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Peter Twiss

Peter Twiss

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Lionel Peter Twiss, OBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

, DSC and Bar
Distinguished Service Cross (United Kingdom)
The Distinguished Service Cross is the third level military decoration awarded to officers, and other ranks, of the British Armed Forces, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and British Merchant Navy and formerly also to officers of other Commonwealth countries.The DSC, which may be awarded posthumously, is...

 (23 July 1921 – 31 August 2011) was a British test pilot who held the World Air Speed Record as the first man to fly at a speed greater than 1,000 mph.

Early life

He was born in Lindfield
Lindfield may refer to:*Lindfield, New South Wales, Australia*Lindfield, West Sussex, England...

, Sussex and lived with his grandmother while his parents were in India and Burma. He was the grandson of an admiral and the son of an army officer.
Twiss went to school at Haywards Heath
Haywards Heath
-Climate:Haywards Heath experiences an oceanic climate similar to almost all of the United Kingdom.-Rail:Haywards Heath railway station is a major station on the Brighton Main Line...

 and later at Sherborne School
Sherborne School
Sherborne School is a British independent school for boys, located in the town of Sherborne in north-west Dorset, England. It is one of the original member schools of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference....

. In 1938 he was employed as an apprentice tea-taster by Brooke Bond
Brooke Bond
Brooke Bond is a brand-name of tea owned by Unilever, formerly an independent manufacturer in the United Kingdom, known for its PG Tips brand and its Brooke Bond tea cards.- History :...

 in London, before returning to the family farm near Salisbury.


Rejected as a pilot by the Fleet Air Arm
Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Air Arm is the branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft. The Fleet Air Arm currently operates the AgustaWestland Merlin, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx helicopters...

, he was accepted as a Naval Airman Second Class on the outbreak of the Second World War. After training at 14 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School, Castle Bromwich
Castle Bromwich Aerodrome
Castle Bromwich Aerodrome was an early airfield, situated to the north of Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands of England. The site now falls within the City of Birmingham.-History:...

, he went on to fly Fairey Battle
Fairey Battle
The Fairey Battle was a British single-engine light bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company in the late 1930s for the Royal Air Force. The Battle was powered by the same Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine that gave contemporary British fighters high performance; however, the Battle was weighed...

s and Hawker Hart
Hawker Hart
The Hawker Hart was a British two-seater biplane light bomber of the Royal Air Force , which had a prominent role during the RAF's inter-war period. The Hart was designed during the 1920s by Sydney Camm and built by Hawker Aircraft...

s. He underwent operational training at RNAS Yeovilton
RNAS Yeovilton
Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, or RNAS Yeovilton, is an airfield of the Royal Navy, sited in South West England a few miles north of Yeovil in Somerset...

 flying Blackburn Roc
Blackburn Roc
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Brew, Alec. The Turret Fighters: Defiant and Roc. Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire, UK: Crowood Press, 2002. ISBN 1-86126-497-6....

s, Blackburn Skua
Blackburn Skua
The Blackburn B-24 Skua was a carrier-based low-wing, two-seater, single-radial engine aircraft operated by the British Fleet Air Arm which combined the functions of a dive bomber and fighter. It was designed in the mid-1930s, and saw service in the early part of the Second World War...

s and Gloster Gladiator
Gloster Gladiator
The Gloster Gladiator was a British-built biplane fighter. It was used by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy and was exported to a number of other air forces during the late 1930s. It was the RAF's last biplane fighter aircraft and was rendered obsolete by newer monoplane designs even as it...

s. His next posting was at the School of Army Co-operation at Andover
-Places:In the United Kingdom:* Andover, Hampshire, EnglandIn Canada:* Andover, New Brunswick* Perth-Andover, New BrunswickIn the United States:* Andover, California* Andover, Connecticut* Andover, Florida* Andover, Illinois* Andover, Iowa...

, flying Bristol Blenheim
Bristol Blenheim
The Bristol Blenheim was a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company that was used extensively in the early days of the Second World War. It was adapted as an interim long-range and night fighter, pending the availability of the Beaufighter...

s as a twin conversion. He was then posted to 771 Squadron in the Orkney Islands, flying a variety of naval aircraft on various duties, including met
Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

 observations at 12000ft in winter in the open cockpit of a Fairey Swordfish, and target-towing duties.

He then served with the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit
Merchant Ship Fighter Unit
The Merchant Ship Fighter Unit was a Royal Air Force operational aircraft unit based at RAF Speke during World War II. The aircraft operated by the MSFU were Hawker Sea Hurricanes. These planes were operated from 35 merchant ships outfitted with a catapult on the bow, referred to as Catapult...

 on catapult ships
CAM ship
CAM ships were World War II-era British merchant ships used in convoys as an emergency stop-gap until sufficient escort carriers became available. CAM is an acronym for catapult aircraft merchantman. A CAM ship was equipped with a rocket-propelled catapult launching a single Hawker Sea Hurricane,...

 flying Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane
The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force...

s. These missions required the pilot to ditch or bale out in the expectation of being recovered by a passing ship. During the Malta Convoys
Malta Convoys
The Malta Convoys were a series of Allied supply convoys that sustained the besieged island of Malta during the Mediterranean Theatre of the Second World War...

 in 1942, he flew Fairey Fulmar
Fairey Fulmar
The Fairey Fulmar was a British carrier-borne fighter aircraft that served with the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War. A total of 600 were built by Fairey Aviation at its Stockport factory between January 1940 and December 1942...

s with 807 Squadron, from the carrier HMS Argus
HMS Argus (I49)
HMS Argus was a British aircraft carrier that served in the Royal Navy from 1918–1944. She was converted from an ocean liner under construction when the First World War began, and became the world's first example of what is now the standard pattern of aircraft carrier, with a full-length flight...

. For his service, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Cross (United Kingdom)
The Distinguished Service Cross is the third level military decoration awarded to officers, and other ranks, of the British Armed Forces, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and British Merchant Navy and formerly also to officers of other Commonwealth countries.The DSC, which may be awarded posthumously, is...

 (DSC) in June 1942. Later in the year the squadron converted to Supermarine Seafires
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...

 flying from HMS Furious
HMS Furious (47)
HMS Furious was a modified cruiser built for the Royal Navy during the First World War. Designed to support the Baltic Project championed by the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, Lord John Fisher, they were very lightly armoured and armed with only a few heavy guns. Furious was modified while...

 for the Operation Torch
Operation Torch
Operation Torch was the British-American invasion of French North Africa in World War II during the North African Campaign, started on 8 November 1942....

 landings in North Africa. During the Allied landings in Algeria and Morocco he added a bar to his DSC, gazetted in March 1943. By this time he had shot down one Italian aircraft (a Fiat CR.42
Fiat CR.42
The Fiat CR.42 Falco was a single-seat sesquiplane fighter which served primarily in Italy's Regia Aeronautica before and during World War II. The aircraft was produced by the Turin firm, and entered service, in smaller numbers, with the air forces of Belgium, Sweden and Hungary...

 on 14 May 1942) and damaged another.

He then flew long-range intruder operations over Germany from RNAS Ford, developing night fighter tactics with the RAF's Fighter Interception Unit
Fighter Interception Unit
The Fighter Interception Unit was a special interceptor aircraft unit of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. It was part of Air Defence of Great Britain....

. Ford, also acted as as an operational research unit, and so Twiss flew missions over occupied Europe in Beaufighters and Mosquitoes so putting the unit's theory into practice. He claimed two Junkers Ju 88
Junkers Ju 88
The Junkers Ju 88 was a World War II German Luftwaffe twin-engine, multi-role aircraft. Designed by Hugo Junkers' company through the services of two American aviation engineers in the mid-1930s, it suffered from a number of technical problems during the later stages of its development and early...

's shot down during 1944.

Later in 1944 he was sent to the British Air Commission Washington DC, where he had the opportunity to test various prototype aircraft and evaluated airborne radar equipment. He also served at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River
Naval Air Station Patuxent River
"Pax River" redirects here. For the river, see Patuxent River.Naval Air Station Patuxent River , also known as NAS Pax River, is a United States Naval Air Station located in St. Mary's County, Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Patuxent River. It is home to the U.S...

, Maryland. By the end of the war he was a Lieutenant Commander
Lieutenant Commander
Lieutenant Commander is a commissioned officer rank in many navies. The rank is superior to a lieutenant and subordinate to a commander...

. In 1945 he attended No. 3 Course at the Empire Test Pilots' School
Empire Test Pilots' School
The Empire Test Pilots' School is a British training school for test pilots and flight test engineers of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft at MoD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, England. It was established in 1943, the first of its type...

 (ETPS), then based at RAF Cranfield. and then to the Naval Squadron at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment
Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment
The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment was a research facility for British military aviation from 1918 to 1992.-History:...

 at Boscombe Down.


In 1946, Twiss joined Fairey Aviation
Fairey Aviation
The Fairey Aviation Company Limited was a British aircraft manufacturer of the first half of the 20th century based in Hayes in Greater London and Heaton Chapel and RAF Ringway in Greater Manchester...

 as a test pilot and flew many of the company's aircraft, including the Fairey Primer
Fairey Primer

, Fairey Gannet
Fairey Gannet
The Fairey Gannet was a British carrier-borne anti-submarine warfare and airborne early warning aircraft of the post-Second World War era developed for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm by the Fairey Aviation Company...

, Fairey Firefly
Fairey Firefly
The Fairey Firefly was a British Second World War-era carrier-borne fighter aircraft and anti-submarine aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm ....

, Fairey Delta 1
Fairey Delta 1
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Sturtivant, Ray. British Research and Development Aircraft. Somerset, UK: Haynes Publishing Group, 1990. ISBN 0-85429-697-2...

 and the Fairey Rotodyne
Fairey Rotodyne
The Fairey Rotodyne was a 1950s British compound gyroplane designed and built by Fairey Aviation and intended for commercial and military applications...

 compound-helicopter. In 1947 he entered the Lympne
Lympne Airport
Lympne Airport , , was a military and later civil airfield at Lympne, Kent, United Kingdom, which operated from 1916 to 1984. RFC Lympne was originally an acceptance point for aircraft being delivered to, and returning from, France during the First World War...

 Air Races flying a Firefly IV, winning the high-speed race at 305.93 mph. He worked for two years on the Fairey Delta 2
Fairey Delta 2
The Fairey Delta 2 or FD2 was a British supersonic research aircraft produced by the Fairey Aviation Company in response to a specification from the Ministry of Supply for investigation into flight and control at transonic and supersonic speeds.The aircraft was the first to exceed 1000mph, and...

, a supersonic delta-winged research plane. On 10 March 1956 this aircraft flown by Twiss broke the World Speed Record
Air speed record
An air speed record is the highest airspeed attained by an aircraft of a particular class. The rules for all official aviation records are defined by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale , which also ratifies any claims. Speed records are divided into multiple classes with sub-divisions...

, raising it to 1,132 mph (1811 km/h), an increase of some 300 mph (480 km/h) over the record set the year before by an F-100 Super Sabre
F-100 Super Sabre
The North American F-100 Super Sabre was a supersonic jet fighter aircraft that served with the United States Air Force from 1954 to 1971 and with the Air National Guard until 1979. The first of the Century Series collection of USAF jet fighters, it was the first USAF fighter capable of...

, and thus became the first aircraft to exceed 1,000 mph in level flight. He received The Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service
Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service
The Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service is a British military award that recognises meritorious service during, or in support of, operations...

 for this feat. He piloted the Fairey Rotodyne
Fairey Rotodyne
The Fairey Rotodyne was a 1950s British compound gyroplane designed and built by Fairey Aviation and intended for commercial and military applications...

 which established a world speed record for rotocraft over a 100-km circuit in 1959.

Later career

In 1960, Fairey Aviation was sold to Westland Aircraft
Westland Aircraft
Westland Aircraft was a British aircraft manufacturer located in Yeovil in Somerset. Formed as a separate company by separation from Petters Ltd just before the start of the Second World War, Westland had been building aircraft since 1915...

, a helicopter manufacturer, which was not Twiss's area. Twiss left after a career in which he had piloted more 140 different types of aircraft. Twiss joined Fairey Marine
Fairey marine
Fairey Marine Ltd was a boat building company based on the River Hamble, Southampton, England. The company was created in the late 1940s by Sir Charles Richard Fairey and Fairey Aviation's Managing Director, Mr. Chichester-Smith. Both were avid sailing enthusiasts along with Chichester-Smith's good...

 in 1960 and was responsible for development and sales of day-cruisers. He appeared in the film From Russia with Love
From Russia with Love (film)
From Russia with Love is the second in the James Bond spy film series, and the second to star Sean Connery as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond. Released in 1963, the film was produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and directed by Terence Young. It is based on the 1957 novel of the...

driving one of the company's speedboats. His work as a marine consultant led to directorships of Fairey Marine (1968-78) and Hamble Point Marina (1978-88).

In 1969, driving the Fairey Huntsman 707 Fordsport, he took part in the Round Britain Powerboat Race, including among his crew Rally
Rallying, also known as rally racing, is a form of auto racing that takes place on public or private roads with modified production or specially built road-legal cars...

 champion Roger Clark
Roger Clark
Roger Albert Clark, MBE, was a British rally driver during the 1960s and '70s, and the first competitor from his country to win a World Rally Championship event when he triumphed at the 1976 RAC Rally.-Biography:...

. He also appeared in the film Sink the Bismarck
Sink the Bismarck
"Sink the Bismark" is a song, written by country music singer Johnny Horton and Tillman Franks, based on the pursuit and eventual sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941, during World War II. Horton released this song in 1960, where it reached #3 on the charts...

in which he flew a Fairey Swordfish
Fairey Swordfish
The Fairey Swordfish was a torpedo bomber built by the Fairey Aviation Company and used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy during the Second World War...

Twiss was for several years a member of Lasham Gliding Society
Lasham Airfield
Lasham Airfield is located north-west of Alton in Hampshire, England, in the village of Lasham.It was built in 1942 and it was an operational RAF during the Second World War. It was used for recreational gliding from 1951. The airfield is now owned by the world's largest gliding club, Lasham...

. His autobiography Faster Than the Sun was published in 1963, and revised in 2005.

Personal life

Twiss's first three marriages to Constance Tomkinson, Vera Maguire and Cherry Huggins ended in divorce. His fourth wife, Heather Danby, died in 1988. He was survived by his fifth wife, Jane de Lucey. He had a son, three daughters and several stepchildren.

External links