KEPPIE, Ian Haig, Flight Lieutenant (607421) – Aerodynamics Flight, Station Bedford - Air Force Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 13 June 1964. Information from Spink catalogue of 19 April 2012, transcribed by Huguette Mondor Oates.
KEPPIE, Ian Haig, Wing Commander (607421) – Harrier Development and Deck Trials - Bar to Air Force Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 1 January 1972.
Group Captain Ian Haig ‘Kipper’ Keppie, A.F.C., was born in Edinburgh, 22.7.1933 and educated at George Heriot’s School and R.A.F. College Cranwell, where he won the J.A. Chance Memorial Prize. The seeds of a Service career had obviously been sown early, for, whilst only an eight-year-old, he had written to the War Office in 1942 on the subject of a design of a new gun. Commissioned Pilot Officer, 27.7.1954, his first operational posting was to No. 264 Squadron (Meteors) at R.A.F. Linton-on-Ouse. Promoted Flying Officer, 27.7.1955, at the end of that year he embarked upon a four- month course at the Fighter Weapons School. Advanced Flight Lieutenant, 27.7.1957, Keppie transferred to No. 33 Squadron (Meteors) in September 1957, based at R.A.F. Leeming – his stay with the Squadron was brief, for having helped them win the Ingpen Trophy, awarded annually to the all-weather Squadron recording the best air-firing in Fighter Command, he was seconded to the Al- Weather Development Squadron, where he was involved in the trials of the Gloster Javelin. From this point on Keppie’s career was effectively one of a test pilot, and after 14 months with the A.W.D.S. he transferred to the Guided Weapons Trials Squadron in January 1959.
The following year, he was selected for the No. 19 Course at the Empire Test Pilots’ School, a training school for test pilots founded in 1943 at R.A.F. Boscombe Down - of the 502 pilots who had graduated from the previous 18 E.T.P.S. courses, 92 of them – almost 20% had been killed in flying accidents, a measure of how dangerous the work of a test pilot was. Amongst Keppie’s intake of 24 was John Cochrane, who later became heavily involved with testing Concorde, and was the co-pilot for the maiden flights of both the prototype and pre-production Concordes. Having flown a variety of aircraft, including Hunters, Canberras, Vampires, Varsities, Devons, and Provosts, Keppie completed the Course in December 1960, and moved to the Aerodynamics Flight based at R.A.E. Bedford. It was here that he first flew the Short SC1, the first British fixed-wing Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, designed to study the problems with VTOL flight and the transition to and from forward flight.
After three years at Bedford, which culminated in the award of the Air Force Cross, Keppie enrolled in the No. 54 Course at the R.A.F. Staff College Bracknell in January 1964, his main research paper whilst at the College being on the Communist threat to the West since the Sino-Soviet rift; promoted Squadron Leader, 1.7.1964, he only took to the skies once in the entire year – a 40-minute Open Day demonstration flight in a Whirlwind. His year at the Staff College over, Keppie took up an appointment as Flying Tutor back at the Empire Test Pilots’ School at Farnborough, where he stayed for the next two and a half years. In 1969, he moved to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at R.A.F. Boscombe Down, and it was here that he first flew the Harrier jet, instantly forming the belief that ‘the Harrier’ is the biggest step forward in aviation since the invention of the jet engine… once a pilot has flown the Harrier, no other aircraft will ever satisfy him’ (Harrier Communique refers). Promoted Wing Commander, 1.7.1969, the following year, he was involved in the Harrier deck trials on H.M.S. Eagle, as part of the MoD requirement that the Harrier should be capable of operating from an aircraft carrier. The aim of the trials was to establish the performance of the Harrier from the angled deck in various configurations and wind conditions, and to develop approach and vertical landing techniques. Typically flying up to three times a day, in total 58 sorties were flown from H.M.S. Eagle during the period 9-20.3.1970 off the coast of Cornwall, work which contributed to his award, in 1972, of a Bar to his Air Force Cross.
In 1969, the Harriers arrived at the new ‘Home of the Harrier’, R.A.F. Wittering. As part of the Station’s restructuring, as a training ground for Harrier pilots, it was decided that the Station Commander should have experience of the aircraft, and in December 1972 Keppie was appointed to the post, being advanced Group Captain, 1.1.1973. The highlight of his period at Withering was the visit of H.R.H. The Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips on the 10.7.1974; prior to the Royal visit, Keppie had been appointed an Aide-de-Camp to H.M. The Queen, 1.1.1974. Sadly though, opportunities to take to the skies were limited, with his last flight in the Harrier taking place in October 1974, shortly before his retirement from the Royal Air Force, 29.3.1975, where in total over the past 24 years he had clocked up 3,171 hours’ flying, and been awarded the Air Force Cross and Bar. Following his retirement from the R.A.F., Keppie worked for British Caledonian Airways, as the General Operations Control Manager, and then, from 1980 to 1987, in Hong Kong as the General Manager (Operational Services) of Cathay Pacific. He died at home 27.2.2006.