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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

A tribute to Ian Duncan…

A fine human being, and an extraordinary pilot, died on Tuesday, August 24th. In my blog this Monday, I wish to honor Ian and Ilona Duncan.

For the past year and a half, Ilona has created a weekly blog with my words and her design. In exchange, I've been editing the book she is writing about Ian. What a gift Ilona has given her husband the past many months, by encouraging him to revisit his youth, his flying career, and the adventurous life they spent together.

For well over a decade, my husband and I have enjoyed Ian's company. But in reading about his life, chapter by chapter, I came to appreciate him in ways I would not have recognized, were it not for the countless pages Ilona has written about his life, along with compiling memorable photographs.

A few years ago, Ian wrote his own obituary. This week I edited it for him. Then Ilona added the many airplanes that Ian had flown. Eventually, Ian's lungs and heart gave out. Yet until the end his spirit and humor were alive, and his last spoken words were to the woman he loved. The way he described Ilona in his obituary is touching. My blog today are his words of remembrance…


Ian James Duncan, 86, of Heathsville, Virginia, passed away on August 24th, 2021. He was born January 1935 in Butler, Pennsylvania. His parents, George and Isabella Duncan, Scottish immigrants, preceded him in death, as did his sisters, Helen Armstrong and Isobel Hartley, son William Scott, and his only daughter, Natasha Jean. He is survived by his wife, Ilona Duncan, the love of his life, his partner in good times and bad, and his best friend for five decades. Ian is survived by three sons, David, James, Alec; and four grandchildren: Ian, Cole, Sydney, and George.

Ian spent a lifetime in all facets of flying. Beginning as a hanger boy at the local Butler airport, he went to the Spartan School of Aeronautics, and was a commercial and instructor pilot by age 18. As an officer in the Air Force, and later the Air National Guard, Ian flew the Piper PA-18, the North American T-6, North American B-25, the Fairchild C-119, the Boeing KC-97, Boeing C-97 and KC-97L, the Lockheed T-33, and the Lockheed HC-130 Hercules. He retired with a rank of Lt Colonel in 1976.

His airline career began with DC-3s and DC-7s in the early 1960s, before being hired by Pan American World Airways. Over a 25-year span, Ian flew the Boeing 707, the Lockheed L-1011, and the Boeing 747. He was a check airman on all three aircraft, became chief pilot and Vice President of Flight Operations. He retired in 1988 and was hired by Airbus Industries to work in Toulouse, France, and retired in 1998 as Vice President of Technical Training for Airbus Industries of North America.

While serving in various Flight Management roles at Pan American and later at Airbus, Captain Duncan was an active participant in numerous aviation related activities, including the Air Transport Association, IATA, the Flight Safety Foundation, Icarus, and the Council of Aviation Accreditation. In addition, he worked voluntarily on numerous Aviation Safety sub-committees. For his many achievements, the College of Aeronautics, Flushing, New York, awarded him a Doctor of Science Honoris Causa.

For several years after his retirement from Airbus, Captain Duncan was contracted as a consultant to aviation safety and training related activities, which included airlines and the Department of Justice. After moving to the Northern Neck of Virginia in 2003, Ian joined the US Coast Guard Auxiliary in Kilmarnock. For fifteen years he assumed various roles in the Auxiliary and enjoyed the camaraderie with others in this important volunteer work. He will be remembered for his humor, spirited wit, and keen intelligence.

Ian Duncan donated his body to the Virginia State Anatomical Program for the purpose of medical studies. At a date in the future, a ceremony and celebration of his remarkable life will be held at Arlington National Cemetery.


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