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 shot down the first of his 10 aerial victories--a Do-17 bomber. During the Battle of Britain, he downed at least five more enemy aircraft--a Ju-88 bomber, two Me-110 fighters, an Me-109 fighter, and another Do-17 bomber. During the winter " blitz" of 1940-41 and the Battle of the Atlantic, he flew convoy escort. In December 1941, he was posted to Hawker Aircraft Company where his career as a test pilot began, flying Hurricanes and the new Typhoon. In July 1942, he returned to combat flying the Typhoon in 56 Squadron.
He soon took command of 609 Squadron, another unit equipped with the Typhoon. Now a wing commander, Beamont returned to Hawker Aircraft in March 1943 as an experimental test pilot, flying advanced models of the Typhoon and the company's newest aircraft, the Tempest. He left Hawker in early 1944 to take command of 150 Wing, the first Tempest unit to deploy the Tempest V. On 8 June, Beamont claimed the unit's first aerial victory. During this period, his wing displayed great skill in downing Hitler's secret weapon, the V1 Buzz Bomb. Beamont claimed 32 of the 632 flying bombs destroyed by 150 Wing. Later in 1944, he led the wing to Holland and gained another victory--an Fw-190. On 13 October, while strafing a train, he was shot down and taken prisoner. He had flown 441 combat missions.
After V-E Day, he returned to England to command the Air Fighting Development Squadron, but left the RAF in January 1946 to join Gloster Aircraft Company. There, he worked on the Meteor IV, which in 1946 set a speed record of 616 mph. In May 1947, he became the Chief Test Pilot at English Electric Aircraft. He directed the test programs and made "first flights" on four outstanding aircraft: The B.2 Canberra, Britain's first jet bomber; the P.1, Britain's first supersonic aircraft; the F-1 Lightning, 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 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 round trip in less than a day. The recipient of numerous other aeronautical awards, Beamont has flown 167 different types of aircraft and logged over 8,000 sorties, including 1,100 supersonic. 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. "Bee" Beamont and his wife, Pat, now live in Wiltshire near historic Salisbury.
Giving "Bee" Beamont command of Typhoon-equipped 609 Squadron was fortunate for the RAF. After its introduction to combat, the Typhoon suffered many accidents due to engine and airframe failures. Beamont worked these problems firsthand and found solutions--flying from Manston, he crossed the Channel and led the squadron in ground attack work, including night missions against enemy trains and forays against coastal shipping. This paid even bigger dividends when the Tempest, which Beamont helped test, came on line.