Pilot Profiles

Sometimes Age is Just a Number

Remembering David Sercombe

David Sercombe is a name that can be found in many logbooks all over the world. He was a mentor to many aspiring young pilots who rose up the professional ranks, and simply enjoyed the magic of flying recreationally.

David was laid to rest on 28 July 2023, aged 91 years “young”. The remarkable thing was that in March 2023, he was still a practicing instructor with RAAus. On his 90th birthday, it was confirmed that David was the oldest practicing instructor in RAAus, probably in Australia and certainly one of the oldest in the world. David was a passionate aviator and golf player and was still playing in competitions at his home club at Coffs Harbour, NSW before he became ill earlier in 2023.

In the period leading up to his funeral, I had insight into the seven logbooks David kept throughout his six-decade career. His journey would be difficult to replicate. In fact, to my amazement, I found that David was a “late bloomer”. You would expect someone that has amassed more than 25,000 hours aircrew experience would have started on that journey as a youngster. In fact, David only commenced his journey in aviation as a 29-year-old, and didn’t stop until he was just short of turning 92.

David’s story is a fascinating one, and one that has surely intertwined with many of our own across the years. David George Sercombe was born in Wales on 22 September 1931. He did national service in the RAF and at 22 years old joined the merchant navy with P&O. He married Heather in Yorkshire on 31 October 1959 at age 28. They would
later have two sons – Tim and Ian.

At 29 years old, David embarked on his six-decade aviation career – initially as a navigator. When technological advances began to replace the need for a navigator in an aircrew, David transferred into a career as a pilot. The timeline I got from his logbooks are as follows:

DateMilestone
23 March 1961First flight as trainee navigator with British United Airlines (BUA).
22 June 1961Qualifies as a navigator and is crew on Britannia, DC4, DC6 and Electra.
5 August 1964Seconded to Qantas and is crew on Electra and B707.
Serves as navigator with Qantas until 10 September 1971. As technological advances begin to replace the need for navigators, retrains as a pilot.
29 November 1965First flying lesson – effects of controls in a C150. David funds his flying training privately, taking out a 5000 pound loan.
28 April 1966PPL test on C150.
3 April 1968CPL test. Hours building on Victa, Mooney, DC3 and DH82.
27 January 1972Commences as pilot with Qantas after doing 707 endorsement.
29 October 1976B747 conversion – now flying the “Queen of the skies”.
15 March 1988Last flight at Qantas on B747.
20 September 1988Commences with Instructor course at Coffs Harbour Aeroclub.
8 May 1989Qualifies as instructor Grade 3.
13 March 2009Endorsed as RAAus instructor.
22 February 2012CFI (RAAus) at Coffs Harbour Aeroclub.
7 December 2018“Retires” as CFI and remains as RAAus Senior Instructor.
10 March 2023Last Flight as an instructor at Coffs Harbour Aeroclub.

David amassed a total of 24,643 hours of time as aircrew. Despite only having started instructing at 59 years of age, he transferred his immense knowledge — underpinned by his time as a navigator — to hundreds of students over 3,600 hours. David even trained 39 flight instructors in his time. David was a true gentleman and a shining example of someone that simply loved aviation in all its forms. His dedication to flying and to encouraging others to do the same is something we can all take inspiration from.