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Friday, 8th February 2013

Some Collective Memories of the Observatory - Director Gordon Bell

Mr John Peacock also told me about anecdotes of several ex-Directors. This time let me talk about Mr Gordon Bell.

Figure 1

Figure 1      The late Director Gordon Bell.

Figure 2

Figure 2      An early photograph: young Gordon Bell (right) and John Peacock hiking in the rural area.

Gordon Bell was the longest-serving Director of the Hong Kong Observatory (1965-1981) in the recent generations. He was the predecessor of Mr John Peacock, but they actually entered the Observatory around 1950[1] , with Mr Peacock joining only several months later. I was told that Mr Bell excelled in the ocean, land and sky! "Ocean" - we may have already learnt from previous articles that both Messrs Bell and Peacock had a hobby of yachting around Hong Kong waters and outlying islands, and Mr Bell had even accidentally entered the Mainland waters; "land" - even more dramatically, Mr Bell had participated in the first Macau Grand Prix in 1954 and set the fastest lap record of 4 minutes 12 seconds! The official website of the Macau Grand Prix today still documents this historical record. Lastly but not the least, "sky" was even more fascinating - apart from having served as the Honourary Commander of the then Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force (now the Government Flying Service), Mr Bell had flown into the centre of Tropical Storm Dot on an Auxiliary Air Force's twin-engine Islander in 1973, making observations at the same time with a Hercules WC-130 transport aircraft of the US Air Force. This was the first time that aircraft and flight crew from Hong Kong entered a tropical cyclone to collect meteorological data, and Mr Bell had written a paragraph (please see the appendix below) on this historical occasion in his book on tropical cyclones - "An Introduction to Typhoons - An Unfinished Manuscript"[2] . Even though no photographs were taken at this occasion, I still felt very excited when Mr Peacock showed me the pictures taken by a US Hercules transport aircraft probing into the eye of Typhoon Sarah over the South China Sea in 1979.

Figure 3

Figure 3      The magnificent view of the eye wall (left) of Typhoon Sarah photographed from
a Hercules transport aircraft of the US Air Force (right).

Figure 4

Figure 4      The area of fine weather and the sea surface could clearly be seen within the eye wall (left),
and it was also cloud-free when looking upwards towards the sky (right).

Incidentally, we hosted the regional Typhoon Committee meeting in Hong Kong last week and the Hong Kong Government Flying Service was awarded the Typhoon Committee 2012 Dr Roman L Kintanar award in recognition of their commitment and outstanding work in implementing the Meteorological Data Collection Programme for Tropical Cyclones. Since 2011, the Hong Kong Observatory has collaborated with the Government Flying Service to arrange a Jetstream-41 fixed-wing aircraft equipped with meteorological equipment to fly into typhoons over the South China Sea to collect meteorological data. Hopefully the collected data could enhance our capability in typhoon forecasting and warning. Looking back, apart from admiring Mr Bell's brave innovation and pioneering work with foresight, I truly feel that our cooperation with the Government Flying Service today is actually a succession of his historical mission!

CM Shun


[1] Gordon Bell entered the Observatory in July 1949 whereas John Peacock entered the Observatory in April 1950.


Appendix (extracted from "An Introduction to Typhoons - An Unfinished Manuscript" by Gordon Bell)

On 15 July1973 I flew into the eye of the developing typhoon Dot in a twinned engine Islander aircraft of the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. Whilst in the eye at 1500 m above the sea we were joined by a USAF reconnaissance Hercules (WC-130) flying at 3000 m. The eye was not well formed and the centre was determined mostly by the sea state. The Islander reported the centre at 0300 GMT as being at 18oN 113.6oE. The Islander found maximum easterly winds of 23 m/s, whereas the Hercules found maximum winds of 25 m/s on the south side of the storm. This occasion was most probably the first time that reconnaissance aircraft from different air forces had shared the air space within the eye of a tropical cyclone.

Last revision date: <03 May 2013>