All the best aeroplanes are made of wood – the flying life of Dudley Pattison

It was in 1972 that Pierre Robin and Jean Délémontez (of Jodel fame) came together to design the Avions Robin DR400 four-seat cabin monoplane. This was to be produced by the Robin concern, and used a wing design that was straight out of the Jodel ‘playbook’, with heavily cranked outer wing sections. Just like the vast majority of Miles Aircraft designs, it was mostly built of wood. This type of construction has many advantages, in that there are no prominent joint lines between metal panels (the wooden structure is covered with polyester fabric, then ‘doped’ and painted), no rivets, of course, and the natural sound-absorbing and vibration-damping characteristics of wood mean that the aircraft is remarkably quiet in flight. The large amount of dihedral on the outer wing panels has other benefits; if you release the controls in flight, the aircraft tends to ‘weathercock’, back into a ‘wings level’ attitude. In this respect it is rather like very early aircraft such as the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2c, which had impressive inherent stability.

The DR400-180 Régent model is powered by a four-cylinder Lycoming O-360-A3A of 180hp, driving a two-bladed Sensenich 76EM propeller. The low-drag wing, wooden construction, carefully spatted undercarriage, economical engine, and 120kts cruise all combine to give an maximum touring range of 900 miles. This makes for a fine ‘family’ aircraft, and the innocuous handling means that the DR400 is also suitable as a club/instructional machine. Here we can see G-DUDZ, a DR400-180 Régent moving towards the threshold of Runway 23 at the former RAF airfield of Hullavington in Wiltshire, ready to depart the Great Vintage Flying Weekend. G-DUDZ was imported in October, 1997 by Mistral Aviation Ltd, the sole authorized distributor and leading broker for new and pre-owned Robin light aircraft in the UK, and registered as G-BXNK, before being immediately granted what is known by the CAA as an ‘out of sequence registration’, applied for by its new owner.

Sometimes, of course, it is not the aircraft that is of importance, but the pilot, and in this case it couldn’t be truer. The gentleman in the red flight jacket who is steering ‘Delta Zulu’ towards the threshold is no less than one Dudley Howard Pattison – and it is singularly appropriate that the DR400-180 Régent is mostly made of wood. When I moved to Swindon, and began work at Wroughton Airfield, it wasn’t long before I ran into Duds. If you lived in Wiltshire and were involved with aircraft it was almost certain that you would meet him at some stage or other. Duds has had a long-term involvement (apart from a gap that involved motorcycles and girls) with aeromodelling, including building some pretty impressive large-scale models. His father’s building business gave him the chance for a carpentry apprenticeship – and so began a life-long relationship with wood. Eventually, after rising to the position of Contracts Director, he decided to leave and found his own company called Flair Products Ltd. Flair quickly became the U.K.’s leading model manufacturer and distributor, and Duds began building a 70% scale Isaacs Fury II. This was a LONG process, partially because Duds had a flourishing business to run, and partially because he is a bit of a perfectionist. The aircraft took nearly 15 YEARS to complete, but was a revelation, winning numerous awards, including the Pooley Sword for best replica at the Popular Flying Association’s Cranfield rally of 2000. John Isaacs, the designer of the Fury II replica, wrote Duds not one but two letters praising the work and finish of the completed aircraft.

Another reason for the slow completion of the Isaacs Fury was the accident that occurred on 16th July, 1989. Duds was flying a Stolp Starduster Too SA300 into Badminton Air Day, near Bristol, and had just landed, when a Luscombe Silvaire landed right on top of him! He suffered serious injuries, and was only saved by the fact that he was wearing a good quality helmet at the time. The Luscombe sustained serious damage also; it was obviously an unlucky aircraft to fly in, because it collided with high tension cables a few years later, and was destroyed. Duds made an amazing recovery, considering, and he went on to complete a Van’s Aircraft RV-7 (which he enjoyed immensely). I was actually at the airfield that day, and was horrified when I saw the crash.

The next aircraft was G-DUDZ, and he used this as a family transport for a while. Actually, he did more than just transport the family. He decided to take up air racing, and chose the modern day re-running of the Schneider Trophy Race in 2000 (now run for conventional aircraft NOT seaplanes). He had some experience of R/C pylon racing, and chose as his ‘course advisor’ the noted ex RAF fighter pilot, Barry Conway. The result? Duds beat the handicappers…and WON!!

Eventually, Duds sold Flair Products, and moved into the supply of wood for full-size aircraft, founding Swindon Aircraft Timber Company. He specializes in the supply of parts for the Flitzer range of homebuilt aircraft, as well as offering supplies of Birch, Okoume, and Gaboon ply, Spruce and Douglas Fir, and, of course, Balsa, as well as specialist tools and adhesives. To keep his hand in, he has just completed an ambitious project – one of the very first Stummelflitzer Z-1R, registered G-ZIRA, and powered by a Rotec 7 cylinder R2800 radial of 110 hp. This project took seven years!

Duds has been many things, and he has succeeded at them all. A truly accomplished flyer, he is also a genuinely warm and friendly person. I was lucky to have met him, all those years ago. Oh, and one more thing. It is really VERY easy to remember the day Duds was born – Tuesday, 6th June, 1944 – D-Day!


3 comments on “All the best aeroplanes are made of wood – the flying life of Dudley Pattison”

  1. Lovely lighting on the aircraft!


  2. My sister Cherie Harris worked for you for some years, she will be 80 this year , we having a big party go her may 19 , she would love to see you there,


    • Dear Mr Smith, this is Ross Sharp here. Are you confusing me with Dudley? I am sure he would love to come, and I do hope that you can make contact with him!


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