The Lakes Flying Company Limited – a registered charity – has been set up to celebrate and to inform the public concerning the importance of the innovative contributions made to the development of naval and civil marine aeroplanes by Captain Edward Wakefield and by Waterbird®.   

On 25 November 1911, at Windermere, Waterbird became the first aeroplane to successfully take off from and alight on water outside of France and the USA.

It was the world’s first successful flight to use a ‘stepped’ float, which was patented by Wakefield after two years of considerable experiment.

THE CHARITABLE OBJECTS OF THE LAKES FLYING COMPANY LIMITED ARE to advance the education of the public by:-

  1. The establishment and maintenance of a heritage centre, that will tell the story of early powered seaplanes with the emphasis on the history of their early development and their activities in and around Windermere and the Lake District;
  2. The construction, displays and flights of an airworthy replica of Waterbird;
  3. Exhibiting the replica of Waterbird in perpetuity, and
  4. Providing historical and technical information regarding the historical context and design of Waterbird.


The replica Waterbird has so far flown as a landplane.

Work is now underway to convert the replica to a seaplane. You can view a photo of the build of the centre section here

The prestigious Phoenix Group Diploma for 2018 was awarded to Gerry Cooper and team for ‘their remarkable achievement in building a faithful replica of Waterbird’ by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale – the World Air Sports Federation.

For an interactive 3D model, click here


We have established an Adopt a Part Scheme, full details of which are here


‘The combined efforts of designers, aviators, ship and boat builders-turned aircraft manufacturers at Barrow and Windermere during 1908-1914 justify the area’s claim to be the birthplace of British naval and civil marine aviation.’ – Triplane to Typhoon by J H Longworth.

‘It was Captain Wakefield’s Waterbird which made the first successful flight in November 1911 and Windermere thus gave birth to the age of the seaplane.’ – The Great Age of Steam on Windermere by G H Pattinson.

‘The first person in the British Empire to make true flights from water was Herbert Stanley Adams in Waterbird, on 25 November 1911.’ – Pioneer Aircraft: Early Aviation before 1914 by P Jarrett.

‘The great tradition of innovation and successfully overcoming the severe and unique difficulties of operating aircraft on water all stemmed back to Waterbird and the pioneering designs and spirit that she represented.’ – Navy Wings

‘Edward Wakefield’s ideas were scorned, but he never lost faith in the hydro-aeroplane and Waterbird was a successful expression of that faith.’ – Historic Military Aircraft by J M Bruce.

‘I hope to have shown that in the dawn of flight there was, in another of Mr. Wakefield’s rapturous phrases concerning flight from water, ‘something that beckoned…’.’ – Aeromarine Origins by H F King.


July 1910. The first aeroplane floats with a step in the world were designed and tested by Oscar Gnosspelius, on Gnosspelius No. 1. – Statutory Declaration, 11 January 1913.

25 November 1911. Gnosspelius made the second successful take-off by a hydro-aeroplane outside of France and the USA/ the first at Windermere, in Gnosspelius No. 2 . – The Westmorland Gazette, 21 December 1911.

25 November 1911. Herbert Stanley Adams made the first successful take-off and landing by a hydro-aeroplane outside of France and the USA, in Waterbird. Waterbird ‘had the distinction of being the first successful British hydro-aeroplane’. – Flight magazine, 7 December 1912.

It was the first-ever flight with a stepped float, success being elusive until a second smaller step was added at the stern. – A History of British Waterplanes, Flying Boats, Seaplanes and Amphibians by A W J G Ord-Hume.

14 February 1912. Gnosspelius made the first successful take-off and landing by a hydro-monoplane in Britain, in Gnosspelius No. 2. – The Westmorland Gazette, 24 February 1912.

15 July 1912. Gertrude Bacon became the first woman in the world to be taken out as a passenger in a hydro-aeroplane, and the first passenger in a hydro-aeroplane to make a complete circuit of the lake, which lasted forty-two minutes, in Waterhen (Waterbird’s successor). – International Women in Science by C M C Haines.

16 July 1912. Wakefield became the first person in the world to fly as a passenger in a hydro-monoplane, a Deperdussin; having been converted at Windermere from a landplane. – Letter to Wakefield from Charles Grey Editor of The Aeroplane magazine, 17 July 1912.

16 July 1912. Gertrude Bacon became the first woman in the world to fly as a passenger in a hydro-monoplane, the Deperdussin being tested for the Admiralty. It went 70 mph and took fifteen minutes to fly down the lake and up again. – International Women in Science by C M C Haines.

9 September 1912. Lieutenant John Trotter received the first lesson with the Lakes Flying Company, the first British hydro-aeroplane school.

12 September 1912. Wakefield obtained UK Patent No. 27,770 for the means of attaching a float to a hydro-aeroplane.

12 November 1912. Trotter was granted Aviator’s Certificate No. 360, the first British Certificate with tests accomplished on a hydro-aeroplane.

28 January 1913. Wakefield accompanied the Royal Aero Club’s representatives, Roger Wallace and Harold Perrin, at an Extraordinary Conference of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale held in Paris, when the Hydro-aeroplane Certificate was established, and also the Schneider Trophy for an annual international seaplane contest was accepted and the rules passed. The tests for Hydro-aeroplane Certificates would be the same as those required for Aviators’ Certificates, subject to modification regarding alighting on water, but passing the tests on water now only qualified for water flights.

18 March 1913. Wakefield obtained UK Patent No. 27,771 for a stepped float for a hydro-aeroplane. After considerable experiment, he had combined features of construction in a novel way. – H Hatfield, Patents Judge.

12 June 1913. The only occasion when a Windermere-based hydro-aeroplane flew outside of the Lake District. Having been transported by traction engine, Waterhen was flown by Adams at Hornsea Mere, near the Yorkshire coast, for Hornsea Horse Show. Passengers were taken on flights at £2 a time. – Hull Daily Mail, 12 June 1913.

30 August 1913. The first British Hydro-aeroplane Certificate was awarded to Lakes Flying Company pupil James Bland, and also on 15 April 1914 the second Certificate to Oswald Lancaster.

13 November 1913. Wakefield obtained UK Patent No.18,051 for a float of a seaplane to support its own weight during flight.

12 February 1914. Gnosspelius obtained UK Patent No.10,801 for a V-shaped float. This gave a sharper angle, reduced drag and was advantageous for structural reasons and for aerial considerations. The V-shape is used on almost every float maufactured today.

5 February 1915. Flying tuition by moonlight was described as a feature unique to the school. – Flight magazine.

20 May 1917. Two ex-pupils, Flight Sub-Lieutenants Charles Morrish and Henry Boswell, were officially credited with the first sinking of a U-boat by an RNAS aircraft, a Curtiss Large America flying boat. – The Royal Navy’s Air Service in the Great War by D Hobbs. Both were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

3 June 1918. The first list of recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross included ex-pupil Captain Harold Gonyon for bombing a U-boat on 3 April and also Captain Cooper Pattinson from Windermere for shooting down a Zeppelin on 10 May. (The Distinguished Flying Cross was instituted after formation of the Royal Air Force as the equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross for acts of valour at sea and the Military Cross for acts of valour on land – between the level of these awards and the Victoria Cross is the Distinguished Service Order.)


For a map depicting associated places at Windermere, click here


Grateful acknowledgement is given to author Peter Connon, who was a Director/ Trustee of the Lakes Flying Company Ltd., without whom the story of Windermere pilots would have been lost forever – he gave voice to their testimony.

Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

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Waterbird Float



World War One


On 25 November 1911, from Windermere, Waterbird achieved the world's first successful flight to use a stepped float. Waterbird was an Avro Curtiss-type hydro-aeroplane. The pilot was Herbert Stanley Adams (later Lieutenant Colonel).

Waterbird was commissioned by Captain Edward Wakefield from A. V. Roe & Company. Wakefield patented the stepped float and means of attachment, for which he entered into a contract on 14 March 1912 with the Admiralty, and also to convert a Deperdussin naval serial M.1 to a hydro-aeroplane.

'We believe that with the exception of the hydro-aeroplanes of the Unites States Navy no other machine of like nature has been so successful.' - Kendal Mercury & Times, 22 December 1911.

Deperdussin at Windermere

The dismantled Deperdussin arrived by rail at Windermere on 13 June 1912, and, having been successfully converted from a landplane, was flown during July by Adams, Lieutenant Reginald Gregory and Lieutenant (later Air Commodore) Charles Samson. On 10 January 1912 off Sheerness, Samson had achieved the first aeroplane launch from a British warship - HMS Africa, and on 2 May 1912 off Weymouth, the first take-off from a moving ship - HMS Hibernia.


In a letter to the Times, on 11 January 1912, Wakefield wrote 'I yield to no one in love for the scenery, and loyalty to the interests of my country. But many, who along with me learnt during the war in South Africa, the value of scouting, believe that scouting by hydro-aeroplane will shortly become a necessity for the safety of this island. England is far too behind other powers in aircraft and in flying men for both Army and Navy.'

'Edward Wakefield was convinced that the future for Naval hydro-aeroplanes lay in scouting for the fleet and relaying back information – extending the Naval battle space over the horizon. He knew that Naval aircraft could be the eyes and ears of the fleet.' – Commander Sue Eagles, Fly Navy Heritage Trust, in the Fleet Air Arm diary 2012.

'Not only did Edward Wakefield correctly predict the need for floatplanes in the Great War but also the role for the Sunderland flying boats that were to be built on the lake 30 years later.' – Wings on Windermere by Allan King.

The Importance of Private Enterprise

On 28 February 1912, the Report of the Technical Sub-Committee of the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was approved, which recommended that the Naval Wing of the Flying Corps should be established and that it attached importance to the maintenance of private enterprise in the field of aeronautics. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the Standing Sub-Committee, when asked in the House of Commons about the Royal Navy and hydro-aeroplanes, referred to the experiments at Windermere and that 'the results so far attained have been promising'.

On 16 April 1912, Churchill confirmed in the Commons that private hydro-aeroplane tests would continue on Windermere. Click here for image.

The term 'seaplane' was coined by Churchill when he answered a question in the Commons on 17 July 1913.

Seaplanes in War

Churchill wrote in a Minute of 10 February 1914 that 'The objectives of land aeroplanes can never be so definite or important as the objectives of seaplanes, which, when they carry torpedoes, may prove capable of playing a decisive part in operations against capital ships. The facilities of reconnaissance at sea, where hostile vessels can be sighted at enormous distances while the seaplane remains out of possible range, offer a far wider prospect even in the domain of information to seaplanes than to land aeroplanes',

Whilst Wakefield advocated defensive scouting, derived from his experience in the Boer War, Churchill, however, came to the view that attack was the prime tactic for defence: 'The great defence against aerial menace is to attack the enemy's aircraft as near as possible to their point of departure'. Three years and one month after Waterbird's first flight, carrier-borne seaplanes were launched against Germany. 'The Cuxhaven raid marks the first employment of the seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service in an attack on the enemy's harbours from the sea, and, apart from the results achieved, is an occasion of historical moment. Not only so, but for the first time in history a naval attack has been delivered simultaneously above, on, and from below the surface of the water.' – Flight magazine, 1 January 1915.

Training for Naval Marine Aeroplanes at Windermere

A private Seaplane School was formed at Hill of Oaks on the south east shore of Windermere. For an example of the fate of Windermere students, click here.

Following the outbreak of war, Adams joined the RNAS becoming a Lieutenant Colonel with the DSC and MBE, and Wakefield joined the Cheshire Regiment becoming commander of a Labour Battalion on the Western Front. On 11 November 1914, the Cockshott Point hangar lease, together with Waterhen, Seabird and Lakes Monoplane were sold by the Lakes Flying Company to the Northern Aircraft Company Ltd.

'Large numbers of probationary Sub-Lieutenants R.N. were sent to Windermere for basic instruction, in addition to those who had already qualified on land machines.' - Britain's Seaplane Pioneers by M H Goodall, Air Pictorial January 1988.

The School was taken over on behalf of the Government, and in May 1916 training operations at Cockshott Point and Hill of Oaks became RNAS Unit Hill of Oaks. In June 1916, the headquarters of the RNAS at Windermere moved from Cockshott Point to Hill of Oaks, and, with the departure of civilian instructors, the name was changed to RNAS Windermere.

A Royal Naval Air Station was established at Hill of Oaks 1916-1917. At various times, the fleet included 4 Nieuport VI seaplanes, 9 F.B.A. flying boats, and 3 Short 827 seaplanes.

The first pupil to obtain a Hydro-aeroplane Certificate at RNAS Hill of Oaks was Paul Gadbois, on 14 June 1916. He departed Windermere on 26 June 1916, but two weeks later was seriously injured in a seaplane accident. The last pupil to obtain a Certificate at Windermere was Edward Haller, on 16 August 1916. He joined the RFC, but was killed on 3 June 1917, when shot down flying a Sopwith 1½ Strutter.

RNAS personnel involved themselves in the local community, even putting on a concert. However, parents of daughters complained that the prefix to RNAS Hill of Oaks stood for Rather Naughty After Sunset!

A Tribute to Windermere

'Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay Hill of Oaks, Windermere is that but for its existence, just a few years later Britain could quite easily have starved to death as a result of the U-boat blockade. Thankfully the deterrent aspect of seaplanes and other aerial craft forced enemy submarines to stay under the surface and therefore make them less effective.' – The Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust.

On 20 May 1917, two ex-Windermere pupils, Flight Sub-Lieutenants Charles Morrish and Henry Boswell, were officially credited with the first aerial sinking of a U-boat whilst flying a Curtiss H-12 flying boat.  Both of them were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

On 3 June 1918, ex-Windermere pupil Captain Harold Gonyon was amongst the first recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross

Borwick & Sons, boat builders of Bowness-on-Windermere, who constructed the floats and aeroplanes of Oscar Gnosspelius (later Major), Waterbird's floats, floats for the RNAS and pinnaces for the Admiralty, were sub-contracted in 1918 to manufacture Felixstowe flying boat hulls.

On 10 May 1918, Captain Cooper Pattinson from Windermere was first pilot of an S.E. Saunders Ltd-built Felixstowe flying boat which shot down a Zeppelin at Heligoland Bight, for which he was among the first recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross. On 16 May 1918, whilst carrying out an anti-submarine patrol, he achieved the record for the longest duration flight during World War 1 at that time of 9 hours 45 minutes. It is claimed that Pattinson invented the spotlight altimeter in 1918, wrongly attributed to Guy Gibson in 1943 in the Dam Busters film.

Wavell Wakefield

On 1 November 1918, Flight Lieutenant Wavell Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's nephew, later Lord Wakefield of Kendal) landed a Sopwith Pup on the after deck of HMS Vindictive at Scapa Flow.

Arthur Wakefield

Doctor Arthur Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's brother) unveiled a memorial on 8 June 1924 at the summit of Great Gable to the twenty members of The Fell & Rock Climbing Club who fell in World War One.


Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

Admiralty Deperdussin

Cuxhaven Raid