Au­t­o­gyro Mem­o­ries

Fond rec­ol­lec­tions of club pi­lots fly­ing Ken Wal­lis’s early au­t­o­gy­ros in the 1960s

Pilot - - AFRICAN SKIES - By David Hastings

Ken Wal­lis was a re­tired wartime RAF bomber pilot and a trained en­gi­neer who lived at Reymer­ston Hall, quite near to the club at RAF Swan­ton Mor­ley, and was fa­mous for the wonderful fleet of Wal­lis au­t­o­gy­ros that he had de­signed and built. He had car­ried out trials for a mil­i­tary use and then de­cided to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of civil­ian pi­lots en­joy­ing his cre­ation.

In early 1965 he brought two au­t­o­gy­ros over to the Nor­folk & Nor­wich Aero Club. The Club Direc­tors and mem­bers were deeply in­ter­ested and it was agreed that trials would be car­ried out. Here Ken hit a snag as the Board of Trade, which in those days ad­min­is­tered fly­ing, in­sisted that only pi­lots trained on a tail­wheel aero­plane would be al­lowed to fly them. This was non­sense and would ob­vi­ously pre­vent them be­ing widely used as, by that time, most stu­dents were learn­ing on the mod­ern tri­cy­cle nose­wheel aero­planes. After a long dis­cus­sion it was agreed that Ken could hold a trial us­ing two pi­lots, one trained on a tail­wheel air­craft and the other on a nose­wheel type. John Wilkins, who had learned on Tiger Moths, was cho­sen and, to my great sur­prise, I was asked if I would be the other pilot, hav­ing learned on the Ral­lye.

This be­ing long be­fore the days when Ken Wal­lis had a two-seat ver­sion, our first solo would be ex­actly that! We had a very full and de­tailed series of lec­tures and brief­ings on every as­pect of au­t­o­gyro fly­ing and then Ken said that John would solo on the next Satur­day and I would go the week­end after. So on 3 July 1965 I sat in with John on his pre­flight brief­ing, quite re­laxed as I knew I had an­other week be­fore my turn would come.

We found that we had two prob­lems. The first was that the en­gine, a sin­gle mag­neto Mccul­loch, was a pusher and the prop was about three inches from the rud­der, which made the rud­der ped­als much more sen­si­tive than we had ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. Sec­ondly, Ken, never hav­ing had other pi­lots fly his au­t­o­gyro, had set up the brakes to come off at full power, which meant that as you opened the throt­tle fully you au­to­mat­i­cally re­leased them and ev­ery­thing then hap­pened in a blur.

John strapped in and started up with Ken kneel­ing be­side him un­til he was happy with ev­ery­thing, then he stepped away and John van­ished in a series of wild swings. We had been briefed to climb straight ahead to 300 feet, com­plete a left-hand cir­cuit, ap­proach to about fifty feet, over­shoot, and then land on the sec­ond ap­proach. John landed and then, to my hor­ror, Ken said, “OK David, strap in as you might as well solo to­day”. I tried

to ex­plain that per­haps I had not lis­tened to John’s brief­ing as care­fully as I should, but all to no avail and I was soon kit­ted up with hel­met and gog­gles and strapped in with Ken kneel­ing be­side me.

The Wal­lis has a unique ad­van­tage over other au­t­o­gy­ros as you had the abil­ity to spin up the main ro­tor blades with a flex­i­ble drive from the en­gine, which gave it a very short take­off. Ken stepped away, I ap­plied full power, the brakes came off and, like John, I had ab­so­lutely no idea as to how I reached the first 200 feet − you sud­denly re­alised you were air­borne. In those days we did not have the nosecone (that came later in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice), so all you could see up front were two shak­ing feet on the rud­der ped­als, a tuft of wool as a slip in­di­ca­tor and the ba­sic in­stru­ments be­tween your knees, and think “how do I ever get this back down?”

After the first turn down­wind, how­ever, you be­gan to re­alise just what a wonderful ex­pe­ri­ence this was. No wings, no air­craft fuse­lage − just you fly­ing like a bird. The land­ing was not too dif­fi­cult and we then set­tled into a reg­u­lar rou­tine of fly­ing this wonderful lit­tle au­t­o­gyro.

Even­tu­ally the time came to al­low us out of the air­field cir­cuit and we were told to fly down the main road to Len­wade and back. We were amazed to see the ef­fect we had on the cars be­low. Later still we were al­lowed to go out to the coast and Ken warned us that the larger seag­ulls might play with us which we both thought was just a joke, but on one glo­ri­ous evening it hap­pened.

I was fly­ing at about 2,000 feet near Wells har­bour just en­joy­ing my­self when to my sur­prise a large seag­ull for­mated on me to port. I couldn’t be­lieve it. He eyed me up and down and then de­cided to show this hu­man a thing or two. He closed his wings and dropped. How­ever on the Wal­lis, if you closed the throt­tle you could also de­scend rapidly. The gull seemed sur­prised and de­cided to do the next trick which was to climb rapidly. Again the Wal­lis when given full power would go up like a lift and I stayed with him. We turned and swung to­gether for over five min­utes and it was amaz­ing. Then he de­cided enough was enough and pulled his fi­nal stunt: he closed his wings and rolled in­verted and I could not match that!

In any wind at all you could make the Wal­lis al­most hover, so an­other of our tricks was to an­noy the court­ing cou­ples in the woods be­side our air­field as we looked down on them. An­other very ex­cit­ing mem­ory was when Ken was dis­play­ing at the annual Bat­tle of Bri­tain air dis­play at RAF Coltishall and I was asked to fly the club re­serve au­t­o­gyro over for static dis­play. I ar­rived early on the Satur­day morn­ing to find a very strong wind blow­ing at Swan­ton Mor­ley and phoned Peter Mal­len­der the CFI to ask what I should do. “Haven’t you left yet?” was his com­ment and when I asked how to stop the blades flap­ping be­fore spin­ning up, he told me to start up in­side the hangar so the wind would not af­fect the ro­tor disc and taxi out and “Get go­ing as you are late”.

I did as I was told and it worked, but hav­ing got air­borne I thought I had bet­ter check what would hap­pen if I had an en­gine fail­ure en route, and so se­lected the cen­tre of the air­field as my land­ing spot. Good job I checked the re­sult of fly­ing in a strong wind as I would have landed way down­wind and out­side the air­field. So I took great care all the way to RAF Coltishall to have a suit­able field se­lected.

On ar­rival in front of the as­sem­bling crowds I had the em­bar­rass­ment of not get­ting the au­t­o­gyro to set­tle on land­ing.

Ken Wal­lis gave a great per­for­mance to the large crowd and after the dis­play John Wilkins flew the au­t­o­gyro back to Swan­ton Mor­ley through a ter­ri­ble rain storm which was quite fun.

The trials con­tin­ued. We gained our trea­sured ‘Witch on a broom­stick badge’ and were the envy of all the other club pi­lots. A high speed fly­past in front of the club­house and steep pull-up be­fore land­ing be­came the nor­mal thing – gee, were we lucky! We also took the Wal­lis over to Cam­bridge to have the smart nose cone and tiny wind­screen fit­ted ready for the James Bond film. It was then agreed that the trials could be en­larged to al­low other pi­lots to fly and this is where the prob­lems be­gan. Some pi­lots re­garded the Wal­lis as a toy on which you could do noth­ing wrong, but they found out to their cost that if you were fool­ish with it it would bite hard, just like any other air­craft. No one was badly hurt, but we bent two au­t­o­gy­ros as well as our pride.

Then came the ter­ri­ble ac­ci­dent at the Farn­bor­ough Air Show when the fa­mous test pilot Pee­wee Judge, who was demon­strat­ing the Wal­lis, did a fast pass and then pulled up and pushed over just too hard. The ro­tors hit the rud­der and broke up, killing Pee­wee. Ken was hor­ri­fied and de­cided that his idea of club fly­ing would not pro­ceed any fur­ther and so the trials ended. We also thought about our own fly­pasts and pull-ups in front of the club­house at Swan­ton Mor­ley!

Ken con­tin­ued to fly his au­t­o­gy­ros− in­clud­ing Lit­tle Nel­lie in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice− un­til the day he died. We proudly dis­played Lit­tle Nel­lie at the annual Aero Club Ball held in the Nor­wood Rooms in Nor­wich in the year the film came out. Fly­ing his wonderful au­t­o­gy­ros was like drink­ing cham­pagne and my log­book en­tries will al­ways re­mind me how lucky I was to have been one of his two trial pi­lots.

Fly­ing Ken Wal­lis’s wonderful au­t­o­gy­ros was like drink­ing cham­pagne

The ever im­mac­u­late and al­ways el­e­gantly at­tired Ken Wal­lis at rest in one of his au­t­o­gy­ros

David Hastings about to get air­borne at Swan­ton Mor­ley

Ken Wal­lis and Club mem­bers with Lit­tle Nel­lie at the Aero Club Ball

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