Ron Dick; RAF Officer And Aviation Historian

Ron Dick, a retired Royal Air Force vice air marshal, had flown many types of aircraft. He once headed the British defense staff in the United States.
Ron Dick, a retired Royal Air Force vice air marshal, had flown many types of aircraft. He once headed the British defense staff in the United States. (By Dan Patterson)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ron Dick, 76, a Royal Air Force officer who served during the 1980s at the British Embassy in Washington and who later wrote a five-volume series about aviation history, died of pancreatic cancer March 25 at his home in Fredericksburg.

Mr. Dick was an RAF air vice marshal, the rank equivalent to a two-star general in the U.S. military, and he served as air attache and then as head of the British defense staff in the United States.

He flew 60 types of aircraft, an unusually high number. He flew fighters, bombers and acrobatic and historic aircraft during his 38 years with the RAF, and he piloted U.S. planes as the top British officer in the United States. He was a flight instructor and examiner and served as an exchange flight commander with a U.S. Air Force nuclear strike squadron. In 1983, he flew a restored B-17G bomber from California to England for the RAF museum. He landed several times as he flew across the United States, and everywhere he stopped, World War II buffs would materialize, his son said.

In 1989, he advised the makers of "Memphis Belle," a movie about a B-17 crew during World War II.

"If you called central casting and asked for an RAF general, they'd send Ron," said Dan Patterson, a photographer who collaborated with Mr. Dick on the five-volume "The Aviation Century" and the 1997 "American Eagles," a history of the U.S. Air Force. "He was tall, distinguished and had the accent. He was very quick to have a laugh and incredibly knowledgeable. He spoke from a position of authority because he'd flown everything. He never used his rank and position to belittle anybody. People would call him 'Air Marshal Dick,' and he would answer, 'Please, it's just Ron.' "

After Mr. Dick retired from the RAF in 1988, he launched a second career as a lecturer and writer on military and aviation history. He was a Smithsonian international fellow at the National Air and Space Museum through 1991 and was a visiting lecturer in air power history at the Air Force's Air University in Alabama until 1994. Since 1990, he had led Smithsonian tours to the United Kingdom and Europe and lectured on cruise ships.

He began writing articles for magazines and journals and then moved on to books, all on the topics of aviation and military history. The first volume of "The Aviation Century" was published in 2003 after nine years of work. In addition to stories about aircraft, flights and air battles, the work includes 400 portraits and profiles of great fliers, including John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Doolittle Raiders from World War II, Chuck Yeager and Galina Korchuganova, a female Soviet pilot who tested MiGs.

Mr. Dick was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, and grew up in London. As a 9-year-old, he saw the front of his house bombed by the German Luftwaffe during World War II.

"It felt like all the oxygen had been taken out of the air," he told Insight magazine in 1999. He looked to the skies at that moment, he said, and saw British Hurricanes engaging the German Dornier bombers in battle and imagined himself as a pilot. That was the moment he decided to join the RAF.

He graduated from the Royal Air Force College in 1952. As a pilot in the elite RAF display team, equivalent to the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, he won the Clarkson Aerobatic Trophy in 1955 and the Wright Jubilee Aerobatic Trophy in 1956.

Mr. Dick was a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air in 1972 and was named a Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Bath by Queen Elizabeth II when he retired.

Survivors include his wife of 52 years, Pauline Lomax Dick of Fredericksburg; two children, Gary Dick of Baltimore and Peta Enoch of Arlington County; and three grandchildren.

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