Tag Archives: Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

23 March 1948

John Cunningham with the record-setting de Havilland DH.110 Vampire (BNPS).
John Cunningham with the record-setting de Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1, TG/278. Note the metal canopy with porthole. (BNPS).

23 March 1948: During a 45-minute flight over Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, the de Havilland Aircraft Company chief test pilot, Group Captain John Cunningham, D.S.O., flew a modified DH.100 Vampire F.1 fighter to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude of 18,119 meters (59,446 feet).¹ Cunningham broke the record set nearly ten years earlier by Colonel Mario Pezzi in a Caproni Ca.161 biplane.² (See This Day in Aviation, 22 October 1938)

DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 prior to high-altitude modifications. (de Havilland)
DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 prior to high-altitude modifications. (de Havilland)

The de Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 flown by Cunningham was the fifth production aircraft, TG/278. It was built by the English Electric Company at Preston, Lancashire, with final assembly at Samlesbury Aerodrome, and made its first flight in August 1945. It was intended as a prototype photo reconnaissance airplane. The cockpit was heated and pressurized for high altitude, and a metal canopy installed.

The photo reconnaissance project was dropped and TG/278 became a test bed for the de Havilland Engine Company Ghost 2 turbojet (Halford H.2), which produced 4,400 pounds of thrust (19.57 kilonewtons) at 10,000 r.p.m. The Vampire could take the Ghost engine to altitudes beyond the reach of the Avro Lancaster/Ghost test bed already in use. The airplane’s wing tips were each extended 4 feet (1.219 meters) to increase lift.

De Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 before the record flight. (De Havilland)
De Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 after modifications. (de Havilland)

The aircraft was stripped of paint to reduce weight. Smaller batteries were used and placed in normal ballast locations. Special instrumentation and recording cine cameras were installed in the gun compartment, and ten cylinders of compressed air for breathing replaced the Vampire’s radio equipment. At takeoff, the Vampire carried 202 gallons (765 liters) of fuel, 40 gallons less than maximum, sufficient for only one hour of flight. The takeoff weight of TG/278 was 8,400 pounds (3,810 kilograms).

John Cunningham had previously flown TG/278 to a world record 799.644 kilometers per hour (496.876 miles per hour) over a 100 kilometer course at Lympne Airport, 31 August 1947.³

TG/278 continued as a test aircraft until it was damaged by an engine fire in October 1950. It was used as an instructional airframe at RAF Halton.

De Havilland DH.100 F Mk 1 Vampire TG/278 after high-altitude modifications (Vic Flintham)
De Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 with high altitude modifications (de Havilland)

A standard Vampire F.1 was 9.370 meters (30 feet, 8.9 inches) long with a wingspan of 12.192 meters (40 feet, 0 inches) and overall height of 2.700 meters (8 feet, 10.3 inches). The fighter had an empty weight of 6,380 pounds (2,894 kilograms) and gross weight of 8,587 pounds (3,895 kilograms).

The basic Vampire F.1 was powered by a de Havilland-built Halford H.1B Goblin turbojet engine. This engine used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor and single-stage axial-flow turbine. It had a straight-through configuration rather than the reverse-flow of the Whittle turbojet from which it was derived. It produced 2,460 pounds of thrust (10.94 kilonewtons) at 9,500 r.p.m., and 3,000 pounds (13.34 kilonewtons) at 10,500 r.p.m. The Goblin weighed approximately 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms).

It had a maximum speed of 540 miles per hour (869 kilometers per hour), a service ceiling of 41,000 feet (12,497 meters) and range of 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).

The Vampire F.1 was armed with four 20 mm Hispano autocannon in the nose, with 150 rounds of ammunition per gun.

De Havilland DH.100 Vampire FB.5 three-view illustration with dimensions.
Group Captain John Cunningham, Royal Air Force. (Daily Mail)
Group Captain John Cunningham, Royal Air Force. (BNPS)

Group Captain John Cunningham C.B.E., D.S.O. and Two Bars, D.F.C. and Bar, A.E., D.L., F.R.Ae.S, was born 1917 and educated at Croydon. In 1935 he became an apprentice at De Havilland’s and also joined the Auxiliary Air Force, where he trained as a pilot. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer, 7 May 1936, and was promoted to Flying Officer, 5 December 1937. Cunningham was called to active duty in August 1939, just before World War II began, and promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 12 March 1940.

While flying with No. 604 Squadron, Cunningham was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, 28 January 1941. He was appointed Acting Squadron Leader, Auxiliary Air Force, and was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order, 29 April 1941. The Gazette reported,

“This officer has continued to display the highest devotion to duty in night fighting operations. One night in April, 1941, he destroyed two enemy bombers during a single patrol and a week later destroyed  three enemy raiders during three different patrols. Squadron Leader Cunningham has now destroyed at least ten enemy aircraft and damaged a number of others. His courage and skill are an inspiration to all.”The London Gazette, 29 April 1941, Page 2445 at Column 1.

His Majesty George VI, King of the United Kingdom, greets Squadron Leader John Cunningham, D.S.O., D.F.C., 1941. (BNPS)

Acting Squadron Leader Cunningham’s promotion to Squadron Leader (Temporary) became official 10 June 1941. The King approved the award of a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross, 19 September 1941. Squadron Leader Cunningham took command of No. 604 Squadron 1 August 1946.

On 3 March 1944 Wing Commander Cunningham received a second Bar to his Distinguished Service Order. According to The Gazette,

“Within a recent period Wing Commander Cunningham has destroyed three more hostile aircraft and his last success on the night of 2nd January, 1944, brings his total victories to 20, all with the exception of one being obtained at night. He is a magnificent leader, whose exceptional ability and wide knowledge of every aspect of night flying has contributed in large measure to the high standard of operational efficiency of his squadron which has destroyed a very large number of enemy aircraft. His iron determination and unswerving devotion to duty have set an example beyond praise.

The London Gazette, 3 March 1944, Page 1059 at Column 1.

Promoted to Group Captain 3 July 1944, Cunningham was the highest scoring Royal Air Force night fighter pilot of World War II, credited with shooting down 20 enemy airplanes. He was responsible for the myth that eating carrots would improve night vision.

In addition to the medals awarded by the United Kingdom, he also held the United States Silver Star, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Order of the patriotic War (1st Class).

Following the War, John Cunningham returned to de Havilland as a test pilot. After the death of Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., in 1946, Cunningham became the de Havilland’s chief test pilot. He remained with the firm through a series of mergers, finally retiring in 1980.

Cunningham was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in 1951, and promoted to Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1963. He relinquished his  Auxiliary Air Force commission 1 August 1967.

Group Captain John Cunningham C.B.E., D.S.O. and Two Bars, D.F.C. and Bar, A.E., D.L.,  died 21 July 2002 at the age of 84 years.

Wing Commander John Cunningham, D.S.O. and two bars, D.F.C. and Bar, A.E., Auxiliary Air Force. (Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9844

² FAI Record File Number 11713: 17,083 meters (56,047 feet)

³ FAI Record File Number 8884

© 2019, 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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9633v6U0wo

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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3 December 1945

Lieutenant Eric M. Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR. © IWM (A 31015)
Lieutenant Eric M. Brown, M.B.E., D.S.C., Royal Navy. © IWM (A 31015)

3 December 1945: The first landing and takeoff aboard an aircraft carrier by a jet-powered aircraft were made by Lieutenant-Commander Eric Melrose Brown, M.B.E., D.S.C., R.N.V.R., Chief Naval Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, while flying a de Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551/G. The ship was the Royal Navy Colossus-class light aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean (R68), under the command of Captain Casper John, R.N.

For his actions in these tests, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), 19 February 1946.

LZ551 was the second of three prototype DH.100 Vampires, which first flew 17 March 1944. The airplane was used for flight testing and then in 1945, was modified for operation for carriers. It was named “Sea Vampire” and reclassified as Mk.10.

The DH.100 was a single-seat, single-engine fighter powered by a turbojet engine. The twin tail boom configuration of the airplane was intended to allow a short exhaust tract for the engine, reducing power loss in the early jet engines available at the time.

LZ551/G was originally powered by a Halford H.1 turbojet which produced 2,300 pounds of thrust (10.231 kilonewtons) at 9,300 r.p.m. This engine was produced by de Havilland and named Goblin.

The Vampire entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1945 and remained a front-line fighter until 1953. 3,268 DH.100s were built. There were two prototype Sea Vampires (including LZ551) followed by 18 production Sea Vampire FB.5 fighter bombers and 73 Sea Vampire T.22 two-place trainers.

LZ551 is in the collection of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset.

Captain Eric ("Winkle") Brown, RNAS, aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (Daily Mail)
Lieutenant-Commander Eric (“Winkle”) Brown, MBE, DSC, RNVR, with the second prototype de Havilland DH.100, LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (Daily Mail)

HMS Ocean was built at the Alexander Stephen and Sons yard on the Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was launched in 1944 and commissioned 8 August 1945. Classed as a light fleet carrier, HMS Ocean was 630 feet (192 meters) long at the water line, with a beam of 80 feet, 1 inch (24.41 meters) and standard draft of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.64 meters) at 13,190 tons displacement; 23 feet, 3 inches (7.09 meters), at full load displacement (18,000 tons). The aircraft carrier’s  flight deck was 695 feet, 6 inches (212.0 meters) long. Ocean was driven by four Parsons geared steam turbines producing 40,000 shaft horsepower, and had a maximum speed of 25 knots (28.8 miles per hour/46.3 kilometers per hour). HMS Ocean had a crew of 1,050 sailors, and could carry 52 aircraft.

HMS Ocean served for twelve years before being placed in reserve. Five years later, she was scrapped at Faslane, Scotland.

Winkle Brown and the DH.100 Sea Vampire fly past HMS Ocean.
Winkle Brown and the DH.100 Sea Vampire fly past HMS Ocean.
A landing signal officer guides Brown to land aboard HMS Ocean.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551/G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 lands aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (BAE Systems)
De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 takes off from HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945. (BAE Systems)

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., KCVSA, Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., is one of aviation’s greatest test pilots. He was born at Leith, Scotland, 21 January 1918, the son of Robert John Brown and Euphemia Melrose Brown. His father, a Royal Air Force officer, took him for his first flight at the age of 8. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland; Fettes College; and at the University of Edinburgh. He received a Master of Arts degree from the university in 1947.

Sub-Lieutenant Eric M. Brown R.N.V.R.

Eric Brown volunteered for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, 4 December 1939. Having previously learned to fly at the University Air Squadron, Brown was sent to a Flying Refresher Course at RNAS Sydenham, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Brown received a commission as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, 26 November 1940. He briefly served with No. 801 Squadron before being transferred to No. 802 Squadron. He flew the Grumman G-36A Martlet Mk.I (the export version of the U.S. Navy F4F-3 Wildcat fighter) from the escort carrier HMS Audacity (D10) on Gibraltar convoys.

Having shot down several enemy aircraft, including two Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor four-engine patrol bombers, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. HMS Audacity was sunk by enemy submarines in the Atlantic, 21 December 1941. Brown was one of only 24 to escape from the sinking ship, but only he and one other survived long enough in the frigid water to be rescued.

Ensign Eric M.Brown with a Grumman Martlet Mk.I
Sub-Lieutenant Eric M.Brown, R.N.V.R., Fleet Air Arm, with a Grumman Martlet Mk.I, circa 1941. (Unattributed)

Sub-Lieutenant Brown met Miss Evelyn Jean Margaret Macrory on 7 April 1940. They married in 1942 and would have one son.

Brown was promoted to lieutenant, 1 April 1943. After a number of operational assignments, Lieutenant Brown was assigned to the Naval Test Squadron at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, in December 1943. The following month Brown was named Chief Naval Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. He held that post until 1949.

In July 1945, Eric Brown was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-commander (temporary), and then, following the war, he was transferred from the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve to the Royal Navy, and appointed a lieutenant with date of rank to 1 April 1943.

Lieutenant Brown was awarded the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air in the New Year’s Honours List, 1949. Brown returned to No. 802 Squadron during the Korean War, flying from the aircraft  carriers HMS Vengeance (R71) and HMS Indomitable (92). He was promoted to lieutenant-commander, 1 April 1951. In September 1951, Brown resumed flight testing as an exchange officer at the U.S. Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland.

Commander and Mrs. Brown at RNAS Lossiemouth, circa 1954. (Daily Mail)
Commander and Mrs. Brown at RNAS Lossiemouth, circa 1954. (Daily Mail)

In 1953, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was a ship’s officer aboard HMS Rocket (H92), an anti-submarine frigate. He was promoted to commander, 31 December 1953. After a helicopter refresher course, Brown commanded a Search-and-Rescue (SAR) helicopter flight aboard HMS Illustrious. He next commanded No. 804 Squadron based at RNAS Lossiemouth, then went on to command RNAS Brawdy at Pembrokeshire, Wales.

From 1958 to 1960, Commander Brown was the head of the British Naval Air Mission to Germany. He then held several senior positions in air defense within the Ministry of Defence. He was promoted to captain 31 December 1960.

From 1964 to 1967, Brown was the Naval Attache at Bonn, Germany. He next commanded RNAS Lossiemouth, 1967–1970.

Captain Brown’s final military assignment was as Aide-de-camp to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.

Eric M. Brown was invested a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.), 3 July 1945, for landings of a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito aboard HMS Indefatigable, 2 May 1944. On 1 January 1970, Captain Brown was named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the Queen’s New Years Honours List.

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC Hob FRAeS, RN
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., Royal Navy

Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D. Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., retired from active duty 12 March 1970.

At that time, he had accumulated more than 18,000 flight hours, with over 8,000 hours as a test pilot. Captain Brown had flown 487 different aircraft types (not variants), a record which is unlikely to ever be broken. Brown made more landings on aircraft carriers than any other pilot, with 2407 landings, fixed wing, and 212 landings, helicopter. He made 2,721 catapult launches, both at sea and on land.

In 1982 and 1983, Captain Brown served as president of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Eric “Winkle” Brown died at Redhill, Surrey, England, 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years.

Captain Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)
Captain Eric M. Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

© 2018, 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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7 November 1945

Gloster Meteor F Mk.IV, EE455, Brittania, 1945. (Gloster Aircraft Co., Ltd.)

7 November 1945: Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, Commandant of the Empire Test Pilots’ School at RAF Cranfield, set the first world speed record with a jet-propelled airplane, and the first speed record by an airplane in excess of 600 miles per hour (965.606 kilometers per hour), when he flew the Gloster Meteor F Mk.IV, EE454, to 975.68 kilometers per hour (606.26 miles per hour)—0.80 Mach—at an altitude of 75 meters (246) above Sea Level.

The course was an 8 mile (12.9 kilometers) straight away from the Herne Bay Pier to Reculver Point, along the south coast of the Thames Estuary. This was a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) record for speed over a 3 kilometer course. ¹

Gloster Meteor Mk.III EE457, sistership of the two record-setting Mk.IV prototypes. (Unattributed)
Gloster Meteor F Mk.III EE457, sister ship of the two record-setting Mk.IV prototypes. (Unattributed)

Months of preparation by both the Royal Air Force, which formed a special “flight,” and Gloster Aviation Co., Ltd., went into the speed record effort. Two Meteor F Mk.III fighters, EE454 and EE455, were modified to the new Mk.IV version to attempt the speed record.

Gloster Meteor F Mk.III EE455 prior to modification to Mk.IV. © IWM (ATP 15305D)

The standard B.37 Rolls-Royce Derwent Series I turbojet engines were replaced with Derwent Series V turbojets and lengthened jet nacelles. The wings were shortened, the tips reshaped and the canopy was cut down and strengthened. All trim tabs on flight control surfaces were disabled and their edges sealed. Landing gear and gear door up-latches were strengthened to prevent them from being sucked open at high speed. The airplanes were lightened and all armament deleted. The surfaces were smoothed and painted in a gloss finish. EE454 retained the standard camouflage pattern, while EE455 was painted in a distinctive yellow-gold color.

Many hours of flight testing were performed to ensure that the airplanes would be stable enough at high speeds while flying at the very low altitude required by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale‘s rules. The slightest deviation from smooth flight could have disastrous results.

Group Captain Hugh J. Wilson CBE AFC with Gloster Chief Test Pilot Eric Stanley Greenwood OBE. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars, with Gloster Chief Test Pilot Eric Stanley Greenwood. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

EE454 was flown by Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars (three awards), and EE455 by Gloster Chief Test Pilot Eric Stanley Greenwood. Each airplane was required to make four passes over the 3 kilometer (1.8641 statute miles) course, with two runs in each direction. The airplanes were required to remain at or below 75 meters (246 feet) during the runs over the course, and during the turns at the end of each run, below 400 meters  (1,312 feet).

On the day of the speed runs, the weather was marginal. It was cold and overcast, and visibility varied from 7 to 12 miles 11–19 kilometers) along the course. The wind was 8–12 miles per hour (3.6–5.4 meters per second) from the northwest.

Wilson made four passes over the course. His speeds for each run were 604, 608, 602 and 611 miles per hour (972, 978, 969, and 983 kilometers per hour). Greenwood made his speed runs an hour later. His runs were 599, 608, 598 and 607 miles per hour (964, 978, 962 and 977 kilometers per hour).

Wilson’s average speed was the higher of the two. His official FAI-homologated record speed is 975.68 kilometers per hour (606.26 miles per hour).

Color photograph of Gloster Meteor Mk.IV EE455 (RAF Museum)

Post-flight inspections revealed that the sheet metal of the Meteors’ engine intakes had significantly distorted by the intense pressure differentials experienced during the speed runs.

The B.37 Rolls-Royce Derwent Series V, interestingly, was not a direct development of the preceding Derwent Series I–IV engines. Instead, it was a scaled-down version of the RB.41 Nene, which was in turn, a scaled-up and improved Derwent I. The Derwent V had a single-stage, two-sided, centrifugal-flow compressor and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The compressor impeller and turbine rotor were mounted on a single shaft which was supported on each end by roller bearings, and in the center by a ball bearing. The Derwent V used nine combustion chambers, and burned aviation kerosene. Engine lubricating oil was added to the fuel at a 1:100 ratio, by volume. The Series V had a Normal Power rating of 3,000 pounds of thrust (13.345 kilonewtons) at 14,000 r.p.m., and a Take-off or Military Power rating of 3,500 pounds of thrust (15.569 kilonewtons) at 14,600 r.p.m. (There was no time limit for this power setting.) The engine produced a maximum 4,000 pounds of thrust (17.793 kilonewtons) at 15,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. During the speed runs, thrust was restricted to 3,600 pounds (16.014 kilonewtons) on both Meteors. The Derwent V engine was 7 feet, 4.5 inches (2.248 meters) long, 3 feet, 7 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter and weighed 1,280 pounds (581 kilograms).

(Rolls-Royce named its piston aircraft engines after predatory birds, e.g., Kestrel, Merlin, but its turbine engines were named after rivers.)

Gloster Meteor Mk. IV EE455 on jack stands. (Unattributed)
Gloster Meteor F Mk. IV EE455 on jack stands. (Unattributed)
Gloster Meteor F Mk. IV EE455 on jack stands. (Unattributed)

British Pathé news film of the speed runs can be seen at:

Group Captain Wilson was born at Westminster, London, England, 28 May 1908, the only son of Alfred Wilson and Jessie Wood Young Wilson. He was educated at the University School, Hastings, and the Merchant Taylors’ School, London.

Wilson received a short service commission as a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force, 13 September 1929 and was assigned to the No. 5 Flight Training School, at RAF Sealand, Flintshire, Wales. Pilot Officer Wilson was then assigned to 111 Squadron at Hornchurch, Essex, 1930–1932. He was promoted to Flying Officer, 13 March 1931. From 1932 to to 1934, “Willie” Wilson was assigned to the School of Naval Co-operation and Air Navigation at Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire.

On the completion of his five-year short service, Wilson was transferred to the Reserve Air Force Officers list. He qualified in flying boats and acted as a flight instructor for the RAF Reserve School. Wilson was promoted to Flight Lieutenant 1 April 1937, with seniority retroactive to 1 April 1936.

Flying Officer Wilson in the cockpit of a Blackburn Roc fighter.
Flying Officer Hugh Wilson in the cockpit of a prototype Blackburn Roc fighter, RAF Northolt, 22 May 1939.

While a reserve officer, Wilson was a test pilot for Blackburn Aircraft Ltd., and made the first flight of the Blackburn Roc. He then became a civil test pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.

In 1939 Flight Lieutenant Wilson was recalled to active duty. He was assigned as Commanding Officer, Aerodynamic Flight, RAE Farnborough, and also flew with No. 74 Fighter Squadron at Biggin Hill. On 1 September 1940, Wilson was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader. In 1941, Wilson was appointed chief test pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment and was responsible for testing all captured enemy aircraft. He was promoted to Wing Commander, 20 August 1945.

Squadron Leader Hugh J. Wilson, AFC and Bar, in teh cocpit of a captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190A3, Werke Number 313, in RAF markings as MP499. (Royal Air Force)
Squadron Leader Hugh J. Wilson, A.F.C. and Bar, in the cockpit of a captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190A 3, W.Nr. 313, in RAF markings as MP499, August 1942. (Detail from Imperial War Museum photograph)
CBE medal with Military ribbon.
Commander of the Order of the British Empire Medal with Military Division Ribbon. (Wikipedia)

Wing Commander Hugh Joseph Wilson, A.F.C. and Two Bars, Royal Air Force, was named Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the King’s Birthday Honours List, 13 June 1946.

On 22 February 1947, Wing Commander Wilson married the former Thom Isobel Moira Sergeant (Mrs. Moira Garnham). They had one son. On 4 December 1959, he married Miss Patricia Frances Stanley Warren. They had two children.

Wing Commander Hugh J. Wilson retired from the Royal Air Force at his request 20 June 1948, with the rank of Group Captain. He died at Westminster, London 5 September 1990 at the age of 82 years.

Gloster Chief Test Pilot Eric Stanley “Terry” Greenwood (29 November 1908–February 1979) was the first pilot to exceed 600 miles per hour, while test flying the Meteors. He was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in the King’s Birthday Honours List, 13 June 1946.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9847

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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