Joseph Summers

Joseph Summers
Joseph "Mutt" Summers
Nickname Mutt
Born 10 March 1904(1904-03-10)
Died 16 March 1954(1954-03-16) (aged 50)
Buried at Weybridge
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
Years of service 1924–1929
Rank Captain
Unit No. 29 Fighter Squadron
Battles/wars World War II test pilot
Awards CBE

Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers, CBE (10 March 1904–16 March 1954), was chief test pilot at Vickers-Armstrongs and Supermarine.

During his career Summers flew numerous prototype aircraft (a record of 54 by a test pilot), from the Supermarine Spitfire, to the Vickers Valiant. He also holds the current second place record for 366 general types tested, below Eric "Winkle" Brown's 487.[1]

Summers also holds the highest amount of flying hours of any test pilot in the world; he clocked up over 5,600 flying hours.



Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers received his nickname "Mutt" during his early days in the RAF from his habit of urinating before take off on the small rear wheel or skid of the aircraft he was testing. This led to his being accused of christening his aircraft like a dog marking its territory. He did this because he was aware during some crashes a full bladder could prove fatal.

Summers was granted a short-service commission in the RAF at the age of 21, and learned to fly on Avro 504s and Sopwith Snipes at No. 2 F.T.S. (Flying Training School). He passed out from RAF Digby in 1924 and was posted to No. 29 Fighter Squadron, equipped with Snipes and later with Gloster Grebes.

After six months he was transferred to the single-seater flight at Martlesham Heath, where he helped to test, among other types, the Gloster Gamecock, Bristol Bulldog, Hawker Hornbill and Avro Avenger. He flew for five years at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Martlesham Heath, including periods on loan to Blackburn Aircraft and Avro.[2] He left his post at Martlesham in May, 1929, and the following month joined Vickers Aviation Ltd, as their chief test pilot. A year later he became chief test pilot to the Supermarine Aviation Works and in that capacity flew the first Supermarine Spitfire in 1936.

Summers tested numerous fighters and bombers through the 1930s. He flew the prototype of Barnes Wallis' geodetic aircraft the Vickers Wellesley bomber in June 1935. He was landing this aircraft on 23 July when the port undercarriage collapsed, resulting in several months in the workshops to repair the serious damage to the wing.

He flew the protoytpe Wellington Bomber, K4049, with Wallis and Westbrook (factory manager) aboard, at Brooklands on 15 June 1936. It was to have been called the Crecy, but the change to Wellington (to commemorate the Iron Duke), started the practice of using the initial letter W for Vickers aircraft that employed Barnes Wallis geodetic structures.

Through the late 1930s and into the 1940s Summers continued to test numerous aircraft and iron out issues with existing airframes.

Postwar career

Summer's flew Britain’s first postwar airliner the Vickers VC.1 Viking, adapted from the Wellington bomber, on 22 June 1945. This was followed by the military troop transport the Vickers Valetta, which Summers flew on 30 June 1947 at Brooklands.

The prototype of the turboprop civil transport Vickers Viscount was flown from Wisley Airfield by Summers and Jock Bryce for 10 minutes on 16 July 1948.

The very last prototype to have Summers at the controls on its maiden flight was the Vickers Valiant, once again with Jock Bryce as co-pilot, flown from Wisley Airfield on 18 May 1951.


Summers experienced a number of accidents and crashes during his career. During a test flight on the first dual Gloster Grebe, the aircraft spun flat to within 150 ft of the ground, coming out completely stalled with full engine. In a terminal velocity dive on the Hawfinch a fuselage bay collapsed at about t.v. speed; the anchorage for the Sutton harness was in the tail and this pulled him back and nearly broke his neck. While testing the first Bulldog he spun down from 10,000 ft to 2,000 ft, having tried to abandon the machine at 4,000 ft. He had released his harness and was on the centre section when the machine stopped rotating and went into a dive, enabling him to regain control by pushing the stick with his foot. Thereupon he climbed back into the cockpit and landed.

His most dramatic escape was in 1945, when structural failure in a Vickers Warwick applied full rudder at 3,000 ft over Weybridge, Surrey. Summers had no alternative but to crash land the aircraft into an avenue of trees, with a ploughed field at the end. When the aircraft had come to rest flames emerged from both engine air intakes. Fortunately, some farm labourers had time to get into the fuselage and extricate Summers and his flight engineer before a major fire started.

K5054 prototype Supermarine Spitfire

On 5 March 1936 Jeffrey Quill flew Summers in a Vickers' Miles Falcon from Martlesham to Eastleigh Aerodrome, where he was to fly the new F.37/34 fighter, which on arrival had been changed to K5054.

Summers (then chief test pilot for Vickers (Aviation) Ltd.) took the prototype K5054 on its first flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome (later Southampton Airport). After a short eight-minute flight, Summers landed the prototype.

K5054 was fitted with a new propeller and Summers flew the aircraft again on 10 March; during this flight the undercarriage was retracted for the first time. After the fourth flight a new engine was fitted, and Summers left the test-flying to his assistants, Jeffrey Quill and George Pickering. They soon discovered that the Spitfire was a very good aircraft, but not perfect. The rudder was over-sensitive and the top speed was just 330 mph (528 km/h), a little faster than Sydney Camm's new Merlin-powered Hawker Hurricane.

A new and better-shaped wooden propeller meant the Spitfire reached 348 mph (557 km/h) in level flight in mid-May, then Summers flew the K5054 to RAF Martlesham Heath and handed the aircraft over to Squadron Leader Anderson of the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE).

Second World War and Battle of Britain

Shortly before the Second World War, Summers was succeeded by Jeffrey Quill, his assistant and protégé, who took over testing single-seater prototypes during the war.

During this period of the war, all leading test pilots of the main aircraft manufacturers were ordered by RAF Command to support Groups No. 10, 11, 12 and 13. Most test pilots came from Brooklands where the central manufacture and testing of military aircraft took place. Summers became a supervising RAF fighter tester specifically for No. 11 Group RAF, commanded by Air Vice Marshal Keith Park, during the Battle of Britain. Being a test pilot in this capacity and a former RAF officer, Summers' duty was as a home guard non-combatant position.

During the summer of 1940 Summers was to fly between all No. 11 Group's airfields in south east England to test fighter aircraft and ensure all they were safe to be used by 11 Group pilots after each battle. Any problems were reported to each airfield's maintenance crews. Also pilots were issued requisition tickets for a new aircraft if Summers found an aircraft to be unserviceable.

Prop failure 1940

During mid-1940, Jeffrey Quill informed Summers about a problem with propeller fatigue on early versions of the Mk1 Hurricane and Spitfire. The problem could lead to the propeller detaching itself during flight - something Quill had experienced himself.

Early in the Battle of Britain during an attack over south east England, pilot James Harry "Ginger" Lacey of 501 Squadron from RAF Middle Wallop, complained he had a problem with his Hurricane's engine, and felt it was too dangerous to accelerate any faster than he was.

After Lacey landed the Hurricane, Summers took it up on a five-minute test flight. At 1500 ft Summers noticed a problem with the engine when accelerating to a certain speed. Whilst at full throttle, the propeller sheared off the aircraft. The prop ripped off the cowling and as Summers had no parachute with him he to glide the plane back to the air field.


In preparation for the Dambusters Raid in May 1943, Summers was test pilot for the experimental bouncing bomb dropped from a Vickers Wellington near Portland, Dorset, a job given to him by close friend Barnes Wallis. He was depicted by Patrick Barr in the film made of the events.


What made him the best at what he was, and why he was predominantly chosen above other test pilots, was his unique ability to identify issues with any aircraft just by sitting the cockpit and listening to the sound the aircraft made in flight.

In his career he clocked up over 5,600 flying hours, which is the equivalent of taking off in an aircraft on 1 January and landing at the end of October. This is the highest amount of flying hours currently achieved by any test pilot.[3] By 1946 he had tested 310 different aircraft.[4]

Summers numbered among his firsts the first flight of a pure jet civil aircraft (Nene-Viking) on 6 April 1948; first flight of civil turboprop airliner, (Vickers Viscount) on 16 July 1948; initial flight of Britain's first four-jet bomber (Vickers Valiant) on 18 May 18, 1951.

By the time he retired he had achieved 366 general types, second only to the Guinness world record holder Eric "Winkle" Brown who has 487. Summers still holds the world record of 54 "Prototype First Flights".

Personal life

Summers married Dulcie Jeanette Belcher in 1922 in Sculcoates, Yorkshire. He had a daughter, Josephine Ann Summers, born in 1931.

Summers died on 16 March 1954 during complications during colon surgery, six days after his 50th birthday. He was buried in Weybridge Cemetery, Surrey after a ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

Honours and awards


Don't touch a single thing.
— "Mutt" Summers's comment from the cockpit of the prototype Spitfire K5054 after maiden flight, 5 March 1936.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Barker, R Biplane to Monoplane, Putnam's History of Aircraft: Research & Test Flying pp 212-3
  3. ^
  4. ^ Flight May 16th 1946 pp494-495
  5. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37412. p. 285. 9 January 1946. Retrieved 2009-02-14.


External links

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