Harald Penrose was Westland Chief Test Pilot from 1932 to '53. His son, Ian Penrose, recalls how his father's ambition had always been to fly the moon
I remember I said to him one day, I said anything you’d like to have done that you haven’t done? He said good Lord, yes! he said I’ve missed out completely on space. He said I’d love to have gone to the moon. He said it was fascinating being at thirty-eight thousand feet or any other and seeing the curve of the earth but I’d love to have been away and looked back. He said oh, yes, absolutely.
Plainly he was a risk taker?
No, when anybody used to say, you know, it was a calculated risk, he’d say there’s no such thing as a calculated risk. He said it’s either a risk or it isn’t a risk and I think that he did it because it was a job you see. He analysed it. He just took it as his job. I don’t think he ever thought of it as a risk as you and I might think that. He was going to survive, so to him, it was just simply a job. If it went wrong, it was something which he’d taken on, which could go wrong, but I don’t think he thought of it as a risk, as maybe you and I would think the word risk is now.
I think he was brilliant at allotting time. He definitely said, you know, I shall do this and I shall do that and that’ll take so long and, you know, in his mind he had a day programmed out. I mean certainly, all the time I was a teenager, he’d say to me right, I don’t want you to make a row I’m going to have a twenty-minute nap, and he never wore a watch as I’ve said, but that nap would be twenty minutes on the dot. He’d fall absolutely fast asleep and he’d wake up and you would look at your watch and it would be twenty minutes. He luckily never really had health problems. That’s a tremendous thing to start with. He was incredibly strong. I mean he could virtually, even as an early teenager, pick me up with one hand. I suppose that’s from wrestling with all those controls.
He was a big man?
No, not at all! And he always said to me if I’d been big, I wouldn’t be alive. He said I made my escape from that PV 7 over Martlesham, the first escape, he said, I would never have done that if I was big. Mentally he was incredibly strong. I really have to stress that. He was so, so strong. My mother used to be in awe of him, you know, she used to say he’s so powerful and it wasn’t a destructive power, it was just I’m going to do this and I’ll do it, and he did it, always.