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Norfolk's magnificent autogyro specialist has sights on new record

PUBLISHED: 12:00 09 June 2010 | UPDATED: 15:57 07 July 2010

Ken Wallis.

Ken Wallis.

Ben Woods

He's Norfolk's magnificent man in his flying machine whose incredible collection of hand built autogyros has seen him soar into the annals of history.

And at the amazing age of 94 years young, Ken Wallis, MBE, is hoping to re-write the history books again by attempting another world aviation record in his twin propeller machine.

He's Norfolk's magnificent man in his flying machine whose incredible collection of hand built autogyros has seen him soar into the annals of history.

And at the amazing age of 94 years young, Ken Wallis, MBE, is hoping to re-write the history books again by attempting another world aviation record in his twin propeller machine.

The retired RAF wing commander wants to reach a new break neck pace of 140 mph over 3km and shatter the previous world speed record he set in 2002 when his autogyro reached 129.1 mph over the same distance.

The attempt will take place on Sunday July 4 to coincide with the centenary celebration of the first flight of the Walbro monoplane - a revolutionary tubular steel aircraft designed and flown by his father, Horace, and his uncle, Percy.

But before the intrepid pilot can train his sights on the attempt, he has some red tape to fly through.

However, as determined as ever Wing Cmdr Wallis is confident he can overcome the hurdle.

Despite being the first instructor and examiner for the autogyro, and being awarded a fellowship into the Society of Experimental Test Pilots by Prince Andrew, the Civil Aviation Authority is still asking him to gain a permit to test his aircraft before any official attempts can be made.

Currently the CAA restricts certain configurations of autogyros to a maximum speed of 70 mph - half the speed Wing Cmdr Wallis is hoping to clock.

Dressed as sharply as his wit, Wing Cmdr Wallis explained the situation while leading a tour group from The Norfolk Golf and Country club, who made him an honorary member on Monday, to the building where he keeps his autogyros on his Reymerston Hall estate.

“I am still waiting for the paper work to come through, but they are very negative,” he said, strolling down a gravel path that cuts through a copse of trees.

“It looks like they might send someone down here that has never flown an autogyro to test it. The last thing I want is someone having a nasty accident and crashing my aircraft.”

The legislation put in place clearly aggravates the man who has been a pilot for 73 years and met similar hurdles as a youngster when an eyesight defect nearly disqualified him from becoming a pilot.

But it did not take long for his mood to soften, and when he pulled back the sliding door on a large grey outhouse he swelled with pride as “his girls” are revealed - a collection of twenty auto gyros kept in immaculate condition.

“This is my Harem,” Wing Cmdr Wallis, said with a wry smile. “I have ones that are good at working and ones that can give you a bit more excitement.”

Perhaps the most exciting auto-gyro on display in the mini-hangar, come museum, is a replica of 'Little Nellie', the heavily armoured aircraft he flew as Sean Connery's stunt double in the 1967 James Bond film, You Only Live Twice.

Elsewhere the walls are adorned with photographs, papers, and gadgetry that collate the epic achievements he has made as an aviator and an engineer.

There are toy racing cars he designed to speed and spark along a metal track before the invention of Scalextric, aerial photographs from reconnaissance exercises, press pictures of the Wellington bomber he crash landed, and details of his expeditions to find both the Loch Ness monster and Lord Lucan.

Although these events from a charmed life are awe inspiring enough, the real admiration comes from seeing Wing Cmdr Wallis doing what he loves the most - flying.

Pulling and pushing an auto gyro called the Zeus three to his own airstrip, the tour group were given a sight to remember as he gunned the engine and once again became the god of the Norfolk skies.

If the roar of the engine failed to silence any doubters who thought Wing Cmdr Wallis could not break another world speed record, then the sight of him flying with no hands and no feet certainly would.

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