Honorary Rank for World War II pilot
20 December 2013
The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown AO today presented an Honorary Rank of Flight Lieutenant (FLTLT) to World War II pilot Ken Wright.
Presenting the surprise Honorary Rank to 93 year old FLTLT Wright (retired) in front of family and friends, Air Marshal Brown said it was important to remember the contribution of past Air Force members that helped shape Air Force today.
“It was a privilege to present this honorary rank today. FLTLT Wright’s skills, courage and leadership exemplifies the best traditions of the Royal Australian Air Force.
“The values of respect, excellence, agility, dedication, integrity and teamwork demonstrated by FLTLT Wright during his service mirrors those held by the modern Air Force,” Air Marshal Brown said.
FLTLT Wright (retired) was surprised and visibly moved by the unexpected honour.
“Thank you, it’s a real surprise. I applied for the commission before I was shot down, but the papers couldn’t be found. When I came back they said ‘forget about it’ so I did.
“After I was shot down I was picked up by the German Army and taken to an aerodrome, where I met the German pilot that shot me down. He shook my hand and said 'one day we’ll be friends',” FLTLT Wright (retired) said.
In a unique situation, FLTLT Wright (then Flight Sergeant) was interviewed for his commission in 1942, just six days before he was reported missing. Although the paperwork was lost, he was regarded as an Officer by his superiors. Despite extensive searches, the paperwork was never located. The Honorary Rank recognises his contribution to Air Force during World War II.
FLTLT Wright was born in Ballina, worked in Tamworth before enlisting in the RAAF, and now lives in Avalon Beach (North of Sydney) in NSW. A biography is available below.
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Brief Biography of Flight Lieutenant Wright
FLTLT Ken Wright was born in Ballina in 1920 and worked as bank teller in Tamworth until joining the RAAF on 9 December 1940 and commencing his training at Tamworth. He qualified as a pilot in July 1941 flying Avro Ansons.
In 1941 he travelled to the United Kingdom, where he completed a course as a navigator and began flying Blackburn Botha aircraft, undertaking maritime surveillance. He volunteered for the photographic reconnaissance unit, and in 1942 he began flying Spitfires.
“I can still remember the thrill of that first takeoff, the terrific increase in power after the Avro Anson and because of the narrow undercarriage take off and landing was a bit difficult but once in the air the plane handled beautifully. There was no dual instruction, a quick brief, read the booklet and off you went for your first flight in a Spitfire.”
Nicknamed ‘Lofty’ for his 6ft 5" height, FLTLT Wright flew 19 missions over France and Belgium, as well as some longer missions to Germany.
In a unique situation, he was interviewed for his commission in 1942, just six days before he was reported missing. Although the paperwork was lost, he was regarded as an Officer by his superiors. Despite extensive searches, the paperwork was never located.
On his 20th mission, undertaking photographic surveillance between Bremen and Bremerhaven (North Germany), he was fired on by a German Messerschmitt BE 109. Receiving shrapnel wounds and with his aircraft damaged, he bailed out of his aircraft and was captured. Taken to an airfield on the way to a POW camp, in a twist of fate he met the German pilot, Leutnant Dieter Gerhardt, who had shot him down.
“I was fired at from the ground but the flak bursts were not close and I turned on my camera and started the run, in my rear vision mirror appeared a Me109. I had no guns and no training in fighter tactics. I guessed ‘one is up the creek without a paddle’. I made an evasive move as his burst did not hit the cockpit but he hit one wing leaving one aileron flapping in the slipstream. I was still able to hold the plane level.
“Eventually he fired again and the burst strafed the cockpit and caused me a lot of shrapnel injury and the destruction of my instruments and I could smell petrol. I left the U.K. with 80 gallons in the main tanks and 65 gallons approx in each of the two tanks built in to the wings, the fact that it did not catch fire was amazing. I then decided I had to bail out before being shot or burnt to death in an explosion.
“ I remembered my escape drill although I had never jumped before - undo the harness straps, turn the aeroplane upside down as there were no ejection seats, and fall out, as well as a final kick forward to the stick to help my exit. As I floated down my adversary circled me, and I can remember wondering if he would shoot. He apparently decided I would be caught very easily. I landed in a potato field and noticed on my way down that army trucks were speeding towards me with armed soldiers on hand very quickly. I remember feeling that I had failed and very downhearted as I loved flying.”
FLTLT Wright was interred at Durchgangslager der Luftwaffe and moved to Stalag 8B, Luft 3 Sagan, Luft 3 Bellaria and finally to Stalag 3A Luckenwalde. After three years as a Prisoner of War, he escaped with a friend and joined the US Forces at Elbe on Victory in Europe Day.
FLTLT Wright travelled to Temora in 2011, where the Aviation Museum arranged for him to fly in a Tiger Moth again, 70 years after he first learnt to fly one.
Today he lives at Avalon Beach, North of Sydney.