Airspeed – Test pilots

Early test pilots were the superstars of the age. The Airspeed story features some of the best of the best.


Nevil Shute Norway (better known as Nevil Shute) – Made the first flight of the AS.1 Tern glider.

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Herr Magersuppe – as a result of restrictions on German aviation imposed by the post-WWI Treaty of Versailles they concentrated on gliding and became world leaders in the field. Herr Magersuppe – first name Carli / Karl / Karli (different sources give different spellings) – came over in 1930 and gave gliding demonstrations at UK clubs. Aged around 21, he had travelled to Britain with his friend and fellow gliding pilot Haak, who was thought to be a few years younger, supposedly to escape unemployment in Germany. Initially he was employed by the Scarborough Gliding Club (vice president Amy Johnson OBE). However, there appears to have been post-war hostility towards the Germans and they had trouble finding employment that would have allowed them to stay in Britain (although he appears to have been linked to the Daily Express in 1930 - possibly as an aviation expert). A cash-strapped Airspeed found that they were willing to work for the 'pittance' they could afford to pay. Magersuppe completed the flight trials on the AS.1 Tern glider in 1931 and demonstrated it at meetings and contests around the country. The Tern established new records for height and distance but proved to be an unprofitable venture. After the Airspeed and other work dried up (he worked for two months as an instructor at the Scarborough Gliding Club, and piloted the Bradford Gliding Club's new Dickinson-type glider on its maiden flight), Magersuppe got into debt and was eventually deported to Germany. His subsequent fate is not clear.


Wing Commander G H Stainforth – George Hedley Stainforth was born in 1899. Educated at Dulwich in Weymouth before going on to Sandhurst. Commissioned as an officer a few months before the end of WWI he saw active service overseas with The Buffs in France, India, Iraq and Aden before retiring from the Army in 1922. He joined the RAF in March 1923 and joined his first squadron just over a year later. Qualifying as a instructor he served at the flying training school in Egypt (1925-27) before joining the Central Flying School. In 1928, he was promoted to flight lieutenant and joined the High Speed Flight. He was part of the 1929 and 1931 Schneider Trophy race teams. He set a world speed record in 1929 but had to withdraw from the actual race. 1931 saw the third consecutive British win and the end of the contest (the actual trophy and the Supermarine SN.6 are on display at the Science Museum in London). He later joined the Experimental Aircraft Section, Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Farnborough. It was while he was stationed here that he was hired (with official blessing as it was the first British aircraft with retractable undercarriage) to act as test pilot on the Airspeed AS.5 Courier in April 1933. Experiencing a malfunction on one of the flight trials his skillful handling brought the prototype safely back down to earth. Later that year, he took part in the first King's Cup Air Race at Hatfield flying a Comper Swift (G-ABWW) – the race being won by Captain Geoffrey de Havilland. From 1935-36 he served on board the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and was promoted to squadron leader. Later he was appointed to a depot in Iraq and served with a bomber squadron. During the 1939 Empire Air Day he flew from the south of England to Scotland in a Spitfire. He was promoted to wing commander in March 1940. He was leading 89 Squadron when he was killed in action on 27 September 1942. He is buried in the Ismailia War Cemetery in Egypt.


H V Worrall – Henry Vernon Worrall was born in Fiji in 1888 (a New Zealander according to Cobham, an Australian according to another source). He appears to have travelled to Britain in 1914 to fight in WWI. He passed his A-licence test as a Flight Sub-Lieutenant at the Royal Naval Air Service station at Eastbourne on 30 September 1915. He was mentioned in the despatches in July 1917. His outstanding feat of arms was in January 1918 when he scored a direct hit on the German battleship Goeben. His direct hit was all the more remarkable as it was his first night flight.

Goeben and Breslau – British and French failure to successfully intercept the Imperial German Navy's Mediterranean Fleet (consisting of only these two ships) in 1914 is thought to have lengthened WWI by two years. The battlecruiser SMS Goeben and the light cruiser SMS Breslau evaded their pursuers and reached Constantinople (now Istanbul) in Turkey, which at the time was neutral and obliged to prevent their passage through the straits. However, they were 'gifted' to the Turkish Navy (Goeben becoming Yavuz Sultan Selim) to get round this. The gift was a huge hit with the Turkish population, which was still smarting from the requisitioning of two nearly complete warships that were being built for the Turks in British yards at the start of the war. These events are thought to be the deciding factor in Turkey entering the war on the side of Germany.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (as was Flight Commander Ralph Squire Sorley) and the French Croix de Guerre for this action. He was made an honorary captain (appears to be referring to RAF rank of Flight Lieutenant) in 1918, and confirmed as a captain in 1919 (and received a bar for his DSC). Although his short service commission in the RAF, as a flight lieutenant, was gazetted in September 1919. In May 1922 he transferred from 230 Squadron to the School of Naval Cooperation and Aerial Navigation. He was transferred to the Reserve (Class A) later that year. After finally completing his commission and leaving the Services (on 12 September 1926) he appears to have travelled to South America to represent the Blackburn Aircraft Company. The founder, Robert Blackburn, was part owner of a company that eventually merged with Alan Cobham's airline operation to form Cobham-Blackburn Air Lines Ltd. When Sir Alan Cobham set off on a 20,000 mile round Africa survey (Wakefield Flight of Survey) in November 1927, Worrall was his copilot in the Shorts Singapore flying boat (G-EDUP). He had a rather eventful trip – saving the life of a man in Malta, getting a bloody hand after it was hit by a moving propeller, and nearly getting pulled apart when he became entangled in the plane's mooring line. Following their safe return to Britain in 1928, he became the club pilot at the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club, Sherburn-in-Elmet in January 1929. Here he ran the Yorkshire Air Pageant (John Tranum made a parachute display jump) in 1930, and acted as an official when the airfield was used as a staging post for the 1931 King's Cup Air Race. The club later moved home to the new Leeds and Bradford Municipal Airport at Yeadon (officially opened on 17 October 1931 – bad weather prevented Yorkshire Aeroplane Club president Lord Grimthorpe, who was to declare it open, from attending). On 5 April 1932, Worrall made the first flight of the Airspeed AS.4 Ferry (G-ABSI) at Sherburn (reportedly for a fee of £30). On 1 July 1933 he took part in a special Liverpool-Blackpool-Liverpool race, part of the official opening ceremony of Liverpool's Speke Aerodrome. Later that month he came second in the Yorkshire Trophy Race. Before the year was out he was managing the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club. In total, he spent some 27 years associated with aviation in Yorkshire – including a stint as chief Avro test pilot at Yeadon during WWII – before retiring and leaving for Australia in 1956.


F/Lt C H A Colman – Cyril Henry Arthur Colman, better known as Percy Colman, was commissioned as a pilot officer in the RAF on 17 January 1927. Having completed his training he spent the next 2.5 years as a fighter pilot and with the Armament and Gunnery School before going on the RAF Reserve List. Observing his meticulous approach prior to take off after delivering a second AS.4 Ferry to Midland and Scottish Air Ferries Nevil Shute Norway had no hesitation hiring him as Airspeed's test pilot in 1933 (sources are not clear as to whether he applied or was approached for the job). He made the first flights of the Airspeed AS.6 Envoy (G-ACMT), AS.10 Oxford (L4534) and AS.30 Queen Wasp (K8888 – floatplane version). He also made the first delivery flight of an AS.6 Envoy to China in 1937 (with Mrs N S Norway as a passenger up to India. His copilot, Walter Locke, later managed the Airspeed subsidiary Fireproof Tanks Limited). During his time at Airspeed he extensively flew their aircraft at airshows and events in Britain and in Europe (including at the 1936 opening of Bromma Airport in Sweden with N S Norway). He returned to the RAF at the start of WWII, and came down in The Channel after a combat mission over Occupied France (3 or 4 January 1941) while flying as Acting Squadron Leader with No.23 Squadron. His body was recovered from the sea and he is buried at St Andrew's Church, Tangmere. Sources conflict as to whether he was 35 or 36 (the former being the date on his CWGC entry).

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