Born in Winnipeg, Canada in June 1914, Johnny Kent obtained a private pilot’s licence at 17.
Two years later he became the youngest commercial pilot in Canada. In 1935 he joined the RAF on a short service commission and after pilot training joined No 19 Squadron to fly Gloster Gauntlet biplane fighters.
In 1937 he moved to the Experimental Section Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, where he was awarded the Air Force Medal for his work on testing the effects of colliding aircraft with balloon cables. He had collided with 300 cables and survived.
In July 1940, Kent joined No 303 (Polish) Squadron as a flight commander and destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter aircraft and a Junkers Ju 88 bomber in September and another Bf 109 the following month. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Krzyz Walecznych (a Polish decoration) before being posted to Biggin Hill to command No 92 Squadron.
In November he destroyed three Bf 109s before being posted to an Operational Training Unit as Wing Commander Flying. Seven months later he arrived at Northolt to command a Polish Wing. He quickly destroyed three more Bf 109s.
Later in 1941 he was appointed to lead the Kenley Wing with whom he destroyed two further Messerschmitt 109s. In October he was awarded a Bar to his DFC and later in the year was sent on a lecture tour of Canada and the United States. In 1942 he became Station Commander of Church Fenton before being posted to the Middle East. He returned to the UK in March 1944 and remained in the RAF at the end of the war.
In 1946 he became Personal Staff Officer to Sholto Douglas, C-in-C of the British Zone in occupied Germany. His next posting was as Chief Test Pilot at Farnborough, responsible for testing the early British jet aircraft.
In 1953 Kent was appointed as Commanding Officer of RAF Tangmere and was present when Squadron Leader Neville Duke, Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot, achieved the world airspeed record from the airfield that September.
To accommodate the 80 journalists and cameramen present, Kent ordered the station’s gym be turned into a dormitory.
In addition to being a fighter station, Tangmere was a Master Diversion Airfield with its own Custom Officer. This meant the airfield received about 2,000 visitors a year, including HRH the Duke of Edinburgh who would regularly fly in when visiting nearby Goodwood, Cowdrey Park and Arundel Castle when the Queen was visiting the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
In 1954, Kent hosted the Queen when she was at Tangmere to see Prince Philip depart in a Royal Canadian Air Force DC4-M North Star aircraft for the opening of the Vancouver British Empire and Commonwealth Games.
Group Captain John (Johnny) Kent retired from the RAF on December 1 1956. He died on October 7 1985, aged 71.
This is the 35th in a series of monthly articles on the people of RAF Tangmere. More information about the museum, including opening times and entry prices can be found online at www.tangmere-museum.org.uk
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