Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Fascinating obituaries have been penned to Wing Commander Ken Wallis, who has died aged 97. He was an autogyro pioneer, inventor, James Bond stunt double and WW2 flyer from RAF Elsham Wold, leading us to conclude that he must have visited Brigg many times, as aircrew did during the early 1940s for a spot of R & R.
Read one of the tributes to  Wingco Wallis


Ken Harrison said...

I recall seeing Wing Commander Wallis flying his prototype gyrocopter at Farnborough airshows way back in the early 60's.
Being in the local air cadets, at the time, some of us use to be given complimentary tickets and free return rail warrants from Liverpool to the air show.
The air shows were near the end of the school hols.
On the last occasion - in 1962 - Dressed in our ATC uniform, we (2 of us) shared a compartment with some Irish guys who were convinced that we were real soldiers (I was 15 at the time)and ploughed us with whiskey - Jack Daniels!!
By the time we got to London, we were sozzled!
We had to escape the confines of the London Underground to get some fresh air...and we wondered up and down Baker St for some time attempting to sober-up.
But conscious of the proud ATC reputation we had to maintain, we didn't allow a bit of inebriation get us down and we eventually journeyed to Farnborough.
As well as Wg Cdr Wallis flying his gyrocopter, we also watched the Flying Bedstead - the forerunner of the ?P1109, the Kestral and eventually the VTOL Harrier jump-jet.
The modern aircraft of the time were the Gloster Javelin, the Lightning. Vulcan, Valiant, Victor, Comet, 707, Super Sabre, the Fairey Rotadyne, the B52 (still about), the Bloodhound missile....and etc..
Apart from spectating the air displays, we often went to the Para's display and para-jumped off a high tower - one had to have a clear head for that!
Going home, we had to be content with a few bottle of Vimto and some cheese sandwiches (with the infamous turned-up corners) at Crewe station....
I went to Farnborough in later years, but Wg Cdr Wallis was no longer giving displays.....but his gyrocopter ?Little Nellie', because famous in Bond's 'You Only Live Twice' - in 1967 - I was only 20 and a magnet for the young ladies around Wolverhampton - I was stirred, but never shaken!!

Ken Harrison said...

Just as an added point of the early 60's the RAF aerobatic teams were called the Black Arrows of 111 Squadron, based at RAF Wattisham in Suffolk and the Blue Arrows of ?74 Squadron
They did the flying stunts over Farnborough, initially with Hawker Hunters and then with the English Electric Lightning.
There was another, less famous RAF flying display team call the Yellowjacks who flew Holland Gnats.
However, the Lightning were designed as supersonic interceptor fighter and not for aerobatics....and by ?1964 the RAF officially formed the Red Arrows, initially nicking some of the Gnats from the Yellowjacks.....Pontius the Pilate was not pleased!


Very interesting memories there, Ken. I was confident you'd post something in response to our piece on this famous flyer. Whether he drank in what the Elsham crews renamed The Dying Navigator, in Brigg, we shall never know. Or maybe he was among those who frequented the Woolpack or the Black Bull. Could be he didn't drink at all. His obit in the Daily Telegraph was huge and well-deserved. That's what first alerted us to his local connections. Clearly a great man.

Ken Harrison said...

When I saw KW at Farnborough in '62 and '63, he looked a bit like an eccentric professor...such an image was enhanced by his beard and long hair (I think it was whitish even then - he must have been mid 40's then) and his antics of whirling about in a funny looking autogyro (from Greek - self-turning)..I also noticed from his list of decorations and qualifications, he had a PhD...

However, he didn't invent the autogyro - someone invented the autogyro/autocopter/autoplane in the 1920's.

Indeed, one little known fact is that the RAF used autogyros in WW2 - the Avro Rotor. Not many were built, but they helped to defend Britain before and during the Battle of Britain!

One of their main roles was to fly around the coastal radar stations so that the radar signals, used to detect enemy aircraft, could be calibrated to enable the radar operators to focus radar traces to accurate sectors.

We often assume that the Spitty and the Hurricanes were the only RAF fighters in the Battle of Britain - but there are records of less famous aircraft taking part - the Bristol Beafighter, the Fairey Battle and even a biplane, the Gloster Gladiator - but these proved to be very vulnerable and were quickly we can add a autogyro!!

I saw a Avro Rotor in either the IWM, or the RAF Museum (can't exactly remember where) some years ago.

Finally.....'You Only Live Twice' wasn't the first film with an autogyro....I recall Hitchcock's '39-Speps' shows an autogyro, but that didn't have James Bond in it!!