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The Pathfinder

Tom Mangold reveals the remarkable life and legacy of Air Vice-Marshal Donald Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO, founder of Bomber Command's, Path Finder Force in WWII, and one of Britain's least celebrated civilian and wartime heroes.

Bennett, born in Australia, became one of the most experienced pilots in the world in an age when civil aviation was in its infancy, radio communication was difficult, and navigation meant flying past a railway station to read the name on the board. Working for Britain's Imperial Airlines, he set several records one of which, for a non-stop seaplane flight from Scotland to South Africa, still stands today, 74 years later.

But it was during the Second World War that Bennett came in to his own. After rescuing the Polish Government in Exile from Nazi-occupied France, operating the Atlantic Ferry Organisation to fly American-built military aircraft to Britain, and escaping on foot through Norway and Sweden after being shot down in an air raid on the German battleship, Turpitz; he set up the RAF's Path Finder Force to guide bombers to their targets with much greater accuracy.

Bennett was the youngest Air Vice Marshal by far, he didn't suffer fools, he said what he thought, he had no time for bureaucracy, and he got things done. He was also the only RAF Group Commander not to receive a knighthood after the war.

Undaunted he formed his own airline, British South American Airways, flying the most perilous post-war routes in civil aviation, across the Atlantic.

Tom Mangold interviews surviving family members and those who flew with Bennett to piece together an astonishing life, and to ask why his name and achievements are so little known.

Producer: Adam Fowler
A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

28 minutes

Last on

Fri 27 Apr 2012 11:00
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