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.

It 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.

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.

It would appear that the builders of the hangar had failed to adequately secure it to the wooden piles.

Waterhen, Waterbird’s successor, first flew on 30 April. The shortness of this timescale 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 replica has been the subject of a design analysis to calculate the best angle to set the horizontal tail.

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

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. There is an increase in buoyancy of 12.5%.

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.

For an interactive 3D model of the replica Waterbird, clck here


On 11 December 1911, through agents Arthur Edwards & Co., Wakefield filed 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 Patent No.18,051 for the float of a seaplane to support its own weight or the greater part of such weight during flight.


Click here to view the article


A concave and V shaped float, in a move away from the flat bottom of initial floats. On 12 February 1914, Gnosspelius obtained 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 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 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.

World War One


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.


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