He was born in Lindfield, Sussex and lived with his grandmother while his parents were in India and Burma. He was the grandson of an admiral and the son of an army officer. Twiss went to school at Haywards Heath and later at Sherborne School. In 1938 he was employed as an apprentice tea-taster by Brooke Bond in London, before returning to the family farm near Salisbury.
Rejected as a pilot by the Fleet Air Arm, he was accepted as a Naval Airman Second Class on the outbreak of the Second World War. After training at 14 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School, Castle Bromwich, he went on to fly Fairey Battles and Hawker Harts. He underwent operational training at RNAS Yeovilton flying Blackburn Rocs, Blackburn Skuas and Gloster Gladiators. His next posting was at the School of Army Co-operation at Andover, flying Bristol Blenheims as a twin conversion. He was then posted to 771 Squadron in the Orkney Islands, flying a variety of naval aircraft on various duties, including met observations at 12000 ft in winter in the open cockpit of a Fairey Swordfish, and target-towing duties.
He then served with the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit on catapult ships flying Hawker Hurricanes. These missions required the pilot to ditch or bale out in the expectation of being recovered by a passing ship. During the Malta Convoys in 1942, he flew Fairey Fulmars with 807 Squadron, from the carrier HMS Argus. For his service, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in June 1942. Later in the year the squadron converted to Supermarine Seafires flying from HMS Furious for the Operation Torch landings in North Africa. During the Allied landings in Algeria and Morocco he added a bar to his DSC, gazetted in March 1943. By this time he had shot down one Italian aircraft (a Fiat CR.42 on 14 May 1942) and damaged another.
He then flew long-range intruder operations over Germany from RNAS Ford, developing night fighter tactics with the RAF's Fighter Interception Unit. Ford, also acted as an operational research unit, and so Twiss flew missions over occupied Europe in Beaufighters and Mosquitoes so putting the unit's theory into practice. He claimed two Junkers Ju 88's shot down during 1944.
Later in 1944 he was sent to the British Air Commission Washington DC, where he had the opportunity to test various prototype aircraft and evaluated airborne radar equipment. He also served at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. By the end of the war he was a Lieutenant Commander. In 1945 he attended No. 3 Course at the Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS), then based at RAF Cranfield. and then to the Naval Squadron at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down.
In 1946, Twiss joined Fairey Aviation as a test pilot and flew many of the company's aircraft, including the Fairey Primer, Fairey Gannet, Fairey Firefly, Fairey Delta 1 and the Fairey Rotodyne compound-helicopter. In 1947 he entered the Lympne Air Races flying a Firefly IV, winning the high-speed race at 305.93 mph. He worked for two years on the Fairey Delta 2, a supersonic delta-winged research plane. On 17 November 1955 the FD2 suffered engine and consequently hydraulic power on a test flight, but Twiss managed to crash land at Boscombe Down. He received The Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service for this feat. The aircraft was repaired and on 10 March 1956 flown by Twiss broke the World Speed Record, raising it to 1,132 mph (1811 km/h), an increase of some 300 mph (480 km/h) over the record set the year before by an F-100 Super Sabre, and thus became the first aircraft to exceed 1,000 mph in level flight. He piloted the Fairey Rotodyne which established a world speed record for rotocraft over a 100-km circuit in 1959.
In 1960, Fairey Aviation was sold to Westland Aircraft, a helicopter manufacturer, which was not Twiss's area. Twiss left after a career in which he had piloted more 140 different types of aircraft. Twiss joined Fairey Marine in 1960 and was responsible for development and sales of day-cruisers. He appeared in the film From Russia with Love driving one of the company's speedboats. His work as a marine consultant led to directorships of Fairey Marine (1968–78) and Hamble Point Marina (1978–88).
In 1969, driving the Fairey Huntsman 707 Fordsport, he took part in the Round Britain Powerboat Race, including among his crew Rally champion Roger Clark. He also appeared in the film Sink the Bismarck in which he flew a Fairey Swordfish. Twiss was for several years a member of Lasham Gliding Society. His autobiography Faster Than the Sun was published in 1963, and revised in 2005.
Twiss's first three marriages to Constance Tomkinson, Vera Maguire and Cherry Huggins ended in divorce. His fourth wife, Heather Danby, died in 1988. He was survived by his fifth wife, Jane de Lucey. He had a son, three daughters and several stepchildren.
- "Peter Twiss Obituary". The Guardian. 2 September 2011. Online version
- Brief autobiography
- "Obituary: Lieutenant-Commander Peter Twiss". The Daily Telegraph. 2 September 2011. Online version
- The Empire Test Pilots' School — Twenty Five Years, 1968, p. 68
- Flight Magazine 23 March 1956
- "Obituary". The Times. 2 September 2011.
- "First 1,000 mph air speed record pilot dies". BBC News. 1 September 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
- Taylor, H. A. Fairey Aircraft since 1915. London: Putnam, 1974. ISBN 0-370-00065-X.
- Winchester, Jim. Concept Aircraft: Prototypes, X-Planes and Experimental Aircraft. Rochester, Kent, UK: Grange books plc, 2005. ISBN 1-84013-809-2.
- Twiss, Peter. Faster than the Sun. London: Grub Street Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-902304-43-8.
- "The Empire Test Pilots' School - Twenty Five Years". ETPS Brochure (4th ed.) (HMSO for The Empire Test Pilots' School): 68 pp. 1968.