Brooklands Aerodrome

Avro

‘Alliott Verdon Roe attended one of the first meetings at the new Motor Race Track, Brooklands on 22 July 1907. In the course of this visit he looked closely at the farmland area in the middle of the Motor Course and remarked to his brother Humphrey that it might be an ideal place for test-flying aircraft because, early in the mornings, it was reported to enjoy absolutely still air.’ – Sir Peter Masefield

The Spirit

In a booklet The Brooklands Story A.V.Roe & Company 1910/1911, Howard Pixton wrote ‘I found Brooklands comprised about two dozen wooden hangars, with earth floors and wood and canvas shutters instead of  doors – all very primitive. At one end of the ground was the only too-well-known sewage farm, into which all the best aviators made a habit of landing. We were a mixed crowd, some had more money than they could ever spend, some were as poor as I was, some had their own machines, others were merely mechanics hoping to get a chance on their employer’s aeroplanes. It made no difference. In flying there were no class distinctions, we were all friends, all ready to help one another, all bound together by the same enthusiasm. Never since those days have I encountered such a wonderful spirit.’

Pixton declared the Blue Bird cafe, a converted hangar, to be ‘the highlight of the place’. Gertrude Bacon would spend Saturday or Sunday afternoons at Brooklands and described life at the cafe: ‘All fresh from the thrill of their early flights, with wind-blown locks and oil-splashed garments, those keen-eyed, laughing boys would troop in, put pennies in the jingling music box, run the little tables together to make one long board, and sit to many cups of tea and the liveliest, wittiest chatter and banter in which the effervescent spirits of the flying temperament could find vent. It was the sort of scene that Rudyard Kipling delights in and only he can depict.’

Waterbird

A.V. Roe & Company (‘Avro’) was commissioned by Edward Wakefield to build an Avro Curtiss-type aeroplane, which, when later converted to a hydro-aeroplane at Windermere, became known as ‘Waterbird’.

Test-flying was carried out at Brooklands by Francis Conway Jenkins, Louis Noel, Ronald Kemp and Frederick Raynham. On 1 July 1911, Wakefield wrote ‘At about 8 p.m. under young Mr. Raynham’s skilful piloting a splendid flight took Brooklands by storm. Rising slowly and turning at first in wide sweeps she soon gathered speed and height and sailed for some miles (4 at least) over houses and trees, and then landed in front of her hangar as gently as a thisledown. Thus she passed her contract test with flying colours.’

Extracts from Flight magazine, 1911:-

On Thursday [25 May] a new machine arrived from Messrs. A.V. Roe and Co.’s Manchester works, constructed to the order of Mr. Wakefield. It is of the Curtiss type, and designed to start from water as well as land, and is fitted with a 50-h.p. Gnome. The first trials, which will not be made with the floats, only with the wheels, should take place in about ten days. The first tests on water are to be made in the north of England. – 27 May

Louis Noel made some short flights on the Avro-Curtiss. Stanley Adams secured his certificate [Number 97] in easy style on the Avro. Some interest was caused on Tuesday [27 June] when the Avro-Curtiss, which has been built by Messrs. A. V. Roe and Co., was brought out. Mr. Ronald Kemp at his first attempt flew very well and came back in perfect style. Louis Noel made one or two rough landings, the onlookers being surprised to see the rigid wheel-base stand it so well. This machine, as well as an ordinary Avro biplane, is to be fitted with a float and tried in the North. – 1 July

The chief item of news is that the Avro biplane of the Curtiss type has been doing very well in the hands of Mr. Raynham, several circuits of the ground being made at a height of 60 to 100 feet. It will shortly be fitted with hydroplanes for experimenting over water. Mr. R. C. Kemp has been away to Manchester to inspect the Avro biplane which is being built for him for the Daily Mail competition. – 8 July

Mr. A. V. Roe has delivered the Avro [‘D’] biplane ordered by Commander Schwann, at Barrow-in-Furness. The Roe-Curtiss biplane has gone to Mr. Wakefield, at Windermere. – 15 July

Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

Edward Wakefield

Alliott Verdon Roe
www.verdon-roe.co.uk

World War One

Waterbird

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.

Quotes

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