Glenn Hammond Curtiss (1878 – 1930)

On 26 January 1911, Glenn Curtiss made the world’s first practical hydro-aeroplane flight at San Diego Bay, California, by converting a Curtiss Model D landplane.

As a result, Edward Wakefield ended his negotiations with A.V. Roe & Company for a Bleriot-type machine. Arrangements were then made for an Avro Curtiss-type, which when converted at Windermere to a hydro-aeroplane was known as ‘Waterbird’.

Wakefield concluded:

‘But in spite of the valuable results obtained by M.Fabre, he, like many early experimenters, achieved but moderate success and it was reserved for the American, Mr Glenn Curtiss, to show that with a single float constructed on certain lines so as to lessen resistance, it was not only possible to rise from the water but also to alight on it with a reasonable amount of safety, for if the truth must be told, while the Fabre system had shown itself able to leave the water, it had not been equally successful in alighting without damage. Among the important results derived from Mr Glenn Curtiss’ experiments may be mentioned in addition to the possibility of using a single float, the importance of retaining the Fabre float bottom together with the parallel sides and mounting the float under the aeroplane in such a way that the greater part of the buoyancy was forward the centre of gravity.’

Waterbird flew on 25 November 1911 from Windermere. This was the first successful hydro-aeroplane flight outside of France and the USA.

The Curtiss pontoon float had been designed to ride through waves of the sea, shaped so that it would tend to rise on the surface and was flat-bottomed. However, the Wakefield float, whilst of a Curtiss-type, was ‘stepped‘ so as to enable it to break the suction effect of the water.

On 11 December 1911, Wakefield applied for UK Patents No. 27,770 and No. 27,771 for the method of attachment and a stepped float, which were respectively granted on 12 September 1912 and 18 March 1913.

On 6 September 1912, Curtiss applied for US Patent No. 1,142,754 for a flying boat, which was granted on 8 June 1915. On 18 November 1916, he applied for US Patent No. 1,269,397 for a pontoon float, which was granted on 11 June 1918.

The first successful demonstration in Europe of a Navy-type Curtiss hydro-aeroplane was made on 6 February 1912, by Hugh Robinson to Louis Paulman at Juan-les-Pins, near Nice, when during the course of thirty minutes he alighted on the water at least a dozen times.

The Curtiss flying boat No. 2, nicknamed the ‘Flying Fish’, had a full-length, flat-bottomed fuselage, rather than a central float. However, it would not leave the water until a step was added in July 1912.

In 1914, John Porte went to America to join Curtiss who had been commissioned to produce a flying boat capable of crossing the Atlantic and to claim the Daily Mail £10,000 prize, which was named ‘America‘. However, World War One intervened.

On Porte’s arrival back in England, he entered the Royal Naval Air Service as a Squadron Commander in command of the Royal Naval Air Station at Hendon. Having been transferred to RNAS Felixtowe, he  was given command in 1915. He obtained Admiralty permission to purchase 2 Curtiss flying boats, and there followed 62 Curtiss ‘Small America’ and 71 ‘Large America’ flying boats; Britain was Curtiss’ largest overseas customer during the War. Porte carried out many improvements and, during experiments on the Curtiss hulls, work began on the construction of large flying boats designed by him leading to the Felixstowe F-boats.

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 Large America H-12 flying boat. Both received the Distinguished Service Cross.

A Felixtowe F.2A flying boat shot down a Zeppelin on 10 May 1918, whilst under the command of Captain Cooper Pattinson of Windermere for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Felixtowe F.3 flying boat hulls were made by Borwick & Sons, boat builders of Bowness-on-Windermere, having been sub-contracted in 1918 by Dick, Kerr & Co. of Preston.  Borwick’s also built Waterbird’s float and floats for the RNAS.

Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

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