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PAF s' Chief of the Air Staffs

Air Vice Marshal Richard Llewellyn Roger Atcherley, RAF

Temperamentally, no two persons could be more unlike each other than Perry-Keene and his successor Air Vice Marshal R L R Atcherely. It is perhaps providential that these two pioneering commanders appeared on the RPAF scene in that order – the other way around might have led Atcherely to start cracking the whip at a steed which first needed to be broken in with a gentle hand. In the event, by the time Atcherely took over, his predecessor had already give the fledgling air force a sense of confidence in its viability and in its future – a basic sense of purpose and direction which Atcherley could now exploit as he launched into his great leap forward.

Air Marshal Sir Richard Llewellyn Roger Atcherley, KBE, CB, AFC, was one of the most striking personalities the Royal Air Force has produced. He was born on January 12, 1904 and, at the age of 18, entered the newly founded RAF College, Cranwell, which he was to command 23 years later. In 1928 he was chosen as a member of the RAF team for the 1929 Schneider Trophy race. Atcherley flew one of the Super marine S6 seaplanes designed by R J Mitchel from which sprang the Spitfire fighter; in it he set up a record of 331.6 mph over a distance of 100 kilometers. In 1934 he was posted as test pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough where he developed a system of air to air refueling which was demonstrated at the 1936 RAF display.

At the beginning of 1943 during WWII he was given command of No 211 Group in the Middle East Air Force which had a mixture of British, American, South African, Austrakian and Polish units. He welded them into an efficient and dashing force employing professional techniques which set a pattern for future Allied tactical support. This task completed, he was called upon to apply his experience in a narrower but highly important field. There had been a growing need for a specialized unit to develop fighter tactics and techniques, and in 1944, the RAF Central Fighter Establishment was formed for this purpose with Atcherley as the first commandant. The war over, he become commandant of the newly reopened RAF College, Cranwell, in September 1945.

One of his earliest tasks on taking over as Air Commander, RPAF at the age of 45, was to resolve the matter of No 11 Squadron whose first Brigand had crashed at Basra. Atcherley, in characteristic style, pressured the British government into releasing Attacker jet fighters for sale to the RPAF with which he equipped No 11 Squadron to make it the RPAF’s first jet Squadron. At the same time, to compensate the Bristol Aircraft Company for cancellation of the Brigand order – Atcherley felt that that was not the type of aircraft the RPAF needed urgently – he placed an order for dozens of Bristol Freighters, not only to replace the obsolescent Dakotas as transport aircraft but also for some to be modified to carry bombs.

In due course, however, the Super marine Attacker proved to be a failure as a jet fighter and gave the RPAF little but trouble, while the inordinately large segments of the tight budgetary allocations which could have been put to far better use in procuring, for example, many more Furies or better radars.

Other than this episode, in which the British government’s commercial interests played a prominent role, Atcherley used his go-getting dynamism to excellent effect in carrying the RPAF several steps forward. One of his most notable achievements, which in fact transcended the boundaries of the air force and aspired to improve the quality of life of Pakistani youth in general, was the establishment of university air squadron and air scouts corps, both of which made school and college campus life that much richer, with glider and Tiger Moth flying, with aero modeling clubs and with frequent outdoor camps. He also made the first moves towards establishing the Sargodha and Lower Lopa public schools of which the former, after various mutations, was to become a vital part of the PAF’s elite officer training system.

In the sphere of professional training he took major steps with the establishment of an apprentices school for technicians and an operational conversion squadron for both single and twin-engined aircrew. In addition, he started a signals and radar school in preparation for the induction of the RPAF’s earliest radars whose release for sale had also been arranged at his instance.

Atcherley took the first serious look at the prospectus of an air presence in East Pakistan and not only started a regular Freighter service between the two wings but also established a university air squadron and air scout troop there as a preliminary to location of an operational unit. In the west, his tenure saw the establishment of another squadron, No 12 Composite, and the start of a low flying aircraft detection and reporting system based on mobile observer units.

But his most important contribution was towards changing the tone of flying in the squadrons and training units. Not only was he successful in bringing down the runaway accident rate; he did so together with, and mainly as a result of, effecting improvements in the quality of squadron training as well as of maintenance. Being a veteran fighter pilot himself, he commanded the respect which enabled him to exact the high standards he demanded of his flying units. His exhortation to this effect was prominently displayed at all stations and units as a reminder to everyone of the purposeful focal point of their endeavour:

“Our aim: to keep our aircraft flying, ready to fight, equipped and trained for war, down to the last details”.

Long after Air Marshal Atcherley had departed, his stentorian voice admonishing some delinquent flier could still be heard in the farthest recesses of RPAF squadrons. He died in April 18, 1970.

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