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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fleming, Ian Bowman (1913–1993)

by David A. Craddock

This article was published online in 2019

Ian Bowman Fleming (1913–1993), aircraft design engineer, was born on 24 June 1913 at Walcha, New South Wales, fourth of five children of Victorian-born Frederick Bowman Fleming, grazier, and his New South Wales-born wife Maybelle Hall, née Johnston. The family moved to Mount View, Wahroonga, in 1917. Ian attended Knox Grammar School and the University of Sydney (BCE, 1935). In 1935 he entered Jesus College, Cambridge (MSc, 1937), England, to study aeronautics under the supervision of (Sir) Bennett Melvill Jones.

Following his graduation, Fleming was employed as a stress engineer at A. V. Roe & Co. Ltd, Manchester, and then at Fairey Aircraft Co., Middlesex, before returning to Australia in 1939. He joined the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Pty Ltd, Melbourne, as assistant designer (1939–43), and later experimental and flight engineer (1943–47), working on the Woomera, Boomerang, and CA-15 aircraft. In 1946 and 1947 he was attached to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, England. On his return to Melbourne he commenced work at the Government Aircraft Factories (GAF), Fishermens Bend, Victoria, as chief designer. From 1948 he led a team designing a radio-controlled jet-propelled target aircraft for joint British and Australian guided-missile testing. One of two manned prototypes, called Pika, took to the air in 1950. Named the Jindivik, the pilotless model began flying in 1952. The GAF built more than five hundred Jindiviks. They flew in Sweden and the United States of America, as well as Britain and Australia, and remained in service until the late 1990s.

Shy about his role in designing the Jindivik, Fleming was eager to share the praise that came from many quarters, stating: ‘It’s the team work that counts’ (Herald 1954, 5). Nevertheless, he was considered a ‘near genius’ (Whitington 1960, 2), whose creativity and ‘patient persistence’ (Cranston 1992, 23) was responsible for the Jindivik’s success. He was appointed general manager of GAF in 1957. The following year he was made controller of aircraft and guided weapon supply, Department of Supply (later Department of Industry and Commerce).

Valued for his expertise in aircraft production methods and costs, in 1954 and 1960 Fleming travelled overseas as part of Australian missions to examine new planes for the Royal Australian Air Force. The second mission recommended the Mirage III, which was subsequently built at GAF. Strongly in favour of maintaining an Australian aircraft industry, Fleming later advocated production of the Nomad, which ultimately received government approval. He witnessed several attempts to rationalise the industry, which, despite short-term peaks in activity, gradually declined during the 1960s and 1970s.

Fleming was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II coronation medal in 1953 and was appointed OBE in 1958. He served as president of the Australian division of the Royal Aeronautical Society (1971–73) and became a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1976. In retirement he was appointed a special adviser (1976–77) to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, and later acted as an industrial consultant for Panavia Aircraft GmbH (1977–78) and the Office Française d’Exportation de Matériel Aéronautique (1978–83).

Quietly spoken, distinguished in appearance, and slight in build, Fleming was about five feet ten inches (178 cm) tall. He had an excellent eye for detail, measured views, and quiet determination, and he was good at managing people and encouraging discussion and rapport. An enthusiastic traveller, he enjoyed driving fast on European highways in the latest BMW. He had married Jocelyn Phyllis Priestley, an English-born artist, at Christ Church, South Yarra, on 11 July 1941. She died in 1982. On 7 October 1989 he married Winifred Margaret Grace Davis at Ebenezer, New South Wales. Survived by his wife and the two daughters and three sons of his first marriage, Fleming died on 17 November 1993 in Canberra.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Boughton, Trevor. ‘Fleming, Ian Bowman, OBE.’ Man and Aerial Machines, no. 44 (July–August 1994): 52
  • Cranston, Frank, ‘Marathon Flight of the Jindivik.’ Canberra Times, 26 August 1992, 23
  • Fleming, Ian B. ‘Thirty Years Later—Jindivik in Retrospect.’ Aerospace 6, no. 9 (November 1979): 14–23
  • Herald (Melbourne). ‘Phlegmatic Mr Fleming Gives Nothing Away.’ 12 August 1954, 5
  • O’Connor, Des. ‘Engineer Who Made Ideas Fly.’ Australian, 20 December 1993, 13
  • Whitington, Don. ‘Trade Ship in Troubled Waters.’ Canberra Times, 8 August 1960, 2

Additional Resources

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Citation details

David A. Craddock, 'Fleming, Ian Bowman (1913–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fleming-ian-bowman-28255/text35957, published online 2019, accessed online 12 August 2020.

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