Bondpix James Bond

The Life And Times Of Little Nellies Father: An Interview With

 Wing Commander Kenneth H Wallis

By Christopher Johnson

Ken Wallis, father of Little Nellie

Tiger, contact M. Tell him to send Little Nellie. Repeat. Little Nellie. Suggest she be accompanied by her father. Most urgent.

It is with these words that James Bond summons Little Nellie to help him track down SPECTRE in the 1967 film You Only Live Twice. She arrives with her on-screen father in the guise of Q portrayed by Desmond Llewelyn. In reality Little Nellies father is her creator  Wing Commander Kenneth H Wallis who also doubled for Sean Connery and piloted his unique aircraft in the film. But his time as 007 is just a small part of a highly interesting life and career.

It could quite easily be said that both engineering and flying aircraft is in the blood of Wing Commander Wallis: My father and uncle started motorcycle racing as amateurs, early in the 20th century. They soon started to make their own motorcycles using steel tubes. In 1908 the brothers went to the Paris Air Salon to see an aeroplane actually fly and they must have immediately decided to build an aeroplane of their own, starting in 1908. In those days aeroplanes were made of wood but the brothers decided to make theirs out of steel tube (as they were of the opinion that), 'You would not make a motorbike out of wood.'

The Wallbro Monoplane was completed in May 1910 and was the first aeroplane to be made out of tubular steel. However, despite a few initial test flights, fate dealt the ingenuity of the Wallis brothers an untimely blow, as Wing Commander Wallis explains: It made a number of hops whilst the brothers were learning to fly it but it was then destroyed in its shed in a freak windstorm. Their father who had invested some money into their undoubtedly advanced aeroplane ordered his sons back to the family business. So that was the end of The Wallbro Monoplane or was it? Ken has built a replica of it and successfully flown it - finally bringing his fathers legacy to the aeronautical industry to fruition.

When young Ken Wallis was born, his father was running a motorcycle business in Ely, and he was also working as a sub-contractor making aeroplane parts as part of the war effort during World War One. As you might expect a fathers interests also became of interest to his son: I rode motorcycles and learned a lot in engineering in a practical way and by making mistakes. The family interest in flying continued and I tried to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve at its inception, only to be turned down due to a defective right eye.

Despite this set-back Ken was still able to learn to fly and was granted his A Licence as an aircraft pilot in 1937. Perhaps encouraged by gaining his licence he still continued attempting to join various branches of the RAF: I was turned down again when I tried for a RAF Short Service Commission in 1938, but I immediately joined the Civil Air Guard at its inception in 1938, being able to hire and fly a Gypsy Moth or a Moth Minor for 2/6d per hour!  

When World War Two began in 1939, Wing Commander Wallis, like so many other brave men, was able to join the armed forces to fight for his country: When war came I was somehow able to use my good eye on the test for the right eye! I was soon with 268 and then 241 Squadrons flying on anti-invasion patrols.  

Ken Wallis signing autographs at Pinewood Studios in 1990

I then did a tour of operations on Wellington Bombers with 103 Squadron surviving with exceptional luck from a bail-out and being bought down by a balloon cable. The bail-out was on 21st September 1941. On 23rd October 1941 a balloon cable nearly cut off the port wing, but we crash landed in darkness on top of a quarry face. On 21st January 1942 a reconnaissance flare went off in the bomb bay, on iced-up doors, igniting the incendiary bomb load over Endon!

Following this he worked with a Navigation Training Flight, before returning back to operations in early 1944, this time with the 37 Squadron in Italy. He also commanded 'The Aerial Gunnery Training Flight'. By 1953 Ken had started working with Jet aircraft, while in a posting with the Air Ministry.

Between 1956 and 1958 Wing Commander Wallis took part in an exchange posting between the RAF and Strategic Air Command of the United States Airforce (USAF), in armaments and electronics. During this time Ken got to help escort a very powerful, deadly passenger: I was a pilot in a crew of 22 flying the giant 10-engined RB35Hs carrying an Atom Bomb - incase the need should arise!

Following this, Ken continued to have a varied career within he RAF: In 1958 I became the Weapons Officer at Fighter Command Headquarters. Between 1961 and 1964 I commanded the Tactical Weapons Group at the Aeroplane and Armaments Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down.  Whilst at Fighter Command I had started my light Autogyro experiments - always being interested in a conveniently small, practical aircraft. I soon took the matter more seriously and produced my successful type WA-116 Prototype in 1961.

 

2006 Christopher Johnson. All rights reserved.

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