Tributes paid to Gatwick aviation museum founder

jpco-8-6-11-peter vallance in front of a Shackleton aircraft at the gatwick aviation museum
jpco-8-6-11-peter vallance in front of a Shackleton aircraft at the gatwick aviation museum

A ‘passionate and committed’ grandfather, who ‘lived his life to the full’ and fought to protect Britain’s aviation heritage, has died.

Peter Vallance, 79, from Charlwood, who was the owner and founder of Gatwick Aviation Museum, died at St Thomas Hospital on January 14 during heart surgery.

The aviation expert fought to preserve Britain’s aviation heritage by providing an educational centre at the museum on Lowfield Heath Road.

Peter’s family said he was a dynamic presence and his motto in life was always ‘strive to achieve.’

A spokesman for Peter’s family said: “Peter was a man of his word, single minded and committed to whatever he took on. He was tough, to him there was no substitute for hard work.

“Early on in his life Peter learned to be resourceful and independent, he used to tell of how he left school with an award of £10 in honour of being head boy and bought an axe so he could go and work as a tree feller. He walked for miles just to go to work.”

Peter, who was a member of the Royal British Legion, started up his own business PG Vallance Limited and won the commission for the new town contract to supply and fix fencing. In 1980 Peter started a new venture and purchased Orchard Farm in Charlwood where he converted sheds into small units to let to local businesses. It later became the site for Gatwick Aviation Museum.

Peter had his first heart surgery at the age of 51 and from then on considered he was living a second life. His family said he lived it with enthusiasm and great enjoyment. The family spokesman continued: “From then on Peter decided to make certain changes in his life. He learnt to be a pilot and fly his own plane. At auction he bought his first vintage aeroplane but was disappointed to find that he needed planning permission for it to stand at the entrance to the site.”

Peter went on to fight many battles with the local authorities over planning permission for his planes. His dream was to have a permanent building for the museum. Peter, who had been a pilot for more than 20 years, was until a few months ago, still flying his Cessna 182 - an American light aeroplane. In 2010 he was the first person to get permission from Gatwick Airport to fly his Cessna 182 over the airport when a cloud of volcanic dust grounded flights. The family spokesman added: “He was a proud father, and even prouder of being a grandfather. His office was full of images of his family, so he could see them every day. Peter has left a legacy of happy memories and an example of benevolent influence. He was driven, passionate and committed. Once met, never forgotten.”