Lives of the fellows

Peter Howard

b.15 December 1925 d.21 October 2007
CB(1989) OBE(1957) MB BS Lond(1949) PhD(1964) MRCP(1973) FRCP(1977) MFOM(1980) FFOM(1981) FRAeS

Air Vice-Marshal Peter Howard was commandant of the Institute of Aviation Medicine (IAM) at Farnborough, Hampshire. He was born in Aldershot, the son of Edward Charles Howard, a chemist, and was educated at Farnborough Grammar School. He went on to study medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1949.

He was a house physician and a research registrar at St Thomas’, and then, in August 1951, joined the RAF medical branch. For almost of the whole of his subsequent career he was based at IAM. He first joined the altitude section, where he investigated the effects of decompression sickness. His research led to the development of pressure suits and breathing equipment for aircrew.

He was later head of the biodynamics division at IAM, looking at the effects of acceleration on the body, including the impact on lung and heart function, blood circulation and mental performance. In March 1962 he took part in an experiment to test the world’s first rocket-assisted ejector seat, developed by the Martin-Baker company. Despite his fear of heights, he successfully fired himself from the seat attached to a jet fighter plane, sustaining just a stiff neck. By subjecting the ejecting airmen to lower G-forces, the rocket-assisted seat proved a much safer alternative to the original explosive cartridge model.

In 1964 he was appointed as a consultant in aviation physiology. Three years later, he played a major role in the establishment of the diploma in aviation medicine. In 1973 Howard became director of research at IAM, and then, in 1975, commandant, a post he held until his retirement in 1988. He was also dean of air force medicine from 1985 to 1987.

On his retirement he became registrar of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians.

In 1989, as medical director of the panel processing applicants for the Juno space programme, funded by the Soviet space agency and a number of British companies, he played a role in the selection of the Britain’s first astronaut, Helen Sharman.

From 1982 to 1988 he was an honorary physician to the Queen. He was appointed an OBE in 1957 and a CB in 1989. He was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and in 1987 he was presented with the Sir James Martin award of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, in recognition of the outstanding contribution he had made to air safety.

Outside medicine, he enjoyed fishing and music, particularly Haydn and Mozart.

In 1950 he married Norma Lockhart née Fletcher. They had a son and a daughter.

RCP editor

[Daily Telegraph 30 October 2007; The Guardian 1 November 2007]

(Volume XII, page web)

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