What the RAF owed to Miss Shilling

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During the war, with Brooklands closed for racing, some members of the British Motorcycle Racing Club had meetings at the Hand and Spear Hotel, which was situated quite close to the old Track at the end of a lane on the left of the road into Weybridge.

On hearing of this, Denis Jenkinson and I went to one of these meetings, which comprised those who had raced motorcycles at the Track and lived close by. The proprietress made these welcome affairs, so when she finally retired she was given a trophy in appreciation of this.

At one of these meeting DSJ and I took along Miss Beatrice ‘Tilly’ Shilling, who was not immediately recognised by the happy drinkers assembled at the bar. When asked whom the lady we had brought with us was, we told them she was Miss Shilling, and at once they realised she was one of them and greeted her accordingly. She had briefly raced a Norton in 1934, but was unplaced in this first race. But then she eventually lapped the Track at 101.2mph, so winning her Gold Star. In her next race she was re-handicapped, making her the first woman rider in a handicap race to start from scratch. She lapped at 101.85mph but was unplaced.

During the war I was employed by the Ministry of Aircraft, and used to see Miss Shilling leaving the RAE on the pillion of her husband-to-be G Naylor’s fast and noisy Norton. She was known in aircraft circles for an invention known as ‘Miss Shilling’s orifice’. In her research at the aforesaid RAE, she was able to obviate a ‘flat spot’ in the carburation of the Merlin engines in our fighter aircraft. Previous to this they often cut out momentarily as their pilots made rapid downward negative-g turns, putting them at a disadvantage in a dog fight. Miss Shilling realised that a restriction plate with a hole just large enough for maximum flow would obviate the problematic fuel surge under these conditions, and with a small team travelled the country fitting these to combat aircraft. Many an RAF pilot had reason to be grateful to her thereafter.