Frank Leadon obituary: Wartime pilot who never lost his love of flying

Leadon was was one of the 70,000 Irish who contributed to the Allied War effort

Frank Leadon enlisted for the Royal Air Force by falsifying his age

Frank Leadon enlisted for the Royal Air Force by falsifying his age

 

Frank Leadon 
Born: January 19th, 1923  
Died: August 4th, 2019

Francis Leadon, who died on August 4th in Mullingar Regional Hospital, was was one of the 70,000 Irish men and women who contributed to the Allied War effort.

For boys growing up in the 1930s aviation was as exotic as space exploration is today. Flying was confined to the privileged and wealthy. The advent of hostilities changed that at a stroke. Frank seized the opportunity and enlisted for the Royal Air Force, by falsifying his age. He showed exceptional flying ability and was despatched to the USAF Flying Academy at Pensacola, Florida, to train as a torpedo bomber pilot.

Francis returned home to Ireland in 1946 to join Aer Lingus, and flew Dakotas on the Dublin to London, Dublin to Bristol and Dublin to Birmingham routes

On his return the high attrition rate of torpedo bomber pilots resulted in his transfer to Bomber Command based in Graveley, Upwood and Whyton in Cambridgeshire. He preserved his physical and mental well-being by travelling on his motorcycle from these bases to Newmarket Heath after early morning debriefing, to ride racehorses for Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochfort at Freemason Lodge, on his return from his nights over occupied Europe. He loved horse racing.

Frank was invited to join the all-volunteer Pathfinder Force by the legendary Hamish Mahaddie, on the personal recommendation of his Commanding Officer. The Pathfinder Force were Bomber Commands elite. Their role was to remain over the target, marking and remarking specific targets with incandescent flares for the bomb aiming guidance of the Main Force that followed behind them. Main Force crews spent a few minutes over the target. Pathfinder crews spent many times longer and their life expectancy was therefore significantly shorter than that of their Main Force counterparts.

His final wartime posting resulted in a transfer to 35 Squadron at Pathfinder Headquarters. At the end of hostilities in Europe, 35 Squadron volunteered to continue on in wartime service with their US allies, in the Pacific theatre against Japan.

This commitment resulted in an invitation from the US Air Force for the Squadron to tour the United States. They were literally feted for from coast to coast from New York to Los Angeles by their American hosts.

Francis returned home to Ireland in 1946 to join Aer Lingus, and flew Dakotas on the Dublin to London, Dublin to Bristol and Dublin to Birmingham routes. He was recruited to Aer Linte to fly Super Constellations, to and from New York and Ireland, in recognition of his experiences of flying four engine aircraft across the Atlantic.

The Aer Linte project was eventually shelved by the De Valera government and Frank was, unsurprisingly, bored by civil aviation. It was at this time that the Russians blockaded Berlin.

He accepted an invitation to rejoin the RAF to serve, with the Americans, in the Berlin Air Lift, which at its peak, delivered more than 2,000 tonnes of supplies a day to the beleaguered city and its inhabitants. While based at Buckeberg in West Germany, he met and instantly fell for the love of his life, Eva Baum. They were married for almost 70 years until she predeceased him in September 2018.

After the successful conclusion on the Airlift, Frank was transferred to the Central Flying School and spent most of the next 25 years training young men to fly military jet fighters and trainers. He concluded his military flying service as Commanding Officer of the Bristol University Air Squadron at RAF Filton, near Bristol, where he took particular pleasure in collaboration with the Irish Army Air Corps in training visiting pilots from Baldonnel.

He retired to Castlepollard in Co Westmeath and he and Eva enjoyed 28 very happy years there together

He returned to Ireland permanently in 1969 to join, as bloodstock sales manager, Aer Turas, the Irish cargo airline which specialised in the air transport of horses.

He was subsequently invited to join Kerr and Co, Ireland’s oldest bloodstock agency, as director of shipping and later established his own bloodstock transport company.

He retired to Castlepollard in Co Westmeath and he and Eva enjoyed 28 very happy years there together. They travelled extensively and he was an active member of the Aircrew Association, which links civil and military personnel and always attended their bi-monthly lunches in Dún Laoghaire and Dublin.

He remained active in aviation and was the co-pilot of a single-engined monoplane from Kilcullen, Co Kildare, to and from one of his former RAF bases, for a reunion, when he was 94.

He passed away peacefully after a bravely borne, short illness and is survived by his children, Desmond, Vanessa, Bernie and Cecelia and their families and by his grandchildren, Dawn and Dale and by Eva’s sister Christina and her family.