Report of the November meeting of the West Norfolk Aviation Society
The speaker at the November meeting in the Methwold Social Club was Wing Commander Ken Wallis, one of the U.K’s top aeronautical engineers, who enthralled us with his life story, covering 85 years of individual enterprise and ingenuity and whose enthusiasm remains undiminished.
His early childhood was in an engineering environment; his family was in engineering in Cambridge and later Ely (when youngsters his father and uncle built their own racing motor cycles and later designed and built an aeroplane in 1910, based on the Bleriot monoplane, which unfortunately never flew). Ken was an enthusiast on speed, designing and building from odd scraps of material high-speed water craft driven by an aircraft propeller; he also reconstructed and modified Rolls Royce cars, one of which he was invited to take over to the USA on the Queen Mary and drive it around the country.
As WW2 approached, he learned to fly. When WW2 was declared he volunteered for the RAF but initially was turned down as a pilot on medical grounds because of one dodgy eye; however on a second attempt by conning the medics he was accepted. He flew Wellingtons in the early years , later was part of the Pathfinders group, and towards the end of the War was flying two sorties per night in the Assini campaign. Later he became an instructor, an armourer, and a boffin on weapon development.
He survived many catastrophes and suffered injuries. On one occasion, limping back from a raid, his plane became entangled by a barrage balloon cable which cut through a quarter of the wing before the cable snapped, resulting in a crash landing (barrage balloon cables brought down more RAF planes than enemy planes but they did deter enemy planes from flying too low).
After the war he was attached to Boscombe Down, where new aircraft and weapons were tested and assessed. For a period he was seconded to the USA where he flew bombers around North Europe and Scandinavia carrying an atom bomb (during the Cold War the USA had at least one aircraft carrying an atom bomb in the air 24 hours a day).
Leaving the RAF in the late 60’s Ken turned to designing, building, testing his beloved range of autogyros (an autogyro has a pusher airscew at the back to provide the thrust forward and then the windstream whirls an overhead rotor which provides the lift), all built by him at his home in Stanton Morley, near Dereham. Over the years he has become the world authority on these small flying machines and he is now the proud owner of all the world’s autogyro records (including fastest, furthest and highest).
Ken’s fame became international when his autogyro was chosen to feature extensively in the Bond film ‘You only live twice’. Not only did Ken fly all the stunts in the film but also repeated many of the stunts round the world as part of the publicity for the film. Ken with his autogyro has had many commissions mainly for aerial photography of one kind or another (in one case he was employed to take aerial photographs of countryside to try to find the graves of murder victims).
More recently he has built the aircraft designed by his father and uncle in 1910, and has managed to get it to fly. An amazing and inspiring man, whose enthusiasm remains both contagious and undiminished