The 'Vickers' Q6
Percival Q6 G-AFIW (date and place unknown)
When the engineering company Vickers expanded into aviation, it marked the start of a pioneering and productive enterprise whose visible influence ended only recently with the retirement of the last RAF VC10. Vickers embarked on the design and manufacture of aircraft and opened a flying school at Brooklands in 1912; its most famous aeroplane of World War One was arguably the Vickers Gunbus.
By 1938, Vickers had merged with Tyneside-based Armstrong Whitworth to become Vickers Armstrongs Ltd and had acquired Supermarine, the company behind the Schneider Trophy winning seaplanes and, of course, the Spitfire, whose maiden flight was performed by Vickers’ Chief Test Pilot, Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers, on 5 March 1936. Three months later, on 15 June 1936 at Brooklands, Summers performed the first flight of the Vickers 271, which became the famous Wellington bomber.
On 14 September 1938, Edgar Percival flew Percival Q6 G-AFIW from Luton with Bob Handasyde, a Vickers Flight Test Observer, who subsequently became a Test Pilot and then Director of Sales. ‘IW was registered to Vickers on 16 September 1938 and was used to ferry Vickers’ staff between aircraft and engine construction sites and RAF stations. ‘Mutt’ Summers’ logbook shows ‘IW busy throughout the remainder of September on Vickers business, he and Handasyde flying from Brooklands to Martlesham Heath (then the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment) and back on the 16th, Marconi staff on the 17th and return journeys to Southampton, Eastleigh and Farnborough, his passengers including Sir Robert McLean (Managing Director of Vickers-Armstrong and Chairman of Supermarine) and General Walter Caddell.
Paris Airshow 1938 (parisairshow.eu)
Throughout the Winter of 1939/39, Summers’ travels in the Q6 took him to Manchester (Ringway), Mildenhall, Liverpool (Speke), Eastleigh, Birmingham and Martlesham Heath, the destinations suggesting activity associated with the Spitfire and Wellington programmes. At the end of November 1938, Summers flew Trevor Westbrook (an ex Supermarine employee who became Vickers’ General Manager and later joined the Ministry of Aircraft Production under Lord Beaverbrook) to Paris via Lympne and Le Touquet, returning via Abbeville and Lympne. This visit was to the 16th Salon de L’Aviation (Paris Aero Show), held in the Grand Palais in the city centre. Although the Show’s content was predominantly French, six British aircraft were on display including the Hurricane and Spitfire, explaining the presence of Summers and Westbrook.
Typical of the Q6’ use as a hack is shown on 7 June 1939, when Summers flew a number of staff and crew from Brooklands to Chester (a Wellington factory) and back, before taking some of them on to Eastleigh and Guernsey by Wellington. July 1939 saw Summers taking Westbrook to Brussels via Lympne to attend the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Belgian Air Force, and ‘Miss Summers’ to Deauville, again via Lympne.
Another famous aviation name took the controls of the Vickers Q6 on 13 August 1939, when Spitfire Test Pilot Jeffrey Quill flew Bob Handasyde from Brooklands to Luton. Handasyde returning to Brooklands solo in Miles Falcon G-ADTD. Quill’s logbook shows this flight occurring in G-AFMT, another Q6 operated by Vickers before being impressed into RAF service; our research into this aeroplane’s activities is ongoing.
Second prototype Vickers Warwick
Unlike the other Q6s, G-AFIW was not impressed into military service on the outbreak of WW2 but continued flying in support of Vickers’ experimental and production test flights. On 14 May 1940, Maurice Summers, ’Mutt’s brother, also a Vickers Test Pilot, flew the Q6 to Brockworth for 2 days’ test flying on the second prototype of the B1/35 (Vickers Warwick), returning on the 16th. Major Bulman, the Air Ministry’s long-serving official responsible for aero engine development, was a passenger from Brockworth to Brooklands on 13 June; on the 14th, Maurice Summers flew a Wellesley from Filton to Brooklands, returning to Filton by Q6 to test fly a Wellington. On the 18th, the day Marshal Petain met with German commanders in France, Maurice Summers and Bob Handasyde flew the Q6 from Brooklands to Reading and back, presumably to visit Miles Aircraft. Summers’ logbook includes the following comment: ‘On return leg due low fog, a Dornier was being fired upon. He sees me under his tail and pulls up into the clouds’.
Vickers 432 'Tin Mosquito'
Another Vickers Test Pilot to fly the Q6 was D W ’Tommy’ Lucke, who went on to perform the first flight of the Vickers 432, the ’Tin Mosquito’. On 25 May 1940, he flew G-AFIW from Brooklands to Croydon, where he test flew a Wellington modified by Rollasons to Directional Wireless Installation (DWI) configuration. This distinctive modification added a large balsa-encased aluminium coil to the underside of the aeroplane. Once energised by an on-board generator, the coil was designed to detonate mines by flying over them. The DWI Wellingtons operated with some success in the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean / North African campaign. During May and June, Lucke also used the Q6 to travel to Sywell to perform Wellington test flights from Brooklands Aviation’s Civilian Repair Unit and to Croydon for more DWI Wellington tests, testing from both locations on 31 May.
DWI Wellington, Egypt
During June 1940, Maurice Summers flew ‘IW to Hucknall on 4 separate occasions to fly the prototype of the Merlin-engined Wellington Mk II. He also visited Marham (home to Wellington-equipped 38 & 115 Sqns) and Feltwell (home to Wellington-equipped 57 & 75 Sqns) in the Q6 with Tommy Lucke on the 28th.
Wellington Mk II Prototype 1940 (IWM)
Hawarden 1941, Vickers-Armstrong factory to the right, completed Wellingtons in front of Flight Sheds (IWM)
Wellington Under Construction at Chester (IWM)
Feltwell-based 75 Sqn Wellingtons over East Anglia (IWM)
Wellington IV of 300 (Polish) Sqn, RAF Ingham after raiding Bremen 1942 (IWM)
Eighteen 250lb bombs being loaded to a 419 Sqn Wellington III at RAF Mildenhall (IWM)
The week 20-26 April 1941 was particularly eventful for Tommy Lucke, who appears to have been detached to Blackpool to carry out test flying from there until October. On the 20th, he and Mr Winney (a Blackpool-based Vickers production test pilot) flew the Q6. On the 21st, Lucke flew the prototype Wellington Mk IV to Brooklands, but a double engine failure caused him to force land on the River Wey at Brooklands. Also on the 21st he flew the Q6 from Brooklands to Blackpool with Rupert Bellville, a flamboyant, argumentative aristocratic ‘black sheep’ and sometime bullfighter who had flown briefly for Franco’s Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War and was now working as a production Test Pilot for Vickers. On 26 April, Lucke flew the first production Wellington MkIII.
Wellington VI construction
On 14 April 42, Tommy Lucke flew the Q6 from Brooklands to White Waltham, where he had been test flying the pressurised Wellington Mk VI. The testing of this aircraft was subsequently moved to Blackpool due to the dangers of flying it so close to enemy-occupied Europe. A week later, on 21 April, Tommy Lucke and Bob Handasyde flew ‘IW from Smiths’ Lawn to Brooklands. Smiths Lawn, within Windsor Great Park, was constructed in 1929 as a private landing ground for the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1938. Following the bombing of Vickers-Armstrong’s Weybridge factory in 1940, some 200 Wellingtons were produced at a factory here, including the 63 Wellington Mk VIs. No trace of the wartime factory remains. Today, Smith’s Lawn is home to the Guards Polo Club.
Practice drop of 'Upkeep' from Lancaster (IWM)
The final recorded Vickers test pilot to fly the Q6 was Maurice ‘Shorty’ Longbottom, who carried out a test flight on 29 June 1943, 6 weeks after he had made the first live drop of an ‘Upkeep’ bouncing bomb on 13 May. Longbottom was also the originator of the concept of the high-altitude unarmed reconnaissance aircraft, flying the RAF’s first such mission on 18 November 1939,
On 18 August 1943, G-AFIW was registered to J. Brockhouse & Co, a Castle Bromwich - based industrial component manufacturer; Brockhouse remains an award-winning Company, based in West Bromwich. In March 1946, the Aeroplane was purchased by Lt Cdr R Edgar Bibby, who formed Wirral Airways and probably operated the Aeroplane from Hooton Park. On 18 June 1949, G-AFIW was damaged beyond economic repair in a landing accident and was returned to Luton, where it was broken up.
Percival G-AFIW (A J Jackson Collection)
Finest Hour would like to thank Andy Wilson of Brooklands Museum for his help in researching this contribution.