Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Kenneth Horatio Wallis has held a pilot’s licence for 75 years, and has not only witnessed the evolution of our industry, sport and air power, but has more than fully participated in it. Born on 16 April 1916 at Ely, to a family already involved in pioneering aircraft design (the Wallbro Monoplane, constructed in 1910), it was unsurprising that Ken followed his forebears into the embryonic aviation trade. After meeting its designer, Henri Mignet, Ken, like many others, began construction of a Flying Flea in the 1930s.
He applied to the RAFVR, but failed the medical, so he went off to gain a PPL on a Gypsy Moth at Cambridge in 1937. Another application for a Short Service Commission the following year received the same response. But on the outbreak of war, he was summoned to RAF Uxbridge. He fudged the eyesight test, and started flying Lysanders with 268 Sqn. He applied to transfer to Mosquito night fighters, but this required another eyesight test in which his true vision was rumbled. Fortunately a benevolent Avmed Air Commodore recognised Ken’s spirit, and supplied him with corrective goggles. He transferred to Bomber Command where he flew Wellingtons, completing 24 missions with 103 Sqn over Northern Europe, before transferring to the Italian theatre with 37 Sqn.
Recognizing that eyesight problems would hamper a long-term career as aircrew, he transferred in 1944 to Armament Research and Development. Ken applied his engineering and inventive skills to a variety of tasks. These included warhead development and work on cameras for aerial photography.
In 1956 he had a two year exchange posting with the US Strategic Air Command, flying the B36. His exposure at this time to the Bensen B7 Gyroglider sparked a desire to initiate gyroplane development in the UK. Ken resumed RAF service as Command Weapons Officer in Fighter Command; in 1961 he was posted to the Armament Division Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment as O/C Tactical Weapons Group. He became involved in some of the weapons testing for the Lightning. But he carried on gyroplane development in his spare time, achieving tethered flight in 1959. He retired from the service in 1964 and then formed his autogyro company. He invented the offset-gimbal rotor head.
The capabilities of his products were no better, and no more publicly displayed, after he had attracted the attention of the producers of the James Bond films. Viewers of You Only Live Twice were left in no doubt of the agility of his craft. He has always sought to develop and publicise the military and public service utility of his designs, and has promoted these ahead of any leisure applications.
Between 1968 and 2002 he set 34 world records in autogyros. Several still stand, such as the speed over a straight 3km course, which he won in 2001 at 207.7 kph. He intends to improve on this record this year.
Wing Commander Ken Wallis
MBE, DEng (hc), Ph.D (hc), CEng, FRAeS, FSETP, FlnsTA(hc), RAF (Ret'd)