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Bill Waterton
Birth name William Arthur Waterton
Born (1916-03-18)18 March 1916
Died 17 April 2006(2006-04-17) (aged 90)
Place of birth Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Place of death Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Air Force
Years of service 1939-1946
Rank Squadron Leader
Service number 42288
Unit 242 Sqdn
Awards George Medal
Air Force Cross
Other work Test Pilot
Aviation correspondent

Squadron Leader Bill Waterton GM AFC* (18 March 1916 – 17 April 2006) was a Canadian test pilot and correspondent for the Daily Express. He was awarded the George Medal for saving the flight data when he landed at great risk the prototype Gloster Javelin after it lost its controls during a test flight.[1]

Early years[]

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in 1916, W. A. Waterton was brought up in Camrose, Alberta. His family originally came from north Sydenham Township and settled in Owen Sound, Ontario. He was interested in flying from an early age.[2]

Aviation career[]

Second World War[]

Entering the Royal Military College of Canada in 1935, after two years at the school, where he was a champion middleweight boxer, Waterton had applied without success to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Canadian Army in 1938.[3] Ultimately, he was accepted on a short service commission for the Royal Air Force (RAF) which was expanding rapidly in expectation of war. In Britain, he took flying lessons and joined the RAF on 10 June 1939. He was first posted to No. 242 Squadron RAF and flew Hawker Hurricanes from Biggin Hill and Manston during the Battle of France. In operations over Dunkirk on 25 May 1940, he crashed near Dover and suffered severe head injuries. When Waterton returned to flying duties, he was sent to No. 6 Operational Training Unit. His skills as an instructor were recognised and he was made a flying instructor, training hundreds of pilots for over two years in both the UK and Canada.[4]

Test flying[]

After a stint with Transatlantic Ferry Command in 1943, and initially posted to No. 124 Squadron in September 1943, he was transferred to 1409 (Meteorological) Flight. In 1944, Waterton applied to the Air Fighting Development Unit based at Wittering in Lincolnshire which assessed captured enemy aircraft by flying them in mock combat against the greatest variety of Allied aircraft. During this period, he amassed a great deal of test flying in devising tactics for Fighter Command based on the actual performance of aircraft in "real life" conditions.[5] Along with other colleagues, Waterton was sent to No. 5 Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS) at Hanworth, Middlesex.[6]


After the war when Waterton was at the Central Fighter Establishment, he was selected for the High Speed Flight, preparing for an attempt at the world airspeed record with the RAF's first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor. He achieved an average speed of 614 mph with Meteor IV EE550, only two mph less than that of the team leader E. M. Donaldson who established a new record with EE549 on 7 September 1946.[7]

Gloster GA.5 Javelin flight test prototype at Farnborough

Gloster Aircraft Company[]

Following the high speed flights, Waterton joined the Gloster Aircraft Company in September 1946 as a development test pilot.[8] He became the company's Chief Test Pilot, primarily in charge of experimental fight testing their new designs, the Meteor family, the experimental Gloster E.1/44, and the delta-wing Gloster GA.5 which entered service as the Gloster Javelin. He also was involved in acceptance test flying on production aircraft.[9]

On 6 February 1948, Waterton set the world 100 kilometres closed circuit air speed record flying a Gloster Meteor IV at 524.95 mph, although his record was broken a few weeks later by Mike Lithgow in a Supermarine Attacker.[10]

In 1950, Waterton was loaned to Avro Canada for the test flights of the Avro CF-100 Canuck because as a Canadian by birth, and as an experienced test pilot,[N 1] it was considered a public relations triumph for the parent Hawker Siddeley Group.[12] On 19 January 1950, he piloted the CF-100 prototype on its maiden flight, and stayed on as the aircraft proceeded through its company development trials and throughout a United States Air Force "fly-off" competition in May 1950.[13]

On his return to Gloster in 1951, Waterton found that he was continually at odds with management and even though he continued test flying, gave his superiors an ultimatum to address deficiencies in the Javelin fighter, that ended with his discharge in 1954.[14][N 2]

Aviation correspondent[]

Following his dismissal from Gloster, Waterton became an aviation correspondent for the Daily Express; his columns fearlessly criticising British aviation and its aircraft. In 1955, he collaborated with Daily Express sub-editor Timothy Hewat on a book covering the de Havilland Comet crashes: The Comet Riddle.[15]

The following year, Waterton published his autobiography The Quick and the Dead in which he accused the British aviation industry of being badly run, aiming for a quick profit and lagging behind the Soviet and US industry. Due to advertiser pressure, Waterton was fired by the Daily Express, and his departure was covered on their own front page: "We Sacked Waterton - and Why".[16]

Later years[]

Thereafter, Waterton moved back to Canada to his hometown of Owen Sound, Ontario and largely led a life out of the public eye. During his later years, he continued to fly as an instructor and taught Eddie Sargent, the colourful and popular Owen Sound mayor, member of provincial parliament, newspaper publisher, promoter and record-holding swimmer, to fly.[17] Waterton died in 2006, and was buried in Oxenden cemetery; his final wish was to be buried with water close by, and even closer is the end of the runway of the nearby Wiarton Airport, Wiarton, Ontario.[2]

Honours and awards[]

  • 1 January 1943 - Flight Lieutenant William Arthur Waterton (RAF 42288), Royal Air Force is awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC)[18]
  • 12 June 1947 - Acting Squadron Leader William Arthur Waterton AFC (42288) RAFO is awarded a bar to his Air Force Cross (AFC)[19]
  • 25 July 1952 - William Arthur Waterton AFC, Chief Test Pilot, Gloster Aircraft Company is awarded the George Medal:

Chief Test Pilot Waterton was making a test flight in a prototype jet all-purpose fighter and, whilst travelling at high speed at the height of about 3,000 feet, elevator flutter developed and both elevators became detached from the aircraft. This left the pilot with practically no control of his aircraft in pitch. Waterton climbed the aircraft to 10,000 feet and experimented with what was left of the control, the paramount factor in effecting a safe landing. He found that it was possible to retain some control down to a speed roughly half as fast again as the normal landing speed. Knowing that a crash would put back seriously the development and production he decided to land the aircraft despite having at his command an ejector seat and parachute. He landed the machine heavily owing to the lack of control and the undercarriage gave way. After the crashed aircraft came to rest, fire broke out and Waterton found great difficulty in freeing himself owing to a jammed "hood. Eventually he did get out of the wreck. By then the flames had reached the area of the cockpit but despite this, he climbed back into the fuselage and salvaged the automatic records relating to the original aerodynamic and structural failures. The behaviour of Chief Test Pilot Waterton was exemplary and beyond the call of duty and his courage was outstanding.

London Gazette[20]

In 2003, Waterton was made an associate member of the Empire Test Pilots' School Association. Although covering a broad overview of the aerospace industry in the 1950s and 1960s, James Hamilton-Paterson exhaustively profiled Waterton's career in the recent, Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World (2010).[21]


  1. At the time, Waterton had more flight testing time in jet fighters than any other pilot.[11]
  2. Initially, Waterton claimed that he resigned.
  1. "From All Quarters: George Medal for Bill Waterton." Flight, 1 August 1952.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Armitage, Andrew. "Ace test pilot was once a British celebrity and household name." Owen Sound Library, (article first appeared in the (Owen Sound) The Sun Times, 11 February 2011). Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  3. "Top Fifteen: Sqn Ldr William Arthur “Bill” Waterton GM AFC*." National Cold War Exhibition (RAF Museum). Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  4. Ralph 2005, p. 72.
  5. Corbett, Neil. "S/Ldr William 'Bill' A. Waterton GM AFC 1916-2006." Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers, 19 December 2007. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  6. Hamilton-Paterson 2010, p. 38.
  7. "A tentative record." Flight, 12 September 1946.
  8. James 1987, p. 423.
  9. Rossiter 2002, pp. 61–62.
  10. "News in Brief: Air Speed Record." The Times, 12 March 1948, Issue 51018, p. 2, Column B.
  11. Waterton 1958, p. 162.
  12. Rossiter 2002, p. 63.
  13. Waterton 1958, pp. 171–172.
  14. Waterton 1958, pp. 225–226.
  15. Hamilton-Paterson 2010, pp. 168–169.
  16. Hamilton-Paterson 2010, pp. 174–175.
  17. Dunn, Scott. "Sargent bay swim set for Sunday." (Owen Sound) The Sun Times, 2010. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  18. "No. 35842". 1 January 1943. 
  19. "No. 37977". 12 June 1947. 
  20. "No. 39609". 25 July 1952. 
  21. Rennell, Tony. "They died so you could fly off on holiday: The forgotten British jet test pilots who revolutionised flight." Daily Mail, 25 September 2010. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  • Halliday, Hugh. The Tumbling Sky. Stittsville, Ontario, Canada: Canada's Wings, 1978. ISBN 0-920002-03-X.
  • Hamilton-Paterson, James. Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World. London: Faber & Faber, 2010. ISBN 978-0-571-24794-3.
  • James, Derek N. Gloster Aircraft since 1917. London: Putnam, 1987. ISBN 0-85177-807-0.
  • Jones, Barry. Gloster Meteor. Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire, United Kingdom: The Crowood Press Ltd., 1998. ISBN 1-86126-162-4.
  • Mason, Francis K. The British Fighter Since 1912. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. 1992. ISBN 1-55750-082-7.
  • Ralph, Wayne. Aces, Warriors and Wingmen: The Firsthand Accounts of Canada's Fighter Pilots in the Second World War. Toronto: Wiley, 2005. ISBN 0-470-83590-7.
  • Rossiter, Sean. The Chosen Ones: Canada's Test Pilots in Action. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2002. ISBN 1-55054-930-8.
  • Shacklady, Edward. The Gloster Meteor. London: Macdonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1962.
  • Waterton, Bill. The Quick and the Dead. London: Frederick Mueller, 1958.
  • Waterton, Bill and Tim Hewat. The Comet Riddle. London: Frederick Mueller, 1955.
  • Zuk, Bill. The Avro Arrow Story: The Revolutionary Airplane and its Courageous Test Pilots. Calgary: Altitude Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-55153-978-0.

External links[]

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