David Seward, AFC: Led RAF aerobatic team and Norfolk Red Cross director

A leader of the country's first official aerobatic team, Group Capt David Seward, who was also Norfolk director of the British Red Cross Society, has died aged 80.

As commanding officer of the RAF's Firebirds, which had been set up in 1961, he was stationed at Wattisham, near Ipswich, for two years.

The display team flew fighters, nine English Electric Lightnings, which were then the fastest in the world and capable of flying at twice the speed of sound. These front-line aircraft were later replaced by more economical jets when the Red Arrows were formed.

He also commanded the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, flying Spitfires, Hurricanes and Wellingtons at many displays including the Paris Air Show and Farnborough.

Group Captain Seward, who was awarded the Air Force Cross for 'an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying,' also received the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.

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Born in Northampton, he joined the RAF in 1949 as a trainee pilot to do National Service after starting in the Boys' Brigade. In those early days, he flew 'heavies' including the Canberra but in his 37-year career flew the Meteor, Venom, Javelin and Lightning. He was chief instructor on Lightning jets between 1972 and 1975, when he led the operations wing at RAF Coltishall.

On exchange duties with the American Air Force, he flew the F-86, F-102 and F-106. His son, Nick, then with 29 Squadron, flew him in a McDonnell Douglas Phantom F4.

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He was to spend a large part of his career in Norfolk and was commanding officer at Neatishead for two years from July 1978, after serving as wing commander air defence at RAF headquarters strike command at High Wycombe.

After a final posting to Cyprus, he retired from the RAF and became Norfolk branch director of the British Red Cross in May 1986, where he worked for about 10 years.

Group Capt Seward was Norwich branch president of the RAFA (Royal Air Force Association) when the RAF celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2008. He presented a specially created montage to the then Lord Mayor of Norwich, Roy Blower, which included stamps and a first-day cover commemorating the anniversary and a print by aviation artist Frank Wootton of Spitfires from 257 Squadron at RAF Coltishall during the winter of 1940/41.

He had lived at Honing for more than a quarter of a century, where he was involved in many community activities. He instigated the popular fortnightly quiz evenings, which were held at the village hall, where he was the chairman.

His wife, Jean, died in 1999. He leaves a daughter, Carolyn, and sons, Chris and Nick, who also joined the RAF and became a Group Captain, eight grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. He is survived by a younger sister, Eileen.

A funeral will be held at SS Peter and Paul, Honing, near North Walsham today, February 4, 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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