Cecil Hugh Latimer Needham

(1900 - 1975)

Cecil Hugh Latimer Needham was born in Walthamstow on 20th February 1900, to Edgar Needham and Rhoda Alexandra Marsh. He was educated at Berkhamstead School and University College London and served with the Royal Flying Corps in France during 1918 and then with the Army of Occupation until 1919. He then transferred to the Royal Air Force and became an Educational Officer based at RAF Halton with the rank of Captain.

In 1924 he formed the Halton Aero Club commenced the design of the Mayfly. It was a two-seat ultra-light biplane and was entered for the 1926 Lympne competitions but just failed to make the contest. It was then completed without any urgency and had its first flight in February 1927, but was re-built in 1928 as a single-seat parasol monoplane for racing purposes and renamed the Halton Minus. In 1927, Needham married Ivy Phyllis Stephenson and their daughter Barbara Phyllis was born the next year.

Following the commencement of gliding in 1930, Needham joined the London Gliding Club and is about this time he started styling himself as Latimer Needham or Latimer-Needham. At the Club's gliding ground near Tring, on March 30th he gained only the second Royal Aero Club Glider Pilot's Certificate, Class A, issued under the regulations of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the same day as C.H. Lowe-Wylde had gained the first. He later gained his “B” Certificate and in June 1930 won the first British "C" Certificate, flying for over an hour in the London Club's Prufling intermediate glider which had just arrived from Germany. He was appointed Vice President of the British Gliding Association and first Chairman of the Associations Technical Committee. Early the same year Latimer-Needham designed the Albatross, the first British sailplane to be built, and constructed for him by the R.F.D. Co., of Guildford. With this machine he became the first private owner member of the London Gliding Club.

Whilst at a gliding event at Dunstable Downs, Latimer-Needham met W.L. Manuel, who had designed and built the Wren series of gliders in the early 1930’s. As a result, in January 1935 Latimer-Needham resigned from the R.A.F. and from the B.G.A. Technical Committee in order to form his own firm in collaboration with Manuel, the Dunstable Sailplane Company, with works at Hockliffe, just north of Dunstable. The intention was to take over Manuels' existing designs; to this end, the team produced the Kestrel, essentially a more refined version of Manuel’s 1934 Blue Wren. At the same time as the Kestrel was being developed, Latimer-Needham had become acquainted with the Pou-du-Ciel and made the suggestion to Manuel that the company should be building these. As a staunch glider enthusiast Manuel was not interested, so a compromise was made and they worked on a design that had interest to both parties, a powered machine based on the wing and tailplane of the Kestrel. Construction of the new aircraft was moved to a new hanger located at Barton in the July 1935. Manuel at this time made the decision not to continue with powered flight so the partnership dissolved and in November, Latimer-Needham formed Luton Aircraft also at Barton-le-Clay, with the Buzzard design transferring to the new company.

The Buzzard and was followed in 1936 by the Luton Minor. A further change of address took place in September that year when the company moved to Phoenix Works at Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, and it concentrated on providing kits and plans for the home constructor to build the Minor aircraft. At the same time, Dunstable Sailplane Co. offered kit drawings for the Kestrel sailplane. The Luton Major two-seat aircraft was introduced in 1939 but the war put paid to all further activities.

At the outbreak of war, Latimer-Needham became Senior Technical Officer to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down. He remained in that post until 1942 when he became acting Chief Technical Officer to the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment. Following a period as Assistant Designer to the A. V. Roe Company (Avro), at the beginning of 1945 he became Chief Engineer to Flight Refuelling Ltd., flying on several early flight trials, including a 1947 non-stop flight from London to Bermuda. In March of 1953, the R.F.D. Co. Ltd. appointed Latimer-Needham as chief executive of their aeronautical and engineering divisions, while he still retained his connections with Flight Refuelling as a consultant.

In 1958, Latimer-Needham retired from both R.F.D. and Flight Refuelling, and with Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume he formed Phoenix Aircraft the same year to market drawings, kits of parts and complete aircraft, for the Luton Minor and Major, both of which had been re-designed by Ord-Hume. At this time, the design of the hovercraft was at an early stage, and when Ord-Hume suggested a flexible skirt system to retain the air cushion beneath the craft, in 1959 Latimer-Needham engineered a patentable design. As a result, Westland Aircraft engaged Latimer-Needham as a consultant, concerned primarily with ground effect machines. It must be noted, however, that Robin Paine and Roger Syms, authors of “On a Cushion of Air: The Story of Hoverlloyd and the Cross-Channel Hovercraft”, state that the skirt system used on the Saunders-Roe developed hovercraft was a design which had been developed by Cockerell in 1957. From April 1959, he had been a Committee Member of the R.Ae.S. Man Powered Aircraft Group and during this same period, was noted as director of Aeronautical Research and Design Ltd., presumably the business name he used as a consultant.

Unfortunately the market for the Luton aircraft did not materialize. Ord-Hume left the company in 1965, Latimer-Needham continuing on but only as a retailer of plans. In 1967 he resigned from Phoenix and left his home in Wonersh to emigrate to Canada, the home of his married daughter, where he continued to take a great interest in the development of amateur-built aircraft. His influence in this area was recognised shortly before his death with his election to honorary life membership of the International Experimental Aircraft Association.

Cecil Hugh Latimer Needham, Msc(Eng), F.R.Ae.S., A.F.I.S. died suddenly following an earlier heart attack at his home in Kelowna, British Columbia on 5 May 1975.

Latimer Needham had many published works, both during his lifetime and after:
Sailplanes, Their Design, Construction and Pilotage, (Chapman and Hall Ltd, 1932)
Gliding And Soaring, (Philip Allan, The Sportsman's Library Vol. 10, 1935)
Aircraft Design, Vol.I: Aerodynamics, (Chapman & Hall Ltd., 1939)
Aircraft Design, Vol.II: Aero Structures, (Chapman & Hall Ltd., 1939)
Refuelling In Flight, (Pitman, 1950)
Man's Dilemma, (Volturna Press, 1973)
Juggling With Jesus: And His Two-Thousand-Year Legacy to Mankind, (Exposition Press, 1977).

In addition, several works were published privately by Flight Refuelling Limited:
The Military Economics of Flight Refuelling (1949)
Flight Refuelling and its Effect on Airline Operation and Aircraft (1949)
Trans-Atlantic 1953 (1953) The Flight Refuelled Bomber (1955)

Biography References
  1. Aeroplane Monthly August 1974
  2. Aeroplane Monthly May 1975
  3. Aeroplane Monthly July 1975
  4. British Private Aircraft, 1946-1970, Volume 1, Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume (Mushroom Model Publications, 2013)
  5. http://forum.keypublishing.co.uk/showthread.php?t=86219

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