Dave Henderson – Aircraft Enthusiast and Modeller

Christopher David Henderson known as Dave

16.8.1952 – 26.12.2010

Written by his wife, Alison Henderson

Dave was born in Omagh, Northern Ireland and moved to Nairobi, Kenya when he was two years old as his father had joined the Kenyan Police after leaving the army .

From a very young age, Dave was an airplane enthusiast.  At first he collected books such as the Observers Book of Aircraft and from there started building small model kits, collecting pictures and photographs of anything relating to aircraft.

Going through Dave’s collection of aircraft, I came across so many photographs of aircraft taken at Nairobi airport in the late 1950 and 1960’s – one of the first long distance aircraft with the BOAC logo.  This also reminded me of the stories he used to tell me of his travels between Kenya and the UK, initially with his parents and then later on his own during his school holidays from his school, The Duke of York.

One particular story was when the airplane he was on, bound for the UK, was turned back to Nairobi shortly after take-off as  Tom Mboya, a prominent Kenyan politician who was a contender for the presidency, had just been assassinated. Once the plane was on the ground, it was surrounded by armed militia, boarded and searched as it was thought that the perpetrator was on board.  He said this was quite a scary experience for a 15 year old.

Also amongst his collection, I found his membership for the BOAC children’s flight club and his little badge.  He also had a card signed by the pilot from one of his many flights, when he was invited to view the cockpit.

Such was Dave’s enthusiasm and passion for flight and aviation that his life’s ambition was to join the RAF and become a pilot.  As soon as he completed his schooling in Kenya, he returned to the UK and applied to the RAF.  He was invited for an interview and to complete the aptitude tests and assessments.  To say that he was over the moon was an under-statement! His life’s ambition was within his grasp!  Unfortunately, this story did not have a happy ending.  Despite passing all the aptitude tests and assessments, he failed the eye test as he was myopic in one eye.  This had a devastating effect upon him and, despite being offered a position as ground crew he turned it down as only training as a pilot would do!  This was a decision he was to regret all his life.

He trained instead as a Telecommunications Engineer, but still maintained his passion for aviation in any shape or form and started to steadily grow his collection.

In 1976 he moved to Johannesburg to work for AEI Henley and eventually purchased a house in Kempton Park – only 7 miles or so from Jan Smuts Airport (now Johannesburg International).  He spent many, many hours at the airport on the viewing deck photographing aircraft and taking note of any new airlines that flew into South Africa.

He regularly attended air shows at Waterkloof, Lanseria and even Margate, Natal.  He also continued to build his huge collection of aircraft photographs.  Looking through his albums, there are photographs dating back to the 1960’s from East Africa and through to the 1990’s from South Africa, and up to 2010 from various air bases in the UK. He was also a regular visitor to SAAF Museum in Ysterplaat every time he visited Cape Town.

In 1997, due to work reasons, Dave and his family moved back to the UK and settled in Shropshire – ironically very close to Shawbury RAF base and not too far from Cosford air base.

Dave was now totally in his element as he was within driving distance of some of the world famous air shows and he wasted no time at all in making sure that he attended these events.  For example, Cosford Airshow, The Royal International Tattoo at Fairford, Duxford Airshow, Farnborough, Boscombe Down and many more.  In his collection, I have found all the souvenir programmes still in pristine condition.

Not only did Dave come home with the souvenir programme – he returned with many signed prints, reference books and model kits.  The model kits donated to the museum are but a fraction of how many he actually bought and built.   It is a tragedy that he, unfortunately, died prematurely before he had the time to painstakingly and lovingly fulfil his passion for aircraft model building. He was a perfectionist when it came to his models and each and every part had to be perfectly prepared and assembled, airbrushed and the decals applied to complete the model.  He made a special nameplate for each model and it was carefully placed in a glass cabinet to display the model to its full potential.   So particular was he with his models that I was not allowed to dust them! I could admire them, but touch them – definitely not!!

The highlight of Dave’s collection was the Sea Harriers. Our eldest daughter joined the Royal Navy in 2000 and one of her deployments was at RNAS Yeovilton where she worked directly with the pilots of the Sea Harriers.  In her capacity she was not only able to obtain prints of the various Squadron’s, but able to get each print signed by the pilots of those squadrons. These framed prints take pride of place in his model room.  Yes –  he had an entire room dedicated solely to his hobby!  The walls are entirely covered in photographs, signed prints, and framed pictures.  There are two huge cabinets filled with all his books, magazines in binders, die-cast models of all the airplanes he has flown in on various holidays (Easyjet, Mytravelite, Ryanair, British Airways, etc.) and the models that he lovingly built.

Quite some time after Dave had passed away, I decided to open cupboard he built in the alcove of his hobby room and could not believe my eyes! The cupboard was filled from top to bottom with all the model kits he had bought but was yet to build!  A great majority of them are now very collectable as they are no longer in production.  Such was his passion for aviation, that he was unable to resist buying model kits, books and prints every time he visited an air show!

Dave did get the opportunity to fulfil his wish and fly an aeroplane.  His family bought him a flying experience package for his birthday a number of years ago.  For two hours he was the happiest person alive being allowed to pilot the plane with the instructor at his side. We were so happy for him that he had at last ‘got his wings’!

Dave would be very proud and extremely pleased to know that the models he put so much love, attention and passion into building are to be displayed at the SAAF Museum in the city that he loved so much.  If he had had the choice, he would no doubt have settled in Cape Town and made it his home.  He loved Cape Town so much, that his last wish was for his ashes to be scattered into Table Bay outside of his favourite restaurant, Quay 4.  His last wish was carried out in April, 2011 and it comforts us, his family, to know that he is where he has always wanted to be! He always said that he would love to live out his life near the sea.

Well Dave, we have made sure that you got your wish and also that your beautiful models will be admired by many fellow aviation enthusiasts.

A large portion of Dave Henderson’s model collection was donated to the SAAF Museum by his wife, Alison Henderson.