The Magister – truly, a magnificent achievement!

Miles Magister

Amazingly, I seem to have been around the circuit 100 times now – this is my 100th post – and so I could hardly be described as being on short finals anymore. Perhaps I should rename this thing ‘circuits and bumps’? Anyway, to mark this semi-auspicious landmark, I have chosen something used for ‘circuits and bumps’, the beautiful Miles M-14A Magister (ex Miles Hawk Trainer III). Developed from the Miles Trainer, and Miles Hawk Major (both used by the Royal Air Force), this handsome aircraft was used in numbers by the RAF from 1937, and was an ideal ‘lead-in’ to the world of the Hurricane and Spitfire, aircraft which many of their pilots would soon use in the Battle of Britain. Over 1,200 Magisters had been built by the time British production finally ceased in 1941.

As well as their use by 16 Elementary Flying Schools, some Magisters were issued directly to fighter units as ‘squadron hacks’. Indeed, one of these ‘Maggies’ was used to perform a most daring feat on 23 May 1940, when then-Flt Lt James Leathart of 74 Sqn, landed at Calais Mark airfield, in France, to pick up an officer who had been shot down, whilst his escort of Spitfire Mk1s fought off 12 attacking Me109s (the soon-to-be legendary Al Deere making his first kills in this combat). Flt Lt Leathart got clean away, after picking up the downed officer. For this amazing piece of flying he was awarded the DSO.

This ‘Maggie’ is one of the many converted after the Second World War for the civilian market, where they were known as the Hawk Trainer III (along with those built for civilian and non-RAF users).  Indeed, there is a chance that I might have seen this actual aircraft when it was with Air Schools Ltd (the forerunner of British Midland Airways) at Burnaston, Derby from 1953 to 1958.  Eventually extensively rebuilt to represent a Second World War Magister, this superb example of the breed, originally built in 1941, is seen here taxying at Hullavington during the GVFWE, its 130 hp De Havilland Gipsy Major 1 engine barely ticking over. This particular aircraft contains major components from at least two machines, and you have to admire the immense effort that went into the restoration to flying condition.

A little-known piece of Miles history is the production of Magisters in Turkey. The Turkish Air League founded a factory near Ankara, the T.H.K. Ucak Fabrikasi, which by 1949 was employing 1,200 people. Amongst other things, it was still producing Magisters under licence, as well as undertaking the overhaul and repair of their Gipsy Major engines. A total of one hundred Magisters were built for the Air League Schools and the Turkish Air Force. In 1946 T.H.K. were asked to produce a special version of the Maggie capable of  spraying DDT. The front cockpit was faired over, and the area formerly  occupied by the seat was fitted with a tank, pulverizer, pump and atomizers. These aircraft were operated under the direction of the Turkish Ministry of Hygiene, who waged a campaign against a particular mosquito species Anopheles sacharovi (the Anophelid which is the principal vector for malaria in that region). I dare say that this is the ONLY time a Magister fought a Mosquito  – and won!

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