One of Britain’s most distinguished aviators, Roland P. “Bee” Beamont was commissioned in the Royal Air Force (RAF) just before World War II. He first saw combat as a Hurricane pilot in 87 Squadron during the German invasion of France. On 13 May 1940, he achieved the first of his 10 aerial victories, a Dornier 17 bomber, and he downed at least five more enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain. He flew Hurricane night fighters in the winter blitz of 1940-41 and flew convoy escort in the 1941 Battle of the Atlantic. Following this action, he was posted to Hawker Aircraft Company in December 1941, where he began his career as a test pilot, flying Hurricanes and the new Typhoon.
In July 1942, he returned to combat flying the Typhoon with 56 Squadron and he soon took command of 609 Squadron, another unit equipped with the Typhoon, flying moonlight missions against trains. Squadron Leader Beamont returned to Hawker Aircraft in March 1943 as an experimental test pilot, flying advanced models of the Typhoon and the company’s newest fighter aircraft, the Tempest. He left Hawker in early 1944 to command 150 Wing, the first operational unit to employ the Tempest V. On 8 June, Beamont claimed the wing’s first aerial victory, over a Messerschmitt 109G. During this period, his wing displayed great skill in downing Germany’s secret V-1 Buzz Bomb. Beamont claimed 32 of the 632 flying bombs destroyed by 150 Wing.
In late 1944, he led the wing to Holland, and on arrival gained his final victory–a Focke Wulf 190. On 13 October, while strafing a troop train, he was shot down and taken prisoner of war. After V-E Day, he returned to England to command the RAF’s Air Fighting Development Squadron, but left the service in January 1946 to join Gloster Aircraft Company as an experimental test pilot. At Gloster, he worked on the special Meteor IV, and later that year set a British speed record of 616 mph. In May 1947, he became the Chief Test Pilot at English Electric Aircraft and directed test programs to include “first flights” on four outstanding aircraft: The Canberra B.2, Britain’s first jet bomber; the P.1, Britain’s first supersonic aircraft; the Lightning F.1, Britain’s first supersonic fighter; and the TSR.2, an advanced supersonic strike and reconnaissance aircraft.
Beamont was the first Briton to exceed Mach 1 in level flight and Mach 2 in a British aircraft. He set three Atlantic crossing records in the Canberra and was awarded the Britannia Trophy for the first Atlantic round trip in less than a day. The recipient of numerous other aeronautical awards, Beamont has flown 170 different types of aircraft and logged over 8,000 sorties. Although he retired in 1979, his contributions to the development of the RAF’s newest aircraft, the multi-role Tornado, will be felt for years to come.
Beamont was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1988 and subsequently honored in 1990, respectively.