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Air Vice-Marshal Mike Hedgeland MBE OBE CB

Air Vice-Marshal Mike Hedgeland M.B.E. O.B.E. C.B.
Born: November 24th 1922, Maidstone. Died: December 25th 2009 Age: 87

Air Vice-Marshal Mike Hedgeland, who has died aged 87, played a significant part in the development and use of blind navigation and bombing aids for Bomber Command’s Pathfinder Force. He subsequently served as the President of the Ordnance Board.
Hedgeland was keen to be a pilot, but the RAF valued his inventive minds more greatly and he was commissioned into the Technical Branch in 1942. In August he was selected to join a team led by Dr Bernard Lovell on the development of the H2S blind-bombing radar system at the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) at Malvern.

There followed a period of intense activity and the first operational set was ready by the end of the year when Hedgeland took a team of engineers to the Pathfinder airfield at Gravely, Bedfordshire, to install the set in the Halifaxes of No 35 Squadron. Hedgeland remained at the base as the first squadron radar officer appointed in Bomber Command
In this post he was also responsible for servicing the GEE navigation aid and the Monica early warning radar, both of which significantly improved the accuracy and effectiveness of the bombers. In 1944 he moved to Wyton, home to more Pathfinder squadrons, where he had the additional responsibility for other bombing and navigation radar aids such as OBOE and Loran. Together with H2S, these devices had a major impact on the accuracy of the Pathfinder aircraft and the main force of bombers that followed them into the target to bomb on the Pathfinder markers.

In early 1945, Hedgeland moved back to TRE, where he met his wife (a physicist there), and where he worked on more advanced versions of H2S radars and on the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) equipment. For his wartime work he was mentioned in despatches.

Philip Michael Sweatman Hedgeland was born in Maidstone on November 24 1922 and educated at the town’s grammar school. He saw the Battle of Britain unfold in the skies of Kent and whilst waiting to join the RAF he worked for the BBC.

By the end of the war, Hedgeland was the RAF’s most experienced engineer on airborne radars and he spent the next three years at the Central Bomber Establishment where he worked on developing and improving the wartime aids for the next generation of RAF bombers. In September 1948 he was given leave to spend three years at Imperial College London, where he gained an honours degree in Engineering. He served with the University Air Squadron and learned to fly.

On his return from Imperial he completed his training as a pilot and later converted to the Meteor jet fighter. Over the next few years he took every opportunity to fly and he regularly used a Meteor to calibrate ground radars.

In February 1952 Hedgeland returned to Malvern for the third time, where he was responsible for masterminding the introduction into service of the navigation and bombing system (NBS) for the RAF’s V-bomber force, which incorporated H2S Mark 9. Five years later he was posted to Headquarters Bomber Command where he commanded the Avionics Development Unit with responsibility for the maintenance of all radio and radar systems for the V-Force.

In 1960 he finally escaped from H2S and after a series of appointments in the technical plans department of the Air Ministry, he attended the Air Warfare Course. In May 1963 he left for the Far East to fill the joint service post of Director of Signals. With British forces heavily involved in Brunei and in the Indonesian Confrontation, where operations in Borneo often occurred in remote and inaccessible locations, great demands were placed on his expertise and organisational abilities.

Hedgeland returned to the UK in December 1965 and took command of the RAF’s central communications centre at Stanbridge. After attending the Imperial Defence College in 1970 he was appointed Director of Electronics, Airborne Radar, in the Procurement Executive at the Ministry of Defence. A colleague commented: “Mike Hedgeland did more to further the cause of airborne radar than anyone else and he was greatly respected.”

In March 1975 he was appointed to the Ordnance Board, which had responsibility for giving advice on the safety and suitability for service of all weapons and those parts of weapons systems and stores in which explosives are used. After a period as vice-president he was appointed president, the first electrical engineer to hold the appointment.

After retiring from the RAF he acted as a consultant to various companies in the communications field. He was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and was an active committee member with the Thames Valley Branch of the Institute. He also continued to fly, giving air cadets air experience flights and towing gliders for the RAF Gliding and Soaring Association.

Hedgeland devoted a great deal of his time to the Pathfinder Association. Having witnessed so many young men depart on operations never to return, he had a deep respect for the aircrew who, in turn, held him in high regard.

The veterans elected him to be their president from 1985 to 1987, a unique honour for a ground-based officer who had never flown on operations. He arranged for the main office blocks at RAF Wyton, the wartime headquarters of No 8 Pathfinder Group, to be named after Pathfinder VC holders.

Hedgeland had a lifelong interest in radio, communications and broadcasting, starting with a crystal set under the bedclothes; progressing to amateur “ham” radio operation; and then early experiments with FM broadcasting.

His short time at the BBC started an interest in programme production and whilst serving as a group captain in the Far East he involved himself in the Forces Broadcasting Service as the disc jockey Mike Philips.

In retirement Hedgeland, a man of great charm, was able to indulge in his love of his garden and of travel, making several round-the-world trips meeting old Pathfinder comrades in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

He was appointed MBE (1948), OBE (1957) and CB (1977).

Mike Hedgeland died on Christmas Day 2009. He married Jean Brinkworth in January 1946 and she died on New Year’s Eve 2006. He is survived by two sons.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.

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We also seek to commemorate all those not published by The Daily Telegraph and would be pleased to receive your contributions so that the memories of these aircrew may be preserved.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
If you have additional information or photographs to add to this Obituary please contact us.
We also seek to commemorate all those not published by The Daily Telegraph and would be pleased to receive your contributions.
Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 02 July 2019, 13:46