Colin Torkington FRAeS, C.Eng. (1936 - 2016)

Colin Torkington was born on 25 January 1936 in Leeds, Yorkshire, U.K. Colin obtained a glider pilot qualification in Yorkshire as a schoolboy Cadet before leaving home at 16 years of age to travel from Yorkshire to Surrey in the South of England in order to take up an Apprenticeship with Vickers-Armstrongs. He tells the story that moving "down South' was much more stressful than the subsequent move to Australia. The Vickers factory at Weybridge was an exciting and fascinating place, producing one Valiant four engined jet V-Bomber and three Viscounts per week.


The apprenticeship involved three months shop floor work in every major manufacturing area from the machine shop to the final assembly of aircraft. There were around 700 apprentices at Vickers at the time and all enjoyed one day (and three evenings) release per week to study at College.

Colin was awarded the 1956 Apprentice of the Year prize and later was sent by Vickers to do a leadership course at the Outward Bound Sea School in the Moray Firth, Scotland. At Weybridge, Vickers also paid for his flying training and he obtained his unrestricted Private Pilot's Licence.

After some three years in the main factory, Colin was fortunate to be sent to the Research and Development design office, based in the old Brooklands racetrack Club House. This small group was headed by Barnes Wallis of geodetic construction and bouncing bomb fame. The work was on variable geometry aircraft and Wallis was a fine teacher and a great inspiration to a junior engineer.

On Sept 13, 1958, Colin married Barbara Williams,of Hersham, Surrey, the same day he was accepted for a two-year post graduate course at the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield.

On graduating in 1960 with a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering, Colin rejoined Vickers, then British Aircraft Corporation, as a stressman in the main design office at Weybridge. He was given design responsibility for the vertical fin of the TSR-2 aircraft.

In 1961, Colin accepted an offer of employment from Australia as an Experimental Officer, Grade 3, at the Aeronautical Research Laboratory of the Department of Supply at Fisherman's Bend, Victoria. Barbara and Colin left England on their third wedding anniversary. They arrived at Essendon airport, Melbourne, in a BOAC Comet 4.

Work at the Aeronautical Research Laboratory included the fatigue testing of 222 surplus Mustang fighter wings. The aim was to develop criteria for the analytical prediction of metal fatigue in aircraft structures. The work was world leading, very successful and has never been surpassed.

With the appeal of more direct safety-related work, Colin transferred to the Department of Civil Aviation in November 1962 as an Airworthiness Engineer. The work covered the whole field of regulatory control, including standards, continuing airworthiness and certification together with involvement in accident investigation. Colin remained primarily in the regulatory field for the next 30 years, becoming head of Airworthiness and Flying Operations the Civil Aviation Authority.

During this period, Colin spent over a year on secondment to the Accident Investigation Branch, engaged in major accident investigation work. This included a Fokker F27 crash in Launceston during a single engined approach to land (VH-FNH), a Vickers Viscount accident near Winton, Queensland, involving a fire and wing separation (VH-RMI) and another Viscount near Port Hedland WA caused by wing separation due to metal fatigue (VH-RMQ). Colin was structures group leader on these accidents and, in the latter case, was sent to England for a month to carry on the investigation into design aspects.

In 1990, Colin was seconded for six months to Helitec Industries on an industrial experience assignment relating to the acceptance of composite repairs to metal structures. Three separate overseas visits were involved totalling three months covering thirty-four organizations in seven countries. Appropriate design and certification criteria were developed and accepted.

Work with the Regulator involved many committees but Colin's membership of the following safety related organizations is worthy of note:

  • Australian member of the FAA International DATA Exchange on Aviation Safety Committee.
  • Chairman of the Continuing Airworthiness Panel of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and Chairman of the Aging Aircraft Working Group.
  • Member of the Technical Committee of the International Federation of Airworthiness.

Overseas Experience Before Appointment To ICAO

All regulatory Authorities are extremely dependent upon overseas issues, ranging from the original design, manufacturing and certification of aircraft, to the constant and vital liaison concerning action following accidents or other occurrences.

When significant new aircraft were proposed for Australia, a certification team was sent to the country concerned to learn about the aircraft, its design standards and the organizations and the people involved. Colin took pert in eighteen such visits, including eleven as team leader. The aircraft concerned ranged from the Concorde in the U.K. and France, to the BK117 helicopter in Japan.

A further 29 aircraft were assessed in Colin's continuing airworthiness work; he visited 130 different overseas organizations and attended 39 Conferences. In total, Colin made 49 separate overseas visits were to a total of 25 countries. Virtually all major regulatory authorities and manufacturers in the world were included.


In 1995 Colin was appointed as the Australian delegate to the fifteen-member ICAO Air Navigation Commission (ANC) in Montreal, Canada. He was also appointed for two years as the Australian representative with the FAA in Washington. He remained in this ICAO position for over five years (despite open heart surgery) and became First Vice President of the Commission. The Commission was responsible for the preparation of standards across the whole spectrum of international civil aviation. During his appointment Colin visited 100 organizations and attended 16 international conferences in a total of 16 different countries, from China to Chile.

Following his stint as Australian ICAO ANC representative, Colin Torkington retired from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in January 2001.


In 1997, Colin was appointed to a Committee of the United States National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. This committee spent a year, part -time, reviewing the FAA's Aircraft Certification Service and produced a report Improving the Continued Airworthiness of Civil Aviation Aircraft. This was published by the National Academy Press in 1998. Colin has presented Papers in 9 countries and has had 22 Papers published.

Other Activities

Colin made a sponsored visit was made to South Africa to undertake a review of structural integrity in ageing aircraft issues, covering both civil and military aviation.
He was also appointed to the Board of composite research company Advanced Repair Technology International based in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. He served in that capacity for four years.

The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was tasked by Congress to pursue a major effort in the aircraft safety area. NASA asked the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to form an expert panel to review the program and Colin was invited to take part in this panel (the only non-US citizen), which met in Washington in 1998.

Following Colin's retirement, the Irish Government sponsored an in-depth re-evaluation of an Aer Lingus 1968 Vickers Viscount accident (EI-AOM) in which 61 people died and for which a cause was not found at the time. Colin was requested to be part of a team of three eminent experts to review the available information and "to shed further light, if possible, on the cause or causes of the accident". This investigation entailed five visits to Ireland and England, and two to France, and established that damage to the tailplane leading to flutter in the elevator spring tab was the probable inititating cause.

Colin Torkington passed away on 17 November 2016.


Right: Colin Torkington was presented with the Coombes Medal for a paper presented to the Institution of Engineers Australia on the occasion of the 24th Conference and 18th Symposium of the International Committee on Aeronautical Fatigue held in Melbourne on 4 May 1995.

(Photos: Colin Torkington collection)


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