Prior to 1968, all the world records for the autogyro were held by various pilots within the United States. Since then Ken Wallis has established 34 new world records in various categories flying an autogyro of his own design. These include altitude, speed and endurance records including the first non-stop flight of a 1000Km closed circuit. On the 19th March 1998 at the ripe old age of 81 years young, Ken Wallis was still setting records with the fastest climb to 3,000 meters in an autogyro and already holding the autogyro speed record of 186Km/h, Ken Wallis increased that to 207.7Km/h on the 16th November 2002 at the tender age of 86 years old with both records bring verified by the Fédération Aéronautique International

Wing Commander Ken Wallis is now living out his twilight years at the Grade II listed Reymerston Hall near Norwich, still as active as ever, still building and still flying autogyros at the age of 95. He is the President of the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum and also Patron of the Wolf Preservation Foundation. Many thanks to the Training and Development Flight at RAF Wyton who organised the visit.


Equipment Used - Sony Alpha A580 + Sony 16-80mm CZ zoom & Sony 70-300mm G SSM zoom lens.


(October 2011)

Beagle Aircraft, which was based at Shoreham Airport, built five WA-116s and with the Army Air Corps showing an interest in the Wallis autogyro three of the Beagle built airframes were used for military evaluation. They passed all expectations but no further contract was forthcoming as they were tested over the particularly harsh winter of 1962/63. The pilots were not too impressed with the open cockpit and being exposure to the rather harsh and freezing winter weather. Along with contracts with various civilian and Ministry research departments including radar and photography tests, the Wallis autogyro hit the public headlines in 1967 with the release of the James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’. Production designer Ken Adam had heard Wallis talking about his autogyro in a radio interview and decided to include it in the film. One of the Beagle built airframes, G-ARZB, was modified as the heavily armed ‘Little Nellie’ with Wallis flying it as a stunt double for Sean Connery.

The interest in autogyros began for Ken Wallis while he was flying for the S.A.C. in America. He returned to the UK with a pair of small McCulloch two-stroke engines having seen a Bensen B-7 ‘Gyro-Glider’ and knew that he could improve on the design with a powered version. Apart from fitting an engine behind the pilot in pusher configuration, he moved the control stick from an overhead position to a more conventional between the legs installation. His first powered autogyro flight took place at Shoreham airport on the 23rd May 1959. More improvements were made including a ‘Pre-rotator’ which was used to bring the rotors up to take off speed to help the autogyro leap into the air after a short take off run. Wallis also enhanced the rotor gimbal design, to improve the pitch stability of the rotor blades, and which was patented with the rights belonging to the British Crown as Wallis was still a serving officer in the RAF at the time. With all the new improvements Wallis built a brand new airframe known as the Wallis WA-116 Agile and registered as G-ARRT, first flew on the 2nd August 1961 and was the basis for all his other autogyro designs over the years.

Ken Wallis began his flying career in the RAF on the Westland Lysander before transferring in 1942 to Bomber Command flying the Vickers Wellington. He rose through the officer ranks becoming a Wing Commander and finished the Second World War in Italy. He then went to work in research and development before being seconded in 1956 to a joint exchange programme that saw him flying nuclear armed Convair B-36 ‘Peacemaker’ bombers for the US Strategic Air Command. While in America he also raced motor cars and did a spot of power boating which saw him win the 56 mile long Missouri Marathon. By 1958 he was back in the UK and  at Headquarter Fighter Command as the Weapons Officer and between 1961 and 1964, he commanded the Tactical Weapons Group at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down. He retired from the RAF in 1964.

To further his flying career, Ken Wallis applied to join the Volunteer Reserve Service of the Royal Air Force, but was turned down due to a defective right eye. Having obtained a signed certificate from his GP, Wallis then bought a private pilots licence and in a little over twelve hours had obtained his full licence for dual and solo flying. With the rapid military expansion that was taking place in Europe, Wallis again tried to join the RAF in 1938 on a Short Service Commission Scheme but again his eye sight let him down. In 1939 he was actually called up by the RAF and sent to RAF Uxbridge and another medical which this time he passed even though he still had an eyesight problem. He later admitted that ‘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 see again with my good eye. I passed it with Above Average Eye Sight.’

Wing Commander Kenneth Horatio Wallis MBE, DEng (hc), CEng, FRAeS, FSETP, FInsTA (hc), PhD (hc), RAF (Ret’d) was born on the 26th April 1916, at Ely in Cambridgeshire. With his father and uncle having built an aeroplane in 1908 to fly the channel in a competition that was eventually won by Louis Bleriot, Ken Wallis acquired an interest in practical mechanics at an early age and by the time he was eleven years old had built his own motorcycle. He eventually turned his attention to aviation following a flying demonstration he watched in 1936 of the Mignet HM.14 Pou-du-Ciel (Flying Flea). Having started to build his own Pou-du-Ciel, he abandoned the project following widespread adverse publicity after a series of fatal accidents due to a design flaw in the Flying Flea.

Reymerston Hall ~ 14th September 2011

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