Menzies and instructor, Flightt Lt Greenslade, in front of (wrong) Avro 504K F8709 before Menzies’ second flight in February 1928. Duncan Menzies / Matthew Willis / Amberley Publishing /

By Liana Jacob

INCREDIBLE photographs from the early twentieth century have been revealed in a new book that charts the journey of a British pre-war test pilot.

The series of images include a portrait of Duncan Menzies sitting confidently in an aircraft, where he is about to take his first solo flight on February 9, 1928.

Front cover. Matthew Willis / Amberley Publishing /


Other photos show an encounter between Duncan and the Lord Mayor of Manchester in June 1938, during an unofficial opening of Manchester Ringway Airport and another shows the horrific aftermath of pilots flying in desert areas in Sudan, 1929, that caused a dust storm.

Another picture reveals the Prince of Wales (later known as King Edward VIII) climbing out of an RAF biplane that was returning to England.

Menzies with Fairey Long Range Monoplane K1991. This machine secured long distance record in a flight in 1933. Duncan Menzies / Matthew Willis / Amberley Publishing /


The incredible images have been compiled into the biography of Duncan Menzies, Flying to the Edge, by historian and writer Matthew Willis and is published by Amberley Publishing.

Matthew Willis focussed primarily on aviation and naval matters and grew up near the Orwell estuary where the previous presence of the naval base at Harwich ignited his passion for naval aviation.

“If Menzies was nervous about his first solo, there is no evidence of it. A photograph survives that marks the occasion, showing Menzies in the cockpit, wearing a fur-lined flying helmet. He is looking confident, if unsmiling,” Matthew said.

The personnel of No. 45 (B) Squadron, RAF Helwan, in 1929, with one of the squadron’s DH.9A aircraft. (Far right in middle row). Duncan Menzies / Matthew Willis / Amberley Publishing /


“Duncan Menzies would become, over the course of a three-decade career, one of the most respected test pilots in the British aviation industry, making his mark during a period of dramatic change.

“When the youthful Menzies first took the controls of an aircraft, it was in a wooden-framed biplane built during the First World War. When he retired from working in aviation, the jet age was well underway.

The epic training flight from Egypt to Iraq, which Menzies led with ‘C’ Flight, 4 FTS, c. 1932. Duncan Menzies / Matthew Willis / Amberley Publishing /


“In that time his skill, and a measure of luck, brought him safely through an engine failure in a snowstorm, an aircraft breaking up around him in a high-speed dive and the constant dangers of testing new aircraft on a daily basis.”

Test flying as an essential activity which began during the First World War, between July 28, 1914, to November 11, 1918, at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in the UK.

A preliminary flight was conducted at the Central Flying School. Throughout the 1920s, test flying was advanced by the RAE in the UK, and by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in the US.

One of the hazards of flying in desert areas was the likelihood of dust storms like this one in Sudan around 1929. Duncan Menzies / Matthew Willis / Amberley Publishing /


“There were two aspects of the RAF that helped ensure its survival in the early 1920s, and which had a direct impact on Duncan Menzies’ career with the service,” Matthew said.

“Those were the development of the RAF into a force for colonial policing, and the introduction of the Short Service Commission.

“Menzies’ first flight in the venerable Avro 504 was a 30-minute flight in aircraft F8709 on 30 January with instructor Flight Lieutenant Greenslade, which covered basic use of the controls, straight flying and gentle turns.

Menzies flying ‘Old ’89’ above the desert near Helwan in 1929. Duncan Menzies / Matthew Willis / Amberley Publishing /


“Duncan was making one or two flights a day by now, usually of around a half-hour’s duration first thing in the morning.”

Published by Amberley Publishing, Flying to the Edge by Matthew Willis is available here: