Ken Wallis

Kenneth Horatio Wallis

Autogyro Little Nellie with its creator and pilot, Ken Wallis
Born (1916-04-26)26 April 1916
Ely, Cambridgeshire
Died 1 September 2013(2013-09-01) (aged 97)
Dereham, Norfolk
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
Years of service 1939–1964
Rank Wing Commander
Unit No. 268 Squadron RAF
No. 103 Squadron RAF
No. 37 Squadron RAF
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Other work Leading exponent of autogyros

Wing Commander Kenneth Horatio Wallis DSO MBE CEng FRAeS RAF (26 April 1916 – 1 September 2013)[1] was a British aviator, engineer, and inventor. During the Second World War, Wallis served in the Royal Air Force and flew 28 bomber missions over Germany; after the war, he moved on to research and development, before retiring in 1964. He later became one of the leading exponents of autogyros and earned 34 world records, still holding eight of them at the time of his death in 2013.[2]

Early life

Born on 26 April 1916 at Ely, Cambridgeshire, Wallis developed a practical interest in mechanics, building a motorcycle at the age of 11. In 1936, he was inspired by a demonstration by Henri Mignet of his Mignet HM.14 Pou-du-Ciel ("Flying Flea"). Using only Mignet's book, Wallis gathered the materials required, and started to build his own Flying Flea. He abandoned construction because of widespread adverse publicity about fatal accidents that implied inadequate design of the type.[3]

Wallis took an interest in powerboats which he kept up until 1957, when he won the 56-mile (90 km) long Missouri Marathon.

Military career

Wallis was keen to join the RAF, and applied for their Volunteer Reserve Service, but he was turned down due to a defective right eye. Consequently, he obtained a private flying licence which required only a certificate signed by his GP. Wallis obtained his A Licence for dual and solo flying in a record 12 hours. In 1938, Wallis tried to join the RAF again, this time with the newly formed RAF Short Service Commission Scheme, but again failed the eye test. In 1939, he was called up to RAF Uxbridge, and again was sent for a medical. When it came to the eyesight test he managed to pass, as Wallis later recalled, "I did the first line with my good eye then they covered it up and asked me to read the bottom line with my bad eye, without them realising I just turned my head slightly so I could again see with my good eye – I passed it with Above Average Eye Sight!"[4]

Wallis's military career started with Westland Lysander patrols in the RAF. In 1942, he was transferred to RAF Bomber Command, flying Wellingtons near Grimsby. Wallis subsequently served in Italy and on secondment to the US Strategic Air Command, where he flew the massive Convair B-36, that had six piston engines and four auxiliary jet engines. Thereafter, he was involved in research and development, and was awarded a number of patents on his inventions. Wallis left the RAF in 1964, retiring to Norfolk.


Wallis produced autogyros for, in his own words, "reconnaissance, research & development, surveillance and military purposes", and his designs were not available for enthusiasts as he considered that although the design is simple it has to be built to the appropriate standards. His contribution to autogyro design included the "offset gimbal rotor head".[5]

Wallis worked as Sean Connery's stunt pilot in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, where he flew one of his WA-116s named Little Nellie.

Production was at Cambridge by "Wallis Autogyros Ltd." run by his cousin.

In 1970, Wallis provided camera footage from one of his autogyros in a search for the Loch Ness Monster.[6]

In 1970 it was announced that Airmark would produce his autogyro design with a certificate of airworthiness (C of A), that being essential for commercial use of the autogyro. Expected price was around £3,000.[7]

Between 2006 and 2009, Wallis took part in filming for Into the Wind, a documentary by Steven Hatton featuring the experiences and memories of wartime members of Bomber Command. The film, released in 2012, features Wallis demonstrating several of his autogyro designs.

Wallis was the President of the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, and Patron of the Wolf Preservation Foundation.

a 1:24 scale plastic model kit of Wallis' WA-116 Little Nellie autogyro as portrayed in the 1967 James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, was released by the Airfix company.

Autogyros and aircraft


Wallis was the recognized world record holder for many categories of autogyro records over the years, and was also recognized as the oldest pilot to set a world flight record at the age of 89. Wallis held most of the autogyro world records during his autogyro flying career. These include the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale time-to-climb,[8] a speed record of 189 km/h (111.7 mph),[9] and the straight-line distance record of 869.23 km (540.11 mi). On 16 November 2002, Wallis increased the speed record to 207.7 km/h (129.1 mph).[10]

Wallis received the MBE in 1996.

In July 2013, Wallis received a campaign medal for his 28 bomber missions over Germany during World War II.[11]

Later life

He was married to Peggy Stapley, a Women's Auxiliary Air Force veteran, from 1942 to her death in 2003.[2][12] Wallis died on 1 September 2013, aged 97. Prior to his death, he was living in the quiet Norfolk village of Reymerston.

Old Buckenham Airport held a memorial event on 29 September at the request of the Wallis family: "A Celebration of the Life of Wing Commander Ken Wallis".[13] It had been expected that about 500 people would attend, but an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 attended the event.[14][15][16]

See also


  1. "Ken Wallis: James Bond stunt pilot dies". BBC News. 3 September 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  2. 1 2 "Wing Commander Kenneth Wallis". The Telegraph. 4 September 2013. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  3. Hancock (2010)
  4. "Meeting a legend - British Aviation Pioneer, Bomber Pilot and James Bond Stunt man – Ken Wallis MBE" Retrieved: 22 September 2011.
  5. "Wallis Autogyros." Flight. Retrieved: 22 September 2011.
  6. The Wing Commander, 94, who is trying to hit 130mph in shed-built gyrocopter, Jane Fryer, The Daily Mail, 26 June 2010
  7. "Private Flying: Wallis goes commercial." Flight, 3 September 1970.
  8. "FAI Record ID #5346 - Autogyro, Time to climb to a height of 3 000 m" Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Retrieved: 28 November 2013.
  9. "FAI Record ID #303 - Autogyro, Speed over a straight 15/25 km course" Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Retrieved: 28 November 2013.
  10. "FAI Record ID #7601 - Autogyro, Speed over a 3 km course" Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). Retrieved: 28 November 2013.
  11. "Wellington bomber pilot who flew 28 missions over Germany and even starred in a Bond movie is finally awarded campaign medal after 68-year wait". Daily Mail. London.
  12. Childs, Martin (6 September 2013). "Wing Commander Ken Wallis: Bomber pilot and inventor who put James Bond into the air". The Independent. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  13. Flyer Magazine Article, 4 September 2013
  14. "Photo gallery: Thousands turn out to pay tribute to Wing Commander Ken Wallis at Old Buckenham airfield", 30 September 2013
  15. "Ken Wallis: Pilot, inventor and war veteran remembered" BBC News, 30 September 2013
  16. item, ITV Anglia News 30 September 2013

External links

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