September 19 2014 Latest news:
Dominic Bareham, senior reporter
Monday, September 30, 2013
Thousands turned out to pay tribute to legendary aviator Wing Commander Ken Wallis, as the record-breaking autogyro pilot was given a fitting send-off at a Norfolk airfield.
A 2,000-strong crowd, 1,500 more than expected, thronged Old Buckenham airfield on Sunday to see displays of autogyros and fixed wing aircraft and hear moving tributes to the James Bond stuntman from fellow aviation enthusuiasts and his family.
His granddaughter Mel joked about how the Bomber Command veteran, who died in Dereham earlier this month aged 97, would have loved to have been at the celebration and thanked everyone involved in staging the special event.
She said: “I think he would have sat there nodding away to the speeches saying ‘well, I know,’ - he was a very modest man.
“He would have loved to have flown in today; sunny, warm and really windy. He would have shown off big time.”
Following her speech, she said the number of people attending had exceeded her expectations, adding to the many heart-warming tributes the family had already received.
“It has been amazing reading the tributes online. I knew that he was a well-loved man, but when I read it I realised how many lives he touched. I really don’t think he realised how many lives he touched.”
Wing Commander Gerry Honey OBE, the airfield’s chief flying instructor, said he knew Mr Wallis through numerous Royal Air Force Association functions he attended and told about a visit to the aviator’s home. He recalled trying to get to the office and study, but found he could not get through because the hall was festooned with aircraft parts.
He said Mr Wallis was “incredibly popular” during his visits to airshows at Old Buckenham and would talk for hours, adding: “It was a great deal of effort to get him to taxi along the crowd line, but when he did taxi along the crowd line there would be thousands of people there.
“I remember driving him to a function and my wife asked him a question and an hour and a half later he had gone through his complete presentation.”
Another of Wng Cmdr Wallis’s friends, Henry Labouchere, recalled taking a hair-raising trip with the aviator on one of his autogyros near Reymerston. “I have done some pretty stupid things in my flying career, but this has to be one of the most. We were flying through the Reymerston trees sitting on a broomstick.”
British balloonist Julian Nott recalled how Mr Wallis encouraged him to follow his dreams and even lent him oxygen equipment to enable him to fulfill his ambition.
He said: “I spoke to him 18 months ago and said ‘when did you last go flying?’ and there was a pause and a chuckle and he said ‘this morning.’”
The highlight of the day was the appearance of Little Nellie, one of the wing commander’s best-known creations and the star of the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, which was on display in the Blister Hangar.
However, there were 80 aircraft on display and the airfield’s Wildcats Aerobatics display team also performed for the crowds, while visitors could also look at displays of classic cars.
Ezra Leverett, 11, from Little Melton, was visiting with his father Jamie and said he knew of Mr Wallis through his involvement as Sean Connery’s stunt double in the Bond film You Only Live Twice.
He said: “I love the autogyro because it is so simple. He was very brave to create it.”