Captain Edward Wakefield entered into an Agreement with A. V. Roe & Co (‘Avro’) for an aeroplane
Wakefield placed advertisements in Flight magazine of 24 September 1910 for an aero engine and a ‘flight machine’. Amongst the many replies, one came on 26 September from Humphrey Verdon Roe of Avro, Manchester. Avro had been formed on 1 January that year, the world’s first company to be registered as an aeroplane manufacturer.
Wakefield met with Humphrey at Brownsfield Mills, Manchester (they had the common background of having served in the Boer War) and, following a letter from Humphrey to Wakefield on 6 October 1910, terms were reached for a Bleriot-type monoplane at £100 without engine, propeller and wheels.
Wakefield had seen the Roe 1 Triplane, which he referred to as the ‘Bull’s Eye‘, flown by Alliott Verdon Roe (later Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe OBE, Hon. FRAeS, FIAS) at the Blackpool Aviation Meeting on 19 October 1909 for a short distance before the transmission chain jammed. Alliott’s younger brother Humphrey financed Avro. Humphrey owned H.W. Everard & Company which produced Bull’s-Eye men’s trouser braces in a factory at Brownsfield Mills, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester. Hence the aeroplane carried advertising on its side of not only ‘Bull’s-Eye’ but also ‘Avroplane’ which was the trading name.
Wakefield acted quickly, writing to Humphrey on 2 February, meeting on 5 February at Brooklands, Weybridge, and meeting Alliott at Brownsfield Mills, Manchester on 26 February. Arrangements were then entered into for an aeroplane at £250 and a Gnome Omega 50 hp ‘pusher’ [the propeller was behind the wings] engine for £375. It is believed that there are only 2 such engines which have survived. Avro was an airframe designer and builder, but not an engine constructor.
Initial flights of Avro aeroplanes were by:-
1908 Roe I Biplane
1909 Roe I Triplane
1910 Roe II Triplane
1910 Roe III Triplane
1910 Roe IV Triplane
1911 Avro Type D biplane (converted to a hydro-aeroplane at Barrow-in Furness)
1911 Biplane (converted to a hydro-aeroplane) – it did not have an Avro designation and became known as Waterbird.
‘Alliott Verdon Roe’s early interest in hydro-aeroplanes was sparked by Wakefield’s order.’ – Eric Verdon-Roe, grandson.
Build of the aeroplane
Build took place at a basement workshop in Brownsfield Mills. The above plan, dated 9 March 1911 and signed by the works manager Reginald Parrott, is the oldest surviving Avro aeroplane plan. The rudder is the earliest surviving part bearing the legend ‘A.V. Roe & Co’. Photos of surviving parts are here.
Transfer took place to Brooklands on 25 May for test flying, where Wakefield met Humphrey on 29 June. Ronald Kemp, Louis Noel, Frederick Raynham and Francis Conway Jenkins flew the aeroplane. Various changes were made, as ordered by Kemp and carried out by Alliott, including extending the span of the upper wings and replacing the rudder. Howard Pixton, Chief Instructor of the Avro School, watched the first flight. He wrote in a booklet The Brooklands Story 1910/1911, that 1911 was an eventful year for Avro, including the aeroplane for Wakefield who took one of the best Avro pupils, Herbert Stanley Adams, as pilot.
On 1 July, 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 thistledown. Thus she passed her contract test with flying colours’.
Waterbird was an Avro Curtiss-type
It was a biplane, Avro ending their triplane configuration with the Avro D which first flew on 1 April with Pixton as pilot at Brooklands. Curtiss tested a triplane seaplane, but only for a short period. Curtiss-type elements were the tail and front elevator (‘canard’). Alterations at Brooklands included replacing the Curtiss motor car-type steering control wheel with a steering column – ‘stick’ – which Alliott had invented for which he obtained UK Patent No. 26,099 on 14 November 1907. A Farman-type pole connected the stick to the canard. Neither a Curtiss nor an Avro had flown with a Gnome engine.
Waterbird at Windermere
Following delivery on 7 July to Windermere, conversion to a hydro-aeroplane was accomplished. However, the engine was found to be seriously defective and taken to the Gnome works in Paris for repair. On 25 November, flown by Adams, Waterbird made the first successful take-off and alighting on water outside the USA and France where the very first hydro-aeroplane flight had taken place on 28 March 1910. It was the first successful flight in the world to use a stepped float, which Wakefield patented. 8 flights were carried out that day at distances of between four and five miles, and two days later exhibtion flights were made.
Avro D at Barrow-in-Furness
Meanwhile, Pixton gave a demonstration flight of the first Avro D (see photo above taken at Brooklands) to Commander (later Air Vice-Marshal Sir) Oliver Schwann who bought it for £700 and taught himself basic pilot skills. In the second week of June, it was despatched to Barrow-in-Furness where floats were attached. On 18 November at Cavendish Dock, Barrow, piloted by Schwann, the Avro D left the water for 50-60 yards but crashed upon it falling back into the water. On 2 April 1912, flying the Avro D at Barrow, Sydney Sippe made the first successful flight from seawater in Britain.
Oscar Gnosspelius at Windermere
Earlier on 25 November, Oscar Gnosspelius had flown from Windermere, but he also crashed on alighting. In February, he had made straight and level flights at Brooklands, having been taught by Pixton. Gnosspelius No. 2 flew succcessfully on 14 February 1912, when Gnosspelius was the pilot. In April 1912, Gnosspelius invited Kemp, whom he had met at Brooklands, to Windermere in order to more fully explore the flight envelope of his hydro-aeroplane. Kemp made a series of flights between the 12th and 17th, including one of twenty minutes.
Gertude Bacon on Avro and Windermere
In July 1912, Gertrude Bacon flew as a passenger at Windermere in Waterhen and the Deperdussin, so acheiving world firsts. In her book Memories of Land and Sky, she wrote: ‘I visited the aerodromes and aeroplane works that by then were springing up in all directions. One of the earliest of the latter I found in a mill outside Manchester, where half the building was devoted to the manufacture of men’s braces, and the other to ‘Avroplanes’. Of the former the most romantic example was undoubtedly Windermere.’
Seabird / the Avro at Windermere
Avro built an aeroplane for John Duigan, similar to the Avro D, which Adams bought from him for £180. Following transportation from Brooklands to Windermere, new wings, designed by Gnosspelius, were made and the ex-Waterbird engine installed. It was first flown at Windermere on 28 August 1912 and became known as Seabird and later as the Avro.
In December 1912, Adams test flew the Avro 501 at Eastchurch on behalf of Avro, the float having been designed by Gnosspelius, built to the orders of the Admiralty. It was adapted for alighting on, and rising from, either water or land.
The Avro 503, a slightly larger version of the Avro 501, made its first take-off from the River Adur at Brighton on 28 May 1913, flown by Raynham. It was the first aeroplane to have floats designed by Avro. On the following day, he carried as a passenger John Alcock who was working at Brooklands as a mechanic and made the first Atlantic crossing in 1919, which brought an award of £10,000 from the Daily Mail.
The Daily Mail Prizes
The Daily Mail, founded by Lord Northcliffe in 1896, stimulated aviation by awarding prizes between 1907 and 1930. In 1907, Alliott won £75 in a model competition of 130 entries whose motive powers included petrol, steam, clockwork, elastic and compressed air, which helped fund the full-size aeroplane. In August 1909, Lord Northcliffe wrote to Blackpool Town Hall suggesting that an air display be put on. Wakefield derived his inspiration to fly off water from the Blackpool Aviation Meeting in October 1909. On 14 February 1914, Raynham flew an Avro 504 to 15,000 feet. Bought by the Daily Mail, it carried out displays at towns around the British coast.
Between 1909 and August 1914, Lord Northcliffe gave what was then the enormous sum of £24,050 in prizes, and offered £5,000 for the first round Britain flight by a seaplane, but World War 1 ended all competition flying. The prototype Avro 510 seaplane was built for the cancelled 1914 Circuit of Britain race. On behalf of the Navy, Captain (later Air Chief Marshal Sir) Arthur Longmore handed the cheque for it to Alliott on 20 January 1912. Longmore had test-flown Waterbird for the Navy, his first take-off from water.
Captain Howard Pixton
On 20 April 1914, flying a Sopwith seaplane at Monaco, Pixton became the first Briton to win the Schneider Trophy.
From 21 July until October 1919, Pixton operated two Avro 504 seaplanes (still displaying their military serial numbers) at Cockshott, Windermere for the Avro Transport Company, having taken a lease of the hangar from Wakefield. He carried out joyriding flights, instruction and delivery of newspapers to the Isle of Man.
Major Sydney Sippe
Sippe (who had flown the Avro D at Barrow) flew an Avro 504 on 21 November 1914 during a Royal Naval Air Service raid on the Zeppelin factory at Friedsrichshafen, part of the first strategic bombing campaign, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Légion d’honneur.
Crossley Motors Limited
In 1920, Crossley Motors Ltd acquired 68.5% of the shares in A. V. Roe & Co. Ltd. Crossley took over Avro’s car manufacturing business, but Avro independently continued aeroplane manufacturing operations and retained its name.
In 1928, Alliott sold his shares in A. V. Roe & Co. Ltd. Seeking a company to pursue his seaplane ideas, he bought a controlling interest in S. E. Saunders Ltd from Sam Saunders, so leading to Saunders-Roe Ltd (‘Saro’) and flying boat production.
The first design was the Saro A.17 Cutty Sark, of which twelve were built. G-ABBC, named Progress 1, was based at Blackpool Airport and operated from the foreshore to Douglas Bay, or Ronaldsway Airport, Isle of Man by British Amphibious Airlines Ltd during 1932-1933. It was the first scheduled internal air service within the British Isles.