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[RAF Elsham Wolds] [Profiles] [F R D " Ferdy" Swain]

Air Commodore Francis R D "Ferdie" Swain CB CBE AFC

RAF Elsham Wolds - F R D Swain

A very prominent airman with Elsham Wolds connections is “Ferdy” Swain who was OC 13 Base at the end of the war and immediately afterwards.

Swain was born on 31st August 1903. He grew up in Portsmouth, Hampshire and joined the RAF in 1922, becoming a member of 2 Sqn as a pilot. He was transferred to 11 Sqn and later 23 Sqn and 6 Sqn as a Flight Commander, commanding the Cairo-Rhodesia Flight in 1933. In 1935 Swain was transferred to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough as a test pilot. On the 26th Sept 1936 S/L Swain flew the Bristol Type 138 experimental aircraft from Farnborough and established a world altitude record of 49,967 ft. Quite an achievement for the time. He wore a very early pressure suit for the flight and was forced to puncture the helmet with a knife on descent when his oxygen ran out and landed safely at Netheravon. This achievement was widely publicised at the time and interestingly Swain featured on an early BBC TV programme and also on a cigarette card !

In 1937 Swain left the RAE to command 1 Sqn. In 1938 he attended the RAF Staff College.

Throughout WW2 Swain undertook a number of RAF Staff positions. In 44/45 he was OC 13 Base at Elsham Wolds.

He continued in the RAF post war as AOA No 219 Group, AOC No 205 Group and AOC No 28 Group. His last appointment was SASO/Deputy Head of the Air Staff, British Joint Services Mission, Washington, D.C.

He retired from the RAF in 1954 having achieved the rank of Air Commodore. Swain and his American wife lived out their retirement in the USA and he died in 1989 in Florida.

Swain in high altitude pressure suit


RAF Elsham Wolds - GC McIntyre, GC Baxter, AC Swain and GC Lingard 45


Photos - Top. S/L Swain pictured with his pressure suit and the Bristol Type 138 in the background. Bottom - A/C Swain, second from the right, with - G/Cs McIntyre, Baxter and Lambert at an Elsham Wolds boxing event after the war.

Ferdy Swain became something of a national hero as a result of his altitude record. Pathe news item on the link below

Pathe Video of Swain altitude record 1936

Written by David Fell from various sources.


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