Sir Peter Masefield played a major part in developing Britain's aircraft industry and airports. His crowded life included wartime bombing raids in a US Army Air Force B17 Flying Fortress. His outspokenness led first to Lord Beaverbrook of the war cabinet and then Lord Douglas, chairman of British Eureopean Airways (BEA), picking him out for rapid promotion.
His career started slowly. The eldest son of a surgeon, he was educated at Westminster school and Chillon College, Switzerland, and studied engineering at Jesus College, Cambridge. He also took flying lessons there which helped him gain his pilot's licence in 1937, which he held for the next 40 years.
Despite designing the undercarriage of the Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bomber in his first job as a junior draughtsman at Fairey Aviation, he found life there too dull, and took to journalism. He soon became air correspondent of the Sunday Times, and when war came was sent to France to cover the RAF's advanced strike force. The RAF had turned him down as a pilot because of a slight vision defect, but the USAAF, less exacting , let him qualify as co-pilot and air gunner. Although a journalist, he flew on B17 operations. In a daylight raid on Le Bourget in 1943, his Fortress was hit by enemy fighters and the nose blown off. Masefield was lucky to survive a crash-landing in East Anglia.
His career took off shortly after, when Lord Beaverbook, lord privy seal, was impressed by a scathing article by Masefield on ministry of aircraft production. He made Masefield his personal adviser and secretary of the war cabinet committee on postwar civil air transport. In 1944 Beaverbrook took Masefield to Washington for talks which led to the creation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
This led to Masefield being appointed in 1945 as the first civil air attaché to the British embassy in Washington. He flew himself around in his own Percival Proctor light aircraft, and was a signatory of the 1946 Anglo-American Bermuda Agreement on civil air rights.
Back in Britain as a senior civil servant, he was appointed director-general of long-term planning and projects at the then ministry of civil aviation. He was still only 35 when in 1949, Lord Douglas, chairman of BEA, made him chief executive and a board member. His job was to control a staff of 6,400 at a salary of around £3,000. While there he ensured the success of the Vickers Viscount turboprop airliner by ordering it for BEA off the drawing board. He was always opposed to the merger of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and BEA into the one giant airline that became British Airways, believing that long haul and short haul operations were more focused if run separately.
Masefield sought relief in air racing, and my own first encounter with him was when, as a recently-appointed BBC air correspondent, he invited me to act as his navigator in the King's Cup Air Race. It was his great ambition to win this race, but, heavily handicapped, our Chipmunk came in second. His disappointment was mitigated when his son Charles won it eight years later.
More frustration followed in 1960 when he became head of Beagle Aircraft, with the task of reviving British production of small aircraft. He had organised the takeover of some smaller companies and set up a production system when the government withdrew its support.
His biggest challenge followed when made chairman of the new British Airports Authority (BAA) in 1965. In five years he took over the running of Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Prestwick from the civil service. Passengers rose 62% to 20 million, with cumulative trading profits of £38m. But he was caught up in the rows over the siting of a third London Airport, and when he made it plain that he thought government plans for an airport at Maplin or Foulness were lunacy, there were calls in the Commons for his dismissal. Against the run of opinion, he insisted that Stansted must be developed and provided with a second runway.
He was not dismissed, but he was not offered a second term at BAA. He was made deputy chairman of British Caledonian, a developing independent airline, and was busy with many other activities such as becoming president of the Royal Aeronautical Society and chairman of the board of trustees of the Imperial War Museum, when the next big challenge came.
In 1980 Sir Horace Cutler, leader of the then Greater London Council, asked him to become chairman of London Transport, and give the benefit of his BAA marketing policies to London's bus and underground passengers. He took on the job for one year, but stayed for two. His motto - not an epitaph he said - was that the passengers were the purpose of the business, not an interruption of the work. They must be conveyed with courtesy and consideration.