Philip Wills

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Philip Aubrey Wills CBE (26 May 1907 – 16 January 1978)[1] was a pioneering British glider pilot. He broke several gliding records and was the 1952 Open Class World Champion. He remained a regular member of the British Team until 1958. He was second in command of the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. He was chairman of the British Gliding Association for 19 years and was awarded the CBE and the Lilienthal Gliding Medal for services to gliding.

Early years[edit]

Philip Wills was from a wealthy family, and at the age of 21 he was able to buy his first aircraft, a de Havilland DH.60 Moth. On 20 January 1929 he was badly injured when his Moth (G-EBPS) crashed at Duxford Aerodrome, in which the pilot was fatally injured. He later purchased a replacement Moth (G-EBOI)[2]

He began gliding at the London Gliding Club in 1933, only shortly after the gliding movement started in the United Kingdom. He financed his activities with a shipping and export business. (He installed internal windows in all offices in case his staff were reading books in working hours.)

On 18 March 1934, he set two records in a DFS Professor glider; the British National Gain of Height gliding record at 3,800 feet at Dunstable Downs, and a British National Distance record with a flight of 56 miles from Dunstable Downs to Latchington, Essex.[3] In doing so, he was just beaten to the first British Silver C Badge by Eric Collins, who already had the five-hour qualification. He received International Silver C Badge No. 45 shortly after. On 30 April 1938 he broke the British National Distance gliding record in his Göppingen Gö 3 Minimoa (BGA338), flying 209 miles from Heston Aerodrome to St Austell, Cornwall. In June 1938, he broke the British National Distance Gain of Height gliding record at 10,180 feet over Dunstable Downs, earning him the world's third Gold C Badge.[3] On 1 July 1939, he again broke the height record at 14,170 feet[4]

World War II[edit]

In 1940, the RAF was concerned that radar would not detect a German invasion by gliders; Wills and some of his gliding friends were towed to 10,000 ft and released most of the way out across the [English] Channel in wooden gliders, to act as radar targets. It worked well, but they wanted to see if it would work for a really low approach. Unfortunately it soon became evident to Wills that his angle of glide would not get him back over the cliff top. He knew that air moves over a cliff either close in to the face or further out with the air near the cliff rolling downwards: but which was it? Approaching at a 30° angle he had to get it right the first time. He took the near-cliff face and was soon whisked up to 1000 ft. On looking down he saw a line of dots rushing to the spot last seen on the radar, to peer anxiously down over the cliff edge.

During World War II he was second in command of the [Air Transport Auxiliary]. He later became General Manager (Technical) of British European Airways for two years.


In 1949 he became Managing Director of Fowlie, Reid & Wills Limited.[1]

In 1952 in Spain, he became Open Class World Champion. He was a regular member of the British Team until 1958. In 1954 he crossed the English Channel in a glider.

As early as 1934 he was active in the affairs of the British Gliding Association (BGA), when he forced a change in its constitution to ensure that it represented gliding clubs, not a small number of individual members. He was Chairman of the BGA for 19 years until the members felt that a change was needed. However, during his period in office, his connections ensured that British gliding was able to regulate itself without much intervention from government agencies. He also successfully fought to minimise the amount of controlled airspace. In 1954 his services were recognised by the award of the Otto Lilienthal Medal by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

Personal life[edit]

He married Katherine 'Kitty' Fisher in 1931, and had three sons and a daughter. All three sons became glider pilots, including Justin Wills, a frequent member of the British Team. After his death, the Philip Wills Memorial Fund was established to provide financial help to British gliding clubs.


  1. ^ a b Fripp UK genealogy
  2. ^ Jackson (1974)
  3. ^ a b Lewis (1970)
  4. ^ Payne (1957)


  • Jackson, A.J. (1974). British Civil Aircraft since 1919 Volume 2. London: Putnam. ISBN 0-370-10010-7. 
  • Lewis, Peter. 1970. British Racing and Record-Breaking Aircraft. Putnam. ISBN 0-370-00067-6
  • Payne, R.G.S. 1957. Air Dates. ASIN B0000CJSFO
  • Sailplane & Gliding April/May 1978
  • Wills, Philip. 1953, 1977. On Being a Bird ISBN 0-7153-7426-5
  • Wills, Philip. 1960. The Beauty of Gliding ASIN B0000CKJGK
  • Wills, Philip. 1961. Where No Birds Fly ASIN B0000CL70O
  • Wills, Philip. 1973, 1974. Free as a Bird ISBN 0-7195-2823-2

External links[edit]