After the first 'Tribute to the Canberra' event at Newark Air Museum in 1999, museum member Bill O'Sullivan made contact with Roland 'Bee' Beamont who kindly agreed to record a video interview. Bill O'Sullivan and David Collins eventually recorded the interview at Bee's home on Sunday 13 March 2000, the video subsequently being shown at the 'Tribute to a Test Pilot' event that the museum hosted in August 2000.
Museum member Roger Bryan then made a transcript of the video interview and, as agreed with Bee, the interview was serialised in the Newark Air Museum Dispersal newsletter as 'The Beamont Files' only after his death on 19 November 2001. The first item was published in February 2002 and subsequent items were accompanied by a series of Bee's personal photographs from the Newark Air Museum Archive to illustrate the various aspects of his illustrious flying career.
Bill O'Sullivan: "I would like to ask various questions about your lifelong contribution towards Britain's Aviation History and also your role during World War Two. To try and cover 40 years in just a few short moments will prove difficult! I believe you first joined the RAF in 1939 and your first participation in the Battle of Britain was with 87 Squadron?"
Bee: "Yes, that's right, although I joined the RAF in 1938 and began my flying career in 1939. When the war broke out I had just completed Flying Training and, as the wags at the time said, my course finishing was fine timing for me to become 'cannon fodder' in the war that was just going to start. So, we went to war untrained - well, we were not untrained - we had completed our basic training but were totally inexperienced in warfare and not terribly safe pilots, having flown only a few hours. I was posted, much to my surprise, straight out to France. My first posting was to 87 Service Squadron, which was one of the four squadrons in the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force, already at Lille - this would be in November 1939 - so it was going in at the deep end! I found myself amongst a bunch of absolutely marvellous peacetime experienced fighter pilots, all very proud of their Hurricanes, which were still fairly new at the time. I didn't get much flying that winter because we got bogged down with weather and, as I was a junior pilot, whenever the weather was good enough to fly the senior pilots seemed to get the flying and I didn't. So, when the Blitzkrieg broke out on 10 May 1940 I hadn't really much time on Hurricanes - I doubt if I had flown fifty hours - but I got into combat rather quickly during the next few days, having my first combat flying actually from Lille on around about 12 May, when we were sent to Nomilly to escort some Blenheims attacking the advancing enemy along the line of the Maas River and the bridge at Maastrict (which became famous from the attacks made on it). We never made contact with the Blenheims, but we intercepted a formation of Dorniers, which we went headlong into under the leadership of our Squadron Commander, and I found myself firing at a Dornier which I thought was in range. After I finally got back and landed, I reported to my flight commander, who said "What the hell were you doing, Bee! I wasn't in range and you were behind me firing like hell, nearly hitting my Hurricane!" He was laughing. It was that sort of combat - I hit that Dornier and stopped its engine, and then I hit another one later on but I don't remember much about that battle. I had a few more quick battles in France and then we were evacuated, first of all to Merville on 19 May, I think it was. We had only four Hurricanes left, and those of us who hadn't got a Hurricane were flown back to the UK in a Douglas Transport of KLM Airline - it was all rather an exciting period!"
Bill: "Which led you to be ready for the oncoming Battle of Britain the following year…"
Bee: "Well, that was a period that will remain in the mind, because we regrouped at Church Fenton up in Yorkshire in a perfectly peacetime atmosphere. The rest of the country hadn't noticed there was a war on really and RAF stations were no different if they weren't actually operational. Church Fenton was a training station and my Hurricane squadron reformed there and it became very apparent to us that there was going to be the most almighty battle going on over the channel very, very soon - the victorious Germans began to prepare themselves to attack this country, and there wasn't anybody else to stop them except us. After we had re-equipped with Hurricanes we moved back down to the south coast and we fought the Battle of Britain from 10 Group, which was guarding the western flank. Our main areas were Portland Naval Base, Southampton, and re-enforcing the Tangmere section over Portsmouth. That was very exciting - we had a number of major battles in August, during which I was lucky enough not to be hit. I probably hit one or two other things in the process, then suddenly by the end of September or early October the enemy attacks were becoming less and less, so it occurred to us that somebody is winning this battle and it's certainly not the enemy! We could suddenly see that there was a possible future where all of us, up to that time, thought there wasn't any future for us at all. Our loss rate had been very high that summer, but we survived."
Bill: "And during the Battle of Britain, I believe you became a fighter 'Ace', shooting down five enemy aircraft?"
Bee: "Well, I was credited with five by the end of the Battle. In my squadron, it's difficult perhaps to appreciate this now, sixty years on, with this tremendous preoccupation with scores and victories, and who shot down who and when, and where. At the time there was no emphasis with that in the squadrons. Each squadron had its own particular brilliant pilots who were clearly doing a lot better than the rest of us. The rest of us were just doing the best we could, but we weren't encouraged to talk about victories. We weren't encouraged to paint victory signs on our aircraft, although of course sometimes some of the more successful ones did eventually do that, though in my squadron we were positively discouraged from making claims unless we knew there was definite confirmation. I mean, if you thought you had shot down an aeroplane and came back and claimed it, but you had no verification, then the Squadron Commander would say to the Station Intelligence Officer, who was taking the report, "You can just record that as an attack". But if someone behind you, in the formation, saw the aeroplane that you were shooting at hit the ground, then that would be claimed as a confirmed victory. But, during that time I had at least two attacks on aeroplanes that I didn't even claim as attacking, because there was somebody else who was attacking at the same time and there wasn't this emphasis on our claiming victories or shared victories - that came later on."
Bill: "Was your time as a Hurricane night pilot useful, or rather a waste of time?"
Bee: "It was a waste of time as far as the defence of this country was concerned - it was of value to the authorities and of value to the individual pilots in learning the difficulties and hazards of night interception. We had no radar, we were just flying the Hurricanes and the chances of finding aircraft, a black painted enemy bomber on a black night, in cloud, from a Hurricane were almost zero. In fact, in six months of that work, my squadron made about four attacks and got only two confirmed victories."
Bill: "Not very useful from a combat point, but useful for the experience, which you took to the Typhoon when you went on sorties over France attacking trains."
Bee: "Well precisely - by the end the winter of 1940 we had all become sufficiently skilled at night operations to enable us to do these things without killing ourselves. That was quite a problem in the beginning, by the time we had done that we had acquired confidence in night flying, so a number of us spread that confidence into more aggressive operations towards the end of spring of 1941. My squadron (87) carried out some investigative ground attacks on the Cherbourg Peninsula by moonlight, with pairs of Hurricanes going over. I went on one of the first sorties, and we found that it was practical to use a fighter to attack ground targets, once you had found them. They weren't easy to find, but if you could find anything, it would work, and having gained this experience, as you say quite rightly, a couple of years later I was fortunate enough to be given command of one of the early Typhoon squadrons. I got permission to investigate the use of Typhoons in night ground attack, primarily as a way to improve morale of the units using the Typhoons - it wasn't a popular aeroplane at the time, and I thought if we were successful in doing what people thought was a particularly difficult operation, and we were successful in doing it with the Typhoon, then it would alter the people in the general authorities' view of this new type of fighter, and it did just that. In our first month of operations, which started before Christmas 1942 and onto the end of January 1943, my squadron attacked approximately one hundred trains by moonlight, of which I attacked twenty-five myself, and after that there weren't any doubting voices. The authorities said "Well, if the Typhoon can do this sort of thing at night, what the heck can it do in daylight?" And of course it is well known that the Typhoon went on to become our most powerful and very famous ground attack fighter, in support of the Army during the Battle for Normandy and Europe later on in the War."
Bill: "I understand that during various 'rest periods' that you had from active service you were seconded to Hawker Aircraft. What were your roles there?"
Bee: "Well I think one thing led to the other, you see. After my daytime and night time tour on Hurricanes, I was posted to a squadron that had done extremely well in the Battle of Britain but had lost nearly all of its senior pilots. With 79 Squadron, I was posted as a Flight Commander to help train them back to operational status and during that time I started to apply my newly acquired enthusiasm for night flying. After a few months, my tour on Hurricanes had lasted nearly two years, which is longer than most operational tours. I was up for posting for so called 'rest', which would mean to Training Command or something like that. The powers that be, who sifted through reports, at that time had a requirement for a surface desk pilot, or to go and help at the Hawker Company, with the massive production of Hawker Hurricanes going on. They were producing 250 Hurricanes a month, which is a lot of aeroplanes! The Station Adjutant said "Your operational tour is up, Bee, you have two alternative postings." I asked what they were. He quoted the wrong one for me first - "It says here to go as Personal Assistant to the Commander in Chief, Fighter Command." I thought this was a staff job, right at the top level - I had never thought of myself as a Staff Officer, I had no staff training. This, of course, was a way in to a staff position and if I had done well, it could have opened a future for me in the administrative side of the Air Force, which at that time I didn't want. I was a young fighter pilot and I wanted to fly. So I said to this station adjutant, "Is there any alternative?" He looked at me amazed really, and said, "Do you mean to say you don't want this job? PA to the C-in-C?" I said "No, I don't really want that." He replied "Well it says here you can go on the special duties list to Hawker as a Test Pilot." I was amazed and that's the job I took. I went to Hawker, where I found that my job was to join the team of test pilots flying massive amounts of Hurricanes on test every day, which was simple work - just flying to a schedule of tests, which would prove the basic ability of the aeroplane to fly to its design requirements. The idea was to get through a test as quickly as possible and get the aeroplanes out of the door and delivered to the Air Force as quickly as you could. It was looked on as pretty bad business if you required more than four flights from first flight to delivery. They had most trials done in three and I soon got into the swing of things and enjoyed it. During the process, my log book records that I undertook eleven Hurricane test flights between one in the morning and four pm. Eleven in the day, which was quite busy and a pint at the local was quite welcome afterwards!"
Bill: "When you had done your next tour on Typhoons, they called you back for another rest at Hawker for a lot more test flying?"
Bee: "While I had been at Hawker test flying, I had a chance at flying a few times their new and vastly powerful, very fast fighter, the Typhoon, and I had liked what I had seen. It was a bag of nails really, in bad development trouble - the engines were stopping, tails were falling off. It sounds dramatic, but they actually were! They lost, in the course of the development of the Typhoon, twenty-three tails, which broke off in-flight in high-speed dives. It was all rather hairy but the basic aeroplane had tremendous potential. I must have shown quite a lot of enthusiasm for it, because when I was posted back to a squadron, at my request at the end of my first tour at Hawker, they posted me to one of the first Typhoon squadrons, first as a Flight Commander. After a few months they gave me command of a squadron, 609, on which we developed the ground attack method by moonlight. It became an extremely successful squadron and went on to great things. It was one of the key squadrons in the invasion of Europe two years later. So my experiences at Hawker had led me to get into the operational side of this new fighter, which was still having development troubles whilst I commanded the squadron, so at the end of my tour the powers that be, without any hint from me, posted me back to Hawker to carry on with the development testing of the Typhoon - this time particularly with accent on investigating the tail breakages which got quite exciting! In fact, at one stage I thought it would be rather safer to go back to fighting the enemy than staying at Hawker being a test pilot, but that's another matter. During the course of that tour, I also got onto the new development of the Typhoon, called the Tempest, which was much improved and faster than the Typhoon. I became what was known as a project pilot on that and carried through its final tests until January 1943, when I was posted back to operations, which I wanted to do. I hoped very much that I would get onto this new Tempest that I had been testing, and the Air Officer Commanding 11 Group (Hugh Saunders) sent for me and he wanted to know what I thought about the new Tempest. I gave him a description of it - I suppose it sounded rather an enthusiastic description, because when I had finished he said "Is there anything else you wanted to see me about?", with a smile on his face. So I said, rather diffidently, I was just wondering whether that, as my tour with Hawker is complete, could I come back to command a Tempest Squadron. He said "It's funny you should say that - I want you to form the first wing with three Tempest Squadrons!" So that was my job for 1944, it was absolutely a plum job, great!"
Bill: "Being largely responsible for bringing the Tempest in to service, I believe this aircraft was also used to attack the V1 flying bombs - you had to devise tactics against this weapon?"
Bee: "Yes, that's quite true, but when Saunders, who went by the wonderful nickname of 'Dingbat' Saunders, was telling me about the formation of the wing, he said "I want you to get your Wing fully operational by the end of April - I don't have to tell you why." That meant that quite clearly the invasion was going to take place in May or June. He added "I want you now, without further delay, to go down to Kent and look at three airfields and select whichever one you think is best for Tempest operations, and that's where you will go." These were advanced airfields, tented sites, no buildings or anything like that. I looked at the map on the wall of his office and said "It's rather a long way from the area I had in mind, Sir" because I knew, though I wasn't supposed to, that the invasion was going to take place in Normandy and not in the Pas de Calais, and the airfields were all over Kent that he offered me. He said "Well, if you look it as three sides of a triangle, I want you near the Pas de Calais, I want you near the Normandy coast and the third reason, I want you to be well placed between Eastbourne and North Foreland for the V1s - do you know what they are?" I said that I had read the intelligence reports but I didn't know much about it. "V1 is the expected flying bomb", he said - "Our intelligence is getting better all the time - we expect the attack to take place before D-Day. If not, they will attack soon afterwards. They are already building launching sites between Cherbourg Peninsula and Antwerp, right the way up the coast. So you have to have your aeroplanes in a suitable position to get straight into action on the V1 attack, the moment it occurs - how will the Tempest cope?" I said I didn't know what the capabilities of the V1 were but I imagine that they'll fly around 400mph and the Tempest can do comfortably more than that at low altitude, so we should cope with the V1 operation very well - it is a very good gun platform, you could aim the cannons very well with it. He said "That's what I want to hear - off you go, good luck!" So I went and formed the Wing and we were operational over the invasion armada on D-Day. Two days afterwards we encountered ME109s for the first time and we shot down three, the first enemy aircraft shot down by the Tempest. We thought we were going to be in for an exciting summer, supporting the invasion going up through Europe. Then on 16 June we were called to readiness at dawn with the sky full of things that looked like erratic motorbikes tearing across the sky with streaks of red fire behind them - these were the V1 rockets and at five in the morning, Bob Cole, my number two and I, intercepted the first one in daylight off Folkestone and shot it down near Ashford. That really started things - I can't remember the exact numbers, but the Tempest proved extremely successful against flying bombs. At Newchurch, our airfield on Dungeness, we shot down our first hundred in less than two weeks, our first two-hundred in three weeks and five-hundred in four and a half weeks. By the end of the V1 campaign, it was very hot that summer, the fighters had shot down over seven-hundred flying bombs of which my wing of Tempests, with three Squadrons, had shot down 638. It wasn't done without losses, we lost a number of chaps unfortunately, but that's war. The summer of 1944 proved a period of enormous success for the Tempest, it was a great aeroplane."
Bill: "I believe after the success of D-Day and winning the Battle of the V1s you then went through Belgium and into Holland, back to train busting, where unfortunately one of them got the better of you?"
Bee: "Only partly, yes. What happened was that once the Army had pushed up through Belgium and cleared off all of the V1 launching sites, the Germans were only then able to launch limited numbers of V1s from then on, by air, slung underneath Heinkel bombers, but the numbers were not all that significant. So my Wing was released from the V1 operation and we were given about five days to re-equip and sort ourselves out. We flew across to join the Second Tactical Air Force, first at Brussels at the end of September and then after a couple of weeks up to Volkel, in Holland, which was the most forward main base of the 2nd TAF and only about eleven miles from the nearest German front line position. Every morning we used to get shelled by a German 88mm Battery - they always did it with great regularity, being Germans, so we always had plenty of time to get into our slit trenches before the shells came down. Yes, our job there was Air Superiority and we got into action very quickly, having good success against the Germans who were reacting very powerfully as we got nearer to their own frontier. Of course their defences were concentrating, they were getting more and more able to get up and intercept our activity and we had a lot of combats, very quickly, during the process. I knew that ground attack was going to come into our curriculum, but at that time it was air-to-air combat over the Rhine. But one day, a ground attack schedule came into my operations caravan and it called for a sortie up to the airbases around Hanover, which it was thought were the bases for the new ME262 jet fighters, which were just beginning to bother us. The idea was that the Tempests would go in and find them, ground strafe if they could, strafe anything else if they couldn't see the ME262s and particularly hit ME262s preparing to land or take off from their base, if they happened to see them. This was the beginning of an operation that went on all through the winter and was very successful, the Tempests being most successful at it. Well, as luck would have it, on the way out I was given targets of opportunity and I saw a target that I thought was too good to miss - it became my main objective - it was a troop train and it was full of reinforcements. The Arnhem battle had just ended with great losses to both sides and this looked to me like a troop train going in daylight up the Arnhem line. I thought it can't be doing anything other than replacing troops, it had flak mountings on it so I attacked it and something hit my radiator - that was it and I had to force-land in Germany and I became a prisoner of war."
Bill: "Which prisoner of war camp did you end up in?"
Bee: "Stalag Luft three, the main one. I arrived there just after the big escape when they were all killed - there was an edict in the camp that had come from London saying that because of the high risk involved and the end of the war being in sight, escape activities were not to be permitted anymore, so the escape planners, who had been very active, were stood down until the end of the war. There were one or two small escapes, but not me."
Bill: "The end of the war saw you being flown home in the back of a Lancaster, like so many others after the final liberation. Soon after, I believe, you joined Gloster Aircraft and took part in establishing a world airspeed record?"
Bee: "Yes, after coming back from Germany, I had a period, a very interesting period, at Central Fighter Establishment at Tangmere, flying captured German aeroplanes. I was then given a brief job of forming and commanding the first Tempest II Wing. That's a Wing of Tempests with Centaurus Radial engines, which were aimed at going out to join the Far East Forces and the Battle for Burma. I don't think my colleagues or I were all that enamoured, having finished one war and being asked to start another, but it didn't happen. One obviously would have gone, if we were told to. I led that Tempest Wing over the first victory parade on Battle of Britain day over London. Then the atomic bomb was dropped over Japan and the war ended, so my task ended there. I finished up with the Central Fighter Establishment for a short time before being released from the Air Force onto the reserve in January 1946. I joined the Gloster Company, where my job was senior project test pilot on the Meteor IV development, which was the more powerful version just coming into service. The interesting part of that job was to actually prove the specially up-rated and prepared Meteor IV for the second of the RAF's world airspeed record attempts. After the war the Meteor already held the record and we were asked to prepare one that would go faster, so that they could win it again. In the process of these trials I got into a certain amount of problems with the aeroplane because it was flying right at its limits of compressibility. It was getting very close to transonic speed, and on one day, the speed recorded when corrected for temperature and all the rest of it, was 632 mph, which was a lot faster than the existing speed record. When we deduced this in the briefing, we realised that this was faster than the air force would be able to use the aeroplane, because it was too close to the danger point. The RAF was going to do its world speed record at about two hundred feet over the sea and at this speed there was a strong danger of loss of control, so that would have to be factored. We delivered the special Meteors to the RAF with the company recommended limitation of 616 mph. Teddy Johnstone then established the record at 616.5 mph or something, so it worked very well."
Bill: "I believe after a short while at De Havilland, you soon joined English Electric to work on the Canberra project, but before the Canberra came into operation you test flew Vampires. I hear that you had a very special way of signing off each successful test flight?"
Bee: "Well, I think these stories gain in the telling! Yes, I spent a short time with De Havilland whilst I was waiting for an experimental post, which came up when English Electric decided to employ me to undertake their B3/45 program for this country's first jet bomber, the Canberra. I worked on the design of that with the team for a couple of years and in the intermediate time I was flying the production aeroplanes that English Electric was building at the Samlesbury factory at Preston under De Havilland Vampire contract. That was a lot of fun - I flew something over 450 Vampires at that time - it was a nice light, lively, little aeroplane, probably not a very good, potential fighter because of its very short range, but it was good to fly. I think I used to sign off at Samlesbury by doing a fast run across the aerodrome and pulling it up into a half-loop and as I rolled off the top, lowered the undercarriage during the roll. That's probably what the story was."
Bill: "It's still a legendary memory to some people that were there, which brings us nicely onto the Canberra itself. The aircraft, which probably brought you your very first real fame as a test pilot, especially with the first test flight on 13 May. An unlucky day for some people as it was a Friday, but not for you! Nine years to that day, you shot down your first enemy aircraft, so not a superstition with you. Would you like to tell us about your time with the Canberra? Possibly the delivery to Binbrook, which is still remembered by people who were there, and was talked about for days afterward."
Bee: "I remember that one too, for different reasons. The Canberra of course was a wonderful experience for all of us who were involved in it. I mean there are highs and lows in every sort of activity, and aviation has lots and lots of highs and its fair share of lows. In post-war British aviation, this was the beginning of the jet era. The jet engine had been known since the war but really practical jet aircraft had not come forward in any great numbers. By 1944/45/46 there was the prospect that the RAF was going to have two types of jet fighter and at least four types of jet bomber, so as not to be too big a step forward - there was to be a two-engined bomber roughly cast as a Mosquito replacement. English Electric were tasked with designing the twin, the Canberra, and my task was to take charge of the test flying programme, and as you rightly say, it was my first full programme to take an aircraft from its first flight onwards. I'd done a lot of experimental flying on Typhoons and Tempests during the war years, many hundreds of sorties in quite critical flight testing conditions, so as far as experience was concerned, I felt ready to do this. But there were some people about, saying this is this country's first jet bomber, how come it's being done by a pilot who's never done a first flight in his life? That's a prototype's first flight. That didn't worry me, and it didn't seem to worry my Boss, Chief Teddy Petter. When this aeroplane came to flight status, I had been working round it for a couple of years and I new it very well. I had a strong feeling of confidence that it was going to be a fine aeroplane, based on the fact that it was going to have Rolls-Royce's second generation of jet engine. They had already done one successful generation of centrifugal flow engines and this was their first axial flow engine, the Avon series. A lot of people thought that combining a brand new engine design with a brand new airframe design was a recipe for disaster, but Rolls-Royce were confident with their engine and Teddy Petter and the team were confident with their design. It surprised even me, on my first flight - this aeroplane was not an aeroplane that was going to turn round and bite or be a struggle to assess and find out about. It flew as if it had been flying for a hundred hours - it came off the ground at exactly the predicted speed with exactly the predicted stick forces, it was controllable with the fingertips, no muscle force and right from the first take-off, it was a delightful flying experience. One could talk about this for hours - we were at the breakthrough there, at the beginning of a new era. It started as it went on, to be a most exceptional aeroplane. We are talking about May 1949 and it's now the year 2000 and there are Canberras in the RAF today that will still be in service until 2005, I'm told. This is the first time the air force has had a type in service for fifty years, quite extraordinary!"
Bill: "That must fill you with pride."
Bee: "Well, it's a great feeling of satisfaction. We were a small dedicated team taking on a very high risk. We had all been recruited from all over the industry and had all given up jobs with well-established old firms to take on the new design for a company that had not built an aeroplane of its own design for over thirty years. Everybody thought that we were nuts - we knew that if the new type of aeroplane failed, then we would be out of a job, because the drawing office would be closed and there wouldn't be any English Electric design activity, so it was all there to be done and from that first flight onwards, it was obvious it was going to work. I was asked, after a couple of flights, to see the works manager at Preston, who was a crusty character by the name of Arthur Sheffield, a brilliant production engineer, whose main task during the war had been building hundreds of Halifaxes under licence from Handley Page, while in parallel building a great line of Diesel locomotives on the other side of Strand Road! He wasn't going to be impressed with any of these new-fangled things that had jet engines. Anyway, he sent for me and said in a broad Lancashire accent "Well, what's it like?" So I said "It's a very fine aeroplane, Mr Sheffield." He said "I know, but is it going to go into production?" So, being young and brash and having nothing to do, I said "I reckon it will probably be in production for ten years." He looked at me as if I was soft in the head, sort of "I'll believe that when I see it". Of course we were in production and rebuilding old aeroplanes to new standards for well over twenty years and the aeroplanes are still being refurbished to stay in service now."
Bill: "A true British success story, in which you played a major part. You also played a major part in selling them abroad, I believe."
Bee: "Of course it all blossomed - we took that aeroplane to Farnborough in September 1949 and by that time I had got one or two things up my sleeve, because I realised we had a bomber here that could do all the manoeuvres that a fighter could, and more. In some aspects we could actually out-manoeuvre the jet fighters of the day and we were damn near as fast as the fastest of them. So we broke into the Farnborough display scene with a display that I had worked out privately, out of sight of anybody up in Lancashire and nobody knew what was coming - they saw this bright blue painted, twin-engined bomber tearing around the airfield, inside the perimeter track, in vertical banked turns, pulling up into rolls off loops, coming down the runway doing rolls like a fighter and they were absolutely astonished. It hit the world's press and pretty soon after that we started having enquiries - we had a massive task ahead of us of two years testing to clear the aeroplane for its service with the RAF. We had all sorts of things in mind, like long distance record flights, Atlantic flights and so on. Right in the middle of all of this, in the year after Farnborough, we started to get enquiries from Australia and from America. In particular, the Americans wanted to evaluate the Canberra. They came to Warton with a very professional team led by their most senior experimental test pilot Colonel Al Boyd. They evaluated the aeroplane and didn't say a word about it, but I knew perfectly well what they were doing. They kept coming back, wanting to do more; they were exalted, thoroughly enjoying the aeroplane. They went back, and within a month, they were negotiating with the government for purchase of the Canberra for conversion to American standards. Now we, the Brits, had not sold a British aeroplane to America since the DH4 biplane of 1919. Here were the Americans, saying "we want it", but we learned that they wanted between three and four hundred - with the pressure to build the many hundreds on order for the RAF, we and the other sub-contractors had not got the capacity to add on this big American order in the same timescale. So the Americans said "Right, we'll build it under licence", so they insisted on negotiating a contract for licence-build and I went over to the States to test their first-build aircraft - that was a fascinating job. In all they built 440 and called it the B-57 Canberra - it became their most successful night interdictor in the Vietnam War and it served for twenty years in the USAF in the same way it served in the RAF."
Bill: "I believe that you once had a flight to America and back in the same day?"
Bee: "That was coincidental - we delivered an aeroplane to them in 1951, as a pattern, and I set up a world record across the Atlantic doing that. The following year we were investigating extending the range of the Canberra in a Mark V, which had for the first time integral fuel tanks in the wings and some more additional fuel. I was doing long range flights lasting four hours round and round the UK until we were getting giddy. We had an awful lot of flying to do and I said to the design people why don't we measure accuracy better than going round in triangular courses - do some straight line sorties. "Where to?", they said. I said Gibraltar would be one and Newfoundland could be one, across the Atlantic - the more we thought about it the more we realised that you could aim to take this across to Newfoundland in very quick time indeed, something in the order of four and a quarter hours. When you got there, it would only take about an hour to refuel it - if we had a team there to service it, you could turn it round and fly back the same day. So we could get two test legs in one day, economical use of the aeroplane and might pick up a bit of useful PR on the way. Once the public relations people got to hear about these flights, it became an enormous thing and the Aeronautical Society said that they were going to measure this as an official record and set up observers at each end. It all nearly got out of hand, but we still did it, and as you say, at the end of August 1952 we flew from Aldergrove near Belfast to Gander, Newfoundland, turned round, came back to Aldergrove and landed about teatime, ten hours and ten minutes for the round trip. The return trip actually averaged over 600 mph because on the way out we found a very high current of air known as a jetstream at the edge of the tropopause, so we slotted ourselves into that coming back and got blown all the way back to Ireland at 605mph - it wasn't as fast as Concorde but it was beginning to get close to what Concorde was going to do."
Bill: "I believe that this delivery ended in a special delivery from Buckingham Palace?"
Bee: "Oh yes - after we landed that day the press made a big thing out of it and it was all over television and radio and headlines the next day. Being hard-headed Lancashire engineers, we had flown back to Warton after Aldergrove, landing at about six-thirty in the evening. Being after hours there was only the Chief Engineer and one or two other enthusiastic engineers and the ground crew there to see us in - there was no great reception or anything, we didn't really expect it. We had a little chat - I think I am recorded on photographs somewhere as giving a little speech outside the aeroplane and looking rather embarrassed about it. Then we walked back to the offices and somebody came up and gave me a brown envelope - I said thanks and put it in my pocket. We were just about to go back home to our wives and explain where we had been all day when I put my hand in my pocket and found the envelope - I opened it and discovered it was a telegram from the Queen. It was a nice way to finish the day."
Bill: "That's wonderful recognition. You are quoted as one of the first pilots in the world to fly faster than the speed of sound, how did that come about?"
Bee: "I am tempted to say by coincidence, but you create a lot of your own luck in this life. I'll tell exactly what happened there, I did contribute to this and I had a lot of good luck on my side. In 1948, my chief engineer, Teddy Petter, seeing the onset of the B3/45 Canberra trials coming up in the next year, and knowing that I was keeping myself in practice on Vampires, thought it would be a good idea if I went over to the States to experience some of their first big jets. Now this was the time that they had three big four-engined jet bombers coming out. There was the B-47 Stratobomber; there was the B-48 Martin straight-wing thing and the B-45 Tornado straight-wing replacement for their medium bomber class, the Martin Marauder and things like that. An application was made by our ministry for me to go over and evaluate these aeroplanes on a quid-pro-quo promise that their USA test pilots would be given an opportunity to evaluate our new jet bomber when things were suitable for them to do so. So, off I went duly briefed - I went over to the states to report to the British Joint Services Commission in Washington, where I was met with gloomy voices and was told that the B-47 was still in contractor trials and hadn't been released to the air force, so I wouldn't get a chance to fly that. The B-48 was on lay-up for major servicing and I wouldn't get to fly that, but I would be able to fly the B-45, the North American medium bomber over in Muroc, which is now called Edwards Air Force Base in California. Then a thought struck me - while I was in the Joint Services Commission I learned that a gentleman by the name of Scott Hall, who was the director of the RAE at Farnborough, who I knew was visiting Washington. I found out where he was staying and rang the hotel. I said "I am only getting one of them, that's why I am ringing you, Sir." I explained to him that it was a long way to come to fly just one aeroplane and be interesting but I do happen to know, and I am sure you do, that the North American XP-86, that's the Sabre prototype, is at the same airbase at Muroc where the word is going around that it has just been flown supersonic for the first time. How would it be if we made a pitch for an evaluation flight on that to replace these bombers that I am not going to fly? "Ooh", said Scott, "that's a tall one. I'll try it on but I doubt if you'll get anywhere with it." Well, he was a very persuasive man and the following day he rang me at my hotel and said "You'll have to be slippery about this - you are going to be cleared for one flight only on the XP-86, there are only two of them, just the first and second prototypes. You are going to get one flight and, my golly, you mustn't bust it or there'll be the devil to pay!" So I said I understood, went over to Muroc and had two days flying the B-45, which was a fine interesting aeroplane, but I thought inferior in its operational capabilities to the Canberra, which we hadn't yet flown but that proved to be the case. Then I went over to the other side of North America and there was this gleaming swept wing fighter, the first time I had seen an aircraft with swept back wings other than a brief glimpse of a ME262 in Germany, and that's what I was going to fly. I had a session with the test pilot George Welsh who was a marvellous man - I got on with him at once, we spoke the same language. He told me that this was a particularly critical time to come and fly it because Chuck Yeager had been more or less credited with being the first man to fly at the speed of sound with the Bell XS-1, but this was on the strict instructions of the Pentagon, since this was a government sponsored programme.
"North American had been ordered by the Pentagon not to announce the fact that they had flown the Sabre at the same time as the XS-1 and probably even a few days earlier - that had been suppressed because the XS-1 had to be seen to be the first one to achieve the speed of sound and with a USAF test pilot, Chuck Yeager. So I said this was jolly interesting and he said "Well, it's more interesting than that, because since all that happened the USAF has been saying they want to fly it too." About a month before I got there an American test pilot had reached Mach 1 in the Sabre and now it was my turn. I had a very good briefing; I knew exactly what to do and how to do it. I wasn't told that I could fly at Mach 1, but I thought this is a chance in a million, I'll do it. It was a very straight forward aeroplane, wonderful to fly and I saw Mach 1 on the Mach meter. In the debriefing afterwards there was a certain amount of confusion and George Welsh, the project pilot, said "This is going to cause a ruckus when it gets around!" I said I hope it wouldn't cause embarrassment, and he said "No problem, we've handled these things before. Undoubtedly, you're the third chap to have done it in this aircraft; I don't think the authorities gave us the authority to tell you to do it." So I said "Well, you didn't tell me to do it did you? You just told me it had done that and I didn't see any reason why I shouldn't have a go", and that's the way we left it. Then years went by and I was fascinated to see earlier this year the book called 'Aces Wild' by Al Blackburn, who was a colleague test pilot for the North American company working with George Welsh who wrote his memoirs last year. He's recounted all of this and made it absolutely clear that in his view, the P-86 achieved Mach 1 a few days before Chuck Yeager did it in the XS-1 and this Brit Beamont did it May 1948, so an interesting story."
Bill: "That sets the record very nicely and also brings us nicely on to the second aircraft, which you will always be related to, the P1 Lightning. I would like to explore your pre-production and your first flights at Mach 1, Mach 2 and possibly Saudi Arabia."
Bee: "There again, the P1 and Lightning era was absolutely splendid. I have always recognised that I was one of the luckiest guys I know, because I always seemed to be doing things which I particularly wanted to do at that time. Now in the 1950s we in this country did not have a supersonic fighter - we had a number of prototypes that were capable of achieving transonic speed in a vertical or very steep dive, but we didn't have anything with true supersonic performance. The only possibility was the last design effort of Teddy Petter, my chief on the Canberra, who before he retired from the Company, had launched the programme for Britain's first transonic aeroplane, the English Electric P1, which was built to specification F3/49 for a research aircraft capable of Mach 1.2 with factors and characteristics suitable for development into an operational fighter at a later stage. Well, I was in on the ground floor on that one and I worked with the design team and saw this thing developing and began to prepare for what was going to be the first supersonic aircraft this country had produced. It was designed with sixty degrees of wing sweep, a very sharp wedge and the most highly swept wing that anybody had ever seen - a lot of people wondered if this was going to be very good. Some people at the RAE particularly thought that the severity characteristics envisaged by our particular design were very questionable and they strongly advised the ministry to alter our shape and replace the low tail-plane relative to a high wing that we had with a high tailplane on top of the fin. Our aerodynamicist rejected this, saying that it would be dangerous - it would be fatal, it was quite exactly the wrong thing to do! The RAE insisted, so they built a low-speed, full-scale model in the configuration of the Short SB5 to test the theories out. Briefly, flying that aeroplane as I did - I did twenty-three flights in it - I showed that the English Electric theory of aerodynamics, the P1, was right and the RAE version was wrong, so we stuck to our own tail-plane position.
"When we came to the first flight, which we did at Boscombe Down in August 1954, instead of being a way-out hairy experience in a frightening new shape, capable of incredible speeds, it was a straightforward pleasant, traditional responsive aeroplane. In fact all the products of English Electric's design office from the 1940s right through to today have been world leaders, absolutely superb. In brief, the P1 was delightful to fly, I had a very good first flight in it. It went on so fast that we had it transonic on its second flight and supersonic on its third flight, in level flight. The first time over Britain, in a British aeroplane in perfect fingertip control, it was delightful to fly and I went barreling down the Solent on an August day at about 40,000 ft with the Mach meter at about 1.02 or 1.03. It felt sufficiently safe and lively to think about doing aerobatics in it - I didn't quite obviously, but it felt good enough. What I did do, as I was running out of fuel pretty quickly, was to turn it back onto a reciprocal heading to go back to Boscombe to land - I turned it over to a ninety-degree bank at supersonic speed and pulled it right through at 2 - 2 ½ G until pointing back towards Boscombe and becoming subsonic. That was the first operational sort of manoeuvre on that supersonic aeroplane on only its third flight! So, it was a beautiful, beautiful experience and it went on to successfully achieve Mach 1.5 - it was only designed for 1.2, but it was that sort of aeroplane. It then progressed to the P1b, which was the fighter version of it, essentially the same looking aeroplane with big Rolls-Royce engines of nearly twice the power. That was a wonderful experience - the original homing archangel on take-off! It did a full power climb from take-off straight up to the tropopause, reaching this at 30,000 ft in about two and a half minutes from brakes off - within another thirty seconds it was supersonic. That is supersonic in less than three minutes on its first flight! A wonderful aeroplane - it went on to become a great favourite of RAF fighter pilots, who reckoned it was the next best thing to a Spitfire and four times as fast! We had that aeroplane, the prototype P1b, to Mach 2, twice the speed of sound by 1958, thereby becoming the first British aeroplane to achieve twice the speed of sound."
Bill: "Am I right in thinking that was on one of your birthdays?"
Bee: "No, that was in November 1958, my birthday is in August. So the Lightning was, in its own way, a reflection or a repetition of the great success story of the Canberra. It was a wonderful fighter aeroplane, but it was limited by the lack of foresight of the government in failing to invest in what they had got and developing into future generations - they cut it off and spent the money on buying the Phantom and then made the cardinal error of saying we'll put British engines in it. If they had bought the Phantom with the original American engines in, it would have been fine. But they put Rolls-Royce Speys in, which cost a fortune to re-engineer, ending up making it slower and gaining nothing by doing it at all, but there you are."
Bill: "After your success with the Lightning with, I believe, over 1,000 hours of supersonic flight, you then became involved with the TSR 2."
Bee: "Not 1,000 hours - I did 1,200 supersonic flights but it wasn't 1,000 hours."
Bill: "You then became involved in what was to become the great white hope, the TSR2 - how special was this aircraft and what did you personally achieve with it?"
Bee: "Well, that was very, very great - everything about TSR2 was great. It was a great endeavour - it was a great achievement, it was a great management cock-up and it was an enormous political disaster. The famous White Paper of 1957 came up with the brilliant idea that the RAF didn't need supersonic aircraft after the Lightning and the defence of this country was all going to be done by fixed-based missiles. Duncan Sandys really should have been made to suffer for this, for doing what he did then, but in the process of stopping the progressive development of British aviation, we'd made an enormous step forward with the Lightning which was one of the world's most successful supersonic aeroplanes. The next generation could have, and should have been, a tremendous advance on that - we would have become world beaters. But he stopped all of that by cancelling it and the industry went into reverse and couldn't do any more work on supersonic aircraft. Two years after that disaster, it had been recognised and almost surreptitiously, because without admitting that they had got it wrong, the government instructed the requirements branch to issue a specification for a replacement for the Canberra. It wasn't really a replacement for the Canberra, it was actually a reconnaissance aeroplane with strike capability, and it became known as the Tactical Strike Reconnaissance specification TSR2. We were all told in the industry the policy had now changed and the RAF was now going to have a supersonic aircraft again. We had lost two years, but the rest of the world hadn't.
"The Americans were developing very fast - they had got an aeroplane in this particular role, the F-111, coming along fast and no way were they going to be zapped by the British as they had been with the Canberra - this was very apparent. In the industry English Electric, based on five variants of supersonic Lightnings, put forward a confident programme for the development of this aeroplane for TSR2 requirement called the P17. It was a low-level strike and reconnaissance aeroplane with supersonic capability and hush-hush not mentioned nuclear capability, terrain-following sideways-looking radar, all that sort of thing that was necessary. Vickers put forward a proposal on similar lines and I think Hawker did. The ministry sucked their teeth for a little while and then they said "Well, in fact we are going to have the Vickers design", which was absolutely crazy because it didn't seem to be right at all, but then we read on - it said but redesigned to the basic concept of the English Electric P17. In other words, Vickers was being told to do the job but to build it as English Electric had designed. It sounds crazy, but it actually happened - we at Warton just couldn't believe our ears.
"I was a Deputy Director at the time and used to attend all of these important meetings to listen to these debates and I wondered what was going on. The next bombshell came; the prime contract was to be given to Vickers Supermarine with English Electric having a subsidiary role and a third company named for the engine. We said Vickers knew nothing about supersonics, they had never built a supersonic aeroplane, they had nobody from the floor cleaner to the chief aerodynamicist that knew a thing about supersonic design - how could this happen? We knew everything that'd been done in this country, no one else had done it, we had the whole cell of knowledge here, twenty years of it, but none of this worked. Eventually, the industry was told that you would not get this TSR2 contract unless you amalgamate and combine the forces with Vickers in the lead - English Electric to do with the airframe and Bristol to do the engine. So the contract was signed up, and at the time there was not a management or design organisation in existence to carry out the contract. That was the second stage, to form the organisation that could do it. I've said this before, Gilbert & Sullivan may have had a word for it, but it wasn't normal business practice or industry practice - anyway, it was decided that this was what was going to be done and it was done. Then with the best will in the world, some of the world's best engineers and administrators got together and struggled through to build an organisation that could cope with this and, in parallel, to design and develop this very advanced aeroplane.
"To cut a long story short, it did get out in the shape of an aeroplane onto Boscombe Down airfield about eighteen months later than the original predicted date and by August 1964 it was ready to fly. There were an awful lot of technical difficulties that occurred on the way, some of them predictable due to the unbalanced design organisation, some not so predictable but one major area of problems - the engine. We at English Electric had very strongly advocated the development of the Rolls-Royce series of engines for this aeroplane, but that was turned down by the ministry. Basically it was done to provide work for the Bristol area and it was given to Bristol to develop the Olympus, which they said was not going to be a new engine but a development - in fact it was a new engine. In the stages of introducing it to the TSR2 a whole series of catastrophic failures occurred - at least three engines were blown up in the year prior to the first flight of the aircraft - one in the Vulcan flying test bed, which destroyed the aircraft. The ministry said "Bad luck, we can't afford another test aircraft, so you'll have to manage without one." When we got to the flight stage, the cause of these catastrophic failures was understood, but it had not been cured. I was given the interesting proposition of accepting for the first flight of this airframe, on my decision alone. There was a major meeting at which this was debated all day and I was given the casting vote, as the pilot to say whether I would fly it or not and it was for an engine that had not got a certificate of airworthiness to fly. There were ways that it could just be flown with a certain high degree of risk, but nobody would accept responsibility for it and I spelt out to the meeting exactly what risk we were going to take if we flew it. I said that in view of the mounting political pressures on this programme, it might be considered acceptable to take this level of risk for one flight only. But if we did then I would suggest that we do not fly again until we have fully adequately modified engines for the programme. They agreed and we flew the next day. Well - the flying - a fantastic aeroplane! You would expect it as the aerodynamics and controls and basic control systems were the product of the English Electric supersonic team at Warton, and they got it absolutely right again. To quote the words of my friend and deputy Jimmy Dell who flew it with me, "This aeroplane flies just like a big Lightning." Fantastic - it was a wonderful experience.
"We were only allowed twenty-three flights in it because of the difficulties, with technicalities and so on. We weren't able to retract the undercarriage until the tenth flight, which limited the test flying enormously - on the tenth flight we got the undercarriage away properly, did two cycles. On a conventional programme we would probably have been required to land, put the aircraft up on jacks, check the recycling of the gear, see that everything was fine, then prepare it to fly again. But no - after getting the gear to work twice, with all lights working right, I went straight out to the far extent of the test programme at that time. It had a flight resonance clearance of 500 knots for that state of the flying; I took it out in stages to 500 knots on that flight. The first time we had got the undercarriage up, it was simply superb - I was so confident in it. I ended up over Boscombe Down where the weather was very bad - I had got Don Bowen in the back, not quite sure what was going on, with Jimmy Dell flying chase in the Lightning, trying to keep up with me in the rain and low cloud. I brought it round Boscombe's circuit thinking "This aeroplane is designed to contour fly at high speed, so let's see what it does." I brought it down Boscombe's runway at a hundred feet around 450 knots and the precision - it had beautiful control, I was able to relax and take my hands off the controls if I'd wanted to - it was perfect. We were onto what appeared to be a magnificent technical breakthrough, which should have gone into service with the RAF in the seventies and provided them with an aircraft that with updating would have been in service today and would have had all the abilities and the modern developed equipment of the Tornado, but it would have much further range and a lot faster!"
Bill: "When your role finished as a Director of British Aerospace, with the closing of the TSR2 programme, you took up responsibility for the other side of the business."
Bee: "Yes, after the TSR2 cancellation I was promoted to full Director on the main board at Warton. I continued in charge of the flight operations department for managing the airport, looking after the interests of the test pilots. Jimmy Dell took over flying responsibilities from me, although I stayed flying Lightnings for a few years after that - pre-production flying, keeping my hand in. I flew the Jaguar a bit, but Jimmy was the chief test pilot. One of my board responsibilities after the TSR2 cancellation was to fire many loyal, capable and brilliant engineers. We stuck our necks out and pushed very hard to export the Lightning anywhere we could, but we were blocked by the Government from exporting to Germany - that's another story, a sad story. The official policy was that they wanted to sell the Saunders-Roe rocket fighter - they saw the Lightning as a challenge to that so they told the Bonn government not to deal with English Electric but to concentrate on the Saunders Roe project.
"One of my jobs was to take part in the initial stages of exporting the Lightning to Saudi Arabia, who hadn't got a supersonic air force and they were negotiating with the Americans to take them into the supersonic era. We thought nothing ventured, nothing gained, so we went and challenged the Americans who were offering the F-104 Starfighter with the Lightning. To cut a long story short, with the help of a fine demonstration by my colleague Jimmy Dell who took an air force Lightning in there, we got the contract to supply a force of Lightnings and a force of Strikemaster jet trainers and all the basics of flying training. Starting from an English language school and a medical centre, it was a tremendous programme and I was lucky enough to go in there right at the beginning and go hot-bedding around the various air force bases in the desert, right down to Kamiss Mashade on the North Yemen border and over to Dhahran on the Gulf. I flew Lightnings out in the desert to gain experience of what it was like in the intense heat. It was a fascinating programme and it started off with the initial programme in 1965 - it was renewed after five years, then ten years and every ten years since then. For the last thirty years it has been recorded officially as the biggest-earning export programme ever. Without English Electric and the Lightning we wouldn't have got in there."
Bill: "So with yourself and the English Electric Company, you really created a great deal for this country…"
Bee: "Well, English Electric certainly has, I was just one of a great team."
Bill: "Whilst you were flying the Lightning, around the same time I believe you were starting to get into flying the older gentler aircraft, with the Shuttleworth collection?"
Bee: "Yes - in the seventies Alan Wheeler, who I knew well from when I was testing the P1 at Boscombe Down whilst he was commandant there, was chairman of the Shuttleworth Trust and he looked after the vintage aeroplanes that are kept at Old Warden in beautiful vintage condition as they are today. He said "Come on, we want some pilots, come and join us!" So for ten lovely years I used to go down there and fly things like the Bristol fighter, Sopwith Pup, Avro Tutor, even the English Electric Wren that I had flown before, and the SE5a, which was a lovely aeroplane. The intriguing thing about it was you were flying in vintage WWI circumstances - an old grass airfield with old hangars, no mod cons - no radar, no radio, just a man with an Aldis lamp to give you a signal. I did enjoy that, they were lovely flights."
Bill: "Very relaxed times. One last question, since your retirement, I see you began a new career as an author. What motivated you to put your memoirs into book form?"
Bee: "Well, I think two things - I think that aviation has been my life; I mean that sounds like a pompous statement, but it has, ever since I was a schoolboy I wanted to fly. I used to go to Tangmere from my home in Chichester, sit on the edge of the airfield and watch the chaps, who later became very good friends of mine, flying those glorious Hawker Fury biplane fighters - wonderful aeroplanes with shiny polished cowlings. I used to think to myself "I've got to do that" and I've been thinking it ever since. I have been lucky enough to fly at every stage of my flying life, to fly the aeroplanes I wanted to fly most at that time. I never got posted off to be an instructor - I would have made a very bad instructor! I never got posted to Bomber Command, of which I am thoroughly thankful, because I most probably would not have survived. The courage and ability of those Bomber Command chaps in World War II are absolutely beyond imagining. I was always grateful for not getting in to that, largely because I did not want to fly bombers.
"I didn't want to fly big heavy bus driving activities, I wanted to fly fighters. I was lucky - I flew Hurricanes, Typhoons, Tempests and then a brief period on a bomber that was better than the fighters of its time, the Canberra, and then the world's best supersonic fighter in the 1960s, the Lightning, and after that the TSR2, which in its way was like a great big wonderful fighter to fly. So I've always enjoyed what I was doing. When it came to leave the saddle, I finally reluctantly gave up my flying of jets in 1968 and I went on flying the light aeroplanes for another ten years. After that I had a little aeroplane of my own. When it came to stopping flying entirely I realised that there were an awful lot of books being written by people who were not getting their facts right. It made me cringe when I read about things that I knew about, sometimes things that I had only taken part in and I found the authors had not researched them properly and weren't getting it right, so I thought that I had a few things that I can say about. Things in my flying life that I enjoyed doing - the aeroplanes that I enjoyed most, and in passing, here and there, I could correct some of the inaccuracies the other authors had put in about these aeroplanes. It developed from there - the books attracted the enthusiasts, they said "More", so I wrote more. I started to extend my writings from just about aeroplanes to events associated with aeroplanes and basically that is what I do. I write about things that have interested me during my flying life and now, specifically, I tend to angle them towards passages in books that have written about the same things but have got it wrong. I try to set the history straight - I may make many of my own mistakes but at least I correct the mistakes of many others. Having said that - perhaps I should explain - I only write corrections about things that have appeared in print, from documentary evidence. If I am quoting dates and places, I get it from my own logbooks. I don't do it speculatively; I do it by establishing the facts."
Bill: "Wing Commander Beamont, thank you very much for your time this afternoon."
Bee: "Thank you, I have enjoyed it."
Copyright Newark Air Museum. This year's Newark Air Museum Tribute to the Canberra event is this weekend 21/22 May at the Newark Air Museum site, Winthorpe airfield, Newark-on-Trent.