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Norfolk’s Ken Wallis aims for autogyro speed record

Ken Wallis - air speed record bid at 95

Ken Wallis - air speed record bid at 95

Archant

A pioneering aerial daredevil is preparing an attempt to break his own world speed record – at the tender age of 95.

Wing Commander Ken Wallis has secured special one-off permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to breach the statutory 70mph speed limit for the autogyro, allowing him to make his record bid in British skies.

The former Wellington bomber pilot, who lives in Reymerston, near Dereham, was a key figure in the post-war development of the autogyro, which he flew as Sean Connery’s stunt double in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Between 1968 and 2002 he set 34 world records for speed, circuit and altitude feats, many of which still stand – including the 129mph top speed recorded for a 3km flight in the tiny rotor-powered aircraft.

The record was initially set in the 1970s before the restrictions were introduced, and Wing Cmr Wallis said he had struggled since then to gain dispensation to exceed it and extend his world-beating exploits.

But after a fellow pilot wrote to CAA head Dame Deirdre Hutton appealing for help, he has received a reply clearing the runway for his next attempt which, subject to aircraft and medical examinations, could happen in May.

“It was a wonderful surprise,” he said. “She says that my efforts are well recognised and that there is no reason I shouldn’t be able to do it.

“There are a lot of people supporting me, saying I should do it. It has become a bit of a joke really. It is my birthday in April so if I break this record in May I can do it as an old man of 96 rather than a young man of 95. I am still quite happy flying, and all you really need to do in an autogyro is sit in it and open the throttle.”

Wing Cmdr Wallis, who owns 20 home-made autogyros, said he hopes to make the record attempt in the same aircraft which already holds the record.

“I know it can do better,” he said. “129mph was done in adverse conditions with a lot of wind blowing. I know that if I started tomorrow I could make an aircraft that could go faster but at this age I have got to gather the enthusiasm to start again.”

Last year, as a DVD called Ken Wallis: Born to Bond was launched to celebrate his life and escapades, the pilot said after flying for 74 years he “should know better” than to make another record attempt.

But last night he said his motivation was simply an extension of his love of flying.

“For me I just like flying around, I like taking aerial photographs, and I just want to improve on the record.”

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