William Herbert Baxter Ellis

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 06 January 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:g7816
  1. Matthew Limb

Pioneer in aviation medicine

Herbert Ellis was the first and only naval doctor to be awarded the Air Force Cross (in 1954), and he tested his mind and body—and those of his brave fellow aviators—to the limits in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. He served with the Fleet Air Arm pilots from the late 1940s to 1959, and spent seven years at the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine, the so called Farnborough lab, in Hampshire. He flew many prototype planes and explored the physiological and psychological impacts on crew of rapidly developing technologies, including new high speed jets.

Ellis broke his neck in one experiment simulating pilots’ ability to withstand the huge G forces anticipated from the “steam catapult,” a new aircraft carrier landing device. He contributed to changes vital to the physical and physiological survival of jet pilots: breathing apparatus, helmets, clothing, and life saving equipment.1 He is perhaps best remembered for the audiosensor system he developed to assist aircraft landings, which became the modern day car parking aid.

David Bridgeman Sutton, a longtime friend, says that Ellis’s exciting naval service had to come to an end at some …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription