Nigel Desmond Norman, CBE FRAeS

Male 1929 - 2002  (73 years)

Personal Information    |    PDF

  • Name Nigel Desmond Norman 
    Suffix CBE FRAeS 
    Born 13 Aug 1929 
    Gender Male 
    Career Nigel Desmond Norman usually went by his middle name of Desmond. He was educated at Eton College, Windsor, Berkshire, England. He gained the rank of Pilot Officer in 1949 in the service of the Royal Air Force. He gained the rank of Pilot Officer between 1952 and 1957 in the service of the Royal Australian Air Force. He was director of Britten-Norman Ltd in 1954. He was invested as a Fellow, Royal Aeronautical Society (F.R.Ae.S.). He was director of Crop Culture (Aerial) Ltd in 1956. He was registered as a Chartered Engineer (C.Eng.). He was an aircraft designer (including the Islander, known as the Land Rover of the skies due to its robustness). He was invested as a Commander, Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1971. [From] 
    Died 13 Nov 2002 
    Obituary 25 Nov 2002  The Telegraph Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Desmond Norman, who has died aged 73, was among the foremost British aircraft designers of his generation.

    At the beginning of the 1960s, Norman and his partner John Britten conceived a simple high-wing aircraft, the Islander, which would offer excellent pilot and passenger visibility and could be built in one piece. A durable plane, 800 of which are still in use today, the Islander's almost rectangular box fuselage and simple nose and rear made it comparatively inexpensive.

    The prototype was completed within nine months, and Norman and Britten took it up for the first time in June 1963. When, following engine changes and modifications, the Islander received its certificate of airworthiness in August 1967, orders, at a modest 17,300 each, flooded in.

    Among the first hundred orders were 10 from Papua New Guinea - adept at coping with difficult conditions, the Islander proved especially popular in countries which had hostile climates, rugged terrains and crude airstrips. It has been sold to 56 operators in 26 different countries.

    In the late 1960s, when a replacement was required for the ageing de Havilland Rapide biplane, the Islander won the Queen's Award to Industry for Export Achievement for three years running. Among the later purchasers were Bob Geldof's Live Aid charity, which donated the plane to Mali.

    In 1970, concerned that labour costs were becoming uncompetitive, Norman set up a production facility in Romania. In the same year he introduced the Trislander, a stretched version of the Islander, with a third engine in the tail.

    Though the Trislander was an immediate success, it also led, in 1971, to the collapse of the Britten-Norman company. The aircraft's design and development had been encouraged by a director, appointed by Lloyd's Bank, who subsequently called in the bank's loan. The company was bought by Fairey Engineering, with Norman and Britten remaining as directors until 1976. The Islander and Trislander continued to sell, and the Islander now boasts the longest production run of any post-war British aircraft.

    Nigel Desmond Norman was born on August 13 1929. He was the second son of Air Commodore Sir Nigel Norman, Bt, who had co-founded the Royal Auxiliary Air Force with Sir Philip Sassoon and Lord Edward Grosvenor. He also designed London's Heston airport and much influenced the development of Gatwick and several provincial airports.

    Young Desmond was evacuated to America during the Second World War. He spent a year at Portsmouth Priory where, highly energetic, he was beaten for his part in a fracas with the young Edward Kennedy.

    On his return to England, Desmond entered Eton College where he excelled at rugby and rowing, stroking the eight at Henley in 1946. Beginning a lifelong passion for motor-cycles, he secretly kept a Manx Norton in Eton High Street, which he claimed to have succeeded in racing from Eton to Hyde Park Corner in 17 minutes. He later sold the machine to pay for a trip to Switzerland to visit Raine McCorquodale (later Countess of Dartmouth; Countess Spencer; now Raine, Comtesse de Chambrun) who was at finishing school there.

    Norman left school in 1946 and enrolled at the de Havilland Aeronautical Technical School, where he met John Britten, with whom he founded Britten-Norman, based on the Isle of Wight, in 1949.

    After National Service and qualifying as a fighter pilot, Norman joined No 601 (County of London) Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, which his father had formerly commanded, and in which two brothers also served.

    In the early 1950s Norman and Britten began to design boats and engage in ocean racing, sketching their ideas on the backs of table napkins or cigarette packets.

    They moved into aviation in 1953 when, joined by the Australian crop pilot Jim McMahon, they noticed the potential of crop spraying and fertiliser spreading. Norman and his partners proceeded to convert war surplus de Havilland Tiger Moth trainers, and then flew them to Cameroon and Sudan, where they had obtained their first contracts.

    Noticing the short-comings of the conventional method of spraying crops from an under-wing boom, Norman then developed Micronair, a rotary atomiser which remains the industry's standard equipment.

    In 1955 Norman and Britten founded Crop Culture, a business specialising in aerial spraying which went on to become the largest of its kind, operating more than 80 aircraft throughout the world. They sold out in 1963 to develop the Islander.

    While spraying plantations for a banana shipping company, Norman and Britten developed an early hovercraft, which they called the Cushioncraft and launched in 1959, to transport bananas from plantations. The vessel was not a commercial success, but they later became directors of Hovertravel, which still runs a hovercraft passenger service to the Isle of Wight.

    After Britten died in 1976, Norman teamed up with an old friend who jointly financed the development of the Firecracker, a light military trainer. Norman built the prototype in converted farm buildings at his Isle of Wight home, but deals with Cessna in America and the Greek government fell through.

    He eventually won a contract to develop and build a turbo-powered version as a contender for the RAF's trainer requirement; unfortunately this contract was awarded to Brazil, which Margaret Thatcher wanted to reward for helping Britain during the Falklands campaign.

    With typical resilience, Norman found a market for the turbo Firecracker with Specialist Flying Training, a business whose activities included training Iraqi pilots.

    Norman used profits from the Firecracker to produce the Fieldmaster, which he developed with assistance from the National Research and Development Corporation. This aircraft was an innovative crop sprayer, filling a need for a larger and more economical spraying and spreading platform. It was also a useful firebomber.

    Further designs included the Freelance, a four-seater with folding wings, and a diesel aero engine. More recently he was chief design consultant for GECI, a French company, for which he was designing a light commercial freight aircraft to be built in Romania. Latterly Norman was also design consultant for the Coventry-based Air Atlantique. He was planning to launch the Weekender, a two-seat biplane capable of being trailed behind a car, in the New Year.

    Ever energetic, Norman was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, regularly raced his own designs and designed and built Wavewalker, a 70 ft schooner, for his family.

    He was known for his warmth, kindness and good humour, and for his hospitality and generosity, which verged on the reckless.

    Norman was appointed CBE in 1970 and received the Royal Aeronautical Society's Silver Medal in 1967. 
    Obituary 26 Nov 2002  The Guardian Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Desmond Norman
    Pioneering designer of the legendary Islander aircraft.

    Desmond Norman, who has died aged 73, designed this country's most successful light aircraft, the Britten-Norman Islander, which is still in production after 37 years. A true pioneer with revolutionary ideas, he brought about dramatic changes in air travel and agriculture. With his lifelong friend and business partner John Britten, he also designed, built - and sailed - racing yachts, as well as a series of air cushion vehicles, which were later sold to British Hovercraft.

    Born in London, and educated at Eton, Norman was the son of Air Commodore Sir Nigel Norman, co-founder of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and a leading figure in the building of airports at Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Heston, which became Heathrow.

    After national service as a fighter pilot, he joined 601 squadron of the auxiliary air force with his two brothers, who were equally tall and dashing. On the occasion of the youngest brother's passing-out parade, Norman and his other brother,Mark, flew to the ceremony in their fighter planes, having changed into their morning coats.

    It was while studying aeronautical engineering at the de Havilland Aeronautical Technical School, between 1946 and 1950, that he met Britten. They made a brilliant team, powered by Norman's personality and energy. Their first aircraft never quite flew properly, but this failure did nothing to quell the pair's enthusiasm. Aircraft design was Norman's life, and none of the many setbacks he encountered ever dampened his passion.

    Norman and Britten's first major breakthrough was in the design of a crop sprayer, using revolutionary technology. They had teamed up with the Australian Jim McMahon, converting war surplus Tiger Moths and fitting them with the new Micronair rotary atomiser, which was ecologically less damaging and more economical for crop spraying, as it used only two pints of insecticide per acre instead of 10 gallons.

    Norman and McMahon flew to the Sudan in 1956, at the height of the Suez crisis, to market their crop-spraying aircraft. They travelled via Cairo, where they were unexpectedly arrested and kept under guard in their hotel. Only Norman's charm and eloquence persuaded their captors to let them go on to Sudan. The day after they left Cairo, Egypt was invaded.

    In Sudan, the pair found a huge market for their crop sprayers, which revolutionised agriculture in the region. When they demonstrated the invention to banana growers in Guinea, they were rather surprised when the French farmers hugged and kissed each other, overjoyed at the arrival of technology they had dreamed of.

    The success of the crop sprayer funded the realisation of Britten and Norman's dream: to design and build an aeroplane. At the time, there was no other aircraft that filled its remit, and Norman foresaw the market potential of an island-hopping passenger plane. A prototype, the G-ATCT, was completed within nine months and made its maiden flight in June 1965, with Britten and Norman at the controls. After modifications - the engine power was increased and the wingspan was extended by four feet - the plane that became the Islander took off in December 1965 from Bembridge airfield, on the Isle of Wight.

    Fearing that the aircraft would not be ready to launch at the 1966 Farnborough air show, the 300 Britten-Norman employees worked through their annual holiday to complete the project. A no-frills aircraft, designed to take off and land on unprepared strips within a very short distance, the Islander quickly became popular worldwide, and was dubbed the Land-Rover of the air. More than 1,250 have been sold, of which some 800 are still in service.

    Britten and Norman followed up the Islander with a larger version called the Trislander, which also had an immediate uptake. Sadly, just at the moment of the team's real taste of success in the early 1970s, the bank called in its loan, and the pair were forced to sell their company.

    Norman was never bitter about the unnecessary foreclosure; it was not in his nature to look back. He had considered writing his memoirs, but was always far more interested in the next project. Indeed, his latest design was due to go into production next year.

    He designed a trainer air craft for military use, which was built at his home on the Isle of Wight. The project spilt over into his private life: the kitchen table at his house was always covered in designs, and, in a restaurant, the waiter would often be sent off for a supply of paper napkins to catch his fast-flowing ideas. Norman was unstoppably creative, constantly jotting down ideas on scrap paper or his Gauloises packets.

    He also had a passion for Norton motorcycles, which dated from his schooldays at Eton, when he quite illegally owned a Manx Norton, which he used to race from college to Hyde Park Corner, in central London. He was still riding into his 70s.

    Norman was appointed a CBE in 1970. He was a tremendously generous and engaging host, and the house he shared with his second wife, Bo, was always full of people, usually including some of Norman's six children. His unorthodox and original mind made him excellent company.

    He maried first, Anne Fogg Elliot, with whom he had two sons, and then in 1965, Boel Elizabeth Holmsen, who gave him two daughters and two sons. His aviating partner Britten died in 1979, aged 49. 
    Person ID I29  Mark Fogg-Elliot
    Last Modified 1 Nov 2023 

    Father Sir Henry Nigel St Valery Norman,   b. 21 May 1897,   d. 19 May 1943, 7m south of St Eval, Cornwall Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 45 years) 
    Mother Patricia Moyra Annesley,   b. 26 Apr 1904 
    Married 1926 
    Family ID F131  Group Sheet

    Family Barbara Anne Fogg-Elliot,   b. 1932 or 1933 
    Married 28 Apr 1956  Chelsea, London Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Divorced 1965 
     1. Henry Mark Desmond Norman,   b. 13 Feb 1957, Hammersmith, London Find all individuals with events at this location
     2. Alexander Robert Norman,   b. 1 Oct 1959, Isle of Wight Find all individuals with events at this location
    Last Modified 13 Oct 2013 
    Family ID F13  Group Sheet

Home Page |  What's New |  Most Wanted |  Surnames |  Photos |  Histories |  Documents |  Cemeteries |  Places |  Dates |  Reports |  Sources