The Beamont Files
|Copyright Newark Air Museum
Photograph credits - Newark Air Museum Archive via R Beamont 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 for the museum. Bill O'Sullivan and David Collins eventually recorded the interview at Bee's home on Sunday March 13th 2000. The video was subsequently 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 November 19th 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's opening comments: "Thank you for letting us attend your home to carry out this interview with you. I would like to ask you, during today, various questions about your lifelong contribution towards Britain's Aviation History and also your role during World War 2. To try and cover 40 years in just a few short moments will prove difficult but we will try and do our best."
Bill: "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 4 squadrons in the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force, and they were 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 I was a junior pilot, and whenever the weather was good enough to fly, the senior pilots seemed to get the flying and I didn't. So when the Blitzkreig broke out on May 10th 1940, I hadn't really much time on Hurricanes, I doubt if I had flown 50 hours, but got into combat rather quickly during the next few days and had my first combat flying actually from Lille on around about the 12th 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, then reported to my flight commander, he 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!" (Laughing) It was that sort of combat and 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 and on the 19th May, I think it was, we had only 4 Hurricanes left, and those of us who hadn't got a Hurricane were flown back to the U.K. 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 when 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 and 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 5 enemy aircraft."
Bee: "Well, I was credited with 5 by the end of the battle. In my squadron, it's difficult perhaps to appreciate this, now, 60 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 2 attacks on aeroplanes which 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 6 months of that work, my squadron made about 4 attacks and got only 2 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 100 trains by moonlight, of which I attacked 25 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 in World War 2, you were seconded to Hawker Aircraft. What were your roles there?"
"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, with that Hurricane squadron I got them working at night. 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 to me" Your operational tour is up, Bee, you have two alternative postings", I said what are they? He quoted the wrong one for me first; he said " it says here to go as personal assistant to the Commander in Chief, Fighter Command."I thought this is a staff job right at the top level and 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? P.A. to the C-in-C." I said, No I don't really want that, He said, well it says here, you can go on the special duties list to Hawkers as a Test Pilot. I was amazed and that's the job I took. I went to Hawkers, 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 and 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 4 flights from first flight to delivery. They had most trials done in 3 and I soon got into the swing of things and enjoyed it. During the process, my log book records that I undertook 11 Hurricane test flights between 1 in the morning and 4pm. 11 in the day, which was quite busy and a pint at the local was quite welcome afterwards."
Bee in his Hawker Typhoon PR-G (RR7752).
|Bill: "When you had done your next tour, on Typhoons, they called you back for another rest at Hawkers for a lot more test flying?"
Bee: While I had been at Hawkers, 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, 23 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 Hawkers, they posted me to one of the first Typhoon squadrons, first as a flight commander and then after a few months they gave me command of a squadron, that was 609 sqdn, on which we developed the ground attack method by moonlight, which I spoke about earlier, and it became an extremely successful squadron and went on to great things."
It was one of the key squadrons in the invasion of Europe, 2 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 with that squadron, the powers that be, without any hint from me, posted me back to Hawkers 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 Hawkers 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 and 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 and I hoped very much that I would get onto this new Tempest, that I had been testing, and the Air Officer Commanding 11th Group 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 wandering whether that, as my tour with Hawkers 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 3 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, yourself again had to devise tactics against this weapon."
Bee: "Yes, that's quite true, but when Hugh Saunders, he went by the wonderful nickname, in the service, as 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 said "I want you now, without further delay, to go down to Kent and look at 3 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 " its rather a long way from the area I had in mind, sir" because I new, though I wasn't supposed to, that he new, that I knew 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 3 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 was the expected flying bomb, he said, " our intelligence is getting better all the time, we expect the attack to take place before D-Day, that was the Normandy Invasion plan. Because they would try to attack London as a diversion. But 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 be able to do the V1 operation very well with the Tempest, 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 and 2 days afterwards we encountered ME109s for the first time and we shot down 3 out of the formation, the first enemy aircraft shot down by the Tempest, and we thought we were going to be in for an exciting Summer, supporting the invasion going up through Europe. Then on June 16th 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 5a.m. on that morning, Bob Cole, my number 2 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 100 in less than 2 weeks, our first 200 in 3 weeks and 500 in 4 and a half weeks. By the end of the V1 campaign, it was very hot that summer, the fighters had shot down (let me see, I must get these numbers exactly right) the fighters had shot down over 700 flying bombs of which my wing of Tempests, with 3 Squadrons, had shot down 638."
Bill: "Very successful tactics."
Bee: "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 Tempests, 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 5 days to re-equip and sort ourselves out and we flew across to join the 2nd Tactical Airforce. First at Brussels at the end of September and then after a couple of weeks there, moved up to Volkel in Holland which was the most forward main base of the 2nd TAF and only about 11 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 and started 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 ability to get up and intercept our activity and we had a lot of combats, very quickly, during the process, I new that ground attack was going to come into our curriculum, but at that time it was air to air combat over the Rhein. But one day, a ground attack schedule came into my operations caravan and it called for a sortie up to the airbases around Hannover, 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 straffe if they could, straffe 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 and the Tempests were most successful at it. Well, as luck would have it, on the way out I was given on my brief, targets of opportunity and on the way there 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 and 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 3 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, which had been very active in Stalag Luft 3, 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, the Russians eventually let you go to the Americans to be flown home. 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 and then I was given a brief job of forming and commanding the first Tempest 2 Wing. That's a Wing of Tempests with Centaurus Radial engines, which were aimed at going out to join the Far East Forces, 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, and our Tempests were very enjoyable aeroplanes. 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. Joining the Gloster Company where my job was the senior project test pilot on the Meteor 4 development of the Meteor, which was the more powerful version, just coming into service. The interesting part of that job, was to actually prove the specially uprated and prepared Meteor 4 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 found it very interesting, 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 632mph, which was a lot faster than the existing speed record, and 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 Air Force were going to do their world speed record at about 200 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 Air Force with the company recommended limitation of 616 M.p.h. 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 Havillands, 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 DeHavillands 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 were building at the Samlesbury factory at Preston, the 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 of the half loop, lowering 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 May 13th. An unlucky day for some people as it was a Friday, but not for you. 9 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, your special delivery to Binbrook."
Bee: "I remember that one too, for different reasons, yes; 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. The Mosquito being the very famous and very successful light bomber that the airforce had. English Electric were tasked with designing the twin, the Canberra and my task was to take charge of the test flying program, and as you rightly say, it was my first full program 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 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, so we were all as happy as Larry, so on we went with this thing. 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 100 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 break through 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 Canberra's in the RAF today that will still be in service until 2005, I'm told. This is the first time the airforce has had a type in service for 50 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 and 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 30 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 100's of Halifax's under licence from Handley Page, while in parallel, building a great line of Diesel Locomotives on the other side of Strand Road, and 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 10 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 20 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, 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 new what was coming, they saw this bright blue painted, twin engined bomber, quite a large aeroplane by comparison, bigger than a Mosquito, 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 new perfectly well what they were doing. They kept coming back wanting to do more; they were exhaulted, 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 that the U.S.A. have. 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 and we learned that they wanted between 3/400 and then it was found that with the pressure to build the many hundreds on order for the RAF, I can't remember how many, but it was something like 1400. We and the other sub-contractors had not got the capacity to add on this big American order in the same time scale, 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 B57 Canberra and it became their most successful night interdictor in the Vietnam War and it served for 20 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 5. Which had for the first time integral fuel tanks in the wings and some more additional fuel. I was doing long range flights lasting 4 hours round and round the United Kingdom until we were getting giddy and 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, and 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 of 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, why not. So we could get two test legs in one day, economical use of the aeroplane and might pick up a bit of useful P.R 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, 10 hours and 10 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, we slotted ourselves into that coming back and got blown all the way back to Ireland, 605mph, it wasn't as fast as Concord but it was beginning to get close to what Concord 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, which was a big day, the press made a big thing out of it and it was all over television and radio and headlines in the press the next day. Being hard headed Lancashire engineers, the reception committee at RAF Warton, which we had got back to, after the press conference at Aldergrove we had flown back to Warton, landing at about 6-30 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, (laughing) we didn't really expect it. We had a little chat, I think I am recorded on photographs some where 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 and then we were just about to go back home to our wives and explain where we had been all day, I put my hand in my pocket and found the envelope and when I opened it I 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 3 big four engined Jet bombers coming out. There was the B47 Stratobomber; there was the B48 Martin straight wing thing and the B45 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, there are numerous things to this story which I haven't got time to tell you, 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 B47 was still in contractors trials and hadn't been released to the airforce, so I wouldn't get a chance to fly that. The B48 was on lay up for major servicing and I wouldn't get to fly that but I would be able to fly the B45, the North American medium bomber, they called it the Tornado, the first Tornado and that was over in Muroc which is now called Edwards Airforce Base in California. I had an appointment to go and report to the North American base at Muroc and I would be able to fly there. 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 R.A.E at Farnborough, who I knew, was visiting Washington, I found out where he was staying and rang the Hotel, he said you are going over to fly the American Bombers, and 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 XP86, 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 Hall 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 slippy about this, you are going to be cleared for one flight only on the XP86, there are only two of them, just the 1st and 2nd 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 understand that and went over to Muroc and had two days flying the B45, which was a fine interesting aeroplane, but I thought inferior in its operational capabilities to the Canberra, which we hadn't yet flown and that proved to be the case. But it was a very interesting experience."
|"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 all about it. 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 XS1, but this was on the strict instructions of the Pentagon, since this was a government sponsored program and 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 XS1 and probably even a few days earlier, that had been surpressed because it 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 is jolly interesting and he said well it's more interesting than that, because since all that happened the USAF had been saying look if you think that you have done one in the Sabre then we want to fly it too. So 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 only got one flight in it, I had a very good briefing, I new exactly what to do and how to do it. I wasn't told that I could fly at Mach 1, I thought this is a chance in a million, I'll do it and went up then, of course it was a very straight forward aeroplane, wonderful to fly and I saw Mach 1 on the Machmeter. 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 so I said I hope it won't cause embarrassment, he said no problem, we've handled these things before. He said 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 P86 achieved Mach 1 a few days before Chuck Yeager did it in the XS1 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 Mach1, Mach2 and possibly Saudi Arabia."
Bee with a production Lightning at Warton 1959.
|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 1950's, 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 program for Britain's first trans-sonic 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 60 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 in fact they strongly advised the ministry to alter our shape and replace the low tailplane 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 scale low speed, full scale model in the configuration the Short SB5 to test the theories out, briefly, flying that aeroplane as I did, (I did 23 flights in it) 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 like all the products of English Electric's design office had been, English Electric aerodynamics over the years from the 1940's 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 barrelling 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 was, as I was running out of fuel pretty quickly going full bore, high speed, to turn it back onto a reciprocal heading to go back to Boscombe, to land, I turned it over to a 90 degree bank at supersonic speed and pulled it right through at 2 to 2 ½ G until pointing back towards Boscombe and becoming subsonic and 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 achieving Mach1.5, it was only designed for 1.2 but it was that sort of aeroplane and it then progressed to the P1b which was the fighter version of it, which was essentially the same sort of looking aeroplane with big Rolls Royce Engines of nearly twice the power. That was a wonderful experience (laughing) the original homing archangel on take-off, it did a full power climb from take-off straight up to the tropopause reaching this at 30,000ft in about 2 ½ minutes from brakes off, within another ½ minute it was supersonic. That is supersonic in less than 3 minutes on it's first flight!"
Bill: "It was a fantastic aircraft."
Bee: "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 (laughing) 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, 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 with more advanced weapons system to replace it 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 Spey Engines in, which cost a fortune to re-engineer into the Phantom, ending up by making it slower and gained nothing by doing it at all, there you are."
Bill: "After your success with the Lightning with I believe over 1000 hours of subsonic flight, you then became involved with the TSR 2."
Bee: "Not subsonic flight, supersonic. Not 1000 hours, I did 1200 supersonic flights but it wasn't 1000 hours."
Bill: "I stand corrected, that is what I was hoping to say! 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. Again I haven't time to go through all of the details of that but to tell you briefly about it. The famous Duncan Sands 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. He 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 worlds 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, but it wasn't a replacement for the Canberra it was actually a reconnaissance aeroplane with strike capability 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, now the rest of the world hadn't. The Americans were developing very fast, they had got an aeroplane in this particular role, the F111 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 5 variants of supersonic Lightnings put forward a confidant program based on their successful Canberra years and their now successful Lightning years for the development of this aeroplane for TSR2 requirement, they called it 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 Hawkers 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 know nothing about supersonics, they have never built a supersonic aeroplane, they have no body from the floor cleaner to the chief aerodynamicist that knows a thing about supersonic design, how can this happen? We know everything that's been done in this country, no one else has done it, we have the whole cell of knowledge here, 20 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's to do the Engine. So the contract was signed up, and at the time the contract was signed, 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 in about 18 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 and one major area of problems, in the engine. We at English Electric had very strongly advocated the development of the Rolls-Royce series of engines for this aeroplane that was turned down by the Ministry. Basically it was done to provide work for the Bristol area and it was given to Bristol's to develop the Olympus, which they said was not going to be a new engine but a development but it was in fact a new engine.
In the stages of introducing it to the TSR a whole series of catastrophic failures occurred, at least 3 engines were blown up in the year prior to the first flight of the aircraft, one in the Vulcan flying test bed, and which destroyed the aircraft, so 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 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, 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 and I said that in view of the mounting political pressures on this program, it might be considered acceptable to take this level of risk for one flight only. But if we do that then I would suggest that we program that we do not fly again until we have fully adequately modified engines for the programme. They said that's it and we flew the next day. Well.. the flying….. a fantastic aeroplane, you would expect it with 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 23 flights in it. Because of the difficulties, with technicalities and so on. We weren't able to retract the undercarriage till the 10th flight, that limited the test flying enormously, on the 10th 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 and it was simply superb and I was so confident in it, I ended up over Boscombe Down, the weather was very bad and I had got Don Bowen in the back, not quite sure what was going on, Jimmy Dell was flying chase in the Lightning, trying to keep up with me in the rain, low cloud etc, and 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 Down runway at 100 ft at around about 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, and it was perfect. We were on to what appeared to be a magnificent technical break through which should have gone into service with the RAF in the 70's 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 plots, Jimmy Dell took over flying responsibilities from me, although I stayed flying Lightnings for a few years after that, preproduction flying, keeping my hand in and I flew the Jaguar a bit, but Jimmy was the chief test pilot. One of my board responsibilities, in the diversification which was very important after the TSR2 cancellation, we had 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 airforce and they were negotiating with the Americans to take them into the supersonic era and we thought well nothing ventured, nothing gained, and we went in and challenged the Americans who were offering the F104 starfighter and we offered them the Lightning. To cut a long story short, with the help of a fine demonstration by my colleague Jimmy Dell who took an airforce 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 airforce bases in the desert right down to Kamiss Mashade on the North Yemen border and over to Dhahran on the Gulf and I flew Lightnings out in the desert to gain experience of what it was like and the intense heat and all that sort of stuff. It was a fascinating program and it started off with the initial program in 1965, it was renewed after 5 years then renewed after 10 years and every 10 years since then. For the last 30 years it has been recorded officially as the biggest earning export program 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 have, 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 70's Alan Wheeler, I knew well from when I was testing the P1 at Boscombe Down whilst he was commandant there. He was chairman of the Shuttleworth trust and he looked after the vintage aeroplanes that are kept at Old Warden, beautiful vintage condition as they are today. He said come on we want some pilots, come and join us, so for 10 lovely years I used to go down there and fly things like the Bristol fighter, Sopwith Pup, Avro Tutor, even the English Electric Wren which I had flown before and the S.E.5A which was a lovely aeroplane and the intriguing thing about it was, you were flying in vintage WW1 circumstances, an old grass airfield with old hangers, no mod cons, no radar, no radio, just a man with an Aldis lamp to give you a signal with and these beautiful aeroplanes which were cosseted and could not be flown because to fly them would wear them out and they had got to be made to last for another 50 years. So what you had to do was to fly an aeroplane after 6 months of not flying it, go down, take off and fly it for a 5 or 6 minute demonstration in front of a crowd, land it and not fly it again until the next demonstration which was probably a month or more later. So you never got what was known as continuation training at all, every time you were flying from scratch as if you hadn't flown it for years. This added to the risk factor, I always believed they should have invested in safety more by saying that all of their demonstration pilots should have half a dozen landings on each type before they came to do a display, in the previous week or so. But they said no, we couldn't afford the flying time, so that's the way it goes, but 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 school boy 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 and 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 2 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 which was better than the fighters of its time, the Canberra, and then the world's best supersonic fighter in the 1960's, the Lightning and after that the TSR 2 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 I went on flying the light aeroplanes for another 10 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, I would start writing about 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, then 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: "Are there more books to come?"
Bee : "I am working on one at the moment."
Bill: "I very much look forward to it, Wing Commander Beamont, thank you very much for your time this afternoon."
Bee: "Thank you, I have enjoyed it."
A big thanks to Howard Heeley and the Newark Air Museum for the permission to publish this interview on The Hawker Tempest Page.
Archive via R Beamont