Flight editors: Mike Ramsden

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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When I joined Flight in 1955 it was still to reach its 50th anniversary. Many of the aviation pioneers were still around, and meeting such people was to be my greatest luck.

I was interviewed by editor Maurice Smith and associate editor Rex King. Both had served in the Royal Air Force in the Second World War. Maurice won two DFCs flying Lancasters and Mosquitos, while Rex was a weapons intelligence officer - nobody could touch a crashed enemy aircraft until Sqn Ldr King had examined it.

Maurice was often away flying new aircraft for our In The Air series or testing the latest Ferrari in Monaco for our sister weekly Autocar. Ex-Bomber Command pilots with 40 missions could do what they liked.

Rex was our de facto boss. He was a collector of rare books, a stylish writer and a light handler of the reins. Appointed editor in January 1958, he preferred after-work meetings over a pale ale in The Brunswick Arms near our offices, then in central London. Big ideas took off in the Bruns­wick. One evening in 1957 Rex agreed to our ideas for a diary column and named it Straight & Level, where "Uncle Roger" Bacon and his offbeat, but quintessentially British sense of humour held court for almost half a century (and he still puts in an appearance for his annual festive quiz).

Rex King introduced an important change in at the beginning of 1962 attaching the word "International" to the journal's title.

We didn't seem to need a heavy command structure. It was up to the staff to fill 2,000 reader-pleasing pages a year. The stories flew at us: birth of the jet age, Cold War, Sputnik, MiGs, industry mergers, airline competition, vertical take-off, man on the Moon, supersonic transport, European co-operation, incident safety-reporting, and jumbo jets.

I started by assisting air transport chief Bob Blackburn, devotee of The BBC's Goon Show and advocate of accountability, a concept which I hadn't then appreciated. Bob's thesis was that secrecy about public spending makes enemies. In 1964 I succeeded Rex as editor, a post I held until 1981 when David Mason took over and I became editor-in-chief for the next eight years.

Our technical editor Bill Gunston, who won his wings on RAF Harvards, was the most infallibly well-informed aviation person I have ever known. He became famous for his technical "probes". His desk was covered with references to jigs and widgets that he had spotted in arcane publications like Aircraft Production. One of his probes resulted in a visit to Rex's office by an Air Ministry security official.

Mark Lambert had been a Royal Auxiliary Air Force Meteor pilot and would fly anything anywhere. He had an instrument rating, understood navigation equipment like INS, Decca and Doppler, spoke fluent French, German and Italian, and played the Spanish guitar.

Ken Owen, aeronautical engineer and pilot, earned two special places in Flight history: he reported the hugely complex public inquiry into the Comet 1 disasters in consecutive issues, which are still the most succinct summary of the subject. And he crashed our Miles Gemini light aircraft.

Everyone loved the Cirrus-engined Gemini but it was a twin without single-engine performance, demanding a big bootful of rudder if you wished to avoid a wizard prang after engine failure on take-off. Ken put it down somewhere in Croydon without hurting anyone. Maurice rang George, or was it Fred, and ordered a Gipsy-powered replacement.

To do a special issue Mark would fly the editorial aircraft to the factories, usually with photographer and artist. Arriving in the proper manner with the Flight flag flying and Mark speaking Italian (or whatever) opened doors.

The Gemini was followed by a Beagle Airedale (immortalised in the editorial Line Book: "Fly Airedale - Enjoy Lunch During Take-off"). The Airedale was followed by a Beech Baron and, lastly, by a Piper Seneca - very nice until a flightless bean-counter heard about it.

As today our cutaway drawings were miracles of engineering insight. In my time the masters of this wondrous art were Arthur Bowbeer, John Marsden and Frank Munger. All had backgrounds in draughtsmanship and hands-on aircraftmanship (Frank still overhauls Merlins). Their drawings were the "pin-ups" of every aircraft factory - as they are today.

Production editor Roy Casey sub-edited our text, corrected proofs, sized pictures and pasted galleys on to layout sheets secretaries retyped text (often retyping retypes) and merciless messengers biked it all to the printers, who retyped and re-read it again.

All gone now, swept away by the personal computer - and Macintosh. But there were about 25 processes from writer to reader compared with two or three today. And of course aeroplanes were always black and white. Colour lead-times were six weeks now they are six seconds. We were inefficient, yes, but how we admired the craftsmanship and obliging natures of those old-fashioned printers.

Roy Casey had the full range of attributes expected of a sub-editor, from very grumpy to very funny, with an ashtray full of cigarette stubs in between. Writing-style and grammar were his protectorates. One evening Roy tele­phoned the pub to tell us that nosewheel should be hyphenated. In retrospect I think he was just reminding us that sub-editors deserve a beer too.

In 1968, the long-standing rivalry between Flight and its British weekly opposition The Aeroplane was resolved by the merger of their parent companies into the IPC empire. After co-existing for a while, The Aeroplane was folded into Flight International. The name was resurrected as the historical Aeroplane Monthly title.

Ramsden reported from the Concorde inaugural in 1976