Tom Campbell Black

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Tom Campbell Black
Tom Campbell Black.jpg
Tom Campbell Black c.1935
Born December 1899
Brighton, England
Died 19 September 1936
Liverpool, England
Occupation Aviator
Spouse(s) Florence Desmond
Parent(s) Hugh Milner Black and Alice Jean McCullough

Tom Campbell Black (December 1899, Brighton, England – 19 September 1936, Liverpool, England) was a famous English aviator.

He was the son of Alice Jean McCullough and Hugh Milner Black. He became a world famous aviator when he and C. W. A. Scott won the London to Melbourne Centenary Air Race in 1934.

Early years[edit]

Tom Campbell Black attended Brighton College and the records for the period summer 1915 to summer 1917 indicate that he entered Hampden House, May 1915, was appointed House Prefect, January 1917 and played Second XI Football, 1915 to 1916 and 1916 to 1917. Campbell Black attended Army Class II and entered the RN College at Greenwich and attained a commission in the R.N.A.S. (Naval Air Service). He served first as a pilot in the Naval Air Service and later in the RAF during the Great War, rising to the rank of Captain. Arriving in Africa as a soldier settler in 1922, he joined his brother, Frank Milner Black, who had been stationed as a soldier in Kenya and decommissioned in 1920.[1] Black family history has it that Tom and his brother managed a coffee plantation in British East Africa, in the 1920s. Their farm was between the towns of Rongai and Eldama Ravine, in the Rift Valley, about 110 miles (180 km) northwest of Nairobi. Tom was a noted horseman who was an award-winning show jumper, winning a competition in 1925. He later bred and raised race horses, which remained a passion of his throughout his life.

It is stated in the Shuttleworth Collection Records, England, that an aircraft currently in their collection, a de Havilland DH.51, was built in 1925 and shortly after John Evans Carberry bought and shipped it to Mombasa. The DH.51 first flew in Africa on 4 April 1926. In June 1928, Tom Campbell Black, G. Skinner and A. Hughes bought the aircraft and on 10 September 1928, it became the first aircraft to be registered in Kenya. Named Miss Kenya, it was first registered G-KAA, but with the change in the registration system, it was re-registered VP-KAA.

Wilson Airways[edit]

After flying with Campbell Black in February 1929, Mrs. Florence Kerr Wilson was encouraged by his enthusiasm to form Wilson Airways Ltd., in Kenya. At inception later in the same year, her airline possessed a single Gypsy Moth aircraft, primarily piloted by Campbell Black. The airline grew into a comprehensive air carrier across Kenya. Captain Hugo Dunkerley, the Editor of Aeroken and the Special Correspondent of the East African Standard, accompanied Campbell Black in the first flight from Nairobi to Mombasa and back in a single day, on 21 November 1929. He also accompanied Tom on a round flight, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Mombasa and back to Nairobi in just over nine hours, in November 1930. Tom Campbell Black was the Managing Director/Chief Pilot of Wilson Airways, but in March 1932, he resigned from Wilson Airways and left Kenya to take up an employment offer made by Lord Marmaduke Furness, a renowned horse breeder, to be his personal pilot and live back in England.

While the company was profitable, Wilson Airways was disbanded in 1939 with the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Ernst Udet rescue[edit]

In the Time Magazine, 20 October 1934, report of the London to Melbourne Air Race, a mention is made to an incident that happened concerning Tom Black "Captain T. Campbell Black, famed for his spectacular rescue of Ernst Udet, German War Ace, in the desert wastes of the treacherous Nile country three years ago." A reference to this act is found in Ernst Udet's Ace of the Iron Cross.

An account of the rescue follows:

The London to Melbourne Centenary Air Race[edit]

de Havilland DH.88 Comet racer G-ACSS, Grosvenor House, flown by Tom Campbell Black.
DeHavilland DH.88 Comet, "Grosvenor House" G-ACSS, in Martin Place, Sydney 12 November 1934.

In 1934, Campbell Black and C. W. A. Scott were entered in the London to Melbourne Air Race, officially known as the "MacRobertson Air Race". Recorded as Captain T. Campbell Black in the starters list for the race, Campbell Black and C. W. A. Scott won the "Speed Section" of the race in an extraordinary time of 71 hours, and won the First Place Prize of 10,000 pounds. They also won the "Handicap Section" but the race rules didn't allow them to win the two sections. Black and Scott were awarded "The Britannia Trophy" by the Royal Aero Club, England, presented "For the British Aviator or Aviators accomplishing the most meritorious performance in aviation during the previous year."

The Manx Air Race[edit]

The following report was made on an air race held at the Isle of Man, England: Manx Air Race 1932. Held Saturday, 18 June, total Island course: 108 miles (174 km). At the end of the two laps it was Ashwell Cook with Tom Campbell Black as navigator, who came through to win in a Circus Moth aircraft averaging 102 mph (164 km/h). The following references to Tom Black are recorded in the history of "Firbeck Hall", an elegant country home in England dating from circa 1585, that in the mid-1930s was converted into one of the country's most exclusive sporting country clubs.

Beryl Markham[edit]

Campbell Black also had a long-term relationship with Beryl Markham, the famous aviatrix who lived in Kenya who had been introduced to aviation by Campbell-Black. He subsequently became her flight instructor. In September 1936, Beryl Markham achieved fame by being the first solo female aviator to fly the Atlantic Ocean from East to West (from England to America), against the prevailing winds.

The Schlesinger Race[edit]

In the same year, Tom Black had entered in an air race from England to Johannesburg, South Africa, "The Schlesinger Race", flown from 29 September 1936 to 1 October 1936, the race offered a prize of £10,000 to the winner. Campbell Black was one of the three favourites to win the race, all flying Percival E2H Mew Gulls.

On 19 September 1936, while preparing for the race, Tom Campbell Black was killed at the U.K's Liverpool, Speke Airport, in a ground collision with another aircraft. A RAF bomber that had landed ran into Black's Mew Gull as he taxiied out for take off. Black was reputed to have been looking down at his map at the time. The propeller of the large biplane tore through the side of Black's cockpit, striking and mortally wounding him in the chest and shoulder. He died on the way to hospital. He left a widow, the English actress Florence Desmond, whom he had married in 1935.

The winners of the "Schlesinger Race" were C. W. A. Scott, (Black's co-pilot in the 1934 MacRoberts Race) and Giles Guthrie.

The incident at Speke Airport[edit]

The following is a transcript of Incidents Report at Speke Airport:




  • Markham, Beryl. West with the Night. New York: North Point Press, 1942; reprinted, 1983. ISBN 0-86547-118-5.
  • McCullough, Bruce. Tom Campbell Black: Pioneer Aviator. Auckland. Tom Campbell Black
  • Udet, Ernst. Ace of the Iron Cross. New York: Arco Publishing, 1981. ISBN 0-668-05161-2.

External links[edit]