Kenneth H. Wallis
A leading pioneer in the sport gyroplane community, Ken Wallis passed away on September 1, 2013. He is best remembered as Sean Connery’s stand-in during the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Wallis appeared as Agent 007 while flying the “Little Nellie” gyroplane of his own design. Though Wallis had an extensive and dramatic career as a military aviator, he first came to prominence during the 1960s with public demonstrations and record flights in a series of gyroplanes he designed and built for his own use. He broke 16 world records in gyroplane class aircraft—the last one set at the age of 89.
Wallis learned to fly in the late 1930s despite a serious vision defect. At the outbreak of World War II, he deceived the medical examiner into allowing him into flight status. He served in the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command through World War II. As an exchange pilot with the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1950s, he flew B-36s for the Strategic Air Command.
Throughout his military flying career, Wallis demonstrated his skills in mechanical tinkering by making improvements to bomb loading and target towing equipment. In the late 1950s, he applied this skill to a Bensen B-7 Gyroglider kit he imported from the United States. By 1960 he had refined Bensen’s Gyrocopter into his own Wallis WA-116, which featured improvements in stability and control. Although his gyroplanes were technical improvements on the popular Bensen kits, and even underwent military testing, they were not a commercial success. Rather it was Wallis’s showmanship and skill as a demonstration pilot that endeared him to the sport aviation community and encouraged many to take up the hobby of building and flying kit gyroplanes. When not setting records and performing at air shows, Wallis flew stunts in several film and television productions and adapted his gyroplanes as camera platforms for film and photography work.
Roger Connor is a museum specialist in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.