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The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. J H Heyworth


John Harvey Heyworth was born on 20th March 1910 in Belper, Derbyshire. He was educated at Rugby School where he was an outstanding sportsman, particularly at rugby and cricket.

Offered a place at Edinburgh University to study medicine, his father’s profession, Heyworth instead joined the RAF on a short service commission on 11th September 1931.

On the 26th he was posted to 5 FTS Sealand.

After his flying training was completed in late August 1932, he was posted to 54 Squadron at Hornchurch. In 1934 he was part of the squadron's aerobatic display team at the Hendon Air Pageant.

On 22nd November 1934 Heyworth went to 504 Squadron AAF at Hucknall, as Officer Commanding 'B' Flight. He went on to Class ‘A’ of the RAFO in September 1936, with the Officer Commanding 504 Squadron writing that Heyworth '..has completed 1100 flying hours to date. An exceptionally keen and very capable pilot who is particularly good in bad weather. Would make a good test pilot or flying instructor. Flying assessment: Exceptional'.

Heyworth immediately joined Rolls-Royce as a test pilot. One of his projects was fuel management trials with the Fairey Battle.





Recalled to the RAF on 25th August 1939, he was posted to 22 (Army Co-operation) Squadron and sometimes acted as personal pilot to the Group's Commander.

He arrived at 5 OTU Aston Down for a refresher course on 21st May 1940. The next day he soloed on a Spitfire Mk. l but crashed on landing. He was unhurt and the aircraft, P5916, was repairable.

On 9th July he joined 222 Squadron at Kirton-in-Lindsey, as a supernumerary. He took command of 79 Squadron at Acklington on 12th July. On 15th August he shared in the destruction of a Me110 and a Do17 and on the 31st he probably destroyed a Ju88.

The squadron went south to Biggin Hill on 27th August 1940. On 6th September Heyworth damaged a Ju88, on the 7th he probably destroyed another and on the 27th he shared in the destruction of a He111 and also in the probable destruction of another.

On 2nd April 1941, flying from Pembrey, he probably destroyed a He111 off Linney Head and on the 9th he shot a He111 down into the sea off St David’s Head, Pembrokeshire.

Heyworth was posted away from 79 Squadron and attached to Rolls-Royce in June 1941, for test pilot duties. He flew many different types of aircraft before testing jets. Heyworth was seconded from the RAF to Rolls-Royce in 1942.

He was awarded the AFC (gazetted 1st January 1946).

After release from the RAF in 1945, as a Wing Commander, Heyworth rejoined Rolls-Royce as a test pilot. He became Chief Test Pilot in 1951.

On 22nd January 1954 he crashed in Dart Lancaster, NG465, on Holmwell golf course, due to fuel starvation affecting all four engines. The purpose of the flight was to test de-icing equipment. Three Rolls-Royce staff, acting as flight observers were uninjured. Heyworth’s injuries meant the end of his test-flying career.

When he resumed flying in June 1954, it was only in light communications aircraft.

HND Bailey, a Battle of Britain pilot from 54 Squadron, succeeded him as Chief Test Pilot and Heyworth joined the Aero Division sales staff.

Heyworth’s brother, AJ (James), also employed at Rolls-Royce, took over the role of Chief Test Pilot in January 1955, when Bailey was appointed Manager of the Technical Administration at Rolls-Royce. James Heyworth had flown Wellingtons and Lancasters in 12 Squadron, Bomber Command and been awarded an immediate DFC after bringing back a Wellington on one engine from an attack on Nuremberg. He received a bar to the DFC after his 60th operation.

In the summer of 1955 Heyworth suffered a severe stroke. The early medical advice was that he would never walk or speak again but in fact he eventually regained his driving licence and returned to work in the Export Sales Department of the Rolls-Royce Aero Engine Division.

On 6th October 1957 his son Paul, serving as a Senior Aircraftman in the RAF, was killed in a motor cycle accident aged 19. Heyworth had a further haemorrhage on 21st September 1959 and died, aged 49.

The tribute to him in Rolls-Royce News referred to him as 'the first test pilot in the world to complete 1000 flying hours on jets'.

James Heyworth died on 10th June 2010 aged 88.





Rolls Royce test pilots (L to R); R Jones, HC Rogers, HND Bailey, JH Heyworth, J Heyworth, A McDowall, AR Barnard.




Above two images courtesy of Debbie Welch (granddaughter of HND Bailey).



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