Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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Marshal of the RAF Sir Michael Beetham (135704)

Official portrait of Acting Flight Lieutenant Michael Beetham taken in May 1944Michael James             b: 17 May 1923                      r: 14 Oct 1982                d:  24 Oct 2015

GCB -31 Dec 1977 (KCB 1 Jan 1976), CBE 1 Jan 1967,  DFC 6 Jun 1944, AFC 1 Jan 1960, FRSA - 1979, FRAeS - 1982, DL (Norfolk) 17 Apr 1989, KCVSA - 1 Jan 1952, OM (P) xx xxx 1998

RAFVR: Plt Off: 13 Dec 1942, Fg Off(WS): 13 Jun 1943, Act Flt Lt: 15 Jan 1944, Flt Lt (WS): 13 Dec 1944, Act Sqn Ldr: 24 Jun 1945,

RAF: Fg Off: 1 Sep 1945, Flt Lt: 1 Jul 1946, Sqn Ldr:  1 Jan 1952, Wg Cdr:  1 Jan 1958, Act Gp Capt::  4 Oct 1961, Gp Capt:  1 Jan 1962, Act A/Cdre: xx xxx 1965?, A/Cdre: 1 Jul 1966, Act AVM: 27 Sep 1970, AVM:  1 Jan 1971, Act AM:  7 Jun 1975, AM: 1 Jul 1975, ACM: 21 May 1977, MRAF: 15 Oct 1982.

Official portrait of Acting Flight Lieutenant Michael Beetham taken in May 1944  Photo: Crown Copyright (expired)

 6 Oct 1941:    Initial Service Training,

 9 Jan 1942:     U/T Pilot, USA.

 6 Apr 1943:    Advanced Training, No 18 (P) AFU.

 1 Jun 1943:     Operational Training, No 14 OTU.

 8 Sep 1943:    Attended Heavy Bomber Conversion course, No 1654 HCU.

25 Oct 1943:    Pilot, No 50 Sqn.

14 Jun 1944:    Instructor, No 5 Lancaster Finishing School.

24 Jun 1945:    Flight Commander, No 57 Sqn

 1 Sep 1945:    Appointed to Permanent Commission in the rank of Flying Officer (retaining rank current at the time)

24 Nov 1945:  Flight Commander, No 35 Sqn.

24 Feb 1947:   Personnel Staff, HQ Bomber Command.

26 May 1949:  Pilot, No 82 Sqn.

 6 Nov 1951:   Jet Conversion Training, No 205 AFS.

28 Apr 1952:   Attended RAF Staff College, Andover.

15 Apr 1953:   Air Staff, Deputy Directorate of Operational Requirements (A).

 7 May 1956:   Member, Task Force, Operation 'Buffalo'.

10 Feb 1957:   Refresher Training, No 3 (All-weather) Jet Sqn, RAF Manby.

24 Apr 1957:   Refresher Training, No 231 OCU.

22 Jul 1957:     Attended No 26 Medium Bomber Course, No 232 OCU, RAF Gaydon.

10 Feb 1958:  Officer Commanding, No 214 Sqn.

 7 Jun 1960:     Air Staff - Operations, HQ No 3 Group.

 4 Oct 1961:    Group Captain - Training, HQ Bomber Command.

 9 Jul 1962:      Group Captain - Operations, HQ Bomber Command.

23 Oct 1964:   Officer Commanding, RAF Khormaksar.

10 Jan 1967:    Attended Imperial Defence College.

 4 Jan 1968:     Director of Operational Requirements (RAF).

11 Nov 1968:  Director of Strike Operations.

27 Sep 1970:   Commandant, RAF Staff College.

21 Aug 1972:  Assistant Chief of Staff (Plans & Policy), HQ SHAPE.

 7 Jun 1975:     Deputy C in C, Strike Command.

19 Jan 1976:    C in C, RAF Germany/Commander, 2nd ATAF

31 Jul 1977 15 Oct 1982:     Air ADC to the Queen.

 1 Aug 1977:   Chief of the Air Staff

27 Dec 1982:   Placed on half pay.

11 Nov 2001:  Honorary Air Commodore, No 2620 (County of Norfolk) Sqn, RauxAF.

On his appointment in 1977 Michael Beetham became the last CAS to have seen service in WW2.  He joined the RAF in 1941 after leaving St Marylebone Grammar School.  After completing his pilot training in Canada? he was posted to No 50 Sqn at Skellingthorpe in Lincolnshire to fly Lancasters.  During his 7th operation in December 1943, his aircraft was seriously damaged in the Wing tank, but he was totally unaware of the fact until landing back at base and it was pointed out to him by his ground crew, although he had been extremely lucky to have got the aircraft back.  Flying W4119 on 12 February 1944 on a fighter affiliation exercise, his port outer engine caught fire and he ordered his crew to abandon the aircraft.  Before all of the ten on-board managed to get out, the outer section of the port wing broke away and the aircraft crashed at 15:55 near East Kirkby, killing four of the crew.  He was awarded the DFC at the end of this tour.

He returned to flying Lancasters in 1949, when he joined No 82 Sqn, although nominally based at Benson, the squadron was undertaking an aerial survey of East Africa and he found himself heavily involved in this work.

In 1958 he took command of No 214 Squadron and it was during his tenure that the squadron was responsible for the introduction of the Valiant in the Air to Air Refuelling role, which involved him in much of the development work.  During the developmental stage, he set a number of records such as that on 9 September 1959, when he captained Valiant XD861 making the first non-stop flight from the UK to Cape Town.  This flight covered 6,060 miles in 11 hours 28 min giving an average speed of 530 mph, for this  work, he was awarded the AFC in 1960.

From 1965 to 1966, he was Master of the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators.  Following his retirement from the RAF he took up a career in industry, firstly as a Director of Brixton Estate PLC, a post he held for 10 years from 1983 and as a Director of GEC Avionics Ltd from 1984 to 1991 holding the post of Chairman from 1986 to 1990.  He was appointed a Honorary Liveryman of the Guild of Airl Pilots and Navigators in 1983 and has also been the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the RAF Museum since his retirement as well as been a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk since 1989.

This page was last updated on 13/03/24

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