17 November 1954: Lionel Peter Twiss, Chief Test Pilot for Fairey Aviation Company Ltd., was flying the company’s experimental supersonic airplane, the Fairey Delta 2, WG774, from the aircraft test center at RAF Boscombe Down. This was the FD.2’s fourteenth flight.
When about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the airfield and climbing through 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), the airplane’s fuel supply was interrupted and the engine flamed out.
Unwilling to lose a valuable research aircraft, Twiss decided to stay with the Delta 2 rather than ejecting, and he glided back to Boscombe Down. Without the engine running, the aircraft had insufficient hydraulic pressure to completely lower the landing gear and only the nosewheel strut locked in place. The FD.2 touched down at 170 miles per hour (274 kilometers per hour) and was seriously damaged. It was out of service for nearly a year. The wings had to be replaced and those which had originally been built for structural tests were used.
For his effort to save a valuable research aircraft, Peter Twiss was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air. Notice of the award was published in The London Gazette, 22 February 1955, at Page 1094:
Lionel Peter Twiss, Test Pilot, Fairey Aviation Company Ltd. (Hillingdon, Middlesex.)
For services when an aircraft, undergoing tests, sustained damage in the air.
On 10 March 1956, Phillip Twiss flew WG774 to set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 15km/25km Straight Course at an average speed over a 9-mile course, flown between Chichester and Portsmouth at and altitude of 38,000 feet (11,582 meters). Two runs over the course were made, with first averaging 1,117 miles per hour (1,798 kilometers per hour) and the second, in the opposite direction, was 1,147 miles per hour. (1,846 kilometers per hour). The FD.2 had averaged 1,822 Kilometers per hour (1,132 miles per hour)—Mach 1.731.¹
Twiss had broken the previous record of 1,323.312 kilometers per hour (822.268 miles per hour) which had been set by Colonel Horace A. Hanes, USAF, flying a North American Aviation F-100C Super Sabre over Edwards Air Force Base, California. (FAI Record File # 8867)
Peter Twiss was the first British pilot, and the FD.2 the first British airplane, to exceed 1,000 miles per hour (1,609 kilometers per hour) in level flight. Twiss is also the last British pilot to have held a World Absolute Speed Record.
For his services as a test pilot, Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, D.F.C. and Bar, was appointed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 13 June 1957.
The Fairey Aviation Company, Ltd., Delta 2 WG774 (c/n F9421) is the first of two single-place, single engine delta-wing research aircraft which had been designed and built to investigate transonic and supersonic speeds. It first flew 6 October 1953 with Chief Test Pilot Peter Twiss in the cockpit. In its original configuration, the FD.2 is 51 feet, 7½ inches (15.735 meters) long with a wingspan of 26 feet, 10 inches (8.179 meters) and overall height of 11 feet (3.353 meters). The wings’ leading edge were swept to 59.9° with an angle of incidence of +1.5°. Ailerons and flaps were at the trailing edge and acted in place of elevators. In its original configuration it had an empty weight of approximately 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms) and the all-up weight at takeoff was 14,109 pounds (6,400 kilograms).
The FD.2 was powered by a Rolls-Royce Avon RA.28R afterburning turbojet engine which produced 9,530 pounds of thrust (42.392 kilonewtons), or 11,820 pounds (52.578 kilonewtons) with afterburner (“reheat”). This was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 15-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The RA.28 was 10 feet, 3.0 inches (3.124 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,869 pounds (1,301 kilograms).
WG774 and its sistership, WG777, were used for flight testing throughout the 1960s. WG774 was modified as a test aircraft to study various features of the planned British Aerospace Concorde. The landing gear struts were lengthened and the fuselage extended by six feet. It received a “drooped” nose section for improved pilot visibility during takeoff and landings. New wings were installed which had an ogee-curved leading edge. With these modifications WG774 was redesignated BAC 221. In this configuration, WG774 was tested to Mach 1.65 at 40,000 feet (12,192 meters).
WG774 was retired in the early 1970s. It is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England.
Lionel Peter Twiss was born 23 July 1921 at Lindfield, Sussex, England. He was educated at the Sherborne School, a prestigious boarding school for boys, in Dorset. He briefly worked as a tea taster following school, but in 1939 enlisted in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. He was trained as a fighter pilot.
Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (A) Lionel Peter Twiss, R.N.V.R., was assigned as the pilot of a Hawker Hurricane Mk.I with the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit. (Hurricanes could be launched by catapult from merchant ships to defend against Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor reconnaissance bombers.)
He next flew the Fairey Fulmar fighter from HMS Argus (I49) in support of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Twiss is credited with shooting down one enemy fighter and damaging a bomber. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, 22 September 1942. He and his squadron transitioned to the Supermarine Seafire aboard HMS Furious (49) and were in action during the invasion of North Africa. He was awarded a Bar, denoting a second award, to his D.F.C.
After returning to England in 1943, Twiss was trained as a night fighter pilot and flew the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito with an RAF night fighter unit on intruder missions over France. In 1944 he shot down two more enemy airplanes.
Twiss was in the third class of the Empire Test Pilots’ School and after graduation was assigned to Fairey Aviation. With the end of World War II, Lieutenant-Commander Twiss left the Royal Navy and continued working as a test pilot at Fairey.
Peter Twiss ended his career testing aircraft in 1959, having flown more than 4,500 hours in nearly 150 different aircraft. His autobiography, Faster than the Sun, was published in 1963.
Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, O.B.E., D.F.C. and Bar, died 31 August 2011 at the age of 90 years.
¹ FAI Record File Number 8866
© 2017, Bryan R. Swopesby