Michael Moorhead (OK 1964) died January 23, 2023
Mike Moorhead grew up in Wimbledon attending Rokeby Prep School (where he was heavyweight boxing champion) before entering King’s. He joined the Fourth Form in 1959 as a KCS boarder at Weycroft in Arterberry Road. He was a significant all-round sportsman, notably playing second row for the KCS 1St XV. In the Lower Sixth, he organised and led a cycling trip, with two other KCS boarders, from London to Sienna, Italy, to witness the Palio there. For this they were awarded a grant of £5 from the Tuck Shop, which covered their Channel crossing fares with a shilling or two to spare.
Moorhead attended Manchester University on an RAF scholarship. Graduating with a BSc Elec Eng, he then spent a couple of years at RAF Henlow and Cranwell training to become an RAF Engineer and a dashing officer to boot. During his time there, he and Lt Mike Billett, Royal Signals (also OK 1964 and Weycroft) kitted up an ex-Army series II Land Rover and crossed the Sahara on their way to Kenya, before being ordered by MoD at the last moment (for geo-political reasons) to turn around at the Algerian border with Niger. At that point, the Land Rover died of a broken fuel pump, whose internal diaphragm membrane had rotted. It was 51C / 124F in the shade. Moorhead, who was suffering from a severe case of dysentery, heroically effected a repair using a condom he had found in a desert wellness kit supplied by the Army (containing water purifying tablets etc.). The Land Rover subsequently made the 4,000-mile journey back to London without further incident. When questioned about the plausibility of the repair, Moorhead replied: This was not a refined barber’s shop item – I used a WW II pattern, Desert Theatre, British Army condom. It was not designed for comfort – its only purpose was to separate the user from every disease then known to man.
Flight Lieutenant Moorhead was subsequently posted to No 33 Signals Unit, RAF, in Cyprus, where he established an early reputation for technical brilliance in the secretive and ultra-specialized world of intelligence gathering using HF Radar. In 1973, on a solo trip to Iran, in the same once-condomized Land Rover, Moorhead crashed into a road grader in a dust storm on an unpaved road. Passing through the windscreen (in the days before seatbelts) he was rescued by Kurds, who attempted to reassemble his face by the roadside using his passport photograph. He was casevac’d back to Cyprus and then on to London, where after multiple operations and plastic surgeries he was left with a permanently scarred but functioning asymmetrical visage.
While serving in Cyprus he met his wife-to-be, Janette Reading. After the coup and subsequent Turkish invasion of Cyprus, he did a tour on Nimrod ASW aircraft at RAF Kinloss, and finally at the RAF Maintenance Data Centre, Swanton Morley, before being invalided out of the RAF.
As a civilian he attended Birmingham University, reading for an MSc in HF Systems, before starting his own small HF Radar company, Neptune Radar. Now married, he operated this ahead-of-the-curve start-up from a C13th ‘cottage’ with a thatched roof, wattle-and-daub walls, and a working duckpond, near Gloucester – his home for the rest of his life.
Moorhead set up an HF radar operation called Pisces at Nabor Point, on the north Devon coast, and won a government contract to investigate waves and sea currents using HF surface wave radar. Aided by a former RAF colleague and chum from Cyprus, he built another site on the Castlemartin tank range in SW Wales. These sites were designed to operate autonomously, sending data to the Met Office to analyse on behalf of the Environment Agency. Neptune Radar subsequently installed a further two radar sites in Liverpool Bay on behalf of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in Liverpool.
Moorhead had a unique understanding and belief in HF Radar for use is detecting and tracking ships and air vehicles in skywave, and waves and currents in surface-wave. His sea state radar could detect surface waves as small as 25 – 50 cm as far as 320 Km offshore. This led to consulting arrangements with foreign governments interested in tsunami early warning systems, and the offshore mooring of super-tankers to prevent the clogging of harbours.
Moorhead grew increasingly frustrated with the British Government’s indecisiveness in funding his grand plan for installing radars around the coasts of Britain, while simultaneously hindering Neptune Radar (on ill-defined national security premises) from further contracting with foreign governments that were vying for his services in this field. Thus, Neptune Radar had to watch as many countries around the world began integrating HF Radars considered inferior to Pisces into their coastal monitoring systems.
Mike Moorhead died after a decade-long battle with a complex cancer. His inner circle of Weycroft and KCS friends were vividly struck by his remarkable courage and unfailing wit in coping with endless rounds of chemotherapy and his submission to countless regimens of experimental drugs with uncharted and nauseating side effects. These ordeals would have unsettled a lesser man.
He is survived by his wife, Janette; his children, Giles, Chloe, and Freyja; three granddaughters; and by his older sister, Susan.