back to article Autogyro legend Ken Wallis hangs up wings at 97

Wing Commander Ken Wallis, who soared to international fame at the controls of James Bond's Little Nellie, has died at the age of 97. The former RAF Wellington bomber pilot passed away at his home in Norfolk on Sunday, the end of an illustrious career which saw him set the 3km speed record for autogyros (207.7km/h), and - most …


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  1. Jon Green

    Sorry to hear it.

    It's a testament to his skills as a flyer (and not without incidents) that he survived to die of old age! A remarkable pilot, a remarkable guy, and he'll be remembered fondly by many.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Good grief, I had not realized he was still alive.

    And now he is not.

    I will raise a glass to a man who had one hell of a ride.

  3. Jemma

    Requisat en pace

    Such a shame. They demonstrated an autogyro @ Clacton Airshow - shame the announcer left his knowledge in his other suit.

    One of the true specials & almost the last of a dying breed sadly.

    Fly a vickers Warwick inverted 70 years ago & you'd be regarded as a God - do the same thing today & you'd meet god (after being executed for crimes against health & safety)

    Build your own motorcycle then, or even aircraft, no one batted an eyelid. Try it now and the police will have you before you've found the screwdriver.

    It's bloody amazing we've made any progress at all. I wonder if we have to be honest. Sure we can fix almost any health problem but what's the point when the highlight of life is the release of the new iPhone. You can't even watch a sunrise because the minute you sigh with appreciation - some emotionally crippled little nerk will be on the phone to noise abatement...

    1. Dr Who

      Re: Requisat en pace

      and breath ..... I think you may need a holiday.

      I do agree though, they just don't make them like they used to.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Requisat en pace

      People build motorbikes all the time still. Some people still build planes. In fact most autogyros are home built. Health and safety has nothing to do with it. Nonsense like that takes away from what a legend Ken Wallis was. The only advantage he had then over now was more access to parts, but equally he didn't have access to allot of the knowledge we have now.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Requisat en pace

      Err Jemma, I built my own car, so you've lost me on your rant....think you mistook this site for the Daily Wail or Yahoo.

    4. Tom Samplonius

      Re: Requisat en pace

      "Try it now and the police will have you before you've found the screwdriver."

      Maybe in the UK, but in the the US you can get an experimental registration:

      For instance, someone took one of these,, and installed a turboprop engine instead of a piston engine.

  4. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

    What a great man

    Having seen him fly, that man could do things which just shouldn't be possible while using something that looks like it shouldn't fly at all. And to still be so active into such old age was brilliant.

    Great man, great loss.


  5. Ian Entwistle

    Met him when i was a nipper, a proper nice bloke who was more than happy to spend time to tell a snotty little 12 year old who was intrigued how it all worked. RIP

    1. Peter Simpson 1

      That's the mark of a great man - one who takes time to explain what's going on to interested kids.

      What a life -- but I disagree with the poster above that those days are gone. There are still folks building electric motorcycles in their sheds, along with electric conversions for cars and the random homebuilt aircraft.

      And let's not forget our own SPB team!

      The spirit is still alive, and we owe it to the meomory of those like Wallis (and ourselves) to get back in the shed and keep building!

      // the one with the aircraft drawings in the pocket...

      1. Jemma


        I built two 2 stroke GEBE kits myself. 25 miles at 35mph on all of 600mls of fuel.

        Stratified Charge engines - so almost zero pollution. Tuned pipe on the 32cc. A gallon of petrol would last me three months.

        checked with Police they said its fine. Until it wasn't & ended up getting verbally abused by two Colchester Traffic cops, points on my licence.. which I complained about.. and they promptly lied to me to make sure I'd not contact IPCC - I don't talk to IPCC they kill points... never an idea to promise the impossible

        funny how an ex cop gets off for hitting someone at 90+MPH ain't it?

        Yes I do need a holiday. My ideal location - Rome's Catacombs. Required equipment; night vision & ammo cheat chaingun; fellow travellers - the entire of essex police.

        vacation bliss... I'd say death would be too good, but...

        Freedom? what freedom? we aren't even allowed to control our own bodies let alone our own minds. Shame Emperor Nero isn't alive now - he could Facebook while society burns...

      2. William Boyle

        Innovation is still alive

        My grandson designs and builds RPVs, both fixed wing and rotary copters, that can be either ground controlled or fully autonomous. He designs (using CAD software on his Linux workstation) and builds all the parts (except the engines) and avionics gear himself - including all of the composite material crafting and mig/tig welding of other parts. He also designs and builds electric bicycles. Not bad for a dyslexic, diabetic 18 yo (actually 20 now, but was doing this at age of 12). When he was 8 he rewired his mom's (my daughter) kitchen radio so it could receive transmissions from his kid walky-talky in the back yard - "Hey mom, can I get a lemonade?"...:-)

        So, innovation isn't dead, but we need to do more to encourage and enable these young geniuses, and that means not restricting their imaginations so much as we do now.

        1. Ben Norris

          Re: Innovation is still alive

          Not dead at all. This is what hackspaces are all about. Kids just need the support to learn rather than be plonked in front of a console/tv.

  6. Paul Gomme

    Will be very sadly missed

    I had the pleasure of speaking to him once - completely engaging character who took plenty of time to talk. One of the proper "old school" characters. RIP.

  7. captaincinders

    Just had my first flight in an an autogyro couple of weeks back. So many advantages over a fixed wing and a helecopter i cannot understand why they have not taken ff commercially (apart from the good people at the CAA who cannt extract digit to give airworthiness certs)

    1. Michael Thibault

      >i cannot understand why they have not taken ff commercially

      Need to find that 'Goldilocks' application for the autogyro—and that's the thin edge of the wedge.

  8. SecretBatcave

    He is/was the only person I've met to have a scanning electron microscope *and* missiles in his garage.

  9. Wibble

    Look, no hands!

    That's the way to fly: no helmet, suit and all the other paraphernalia demanded by the H&S killjoys.

    Wouldn't it have been great to have had him as your granddad.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Look, no hands!

      A friend has an Autogyro, and I'm now going to suggest he can only fly it in a Tweed suit :-)

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Re: Look, no hands!

        With a pipe!

  10. Allonymous Coward

    RIP Ken Wallis

    Here's to an interesting and inspiring life, and I hope they have a beer ready for you in the great ready room in the sky.

  11. James Hughes 1


    I hadn't realised he was from Ely, which has my local city for 40 years. It's something I think I should have known.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Wallis was born on 16 April 1916" 16 4 16 sounds good but a few other sources such as the Telegraph (and Wikipedia) say 26th April 1916

  13. DJV Silver badge

    Lovely chap. Met him at a Dr Who event in Holt, Norfolk back in 2006 where the streets swarmed with daleks (along with a couple of dubious cybermen whose costumes were held together mainly by duct tape). I've got photos of him sitting next to Little Nellie and signing autographs for a queue of youngsters.

    Cheers Ken.

  14. Waldorf

    I recently saw a video of him crashing 'Little Nellie' at the Newtownards Air Show in 1986. He just got up and walked away, he was 70... We were discussing his age and wonder if he was still around. Very sad to hear he is no longer with us...

  15. JEM

    RIP Ken Wallis

    A friend and I had the pleasure of meeting Mr.Wallis in the 1970s. He showed us around his workshop at his home and described to us in great detail his achievements with the Autogyro. A very patient and smashing bloke who gave us a lot of his time.

    Sadly, they don't seem to make them like him any more.


  16. nsld

    An inspirational man

    Certainly one of the few.

    He seemed to enjoy his flying watching that video.


  17. Eponymous Cowherd

    Sad loss

    Engineer, daredevil, gentleman.


  18. The BigYin

    A legned passes

    An insane, genius, lunatic, 100% nutbar and magnificent legend at that.

  19. Spiracle

    Obligatory pilot joke

    "died peacefully in his sleep "... behind the joystick of his aircraft while crashing into a hangar.

    RIP Ken, you showed how engineering should be done.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: Obligatory pilot joke

      I'd like to die peacefully in my sleep, like my granddad, not screaming and crying, like his passengers.

  20. zanshin

    Here's hoping this means he's off flying somewhere better. :)

    I've only ever experienced the man through TV interviews, but he was rather inspirational, and indeed seemed to me to have had a fascinating life. Sounds like he would have been a terribly interesting person to meet.


  21. Dave the Cat

    RIP Ken. I hope the flying is better where you are now.

    A pint shall be had in your honour this evening.... Condolences to his family and friends.

  22. Chris G

    Great Man, great video

    I have watched that video twice and am fairly sure he didn't even bother to do up a seat belt, then flew around no hands and feet like a young spitfire pilot.

    I would like to know how long ago that video was made?

    Clearly he was no youngster but certainly full of life and a genuine British garden shed inventor!

    RIP Ken the world will miss you!

  23. RobHib


    There's too few like him about. Tragically, the modern world conditions us from birth not to be adventurous like that.

    After all, who today would be game enough to design something where if you stood up you'd get your head lopped off. I know I wouldn't, because I know that I'd forget that I shouldn't. ;-)

  24. JamieL


    I was out walking the dog on Sunday morning, heard a buzzing and looked up - there was the first autogyro that I'd seen for years. First thought to myself "ah - a Little Nellie!"

    Spooky to read this evening that that was the day he died.

  25. Martin Budden Silver badge

    He set the world record for being the oldest pilot to set a world record.


  26. dlc.usa

    Hands Off and Hats Off

    I think many here do not get the point. Unless computer controls have been developed to offset the natural instabilities of the system, you cannot let go of the cyclic when flying a helicopter unless you want the machine to rapidly come unglued. Flying a helicopter has been compared to staying on top of a ball, especially when hovering in gusty conditions. Of course, an autogyro cannot hover.

    Bob Hoover is another great pilot, one who is no longer allowed to fly in the USA because the FAA will not renew his license on a medical technicality. Last I checked, however, he was still performing in airshows in other countries, still killing the engines of his Twin Commander and gliding through loops and other precision maneuveurs enroute to full stop safe landings as his signature demonstration of conserving momentum.

  27. Mike Clark

    I think we've found the elusive old, bold pilot.

    1. dlc.usa
      Thumb Up

      To Quote Kenny Roberts

      "I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid."

  28. earl grey


    RIp and condolences to the family.

    Here's to clear skies and slow breezes and a great flight.

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