First flight engineer back on deck

Bob Leedham, flight engineer on the first scheduled transatlantic crossing by jet aircraft, was back in position on the flight deck of the Comet 4 at Duxford last week.

Bob, now in his nineties, was delighted to be reunited with this famous aircraft and described the excitement, for passengers and crew, of the early days of jet flight.


Bob could hardly wait to get his hands on the controls!


Reliving the memory of Comet 4’s record-breaking flight.   L-R: David Batten, William Stuart, Bob Leedham and Andrew Stuart.

Comet 4, G-APDB, part of the British Airliner Collection, is owned and maintained by the volunteer workforce of the Duxford Aviation Society.  The Chairman, David Hands and members of the Society welcomed their VIP guest aboard as he relived the day of the first Atlantic crossing by a scheduled jet aircraft.


Two aircraft made the historic flight, one from New York and the other from London. Bob’s flight from New York, packed with VIPs and the press, made aviation history with a non-stop flight of 6 hours 11 minutes.  The two Comets passed in mid-Atlantic and radio messages were exchanged by the crew.

Bob joined the RAF in 1940, trained at Blackpool and joined 86 Squadron at North Coates flying Bristol Beauforts for Coastal Command. In 1942 he volunteered for Bomber Command, training on a four-engine Short Sterling at Strathen, Woolfox Lodge and Stradishall. He flew missions to Dortmund and Hamburg, completing his tour in 1943 and transferred to Swinderby as an instructor until 1944.

From1947-8 he took part in the Berlin Airlift before resuming his post-war role on civil aircraft with BOAC.

Bob’s career included flying the Duke of Edinburgh on the Royal Flight from Ottawa to Leuchars in 1958, collecting the first Boeing 707s from Seattle, taking part in the BBC film The Pilots and becoming an accident investigator in 1974.


Bob Leedham retired from flying in 1975. Sixty years after the record-breaking Atlantic flight, his enthusiasm for the Comet 4 is undimmed.

FACT FILE: Herbert (Bob) Leedham

  • 1940 joined RAF. Training at Blackpool
  • 1941 joined 86 Squadron at North Coates
  • Coastal Command,  Bristol Beauforts
  • 1942 co-pilot and Flight Engineer, Bomber Command
  • Posted to 90 Squadron at Ridgewell
  • 1943 Raids on Dortmund, Hamburg
  • 1944 Lancaster Instructor at Swinderby
  • Transfer to 57 Squadron East Kirkby,
  • 1945 Squadron Refresher Training Instructor
  • 463 Squadron, Acting Squadron Leader, co-pilot, flight engineer leader
  • Waddington.
  • 1945 Skellingthorpe Tiger Force.
  • Post-war – returned to BOAC. Flying Avro Tudor
  • 1947-48 Berlin Airlift based at Hanover
  • 1950 trained on Hermes
  • 1953 joined Comet 1 flight
  • 12 months with modified Comet prior to launch of Comet 4
  • 4 October 1958 first non-stop jet trans-Atlantic scheduled passenger flight
  • 31 October1958 Royal Flight, Duke of Edinburgh, Ottawa to Leuchars
  • 1959 BOAC demonstration flights with Shah of Persia
  • 1960 Collecting first Boeing 707s from Seattle
  • 1960 Appeared in the BBC film The Pilots
  • 1974 Trained in accident investigation, Los Angeles
  • 1975 Retired from flying.