Henryk Kazimierz Millicer, known as Henry, was a Polish-Australian aircraft designer and pilot who co-developed one of Australia’s most successful civilian aircraft designs – the Airtourer. The legacy of his design can still be seen today at airports across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Born in Poland, on 11 June 1915, Henry developed an early interest in aviation. At age nine, he won an aero-modelling competition with the prize being a flight over his home city of Warsaw. At age 14, he built a full-size glider and at 17 qualified as a glider pilot.
Henry studied at the Faculty of Mechanics at Warsaw University of Technology, graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering. From 1936 to 1937, he worked in the construction office in the National Aircraft Establishment, PZL (Panstwowe Zaklady Lotnicze), participating in the design of the PZL.37 Łoś bomber and the PZL.46 Sum reconnaissance aircraft and bomber. Henry was also a member of the Polish Air Force Reserves. In 1939 he joined the DWL (Experimental Aeronautical Workshops) in Warsaw, where he was involved in work on the RWD-21 sports aircraft, the RWD-22 seaplane, and the RWD-25 fighter.
On the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Henry flew reconnaissance missions over invading Germans winning the Polish Air Force Cross. At the defeat of Poland he escaped via Romania to France and to England. Hearing of the death of his mother and brother he returned to France to fight the Germans, and with the fall of France caught the last boat to England. He joined a Polish squadron in the RAF.
In 1941, he married Krystyna (Christine) Paciorkowska in Britain having met when they were at university in Warsaw in 1938. Christine’s parents had been major contributors to the political development of the restored nation of Poland, and fled following the German invasion. Christine was studying languages at the Sorbonne when France fell in 1940 and she too escaped to England.
Henry was invalided out of the RAF in 1942 due to ill-health and was granted a scholarship to the Imperial College, London, where he obtained a Master of Science in aeronautical engineering. Upon graduating, he joined Airspeed and then Hunting Percival. The Percival Provost design is attributed to him.
In 1950, Henry and his family migrated to Australia to take up an appointment as chief aerodynamicist at the Government Aircraft Factory in Melbourne. There he worked on the Canberra, Sabre, Jindivik pilotless target aircraft and the Malkara anti-tank missile.
In 1952, Henry and two colleagues, GD Bennett and JM Tutty entered a design competition sponsored by the Royal Aero Club of London for a light aeroplane “suitable for air touring; economical to construct, operate and maintain, and easy to fly.” The Millicer group won the competition with their design. However, the Royal Aero Club failed to honour the terms of the competition to finance the building of two prototypes. Undeterred, Henry together with many dedicated enthusiasts and financial support from aviation companies built a wooden prototype (VH-FMM) which remains in existence today and is the forerunner of the Airtourer family of aircraft.
In 1960, Henry took up the position of chief engineer and technical manager at Victa Consolidated Industries. He refined his design for the Victa Airtourer 100 and the first all metal version – VH-MVA – was flown on 12 December 1961. The Airtourer 100 along with its sister version, the Airtourer 115, were built from 1962 to 1966 in a series of 168.
In 1963 Henry Millicer was awarded the Oswald Watt Gold Medal by the Federation of Australian Aero Clubs.
A four seater prototype built by Victa, the Aircruiser (VH-MVR) first flew in 1966, received type-certification and remains flying today. However, when Victa closed its aircraft division in 1966, its manufacturing rights were sold to Aero Engine Services Ltd (AESL) in New Zealand where production of 115 and 150 hp Airtourers took place until 1971. The Airtourer remains one of Australia’s most successful civilian aircraft designs.
Aircruiser VH-MVR also went to New Zealand with the design morphing in to the two place military trainer – CT4A which the RAAF acquired as trainers.
Despite its company name, neither Henry nor his family had any involvement with Millicer Aircraft Industries which ceased trading in late 2000.
Henry joined the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1967. He became Principal Lecturer in Aeronautical Engineering with a view to establishing the faculty as the leading school in Australia. During this time he was involved in many innovations in industry with Boeing and the sugar cane industry to name a few. He retired in 1980, but remained associated with the faculty. There are many engineers in Australia who benefited from his pragmatic teaching and extensive experience. In 1984 his work was recognised with the award of a Doctorate in Aeronautical Engineering.
In 1992, Henry was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the aviation industry in the field of aeronautical engineering. In retirement, he designed the Kite, a two seat ab initio trainer and the Swift, a turbocharged high speed aircraft for amateur construction. He also continued to be involved with RMIT students and light aircraft enthusiasts.
Henry Millicer died on 28 August 1996 at the age of 81. His ashes were scattered from an Airtourer over the waves near his home at Anglesea, Victoria. He was survived by his second wife Katie, son Richard and daughters Joanna and Helen.
We are sure Henry would be delighted to learn that the Type Certificate for the Aircruiser was acquired by the Cowra NSW based Brumby Aircraft in 2013 with the plan to place the aircraft into production.
It is clear Henry’s designs were outstanding as his planes continue to fly today and people are determined to see them back in production.