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Squadron Leader Jim Heyworth DFC & Bar MiD Thulin Medal

Squadron Leader Jim Heyworth D.F.C. Bar M.i.D. Thulin Medal
 Born: June 5th 1922 at Belper, Derbyshire. Died: June 10th 2010. Age 88.

Heyworth was seconded to Rolls-Royce at Hucknall in June 1944 to “develop a new type of power unit”, which turned out to be the jet engine invented by Frank Whittle. He soon had his first experience of flying with the revolutionary new engine when he piloted a Wellington bomber modified to carry the Whittle W2B. He tested the same engine, which was given the name Welland, in the prototype Meteor jet fighter.

After leaving the RAF in 1946, Heyworth remained with Rolls-Royce. The next few years saw dramatic advances in aircraft engine design, and Heyworth played a key role in their development. The many innovations at the beginning of the jet age had to be tested using standard fighters and bombers modified as flying test beds. Heyworth flew a modified transport version of the Lancaster bomber fitted with Nene jet engines, and the Trent-engined Meteor, the world’s first propeller-turbine aircraft.

He was also involved in the development of vertical take-off engines. In 1954 he completed a number of “flights” in the tethered engine test rig called the Thrust Measuring Rig (TMR) – better known as “The Flying Bedstead” – which was used to develop the vertical thrust technology and flight control systems later used in the Harrier. Subsequently he flew a Meteor fitted with the RB 108 vertical lift engine.

The Meteor proved an ideal aircraft as an engine testbed, and Heyworth flew a number of them fitted with a wide variety of jet engines, including one equipped with afterburners. He also tested the powerful Conway engine mounted on an Ashton jet and the Vulcan bomber.

In 1955 he was appointed the company’s chief test pilot, following in the footsteps of his brother Harvey, a former Battle of Britain pilot who had been the first test pilot to fly 1,000 hours on jets. Testing such a wide variety of experimental designs, some not as successful as others, was not without incident, and Heyworth had his fair share of them.

Engine failures forced him to land a Spitfire in a field, and a Mustang on a remote airfield after oil covered the windshield, obliterating his view. He was once in a Meteor at 25,000ft when the canopy flew off; and on another occasion the wheels of his Hunter fighter failed to lower.

Alexander James Heyworth, the son of a doctor, was born at Belper, Derbyshire, on June 5 1922 and educated at St Edward’s, Oxford, where he excelled at rugby and hockey. He was accepted to read Medicine at Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, but in May 1940 he volunteered for flying duties with the RAF.

After training as a pilot he joined No 12 Squadron to fly Wellington bombers. During a daylight attack against Germany’s capital ships at Brest in July 1941, his aircraft was attacked by fighters, but his skilful direction of the gunners kept them at bay.

On the night of October 14/15 1941 he attacked Nuremberg. The weather was poor, and after dropping his bombs he turned for home. Moments later the starboard engine failed, and he was faced with a long transit over enemy territory flying on the one remaining engine. He and his crew debated heading for Switzerland, but with his wedding only two weeks away, Heyworth decided to head for base.

Despite full power on the port engine the bomber steadily lost height. All the disposable items, including the guns and ammunition, were jettisoned. To hold the aircraft straight, Heyworth had to apply full rudder, but after a few hours the strain began to tell on him and the crew found some rope to lash the pedal to the airframe, thus giving his leg some respite.

The aircraft crossed the French coast at 1,000ft, and once it was below a safe height to bail out, the parachutes were also jettisoned. Heyworth just managed to reach the Kent coast as dawn broke, and, with the remaining engine failing and fog descending, he crash-landed near Romney Marsh. The crew were uninjured, but were arrested by a farmer armed with a shotgun. With hands held high, Heyworth was able to convince him that they were not Germans.

Heyworth, who had held the aircraft steady on one engine for more than five hours (an unprecedented feat at that time), was awarded an immediate DFC.

After a few months on a rest tour, Heyworth returned to No 12 Squadron in 1943 to fly Lancasters during Bomber Command’s main offensive and at the height of what was called the Battle of the Ruhr. Aged 21 he was promoted to squadron leader and appointed a flight commander. He attacked the industrial cities of the Ruhr, including the Krupps works at Essen, and flew on the major raids against Hamburg in the summer of 1943. He was mentioned in despatches.

After completing his 60th operation he was posted to a staff appointment and shortly afterwards was awarded a Bar to his DFC, the citation noting his gallantry and “unabated enthusiasm”.

After 18 years’ test flying, during which time he flew 82 different types of aircraft, Heyworth retired from the role in 1962 and joined the engineering management department of Rolls-Royce at Derby, finally retiring in 1981.

He was appointed a Liveryman of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in 1962, when he was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He was awarded the Thulin medal by the Swedish Aeronautical Society.

After retiring Heyworth served as chairman of his parish council and as a local school governor. A keen sportsman in his younger days, he represented the East Midlands at hockey; he continued to play golf until he was well into his eighties.

Jim Heyworth, who died on June 10, married, in 1941, Joy Quiggin, who survives him with their three sons.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 02 July 2019, 13:02