Air Vice-Marshal Sir Erik Bennett, KBE, CB, CVO

Although not a Cranwellian himself, many Cranwellians will have served with, or for, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Erik Bennett who passed away in Oman on the 28th January 2022.

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Erik Peter Bennett was born on the 3rd September 1926 in Dublin into an Anglo-Irish Protestant family and educated at King’s Hospital School, Dublin. He joined the RAF as an airman in July 1943 where he served in administrative posts in Lincolnshire before being commissioned into the Secretarial Branch in 1948.

In 1950 he transferred into the GD(P) Branch and in June 1951 he joined 249 Squadron based at Deversoir in the Canal Zone of Egypt, where the squadron was equipped with Vampires. After an Instructor Course at West Raynham, he returned to his squadron in Egypt and, after a brief spell with 32 Squadron, he joined 111 Squadron at North Weald on Meteor day fighters. After a year he transferred to 64 Squadron at Duxford as a flight commander before being posted as an instructor at the Day Fighter Leader’s School at West Raynham.

In November 1958 he was loaned to the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) which had been formed three years earlier. The RAF had assisted in the development of the fledgling air force and, when Bennett arrived, Britain was beginning to supply 12 ex-RAF Hunters to form No 1 Squadron which he established along RAF lines. For the final two years in Jordan, he served as the UK’s Defence Advisor. He had formed a close relationship as Air Adviser to King Hussein, himself a qualified fighter pilot and, on his departure in November 1962, the King invested him with the Order of Istiqlal (Independence). Bennett retained a deep affection for Jordan and was godfather to the current King Abdullah.

After attending Staff College, he served in the MoD and was the Phantom Project Officer. Converting to the Lightning, he became OC Flying Wing at Tengah. Colleagues remember him for his aggressive driving style in a yellow Ferrari, a gift from King Hussein! Allegedly, there was a weekend speed run on the runway between his Ferrari and Gp Capt Lageson’s Austin Healey 3000.

As Boulmer’s Station Commander, he led a British military team visiting Oman where he wrote a proposal for an Omani air defence system. On leaving Boulmer, he headed for Oman.

When Sultan Qaboos bin Said ascended to the Omani throne after overthrowing his father in a coup in 1970, he began implementing a policy of modernisation, bringing social, educational and military reforms including the creation of an autonomous air force.

Bennett’s arrival in November 1974 to take up the post in the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force (SOAF) coincided with the late stages of the Dhofar rebellion in the south-west of Oman. He immediately recognised that, while the Strikemaster had performed well in operations, there was a need to acquire aircraft that could carry a wider variety of weapons. He negotiated the transfer of 16 surplus Hunters from the RJAF and also acquired several ex-RAF aircraft to create a modern and effective fighter ground-attack force for the Sultan.

As SOAF’s commander, Bennett had established a close working relationship with the Sandhurst-trained anglophile Sultan Qaboos. For his services, Bennett was awarded the Order of Oman (1980), Companion of the Order of the Bath (1984) and the Order of Sultan Qaboos (1985). He was knighted by the Queen on the 16th June 1990 in her "Overseas Awards" and retired from the RAF on the 10th June 1991. By the time Bennett retired from the now named Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO), under Bennett’s astute and dynamic leadership the small organisation of 1974 had expanded and modernised into one of the most formidable air forces in the region.

After nearly 17 years in post, Sultan Qaboos wanted to make him his Chief of Defence Staff but Bennett declined, saying it was time for an Omani to be appointed. After retiring, he moved to the court of the Sultan where the firm and lasting friendship continued and he remained the Sultan’s confidant and private advisor.

In November 2010, while on a Royal visit to Muscat, the Queen awarded Bennett the Insignia of a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.

Away from his military and diplomatic work, Bennett supported the Royal Geographical Society’s fieldwork activities and its Oman Earthwatch Programme, which encourages field surveys to understand and protect Oman’s unique natural heritage.

 
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Sir Erik with Sultan Qaboos

In the full-dress uniform of the Royal Air Force of Oman