Obituary: Sqn Ldr Jock Maitland DFC MBE; decorated fighter pilot who created a lasting legacy with the Air Fair at Biggin Hill
Jock Maitland first saw service during the Second World War after he joined the RAF in 1942. He again served in Korea, at the Suez invasion and in Oman. In the later conflicts the aerial combat was totally different from those Maitland had experienced when flying Spitfires: the days of dramatic dogfights were over. Instead pilots had to master the art of jet air combat with altogether more complex apparatus. Maitland had a distinguished career in the RAF, winning both acclaim and awards. His love of flying and airmen never left him.
When he retired Maitland was instrumental in preserving the famous Biggin Hill airfield in Kent and ensuring its historic service during the Second World War was regularly remembered and celebrated. He is particularly renowned for the creation of the Biggin Hill International Air Fair in 1963.
Colin Hitchins, former chief executive of Air Displays International recalled his friend, “Jock Maitland was affectionately known as the Grandfather of the Modern Air S how, the model he developed for the Biggin Hill Air Fair was widely impersonated but never replicated.”
Jock Ramsay Maitland was the son of Lt-Col Sir Ramsay Maitland who had won a DSO in the First World War. He was brought up to enjoy the countryside around Angus and while at Cargilfield, his prep school near Barnton, he made regular trips to the nearby Edinburgh airport at Turnhouse. He was then educated at Rugby and joined the Fleet Air Arm.
After the war Maitland was sent on an exchange to the USAAF flying the F86 Sabre and as a result was posted in January 1953 to Korea and attached to the 25th Fighter Interception Squadron. With them he made many dangerous sorties over North Korea’s infamous MiG Alley.
The air battles were intense and demanding on both spirit and aircraft skills. In June he engaged an MiG and made a direct hit. Maitland spotted another enemy aircraft about to attack him and a fierce dogfight ensued. Maitland shot down the enemy fighter and made a hasty return to base
When the Korean War ended in July 1953, Maitland had flown 77 operational missions and had been awarded the American DFC and the Air Medal.
In June 1956 Maitland was given command of No 249 Squadron, based in Jordan, flying the Venom fighter-bomber. As the Suez crisis mounted his squadron was relocated to Cyprus. On the first day of the invasion (November 1) Maitland led an attack on the airfield at Kabrit and destroyed many enemy aircraft preparing for action.
In the course of the next few days Maitland was to lead many attacks on airfields and strategic gun emplacements. With typical concern for enemy non-combatants Maitland, before attacking trucks, flew over them to allow people to take cover before destroying the vehicles on a second foray.
Maitland’s final experience of active service was in Oman in 1957. His squadron was detailed to support the ground forces which were engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with rebels attempting to seize the Sultanate.
That year Maitland became disenchanted with a Whitehall Defence Review and resigned from the RAF. He later observed: “I resigned in disgust when the death of the manned fighter was forecast ... but no one noticed.”
For a time he worked for an air chartering company he had set up operating from Croydon. But with the RAF moving out of Biggin Hill, Maitland took over the lease of the airport there. For some years it had been operated by the local flying club. His enthusiasm for Biggin Hill was total and his commitment to furthering its potential – both commercial and historic – saw no bounds.
As well as a flying club he founded an executive aircraft charter business and, in 1963, the Biggin Hill Air Fair.
In 1975 Maitland established Air Displays International and organised almost 100 air shows around the country in addition to the annual event at Biggin Hill.
He retired in 2006 and was awarded the MBE the following year – but he remained in close touch with both his RAF and Biggin Hill colleagues. He was a generous host and often entertained such heroes as Douglas Bader and other Spitfire aces. One such friend described Maitland as “a veritable little tiger of a man.”
His first marriage to Nan Findlay was dissolved and his second wife, Kathleen, died in 1986. He is survived by two sons and a daughter of his first marriage and a son of his second.