Friday, September 07, 2007

Joseph 'Mutt' J. Summers 1903-1954



Mutt Summers (right) with George Edwards
Joseph Summers, affectionately known for some reason as “Mutt”, was granted a short service commission in the RAF at the age of 21 and learned to fly Avro 504s and Sopwith Snipes at Duxford. He passed out at Digby in 1924 and was posted to 24 Sqn flying Sopwith Snipes, which were soon replaced by Gloster Grebes. He must have had exceptional talent, because after only 6 months he was posted to Martlesham Heath as a test pilot, a signal honour for a short-service officer.

Among the first aircraft he tested were the Gamecock, Bulldog, Hornbill and Avenger. The prototype Bulldog was so unstable he almost had to make his first parachute jump. It got into a spin that he could not stop, but when he started to get out he found that the airflow disturbance caused by his body had started to bring the aircraft out of the spin. He returned to his seat and landed – the fuselage was then extended by 18 inches and no further problems occurred with the Bulldog.

During a terminal velocity test in a Hawker Hawfinch the upper decking of the fuselage collapsed, with the side effect of overtightening the Sutton harness and jamming Mutt so tightly in his seat he could hardly breathe. He decided never to use shoulder straps again, which undoubtedly saved his life on another occasion.

One of the Martlesham pilots to test the Vickers 141 single-seat Scout in January 1928 was F/O John Summers, soon to become a Flight Lieutenant and Vickers’ chief test pilot.

The Vickers biplane bomber proposal to meet Spec. B.19/27 flew for the first time for 10 minutes in the hands of Mutt, on 30 November 1929. This competitor to the Heyford, eventually called the Vanox, was extensively modified, being flown many times by Mutt, but was eventually unsuccessful in being adopted by the Air Ministry. Instead it was used for testing, including at the RAE as a flight refuelling tanker, and was last seen at a public display in 1937, refuelling an Overstrand.

The prototype Vixen I, registered G-EBEC and designed as a private venture day bomber proposal, after several metamorphoses including major airframe changes, was fitted in 1924 with a developed version of the 650 hp Rolls-Royce Condor III direct-drive engine. Although undergoing trials at Martlesham in connection with the 1927 general-purpose competition, it was not selected. However in Mutt’s hands it had one claim to fame: on 26 August 1929, as on that date Mutt, along with Col Russell of the Irish Air Corps, flew the first airborne Irish mail, in G-EBEC from Galway to London.

Private venture single-seat shipboard aircraft Type 177 was flown by Mutt at Brooklands on 26 November 1929 and was the final development of the Vickers single-seat tractor biplanes.

The last aircraft to be built by Vickers at the Vickers Crayford Works was the Vellore Mk III, which was registered G-AASW and first flown by Mutt at Brooklands on 24 June, 1930.

The Vickers Type 160 Viastra commercial monoplane fuselage was built at the Crayford Works, but then work was transferred to Woolston, Southampton, which had just been acquired by Vickers. On completion at Woolston, the Viastra I was towed down the Itchen river and round to Hamble aerodrome on a lighter. Registered G-AAUB, it was then flown at Hamble by Mutt on 1 October, 1930.

In 1930, Barnes Wallis attempted to save weight in the structure of the Vickers proposal to meet the M.1/30 specification, given the serial S1641. Unfortunately he overdid the weight-saving, and after a couple of dozen test flights the aircraft disintegrated with pilot Mutt and flight test observer J. Radcliffe on board. Both landed safely by parachute, but the entry for this flight in Mutt’s log book was very laconic! This was on 23 November, 1933, in a high speed dive with full load, when the whole fuselage detached from the wings and Mutt was thrown out, his parachute opening immediately. Radcliffe’s safety belt was released or broken, and he found himself suspended by his parachute back-strap from the machine-gun on the starboard side of his cockpit. After some seconds he became detached and then released his parachute.

Vickers tried to interest the Air Ministry in a new tactical concept with their Type 163 Battleplane, with huge 37 mm COW guns at the nose and tail and another firing downward beneath the fuselage. Powered by a combination tractor/pusher propeller arrangement, Mutt flew it for the first time on 12 January 1931 as a bomber, but it completed only 40 hours of test flying and was broken up in the early summer of 1934.

On 4th November 1932 Mutt, by then chief test pilot for Vickers, received a letter from an officer of 216 (Bomber Transport) Squadron requesting that the Victoria (originally designed to meet the Troop Carrying Aeroplane (B) D of R Type 12 specification) should be re-engined with Bristol Pegasus engines and provided with wheel brakes and a tail wheel to replace the skid. Vickers had, probably unknown to this officer, already investigated the possibility of installing the Pegasus in the Victoria V airframe, and K2340 was selected for the initial conversion. This eventually became the Valentia.

A special twin-engined Viastra, Type 259, was built for the use of the Prince of Wales on official flights. It even included parachutes for the crew and passengers. Registered G-ACCC on 19 December 1932, in the name of Flt Lt E. H. Fielden, AFC, the Prince of Wales’ pilot and later Captain of the King’s Flight, it was first flown by Mutt Summers at Hamble in April 1933.

A development of the Vellore, the Vellox, claimed to have optimum (short landing and take-off) airfield performance, first flew as G-ABKY on 23 January, 1934 at Brooklands, piloted by Mutt Summers. On a second flight on the same day it carried its full design load.

The first of Barnes Wallis' geodetic aircraft was the Wellesley bomber, Mutt flying the prototype for the first time on 19 June, 1935. He was landing this aircraft on 23 July when the port undercarriage collapsed, resulting in several months in the workshops to repair the serious damage to the wing.

The Wellington was designed to meet Spec. B.9/32 and the first flight of the prototype, K4049, was made by Mutt, accompanied by Messrs. Wallis and Westbrook, designer and factory manager respectively, at Brooklands on 15 June, 1936. It was to have been called the Crecy, but the change to Wellington (to commemorate the Iron Duke), started the practice of using the initial letter W for Vickers aircraft that employed Barnes Wallis geodetic structures. Of course the first Wellington Mk I L4212 was also first flown by Mutt, on 23 December, 1937, as was the first Mk III, L4251, on 19 May, 1939.

On 5 March, 1936 Jeffrey Quill flew Mutt Summers in Vickers' new Miles Falcon from Martlesham to Eastleigh, where Mutt was to fly the new F.37/34 fighter, later known as the Spitfire, of course!

The Vickers F.5/34 embodied many new features, including 90 degree trailing edge flaps and actually flew on its first test with its full battery of eight Browning machine guns in wing mountings.It also had electrical undercarriage. Mutt Summers flew this aircraft, now called the Venom, on 17 June, 1936 at Brooklands, nearly 3 months after he had flown the prototype Spitfire at Eastleigh.

Although the F.7/41 twin-engined fighter proposal DZ217 was first flown by Vickers test pilot Tommy Lucke, on 24 December 1942, a flight by Mutt Summers confirmed that the handling characteristics were not all that could be desired. The second prototype was never completed and the programme was officially stopped at the end of 1943, although DZ217 continued to fly until the end of 1944, being known by some as “the tin Mossie” due to its resemblance to the Mosquito.

There were 3 accidents with the Warwick within the space of a few days early in 1945, and Mutt, with his flight observer Jimmy Green, was involved in the one concerning HG364, from which they escaped without serious injury. Mutt’s brother Maurice (also a test pilot) was involved in another Warwick accident, PN777, in which his flight observer, G. F. Hemsley, broke his leg. The cause was found to be rudder aerodynamic overbalance, corrected by the addition of a dorsal fin.

Windsor DW506 was first flown from Farnborough by Mutt Summers on 23 October, 1943, having been assembled there in a specially built hangar later used by the ETPS. This was the first prototype Windsor, which is renowned for having gun barbettes at the rear of the two outboard engine nacelles. However, only 3 Windsors ever flew, the last without the barbettes. The second prototype was flown by Wg Cdr Maurice Summers, Mutt’s brother.

Britain’s first postwar airliner to fly was the Vickers VC1, adapted from the Wellington and Warwick designs, registered G-AGOK and flown by Mutt from Wisley on 22 June 1945. # prototypes were ordered by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and this project became the Viking. This was followed by the military troop transport Valetta, the prototype being first flown by Mutt on 30 June, 1947 at Brooklands. Another later development was the Varsity for Flying Training Command, the first of which was VX828 flown by Mutt from Wisley on 17 July, 1949 with Jock Bryce as co-pilot.

The Viscount needs no introduction and the prototype of this tremendously successful turboprop civil transport (originally the VC2) was flown from Wisley by Mutt and Jock Bryce for 10 minutes on 16 July, 1948.

Jock Bryce recounts that on his first flight with Mutt in the prototype Viscount 630 he was astonished to see Mutt beginning his pre-flight checks by relieving himself alongside the main wheels. “Never fly with a full bladder,” was his advice, “I know people who crashed with one and it killed them!”

The very last prototype to have Mutt at the controls on its first flight was the Type 600 serial WB210, in June given the name Valiant, once again with Jock Bryce as co-pilot, from the grass at Wisley on 18 May, 1951. Only 3 more Valiant flights were made from Wisley before flight trials were transferred to Hurn, while a paved runway was being constructed at Wisley.

After 3 flights with Jock, he was checked out as first pilot and took over as chief test pilot when Mutt retired shortly afterwards. Sadly, his retirement was brief. He died after an operation 2 years later.