North Luffenham

1 Air Division Aerobatic Display Teams

King of the Solos - F/L Dean Kelly 1952

In terms of solo aerobatics, one Sabre pilot deserves special mention. F/L Dean Kelly of 441 Squadron fame is widely regarded by his peers as having probably been the greatest solo aerobatic pilot ever to fly in the Sabre era. A veteran of WW II on the Spitfire and Hurricane, he flew solo for the Blue Devils on the Vampire in the summer of 1951 prior to being posted to 441 Squadron as a flight commander. But it was his airshows in the Sabre that created his legendary status. He put on his first "public" show over North Luffenham for a small group of visitors in terrible weather on March 18th, 1952, less than three weeks after the squadron had commenced flying in theatre. His next audience was somewhat larger - 100,000 at an airshow at Yeadon Yorks on June 2nd!

There are probably not too many superlatives in the English language that haven't been used to describe Kelly's shows, but here is a fairly representative commentary by someone who watched him perform many times, Grant Nichols of 410 Squadron: "Dean put on the most hair-raising solos I've ever seen. One famous photo in the English Flight magazine shows Dean recovering from a slow-speed loop started below the height of the control tower. He recovered at the same height - below the tower with big "streamers" coming off each wingtip. This was not a mistake on his part - this and other similar manoeuvres were all done delibertately and expertly". Others who flew with Kelly marvelled at his abnormally high tolerance for sustained G and the fact that he could fly the aircraft safely outside the airspeed design envelope. This he did with regularity during his show, on one manoeuvre going from a slow pass into the first half of a loop and then gently doing a roll-off-the-top below the advertised stall speed of the Sabre.

As any demonstration pilot will readily admit, the toughest audience to perform for is another group of aviators, especially fighter pilots and test pilots. Why? Simply because these aviators aren't easily impressed by routine aerobatic maneouvres flown at standard altitudes - they know what is difficult and what is not. One of Kelly's most critical audiences was undoubtedly that at RAF West Raynham on July 1st, 1952 when a large number of pilots put on demonstrations. Their aircraft included the DH 110, Avro 707B, Supermarine Swift, Supermarine 508, Hawker 1067 as well as production aircraft such as the Seafire, Venom, Attacker, Vampire, Meteor, F-84 Thunderstreak, B-45, B-29 Superfortress and Vickers Valient jet bomber. There was even a "live" ejection from a Meteor. But it was Dean Kelly that stole the show with his ultra low-level Sabre demo, causing one seasoned British test pilot to remark, "I've never seen an aircraft flown so close to the bone". Not bad publicity for the RCAF!

Reprinted from "A Tradition of Excellence - Canada's Airshow Team Heritage" courtesy Dan Dempsey. - Web Site -

Click on the description text to view the photograph.
  1. F/L Dean Kelly of 441 (F) Squadron, was regarded by many as one of the finest demo pilots ever to fly in the RCAF - 1952.
    Courtesy DND PL 62278.

  2. Dean Kelly runs in for a manoeuvre during a practice at North Luffenham - 1952.
    In the foreground, his commanding officer's Sabre 2 is being readied for a gunnery mission,
    Courtesy Larry Milberry.

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Updated: May 26, 2003