On 25 November 1911, at Windermere, Waterbird became the first hydro-aeroplane to successfully take off from and alight on water outside of France and the USA. This telegram from the pilot Herbert Stanley Adams confirms the initial flights and that no damage was sustained. Eight flights were carried out on the first day, achieving distances of between four and five miles.

This was the world’s first successful flight to use a ‘stepped’ float.

Waterbird was an Avro Curtiss-type, built to the order of Edward Wakefield by A.V. Roe & Company (‘Avro‘) as a landplane at Brownsfield Mills, Manchester. Power was a 7-cylinder 50 horse power Gnome, the lightest engine per horse power then on the market, judging by its rating per cylinder. The Avro plan shows the wings to be of equal span. Upon transfer to Brooklands on 25 May 1911 for testing, alterations included extension of the upper wing, the ailerons were disconnected and smaller straight trailing edge ailerons were added. So, the original ailerons with semi-circular trailing edges became the inner ailerons, and serve as part of the wing once enough forward speed has been achieved so as to raise them.

‘My object has been from the first to eliminate every source of danger in flying that could be eliminated. I claim to have succeded so far.’ – Letter from Edward Wakefield to Flight magazine, 11 January 1912.

By 29 March 1912, Waterbird had accomplished about sixty flights on thirty eight different days.


At about 9:45 pm on 29 March 1912, the hangar at Cockshott Point, which housed Waterbird and Gnosspelius No.2, collapsed. It would appear that the builders of the hangar had failed to adequately secure it to the wooden piles.

Such was the strength of the wind, that the hangar was lifted into the air and carried a few yards so as to collapse in a tangled heap of wood and metal. Whilst the splintered spars and torn fabric of the starboard mainplanes of Waterbird protruded from the hangar’s truss, the canard, centre section, engine (which lived on in the Avro Duigan/ Seabird), a tank, tailplane, rudder and float survived. Albeit that falling beams had crushed the mainplanes, the curvature of the corrugated iron roof protected the remainder. The location of the hangar can be orientated by reference to the domed house on Belle Isle which is visible on these photos.

Firstly, a photo includes the engine, albeit with only one propeller blade, placed upon an upturned box and a tank propped against a beam, with the crushed elements of Waterbird in the background. Secondly, this photo at the re-erected hangar (Note the internal and external shoring) depicts damaged Waterbird wings and a new rudder leaning against the rear gable, bamboo outriggers on the floor by the side wall and sections of wing being built.

Waterhen, Waterbird’s successor, first flew on 30 April, having been entirely designed and constructed locally, save for the engine. It flew satisfactorily on the first trial without any adjustment.  The shortness of the timescale of the first flight indicates that mainplane sections, incorporating ailerons designed with straight trailing edges, must already have been under construction for Waterbird at the nearby boat workshop of Borwick & Sons.

It may therefore be concluded that ‘this photo’ above is of the build of Waterhen; being unique in showing construction underway of any Windermere-based aeroplane. Waterhen was the most successful Windermere-built seaplane, the last known flight being on 16 August 1916 when Edward Haller became the final pupil to pass the tests for his Aviator’s Certificate.

A further photo of the hangar, with the Deperdussin, includes stacked sections of bamboo for use on Waterhen.


The original had a second-hand 7-cylinder 50hp Gnome rotary engine: the replica has a new 7-cylinder 110hp Rotec radial engine.

The replica’s propeller is bespoke, created by computer-controlled machinery. Engine to propeller speed is reduced by a ratio of 3:2.

On the original, the outer ailerons were pulled down by the control stick into the airflow: on the replica, there is a closed circuit – each moves in the opposite direction to the other. (The stick also controls the canard; the inner ailerons are not controlled.)

The original’s wing spars were made of spruce: on the replica, they are made of Douglas fir, which is stronger, as are struts between the wings.

Copper nails and ruffs were used on the original’s spar webs: on the replica, they are screwed and glued.

The replica has the benefit of modern dope and fabric sewn in place: in contrast to the use of tacks and Pegamoid cloth on the original.

For the airframe, the replica has:-

modern glues, with glue applied where it was not originally used;

certified bracing wires (it is diamond braced, with flying, landing and incidence wires);

certified turnbuckles (1 on each bracing wire), and

load-testing of specimens of bamboo, in comparison to aluminium, used for the outriggers.

The replica’s main float was built with state-of-the-art techniques, so creating increased structural integrity. It was manufactured using wood/ epoxy/ glass, being the combination to provide the strongest, stiffest waterproof structure. An intercostal frame was added on the forward step and in the first 2 bow compartments, ensuring that the replica’s float is more robust.

Computer modelling has enabled gathering of data and verification of the overall replica aeroplane’s design, leading to some bracing wires being replaced with steel tubes, additional tubes installed and parts manufactured by computer-controlled machine to give additional strength.

Photos of the replica build (Note the aluminium outriggers prior to the change to bamboo) and surviving parts are here.



On 11 December 1911, through agents Arthur Edwards & Co. of London, Wakefield filed UK Patents  No. 27,770 and No. 27,771 relating to the means for attachment and a stepped float, which were respectively granted on 12 September 1912 and 18 March 1913. The objects of the inventions were to ‘prevent jar when rising from and alighting upon the water, and to provide an attachment of such a character that when the hydroplane is upon the water the aeroplane is suspended therefrom’; and 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 thus combined features of construction in a novel way.

Wakefield also provided inflatable balancers at each wing tip, known locally as ‘Wakefield Sausages‘.

On 13 November 1913, Wakefield obtained UK Patent No.18,051 for the float of a seaplane to support its own weight or the greater part of such weight during flight.


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A concave and V shaped float, in a move away from the flat bottom of initial floats. On 12 February 1914, Gnosspelius obtained UK Patent No.10,801; which construction is used on every seaplane float today.


The first control column in the world – ‘stick’, for which Roe obtained UK Patent No. 26,099 on 14 November 1907. Like the Wright Flyer, which first flew eight years beforehand, and the Roe I Biplane of three years earlier, Waterbird is a biplane with pitch control by way of a forward-mounted, pivoting canard, albeit the Wright Flyer had a bicanard. The single control column differed from the design which had a lever for each hand, and from the control wheel used by Glenn Curtiss. The connection from Waterbird’s stick to the canard is by way of a Farman-type bamboo pole, and to the outer ailerons of the replica by a closed circuit of wires, pulleys and horns.

The turnbuckle, for which Roe obtained UK Patent No.17,740 on 30 March 1916. Turnbuckles were initially known as strainers and marketed by Avro through their Aviator’s Storehouse, whose products included bamboo, fabrics, propellers, shock absorbers and wood, and ultimately by the Aircraft Supplies Company Limited as sole selling agents. Supplies of Admiralty, A.G.S. and Binet types of turnbuckles were not equal to demand, and Avro increased output as much as possible such that it made an annual £40,000 profit on turnbuckles alone for a number of years in and subsequent to World War One. The replica Waterbird has an estimated 250 turnbuckles.

The Aeroplane magazine, 28 February 1917.

The Aeroplane magazine, 14 March 1917.

Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes