Heroes are rare by their nature. The best ones do not know that they are heroes, they have to be recognised by you. Anyone proclaiming himself a hero has excluded himself from the class.
During my time at school it was announced that Lieutenant-Commander Peter Twiss had broken the world speed record by 300 mph during a flight at 1132 mph. The first time a man had exceeded 1000 mph.
When flying west at this speed, Peter Twiss was going faster than the earth rotates on its axis so that the sun appeared to be setting in the east. Peter called his biography Faster than the Sun.
At the time I was seriously considering a career in the Royal Air Force. Although Peter Twiss had served in the Fleet Air Arm I adopted him as one of my heroes after Biggles, Douglas Bader, Guy Gibson and Leonard Cheshire, Neville Duke and others.
Fast forward 60 years and I was walking past the hangar at Lasham Gliding Society when an elderly gentleman called to me.
“Young man.” Anyone who could call me a young man must be really old.
“Would you please help me pull this glider out of the hangar?”
“Are you going to fly it?” I asked with some alarm. Surely he was too old. Too frail even to climb into the cockpit.
“Yes, it looks a nice day and I will enjoy a short flight.”
At the Launch Control Point I asked the Controller who he was.
“Peter Twiss – broke the world speed record once but he won’t be doing that today.”
Peter Twiss: a distinguished war record
Later I heard Peter talk about his career. He flew an experimental blow up plane made like a rubber dinghy. It would fly up to 40 mph but was not much good in a wind.
He had a distinguished war record. He told me how, for the record flights in the Fairey Delta 2, there were 2 Venom jets loitering at 38,000 feet over Chichester to check that the Fairey Delta 2 flew in straight and level flight. Peter flew as close as possible to them because he knew that the sonic boom gave them a good shaking-up.
FD2 was an experimental plane, built to study the thin delta wing, the Ogee Wing, and its characteristics in transonic flight. This developed into the sophisticated wing of Concorde.
A year before the record was broken Peter had crash landed the FD2 after engine failure.
Lieutenant Commander Leonard Peter Twiss OBE DSC and bar. Born 23 July 1921; died 31 August 2011.