Obituary: Roger Back

Roger Frederick Back
(OC 1938-1947)

Born 22 July 1929, died 29 May 2021, aged 91

‘Wingman’ Roger Frederick Back was the only son to Frederick and Doris Back (née Lumley). His early years were spent in Whyteleafe where his first introduction to aircraft was the nearby Kenley Aerodrome and Croydon Airport, key Battle of Britain fighter stations in the Second World War. After being bombed out of the house in 1940, the family moved to Caterham, where he attended Caterham Boys School, just a stone’s throw from the house.

Post-war, his love of aircraft was seen in his collection of numerous photos from air shows. After excelling at maths in school, he studied civil engineering at Imperial College, London (1947-53), taking the train every day and completing both a BSc and MSc. His final thesis titled, Some aspects of low speed wind tunnel design propelled him to a career in aeronautical design.

His entire career was spent working for the same company; initially named Vickers-Armstrong, then British Aircraft Corporation and finally British Aerospace. He started working at the Vickers factory at Brooklands, Weybridge in Surrey, witnessing the largest expansion of British commercial aircraft to date, working on the Viscount, Vanguard, VC10 and BAC 1-11, and spending much of his time in the wind tunnel. Here he met Barnes Wallis, who was made head of the new Research and Development department following the war, and Brian Trubshaw, who shot to public attention as a first test pilot of Concorde. Roger stayed at Brooklands until the factory closed in 1989, being the last one to shut the door, and then made the weekly commute to Filton where he stayed until retirement in 1993. During his time at Filton, Roger’s attention was focused on aerodynamic projects, including the design and engineering for the Airbus 320 wings, which involved frequent trips to Toulouse in France, as well as travel to China and USA.

Roger’s special connection to Brooklands continued following his retirement where he was involved in the last flight of the Vanguard into Brooklands Aviation Museum. He had previously been part of the planning committee of the last flight into Brooklands of the Sultan of Oman’s VC10 in 1987, this having been built at the same factory in 1964. Roger was made an honorary member for his significant support of the Brooklands Trust.

The planning party on the runway at Brooklands in 1989

His loyalty to Brooklands was also seen in his support for his old school at Caterham. He became a foundation member of the Old Caterhamians and attended its 200th anniversary celebration at Westminster Abbey in 2011. He enjoyed attending awards day ceremonies at the school and meeting students.

Having grown up to the ringing of the bell at St Mary’s in Caterham, during his adult life he was activity involved in the United Reformed Church, attending first Leatherhead and then Dorking churches. He was married in 1958 to Margaret (nee Cherry), becoming father to daughters Angela and Kathryn in the early 60s. After Margaret and Roger separated, Roger married Sylvia (nee Hall); their daughter Heather was born in 1973.

Towards the end of his life he suffered with dementia and needed full-time care. For the last four years he was cared for with compassion at  Quinton House Nursing Home near Stratford-upon-Avon surrounded by his photos of aircraft and his lifetime achievements.

As well as his daughters, he leaves seven grandchildren Peter, Andrew, James, Matthew, Sam, Monty and Henry and two great-grandchildren Maddie Mae and Lumi Francis.

Written by his daughter, Kathy Day