Rear Admiral Sir Murray Fraser Sueter CB (1872 – 1960)

A number of Royal Navy officers of HMS Hermione at Barrow-in-Furness became interested in the hydro-aeroplane experiments at nearby Windermere and established a flying club. On 2 April 1912,  the first successful flight from seawater in Britain was achieved.

Under their commander Captain Murray Sueter, Inspecting Captain of Airships, applications were made for remarkable Patents in 1911/1912:-

1. To catapult an aeroplane off the foredeck of a ship, using a system first developed by the Wright brothers. The aeroplane would be launched from a mounted trolley on rails and propelled forward by a falling weight. The aeroplane and trolley would be started along the rails by gravity, or by a hydraulic, pneumatic or other propelling agent. Although the accompanying drawing showed the weight dropping below deck, the weight could alternatively be suspended from a mast, with the falling weight arrested by a buffer device.

2. An aeroplane could send a wireless telegraphy message effected by means of a key by producing oscillations in a signal using the engine magneto and condenser.

3. To prevent the formation of wing icing, by tapping off the engine exhaust and leading the hot gases to cavities inside the wing.

4. Wings covered with fabric or sheet metal and a spar of steel or aluminium, able to be detached as well as being capable of rotation by worm-gear to vary the wing inclination in flight. For example, both wings could be given such an inclination that they acted as an airbrake on alighting. The Patent also allowed for the floats to be connected to the wings in such a way as to move with them.

5. An autopilot, the controls of which were to be activated by a suspended pendulum.

6. A hydro-aeroplane which could be converted into a motorboat. This included giving additional buoyancy by inflatable bags near the wingtips operated by air or exhaust gases from the engine, and an underwater propeller.

In November 1912, Sueter came with a background of technical innovation and experience of airships and submarines gained at Barrow to the command of the Admiralty’s Air Department. In this role, he oversaw the creation of the Royal Naval Air Service with Winston Churchill who was First Lord of the Admiralty.

Sueter continued his innovations during World War 1, including the launching of torpedoes from aircraft.

The following further Patent applications with other applicants were made in 1915/1916:-

7. Improvements in wireless telegraphy installations on aircraft, so that a wireless station could be wholly or partly dismantled when not in use, by way of winding gear for the wire.

8. Overcoming vibration affecting an aircraft’s wireless receiver, by mounting the detector on an insulated plate which was provided with a clip to be sprung over the operator’s belt or other suitable part of apparel.

9. Overcoming difficulty in effecting good and sufficient joints between pieces of fabric in the construction of airships and balloons, by joining pieces of fabric by abutting their edges and attaching by adhesive a covering strip of cloth. Additional strength and gas-tightness could be obtained by sewing the joint, attaching other strips of cloth or doping.

10. An automatic gas valve for airships and balloons, so that when gas temperature rose to a predetermined degree the gas was allowed to escape.

11. Varying the pitch of propellers in relation to airflow had previously been achieved by adjusting their rotation about hinges attached to the propeller boss. An attachment was designed to satisfactorily resist the stresses to which the hinge was exposed. That is, only the trailing edges of the propeller blades were adjusted in order to vary the pitch, being operated from the cockpit.

The Admiralty recognise the work so magnificently and unremittingly carried out by Commodore Sueter – who has been, as Director of the Air Department, responsible for the organisation from the outset, and for the conduct of the RNAS up to its present state of efficiency – by promoting that invaluable officer to the rank of Commodore First Class, and placing in his charge the matiriel side of naval aeronautical work with the new title of Superintendent of Aircraft Construction. – Flight magazine, 17 September 1915.

It was as Superintendent of Aircraft Construction that Sueter visited Windermere in 1916. He recommended John Lankester Parker, a Windermere instructor, to Oswald Short for the position of a test pilot at Eastchurch. Parker became Chief Test Pilot for Short Brothers 1918-1945, and in September 1942 flew the first Windermere-assembled Sunderland flying boat. Parker succeded Ronald Kemp as Chief Test Pilot, who had flown Waterbird as a landplane at Brooklands in June 1911 and Gnosspelius No. 2 at Windermere in April 1912. Oscar Gnosspelius, a Windermere aviation pioneer, served under Sueter on the inspection staff of the Air Department and was engaged as manager of Shorts’ experimental department in 1919, becoming a consultant flying on many test flights into the 1930s. So, when German bombers were attacking Rochester in 1940, achieving a direct hit on the Shorts’ works, and it was decided to re-locate part of Sunderland production, there was a significant resource of experience of Windermere to draw upon in coming to the decision as to where that factory should be sited.


Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes