WISLEY: Private company aerodrome
Note: This picture, by the author, was taken probably in 1996 when passing overhead WISLEY. Part of the runway and taxiway could still be seen. The second picture, also by the author, was taken through perspex.
Operated by: Vickers later British Aircraft Corporation
ICAO Code: Initially GADR, later EGTW
Location: 1nm SSW of A3/M25 junction, E of the B2039, SSE of Ripley, N of Ockham, 4.5nm E to ESE of Woking
Period of operation: 1943 to 1972
Note: Copyright Stephen Skinner, author of "Airfield Special: Wisley: the story of Vickers' own airfield" available on Amazon.
Runways: 1943 to 1951: 10/28 2012 grass
Note: It is also reported that there was another runway: 04/22 1280 grass
1951: 10/28 2039x69 hard (Built for use by the Valiant ‘V’ bomber initially).
NOTES: In September 2016 I was kindly contacted by Stephen Skinner who pointed out that there are several errors in this account. And he should know having published a book on the subject, 'Wisley - the story of Vickers' own airfield', which I can highly recommend. In October 2016, armed with this mass of new and detailed information, I set about trying to set the record straight. (This may take a few weeks given the other tasks on hand listing new sites, pictures etc)
It appears that the idea of recommending this site to Vickers came about in 1942 when Vickers Chief Test Pilot Joseph 'Mutt' Summers made a forced landing here. Today it seems incredible how quickly things were done in this country during the war years. After Vickers assessed the site, it was opened roughly a year later, albiet as an aircraft dispersal site for aircraft, mainly if not solely Vickers Wellington bombers produced at the nearby BROOKLANDS (WEYBRIDGE) factory. Soon after a hangar was erected, initial flight testing took place before being ready for collection by crews from the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) for delivery to the RAF.
The history of this aerodrome seems fascinating largely because it’s very existence seems often shrouded in mystery. I visited the site in early 2004 and nothing seems to remain except the Ockham VOR. In the early nineties I recall regularly using the hard runway as a visual reference point for navigation purposes when flying along the southern boundary of the HEATHROW control zone. What seemed so strange is that none of the buildings including hangars seemed to have survived or at least certainly weren’t easily seen. This is odd because airfield infrastructure usually finds a convenient second use as an industrial estate for example.
Stephen Skinner tells us that WISLEY was used for all experimental flight testing from May 1944 and some prototype aircraft were assembled here. And; "These aircraft generally came from the experimental hangars at Foxwarren, Cobham, which were conveniently placed on the A3 between Weybridge and Wisley." It should be noted that although Foxwarren had assembly hangars, it did not have an airfield. The semi-complete aircraft being transported by road to either BROOKLANDS (WEYBRIDGE) or WISLEY.
He also says; "From towards the end of the Second World War until 1972 the test programmes of the main Vickers types were all flown there: the Windsor, Viking, Valetta, Varsity, Viscount, Valiant, Scimitar, Vanguard, VC10 and Super VC10; and finally the BAC One-Eleven." He later explains that the TSR-2 prototype was taken to BOSCOMBE DOWN because the runway here was too short.
Stephen also says; "Production aircraft assembled at Weybridge normally made their maiden flights to Wisley for production flight testing before delivery to customers." And; "Testing of Vickers-Supermarine types remained distinct from the Vickers-Armstrongs aircraft until 1957 when this operation was transferred from Chilbolton Airfield near Romsey, Hampshire to Wisley."
Copyright: BAE Systems.
AN UNUSUAL FEATURE
North of the runway, initially grass, the first hangar was built in 1943. Later to the west another hangar was built in the early 1950s, and this was extended and increased in height to accommodate the VC10s.
To quote Stephen Skinner: "The Control Tower and Flight Test Department were situated on the south side of the runway. The 'Tower' was rather unconventional as it was situated in a small converted house. When the site was closed all the buildings and hangars were demolished however the runway, large apron and taxiways remain intact." I think the use of a domestic house as a control tower is unique in UK aviation? However, several WW2 'control towers' at various airfields have been converted to domestic dwellings and I would imagine they are rather fine places to live in.
WELLINGTONS and WARWICKS
The major manufacturing programme throughout WW2 by Vickers-Armstrong was the Wellington and later the Warwick. A total of 8,946 Wellingtons were built between 1936 and 1945, despite the type being pretty much obsolete for operational purposes by 1941. But apart from other duties, they certainly proved to be very sturdy trainers for RAF Bomber Command. The main 'Shadow factories' were at HAWARDEN (Chester) and SQUIRES GATE (Blackpool), plus of course the lesser known factory on SMITHS LAWN in Windsor Great Park.
AIRCRAFT IN THE CARE OF THE WISLEY EXPERIMENTAL DEPARTMENT IN JUNE 1944 (Courtesy of Stephen Skinner)
Wellingtons: W5518 (fitted with the Whittle W2 jet engine), DF609, HG226, HF336 and MF450
Warwicks: L9704 (2nd prototype testing Windsor engine nacelle gun barbettes), HG252 and PN697
Windsors: DW512 & NK136 (2nd & 3rd prototypes)
F7/41 Fighter DZ217 (Note: It is well worth looking up this most interesting type)
DH Mosquitos DZ471 ('Highball' prototype conversion), DZ446, DZ524, DZ529, DZ539, DZ542, DZ559, DZ582, DZ583 and DZ639. All for 'Highball' trials.
Avengers: FN766, FN795 and JZ317 (Also here for 'Highball' trials)
Note: The 'Highball' was in essence a much smaller version of the bomb used in the famous 'Dam Busters' raid. Several aircraft, as listed above, were involved in trials. Of two types, the de Havilland DH98 Mosquito and the American Grumman TBF Avenger. It seems that this project, aimed at attacking enemy warships, was not a success. But, I suppose, Barnes Wallis had never been near or even seen the open sea? If he had, he wouldn't have wasted his time on this nonsensical project. But of course, people of genius are invariably completely unaware of practical issues. Dropping a 'skipping' bomb onto open sea waves, let alone swells, was asking for failure - the bomb would go any which way.
WELLINGTON ENGINE TEST BEDS
Here again, Mr Skinner gives us a great deal of detail. Notably the Wellington Z8570 was converted to take a Whittle W.2B turbojet in its tail in 1942. Note the date! This aircraft was test flown from the Rolls-Royce airfield HUCKNALL, in NOTTINGHAMSHIRE.
During June 1944 the Wellington W5518 was also converted to carry a Whittle W.2B turbojet, flying in November 1944. It appears that up to the end of 1946 these two Wellingtons tested some dozen or so turbojets amassing 512 hours of test flying.
It is sometimes stated that the Vickers Viking was a development of the Wellington, but this is nonsense - the two types have virtually nothing in common. However, the Wellington RP484 was used in early 1946 to test a variant of the Bristol Hercules for use in the Viking.
What I find quite astonishing, is to learn from Mr Skinner that the Wellington LN715 was adapted to test the turboprop Rolls-Royce Dart, which became famous for powering the Vickers Viscount. This aircraft first flew in 1948.
THE LAST OF MANY
It appears that the last Wellington, MF628 was stored at WISLEY following its appearance in 'The Dambusters' film in 1954. It is seen in the film flying over Lake Windermere with Mutt Summers, (Vickers test pilot), at the controls. Its last flight was St ATHAN in south Wales to WISLEY on the 24th January 1955.
Vickers purchased MF628 and on the 15th June 1956 it was presented to the Royal Aeronautical Society at their Garden Party held at WISLEY that year. This example can now be seen at the RAF Museum, HENDON, in north London.
THE VICKERS FIGHTER F7/41
This aircraft, looking very much like a DH98 Mosquito, and also powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlins but of all metal construction, was a type I knew nothing about; until obtaining a copy of 'WISLEY - the story of Vickers' own airfield' by Stephen Skinner. Known as the Vickers Type 432, it was last fighter produced by Vickers, and only one example (DZ217) was built.
Built at the Foxwarren facility it appears that this prototype was transported by road to FARNBOROUGH (HAMPSHIRE) for final assembly and it made its first flight on Xmas eve 1942. For its day it was a very advanced design, intended as a high-altitude single-seat fighter with a pressurised cabin for the pilot. Perhaps it was 'a step too far' as fewer than thirty flights were made and development was abandoned during 1943/4.
THE VICKERS WINDSOR
Another rare type and interesting type with several unusual features was the four-engined Windsor bomber designed by Rex Pierson. Only three were built, DW506, DW512 and NK136. The prototype flew from FARNBOROUGH on the 23rd October 1943.
Two of the main unique features were having four main undercarriages under each engine and twin 20mm cannon barbettes, one each on the rear of the outboard engines. Another feature was the fuselage, which, like the Wellington was mostly of a geodetic structure. By the time it was likely to reach production status, uprated versions of the Avro Lancaster had superior range and bomb load.
The last flight of the type was made in September 1946 when NK136 was flown to MANBY (LINCOLNSHIRE) to become a maintenance airframe.
A MOST UNUSUAL ARRIVAL
Once again I have Stephen Skinner to thank for this information. At the end of WW2 a wide variety of German aircraft were seized and shipped back to the UK for testing and evaluation; with some twenty four examples of the Messerschmitt Me163B Komet. These were given Air Ministry numbers or British military serials.
Initially it was decided that use of the rocket fuel was far too dangerous and therefore examples to be tested were towed aloft as gliders. FARNBOROUGH was one of the main evaluation centres but it was feared that the landing skid could easily be damaged on the hard runways, or indeed, the runways themselves could be damaged. Therefore WISLEY was selected because of its long grass runway, and presumably its proximity to FARNBOROUGH was another factor.
Between the 11th July 1945 and the 10th July 1946 it appears that ten test flights were made using the Komet VF241. It appears that Wing Commander Roly Falk, (later to become the Chief Test Pilot with Avro), and Squadron Leader Coton shared the duties during this period. The Komet was towed aloft using one of two Mk.IV Spitfires (EN498 and NH403). Now then, is this the only known example of a Spitfire being used as a glider tug!?
The trials continued from the 10th October 1946, but this time the Komet was flown by Lieutenant Commander Eric "Winkle" Brown. I attended a talk at White Waltham given by Eric a few years ago and it was fascinating. He would be the first to admit that quire how he managed to survive into old age seems a minor miracle.
In November 1947 VF241 was air-towed to RAF WITTERING (NORTHAMPTONSHIRE) which had a three mile long grass runway. However, it appears that it was written off after just three more flights after its skid undercarriage was badly damaged during a botched landing.
THE POST WAR ERA: A NEW GENERATION OF VICKERS CIVIL AIRLINERS
It is often not realised that from 1943 onwards, the outcome of WW2 in Europe was a foregone conclusion, especially after the USA decided to get fully involved planning a campaign to put 'boots on the ground' to augment the Allied forces from the UK and the Commonwealth. In fact the RAF alone had demonstrated that their bombing campaign was turning the war in Europe to our advantage.
As a result of this British aircraft manufacturers set their minds to designing airliners to meet the demands of civilian operations after the war ended. Typically they had a mindset stuck in the 1930s and the original Vickers Viking was designed to carry just twenty-four to twenty-seven passengers. But, who could have foreseen the boom in 'All-inclusive' package holidays by operators using relatively cheap civilianised military transport aircraft?
The prototype Viking G-AGOK made its first flight from WISLEY with 'Mutt' Summers in charge on the 22nd June 1945. It appears that initial test flying was very satisfactory and the second Viking G-AGOL flew from WISLEY on the 1st September that year. What I find interesting is that according to Stephen Skinner to whom I owe so much regarding the history of WISLEY, the third Viking G-AGOM was delivered to BOAC at HURN (BOURNEMOUTH AIRPORT) on the 18th April 1946. Presumably BOAC were not impressed with the Viking as they failed to buy any. At this time of course, BOAC already had a substantial fleet of Douglas DC-3s operating; so if the Viking could not offer a considerable benefit - it was bound to be of little interest.
Nevertheless the Viking went on to become a considerable success with 163 examples being built. BEA (British European Airways) operated forty-four and the King's Flight had four. It is often claimed that the Douglas DC-3 was the main player after WW2 when the emergence of charter operators, especially in the 'All-inclusive' package holiday sector, took hold. It seems to me that when the ex-BEA Viking fleet became available, this made a considerable impact too. See my HEATHROW listing (Maintenance) where a number of the BEA VIking fleet can be seen, (presumably cacooned?), on the east apron.
AIRCRAFT IN THE CARE OF THE WISLEY EXPERIMENTAL DEPARTMENT IN SEPTEMBER 1945
Wellingtons HE179 & RP484
Warwick Centaurus test beds HG341 & HG345
Windsors D5512 & NK136 (NN670 was under construction)
Vikings G-AGOK & G-AGOL
DH Mosquitos DZ471, DZ579 & KB494 (Highball trials)
Grumman Avengers FN766, FN795 & JZ317 (Highball trials)
Although loosely based on the Viking the Valetta was an entirely new departure, specifically for military use by the RAF. It had to be rapidly converted for use in a number of duties including troop transport, freighter, air ambulance and, incredibly one might think today - used as a glider tug. But of course, regarding the latter, strong memories of WW2 were still prevalent and the 'Cold War' was starting to kick-off.
The Valetta had a much stronger cabin floor and larger doors fitted for loading freight. The prototype flew from BROOKLANDS on the 30th June 1947, two years on from the first flight of the Viking, and 263 were built at BROOKLANDS for the RAF between 1947 and 1952. The test flying was performed from WISLEY.
It is interesting to note that although companies specialising in aircraft undercarriage design, such as Dowty-Rotol, were favoured by other aircraft manufacturers, Vickers usually designed and manufactured their own undercarriages, from 1915 right up to the VC.10 and BAC One-Eleven. And the third Valetta prototype VL275 was used and converted in a variety of undercarriage configurations for several years. In 1957 this aircraft was 'civilianised' and delivered to Eagle Aviation at RINGWAY as G-APII.
According to Stephen Skinner, the guru for all things WISLEY, in March 1972 just before WISLEY was closed, the last Valetta in operational service, WJ491, made a final visit of the type from its base at the A&AEE at BOSCOMBE DOWN (WILTSHIRE).
AIRCRAFT IN THE CARE OF THE WISLEY EXPERIMENTAL DEPARTMENT IN AUGUST 1947
Vikings G-AGOL, G-AGOM & VL228
Valetta VL249 (Prototype)
Wellingtons DF609 & HP589
Dart Wellington LN715 (Testing of the Rolls-Royce Dart for use in the Viscount)
Naiad Wellington NA857
DH Mosquito DZ541 (Highball trials)
THE NENE VIKING
One of the most interesting aircraft to fly from WISLEY was the Nene Viking, (registered as G-AJPH and also flown with the serial number VX856), on the 6th April 1948. Some claim, quite misleadingly, that this was the ‘first jet airliner’ but sadly it was purely a test-bed aircraft. I say sadly because it seemed to perform very well (?) although Vickers saw no commercial future in the type.
This seems a tad odd as on the 39th anniversary of Blériot crossing the English Channel, this aircraft, piloted by Vickers Chief Test Pilot Jeffrey ‘Mutt’ Summers on the 25th July 1948 (other sources claim the 19th July), set a record by flying from NORTHOLT (other sources say HEATHROW) to Villacoubly near Paris in less than half the time of scheduled flights to Paris in 34 minutes and 7 seconds, beating the previous record set by a Spitfire and achieving a top speed of 348mph. (Other sources claim it acheved an average speed of 348mph).
Today I am much more inclined to trust the information provided by Stephen Skinner rather than 'other sources'. If anybody would care to enter into a debate on this, please feel welcome to contribute.
One can only wonder at the mindset the top management at Vickers had in those days, sitting as they were, ostensibly (?), on an obvious winner and class leader. It was a year later when the DH.106 Comet first flew, on the 27th July 1949. Indeed, such was the lack of interest by Vickers in this aircraft, six years later it was sold to Eagle Aviation and refitted with Hercules piston engines. But of course I doubt the airlines were ready for such a leap of faith into the future. And, against the possibly few potential sales, the cost of getting this design certified would have been prohibitive.
But de Havilland persevered with the Comet. Then again Vickers would have had to redesign the Viking fuselage to be pressurised and the systems proven to be capable of high altitude flight at very low temperatures - and here again that would have been hugely expensive. So without much doubt the Vickers top management were actually correct in not following this path, and of course, the trend setting turbo-prop Viscount was already in the pipeline - a much safer bet.
And of course, let us not forget, Vickers had not lost faith in a short to medium haul pure jet airliner, as they built a Viscount powered by two Rolls-Royce Tay engines. (See below)
It also appears that the very hot jet effux, (this being a tail-dragger design of course), often set fire to the grass runway! And perhaps even whilst taxying?
The Varsity was the third development of the Viking design, and like the Valetta was developed for use by the RAF, except that it had a tricycle undercarriage and was intended as a multi-engine aircrew trainer. The Varsity was the last piston-powered Vickers design. It appears the prototype first flew here, rather than WEYBRIDGE, on the 17th July 1949, and again in the hands of the redoubtable 'Mutt' Summers.
It is perhaps surprising to learn, again from Stephen Skinner, that only seventeen of the one hundred and forty six examples to enter RAF service, were built at WEYBRIDGE (BROOKLANDS). The remainder were built at the then new Vickers-Armstrong plant at HURN in HAMPSHIRE. Now known of course as BOURNEMOUTH INTERNATIONAL airport.
Mr Skinner tells us that the last flying example of the Varsity, the HURN built WL679 delivered to the RAF in September 1953, made its final flight to RAF COSFORD on the 27th July 1992 - where it has been preserved. It bore the colours of RAE (Royal Aircraft Establishment) with whom it had been serving.
THE FABULOUS VISCOUNT ERA
Without any doubt whatsover the Vickers Viscount was a concept and design without equal anywhere in the world when it first emerged, and, when developed took it the aviation world by storm. Every airline who could afford to buy them did so, and that included the USA which has always been highly resistant to imports of airliners. And most other types of aircraft too.
It was very surprised to learn from Stephen Skinner, the doyen of all things WISLEY, that the first Vickers 630 Viscount G-AHRF was assembled at WISLEY, rather than WEYBRIDGE. The first flight from the then still grass runway being made by 'Mutt' Summers in command on the 16th July 1948. Just think about it - barely three years after WW2 ended, Vickers had a ground-breaking turboprop, and pressurised, airliner ready to fly!
THE TAY VISCOUNT
It seems clear that the concept of a pure jet short to medium haul aircraft was exercising the minds of at least the designers at Vickers, possibly encouraged by the positive results coming from the Nene Viking? And, it seems that at least some senior people within the Ministry of Supply were of the same opinion. The airlines were very reluctant initially to order Viscounts, so the Ministry of Supply decided to use the second Viscount as a test bed fitted with two Rolls-Royce Tay pure jet engines to investigate flight with a pressurised cabin at higher altitudes where jets become much more efficient.
This one-off example, the Vickers Type 663, VX217, first flew from WISLEY on the 15th March 1950. Test pilot Brian Trubshaw, later of Concorde fame, demonstrated this aircraft at the FARNBOROUGH air show that year.
There is no getting away from the fact that, in this era, jet engines were not reliable - their development still being in its infancy broadly speaking. However, despite this the main thrust for using jet engines was for long haul applications and indeed, some airlines including BOAC had a 'pod' installed between the fuselage and the first starboard engine on the Boeing 707 which carried a spare engine.
Perhaps it might be of interest to recall the history of jet commercial airliners.
THE COMET: The ill-fated and poorly designed de Havilland DH106 Comet first flew on the 27th July 1949. (If only Vickers had designed and built it, the story would without much doubt have had a happier outcome. After WW2, and put simply, Vickers designed and built strong aircraft - de Havilland didn't. Avro had totally lost the plot and had nothing to offer, likewise Handley Page.
BOEING 707: The first 707 flew on the 20th December 1957. Just think about it, the British manufacturers had at least an eight year lead, and this huge advantage was completely botched. What on earth was going on?
DOUGLAS DC-8: Douglas weren't far behing either, their DC-8 made its first flight on the 30th May 1958.
CONVAIR 880: This being the last of the four-engine jets from America, the 880 first flew on the 27th January 1959.
THE COMET 4: This was a good aeroplane, first flying in 1958, but by then the USA had stolen the show.
MEDIUM HAUL TYPES
TUPOLEV Tu-104. What may well be largely forgotten about today, is that the Soviets had developed a very successful medium haul jet airliner, the Tupolev Tu-104. This first flew on the 17th June 1955.
DH.125 Trident: By comparison this first flew on the 9th January 1962.
BOEING 727: This first flew on the 9th February 1963.
It is claimed that the British government had ordered de Haviland to give all their research regarding the Trident, to the Americans free of charge, and the Boeing 727 was the result. I for one would be very interested to learn if this was true, (it appears to come from highly respected sources), and if so - why exactly?
SHORT TO MEDIUM HAUL TYPES
BAC-111: First flight 20th August 1963
DOUGLAS DC-9: First flight, 25th February, 1965
BOEING 737: First flight, 9th April 1967
Here again, it is obvious that the British were way in advance of the Americans in having a first class short to medium haul airliner that could easily out-perform the later American offerings in most markets. It was reasonably successful, but why exactly wasn't it a world beater? I suspect that by this time the worlds airlines had lost faith in the British, a nation living in the past, and not to be trusted to develop their aircraft industry which was clearly in decline. And so it came to pass of course.
By comparison the French have totally supported Airbus and indeed, they are the only major global manufacturer capable of taking on the might of the American aerospace industry - at least when it comes to designing and manufacturing airliners - and they are doing very well.
I suppose, after the 'Brexit' vote in 2016, one can only wonder if Airbus sees any worthwhile future in having facilities based at FILTON and HAWARDEN?
After being demonstrated at the FARNBOROUGH air show in 1950 the Tay Viscount appears to have faded away, never to be seen or heard of again. However, Stephen Skinner tells us that VX217 was assigned to Boulton Paul at RAF DEFFORD (WORCESTERSHIRE) for 'fly-by-wire' experiments. Is this not incredible? They were experimenting with 'fly-by-wire' in the UK as early as the 1950s. And who adopted the method to apply to commercial airliners - the French for the Airbus series.
THE 700 SERIES VISCOUNTS
Although Vickers had hoped for BEA (British Eurpean Airways) to adopt the Viscount, instead they ordered twenty Airspeed Ambassador twin-engine types instead. Perhaps in hindsight this was a good thing for Vickers as they decided to lengthen the fuselage, with a longer wingspan, and make the type a far more attractive prospect for the airlines. Indeed, BEA ordered twenty in August 1950. However, it wasn't until the 19th April 1953 that the Viscount 700 Series first entered service with this airline.
It appears that the prototype 700 Series Viscount, G-AMAV was not assembled at Fox Warren due to the Valiant V-bomber taking precedent. The fuselage was built at SOUTH MARSTON (WILTSHIRE) and the wings at Itchen in Southampton, although final assembly did take place at WEYBRIDGE (BROOKLANDS). It was first flown by 'Jock' Bryce in BEA colours from BROOKLANDS to WISLEY on the 28th August 1950 and spent its life based here. Apart from test flying it appeared in various airline liveries and was demonstrated at FARNBOROUGH and indeed around the world, before being broken up at WISLEY in 1961.
What on earth were the Vickers management thinking - if any Viscount deserves to be preserved for posterity, surely it should have been this one? They must have known by 1961 that they had a winner.
PRODUCTION PROCEEDS APACE
The first production Viscounts of the 700 Series were built at WEYBRIDGE and later at HURN. Throughout the 1950s and early 60s many Viscounts manufactured at WEYBRIDGE flew into WISLEY for flight testing before delivery, and others were held in store. The first 800 Series development Viscount, (810 type) G-AOYV, landed at WISLEY in December 1957. Stephen Skinner in his excellent book has a picture of G-AOYV in Continental Airlines livery, fitted with a Vanguard tail fin to evaluate the Napier Spraymat anti-icing system.
Icing was still a major problem, especially for the airliners of that era. Indeed I well remember standing on the approach to runway 27L at LAP (LONDON AIRPORT now HEATHROW), aged around twelve or so on a boiling hot summer morning when one of many BEA Viscounts passed overhead, except that this particular one was followed by a series of loud crashing sounds as large blocks of ice hit the ground, and the screen just inside the boundary. It seems a miracle that my friend and I weren't hit - there was so much of it scattered around.
Also, as the layer of ice on the leading edge of the wing, (or wings), was around four to five inches thick, one might wonder if the crew had had controllability issues, especially at relatively low approach speeds. I put a chunk into my saddle bag to take home and even by the evening it hadn't melted away. Obviously the de-icing boots on that Viscount were either not working, or were ineffective in shedding the build-up of ice. It is often not realised that icing at altitude can be just as much of a threat in summer as it is in winter, mainly because warmer air can contain a greater amount of humidity.
In closing, the two factories at WEYBRIDGE and HURN built 444 Viscounts between 1948 and 1964. No other British built airliner can hold a candle to that record, and, the Americans or for that matter any other country, ever produced a similar design. There was no point, the Viscount had it all. But of course the winds of change were already blowing and the writing as they say, was already on the wall. For example the Boeing 737 series, still in production, had sold 9,247 by October 2016. And, in 2013 set an all time record for a particular type of airliner sales, within a calender year, with 1208 orders.
I suppose it will remain a mystery why the British, excepting the Viscount in its day, cannot sell airliners. The design talent and manufacturing talent is there, but we simply could not seem to find a way of producing a design the world was eager to accept. But of course, by the 1960s Great Britain was a lost cause by and large, and who in their right mind would back such a sad and disfunctional country?
AIRCRAFT IN THE CARE OF THE WISLEY EXPERIMENTAL DEPARTMENT IN OCTOBER 1950
Varsity VX828 & VX835 (Prototypes)
Viscount 630 G-AHRF
Tay Viscount VX217
Viscount 700 G-AMAV
Avro Lincoln WD125 (Blue Boar missile trials)
A MAJOR REVELATION
Without too much doubt, purchasing Stephen Skinners book, WISLEY - the story of Vickers' own airfield, was the best ten quid I have spent. (Available on Amazon). It reveals so much about an airfield which hitherto has been pretty much a 'closed book' to most of us. He gives a lot of detail about 'Guided Weapons' trials held here, but what really grabbed my attention was that the Ministry of Supply in 1952 loaned two Boeing B-29 Washingtons, (known in the USAAF/USAF as Superfortresses), to Vickers. And, he has pictures to prove it.
These were WW349 (formerly 44-61968) and WW353 (formerly 44-62049). To learn that B-29s operated by Vickers aircrews flew from WISLEY was indeed, a major revelation.
MORE GUIDED MISSILE STUFF
Also of interest is that four English Electric Canberras were loaned to Vickers at WISLEY in the early 1950s for testing the Red Dean homing anti-aircraft missile. These were: WD935, WD942, WD956 and WH660.
WD942 was ferried out to Australia by two Vickers aircrew, Geoff Tuck and Geoff Wilson, from HURN to Laverton in March 1952 in record time, but apparently arriving so low on fuel that the engines died whilst they were still on the runway at Laverton air base.
A SMALL CLAIM TO FAME
Whilst conducting circuit training with the Canberra WD935 in September 1955, Vickers test pilot Peter Marsh had a brake failure on landing, ran off the western end of runway 28, and ended up with a wing partially blocking the A3 trunk road.
A WET START
To quote from Stephen Skinner: "Early 1951 was very wet and Wisley became waterlogged which it generally did at least once a year. The Viscounts, G-AHRF, 'MAV, and VX217 were moved to South Marston, Supermarine's factory airfield near Swindon, leaving the smaller, lighter Vikings, Valetta and Varsities at Wisley."
"The Wisley grass runway was clearly inadequate for the Viscount and even more so for the large, heavy Vickers B9/48 prototype nuclear bomber WB210. The bomber, later named the Valiant, was already at Wisley being readied for its first flight. It had been built at Foxwarren and was transported down the A3 early in sections on a Sunday morning for final assembly at Wisley."
The Vickers Valiant made its maiden flight, from WISLEY, on the 18th May 1951, with 'Mutt' Summers at the controls. Having flown many famous types on maiden flights, from the Spitfire via the Wellington, this was his last maiden flight before retirement, and what a fabulous way to end a career. However; "Wisley's grass runway was obviously unsuitable for such a sizeable aircraft and it made huge ruts in the grass surface." My note; who was in charge here? Is anybody surprised? "After three flights from Wisley the bomber was flown to Hurn on June 1 while a 6,600 foot tarmac runway was laid at Wisley."
SOMETHING OF A SURPRISE
It came as quite a surprise to me when reading Robert Jackson’s excellent book, Britain’s Greatest Aircraft, to discover he had nominated the Vickers Valiant as the ‘V’ bomber of choice rather than the Avro Vulcan. I was of course crippled by the advantage of hindsight – something I still cannot find a way to bottle to become a multi-millionaire. As he kindly points out the nearest bomber the RAF had to deliver a nuclear bomb after WW2, was the Avro Lincoln, itself a modified Lancaster and totally unsuitable.
What is not perhaps not generally known is that the Valiant was such an incredible performer; even the front-line RAF fighter, the Hawker Hunter, could not compete with it in combat manoevres.
Once again from Stephen Skinner; ".....the runway was soon built and WB210 was back at Wisley by September 1. But after a long period at Wisley WB210 returned to Hurn and while flying from there on January 12, 1952 WB210 caught fire in flight. The crew abandoned the aircraft and all bar ine survived. Progress of the Valiant programme was hardly affected however, as the second aircraft, WB215 flew from Wisley on April 11, 1952 with Jock Bryce at the controls and Brian Trubshaw as Co-pilot."
A NUCLEAR DETERRENT
Getting a bit more serious Robert Jackson gives a convincing account of the background to the formation of a ‘V’ bomber force and the belief held by Marshall of the RAF Lord Tedder that, only a sudden and effective strike force could be considered. A war of attrition was not an option when nuclear weapons could be deployed. As we now fully realise of course, and this really should have been realised from the outset by all involved; any form of all-out nuclear war is a non-starter, an utter nonsense. There are no winners!
But of course history is not that simple. The success of the two ‘atom-bombs’ which had convinced the Japanese in 1945 that they should surrender must have been an immense encouragement to the military mind, if not the ultimate answer for any future conflicts. As Robert Jackson points out: “It was not until the beginning of 1947 that the decision to produce atomic weapons was made by the British government.” He also adds: “The decision to go ahead with the design of British nuclear weapons was influenced by the belief of Attlee and his senior ministers that this would reconsolidate Britain’s status as a world power.”
It seems today quite astonishing that those in British government during that period still hadn’t got the message that the influence the British Empire had once held, before WW2, was now finished. By the end of WW2 only two super-powers survived, the USA and the Soviet Union. It might be quite nice to see photographs of Winston Churchill seated next to Teddy Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin when divvying up Europe and beyond as WW2 came to an end, but ‘Winnie’ had no part to play – the UK was, to all intents and purposes, a spent force. In fairness it must have a very stressful situation for any politician then in power to even consider telling the truth to the British public.
THE THINKING BEHIND THE 'V' BOMBER FORCE
The original idea as explained by Robert Jackson was to build: “…. an advanced jet bomber capable of delivering a 10,000lb ‘special’ weapon at 500 knots over a combat radius of 1,500 nautical miles, with a ceiling of 50,000 feet over the target.” Quite a big ‘ask’ bearing in mind that, as previously mentioned, the best we then had was the Avro Lancastrian as our most potent heavy bomber.
“Five aircraft companies submitted designs to meet the specification; the two eventually selected by the Ministry of Supply were those tendered by A.V. Roe and Co. Ltd, and Handley Page, respective manufacturers of the wartime Lancaster and Halifax bombers. A third design, the Type 660, submitted by Vickers, was less advanced in concept than the other two and was initially rejected. Later, when it was realised that the lower performance of the Vickers design was greatly outweighed by its ability to be developed more quickly than the others, it was decided to proceed with it as an ‘interim’ aircraft, a kind of insurance against the failure of the more radical bombers. It was a fortunate decision, and one which was to have far-reaching consequences. In March 1948, when a new specification (B9/48) was written around the Vickers Type 660, not even its designers could have envisaged the role this aircraft would play over the years to come. This was the aircraft that would form the backbone of the RAF’s nuclear strike force during the dangerous years of the 1950s, and would pioneer the operational techniques of what would become the V-force. In service, it would chalk up an impressive series of ‘firsts’, and would become the only British aircraft ever to release nuclear weapons. The name chosen for it was Valiant.”
I am much indebted to Robert Jackson for pointing all this out. And indeed to all the other authors who have contributed so much to my education of British aviation history which, hopefully, should make this 'Guide' useful to others. Over the years of research it soon became painfully obvious that my perception of British aviation history was seriously flawed in so many respects, despite being a serious spotter in my early teens, always an aviation enthusiast, and later a private pilot. This wasn’t anywhere near enough as it turned out and basically I had to go back to 'school' and re-educate myself. Indeed, it came as quite a surprise to learn that when I was really getting into aviation, aged thirteen in 1960, the main service career of the Valiant was then approaching its end.
“Early in 1951, the components of the protype 660 were taken from the Foxwarren experimental shop to the new company airfield at Wisley, in Surrey, where final assembly took place. After a period of systems testing and pre-flight trials, WB210 made its first flight on 18 May 1951, with Vickers’ chief test pilot J. ‘Mutt’ Summers as captain and G.R. ‘Jock’ Bryce as co-pilot. Conditions were gusty and the flight lasted only five minutes. As a precautionary measure the undercarriage was locked down and the flaps were left at their take-off setting of 20 degrees throughout. Four more flights were made from Wisley, but as this was only a grass airfield the 660 was subsequently moved to Hurn while a runway was laid at the previous location.” HURN is of course the contemporary BOURNEMOUTH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (HAMPSHIRE). It was from HURN, during flight trials that WB210 was destroyed on the 12th January 1952 after the crew of five bailed out following a major fire in an engine bay. Four survived, the co-pilot Squadron Leader Brian Foster apparently being killed when his ejector seat hit the tail fin.
However the second prototype WB215 was nearing completion and first flew from WISLEY on the 11th April 1952. Other versions were in the pipeline too, notably the Vickers 673 Valiant B.Mk.2 ‘Pathfinder’ WJ954 was designed to fly low and fast and which first flew on the 4th September 1953 just in time to be exhibited at the SBAC FARNBOROUGH air show. It is claimed that this version could achieve 552mph at sea level. Perhaps needless to say, the invariably incompetent Air Staff saw no requirement for the Valiant B.2 and it was scrapped. As Robert Jackson points out: “Ironically, ten years later the whole of the V-Force was compelled to adapt to the low-level role, and the airframes of the Valiants then in service were found to be incapable of withstanding the stresses imposed by prolonged flight at low level.”
Robert Jackson goes on to state that: “The first production Valiant, WP199, flew for the first time on 21 December 1953, well within the deadline imposed by the Ministry. At the controls were Jock Bryce and Brian Trubshaw"; the latter who many years later was to be the first Englishman to fly the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner. "While the early production aircraft were being put through their paces at the various development establishments, production of the definitive Valiant B.Mk.1 was getting under way. In 1954 came the first change in specification, with an order for eleven Valiants fitted with removable equipment for long-range, high altitude photographic reconnaissance sorties by day and night and for aerial survey work. The first of these, WP205, designated Valiant B(PR)1, flew for the first time on 8 October 1954.”
“Meanwhile, in November 1952, Britain had exploded her first atomic device under water in the Monte Bello Islands, and a year later the first production bombs with this warhead – code named Blue Danube – were delivered to the Bomber Command Armament School at RAF Wittering, which had been designated as the first operational V-Force base. Eventually there were to be ten such bases, together with thirty-six dispersal airfields all over the British Isles to ensure that the V-Force would never be obliterated by a surprise attack.” It would be very interesting to know what these crews had decided to do, if they had been ordered to go to war with nuclear weapons, and if they survived the dropping of their atomic bombs in the Soviet Union. It appears there would have been little point in returning to the UK, which would have been, to a practical extent at any rate, virtually destroyed and mostly uninhabitable.
The first Valiant Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), No.232, was RAF GAYDON (WARWICKSHIRE).
AIRCRAFT OBSERVED PRESENT AT WISLEY ON APRIL 29 1955
Valiant B1 WP199, WP201, WP214, WP215 and WP217
Valiant B2 WJ954
Boeing B-50 WW349 (Red Rapier trials)
DH Dragon Rapide G-AHLM
DH Dove G-AKSV
Note: Copyright Stephen Skinner, author of the Airfield Focus 'Wisley - the story of Vickers' own airfield' , available on Amazon.
A SMALL DISCOVERY
Several years ago I made this note: I was quite surprised to learn that in 1954 the Royal Aeronautical Society held a ‘function’, (presumably a ‘Garden Party’?), at this somewhat secretive site. In his book Spitfire's Forgotten Designer Mike Roussel includes an account by David Coombs who had moved to work here in the 1950s. "We were working on the Scimitar, powered by twin Avon engines, and at that time we would watch it come along the runway for take-off and go straight up, almost vertically. A television cameraman trying to capture this feature missed it, and requested a re-run!! That was the first British aircraft to be able to do that."
In 2016, having purchased Stephen Skinners excellent history of WISLEY (see Note for illustration above) my flabber was even more ghasted. "Three times in its history Wisley hosted the Society's Garden Parties - 1956, 1957 and 1966." But not it seems in 1954 as stated above. As is so often the case, eye-witness accounts are very often flawed - as are many 'official' records.
"These were substantial events; for instance, in 1957 event 3,500 people attended, 23 aircraft took part in the flying display, which included Supermarine's former Chief Test Pilot Jeffrey Quill flying Spitfire AB910 and Bill Bedford Hawker's Chief Test Pilot flying Hurricane PZ865. There was a static display of 49 aircraft in addition to a seperate display of the Nash collection of vintage aircraft including a Bleriot and Avro 504K."
"The previous year's event was notable for the presentation of the last Wellington MF628 to the Society. On the final occasio in 1966 there were 78 aircraft present including VC10s, One-Elevens, a Spitfire and a many light aircraft."
A MAJOR DISCOVERY!
Yet another revelation from Stephen Skinner - the Vickers VC7 airliner - which I had never heard of. "The VC7/V1000 was Vickers bid for a large transatlantic jet airliner powered by Rolls-Royce Conways and with capacity for 100 passengers and which would have been in service before the Boeing 707 and was due to fly from Wisley in 1956. The RAF ordered six and BOAC was expected to order a number.
In 1955 when the prototype, ZD662 was 80% complete at Wisley the RAF cancelled their oder and BOAC expressed the view that passengers did not yet wish to fly the Atlantic by fast jet and that their Briitannias would be sufficient, so the Government withdrew support'" With hindsight I now strongly suspect that there was something very nasty and malacious going on behind the scenes, and who knows; perhaps the true story will never be told? That Vickers were more than capable of designing and producing a truly fabulous airliner was proved not long after by their VC.10. Please draw your own conclusions.
"Within a year, in a complete reversal of its position, BOAC placed orders with Boeing for a fleet of 707s. Sir George Edwards condemned the cancellation as among the greatest technical and economic blunders of our time; for it handed the market for long haul civil jets to the Americans on a plate." And he should know. Some people reckon I am cynical but I maintain the whole charade stinks! No wonder we have "a special relationship with the USA". Damn right we do!
Once again from Stephen Skinner: "Though part of Vickers from 1928, Vickers-Supermarine had maintained autonomy until 1956 when the two divisions were fully merged. As a result Supermarine test flying left Chilbolton in Hampshire and moved to Wisley."
"The Supermarine test pilots included such famous names as Mike Lithgow, who held the World Record in a Swift in 1955 and Guy Morgan who commented that one of his best memories was sitting waiting on a sunny day for clearance in a Scimitar at Wisley, to make a full-power climb, knowing that in four minutes from releasing the brakes he would be at 45,000ft." I suppose it is worth wondering why, with such incredible performance, the Scimitar is not widely regarded today as a classic British aircraft? Would I be correct in thinking that, at that time, this climb performance was only bettered by the English Electric Lightning; which also entered service in 1957.
One difference being that the Lightning first flew in 1954, whereas the Scimitar first flew on the 19th January 1956. I suspect there are lessons to learnt from this comparison, not least that Supermarine were a very capable aircraft designer and manufacturer indeed. Or is this actually the case? See below.
THE LAST SUPERMARINE DESIGN
And yes, quoting yet again from Stephen Skinner: "The final Vickers-Supermarine design then under test was the Scimitar for the Royal Navy, produced at South Marston near Swindon. Various Scimitars including prototypes WT854, WT859, WW134 and production aircraft XD218 then inhabited the Wisley scene until 1963." It appears that a total of seventy-six Scimitar F1s were built at South Marston between 1957 and 1960. Such a relatively small production run might perhaps indicate that, although having a superb rate of climb, the design may well have suffered from other problems?
THE SUPERMARINE SWIFT AT WISLEY
Once more from Stephen Skinner: "In addition to the Scimitars there was some Swift testing, which included trials with XF114 one of only twelve FR7 aircraft built. These were destined for trials of the Fireflash Air-to-Air missile. XF114 was kept back and later used for wet runway trials in July 1962 at Wisley and other airfields and is now preserved at the Southampton Hall of Aviation."
"A RAF Swift FR5 XD975 at Wisley crashed there on August 15, 1958 killing the pilot while en route from Aldergrove to Boscombe Down." There is something not at all right here, as WISLEY is way off course - I wonder what the reality is?
MORE SPITFIRES AT WISLEY
"Another pure Supermarine type that graced the Surrey skies over Wisley was Spitfire AB910 often flown by one of the pilots most connected with it - Jeffrey Quill. (My note: See EASTLEIGH HAMPSHIRE for more info). Operated by Vickers-Armstrongs from 1955 to 1965 it was donated to the RAF, joining the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight."
"Yet another occasional Sptifire visitor was G-AIDN the twin-seat trainer. As MT818 the aircraft was returned to Vickers in February 1945 and converted as the sole twin seat prototype making it first flight in September 1946. However it failed to attract RAF interest and was flown as a demonstrator by Vickers-Armstrongs until 1952. It was then stored at Chilbolton airfield until 1956 when it was sold to John Fairey, the son of Richard Fairey, founder of Fairey Aviation."
THE PARIS TO LONDON AIR RACE
The, "Royal Navy Scimitar XD268 was briefly based at Wisley in 1959 in order to compete in the Paris to London Air Race sponsored by the Daily Mail as a tribute to Louis Blériot. (In 1909 the Daily Mail's owner Lord Northcliffe had offered a prize of £1,000 to the first aviator to fly across the English Channel.)" It was a close run competition with three pilots competing, and, if his engine hadn't failed the Englishman Hubert Latham would have been the first.
Indeed, it seems that if Blériot hadn't had the good fortune to fly through a rain shower, which helped to cool his emgine, he probably woudn't have made it either. Also, the reason he crash landed on NORTHFALL MEADOW, which is a gully along the Dover cliffs, is simply because his aeroplane did not have the performance to climb over the cliffs!
"This time the Daily Mail's prize was £10,000. So three times between July 15-19, 1959 a Navy pilot raced from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to Issy heliport by motorbike, by helicopter to Villacoublay airfield, then flying the Scimitar over to Wisley, by helicopter again, this time to Chelsea Reach, and then finally by another motorbike to Marble Arch."
"The best time occurred on July 19, when Commander Martin managed to travel from the Arc de Triomphe to Marble Arch in just 43 minutes 11 seconds!" I wonder how much that exercise cost? I doubt the £10,000 prize made much of a dent in the final bill.
THE VICKERS AND LATER BAC ‘AIRLINE’
Originally Vickers ran two de Havilland DH.104 Doves, (G-AKSV and G-ALVD) plus two de Havilland DH.114 Herons (G-AOGW and G-ANNO) on communications duties between Vickers factories with an airfield and other airfields. However, Vickers-Supermarine in the 1950s operated two de Havilland DH89A Dragon Rapides (G-AHJA and G-AHKB) and these were occassionally seen at WISLEY.
In 1967 when Vickers had become part of BAC (British Aircraft Corporation) a Beagle 206 (G-AVHO) was added to the fleet. Around the same time the Douglas DC-3 Dakota (G-AMPO) was also acquired by BAC. I have found a record from a normally highly reputable source that Dakota was, for quite a long period, used on a daily “milk run” between various BAC factories leaving WISLEY in the morning. A typical days work would be; WISLEY, HURN, FILTON, WARTON, WISLEY.
However, in his most detailed book, (Wisley - the story of Vickers' own airfield), the author Stephen Skinner makes no mention of the Dakota being based here, or even sometimes visiting. I have a suspicion that my original source might have been confusing the duties of the Doves and Herons with that undertaken by the Dakota, which was I think used mainly in connection with ferrying staff around who were involved with Concorde?
THE VICKERS VANGUARD
The prototype Vickers 950 Vanguard G-AOYW first flew from BROOKLANDS to WISLEY on the 20th January 1959, roughly two years later than its main competitor in the west, the American the Lockheed L-188 Electra. By coincidence perhaps the Soviet Ilyushin Il-18 also first flew in 1957. I have no idea how successful the Il-18 was intially, but both the Electra and the Vanguard were plagued with problems, mostly with the Rolls-Royce Tyne turbo-prop in the case of the Vanguard.
Without too much doubt these problems seriously hindered the sales potential and in the end only forty three were sold - twenty to BEA (British European Airways) and twenty three to Trans-Canada Airways. Lockheed built 170 built but went on to develop the design for military use as the P-3 Orion of which 650 were built By Lockheed plus another 107 by Kawasaki in Japan.
I suppose it does make one wonder, given the huge gap between the Avro Shackleton and the de Havilland Comet derived Nimrod, if Vickers missed a trick here in not developing the Vanguard as a long range maritime patrol aircraft? Designed with a 'double-bubble' fuselage, initially to allow more freight to be carried on passenger routes, it does appear at face value at least to be well suited to the task. Indeed, once the Tyne engine problems were sorted out, I cannot recall hearing of any negative comments regarding its use in service.
AIRCRAFT OBSERVED PRESENT AT WISLEY, MAY 16 1960
Vanguards G-AOYW, G-APEE, G-APEF and CF-TKA
Auster AOP9 XN442
DH Doves G-AMZY and G-APSK
THE VICKERS VC10
Without any doubt whatsoever, at the time it was introduced, the VC10 was by far the best four-engine jet airliner in the world. In a class of its own, a fabulous performer. Pilots loved it as it flew like a jet fighter. But of course the airlines have no interest in such matters - they want an airliner which can make them money. As I understand it, BOAC were so demanding that they needed a high-performer for several destinations in Africa especially, the original VC10 was of little interest to most other airlines, and when the Super VC10 arrived, it was too late.
Large major airlines, as a general rule need to plan years in advance, for a drastic upgrade in their fleet. The Super VC10 first flew in 1965, but by then the prospect of the Boeing 747 'Jumbo-Jet' was already on the drawing boards, and the airlines - although initially reluctant to accept such a massive step forward - soon came into step.
TAKING A STEP BACK
As per usual I am quoting from Stephen Skinner: "In 1957 BOAC indicated an interst in a jet Britannia replacement to operate routes into Africa operating from short runways. The VC10's configuration was: accomodation for approximately 135 passengers in a two class layout, four Rolls-Royce Conways, a 'T' tail - a first for a large jet airliner and a very efficient wing with leading edge slats, outboard ailerons, upper wing spoilers and massive Fowler flaps." I have only one problem with this description, namely 'outboard ailerons'. Ailerons are always placed 'outboard' on wings - it is where they work best.
THE FIRST FLIGHT
The prototype VC10 Standard, G-ARTA, after two months of tests took off from BROOKLANDS on the 29th June 1962 amidst much press and media attention. I can well remember watching the event on our black and white television. A runway extension had been built, which for many a year I could not understand 'why'. The VC10 took only a fraction of the runway to get airborne. Now of course I realise that the extension was needed in the case of an aborted take-off. After leaving BROOKLANDS G-ARTA landed at WISLEY.
As said before I can highly recommend getting a copy of Stephen Skinners excellent book, in which he gives a lot of information about the development of the VC10 - and it was certainly not all plain sailing either.
THE SUPER VC10
The first Super VC10 G-ASGA flew from BROOKLANDS to WISLEY on the 7th May 1964. Apart from BOAC the RAF was the second largest customer and they purchased fourteen of the VC10 C.1 version, something of a hybrid type combining features of the Standard and Super VC10 but fitted with a large freight door in the forward fuselage. The first RAF VC.10 C.1 (XR806) took its first flight on the 26th November 1965. Deliveries to the RAF began in December 1966.
It appears that the prototype VC10 G-ARTA had a second lease of life. Refurbished by Vickers it went to Laker Airways who leased it to MIddle East Airlines as OD-AFA.
The last VC10, the 55th built, was for East African Airways and this was the Super VC10 5H-MOG which was delivered in February 1970.
THE BAC ONE-ELEVEN
Once again from Stephen Skinner: "After successfully making its maiden flight from Hurn on August 20, 1963 G-ASHG made just four more flights from Hurn before positioning to Wisley. The test programme set off at a cracking pace with the One-Eleven making 53 flights in 63 days." However, this was soon to change.
"On Oct 22, 1963, G-ASHG took off from Wisley at 10:17 am, flown by One-Eleven Project Pilot Mike Lithgow and six crew. But just 23 minutes later at 10.40 am it crashed and exploded at Cratt Hill, Chicklade, in Wiltshire, killing all the crew. The One-Eleven had entered a stall from which it was unable to recover." There is a story that Mike Lithgow made a short radio call, just before impact, basically saying; "I am afraid gentlemen that you will need to build another aircraft."
"On March 18, 1964, at 10.46 a.m., G-ASJB took off on a performance check and pilot conversion flight. It was its 20th flight, with a crew of five. On approach the aircraft descended a little below the normal approach path, the touchdown was earlier than the pilot had anticipated and it bounced 20 feet which was followed by a second heavier touchdown, nosewheel first, after which it bounced to about 50 feet." The normal procedure from the first bounce would be to 'go around' but I wonder if this was an option if, in those days its Rolls-Royce Spey engines were slow to 'spool up'?
"The aircraft then struck the runway very heavily in a nose-down attitude and the landing gear collapsed; the nose and right undercarriage breaking away from the aircraft. The damaged aircraft, with only the left main undercarriage in place, then slid more than 1,000 feet along the Wisley runway in a westerly direction, turning through little short of 360º and came to a halt with the rear fuselage severely damaged and the left engine severed from the fuselage. Fortunately there was no fire and only minor injuries." There is a saying in aviation that; "A good landing is any landing you walk away from." I rather doubt that this excuse was used that day.
AND YET ANOTHER SERIOUS ACCIDENT
"Other One-Elevens joined the test programme and in July the stalling tests were resumed with a modified aircraft, G-ASJD. On August 20 there was a further incident when G-ASJD operating from Wisley was force landed on Salisbury Plain. The pilot thinking that the One-Eleven was in a deep stall, deployed the large anti-spin parachute and as he did not jettison it the drag inhibited the aircraft but the application of full power reduced the rate of descent and enabled a wheels-up landing on grass." This aircraft was retrieved and transported to HURN for extensive repairs. It eventually became XX105 and only ceased flying from BOSCOMBE DOWN in 2003.
MORE BAC ONE-ELEVEN INFO
Here, once again from Stephen Skinner: "A number of One-Elevens were based at Wisley until its closure, especially BAC-owned demonstrator G-ASYD which first flew in 1965 as a 400 Series, then as the lengthened 500 Series." And; "Test flying after Wisley's closure took place at Hilton and Hurn. Many of the 222 Hurn-built One-Elevens visited Wisley during testing and a number were iether stored or refurbished there."
The Vickers aircraft that did much of their flight testing from the grass runways includes the Windsor 2nd prototype DW512, Viking G-AGOK and the Nene Viking VX856/G-AJPH. The Viscount VX211/G-AHRF and Varsity VX828 almost certainly did a proportion of their flight testing programme from the grass runways?
It might be worth mentioning that the concept of a ‘grass runway’ is itself often misunderstood. For example it was common practise during WW2 to reinforce grass runways with steel matting and indeed, during dry periods especially, quick draining soils quickly assume the properties of concrete. It might be worth pointing out that during flight testing of the Comet 1 ‘Cats-Eyes’ Cunningham, finding HATFIELD suddenly fogged in, had no hesitation diverting to LUTON, which in those days had a ‘main’ grass runway.
BUILDING REPLICAS AT WISLEY
Ron Smith in British Built Aircraft Vol.3 adds a note which certainly appeals to me considering, as said, the highly secretive nature of WISLEY. From which I’ll quote: “The Vintage Aircraft and Flying Association (VAFA) built two authentic replicas of early Vickers designs, the F.B.5 Gunbus and the Vimy bomber; both were flown at Wisley. The Gnome-powered replica F.B.5 Gunbus G-ATVP was flown for the first time on 14 June 1966 and is now on display in the RAF Museum at Hendon as 2345 ‘Bombay II’. The VAFA then built a Vickers Vimy replica G-AWAU, which flew on 3 June 1969 and is also displayed in the RAF Museum as F8614.
He then mentions a very rare beast, the Lockspeiser LDA-01 canard pusher G-AVOR which, he says, first flew from WISLEY on the 24th August 1971. This was the last maiden flight from WISLEY. The designer, David Lockspeiser, served in the RAF from 1949 to 1955 flying fighter types. Upon leaving the RAF he joined Hawkers as test pilot and presumably spent much of his time at DUNSFOLD (SURREY) flying the Sea Fury, Hunter and apparently the Blackburn Buccaneer. He joined BAC (British Aircraft Corporation) in 1971.
The type was intended as a 70% sub-scale demonstrator for a larger utility aircraft that was never built and subsequently re-registered as G-UTIL and destroyed on the 17th January 1987 in the infamous arson attack on the Optica Industries factory at OLD SARUM (WILTSHIRE). Stephen Skinner tells us that; "Whilst still test flying, he formed Lockspeiser Aircraft, to develop his own design, the Land Development Aircraft (LDA). The prototype was assembled in a previously derelict Nissen hut at Hawker's airfield at Dunsfold and later moved by road to Wisley where it was assembled in the flight shed."
SPEED AND OTHER RECORDS
These days you do have to be a wee bit careful when looking at air speed records, especially in order to determine where the ‘gates’ were. On the 11th May 1969 a MacDonnell F-4 Phantom (XT858) flown by Lieutenant. Commanders Peter Goddard and Brian Davis from 892 Naval Air Squadron, which the Royal Navy had entered into the Daily Mail Transatlantic Air Race, landed here – breaking the New York to London record in 4 hours 46 minutes. It had taken off from Floyd Bennett Air Station and the total point to point time is given as 5 hours 11 minutes. The starting ‘gates’ were the Empire State Building in New York and the Post Office Tower in London.
The RAF and the Royal Navy fielded teams, the Navy using two McDonnell Douglas Phantoms, XT861 and XT858. The RAF Handley Page Victor team, comprising XL513 and XL161 of 543 Squadron departed from WISLEY as did the second RAF team using a Vickers VC10 of 10 Squadron. The Phantoms and the Victors were both refuelled over the Atlantic by RAF Victor tankers and I suspect the VC.10 was too. They made pretty good times, the Victor XL161 took 5 hours 49 minutes - the VC10 six hours 29 minutes.
Another London to New York record breaking time of 6 hours 11 mins was achieved by an RAF Harrier which took-off from a coal yard next to St Pancras mainline railway station in London and landed at Bristol Quay in New York.
It is often thought that participating in races, such as this one, is a bit of a 'jolly' for those taking part. But in fact, in 1969 this was of course still during the 'Cold War' and such exercises had an underlying and very serious purpose. If nothing else they clearly demonstrated to the Soviet Union one aspect of the capabilities we had.
THE SPITFIRE MkVB AB910
In his excellent book Spitfire's Forgotten Designer Mike Roussel gives a potted history of AB910 and it is this final paragraph which mentions WISLEY: "After the war the aircraft took part in air racing until it was purchased by Vickers-Armstrongs and refurbished in 1953. Quill (My note: Jeffrey Quill - test pilot) then flew AB910 regularly in air displays until th decision was made by the British Aircraft Corporation in 1965 to prsent the Spitfire to the RAF Historic Flight at Coltishall as a Battle of Britain gesture. Quill's penultimate flight in a Spitfire was in September 1965, when he took off from Wisley in AB910 to fly to RAF Coltishall, accompanied by a Hawker Hunter, to hand the aircraft over to the RAF Historic Flight. On arrival, both aircraft gave an impressive flying display. His final flight in AB910 was on 16 June 1966 (thirty years after his first flight in the prototype) for the purposes of a documentary film made by a French television company."
Incidentally, it was AB910 which became famous in 1945 when it took off with the LACW Margaret Horton still sitting on the tailplane. See HIBALDSTOW (LINCOLNSHIRE) for a full account.
A SMALL PERSONAL MEMORY
When I was a lad plane spotting at Heathrow in the late 1950s and early 1960s it seemed to be generally reckoned the prototype TSR.2 was being flight tested here. I even recall cycling down there with a friend hoping to catch a glimpse of it. We didn’t see anything at all except glimpses of various buildings and hangars. It was of course mostly based at WARTON in LANCASHIRE although much development flying took place from BOSCOMBE DOWN (WILTSHIRE).
THE END OF AN ERA
With the closure of WISLEY being finalised a large proportion of the BAC flight test team moved to FAIRFORD (GLOUCESTERSHIRE) where they became part of the Concorde test and development programme. Further testing and development of the BAC One-Eleven was shared between HURN (HAMPSHIRE), now BOURNEMOUTH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, and FILTON (GLOUCESTERSHIRE) the famous home of the Bristol Company.
It appears that WISLEY finally closed at 16.30 on the 14th April 1972 when the Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee G-AWPS flew out to nearby FAIROAKS.
Postscript: Much later on the 2nd January 2009, G-AWPS was involved in a fatal accident which took place in highly dubious circumstances. See the AAIB report.
undisclosedThis comment was written on: 2015-09-19 19:30:23
Thanks very interesting blog!
Reply from Dick Flute:
Many thanks, I am glad you found it of interest. Regards, Dick
Timothy HewlettThis comment was written on: 2018-03-11 18:40:36
I lived close to the airfield - my memory is that flying ceased in 1972 but the site was occupied until the middle of 1973. Is this correct?
Reply from Dick Flute:
Hi Timothy, This sounds about right to me. I shall keep this posted and perhaps somebody more expert can kindly confirm. Best regards, Dick
Colin RussellThis comment was written on: 2018-06-09 16:06:49
I was a Vickers/BAC apprentice (from 1961) and then in Sales and Marketing. At the height of the BAC 1-11 and VC10 flight testing, 30 of us were drafted to Wisley to assist with the pre-digital handling of flight test data as there was such a high volume being generated. Later I spent 2 years as Jock Bryce's assistant after he retired from flying and enjoyed listening to his accounts of events at Wisley. I am sure he told me that a house on Old Lane, close to the Black Swan, but in line with the runway had to be demolished after a dummy bomb, possibly a Highball, that had hung up in the Wellington fell out on landing and proceeded in an easterly direction across Old Lane. Anybody else aware of this incident? More recently I have met a a lady who was child during the war, but who told me that her grandparents house in Old Lane was demolished in 1947 in a similar incident. Did I misunderstand Jock and accidentally moved the 1947 incident earlier? The approximate location of the house can still be seen as you drive by because a field entrance now exists in line with the runway.
Peter BlakeThis comment was written on: 2018-10-06 14:31:40
I live only a couple of miles away but have never visited until this week. Turns out that it's a useful cycling route from Wisley to Cobham! The airfield feels a bit surreal, being as large as it is, surrounded by lovely Surrey countryside.Apart from the occasional dog walker or horse rider, the runway is completely empty, the only noise being the traffic zooming along the A3. What a shame that you can see the twin towers being built at Woking in the distance. Fascinating history found on your website, because you come away from there with so many questions.
David EllisThis comment was written on: 2019-10-01 15:29:30
Just found your very interesting site. I went to a air show at Wisley in 1964 or 1965 and I remember the hangers either side of the Elm Lane entrance, In those days it was safe to cycle along the A3.
Bob DurstonThis comment was written on: 2019-10-31 16:11:25
I was in the airforce until 1960 and laterly stationed at Boscombe Down, on two occasions I hitched a lift to my home in Guildford for the weekend, once in the Devon G-AKSV the second tine in the Rapide. On one occasion the pilot was Mike Lithgow but i cannot remember which. It was a long time ago!
Titus JohnsonThis comment was written on: 2020-04-11 07:25:54
Excellent article. My grandfather Ted Johnson worked his whole life at Vickers Weybridge (Brooklands) from the Wellington to Concorde. The flight from Brooklands to Wisley for flight testing couldn't have been more than a couple of minutes.
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