Hero pilot celebrates 100th birthday

A veteran who made aviation history has celebrated his 100th birthday surrounded by friends, family and his comrades from Bomber Command. 

John Oliver ‘Jo’ Lancaster was the first pilot to eject from an aircraft in an emergency situation using a Martin-Baker ejection seat.

Since that day, May 30, 1949, Martin-Baker ejection seats have saved more than 7,420 aircrew lives worldwide. The RAF veteran, who lives in Hassocks, is a regular at Princess Marina House in Rustington and it was there he held his birthday party. 

“My nephew even surprised me and travelled from Spain. Thank you to the staff at Princess Marina House and to everyone who has joined me today.” For many years, Jo has dedicated hours to fundraising and advocating on behalf of the RAF Benevolent Fund, which owns the respite centre.

Starting out in 1935 as an engineering apprentice with Armstrong Whitworth, Jo went on to fly 54 operations during the Second World War.

He also took part in the Thousand Bomber Raids in 1942 while an instructor at an operational training unit. Post-war, Jo took up numerous appointments as a test pilot and on May 30, 1949, while flying the A.W.52 Flying Wing, he became the first pilot to use a Martin-Baker ejection seat in an emergency.

Jo flew in the first Farnborough Airshow in 1948 and has returned several times, including last year, when he attended the 70th anniversary show. 

Jo had two birthday cakes, both displaying models of the Lancaster and a miniature ejector seat, and was delighted to receive a card from the Queen. Guests were treated to a buffet lunch, music and a photo presentation documenting Jo’s life. 

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