Aviation – Pioneers and Test Pilots 2

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Miss Sicele O'Brien an early female pilot, who was all the more extraordinary having lost a leg in a previous crash in 1928 and returned to flying, tragically was killed in a takeoff crash at Hatfield in 1931.


Edgar Wikner Percival – E W Percival's aviation career first got off the ground in gliders of his own design in his native Australia. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in 1915 he served in horse regiments before being accepted for pilot training with the Royal Flying Corps. After WWI he returned to Australian aviation and served as A V Roe Ltd's (later Avro) representative before accepting a job as a test pilot with Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC) in England in 1929 (He also appears to have been a keen golfer as he was a founder member of the Glenelg Golf Club). He test flew designs by Hendy, Parnall, Sikorksy and Saunders Roe (later Saro) before setting up his own company, Percival Aircraft Company (later Percival Aircraft Limited), in 1931 (although one source states 1932) with himself as chief designer. Starting with the Percival Gull in 1932, the company soon made a name for itself and were regulars on the King's Cup Air Race circuit (in the 1937 race there were more Percival designs – 9 out of 31 – than any other maker). E W Percival was one of only two pilots to take part in all the King's Cup Air Races held at Hatfield (he piloted a Mew Gull owned by Prince George – later King George VI), and the 1939 London-Isle of Man Air Race starting from Hatfield. While he achieved fastest lap times and average speeds on more than one occasion, the handicapping system denied him a personal victory (his best overall position being third in 1937). As a designer, he enjoyed success through other pilots flying his creations – winning the last three races held at Hatfield (Charles Gardner in 1936 in a Vega Gull, in a Mew Gull in 1937, and Alex Henshaw in 1938 in a Mew Gull). While pilots – like Jean Batten whose Percival Gull (G-ADPR) was once based at Hatfield – made record flights in his aircraft ensuring his place in aviation and Hatfield history.


Ranald Logan Porteous – joined de Havilland Technical School in 1934, Also qualified as a pilot at Hatfield on 14 May 1935. Test flew the Chilton Aircraft DW1 in April 1937 (designed by two fellow technical school associates). Later that year joined Philips and Powis (Miles) Aircraft at Reading. Also joined the RAF in which he served for the duration of the war. Rose to the rank of Squadron Leader. Served as President to the Central Examination Board, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) 1944-45. Post-war, worked as manager and Chief Flying Instructor of the Derby Aero Club (1947-48). During his time in this role he set a new record for the 100km Closed Circuit in August 1937. Later became chief test pilot for Auster Aircraft (made the first flight of the Auster B8 Agricola on 8 December 1955), and sales manager for Beagle till 1968 (coming second in the 1963 King's Cup Air Race).


Jeffrey Kindersley Quill – joined the RAF on a short service commission from school in 1931. Rated as an exceptional pilot, after a stint with a fighter squadron, he joined the prestigious Meteorological Flight based at Duxford. On 23 December 1935 poor weather conditions led to him landing at Hatfield. Unfortunately, the lack of starting equipment and the general Christmas shutdown meant he was unable to take off again in time for the 13:00 Met flight – ending a 13-month 100 per cent record for the Flight (the best run its history. Coincidentally, he made his last flight with them a few days later on 28 December 1935). Jeffrey Quill resigned his RAF commission early to become a test pilot for Vickers and Supermarine from the beginning of 1936. He was scheduled to make another appearance at Hatfield in 1938 – flying DH.88 Comet Racer (G-ACSS) Grosvenor House in the King's Cup Air Race with John Hopcraft but was prevented by one of his managers. However, he will be forever associated with the work he did on the Supermarine Spitfire prototype in 1936-37, and its later versions. He saw active service in WWII with the RAF and Fleet Air Arm. Post-war, Vickers-Armstrong (Aircraft) Ltd became part of British Aircraft Corporation, and he went on to become a director of Sepecat, which produced the Jaguar jet, and a director of Panavia, which produced the Tornado.


Leonard Gillespie Reid – Canadian aircraft engineer who got his UK pilot's licence at Hatfield. Bought the Mollisons' specially adapted DH.84 Dragon, Seafarer II (G-ACJM), which he renamed Trail of the Caribou. Along with Englishman James Reginald Ayling made an attempt on the world distance record with a planned flight from Wasaga Beach, Canada to Baghdad in August 1934. Trail of the Caribou was overhauled at Hatfield before being shipped to Canada for the record attempt. Realising that their fuel consumption over the Atlantic was too great to reach Baghdad, L G Reid and J R Ayling decided to land at Heston, and made the first non-stop Atlantic crossing from Canada to England. A few hours after ending their 31-hour flight they flew from Heston to Hatfield. The Pathe newsreel interview about their record flight was filmed at Hatfield.


Wing Commander G H Stainforth – George Hedley Stainforth was a distinguished pilot, who once was the fastest man alive.

Click here to go to his entry under Airspeed – Test Pilots 



Flight Lieutenant Christopher Stainbank Staniland – C S Staniland was truly one of the 'Kings of Speed' of the 1920s and '30s. He made a name for himself as a pilot, racing car driver and motorcyclist. Born in 1905, educated at Tonbridge he joined the RAF in 1924 (earlier that year he won 4 out of the 5 races he entered at Brooklands on his 490cc Norton motorcycle). Having served with 48 Squadron he joined the High Speed Flight in 1928 (along with G H Stainforth). However, he did not take part in the Schneider Trophy races. He left the RAF the following year and became a test pilot with Simmonds Aircraft, then with Fairey Aviation Company where he became chief test pilot (their Great West Aerodrome is better known today as Heathrow). Among the many designs that he made the first flight in are a number that saw service in WWII including the Fairey Battle, Fulmar, Barracuda, and the TSR I (Torpedo, Spotter, Reconnaissance) and TSR II (which became better known as the Swordfish). Closer to the ground he regularly competed at Brooklands and other race meets in the UK and overseas as a racing car driver. The motor-racing scene included a number of fellow aviators (like W L Hope, Whitney Straight and Richard Shuttleworth), and Chris Staniland often performed display flights at race meetings. He raced against and sometimes partnered – on distance events – the legendary Malcolm Campbell. However, the pinnacle of his motoring career was in September 1935 when, together with A Denly, they were relief drivers to another legendary motor-racing figure, George Edward Thomas Eyston. At Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, USA in Eyston's 'Speed of the Wind' between them they set 7 world records (24-hour distance and 6 intermediate – including 1-hour and 12-hour). Chris Staniland was a frequent visitor to Hatfield and was a display pilot at the 1937 RAF Reserve Club Flying Display, and the 1936 and 1937 SBAC meetings. However, his King's Cup appearances were less successful – originally listed as one of the entrants in 1934 race he did not actually take part, while in 1938 he was flying the DH88 Comet Racer, G-ACSS, with Captain J G Hopcraft as his co-pilot. Unfortunately, the evening before the race he hit a bump while taking off and the right wing struck the ground, breaking off about a foot (30cm) of the tip. Tragically, this gallant airman was killed on 26 June 1942 while test flying the second Fairey Firefly prototype which suffered a structural failure. He was 38.


A Hessell Tiltman – aircraft designer and former de Havilland employee who co-founded Airspeed Limited.

Click here to go to his entry under Airspeed – The People 



John Tranum – Danish aerial stuntman, parachute pioneer and world record holder. A regular performer at air shows, garden parties and fetes across Britain and overseas in the 1930s. He made at least two parachute jumps at Hatfield.


Lord Trenchard – Marshal of the Royal Air Force, and was also President of the RAF Flying Club (originally the RAF Reserve Flying Club) based at Hatfield.


Alexander Reginald Ward – another old Etonian and student at the de Havilland Technical School at Hatfield. After leaving the technical school he set up his own aviation firm, Chilton Aircraft, with fellow old-Etonian and DH Technical School colleague, Andrew Dalrymple (above). Apart from aeronautical studies, 'Reggie' (as he was commonly known) learnt to fly at Hatfield and gained his licence in September 1935. The outbreak of WWII meant the DW1 was their only complete design to fly. Reggie joined the Air Transport Auxiliary for the duration of the war and served as a ferry pilot (according to one source he also had poor eyesight). Sadly, he was at the company's base in Hungerford and witnessed the crash and fire that killed his friend. He appears to have turned his back on aviation, their version of the Meise glider was passed on to the company subcontracted to build the wings (and the Eon Olympia was quite a success – it even featured alongside the DH.88 Comet G-ACSS at the 1951 Festival of Britain). Chilton Aircraft continued as Chilton Electric Products. In 1957, he was joined by his distinguished brother – Colonel Edward John Stuart Ward MVO, MC (served in both the Royal Horse Guards and Lifeguards. Eventually, commanding both these Household Cavalry regiments, and as 'Silver Stick in Waiting' attended the HM The Queen's Coronation). Reggie Ward died in 1987, aged 72.

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