Wing Commander Stan Hubbard, who has died aged 93, was a wartime bomber pilot who went on to test experimental jet aircraft, including the so-called “Flying Bedstead”. He also claimed to have seen flying saucers.
When, in 1957, Hubbard assumed command of the Aerodynamic Flight (colloquially known as Aero Flight) at the Royal Aircraft Establishment airfield at Bedford, he was one of the RAF’s most experienced test pilots. In addition to spending three years as the flying tutor at the Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS) at Farnborough, he had tested the early jet fighters.
During the 1950s, British aircraft companies were making great advances in the design of aircraft and exploring the boundaries of high speed and high altitude. The role of the Aero Flight was to investigate aircraft stability and control and flying characteristics at high and low speeds.
To test these parameters, a number of research aircraft were designed. For low speed handling, Handley Page and Short Brothers produced experimental aircraft, while Faireys built the Fairy Delta 2 (FD 2) for supersonic research.
Hubbard flew all these aircraft and made numerous flights in the FD 2, often at speeds in excess of 1,000mph. His aircraft, the second of the two built, is now on display at the RAF Museum, while the first had broken the world airspeed record with Peter Twiss at the controls.
This period also saw the early experimental phases of vertical flight. Rolls-Royce built a research vehicle, the Thrust Measuring Rig, better known as the “Flying Bedstead”. Hubbard carried out numerous flights on this unusual and very sensitive machine, which paved the way for the development of the Harrier. On September 16 1957 he was hovering in the contraption when part of the complicated thrust-vectored control system failed, and the “aircraft” finished on its side.
Stanley John Hubbard was born in York on March 25 1921 and attended Manor School in the city. He joined the RAF in October 1941, training as a pilot in the United States. After returning to Britain he joined No 78 Squadron, flying the four-engine Halifax. His arrival on the squadron in October 1944 coincided with Bomber Command’s “Final Offensive”, when oil targets and railway centres were a priority. By the end of 1944 it was possible for some of these to be attacked in daylight. During the final phase of the campaign, Hubbard and his colleagues continued to attack oil targets in addition to selected cities in support of the Allied advances on both the western and eastern fronts. Having completed 30 operations, he was rested and awarded a DFC.
After the war Hubbard flew transport aircraft in the Middle East, where he was personal pilot to the Commander-in-Chief. Then, in January 1948, he started the one-year course at the ETPS. This was followed by three years at Farnborough testing and evaluating the RAF’s fighters, including the various marks of Meteor and Vampire jets.
In August 1950 Hubbard was walking across the airfield when he heard a humming, hissing sound. He reported: “I turned round and saw a strange object approaching. It looked like an edge-on view of a sports discus.” A month later he was with five other officers when they had a similar sighting, and the MoD’s chief scientific officer, Sir Henry Tizard, established a Flying Saucer Working Party to investigate.
Despite the calibre of the RAF witnesses, the working party summarily dismissed Hubbard’s sighting as an “optical illusion”. It also concluded that the five additional witnesses “saw some quite normal aircraft at extreme range and were led by the previous report to believe it to be something abnormal”. The report was classified as secret and did not come to light until 2001. When advised of the working party’s conclusion, Hubbard responded: “Absolute rubbish. My engineering experience convinced me it was not of this earth.”
Hubbard’s next appointment, in 1952, was flying Meteor day fighters with No 92 Squadron, based in Yorkshire, initially as the flight commander and then as squadron commander. He then progressed to the Day Fighter Development Squadron at West Raynham, where he and his fellow pilots developed tactics and assessed the new generation of fighters, including the Hunter and the Swift.
After his tour at Aero Flight, Hubbard attended the Indian Air Force Staff College before spending two years on an exchange appointment with the USAF. He served as Deputy Director of Fighter Operations at HQ Tactical Air Command, where his two years culminated in planning operations during the Cuban missile crisis.
In November 1962 he returned to ETPS as the chief test pilot instructor, an appointment that gave him the opportunity to fly many different British, American and European aircraft. In 1965 he decided to take early retirement. He was awarded an AFC in 1948 and a Bar in 1952.
In September 1965 he and his family left for California, where he worked for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft as director of special projects. In 1973 he moved to Virginia, where he established his own defence technology company .
Hubbard enjoyed big game hunting in India, but later became closely involved in conservation. He was a keen collector of guns.
Stan Hubbard’s wife, Dorinda, to whom he was married for 72 years, survives him with their daughter.
Taken from The Daily Telegraph: 1 Jan 2015
Wing Commander Stan Hubbard, born March 25 1921, died October 26 2014