21 May 2018 – THE REPLICA WATERBIRD’S FIRST FLIGHT
She flies! We are delighted to announce that the replica Waterbird has made her first flights as a landplane and development continues.
21 May 2018 – WATERBIRD’S PLACE IN AVIATION HISTORY
Lawyer Ian Gee has collated documentation which, he claims, proves that the step-hydroplane was in fact discovered and first successfully used by a team working at Windermere in the English Lake District.
Gee is familiar with the stepped float as for seven years he has been involved in a project to build an airworthy replica of the breakthrough aeroplane, known as ‘Waterbird’.
Waterbird was the first aeroplane outside France and the USA to make a successful flight from water when she took off and landed on Windermere on 25 November 1911.
Gee has held a pilot’s licence since 1979, but it was only when he started studying for a seaplane rating that he discovered claims for Curtiss to be given credit for his revolutionary invention.
“I was advised by an instructor to study text books, which are all American, and I read that Curtiss’ most important contribution was the invention of the step.”
Typical is the introduction to ER Johnson’s American Flying Boats and Amphibious Aircraft, which states: ‘Glenn Curtiss built a flying boat during the summer of 1912 … The solution he finally hit upon was to incorporate a transverse step … Every flying boat, amphibian and seaplane that has flown since, is an heir to his efforts’.
“Comparing the dates with other books, magazines from the time and documents, I realised that in fact Windermere had invented the step for hydro-aeroplanes and successfully flown with them before Curtiss.”
Captain Edward Wakefield applied for UK patents for a stepped float and its method of attachment on 11 December 1911, which were respectively granted on 12 September 1912, and on 24 October 1912 with amendment on 18 March 1913.
Curtiss applied for US patents for a stepped hull on 4 June 1913, which was granted on 8 June 1915, and for a pontoon float on 18 November 1916, which was granted on 11 June 1918.
One of Britain’s most important aviation pioneers, Captain Edward Wakefield of Kendal, had bought an aircraft from A.V. Roe & Company.
It was converted to a floatplane at Wakefield’s base at Hill of Oaks, on the shores of Windermere and Herbert Stanley Adams carried out numerous flights including of 20 miles duration with a height of 800 feet.
Waterbird was sadly rendered beyond repair in March 1912, when her hangar collapsed during a storm. Her life was short, but very productive. It provided the vital springboard to establishing a twin centre of technical innovation and flying expertise.
This combination drove the development of more sophisticated aircraft at such a pace that by the end of 1914, just some three years later, viable carrier-borne Royal Naval Air Service aircraft were in action over Germany.
On 14 March 1912, Wakefield entered into a contract with the Admiralty for stepped floats and undercarriages, or royalties, and to convert Admiralty Deperdussin M1 (a monoplane) into a hydro-aeroplane, which was first flown by Adams at Windermere on 11 July 1912.
Hill of Oaks soon became a key Admiralty training centre and by the beginning of World War I was a major facility for pilots before their often short deployment to the Western and Mediterranean fronts. This led to the establishment of a Royal Naval Air Station at Windermere in 1916.
In 1918, a Felixstowe flying boat, piloted by Captain Cooper Pattinson from Windermere, shot down a Zeppelin for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Gee is very keen to point out that he does not want for a moment to disrespect the remarkable genius of Curtiss.
“In fact the Windermere team had a great deal to be grateful to him for. They used Curtiss’ aeroplane designs for Waterbird, including the float.
“But the Curtiss float was flat-bottomed.
“The first actual design and test of floats with steps in the world was by Oscar Gnosspelius in July 1910 at Windermere.
“The first successful flight with a stepped float in the world was by Waterbird on 25 November 1911 at Windermere.
“It was not until July 1912 that Curtiss flew with a stepped hull.
“However, Gnosspelius did not protect his invention and later failed in his objection to Wakefield’s patent application. It is ironic that all these years later I have read his objection declaration which helps prove that Wakefield was ahead of Curtiss.”
Gee adds: “I want to praise Curtiss for all his wonderful achievements and thank him for the technological developments for the aeroplane and the step-hydroplane, but what is claimed as his most important contribution wasn’t his”.
The original Waterbird float, several parts and the aeroplane plan have survived.
Gee is a trustee of a charity, The Lakes Flying Company Limited, which has built an airworthy replica of Waterbird. The replica has so far achieved land-based straight hops, reaching 10 feet high.
The ambition is to fly it from Windermere, for which permission has already been granted to break a 10 knots speed limit on the lake from the Lake District National Park Authority.
How the idea of a seaplane developed in the frantic years before the First World War:
It was a clergyman, the Rev. Charles Meade Ramus, who first suggested the hydroplane, in 1872, and he drew the attention of the Admiralty [for warships] to his experiments with models and their results, but the scheme as a whole was abandoned.
UK Patent No. 17,360, which was applied for on 2 August 1906 and granted on 10 January 1907, to Albert Edward Knight, is the first patent on record relating to stepped hydroplanes [for boats].
The flying boat and the waterplane with stepped floats were originated on paper by Knight in 1909 in a document sent to the Admiralty.
On 28 March 1910, Frenchman Henri Fabre made the first successful flight from water. However, his float was not stepped but had a flat part underneath, with a curved upper surface, so as to generate lifting force when moving on water or in air.
The first actual design and test of floats with steps in the world was by Oscar Gnosspelius in July 1910 at Windermere.
In November 1910, having designed another stepped float, Gnosspelius No. 1 made a few ‘hops’, however the 20 horsepower engine was of insufficient power.
Glenn Curtiss flew from water on 26 January 1911 at San Diego Bay, California, the world’s first practical hydro-aeroplane flight.
Waterbird’s float was a Curtiss-type pontoon. However, the Curtiss float had been shaped so as to rise on the surface and was flat-bottomed, not stepped, and it would not break free from a glassy sea.
On 18 November 1911, at Cavendish Dock, Barrow-in-Furness, an Avro D, fitted with a pair of stepped floats, was flown by Commander Oliver Schwann for 50 or 60 yards, but he was unprepared for the climb to a height of 20 feet. The aeroplane fell back into the water, damaging a float and wing. It did successfully fly on 2 April 1912, piloted by Sydney Sippe – the first such British flight from seawater.
On 25 November 1911, Gnosspelius No. 2 had been going for a minute when there was an untoward gust of wind causing Gnosspelius to lose control. He overcorrected, causing a rapid bank to the right then to the left, following which the port wing tip was damaged and the propeller splintered upon striking the water, resulting in the aeroplane turning onto its back. Gnosspelius No. 2 did successfully fly on 14 February 1912, piloted by Gnosspelius who was also its designer.
Captain Edward Wakefield commissioned ‘Waterbird’ from A.V. Roe & Company, an Avro Curtiss-type. He undertook 2 years of almost constant experiments for the float.
Later on 25 November 1911, piloted by Herbert Stanley Adams, Waterbird took off from Windermere and safely alighted. This was the world’s first successful flight to use a stepped float. A step had been added to Waterbird’s float in September 1911, but success was only achieved when a second step was added at the stern.
On 11 December 1911, Wakefield applied for UK Patents No. 27,770 and No. 27,771 for stepped floats and their method of attachment, which were respectively granted on 12 September 1912 and 24 October 1912 with amendment on 18 March 1913. The object was ‘to provide an aeroplane with means for enabling it to alight, float and travel along the surface of water and to rise again therefrom’. Wakefield had combined features of construction in a novel way.
On 30 April 1912, Waterhen, Waterbird’s immediate successor, was first flown by Adams at Windermere. The float, with a single step, had been made larger so as to support the additional weight of a passenger.
On 11 July 1912, Adams flew an Admiralty Deperdussin which had been converted at Windermere to a hydro-monoplane.
In July 1912, at Hammondsport, New York, Curtiss first successfully flew with a step incorporated into a flying boat – Curtiss Model E (Flying Boat No. 2) known as the ‘Flying Fish’.
On 4 June 1913, Curtiss applied for US Patent No. 1,142,754 for ‘a hydro-aero-machine which may readily break from the water to rise into the air’ which was granted on 8 June 1915.
On 18 November 1916, Curtiss applied for US Patent No. 1,269,397, for a ‘hydroplane pontoon’ with a hydroplane under surface, which was granted on 11 June 1918.
2018 – RAF COMMEMORATION
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the formation of the RAF, please see the section of this website about Wavell Wakefield. Whilst serving in the RAF, on 1st November 1918 he landed a Sopwith Pup on the after deck of HMS Vindictive.
Also, it is 75 years since he, and Cooper Pattinson, flew a glider from Windermere on 7th February 1943.
11 July 2015 – BATTLE OF THE SOMME COMMEMORATION
Donald Stuart Calthorpe Macaskie (1896 – 1987), born at Headingley, Yorkshire, of The Red House, Laleham, Middlesex, had been apprenticed in 1913 to the Bleriot works at Brooklands (where Waterbird was tested by Avro in 1911). On the outbreak of World War 1, he joined the Royal Naval Air Service, being posted to Calshot, then under the command of Flight Commander Arthur Longmore (later Air Chief Marshal Sir), one of the 4 officers selected for the first flying course at Eastchurch in 1911 and who had test-flown Waterbird for the Admiralty on January 20, 1912. He was advised by Longmore to obtain his ‘ticket’ at a civilian school and then apply for a commission so as to have the cost of the tuition refunded.
Macaskie’s pilot training was on hydro-aeroplanes from the beginning. His first flight was at Calshot on October 2, 1914, and at Windermere on January 29, 1915.
Having transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, as a Second Lieutenant in 23 Squadron, he was posted to France.
Wounded following a fight with a Fokker, he was forced down behind enemy lines whilst flying an F.E.2b over the Somme on July 20, 1916, when he lost his right leg.
Reported as ‘Missing’, then as ‘Prisoner of War’, he was repatriated via Berne through the Red Cross.
His log books, pilot’s certificate and letters have survived.
Following historical precedent, a Windermere Boatbuilder is making the stepped float for the replica Waterbird. Founder of Franklin Eldridge Yachts, Richard Pierce, and his son James, who built wooden yachts and steamers at Ferry Nab, Windermere in the late 20th century, have studied the surviving 1911 float built by Borwick & Sons of Windermere, undertaken a hydrostatic analysis of it and have prepared building drawings for the replica.
Although the FE partnership has moved from its lakeside premises, it continues to thrive in Ambleside now specialising in the construction of Ship and Yacht Research Models, and the adaptation of traditional boat designs for building in the 21st century.
Having measured the surviving but fragile 1911 float, Richard and James are now building a ‘new’ one, alongside technical research models for the world’s leading superyacht and ship designers. The float is very similar in size to towing-tank models; as with aircraft construction, lightness and structural integrity are vital elements.
Aero Engineering is within the heritage of the FE partnership. James’ grandfather, Eric Stutchfield, became a Chartered Mechanical Engineer, working on the design of the Bristol Brabazon airliner in the late 1940’s. In the 1980’s, Eric tutored Richard in structural engineering principles whilst working on the construction of the 1980’s championship winning Windermere Class yachts Freedom and Falcon; meanwhile, James as a youngster became a dedicated aeromodeller and is now well-known in the Lake District as an adventurous Paraglider pilot.
Replicas are nothing new to Richard. He has recently returned from Lake Huron, Michigan, where he led a community project in the design and construction of a traditional Mackinaw boat; closer to home, he prepared lines drawings for Tony Walshaw’s replica 19th century Albert Strange yawl, not long ago launched at Windermere.
A photo of the float is here
23 June 2015 – FLYING IN THE FACE OF HISTORY
ENGLAND’s longest lake is poised to play its part in an aviation epic following the decision to allow a speed limit exemption.
Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) approved the application, paving the way for a £160,000 replica of Britain’s first hydro-aeroplane – which flew from the lake over a century ago – to take to the skies.
For the Lakes Flying Company, which has long dreamed of recreating one of the most significant sagas in aviation history, the decision means its wood and fabric construction can reach the necessary speeds of 30mph for lift-off.
Company director Ian Gee said the plan was to fly Waterbird on September 17 from near Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club at about 6.45pm. The seaplane will head towards Waterhead and then down to Lakeside.
Company director Ian Gee said “We are very grateful to LDNPA for allowing a byelaw exemption and will continue to work with them, and others, to find suitable viewing points for the public. They will be announced nearer the time. This means we can share a hugely compelling story of a magnificent man and his flying machine.”
Decried by novelist Beatrix Potter, but with the support of Winston Churchill, Waterbird’s 1911 maiden flight dispelled the belief it was impossible to take-off from water.
For Captain Edward Wakefield, thrice mayor of Kendal, Army officer, barrister and landowner, it was testimony to his determination to achieve an ‘unattainable’ feat.
“His creation captivated the country and when the replica makes its momentous ascent, enthusiasts everywhere are expected to join in the celebrations”, said Mr Gee.
Built near Lincoln, the Waterbird project has been actively supported by former RAF serviceman, Gerry Cooper, who will be at the controls for her Windermere flight.
Only a few parts survived the original’s destruction, only four months after she first took-off from Windermere’s cold November waters. A storm caused the hangar to collapse, leaving her beyond salvage.
Mr Gee added: “Several significant sections, including the rudder, bearing the name of her builders, A.V. Roe, of Manchester, are held by the RAF’s museum service.
“A long-term goal is to establish the Edward Wakefield Memorial Seaplane Centre, but for now we are delighted to be playing a part in recreating important local history.”
Beatrix Potter and Canon Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust, fronted a heated campaign against Wakefield’s airborne activities on Windermere.
It made national headlines, but with the support of Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, a public inquiry came out in Wakefield’s favour.
Wakefield became one of Britain’s most important aviation pioneers; a forefather of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. President of the replica project is retired Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Benjamin Bathhurst.
4 June 2015 – SUMMER EVENING EVENT
Naval and Civil Aviation at Windermere from 1909 to 1919
Unlikely though it might seem in an area known for its mountains, the Lake District and, particularly, Windermere has a proud aviation heritage which stretched through some thirty six years until the departure of the last Windermere-built Shorts Sunderland flying boat in 1945. Windermere’s story of aviation started when two friends, Edward Wakefield, a lawyer, land owner and three-time Mayor of Kendal and Oscar Gnosspelius, a talented engineer and local resident, attended an air show at Blackpool in 1909. Having witnessed that flying is potentially hazardous, they pondered the possibility of flying from water, which would provide a softer landing in the event of mishap! Such an idea was ridiculed by the experts at Blackpool, but Wakefield and Gnosspelius were undeterred and returned home to the Lake District to put their ideas into practice. Both achieved success, with Edward Wakefield’s ‘Waterbird’ taking the honours on 25 November 1911.
On the evening of Thursday 30 July, Lancaster Military Heritage Group will present an illustrated talk by Waterbird Project Director Ian Gee. Ian will show that Windermere was the birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes and his talk will explain the origin of the concept of flying from water, through to its achievement, and then the detail of aviation activities at Windermere, including the establishment of a Royal Naval Air Station. Also covered is the story behind the replica of Waterbird, which is programmed to fly from the lake in September. The audience will hear that there was considerable opposition to flying at Windermere, led by Beatrix Potter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a founder of the National Trust.
The venue for this summer evening talk is a delightful location on the shores of Windermere, virtually next door to Hill of Oaks, the very place from which Waterbird taxied out to make that historic flight in 1911.
Venue: The Boathouse Cafe, National Trust – Fell Foot Park, on A592 near Newby Bridge, LA12 8NN (near the southern tip of Windermere lake).
Date and Time: Thursday, 30 July 2015, starting with buffet supper at 7.00 p.m.
Tickets: £10 including buffet supper. Booking essential. Order tickets from Adrian Legge – firstname.lastname@example.org
(or text 07970 45 90 30 or call 01539 44 52 52)
Parking: in upper car park – free of charge. Disabled parking immediately outside Boathouse Cafe (wheelchair access)
Further information: please contact Adrian Legge.
1 JUNE 2015 – A SALUTE TO PIONEERING AVIATION SAFETY AT WINDERMERE
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which investigates civil aircraft accidents and serious incidents within the UK, its overseas territories and crown dependencies, is celebrating its centenary this year. As part of their celebrations, members of the AAIB are undertaking a relay cycle ride starting at Belfast on 11 June and finishing at Farnborough on 15 June. During their journey, the cyclists will visit 11 locations that reflect the development of aviation, of which Windermere is one.
On 25 November 1911, Waterbird took off from Windermere and safely alighted, becoming the first successful British hydro-aeroplane. It was the first such flight outside France and the USA. Waterbird was commissioned by Edward Wakefield, thrice mayor of Kendal, Army officer, barrister and land owner. He had attended an aviation meeting at Blackpool in 1909, and, at a time when nobody in the world had successfully flown from water, concluded that the best solution to reducing the risks of flying accidents was an aeroplane capable of operating from water. His ideas were ridiculed by the experts present, but after two years of almost constant experiment he succeeded at Windermere; a wonderful example of success against the odds.
There was considerable opposition to flying at Windermere, led by Beatrix Potter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a founder of the National Trust. A national campaign was launched. Windermere U.D.C. applied for an order under the Aerial Navigation Act 1911 to prohibit aircraft over the lake. There was a public inquiry at Windermere in 1912.
On 28 February 1912, the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, which included Winston Churchill who was First Lord of the Admiralty and Louis Mountbatten who was Second Sea Lord, approved a Technical Sub-Committee’s Report whose remit included future developments for naval and military aviation. On 14 March 1912, Wakefield entered into a contract with the Admiralty for his float and its method of attachment and to convert an Admiralty aeroplane into a hydro-aeroplane. However, Wakefield’s hands were tied in relation to the protesters in that he had signed the Official Secrets Act.
10,000 signatures were obtained by the protesters. Deputations were made to the House of Commons and the entire issue came to a head on 16 April 1912 when a question was tabled. Click here for image.The determining answer was given by Winston Churchill, who confirmed that hydro-aeroplane tests would continue at Windermere.
In 1913, Winston Churchill coined the term ‘seaplane’.
On Saturday 13 June at 07.00, the AAIB cyclists will depart from the Glebe at Bowness, where the Windermere and Bowness Civic Society erected a Waterbird memorial plaque. In recognition of Wakefield’s pioneering contribution to aviation safety, the cyclists will present a pennant to the Lakes Flying Company (LFC) which hopes to fly a replica of Waterbird from Windermere in mid-September. LFC will present the cyclists with a signed print of a painting of Waterbird in flight.
LFC’s Ian Gee stated “We wish the AAIB well on their cycle ride. I have twice visited the AAIB at Farnborough and have the greatest admiration for their work.
“For example, at Windermere on 5 June 1915, the Avro Duigan/ Seabird seaplane crashed tail first into the lake and was wrecked. The cause of the accident was a stall at 300 feet because the pilot, Ronald Buck, was unaware that new floats had moved the centre of gravity. He was uninjured, and was convinced that had the accident occurred over land, he would have been instantly killed. On each of 21 June and 23 June 1915, he made two flights at Farnborough with Frederick Raynham. In 1911, Raynham had flown Waterbird at Brooklands whilst it was being tested as a landplane.”
The AAIB’s Chief Inspector, Keith Conradi, said “The AAIB are happy to highlight aviation events, such as those that took place at Windermere, to bring into focus the significant advancements in aviation safety that have taken place since the pioneering days of aviation in the early 20th century”.
For detail about the plaque:
For detail about the history of aviation at Windermere 1909 – 1919:
9 April 2015 – APPLICATION TO THE LAKE DISTRICT NATIONAL PARK AUTHORITY
We have submitted an application to the Lake District National Park Authority for permissions to exceed the speed limit and for approvals for an aeroplane on Windermere for mid-September 2015. 21 organisations and groups will be consulted. At the end of the 6 week consultation on 28 May, the Authority will write a report and a decision should be made within 12 weeks of the application being made.
An extract from the film “Herford: the life and death of the Edwardian climber” depicting a meeting between Siegfried Herford and Edward Wakefield
25 JULY 2014 – FIRST WORLD WAR CENTENARY: FROM FELLS TO FLANDERS
From 17 July 2014 to 20 December 2014 there will be a display ‘From Fells to Flanders’ at the Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry, Kendal.
This includes Waterbird’s original float and its patent, together with many other fascinating items about early flight on Windermere.
6 DECEMBER 2013 – WATERBIRD PROJECT ON TV
Click here to view the feature of Waterbird on ITV News.
Below is the video taken from the North West Tonight programme
27 NOVEMBER 2013 – WATERBIRD REBIRTH
This short video combines the highlights of the progress so far, which are taken from the DVD ‘Waterbird – The Rebirth’.
25 NOVEMBER 2013 – WATERBIRD IN THE PAPERS
Click the links below to see the Waterbird coverage in the papers.
Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes
‘To fly over water is certainly to taste to the full the joy of flight, and when the water is Windermere and the scenery the pick of English Lakeland, which is to many a traveller the pick of the whole world, in its soft intimate loveliness, the result is something not lightly forgotten’
Gertrude Bacon in 1912