Peter Twiss was a rebel from the day he was born in 1921! He confesses to being "quite a handful" and credits the Boy Scouts with turning him to the good side. As a child, he had a passion for nature and bird watching, and eventually progressed to bird photography. In high school he trained falcons--it got him out of cricket. When his formal education came to an end, Twiss did not know what he wanted to do in life, so he took a job on a farm. An airport across the road from the farm caught his attention and, at age 18, he applied for duty in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. Initially he was turned down but, when World War II started, he was accepted as a Naval Airman 2d Class. In 1942, Twiss flew convoy escort, keeping the lifeline open to embattled Malta.
At age 21, Twiss received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). When the Allies landed in Algeria and Morocco during Operation Torch, he added a bar to his DSC. Next he flew from the Naval Air Station at Ford, England, flying long range intruder operations over Germany. He also got the opportunity to fly new aircraft from the Operational Research Unit. The essence of test flying, working ideas on the ground and taking to the air to try them, fascinated Twiss. In 1944, he went to America to see what was going on in the "test arena." There, he got his first chance to fly his first jet. At the end of the war, Twiss left the military as a lieutenant commander. In 1946, Twiss joined Fairey Aviation as a test pilot and flew many company aircraft, including the prop-driven Primer, the Gannet, the Firefly, and even the Rotodyne helicopter.
He worked 2 years on the Fairey F.D.2, a supersonic delta-winged research plane. The first time he flew it supersonic, he knew the aircraft was a "record breaker," since he hadn't even used the afterburner. On 10 March 1956, he flew the F.D.2 to a world speed record of 1,132. The 1959 sale of Fairey Aviation to Westland, a helicopter company, signaled the end of Twiss' test flying career. In 1960, he flew the Fairey Swordfish in the epic film Sink the Bismarck. In a real "career change," he joined Fairey Marine and was responsible for development and sales of a fast Day Cruiser, capable of over 40 knots. Not one to be chair bound, Twiss often tested and demonstrated the boats and, as a result, spent many enjoyable years on the water. Today Twiss has taken up glider flying. There is still a twinkle in his eye, and he takes every opportunity to get airborne and dance with the clouds.
On 10 March 1956, after seven failed attempts, Twiss had one more chance to break the world speed record of 822 mph. Fuel was so short that his Fairey Delta 2 had to be towed to the runway. Twiss took off and climbed to 38,000 feet. Altitude was critical, with only a deviation of 328 feet over the entire run permitted. The radio crackled--"afterburner now." The reheat exploded into life, and Twiss was pushed back into his seat. He flew by the altimeter. The first leg was finished, and he sat up for the final leg. He lit the afterburner again, held the plane steady, and watched the altimeter needle and fuel gauge. He held his breath as the fuel dropped lower and lower. It was 30 seconds of utmost tension, but the Mach meter reached the highest point ever. Both runs averaged over 1,132 mph, and his altitude deviation was only 98 feet.