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Thread: Details Sought on Career and 1942 Death of Test Pilot

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    Default Details Sought on Career and 1942 Death of Test Pilot

    Hi all

    Christopher Stainbank Staniland was a pre-war RAF pilot and racing driver who became a test pilot with Simmonds Aircraft around early 1929 (he transferred to the RAFO in March 1929).

    He moved on to Fairey Aviation in a similar role a year or so later, and subsequently became their Chief Test Pilot (around late 1931). He remained with Fairey until his death in a flying accident in June 1942.

    I have good coverage of Staniland's RAF and racing career, but I am struggling to pin down exact dates of his test pilot career, beyond vague references to dates. Specifically, I am trying to establish when he:

    • joined Simmonds in 1929 (definitely there by July 1929) and left (1930/31);
    • joined Fairey as a test pilot in 1930/31 (definitely there by March 1931);
    • became Chief Test Pilot with Fairey (definitely by September 1931)

    I have gone through the Flight archive and the Times for the period, and a broad search of the internet, including Google Books and available docs/books available on the Internet Archive, but I can find nothing precise.

    Does anyone know if there is an archive for Simmonds (Spartan) and/or Fairey or does anyone have a resource available with info on Staniland?

    Lastly, although originally an RAF pilot who retained his rank - and listed on the CWGC site - he was a civilian at the time of his death in a Fairey Firefly in June 1942. Although not surprised there is no AIR 81 file for him in TNA, I did expect to find an AVIA air accident file for him, but I cannot find one in the NA catalogue. Does anyone have any ideas?

    Thanks
    Steve
    41 (F) Squadron RAF at War and Peace, April 1916-March 1946
    http://brew.clients.ch/41sqnraf.htm

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    Default Re: Details Sought on Career and 1942 Death of Test Pilot

    Steve,

    There's an entry for him in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography which might help. Unfortunately the online record of the bio for CSS runs to only a few lines, after which it looks as though one has to subscibe to gain full access to it (or perhaps a city central library might be able to help with this?).

    See here for reference: https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.10...14128-e-103420

    Cheers,
    Errol

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    Default Re: Details Sought on Career and 1942 Death of Test Pilot

    Oxford Dictionary of Biography has

    Staniland, Christopher Stainbank
    (1905–1942)
    Roger Bird

    Staniland, Christopher Stainbank (1905–1942), test pilot and motor racer, was born at 1 Eton Villas, Fallow Corner, North Finchley, London, on 7 October 1905, the second son of Geoffrey Staniland (d. 1915), solicitor, and his wife, Millicent Ellen Marianne, née Leather (d. 1949). The family moved to Louth, Lincolnshire. During the First World War his father was commissioned in the Lincolnshire regiment and was killed in action in Belgium on 14 April 1915. His mother later became a justice of the peace in Keddington. He was educated at Louth grammar school and Tonbridge School. Soon after leaving school he joined the Royal Air Force in March 1924 on a short service commission. In November 1925 he was promoted to flying officer. He served with 41 (F) squadron before his attachment in 1928 to the high speed flight, from which pilots for the Schneider trophy race in 1929 were chosen, though he did not participate in the race.

    Staniland had meanwhile begun motor racing at Brooklands, his first appearance being in a motorcycle club event in 1923, where he won the 250 cc one lap scratch on a two-stroke Velocette. In 1924 he rode in the main British Motor Cycle Racing Club events. From 1924 to 1928 he raced on Norton bikes with considerable success in both solo and sidecar events. In 1927 he achieved a lap at over 100 m.p.h. on the 588 cc Norton. In 1928 he rode a JAP engined Excelsior for J. S. Worters with similar success and won the Brooklands 250 cc championship in 1929. Worters changed to Blackburne engines in Excelsior, Rex, or Cotton frames in 1930 but that year marked the end of profitable sponsorship so competing was much less attractive.

    From 1926 Staniland raced cars at Brooklands with his own 2 litre straight eight Bugatti. He came second in his first race and won a handicap race at the next meeting. In 1928 he bought a supercharged 1.5 litre type 37A Bugatti and ended a successful Brooklands season by lapping at over 120 m.p.h. as well as competing in the official Riley team in the first Ulster tourist trophy race.

    After being transferred to the RAF reserve (in which he held the rank of flight lieutenant from November 1929) in March 1929, Staniland joined Simmonds Aircraft Ltd at Woolston, Southampton, as a test pilot. He married at Southampton register office, on 29 June 1929, Evelyn Mary (1906–1980), daughter of Frank St Barbe Gregorie, land agent, of Lincoln. A church ceremony subsequently took place in Lincoln on 19 February 1930.

    In 1930 Staniland became chief test pilot in 1930 to the Fairey Aviation Company, based at the Great West Aerodrome at Harmsworth, Middlesex. He was one of the few test pilots who could demonstrate the absolute limits of their aircraft to buyers. One sale to the Belgian government was obtained when he offered to demonstrate the terminal velocity of 175 m.p.h. in a dive of his Firefly and challenged the French competitors to match it. In 1933 he earned membership of the Caterpillar Club when he parachuted to safety from a spinning Fairey Swordfish.

    Staniland combined employment as a test pilot with motor racing. In 1931 he shared the driving of an MG Midget with the earl of March in the Junior Car Club (JCC) double-twelve hour race which they won, contributing to MG winning the team prize by taking the top three places in the classification. In 1932 he shared Malcolm Campbell's 250 hp Mercedes Benz in both the JCC 100 mile and British Racing Drivers Club 500 mile races. The following year he shared Campbell's Sunbeam in the JCC international trophy races. In September 1935 Staniland and Bert Denly were relief drivers of George Eyston's Speed of the Wind, which took the twenty-four hour land speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, where they covered 3372 miles at an average speed of 140.522 m.p.h. Staniland drove the final laps, when the track had become dangerous, yet covered some at 154 m.p.h.

    At the final 1938 Brooklands meeting Staniland lapped at over 141 m.p.h. in the 3 litre Multi-Union which was prepared by Worters, equalling the speed of the 8 litre Barnato-Hassan when winning the long handicap and taking second place in the mountain championship. In August 1939 at the last ever Brooklands race meeting before the outbreak of war Staniland attempted to take the prestigious outright Brooklands outer circuit lap record from John Cobb's 24 litre Napier Railton, but in an ailing 3 litre Multi-Union he came just short of the existing record of 143.4 m.p.h. with a speed of 142.3 m.p.h.

    On 26 June 1942 Staniland took off from the renamed Heathrow aerodrome for a flight test of the second prototype Fairey Firefly to investigate its general handling characteristics before its transfer to RAF Boscombe Down. He crashed in a field at Hatch Farm, near Sindlesham Mill, south of Reading, Berkshire, and died before the medical team arrived. He was buried at St Margaret's churchyard in Keddington, Lincolnshire. The Accidents Investigation Board report concluded that structural failure had occurred when the aircraft was pulling out of a high speed dive. Always turned out in immaculate white overalls whether he was riding, driving, or flying, Staniland was notable for the supreme skill that allowed him to be the master of whichever machine he was controlling and take it to the absolute limit.

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    Default Re: Details Sought on Career and 1942 Death of Test Pilot

    BTW " In 1933 he earned membership of the Caterpillar Club when he parachuted to safety from a spinning Fairey Swordfish."

    This is wrong but I can see how this link came as this aircraft lead to the Swordfish

    11 Sep 1933 unregistered Fairey TSR.I Colnbrook c/n F.1875, pilot C. Staniland #18229 - Torpedo Spotter Reconnaissance was a private-venture biplane, built by Fairey


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairey_S.9/30

    Even this is wrong the date was September 11, 1933 - I have corrected
    Last edited by paulmcmillan; 24th December 2020 at 08:24.

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    Default Re: Details Sought on Career and 1942 Death of Test Pilot

    Thanks Errol, but my apologies for the radio silence for a few weeks.
    41 (F) Squadron RAF at War and Peace, April 1916-March 1946
    http://brew.clients.ch/41sqnraf.htm

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    Default Re: Details Sought on Career and 1942 Death of Test Pilot

    Thanks for the full transcript and clarification, Paul; most appreciated.

    Unfortunately, the details provided by the Oxford Dictionary of Biography are not precise enough to confirm dates and details I was seeking, though I do appreciate this might be the closest I might be able to get to them.

    - "After being transferred to the RAF reserve [...] in March 1929, Staniland joined Simmonds Aircraft Ltd..."
    - "In 1930 Staniland became chief test pilot [...] to the Fairey Aviation Company"

    Of course, this is no criticism of what you've provided - far from it! - but it looks like I will need to continue searching for his exact dates of joining Simmonds (Spartan) and Fairey (initially as a test pilot, and subsequently as chief test pilot).

    Thinking aloud, I would have thought that some company records from Simmonds and Fairey would have survived, perhaps via their subsequent entities, but there certainly does not appear to be anything obvious in the National Archives.

    Many thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Regards
    Steve
    41 (F) Squadron RAF at War and Peace, April 1916-March 1946
    http://brew.clients.ch/41sqnraf.htm

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