by Frank E Earp
This is my chance to put together a story my father once told me when I was a child. I have no way of independently verifying my father’s story, but as facts and circumstance seem to fit, in all likelihood it is true.
For reasons which will become apparent, the incident, – if it actually happened, – must have occurred sometime between 3rd Aug. and 15th Dec. 1954. One morning, sometime between the mid and later part of this period, my father was working in the garden of my grandfather’s farm at ‘Halfway House’, Wollaton’. It was a still morning, when sound carries for some distance and it was sound, – a distant raw of a jet engine, – which drew his attention skyward. Looking to the north, – the direction from whence the sound came, – he saw a strange object hovering at treetop height in the sky above Hucknall a little under 4 miles away. He had never before seen such an object and immediately rushed into the house to inform the rest of the family. As soon as he enter the old farmhouse kitchen, he declared that he had seen a ‘flying car’ and called upon all those present to come outside to see for themselves. By the time everyone was out in the garden, the U.F.O. had disappeared.
My father’s strange sighting of a flying car was greeted by the family with incredulity and some good humour. But the disbelief was soon dropped and the mystery solved, when the newspapers announced that there had been testing of a new aircraft, at the Rolls-Royce test centre at Hucknall Aredrome. Accompanying pictures showed this to be my father’s U.F.O., his flying car.
The Rolls-Royce ‘Thrust Measuring Rig’ (TMT), – or as it was more familiarly known ‘The Flying Bedstead’, – was in fact like no other conventional aircraft ever trialled. It consisted of two Rolls-Royce ‘Nene’ turbojet engines, mounted back to back horizontally and set within a steel frame (the rig), which in turn, was mounted on four legs with castors for wheels. The pilot sat in an open cockpit, set directly over the engines, at about mid-point along the rig. The basic oblong shape, four legs and the fact that it was totally without wings or rotors as lifting surfaces, meant that it quickly gain the nickname of the Flying Bedstead’. Personally, I think that in some photos and illustrations, the TMR resembles an old-fashioned open-topped sports car and my father’s flying car analogy is a good one.
The TMR, – largely the work of Dr Alan Griffith, – was a pioneering rig to test the potential of vertical take-off technology. The first test flight was carried out at Hucknall on the 19th July 1954, with the machine tethered to a gantry. Over the following month, several more successful tethered test flights were made. Piloted by Capt. Ron Shepherd, the TMR made its first ‘free flight’, on the 3rd Aug. 1953, in the presence of a distinguished audience. The rig rose slowly into the air to the height of around 12’ to 15’ where it hovered for a while before making a circuit of the test area. After demonstrating sideways and backwards movement, it returned to earth making a successful landing. During the next four months a number of further free flights were made all to the same height. However, one flight, – likely to be the one my father witnessed, – was made to the height of 50’. The final flight was made on the 15th Dec. 1954, before the rig was taken to Farnborough for further work. A second test rig was built and tethered flights, – beginning on the 17th Oct. 1955, – continued successfully for a year. This rig made its first free flight on Nov. 12th 1956, but it crashed a year later on Nov. 28th 1957, killing the test pilot. Further testing of the TMR ceased at the Rolls-Royce test centre at Hucknall.
The success of the test flights of the TMR, the Flying Bedstead, at Hucknall in Nottinghamshire led to the development of the Rolls-Royce RB 108 direct-lift turbojet, five of which were used to power the first true British VTOL aircraft, the ‘Short’, which first took to the air in the late 1950’s.
Piloted by Capt. Ron Shepherd, the TMR made its first ‘free flight’, on the 3rd Aug. 1953, in the presence of a distinguished audience.
On the 3rd Aug. piloted by Capt. Ron Shepherd, before a distinguished audience, the TMR made its first ‘free flight’.