Racing for glory – Miles M2L Hawk Six

By: shortfinals

Nov 28 2010

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: aircraft, Aviation, England, Great Vintage Flying Weekend, Royal Air Force, Second World War, Wiltshire


Focal Length:9.2mm
Shutter:1/0 sec

In the 1930s,  Charles Phillips and Jack Powis formed Phillips & Powis Aircraft at Woodley, near Reading, Berkshire following a chance meeting with Frederick G. Miles, an up-and-coming aircraft designer. Miles joined the company, and so did his wife Blossom (Maxine) and his brother Herbert, and was soon turning out wooden touring, club and racing aircraft of startling efficiency and performance.  The company always seemed able to design really competitive aircraft for the big European air races of the 1930s, the Miles M2L Hawk Six being  quite a splendid example of this. The original design was derived from the Hawk Major, and was carefully streamlined. Despite the presence of a fixed, spatted undercarriage (Miles thought the extra weight of a retraction mechanism not worthwhile), it was a fearsome racing machine, pulled along by a specially boosted version of the DH Gipsy Six engine, the 200hp Gipsy Six 1F.

Only three M2 Hawk Speed Six aircraft were made, each one to a slightly different build standard, one M2E, one M2L, and one M2U. Despite the limited numbers they had a huge influence on European air racing. On 6th/7th September 1934, the occasion of the 14th King’s Cup Air Race around Britain, Luis Fontes, a fabulously rich young man of Brazilian antecedents who had only gained his private pilot’s licence on 29th May of that same year, lined up in G-ADGP. Amazingly, his sister Ruth Fontes was flying in G-ADOD, one of the other two Hawk Speed Six aircraft.  Starting from Hatfield Aerodrome, the 1,000 mile race would pit the fastest machines available against time and the handicappers. Both machines had been fitted with flaps, a wide-track undercarriage and increased wing dihedral; however, Miss Fontes had the advantage as her Speed Six had been fitted with a high-compression Gipsy 6 R engine. G-ADGP was not very lucky in the 1934 King’s Cup, as the Gipsy Six engine lost oil pressure (due to a broken pipe), and Fontes had to make a forced landing near Easington, in County Durham. Damage included a bent propeller and a broken starboard undercarriage.

G-ADGP (and Fontes) later took part in the Grosvenor Challenge Cup at Leicester on 13th July, 1935 when he placed second, and won a prize of £20 for the fastest time on the course (not the fastest handicap time). Flight Lieutenant Tommy Rose, one of Britain’s most colourful air racers (he favoured spotted silk scarves!) came second in Golf Papa in the 1937 King’s Cup at a speed of  184 mph. The aircraft was painted in the customary ‘Miles cream’ finish at this point, and was carrying a racing number ‘8’ on the rudder.

An attempt was made to sell Golf Papa in May 1939, for the princely sum of £850 (that would have bought you a rather nice 3-bedroomed house back then!). Despite only having 150 hours on the airframe, there were no takers. In May, 1939, with war clouds gathering over Europe, Luis Fontes flew Golf Papa to a fourth place finish in the London – Isle of Man air race, and only two days later, it was the mount of Flight Lieutenant Rose once again, as he competed in the Manx Air Derby, putting up an average speed of 186mph. Just before hostilities broke out, the aircraft was readied for that year’s King’s Cup (due to be started from Elmdon, Leeds); preparations included the fitting of a new, lower-profile sliding canopy and a very fetching black and cream colour scheme (the one the aircraft can be seen in today). As can be imagined, the outbreak of the Second World War cancelled all private flying. G-ADGP would have made an excellent fast liaison aircraft for one of the RAF squadrons but, amazingly, the authorities in charge of impressing civilian machines missed their chance. It was stored, in a dismantled state, during WW2.

Sadly, after the war a new owner was needed, as Luis Fontes had lost his life ferrying a Vickers Wellington bomber, in 1940. Here is where Ronald Royal Paine enters the picture. He owned Golf Papa for nearly 18 years, and raced her in fierce tussles with the surviving Percival Vega Gull and other types in many King’s Cup and other contests. Ron, who I was privileged to know, was a consummate pilot, a winner of the Royal Aero Club’s Silver Medal, and a founder of Derby Airways (which became British Midland Airways, now BMI). He didn’t confine himself to just racing the Speed Six, however. For example, in June 1949, he flew a Miles Hawk Trainer III (a.k.a. a Miles Magister) in the Goodyear Race at Wolverhampton.

By 1971, G-ADGP was feeling her age somewhat, and a complete rebuild was successfully undertaken in Derby for her new owner, David Hood; the aircraft was now at almost M2U standard. Ron Paine undertook to buckle on his spurs one more time, and, starting at Booker Aerodrome on 15th July, 1972, was runner-up in that year’s Kings Cup!

Eventually, in 1999, she passed into the hands of the current owner, Roger Mills. The aircraft can still be seen at various vintage and veteran events around the country, and is shown here taxying out at the Great Vintage Flying Weekend,  Hullavington, Wiltshire. The sound the racing Gipsy engine makes on take-off makes the hair on the nape of the neck stand up. Roger Mills is no stranger to speed, however, as he is a former British Airways Concorde captain.

Oh, and just one more snippet; this aircraft STILL owns the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) Class C.16, 100km closed circuit record at 192.83 mph !

5 comments on “Racing for glory – Miles M2L Hawk Six”

  1. If I’m not mistaken, Ron Paine didn’t draw a line under it in 1972, for he also also flew G-ADGP in the 1973 King’s Cup Air Race, at Cranfield.

    I was privileged to be involved in bringing Ron and this fine aeroplane to that venue that year, as part of the “Flight International”-sponsored Cranfield Air Pageant, which the King’s Cup event was tied-in with on that particular occasion. Part of a special breed … both man and machine.

    Nigel Macknight


    • Thank you for this, Nigel, I am most grateful ! I knew Ron much later, of course, when I was working at EGNX and tracking down the history of Derby Aviation/Derby Airways/British Midland Airways. A fount of aviation knowledge and a gentleman……


  2. I just felt I could add a little footnote to assist the accuracy of the excellent piece you have written. So easy for facts to get lost if people don’t make the effort to assist.

    I still have letters Ron Paine wrote to me at the time (1973), and letters I received from D. A. (David) Hood, too. It all seems such a long time ago …

    Ah, memories!


  3. I saw a Miles Hawk Speed Six at Elstree Aerodrome in the early Fifties. It was white and carrying a competition number roundel on the fuselage. A few days later I learned that it had crashed and was a write-off. I was still at school at that time and was taken up many times in an Auster Autocar by an ex Fleet Air Arm pilot, William (Bill) Reeks, who was member of the Goldfish Club. Hire fees were 2 guineas an hour. Those were the days!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: