Tributes paid to Suffolk aviator whose world records inspired the Red Arrows
PUBLISHED: 16:03 11 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:03 11 March 2020
Tributes have been paid to a once Suffolk-based aviator who inspired the Red Arrows thanks to his squadron’s record-breaking stunts.
Air commodore Roger Topp AFC, 96, was transferred to RAF Wattisham in 1958 alongside his beloved 111 Squadron, which had been nicknamed the Black Arrows by the French a year prior for their death-defying aerobatics.
Air Cdre Topp, who later lived in Norfolk, had transformed the squadron while stationed at RAF North Weald in Essex - overturning low morale by introducing his men to aerobatics in their famous Hawker Hunter jets. Later that year, he showed the world what his squadron was capable of after pulling off a 22-plane loop-de-loop at the Farnborough Air Show - a record yet to be beaten.
The coveted pilot died on March 6 following a stay in hospital.
Son Jeff Topp, 69, said: 'Dad was always an immense figure - someone who you could see had achieved great things.
'But when you are young you never truly realise what your parents really achieve. It wasn't until I'd have pilots asking for his autograph until it clicked that what dad and the Black Arrows did really was special.
'He had a great sense of humour, and I remember him putting on his flight suits on cold, dark winter nights and pressing his face against the window to make us laugh.
'We used to have tremendous fun when I was a child and he would take me to play golf - and it stayed that way until three or four years ago.'
Air Cdre Topp later returned to the airfield in 2013, where his beloved Hawker Hunter - named Blackjack in honour of his call-sign - had been restored by the on-site museum and placed on display. It had previously been grounded and painted like a Russian MiG for use as target practice.
It was there he met historian David Eade, who grew up 'in awe' watching the squadron from his window.
Mr Eade said his childhood hero will always hold a 'special place' in the hearts of local people.
Mr Eade added: 'On reflection, one cannot review Roger Topp's Aerobatic career without realising the effect his foresight was to have on future teams, especially today's world famous RAF Red Arrows.
'His ideas and the dreams he made, you can see them living on today in the Red Arrows.
'He was a gentleman and it is a privilege to have known him.
'Blue skies, Roger.'