Tag Archives: Fairey Aviation Company Ltd.

24–27 April 1929

Sqadron Leader A.G. Jones-Williams and Flight Lieutenant N.H. Jenkins at RAF Cranwell, June 1929. (Flight)
Squadron Leader A.G. Jones-Williams, M.C. and Bar, with Flight Lieutenant N.H. Jenkins, O.B.E., D.F.C., D.S.M., at R.A.F. Cranwell, June 1929. (Flight)

24–27 April 1929: At 0937 GMT on the 24th, Squadron Leader Arthur Gordon Jones-Williams, M.C. and Bar, and Flight Lieutenant Norman Hugh Jenkins, O.B.E., D.F.C., D.S.M., both of the Royal Air Force, departed R.A.F. Cranwell, Lincolnshire, England, aboard the Fairey Long Range Monoplane, J9479. Their destination was Bangalore, in the Kingdom of Mysore, British Indian Empire. They were attempting a long distance flight record.

Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, front view.
Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, front view.

Their departure had been delayed for several days while waiting for favorable conditions for takeoff. It was decided to limit the Monoplane’s takeoff weight to 16,000 pounds (7,257.5 kilograms) and wait for at least a 10 mile per hour (16 kilometers per hour) headwind before attempting to takeoff.

After 16½ hours in flight, Jones-Williams and Jenkins were overhead Istanbul, and reached Baghdad 10½ hours later. After another 22 hours airborne they were overhead Karachi, Sindh, in the Bombay Presidency (now, Pakistan). With an estimated 6 hours fuel remaining they were unable to reach Bangalore and elected to land at Karachi while it was still daylight.

The duration of their flight was 50 hours, 37 minutes. They had flown a distance of 4,130 miles (6,646.6 kilometers) on their non-stop flight.

Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, right side view.
Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, right side view.

Arthur Gordon Jones-Williams (1888–1929) was a second lieutenant in the Welsh Regiment during World War I. He was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a fighter pilot. He shot down 11 enemy airplanes and was awarded the Military Cross, followed by a Bar (a second award). Jones-Williams was promoted from Flight Lieutenant to Squadron Leader in the list of New Years Honors, 1 January 1928.

Flight Lieutenant Norman Hugh Jenkins, DFC, DSM, Royal Air Force, was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 3 June 1925.

Fairey Long Range Monoplane
Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, right rear quarter

The Fairey Long Range Monoplane was an experimental airplane designed and built in 1928 by Fairey Aviation Company, Ltd., at Hayes, Middlesex, England, for the Royal Air Force to investigate methods of increasing the range of airplanes. The agreed price was £15,000.

It was flown by two pilots and had a bed for crew rest. It was a high-wing monoplane with a wing built of wood and covered by fabric. The Monoplane was 48 feet, 6 inches (14.783 meters) long with a wingspan of 82 feet (24.994 meters) and height of 12 feet (3.658 meters). The maximum takeoff weight was 17,500 pounds (7,937.9 kilograms).

J9479 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,461.135-cubic-inch-displacement (23.944 liter) Napier Lion XIA (Special) dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) “Triple Four” or “broad arrow” (three banks of four cylinders with a common crankshaft), now generally referred to as a  W-12 engine. The cylinder banks were separated by 60° angles. The Lion XI had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6:1. It produced 530 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m., and a maximum of 570 horsepower at 2,585 r.p.m. It was a geared engine with a 1.885:1 gear reduction. The Lion XI was 5 feet, 1 inch (1.549 meters) long, 3 feet, 6 inches (1.067 meters) wide and 3 feet, 3 inches (0.991 meters) high. The engine weighed 995 pounds (451 kilograms). The XIA (Special) was specially-tuned for the Fairey Long Range Monoplane, and had a slightly higher compression ratio.

The cruise speed was 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour). The fuel tanks in the wings had a capacity of 1,043 Imperial gallons (1,252.6 U.S. gallons/4,741.6 liters).

Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, left front quarter.
Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, left front quarter.

Because of headwinds encountered, the April flight was short of the record. Another attempt was made, this time with a destination in South Africa. On 16 December 1929, however, J9479 crashed at Djibel Lit, south of Tunis, French Tunisia. The airplane was destroyed and both A.G. Jones-Williams and N.H. Jenkins were killed.

Fairey Long Range Monoplane. J9479, right front quarter.
Fairey Long Range Monoplane. J9479, right front quarter.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 January 1959

Fairey Rotodyne XE521 (FAI)
Fairey Rotodyne XE521 (FAI)

5 January 1959: At White Waltham, Berkshire, England, test pilots Ron Gellatly and Johnny Morton set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers Without Payload, flying the prototype Fairey Rotodyne, XE521, to an average speed of 307.22 kilometers per hour (190.90 miles per hour)¹ over a course from White Waltham Aerodrome to Wickham, Radley Bottom, Kintbury and back to White Waltham. The prototype was not a helicopter, but a compound gyroplane. Its record is for Class E (Rotorcraft), Sub-Class E-2 (Rotodyne).

Fairey Rotodyne XE521
Fairey Rotodyne XE521 (Photograph Courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

The Fairey Rotodyne was a unique aircraft. Like a helicopter, it was capable of hovering and low-speed translating flight. The main rotor had both cyclic and collective pitch and provided roll and pitch control. Unlike a helicopter, though, thrust for forward flight was provided by two turboprop engines. Varying the propellers’ pitch provided yaw control for the aircraft until about 80 knots, when the twin rudders were sufficiently effective. As the Rotodyne accelerated in forward flight, the stub wing provided increasing lift and at about 60 knots, the main rotor tip jets were turned off. The main rotor continued to turn in autorotation, as in a gyrocopter.

Flight controls were similar to those of a helicopter, with a cyclic stick and collective lever with a twist throttle. The pedals, though, rather than controlling a tail rotor, varied the propeller blades’ pitch and rudder angle. The elevators were controlled by electric trim motors.

Fairey Rotodyne XE521 in flight. (Unattributed)
Fairey Rotodyne XE521 in flight. (Unattributed)

Helicopters’ maximum speed is limited by retreating blade stall. The Rotodyne’s stub wing provided 60% of lift in cruise flight, allowing the main rotor to operate with a lower blade angle of attack, delaying the onset of the stall. With propulsion provided by the turboprop engines rather than the main rotor, blade angle is further reduced. This allowed the Rotodyne to reach higher speeds in flight than a conventional helicopter.

Also, unlike a helicopter, the Rotodyne’s rotor was not driven by engines through a gear reduction transmission, reducing the aircraft’s weight and complexity. Drive was accomplished by tip-mounted high pressure jet engines (“tip jets”), fueled by compressed air supplied by the turboprop engines and turbine fuel. There is no torque effect, so an anti-torque rotor (tail rotor) is not required. The rotor mechanism is simplified because lead-lag hinges are not necessary.

Lieutenant Commander Johnny Morton (left) with Squadron Leader Ron Gellatly. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Lieutenant Commander Johnny Morton (left) with Squadron Leader Ron Gellatly, Fairey Aviation Company test pilots. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

XE521 made its first flight 6 November 1957 at White Waltham with Ron Gellatly and Johnny Morton in the cockpit.

The Rotodyne’s four-blade main rotor used symmetrical airfoils. It was 90 feet (27.432 meters) in diameter and the blade tip speed was 720 feet per second (219.5 meters per second). The blades had a chord of 2 feet, 3 inches (0.686 meters). The rotor blades were built of steel for strength, fatigue life and resistance to corrosion. The leading edge spar was machined from a 35 foot rolled steel billet and the rear spar was fabricated of layered stainless steel. The airfoil is shaped by pierced stainless steel ribs. The steel skin was a single sheet, joined at the trailing edge.

The wing span was 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters). The engines and main landing gear were  carried in long nacelles mounted under the wing.

The Rotodyne’s fuselage was 58 feet, 8 inches (17.812 meters) long. The cabin has a length of 46 feet (14.021 meters) and is 8 feet (2.438 meters) wide and 6 feet (1.829 meters) high, providing space for 40 passengers or up to 9,000 pounds (4,082.3 kilograms of cargo. Clamshell doors at the aft end provided for cargo loading. Overall height of the aircraft was 22 feet, 2 inches (6.756 meters).

The Rotodyne was powered by two Napier & Son Eland NEl.3 turboprop engines with a maximum rated power of 2,805 shaft horsepower and 500 pounds of thrust at 12,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. Maximum continuous power was 2,180 shaft horsepower and 420 pounds of thrust. These engines drove four-bladed Rotol propellers with a diameter of 13 feet (3.962 meters). An auxilary compressor at the rear of the engine supplied compressed air for the main rotor tip-jets. Each engine supplied power to opposite pairs of of rotor blades at 250 °C. (482 °F.)

The prototype had an empty weight of 24,030 pounds (10,899.9 kilograms)

A video from the Fairey Aviation Film Unit can be seen at:


Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, AFC, leans out of teh cockpit after teh first flight of Fairey Rotodyne XE521, 6 November 1957. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, AFC, leans out of the cockpit after the first flight of Fairey Rotodyne XE521, 6 November 1957. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, OBE AFC, RNZAF (Retired) was born in 1920. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1940. During the last year of World War II, he commanded No. 243 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Squadron Leader Gellatly attended the Empire Test Pilot School in 1950, and for the next four years was the helicopter flight commander at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at RAF Boscombe Down. In the New Year’s Honors, 1 January 1954, the squadron leader was awarded the Air Force Cross. He joined Fairey Aviation ,Ltd., as Chief Test Pilot. On 8 June 1963, Gellatly was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.

After the merger with Westland Helicopters at Yeaovil in 1967, Gellatly remained with the company as chief test pilot. On 1 January 1970, Squadron Leader Gellatly was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He retired from Westland in 1976 after having made the first flight of five new helicopters, including the Lynx. He died in 1983 at the age of 62 years.

Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, AFC, in the cockpit of the Fairey Rotodyne. (Photograph from the collection of Roger J. Humm)

Lieutenant Commander John George Peter Morton, OBE, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, was born in Lancashire, 10 May 1925. At Age 17 he entered the Fleet Air Arm and was sent to the United States for flight training. He was assigned to fly the Chance Vought Corsair from the aircraft carrier HMS Colossus. (One of the airplanes he flew, Corsair KD431, is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton.)

Johnny Morton served as a test pilot on Supermarine Seafire XVs following the war, and then flew the Seafire from HMS Theseus, and then Sea Furies Sea Hawks from HMS Centaur.

John P.G. Morton
John P.G. Morton

The Royal Navy assigned Johnny Morton to Fairey Aviation as a test pilot. On 14 June 1969, Senior Test Pilot Morton was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.

Morton was the lead test pilot on the Westland Wasp and the naval variant of the Westland Lynx. He made the first flight of Lynx XX469, 25 May 1972. On 21 November, XX469 suffered a tail rotor failure and was damaged beyond repair. Johnny Morton and his copilot were slightly injured. He was also the first pilot to roll the Lynx.

On 1st January 1975, John Peter George Morton was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

After retiring from Westland, Morton and his wife moved to New Zealand. Lieutenant Commander John George Peter Morton OBE, died there, 4 May 2014, at the age of 88 years.

¹ FAI Record File Number 13216

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 November 1954

Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., Delta 2 WG774. (Unattributed)
Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., Delta 2 WG774. (Wikipedia)
Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, OBE, DSC and Bar. (The Telegraph)
Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, O.B.E., D.S.C. and Bar. (The Telegraph)

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, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. 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, descending through a layer of cloud at 2,500 feet (762 meters). 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.

WG774 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.

Damaged Fairey Delta 2 WG774 at Boscombe Down. (Prototypes.com)

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.

Her Majesty and Prince Phillip look over the Fairey Delta 2 with Lieutenant-Commander Peter Twiss.
Her Majesty and Prince Phillip look over a Fairey Delta 2 with Lieutenant-Commander Peter Twiss in 1956. (Daily Mail)

On 10 March 1956, Peter 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, U.S.Air Force, flying a North American Aviation F-100C Super Sabre over Edwards Air Force Base, California. ²

Test Pilot Peter Twist shakes hands with Robert L. Lickey, designer of the Fairey Delta 2. (The New York Times)
Test Pilot Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, D.S.C. and Bar, shakes hands with Robert Lang Lickley, Chief Engineer of Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., and designer of the Fairey Delta 2. (The New York Times)

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.

Fairey Delta 2 (FD.2) WG774. (Unattributed)
Fairey Delta 2 (FD.2) WG774, 13 March 1956. (Unattributed)

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.

Fairey Aviation FD.2 WG7774. (Unattributed)
Fairey Aviation FD.2 WG774, 2 September 1955. (Unattributed)

Peter Lionel Winterton Twiss ³ was born 23 July 1921 at Lindfield, Sussex, England. He was the son of Colonel Dudley Cyril Twiss, M.C., a British Army officer, and Laura Georgina Chapman Twiss. Peter was educated at the Sherborne School, a prestigious boarding school for boys, in Dorset.

Midshipman Lionel Peter Twiss, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

Twiss briefly worked as a tea taster for Brooke Bond & Company, but in 1939 enlisted as a Naval Airman, 2nd class, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. He trained at HMS St Vincent, a training school for the Fleet Air Arm at Gosport, Hampshire. He was appointed a Temporary Mishipman (Probationary), 26 August 1940. He was assigned to 771 Squadron, 27 January 1941, and was trained as a fighter pilot. Midshipman Twiss was commissioned as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (A), 23 July 1942.

Twiss was variously assigned to HMS Sparrowhawk, a Naval Air Station in the Orkney Islands, where he flew target tugs for gunnery training; HMS Daedalus, at Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire, England; and HMS Saker, a Royal Navy accounting base located in the United States.

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.)

A Hawker Hurricane Mk.IA, NJ L, mounted on a merchant ship’s catapult. (Lt. J.A. Hampton, RAF) © IWM (A 9421)

He next flew the Fairey Fulmar fighter with No. 807 Squadron from HMS Argus (I49), in support of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Sub-Lieutenant Twiss is credited with shooting down one enemy fighter and damaging a bomber. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, 22 September 1942. He and his squadron transitioned to the Supermarine Seafire aboard HMS Furious (47) and were in action during the invasion of North Africa. He was awarded a Bar, denoting a second award, to his D.S.C., 16 March 1943.

Sub-Lieutenant Twiss, D.S.C. and Bar, was promoted to the rank of Temporary Lieutenant, 17 August 1943. After returning to England, Twiss was trained as a night fighter pilot. He 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.

Mosquito Mk.VI night intruder, 1944. © IWM (HU 107770)

Later in 1944, Twiss was sent to the United States to work with the British Air Commission. In this position, he was able to fly various U.S. fighter aircraft, including the turbojet-powered Bell P-59 Airacomet.

Lieutenant-Commander Twiss was in the third class of the Empire Test Pilots’ School and after graduation he was assigned to Fairey Aviation for duty as a test pilot.

With the end of World War II, Lieutenant-Commander Twiss left the Royal Navy and continued working as a civilian test pilot at Fairey. He became to the company’s chief test pilot in 1954.

Peter Twiss with a scale model of the Fairey Delta 2. (The Scotsman)

For his record-setting flight, in 1956 Twiss was awarded The Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club.

Lionel Peter Twiss,O.B.E., D.S.C. and Bar, at Buckingham Palace, 1957, following his investiture. He is accompanied by his step-daughter, Gillian, and his second wife, Vera Maguire Twiss.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours, 13 June 1957, Lionel Peter Twiss, Esq., D.S.C., Chief Test Pilot, Fairey Aviation Company, Ltd.,, was appointed an Ordinary Officer of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.). His investiture took place at Buckingham Palace.

In 1958, The Royal Aeronautical Society awarded its George Taylor Gold Medal to Peter Twiss.

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 by Macdonald, London, in 1963.

He later worked for Fairey Marine.

Peter Twiss drove the villain Morzeny’s speed boat in “From Russia With Love.”

Twiss made a brief appearance in the 1960 20th Century Fox motion picture, “Sink the Bismarck!” He portrayed the pilot of a Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber which attacked the enemy battleship. In 1963, Peter Twiss appeared in the Eon Productions James Bond movie, “From Russia With Love.” He piloted one of the SPECTRE speedboats, which were chasing Bond and Tatiana Romanova.

Peter Twiss was married five times. His first wife was Constance A. Tomkinson.⁴ The marriage ended in divorce.

In the summer of 1950, Twiss married Vera Maguire at Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. They would have a daughter, Sarah. Their marriage also ended in divorce.

Mrs. Twiss III (Photographed by Mary Evans)

In June 1960, Twiss married Miss Cherry Felicity Huggins, a fashion model, actress, fashion magazine editor, pilot and race car driver, at Westminster, Middlesex, Their daughter Miranda was born in 1961. For a third time, Twiss’s marriage ended with a divorce. (Mrs. Twist III would later marry Lord Charles Hambro, and become Lady Hambro.)

Twiss married his fourth wife, Mrs. Heather Danby (née Heather Linda Goldingham) at Gosport, Hampshire, on 4 November 1964. Mrs. Twiss IV died in 1988.

Finally, in December 2002, Peter Twiss married Jane M. de Lucey. They remained together until his death.

Lieutenant-Commander Lionel Peter Twiss, O.B.E., D.F.C. and Bar, died 31 August 2011 at the age of 90 years.

Lionel Peter Twiss, February 2002. (Dan Patterson/National Portrait Gallery NPG x126203)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8866

² FAI Record File Number 8867

³ England and Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, July, August and September 1921, at Page 868. Birth registered as “Twiss, Peter L. W.” Mother’s maiden name, “Chapman.”

⁴ A marriage license was issued to Lionel P. Twiss and Constance A. Tomkinson in New York City, New York, U.S.A., 24 October 1944.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September 1931

Supermarine S.6B S.1595 at the London Science Museum

29 September 1931: After waiting all day for the fog to clear, at 5:49 p.m., Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth of the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight at RAF Calshot, made a 43-second takeoff run and began an attempt to set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course. ¹ His airplane was a Supermarine S.6B, number S.1595, the same seaplane that won the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider race on 13 September.

The High-Speed Flight had originally intended to use the second S.6B, S.1596, fitted with a specially-prepared Rolls-Royce Type R engine, for the 3 kilometer record attempt. S.1596 had been damaged on landing after a test flight, 16 September. While being towed back to RAF Calshot, the airplane sank. Fortunately, the special speed record engine, number R27, was not installed in S.1596 at the time of the accident.

Supermarine S.6B S.1595

Supermarine S.6B S.1595 had engine R27 installed, along with a new airscrew provided by Fairey Aviation Company Ltd. Also new was the fuel mixture of “wood alcohol” (methanol), gasoline and ethanol, being used in the engine for the first time.

During the speed runs, the High-Speed Flight squadron engineering officer flew along the course at an altitude of 400 meters, carring a sealed barograph. This would later be used to calibrate the time measurements.

The course was flown between Hill Head and Lee-on-Solent, on the Hampshire shoreline, with Flight Lieutenant Stainforth making four runs, two in each direction, to minimize the effect of winds.

The runs were:

Run 1: 415.2 miles per hour (668.2 kilometers per hour)

Run 2: 405.1 miles per hour (651.9 kilometers per hour)

Run 3: 409.5 miles per hour (659.0 kilometers per hour)

Run 4: 405.4 miles per hour (652.4 kilometers per hour)

Average: 408.8 miles per hour (657.9 kilometers per hour)

The official record time as published by the FAI is 655 kilometers per hour (407 miles per hour). George Stainforth was the first pilot to fly faster than 400 miles per hour.

Air Ministry,

9th October, 1931.


     The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Air Force Cross to the undermentioned officers of the Royal Air Force :—

Flight Lieutenant John Nelson Boothman.

In recognition of his achievement in winning the Schneider Trophy Contest, 1931.

Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth.

In recognition of his flights with the High Speed Flight of the Royal Air Force in connection with the Schneider Trophy Contest, 1931, culminating in the establishment of a world’s speed record on 29th September, 1931.

Flight, No. 1193 (Vol. XXIII, No. 45), Thursday, November 6, 1931 at Page 1110, Column 1.

S.1595 was Vickers-Supermarine S.6B Monoplane, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, who would later design the legendary Supermarine Spitfire fighter of World War II. The racer was developed from Mitchell’s earlier S.4, S.5 and S.6 Schneider Cup racers, and was built at the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers), Ltd., Southampton, on the south coast of England. There were two S.6Bs, with the second identified as S.1596.

The Supermarine S.6B was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with two fixed pontoons as an undercarriage. It was of all-metal construction and used a high percentage of duralumin, a very hard alloy of aluminum and copper, as well as other elements. The float plane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The wing area was 145 square feet (13,5 square meters). The S.6B had an empty weight of 4,560 pounds (2,068 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,995 pounds (2,719 kilograms).

In an effort to achieve the maximum possible speed, aerodynamic drag was eliminated wherever possible. There were no radiator or oil cooler intakes. The wing surfaces were constructed of two thin layers of duralumin with a very small space between them. The engine coolant, a mixture of water and ethylene glycol, was circulated between these layers, which are known as surface radiators. The engine had a high oil consumption rate and the vertical fin was the oil supply tank. The skin panels also served as surface radiators. The fuselage panels were corrugated for strength, and several small parallel passages transferred lubricating oil from the fin tank to the engine, and further cooled the oil.

Rolls-Royce Type R SOHC 60° V-12 racing engine. (FLIGHT)

For the 3 kilometer record, S.1595 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,239.327-cubic-inch-displacement (36.696 liter) Rolls-Royce Type R single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, number R27. The Type R was a racing engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6:1. In the 1931 configuration, it produced 2,350 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. It used a 0.605:1 reduction gear and turned a forged duralumin Fairey Aviation fixed-pitch airscrew with a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). R27 weighed 1,630 pounds (739 kilograms).

There would have been no 1931 British Schneider Trophy Race team without the generous contribution of Lucy, Lady Houston, D.B.E., who donated £100,000 to Supermarine to finance the new aircraft. Lady Houston would later sponsor the 1933 Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition.

The record-setting aircraft, S.1595, is in the collection of the Science Museum, London.

George Hedley Stainforth was born at Bromley, Kent, in 23 March 1899, the son of George Staunton Stainforth, a solicitor, and Mary Ellen Stainforth.

Stainforth was a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. On 11September 1918, Cadet Stainforth was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry, East Kent Regiment (“The Buffs”), ³ effective 21 August 1918 and served in France. On 30 March 1923, Lieutenant Stainforth, R.A.R.O., was granted a short service commission as a Flying Officer, Royal Air Force, effective 15 March 1923.

Flying Officer Stainforth married Miss Gladys Imelda Hendy at St. George’s Hanover Square Church, London, in March 1923.

Stainforth was promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 3 July 1928. He was granted a permanent commission in this rank 1 October 1929.

George Hedley Stainforth, 1929. (Stainforth Historical Archive)

In 1929, Stainforth won the King’s Cup Air Race, and on 10 September, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 541.10 kilometers per hour (336.22 miles per hour) while flying a Gloster Napier 6 powered by a Napier Lion VIID broad arrow W-12 engine.

Stainforth was promoted to Squadron Leader with effect from 1 June 1936. On 12 March 1940, he was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander, with effect from 1 March 1940.

During World War II, Wing Commander Stainforth commanded No. 89 Squadron in Egypt. The New York Times reported that he was “the oldest fighter pilot in the Middle East.” On the night of 27–28 September 1942, while flying a Bristol Beaufighter near the Gulf of Suez, Wing Commander George Hedley Stainforth, A.F.C., was killed in action. He was buried at the Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.

Bristol Beaufighter, No. 89 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

¹ FAI Record File Number 11831

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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