Supersonic Brethren

“British Airways Concorde” by Deanster1983 who’s on and off is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

W Bro Paul Huggins PSGD recalls some of the life and times of former Middlesex APGM W Bro Norman Todd PSGD and one time ProvGDC in Middlesex.

A Royal Connection –

Since the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, a number of anecdotes and fond memories have been shared by Freemasons, although not the following which relates to an event on Concorde, which at the time was being piloted by prominent Middlesex Freemason Norman Todd, PSGD.

W Bro Todd was an Assistant Provincial Grand Master in Middlesex Craft from 1985 to 1992 and Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex Mark from 1994 to 1998.

He was a renowned Concorde pilot, having had a distinguished flying career (of which more later in this article).

The Duke of Edinburgh, himself a qualified pilot, was delighted by Concorde and flew it several times.

He would specifically request W Bro Todd to pilot on these occasions and would sit in the cockpit to chat.

Norman was an exuberant character with many anecdotes about his RAF flying career, as well as other interests including Freemasonry.

Flying The Flag –

It was protocol when the Queen flew on Concorde to hoist the Royal Standard from the tail fin before take-off and after landing, and on one occasion there was difficulty attaching the Standard due to a stiff breeze, which ended up delaying take-off.

After a short while, a Royal voice boomed over the radio: “Bother the Standard ! Get this blessed machine off the ground!!!” (or words to that effect – the Duke was known for his colourful language, and had little time for some of the more tedious royal protocols!).

Suffice to say that the flight took off without further delay.

RAF Service –

A Consolidated Liberator B Mark VI of No. 355 Squadron RAF on the return flight to Salbani, India, after bombing the railway sidings at Na Nien, near Chumphon, Thailand. This was the longest raid yet accomplished by No. 231 Group, involving a round trip of 2,500 miles for over 80 Liberators based in India. This was the type of bomber which W. Bro Todd would have flown during his war service in India – Public Domain.

Norman Todd’s lengthy and distinguished flying career was central to the history of commercial supersonic travel.

Born in London in June 1924, it was whilst studying Languages at St Andrews University he joined the University Air Squadron and from there the RAF, training in South Africa before being commissioned in December 1943.

In September 1944 he joined No 355 Squadron, based near Kolkatta (formerly known as Calcutta), where over the next few months he attacked land communications including the infamous Siam-Burma railway.

Many flights involved round trips of more than 2,000 miles, which required being airborne for more than 14 hours.

On 10 July 1945, W Bro Norman was returning from a mission when one of his engines failed, requiring him to make an emergency landing during which the undercarriage collapsed.

It was his 42nd and final mission, after which he moved to training pilots before leaving the RAF and joining BOAC (the forerunner to BA) in 1946.

Service on Concorde –

W Bro Norman Todd on right of photo

He flew predominantly on Atlantic and African routes and was one of the first pilots to convert to the Boeing 747 when it entered service in 1971.

In August 1973 he was appointed as BA’s captain to assist in the flight test programme for Concorde, the Anglo-French supersonic airline project, conducting more than 100,000 miles of test flights before he piloted the first commercial flight by a British Airways Concorde on 21 January 1976, from London Heathrow to Bahrain.

This was timed to coincide with a French flight from Paris to Rio de Janeiro.

W Bro Norman was at the controls of G-BOAA with a crew of nine and 100 passengers, including government and airline officials, journalists and 30 fare-paying passengers.

The aircraft flew over Paris and Venice to the Adriatic Sea, where it was accelerated to twice the speed of sound.

Important Landmarks –

Other important landmarks achieved by W Bro Norman included piloting the first transatlantic Concorde trip (London to Washington, in just under four hours, less than half the current 8 hrs 15 minutes for a scheduled BA flight on the same route); and flying the Queen and Prince Philip home from Barbados at the end of their Silver Jubilee tour of Canada and the West Indies in November 1976.

This was a record-breaking flight of 4,200 miles covered in 3 hrs 42 minutes at an average speed of 1,134 miles per hour.

During the flight, the Queen visited the cockpit and showed a keen interest in the flight deck activities.

For his work with BOAC and British Airways, he received a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air in 1973, and the Royal Aero Club presented him with the Britannia Trophy for the ‘most meritorius’ performance in aviation in 1976’.

After retiring from British Airways, he became an aviation consultant before finally retiring in 1984.

He was a magistrate in Brentford, Middlesex for 10 years before dying at the age of 80.

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