for several executive jet companies, retiring as a captain and board member of Aravco in 1999.
Two weeks after flying the then state of the art Meteor 8 in the coronation flypast, he married Margaret, the CO of Welling Women’s Junior Air Corps who he had met when he was a cadet on 358 (Welling) Air Training Corps Squadron.
He first flew his beloved Hawker Hunter in 1956, the year of birth of his first child, Anthony and went on to do a stint ‘down the hole’ as a Ground Control Interceptor controller at RAF Neatishead.
It was at this time that Roger started to hone his culinary skills. In those days there wasn’t an Indian restaurant for 50 miles so he taught himself to cook the curry dishes that are now legendary amongst his family, colleagues and friends.
In 1960 his second child Lynne was born whilst he was instructing on the Lightning simulator at Coltishall and Wattisham.
Though this was another ground tour, being Roger, he still managed to bag plenty of flying time in the ‘Boy Racer’ Lightning.
In 1963 Roger had his first overseas posting to Aden where he flew ground attack Hunters in support of the army and was awarded the Radfan Medal for close support of the SAS in some very difficult and dangerous circumstances.
1965 brought a posting to Germany again flying Hawker Hunters but this time in Fighter Reconnaissance, an extremely demanding role given only to the crème de la crème of fighter pilots. Whilst at RAF Gütersloh Roger flew as number four in the two squadron aerobatic team, a task that he thoroughly enjoyed.
Roger retired from the air force in 1968 and settled in Chalfont St Peter.
After studying hard, he won his commercial pilots’ licence and entered the world of civil aviation via twin, piston engined, air taxis. But it did not take him long to get back on to fast jets and he spent the rest of his career flying the second, aeronautical, love of his life, the Hawker Siddeley 125 Executive jet.
He flew the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and Michael Jackson. Whilst flying a top businessman on a fact-finding mission, he became the only pilot to have circumnavigated the globe in an HS125.
When he finally retired from civil aviation Roger took up gardening – but the call of the air was strong.
He became a volunteer at the RAF museum at Hendon. Dressed in his RAF flying suit and peaked cap, he gave guided tours of the museum, answering questions and giving insider information that enthralled the groups that he hosted.
Margaret and Roger also became members of the Chesham branch of the Royal Air Force Association where they made many good friends and helped to raise funds for the welfare and support of RAF veterans.
In 2012 Roger and Margaret were invited to Westminster Abbey for the celebration of the Queens’ diamond jubilee and then attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
The 100th anniversary of the RAF in 2018 found Roger once again in his flying suit and cap but this time on Horse Guards Parade where he was interviewed by the BBC on live TV about the Meteor he had been invited to display for the RAF as one of the few surviving pilots of that era.
He logged up more than 4,000 flying hours with the RAF and 9,500 on the HS125.
He had flown 12 of the different types of aircraft that are displayed at the RAF museum where he will be greatly missed by the staff and his fellow volunteers.