Click for Site Directory
Group Captain John Alexander KENT
DFC and Bar,AFC , Virtuti Militaire (Polish VC)
This man was an individual who flew into the cables of barrage balloons so often that he would do it without any cause for concern. He was a famous RAF test pilot and one of his jobs was to see how aircraft behaved on impacting a cable and have the whole event caught on film for scientific analysis.
He was born in Winnipeg on 23 June 1914 and began to fly at 16 years of age and had his own pilots licence at 17. He came to England in February 1935 and joined the Royal Air Force the following month. He was appointed Acting Pilot Officer on Probation on March 15th 1935, he was confirmed as a Pilot Officer in 1936, a Flight Lieutenant in September 1936 and rose to Acting Squadron Leader in October 1940.
He was posted to
Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough as a test pilot. It was here that he
undertook his research into barrage balloon cables and their effect on aircraft.
many hair raising experiences during the trials flying into cables with a Fairy
P4/34, a Wellesley, and a Battle.
He was specifically listed in AFRO 1292/41 dated 7 November 1941 as a Canadian in the RAF who had been decorated as of that date. Recommendation dated 23 September 1938 (prepared by W/C M. McEntegart, Commanding Officer, Experimental Section, Royal Aeronautical Establishment) in Public Record Office, Air 2/9315:
Flying Officer Kent has, during the last six months, made approximately 60 flights involving collision with a wire cable in connection with the special defence experiments being carried out at this Establishment. The experiment is one which is accompanied by a considerable element of risk to the pilot and calls for determination and a high degree of skill in piloting. Flying Officer Kent has at all times carried out these duties in a most efficient manner. He is fully aware of the nature of the risks he is taking but has never allowed this in any way to diminish the marked willingness and zeal with which he carries out these duties.
Also on 23 September 1938, A.H. Hall (Chief Superintendent, Royal Aeronautical Establishment) supported this with the following remarks:
I endorse the remarks above. As far as comparisons are possible I regard the work done by Flying Officer Kent as being at least as difficult and trying as work done in previous years for which awards have been made.
On 1 November 1938 A/C Roderick Hill (Director of Technical Developments) added:
I fully endorse the recommendation of the Officer Commanding, Experimental Section and the Chief Superintendent, Royal Aeronautical Establishment. I consider Flying Officer Kent has shown gallantry and determination in experimental flying which has not only set a fine example, but has produced very valuable results. I consider him suitable for the award of the Air Force Cross. (Information courtesy of Air Force Association of Canada- an excellent site indeed - http://www.airforce.ca/index.php3)
On 15th September 1939
he was promoted from Flying Officer to Flight Lieutenant.
He flew over 92 different types of aircraft many for their maiden take off and landing. He was able to learn the faults and advantages of different aircraft, how heavy or light they were on controls, rate of climb, speed at different altitudes and oil and petrol consumption.
For each flight he would emerge with all the information clearly recorded on his writing pad.
When asked to deliberately fly into a cable he did not like the idea as this was something specifically designed to cause serious damage to an aircraft, but never the less he still followed orders.
The first time he flew into a cable the boffins chose a very light cable, he got in a Fairey aircraft, attained the required altitude and flew straight at the cable with a camera crew recording every moment. He said afterwards that he did not know he had flown into it as he went straight on. From that moment on he underwent dozens of flights where the cables were increased in weight and he flew all types of British bombers into them.
Clearly each experiment was unique and the outcome unforeseen. It was only because of Sqdn Ldr Kent's superb skill and courage that he was able to pilot the damaged plane back to a safe landing. On on occasion he sheared off three feet from the wing and landed again without any major problem. Cables could whip around on an aircraft and might wrap around the aileron thus stopping control and if the elevator were damaged the pilot had a great deal of work ahead to get back down safely.
One day a cable wrapped around the elevator and the tail plane and on pushing the control column forward to go down it was jammed. Using all his strength he managed to move the column just an inch or two and he gained some control over the aircraft as it descended toward the aerodrome. The bomber crash landed onto the runway.
On another occasion he carried a cable weighing several tons wedged into the wing of his aircraft. This sudden weight change would have sent most bombers to the ground as indeed, this was the intention of the balloon cable. He maintained control and got ready for a landing. He was losing height due to the large drag factor of the cable and as he came into land the dangling cable caught around some high tension electricity wires. The bomber slewed around on one wing and stalled. Sqdn Ldr Kent opened the throttle wide open and using full power managed to pull the bomber around and level. As he did this the aircraft fell onto the runway but the cable became detached from the high tension electricity wires. If this had not happened he would have gone up in flames on landing. He went on to become a highly decorated war ace. Without his expertise, daring and bravery the value of barrage balloons could never have been properly evaluated. We owe him along with many others a great debt of thanks.
On 2 August 1940,
His first combat victories came on 9 September 1940 when he shot down a ME 110 and a Ju 88. On 23 September, he destroyed a ME 109 and damaged an Fw 58 reconnaissance aircraft while intercepting a raid over Dungeness. He shot down a Ju 88 after a raid over
During a dogfight over the south coast of
October 1940, this officer, when entirely alone, attacked 40 Messchersmitt
ME109's and shot down two of them. He has personally destroyed four enemy
aircraft. Flight Lieutenant
he was posted to RAF Biggin Hill to take command of 92 Squadron and another
highly successful group of pilots. Using the "new broom sweeps clean"
, technique, he made sure the pilots were made to follow strict orders. this
proved unpopular with the some what casual attitude of the 92 Squadron pilots
had at the time. On 1 November,
Taken in August 1940, Kent is seen here with Polish pilots from 303 Squadron.
L-R P/O M. Feric, Fl/Lt J.A.Kent, F/O B. Grzeszczak, P/O J. E. L Zumbach, P/O W. Lokuciewski, F/O Z. K. Hennerberg, P/O J. K. M. Daszewski,
and Sgt E. Szaposznikow. All appeared to have survived World War Two.
He was then posted back to Northolt as a Wing Leader in June 1941 to lead the
Polish Wing of four squadrons. On 21 June 1941, during an operation escorting
Blenheim bombers against enemy positions at
On the 30th September 1941 he was sent to General duties with a permanent commissioned rank of Flight Lieutenant.
After a posting to Air HQ as a Command Training Inspector at Air Defences East Mediterranean, he returned to the
He went on in post-war Britain to become chief Test Pilot at Farnborough He retired from the RAF on 1 December 1956,