It was a scorching hot day at Pinewood Studios in July 2006 when they held their Bond Girls Are Forever event. I was delighted that one 'girl' that turned up was Little Nellie, accompanied by the man who built and flew her, Wing Commander Ken Wallis. Ken signed my Jeff Marshall lithograph of You Only Live Twice, and also my Corgi model of Little Nellie.
Ken Wallis lives at Reymerston Hall in Norfolk, where he keeps his collection of autogyros. He is President of the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton, and still holds a number of world records relating to autogyro flights.
Wing Commander Kenneth Horatio Wallis MBE, DEng, CEng, FRAeS, FSETP, PhD, RAF (Ret'd) was born in Ely in 1916, and from an early age was fascinated by all things mechanical. By the age of 11, he had even built his own motor cycle!
Ken Wallis joined the RAF during WW2, and was soon flying Westland Lysanders, small aircraft which often flew special missions behind enemy lines. In 1942, he transferred to Bomber Command where he flew Wellington bombers, which were later replaced by the much larger Lancasters.
During the late 1950s, Ken Wallis began experimenting with autogyros, a kind of aircraft with a large rotor blade which is free-spinning and not turned by an engine. It is a mixture of both helicopter and glider, with a propellor at the back to give the thrust to move the autogyro forwards. All this is explained in the Wikipedia Autogyro link below.
Ken Wallis built his prototype autogyro in 1958 (a WA-116) and named it Little Nellie after a famous music hall star, Nellie Wallace. This autogyro can fly at 120 mph and reach heights of 6000'
Ken Wallis and Little Nellie achieved fame in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967). In this film, the autogyro was invented by Q and delivered in suitcases to 007 to enable him to scour the remote Japanese mountains and volcanoes for spacecraft that had gone missing. Little Nellie is attacked by five SPECTRE helicopters, but her on-board defence weaponry proves more than a match for them.
Wing Commander Ken Wallis flew over 80 flights in his autogyro for the film, although the spectacular sequence lasts only a few minutes.
At the end of the day, Ken Wallis captivated everyone with a talk in the garden about Little Nellie, and his film exploits with her.
Little Nellie (flown by Ken Wallis) in You Only Live Twice
Ken Wallis' collection of autogyros at Reymerston Hall
Ken Wallis talks to us at Pinewood
Me in front of Little Nellie at Pinewood
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Ken Wallis (1916 - 2013)
Ken Wallis died on 1st September 2013, aged 97.
Ken Wallis & Little Nellie at Pinewood Studios in 2006