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Air Marshal Sir Valston Eldridge (Val) Hancock KBE, CB, DFC (31 May 1907 – 29 September 1998) was a senior commander in the Royal Australian Air Force. He served as Chief of the Air Staff from 1961 to 1965. During World War II Hancock held senior staff positions before being made Officer Commanding No. 71 Wing in New Guineamarker, in April 1945. His post-war appointments included Deputy Chief of the Air Staff from 1951 to 1953, Air Officer Commanding (AOC) No. 224 Group RAF Malayamarker from 1957 to 1959, and AOC Operational Command from 1959 to 1961. After his retirement from the military he co-founded the Australia Defence Association.

Early career

Hancock was born in Perth, Western Australiamarker, and educated at Hale Schoolmarker in Wembley Downsmarker. His cousin was future mining magnate Lang Hancock. Hancock entered the Royal Military College, Duntroonmarker, in 1925 and transferred to the RAAF in 1929, following graduation. In 1938, as a Squadron Leader, he was appointed Director of Works and Buildings.

World War II

Director of Works and Buildings until 1940, Hancock was responsible for surveying and developing an RAAF aerodromemarker at Evans Headmarker, near the Queensland and New South Wales border. It became home to No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School (1BAGS), which Hancock commanded from 1940 to 1942. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire on 1 January 1942.

As Wing Commander, with the acting rank of Group Captain, Hancock was appointed Assistant Director of Plans at Allied Air Forces Headquarters, South West Pacific Area, in April 1942. He became Director of Plans at RAAF Command when it was formed in September that year. Following a posting as Staff Officer Administration for RAAF Western Area in 1943–44, Hancock was given command of No. 100 Squadron, flying Bristol Beauforts during the Aitape-Wewak campaign in New Guineamarker.

Hancock took over No. 71 Wing, comprising No. 7 Squadron, No. 8 Squadron and No. 100 Squadron, on 1 April 1945. Providing close air support to Australian ground troops, the Wing flew over 1,400 sorties and dropped more than 1,200 tons of bombs in May alone. By mid-year, Hancock's forces were acutely short of fuel and ordnance, so much so that his squadrons took to arming their Beauforts with captured Japanese bombs. No. 71 Wing was active to the very end of the Pacific War, flying its last sortie only hours before news arrived of the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945. Hancock was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1946 for his "distinguished flying on operations in Northern Command" during the war.

Post-war career

In 1947 Air Commodore Hancock was appointed inaugural commandant of the newly formed RAAF College, the Air Force's equivalent of Duntroonmarker and the Royal Australian Naval Collegemarker. He also drafted the institution's charter. Hancock served as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff from 1951 to 1953. As acting Air Vice Marshal, he was made a Commander of the British Empire in the 1953 New Years Honours. Hancock took over as AOC No. 224 Group RAF Malayamarker, responsible for all Commonwealth air forces in the region, in 1957 and was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1958.

Hancock served as AOC Operational Command (now Air Command) from 1959 to 1961. Promoted Air Marshal, he became Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) in May 1961. As CAS, Hancock continued a policy, begun by his immediate predecessor Air Marshal Frederick Scherger, of developing so-called 'bare bases' in Northern Australia. He concentrated on RAAF Learmonthmarker in Western Australia, chosen for its proximity to Indonesiamarker. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1962 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

In 1963 Hancock undertook a mission to Britain, France and the United States to consider potential replacements for the Canberra bomber as Australia’s prime aerial strike platform. After investigating the American TFX, A-5 Vigilante and F-4 Phantom II, the British TSR-2 and the French Mirage IV, Hancock determined that the TFX, forerunner of the General Dynamics F-111, would be the aircraft best suited for this role. However, as the TFX had not yet flown, he recommended purchase of the already-operational Vigilante, to counteract a perceived imminent threat from Indonesia. In the event, the Federal Government did not go ahead with an immediate replacement for the Canberra, and Hancock's original choice of the TFX was taken up as a long-term solution, leading to Australia's purchase of the F-111.

Later life

Hancock retired from the Air Force following completion of his term as CAS in May 1965. The following year, he took over as Commissioner-General for Australia at Expo 67 in Montrealmarker, Canadamarker. In 1975, prompted in part by the fall of Saigon in April that year, he co-founded the Australian Defence Association as an independent think tank for defence matters. He published his autobiography, Challenge, in 1990. Hancock continued to fly in retirement, joining his cousin Lang, also a pilot, in promoting the Pilbaramarker mining district.

Val Hancock died on 29 September 1998. He was survived by his wife, Joan, and three children.

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