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Henry Kasimierz Millicer (1915–1996)

by David Crotty

This article was published online in 2020

Henry Millicer, 1963

Henry Millicer, 1963

National Archives of Australia

Henry Kazimierz Millicer (1915-1996), aviator and aeronautical engineer, was born on 11 June 1915 in Warsaw and named Henryk Kazimierz Milicer, third of four surviving children of Kazimierz Milicer, professor of engineering, and his wife Helena, née Lewandowska. As a nine-year-old, Henryk entered a model seaplane in a competition and won first prize, a flight over Warsaw. His father then arranged for him to assist Warsaw University of Technology (WUT) students constructing the prototype RWD-2 monoplane. While attending the Batory School, Warsaw, at the age of fourteen he used the school’s workshop to build a glider. The Warsaw Academic Aero Club flew it as a primary trainer, but Henryk was not permitted to fly it until he gained his gliding licence in 1932.

In 1933 Millicer commenced studies in mechanical engineering at WUT (DipMechEng, 1936). He joined the Polish Air Force volunteer reserve in 1935, and after graduating the next year he was employed by the Polish State Aviation Works as a junior designer. In 1937 he gained his commercial pilot’s licence and enrolled in the master of aeronautics course at WUT. He came third in the 1938 National Gliding Championship, securing a place in the Polish team for the planned 1940 Helsinki Olympic Games.

After completing his master’s thesis, Millicer joined the aircraft manufacturer RWD in 1939 and led a team working on wing design for its RWD-25 fighter aircraft, until the German invasion of Poland on 1 September halted work. He enlisted in the air force, flying with an army observation and reconnaissance unit and winning the Polish Air Force Cross. With members of his squadron he went to Romania to collect aircraft sent from Britain, but the group was arrested by Romanian police before escaping via Yugoslavia to Britain in October. On learning of the death of his mother and the destruction of his family home during the bombing of Warsaw, he enlisted in the French Air Force, but by June 1940 the German invasion of France had forced his return to Britain, where he served as a bomber pilot in a Polish squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF).

On 13 March 1941 at the register office, Blackpool, England, Millicer married Krystyna (Christine) Paciorkowska, the daughter of a Polish politician. Suffering from stomach ulcers, he ceased flying in 1942 and became an interpreter for the RAF. The next year he studied aeronautics at Imperial College, University of London (MSc, 1943), before joining Airspeed Ltd as an aerodynamicist and from 1947 Percival Aircraft Ltd at Luton. He was naturalised in 1949.

In 1950 Millicer accepted a position as chief aerodynamicist with the Government Aircraft Factories, Fishermans Bend, Melbourne. Arriving in August, he worked on projects including the remote-controlled Jindivik and the Malkara wire-guided missile. With his GAF colleagues Gordon Bennett and John Tutty, in 1952 he entered a light training aircraft design competition sponsored by the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain. The next year their ‘Air Tourer’ was judged the best design. Millicer and others formed the Ultra-Light Aircraft Association of Australia in 1955, and an Air Tourer subgroup was established to build a wooden prototype. Constructed in a shed at Newport, the plane took shape using volunteer labour and donated components, with a first flight in 1959.

A chance meeting in 1960 between Millicer and Garry Richardson, the governing director of Victa Consolidated Industries Ltd, led to a production agreement. Millicer joined the Victa Aviation Division, Bankstown, Sydney, as chief designer, and the first all-metal ‘Victa Airtourer’ flew the next year. In 1962 he received the Oswald Watt gold medal for his contribution to aviation. By 1967 Victa had manufactured more than 160 Airtourers, and a four-seat version, the Aircruiser, was in development. That year, after the Australian government declined to offer either a manufacturing subsidy or tariff protection against foreign competitors, the Victa Aviation Division ceased production and sold the designs to Aero Engine Services Ltd of Hamilton, New Zealand (later Pacific Aerospace Ltd). AESL manufactured a further eighty Airtourers in New Zealand and developed a successful military variant known as the CT-4 Airtrainer, thirty-seven of which were ordered by the Australian government in 1972 as primary trainers for the Royal Australian Air Force.

Millicer had returned to Melbourne in 1967, joining the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) as a lecturer in aeronautical engineering (senior lecturer from 1972). A colleague later recalled that he was ‘an outstanding academic who conveyed a deep understanding for both the theoretical and practical aspects of aircraft’ (Scott 1996/1997, 38). Retiring in 1980, he developed a design for a turbo-charged, two-seat aircraft named the ‘Swift,’ which he envisaged as ‘a home built sports aircraft, produced as a kit’ (Millicer 1983/1984, 9). He also continued to advocate for local aircraft construction, lamenting that a ‘timid Australian attitude is stifling everything’ (Spiers 1984, 9). Gregarious and affable, he had an ‘unquenchable enthusiasm for the light aeroplane’ (Job and Wilson 2006, 34).

A fellow of both the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and the Royal Aeronautical Society, Millicer was awarded an honorary doctorate by RMIT in 1984 and was appointed AM in 1992. After divorcing his first wife, he had married English-born Kathleen Mary Roles, a nurse, in 1977. Survived by his wife, and the son and two daughters of his first marriage, he died on 28 August 1996 at Anglesea, Victoria, and was cremated. His ashes were scattered from the air over the ocean near his home. In 2015 he was inducted into the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame. Museums Victoria holds the wooden prototype of the Airtourer.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Copley, Greg. Australians in the Air. Adelaide: Rigby, 1976
  • Job, Macarthur. ‘A High-Flying Protagonist of Aerospace Design.’ Australian, 18 September 1996, 16
  • Job, Macarthur, and Stewart Wilson. ‘Henry Millicer and Victa: Made in Australia and New Zealand.’ Aero Australia 11 (July-September 2006): 34–48
  • Millicer, Henry. ‘My Fifty Years in Aeronautics.’ Australian Aeronautics, 1983/1984, 7-9
  • Millicer, Kathleen. ‘Airtourer—The First 30 Years.’ Aircraft (Sydney), March 1983, 24–25
  • Museums Victoria. ST33493, Millicer Air Tourer Prototype VH-FMM, supplementary file
  • Scott, Murray. ‘A Tribute to Dr Henry Kazimierz Millicer.’ Australian Aeronautics, 1996/1997, 38
  • Spiers, John. ‘High-Flyer’s Dreams Won’t Be Grounded.’ Australian, 31 May 1984, 9

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Crotty, 'Millicer, Henry Kasimierz (1915–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Henry Millicer, 1963

Henry Millicer, 1963

National Archives of Australia

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Milicer, Henryk Kasimierz

11 June, 1915
Warsaw, Poland


28 August, 1996 (aged 81)
Anglesea, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


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