John Derry, The Story of Britain’s First Supersonic Pilot

B1632

The authors have provided an account of another forgotten pilot he deserved coverage and a firm place in aviation history. On 6 September 1948 Derry became the first British pilot to achieve supersonic flight as test pilot flying the VW120. Unlike the US supersonic flight in the X1 rocket aircraft, the VW120 did not need a mother plane to carry it to high altitude but took off on its own and landed on its own wheels. The authors trace the short life of John Derry to his tragic death at the age of only thirty.

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NAME: John Derry, The Story of Britain’s First Supersonic Pilot
CLASSIFICATION: Book reviews
FILE: R1632
Date: 031110
AUTHOR: Brian Rivas, Annie Bullen
PUBLISHER: Haynes
BINDING: Soft back
PAGES: 256
PRICE: GB £9.99
GENRE: Non-Fiction
SUBJECT:
ISBN: 978-1-84425-984-7
IMAGE: B1632
LINKS: http://tinyurl.com/
DESCRIPTION: The authors have provided an account of another forgotten pilot. He deserved coverage and a firm place in aviation history. On 6 September 1948 Derry became the first British pilot to achieve supersonic flight as test pilot flying the VW120. Unlike the US supersonic flight in the X1 rocket aircraft, the VW120 did not need a mother plane to carry it to high altitude but took off on its own and landed on its own wheels. The authors trace the short life of John Derry to his tragic death at the age of only thirty. In common with other test pilots of his generation, he served as a fighter pilot in the RAF during WWII, ending the war as commanding officer of 182 Squadron flying Hawker Tempest fighters. Within six years of the war end Derry had become one of Britain’s foremost test and demonstration pilots. First with Supermarine and then with de Havilland he became intensely interested in reaching the speed of sound at a time when it was regarded as the Sound Barrier a dangerous mystery to be overcome. It was in test flying and demonstrating the DH 110 that Derry was to be killed. The de Havilland Vampire had followed the Gloster Meteor into RAF service at the end of WWII. The early jet engines required careful attention to the length of tailpipe and the lack of structure behind the end of the tailpipe. The Meteor solved the problem of low performance by mounting a centrifugal jet engine in each wing. The Vampire solved the problem with a light weight structure and a single engine, carrying the tailplane on two slim booms well clear of the engine exhaust. The VW120 solved the problem by avoiding a tailplane, having swept wings with a fin and rudder mounted on top of the short fuselage with its trailing edge forward of the jet tailpipe. When the RAF sought a jet night fighter powered by twin Avon jets Gloster submitted the huge Javelin delta wing fighter with a delta tailplane mounted on top of the fin. The DH 110 was tendered by de Havilland. The DH110 followed the twin boom layout proven by the smaller Vampire and Venom fighters. Much smaller than the Javelin, the DH 110 prototype had also been proposed for use as a naval aircraft. Initial testing of the DH 110 had performed well enough in initial test flights for John Derry to be given the task of demonstrating it at 1952 Farnborough Air Show. During the display, the aircraft suffered serious structural failure and crashed killing John Derry. The RAF ordered the competing Javelin, but the DH 110 was developed into the successful Sea Vixen as a fleet fighter for RN carriers. In its final form as the Sea Vixen it became the first British fighter to be designed to carry only rockets having two retractable batteries of unguided rockets either side of the nose wheel and four infrared guided missiles on underwing pylons. The authors have given a good account of John Dery’s work as a test pilot and included the results of the investigation into his fatal crash in the DH 110. An absorbing account that does justice to a brave test pilot and an important period in British aviation.

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