Compiled By: Gp Capt Kumar Kirinde [retd], SLAF
The below given notification was received recently by via WhatsApp initially from a retired SLAF air rank officer followed with few other retired officers also sharing the same. Since the notification was giving out some unique information related to the history of the air force, I immediately transferred this from WhatsApp to an email and shared it with the air force pilots from the RCyAF era who had joined the service before 1961, and who are in contact with me.
In response to my aforesaid email, below is the communication I received on 7th Oct 2021 from Sqn Ldr Mahendra Situnayake, Ex-RCyAF/ RAF [retd].
Very Many Thanks for sending to me that information about Eric Downs.
I obtained Eric’s contact details from his son John and had a long chat (30 minutes!) with him two afternoons ago.
Eric remembered his time on secondment with the RCyAF with much nostalgia. He recalled names without effort (Paddy Mendis, Harry Goonetilleke, Dick Perera) and even remembered the games of squash that he and I had in the Mess Squash Court!
The Ministry of Defence, UK authorised the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight to carry out a Spitfire Flight over Eric’s house, on his Birthday (25th September) to commemorate his Hundredth Birthday (please see the link, below)!
Very Sincerely Yours
Then Ashi Fernando, aviator and writer shared the below given photo of Sqn Ldr Downs’s son taken in Ceylon in 1961. Ashi also being an aviation history enthusiast having heard about this veteran RAF aviator has done some research to find more about his time in Sri Lanka.
This is John Downs, the son of RCyAF Flight Instructor Eric Downs who celebrated his 100th birthday recently. John was 10 years old at the time. Here he is in the co-pilot’s seat of the RCyAF Dove, ‘flying’ from Katunayake to China Bay, on 6th October 1961 – exactly 60 years to date!
South Cerney RAF veteran celebrated with Spitfire flypast
A former World War Two flying instructor has been given a special surprise by the Ministry of Defence to celebrate his 100th birthday.
Eric Downs from Gloucestershire worked all over the world before being based at RAF South Cerney.
His decades of service were honoured with a Spitfire flypast from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF).
The veteran, who never had the chance to fly in battle, said it was a “wonderful sight”.
The BBMF is part of the Royal Air Force and flies heritage aircraft at special events around the country.
Mr. Downs signed up to join the Royal Air Force at Lord’s Cricket Ground at the age of 18 and was sent to the United States for pilot training, hoping to join the frontline in the air on his return.
“I expected to go to Bomber Command to fly the new aircraft the Mosquito. But there was a delay in producing the aircraft so I got sent to a school training flying Anson’s training crews for Bomber Command,” recalled Mr. Downs.
After the war he had a varied career – piloting Dakotas to evacuate people from Shanghai as Chairman Mao came to power, then in Gloucestershire he set up the Primary Flying Squadron training pilots on Chipmunks at RAF South Cerney.
He trained more than 500 pilots in his career.
On his birthday, together with his family, Mr. Downs experienced a display from the Falkland Field association, where he started his training, as well as a visit from the defence attaché at the Sri Lankan embassy in London, before the special flypast.
The Spitfire was organised by fellow RAF veteran and friend Ray Thilthorpe.
“I just picked the phone up to the BBMF on Monday and explained what was going on – he’s 100, he’s one of ours and within the hour they called back and said the game’s on,” said Mr. Thilthorpe.