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Colin Nicol FSAA 26th April 1955 - 6th February 2023

It is with much sadness that I write these words after the loss of my long-time friend and colleague on SAA Council, Colin Nicol. I first met Colin on becoming Chair of The SAA in late 2001, and first impressions were that he looked quite threatening with his gruff look and bearded face, but nothing could be further from the truth, as I was soon to discover. Oh, don’t get me wrong, if you stood on Colin’s toes in any way, you wouldn’t be long in finding out, but I found his other side very quickly.

We were right in the middle of a presentation to a group of Air Cadets, and I was showing them how the servos moved the surfaces etc. when Colin suddenly asked them all what they wanted to pursue as a career. Right away, all the boys and a few of the girls replied, “Fighter pilot sir”. I’m still trying to get used to being called ‘sir’ to this day, but I digress.

Colin replied “Fair enough, but instead of being shot at by an enemy or having to bomb targets far away from home, would it not be far better being dressed in a smart suit & shirt, and being served your coffee by a pretty girl in the front of an airliner?” It took only a few microseconds for the penny to drop, but when it did, you could see that Colin’s words had had a profound effect on them, as they (unusually) went fairly quiet for some time, and as they pondered his words. One said, “I never thought of that sir”, and I could name one who is now an airline captain as a result, with many more working in the airline/aviation industry, thanks to Colin’s thought provoking comments.

Colin was originally the driving force behind Diamond Engineering prior to beginning his business Top Gear (originally, he intended to manufacture retract sets for models) in his garden shed using a small lathe, and built it up so quickly he had to move to larger premises in Shiresmill farm not far from Dunfermline. Colin was a talented machinist, and managed to produce stuff from that little Myford that many of us might have shied away from. I don’t throw out compliments like that lightly, as I served my own ‘time’ with a well-known aero engine manufacturer. However, he quickly outgrew these premises too and moved again to the present premises in Kirkcaldy where they installed the first of many CNC machines, and from where Blair and Paul continue to operate the business, operating a fully functioning service centre for the drilling industry in Scotland, which has been a major success story.

Blair acknowledges that Colin taught them everything with regards to engineering & machining and led them to operate a successful business through the mistakes he had made earlier in his career. “As always he was looking out for our best interests.”

Blair continues – “This is a similar scenario for the flying side, my dad wasn't much of a flyer at all, which he took a lot of stick for. My only real memory of dad flying was our first trip to the RC Hotel in Corfu. It was the first time we had seen a Ready 2 trainer and my dad was hooked. He flew it every day on that holiday to the point he actually tested and passed his 'A' certificate. As his involvement in the air cadets grew his own flying almost stopped. He had so much enjoyment teaching how to build, then watching cadets fly models they had built themselves, the high point in all of this was finally getting to the stage where cadets were teaching cadets”.

Much earlier, we drove south in my Transit van to collect Colin’s Lancaster kit along with my Canberra which is now in the capable hands of Dave Johnson, who incidentally carried out the successful maiden flight of Colin’s Lancaster just last Sunday 5th February. Colin had been working on this model for some time, ably assisted by his wife Lesley. We booked into a small hotel in Bury, Lancashire and after collecting the two models, we enjoyed a pleasant dinner put on by the landlady who had shown us to the last available room which was a loft space with two single beds – very adequate for Colin & I. It had been a very long day, and we enjoyed a pleasant evening in bed in that loft rolling a bottle between the beds as we enjoyed a few ‘drams’ before retiring for the night. We’ve laughed about that night many times over the years.

Many of you could be forgiven for thinking that Colin spent his life at the runway’s edge in ‘that chair’. In fact, he looked after all the admin stuff arranging minibuses, accommodation, cadet training weekends and countless other things allowing the rest of us to concentrate on the flying training side of things. This side of Colin’s work will now be done by Auchtermuchty Air Cadets CO Chris Smith and CI Will Goad, so the work begun by Colin all those years ago (20+) will continue in perpetuity.

Colin held a PPL as does son Blair, and I well remember flying with Colin on one of his refresher courses along the coast to Crail. As usual, I had a camera and switched between the two rear seats to get some interesting shots, at which Colin began to get quite irritated. “Will you sit still – I can’t stop the aircraft swinging around with you moving around!”. It was only when the instructor noticed the switch on the auto pilot was set to ‘on’ that he realised what was wrong. Not Colin’s fault, but the instructor had forgotten to disable the auto pilot which was set to ‘Perth’ for his previous trip, hence the aircraft continually trying to turn the aircraft toward Perth which was on our left at this point. I used to enjoy ribbing him about that, although it wasn’t actually his fault.

Last time I attended a funeral in Dunfermline, it was for Harry West, a past Chairman of The SAA, and it was very well attended. However, this time, when I arrived with two colleagues from GAC, we could not find a parking space and ended up back on the road outside. The good attendance was much appreciated by Lesley and her family. It included several members of The LMA who on request from the family, wore their LMA outfits. They came all the way from Warrington, Sunderland and Middlesbrough to attend. There were many SAA members there including several Fellows and SAA Chairman, Steve McDonald. Colin is survived by Lesley, and children Craig, Chloe and Blair, who along with Paul threatens to return to model flying in the not-too-distant future. Colin would be pleased to hear that.

Don Imrie.