From The Daily Telegraph 27 November.
Air Vice-Marshal David Emmerson, who has died aged 78, was the commanding officer of a Nimrod detachment deployed to Ascension Island for operations in the Falklands War (Operation Corporate); he flew on 10 operational sorties in support of the Task Force, the majority at extreme range into a high threat area.
Emmerson was commanding No 206 Squadron based at RAF Kinloss in Morayshire, the first squadron equipped with the updated and more capable Nimrod Mark 2. On April 20 1982 he was summoned to the Joint Force Headquarters at Northwood to be briefed to command a deployment of these aircraft on Ascension Island, replacing a small force of less capable Nimrod Mark 1 aircraft.
Emmerson left immediately for Ascension to prepare for the enhanced Nimrods – now modified to conduct in-flight refuelling and carry air defence missiles – to conduct surveillance operations as the Task Force deployed towards the Falklands.
Once his crews and aircraft were established he implemented a programme to train them for operations close to the Argentine coast and within range of hostile fighters. Not only did he prepare his crews but he decided that he would fly on each of the sorties that broke new ground as the additional equipment, capabilities and techniques were introduced. He never tasked a crew to fly an operation which he himself had not already flown.
He was the navigator of the Nimrod that supported the first Vulcan attack on Port Stanley Airfield on May 1. He then flew on the first operation to within air defence radar and fighter range of the Argentine bases of Puerto Belgrano and Comodoro Rivadavia, the latter conducted in daylight and at real risk to aircraft and crew.
Another of his operational sorties was to provide surface surveillance overnight on May 20/21 in support of the amphibious landings on East Falkland, a flight of almost 20 hours that covered 7,200 miles and required three in-flight refuellings.
For his services during the conflict, Emmerson was awarded the AFC. The citation stated that he “displayed exceptional leadership and a great sense of courage … which were a magnificent example to others”.
David Emmerson was born at Mildenhall, Suffolk, on September 6 1939 and educated at Colchester Royal Grammar School
In February 1959 he began his career in the maritime patrol and anti-submarine role when he joined No 203 Squadron at Ballykelly in Northern Ireland. The squadron was equipped with the four-engine Shackleton, a derivative of the wartime Avro Lancaster bomber. His talent was quickly recognised and by the time he was 22 he was an aircraft captain, an unusual appointment, not least because he was a navigator.
In January 1967 he began his long association with the Nimrod (an aircraft based on the de Havilland Comet), joining the team responsible for developing and proving the aircraft and its systems and introducing a mission and aircraft simulator. When the first squadron, No 201, was formed in December 1969, Emmerson was posted to be its navigation leader. Operating from Kinloss, the squadron patrolled the North Atlantic tracking Soviet surface fleets and submarines, often when they were in transit to and from Cuba.
After attending the Canadian Forces Staff College in 1973, he remained in Canada on the staff of the British Air Advisor in Ottawa. He returned to North America in December 1977 to join the British defence staff in Washington. In May 1981 he assumed command of No 206 Squadron, where his natural leadership style and knowledge soon won the respect and affection of his crews.
Promoted to air vice-marshal in November 1989, he became the Chief of Staff at HQ No 18 Group but 18 months later he decided to take early retirement. He was appointed CBE in 1989 and was honoured to be the president of No 206 Squadron Association.
Emmerson was very disturbed when the new Nimrod MRA 4 was cancelled in 2010 following a defence review, thus leaving the United Kingdom without a maritime air capability. He joined other senior RAF colleagues in expressing his dismay.
Full obituary with photograph.
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