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|Roland Prosper Beamont|
Roland "Bee" Beamont pictured in a Lightning
10 August 1920|
|Died||19 November 2001
|Service/branch||Royal Air Force|
|Years of service||1939–1979|
|Unit||No. 87 Squadron RAF
No. 79 Squadron RAF
No. 609 Squadron RAF
No. 150 Wing RAF
|Awards||Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar
Croix de guerre (Belgium)
|Other work||Test Pilot
Wing Commander Roland Prosper "Bee" Beamont CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar (10 August 1920 — 19 November 2001) was a British fighter pilot and test pilot for the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, and the years that followed, later becoming chief test pilot for the English Electric Company, where he test flew the Canberra, Lightning, and TSR2. Born in Chichester, Sussex, he was educated at Eastbourne College.
Roland Prosper Beamont was born on 10 August 1920 at 8 Private Road, Enfield, Middlesex. He was the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Ernest Clement Beamont, a trade officer with the Foreign Office, and Dorothy Mary, née Haynes. He was educated at Eastbourne College from 1934 to 1937. However, he retook his school certificate in 1938 after private tuition, to allow him to be accepted into the RAF. He was rejected by Cranwell, so took civil flying lessons at the White Waltham Airfield. His perseverance paid off and he was awarded a short service commission in April 1939.
Beamont's operational career began in 1939, flying Hawker Hurricanes with No. 87 Squadron RAF stationed at Lille in France with the air contingent of the British Expeditionary Force, scoring 3 'kills' against German aircraft. With the withdrawal of British forces from the continent following the fall of France he took part in the Battle of Britain, claiming 3 more 'kills', after which he was involved with night fighting trials with the Hurricane. He also used a matt black-painted Hurricane for intruder and night-time ground attack operations over France. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in June 1941, and was posted to No. 79 Squadron RAF, although he was court-martialled for transporting a WAAF to a dance at another RAF station in his single-seat Hurricane, and was severely admonished.
In December 1941 he was attached to Hawker's at Langley as a production and experimental test pilot. In July 1942 he was back on operational flying, joining No. 609 Squadron RAF flying Hawker Typhoons and subsequently promoted to squadron leader. As commanding officer of one of the first squadrons to operate the new and technically troublesome Typhoon, Beamont was instrumental in arguing for keeping the aircraft in RAF service against increasing establishment resistance while he assisted Hawker's in resolving the type's airframe and engine problems. His confidence in the Typhoon was vindicated as the aircraft eventually became the RAF's most successful ground-attack aircraft during 1944–5.
In 1943 he returned to Hawker's as a test pilot, performing experimental testing of the Hawker Tempest alongside the Hawker's test pilot, Bill Humble. In 1944, prior to D-Day, he again resumed operational flying, this time forming the first Tempest Wing (No. 150) based at RAF Newchurch with the rank of acting-wing commander, the wing accounting for three Me 109s over the invasion beaches shortly after D-Day without loss, two credited to Beamont. At this time the wing were switched to intercepting V-1s over Kent, shooting down 638, Beamont accounting for 32 of the unpiloted-flying bombs himself. On 2 October 1944, now based on the continent at Volkel, the Netherlands, he achieved his ninth and final kill of the war when he shot down a Fw 190 near Nijmegen. On 12 October, while attacking a heavily defended troop-train near Bocholt on his 492nd operational mission he was shot down, becoming a prisoner of war (PoW). Confined firstly to Stalag-III at Sagan in Lower Silesia, then to Stalag III-A at Luckenwalde, Brandenburg, he remained a PoW until the end of the war in Europe, being finally repatriated in late May 1945 after being further detained with the other former PoWs by the Russians.
With the end of hostilities his planned transfer to the Far East in command of a wing of Tempest IIs was cancelled and he applied for a permanent commission. The eventual offer of a permanent commission coincided with his being offered a position as a test pilot; he resumed his career as a test pilot, performing the initial test flying of many notable aircraft, including the Canberra and Lightning (see radio interview details below), as well as the later-cancelled BAC TSR-2. In 1948, while visiting the US to fly the North American B-45 Tornado bomber, he was able to persuade the US authorities to give him permission to fly one of the only two XP-86 Sabres then built, based at Muroc Field. Briefed by test pilot George Welch, Beamont flew the XP-86 in May of that year, breaking the sound barrier (exceeding Mach 1) on his one and only flight in the aircraft, the third person to do so in the XP-86. He subsequently went on to become a director of the Warton division of BAC, later BAe, as a director of flight operations. From 1970 he was responsible for the international testing of the Tornado MRCA. In 1979 he retired, devoting himself to writing and contributing to various aeronautical publications. He died on 19 November 2001 at the age of 81.
Beamont has the distinction of being the first pilot to make a double-Atlantic crossing by jet, when on 26 August 1952, flying Canberra B.5 VX185, he flew from Aldergrove to Gander and then back again to Aldergove, in 10 hours 3 minutes. In 2002 he was posthumously awarded the Belgian Croix de guerre.
- Phoenix into Ashes – Roland Beamont – William Kimber – 1968 – ISBN 0-7183-0121-8
- Typhoon and Tempest at War – Arthur Reed & Roland Beamont – Ian Allan – 1977 – ISBN 0-7110-0542-7
- Testing Years – Roland Beamont – Ian Allan – 1980 – ISBN 0-7110-1072-2
- English Electric Canberra – Roland Beamont & Arthur Reed – Ian Allan – 1984 – ISBN 0-7110-1343-8
- English Electric P1 Lightning – Roland Beamont – Ian Allan – 1985 – ISBN 0-7110-1471-X
- Fighter Test Pilot: From Hurricane to Tornado – Roland Beamont – HarperCollins – 1986 – ISBN 0-85059-850-8
- My Part of the Sky – Roland Beamont – Patrick Stephens – 1989 – ISBN 1-85260-079-9
- Testing Early Jets – Roland Beamont – Airlife – 1990 – ISBN 1-85310-158-3
- Tempest over Europe – Roland Beamont – Airlife – 1994 – ISBN 1-85310-452-3
- Flying to the Limit: Reminiscences of Air Combat, Test Flying and the Aircraft Industry – Roland Beamont – Patrick Stephens – 1996 – ISBN 1-85260-553-7
- The Years Flew Past: 40 Years at the Leading Edge of Aviation – Roland "Bee" Beamont – Crowood Press – 2001 – ISBN 1-84037-299-0
- Wynn (2005).
- Testing Early Jets – Roland Beamont – Airlife – 1990 – ISBN 1-85310-158-3
- WW2Awards: BEAMONT, Roland Prosper 'Bee'
- Roland Beamont articles and publications – Indexed list of publications and magazine articles by Roland Beamont
- Pencil portrait of Roland Beamont by aviation artist Geoff Nutkins
- `Life with the Lightning` – 1988 radio interview with Roly Beamont by BBC journalist Mike Curtis. Find it at the Lightning Preservation Group website – based Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire.
- The Beamont Files – interview with Roland Beamont
- Interview with Roland Beamont from the Imperial War Museum collection
- Wynn, Humpphrey. "Beamont, Roland Prosper (1920–2001)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/76430. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)