Squadron Leader Joe L’Estrange
It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Squadron Leader Joe L’Estrange, Vulcan pilot extraordinaire and VRT Honorary Member, on 14 January 2018 following illness.
Joe had a distinguished career with the Royal Air Force. After joining in August 1944, training initially as an Air Gunner on Wellingtons and Lancasters, he went on to retrain as a pilot in 1950. This led him to fly Hornets, Vampires and Venoms, as well as many other different aircraft throughout the 1950s. Joe also flew naval aircraft from the aircraft carriers Ark Royal, Albion, Centaur and Victorious during a two-year exchange posting with the Fleet Air Arm.
In 1962 Joe was posted to 230 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) at RAF Finningley to begin what would be a 21-year association with the Vulcan. He joined 35 Squadron at RAF Coningsby in May 1963 and gave the first of many Vulcan displays at RAF Honington in July the following year. After four years as a Vulcan Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI), he was posted to the Vulcan force at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, in 1969. Returning to the UK with 101 Squadron in 1975, Joe began a second spell with 230 OCU and, in June 1979, led the Trooping of the Colour Flypast over Buckingham Palace, a task he would repeat in the following three years.
Joe was a vastly experienced Vulcan pilot, with 6,102 hours on type. He was renowned as a display pilot, something which put him in demand for air displays and other ceremonies (see photo). He flew our own XL426 many times, including displaying ‘426 at 50 Squadron’s disbandment ceremony at the end of March 1984 which marked the withdrawal of the Vulcan from operational service. He also captained Vulcan XM655 for its delivery flight to Wellesbourne Mountford where it is now cared for by the 655 Maintenance & Preservation Society.
After leaving the RAF, Joe continued flying, holding a Private Pilot’s Licence for many years. He continued his connection with the Vulcan through his Honorary Membership of the Trust and was at XL426’s controls for taxy-runs at London Southend Airport on a number of occasions.
Joe was a thoroughly nice man who was always willing to share his memories of his career in the RAF, in particular his time on the Vulcan, with anyone who was keen to listen. And those lucky enough to receive a letter or greetings card from him would always marvel at his most incredible copperplate handwriting.
We send our deepest condolences to Joe’s wife, Angela, and to the rest of his family.