Part of Shepherds (Windermere) Ltd

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Waterbird and Associated History

A replica Waterbird flying over Windermere would be a high quality and unique experience. The Lakes Flying Company Limited have received the Lake District National Park Authority's approval for speed limit exemptions and for an aeroplane.

 

The following, in the North-West Evening Mail on 30 May 2012, summarises it all:

 

"The replica [Waterbird] - regardless of whether it flew just once or a dozen times - would become an important part of local history.

"I certainly think it is important to celebrate [Windermere's] cultural heritage and cultural heritage isn't just about its landscape and literary associations.

"Its industrial heritage and boat building and sea planes building is just as a legitimate part of Windermere's history." – Bob Cartwright.

 

A.V. Roe & Company were commissioned by Captain Edward William Wakefield to build 'Waterbird'. It was the fourth aircraft built by them, an Avro Curtiss-type. Power was a 50 hp Gnome Omega rotary 'pusher' [the propeller was behind the engine]. The rudder is the oldest surviving part carrying the legend "A. V. Roe & Co". Construction took place at Manchester, and testing at Brooklands.

 

On 25 November 1911, piloted by Herbert Stanley Adams, Waterbird took off from Windermere and he safely alighted.

 

Waterbird "had the distinction of being the first successful British hydro-aeroplane" – Flight magazine, 7 December 1912. It was the first outside France and the USA. The first landplane flight within the British Empire by a British subject had taken place on 23 February 1909 by Douglas McCurdy at Nova Scotia.

 

It was the world's first successful flight to use a stepped float, only being achieved when a second step was added at the stern. The design of floats had become a science of its own.

 

In 1911, Wakefield filed patents for a stepped float for an aeroplane and its method of attachment. The first patent for a stepped hydroplane, for a boat, had been taken out in 1906 by Albert Edward Knight.

 

Wakefield entered into a contract with the Admiralty for his float and its method of attachment and to convert Admiralty Deperdussin M1 into a hydro-aeroplane. On 20 January 1912, Lieutenant Arthur Longmore (who was one of the first four officers selected for flying training by the Admiralty) test flew Waterbird for the Admiralty.

 

On 29 March 1912, Waterbird was written off in a hangar collapse. 

 

Wakefield formed the Lakes Flying Company, with the Earl of Lonsdale as Patron and Adams as Manager.

 

"I should say that you are certainly the first [in the world] passenger in a hydro-monoplane". - A letter of 17 July 1912 from the Editor of The Aeroplane magazine to Wakefield, after he had flown at Windermere in the Deperdussin which he converted into a hydro-aeroplane within 3 weeks. "[The Lakes Flying Company] had a share in producing, we believe, the first hydro-monoplane to lift passengers." – Flight magazine, 7 December 1912.

 

Next to fly as a passenger in the Deperdussin was Gertrude Bacon, who wrote in her book Memories of Land and Sky: "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."

 

Windermere's major historical and cultural contribution to early aviation can be appreciated from the following quotes. All the more relevant with the centenary of the start of the First World War.

"The combined efforts of designers, aviators, ship and boat builders-turned aircraft manufacturers at Barrow and Windermere during 1908-1914 justify the area's claim to be the birthplace of British naval and civil marine aviation." – Triplane to Typhoon by James H Longworth.

 

By removing reference to Barrow from the above quote i.e. the building of His Majesty's Airship Number 1 and a flight, a week before Waterbird's first flight, in the first Avro D by Commander Oliver Schwann which was not successful in that control was lost, it fell back into the water and capsized, the following remarkable achievement results: The combined efforts of designers, aviators and boat builders - turned aeroplane manufacturers at Windermere during 1909-14 justify its claim to be the birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes.

 

Oscar Gnosspelius, designer and aviator, flew his hydro-aeroplane from Windermere earlier on the same morning as Waterbird's first flight, however he too could not maintain control and crashed on alighting when "Gnosspelius No. 2" flipped onto its back; but he did succeed on 14 February 1912.

 

In October 1910, Wakefield and Gnosspelius went to see Henri Fabre, who made the first successful flight from water on 28 March 1910 at L'etang de Berre, Marseille, at an exhibition in the Grand Palais, Paris. Fabre's hydro-aeroplane "Le Canard" is now at the Air and Space Museum, Le Bourget, Paris (in storage). It was not until February 1913, in Olympia, that a hydro-aeroplane made an appearance at a British exhibition.

 

Waterbird's floats were constructed by boat builders Borwick & Sons; since taken over by Windermere Aquatic Limited.  Borwicks also constructed Gnosspelius No. 1, Gnosspelius No. 2 and Lakes Monoplane, conducted maintenance and repair, made propellers, and in 1918 were sub-contracted to build Felixtowe F.3 flying boat hulls. However, this was not without health and safety risks! In September 1912, Arthur Borwick lost the tops of two fingers due to contact with a propeller. George Borwick nearly lost much more when a propeller "did quick and irreparable damage to his traditional summer straw hat" – Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club, 50 years of Motor Boat Racing.

 

"The importance of these facts in connection with harbour, estuary and coast defence and scouting need hardly be remarked upon. For the fame of Mr Wakefield himself and Windermere it is to be hoped that the Admiralty may take this matter up so that we may not be left behind by any other European powers" – Kendal Mercury and Times, 22 December 1911.

This was indeed taken up and on 16 April 1912, Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, confirmed in the House of Commons that hydro-aeroplane tests would continue on Windermere. 

 

Churchill's confirmation was in response to a question raised by Russell Rea, who was against flying at Windermere.

 

Correspondence was sent by both sides to local and national newspaper editors. For example, in a letter to the Westmorland Gazette, in December 1911, Beatrix Potter wrote: "The majority of the Lancashire artizan excursionists and lodgers are perfectly alive to the quiet beauty of the Lakes; those who want noise go to Blackpool." In a letter to the Times, in January 1912, Wakefield wrote: " Canon Rawnsley has written to the Times and several other papers a poetical appeal calling all lovers of the English Lakes to rise and protest against this new invasion of the charms of Windermere. I yield to no one in love for the scenery and loyalty to the interests of my country. England is too far behind other powers in aircraft and in flying men for both the Army and the Navy." An Official Inquiry took place at Windermere in 1912, regarding an application to impose a speed limit of 12 mph over certain portions of the lake, the outcome of which was in Wakefield's favour.

 

"Unfortunately, when [Edward Wakefield] advanced these radical views at a public meeting in Blackpool [in October 1909 when nobody in the world had flown from water] they were openly ridiculed and rejected. His critics argued that it was still an exceptional achievement to make an aeroplane fly at all at that time, without the added complication of floats and/or hulls to provide the requisite seaworthiness and stability." - Pioneer Aircraft: Putnam's History of Aircraft. This was the first time Wakefield had seen "any real flying machines".

"Mr. Wakefield has won success by almost constant experiment, inquiry and observation for two years." - The Westmorland Gazette, 2 December 1911.

 

"[Edward Wakefield] was convinced that the future for Naval hydro-aeroplanes lay in scouting for the relaying back of 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.

 

"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.

 

The School of Flying was taken over on behalf of the Government, and a Royal Naval Air Station was established 1916-1917 at Hill of Oaks on the south east shore of Windermere.

 

"On 20 May 1917 two ex-Windermere pupils were officially credited with the first aerial sinking of a German submarine and were both granted the DSC." - An Aeronautical History of the Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway Region by Peter Connon.

Aeroplanes which flew at Windermere between 1911 and 1919 included: Waterbird, Gnosspelius No. 2, Waterhen, Deperdussin, Avro Duigan/ Seabird, Avro 501, Gnosspelius-Trotter, Lakes Monoplane, Bleriot, Blackburn Improved Type 1, P.B. 1, Nieuport, F.B.A.’s, Sopwith Schneider, Short 827’s, and Avro 504’s.

Furthermore, in 1918, Captain Cooper Pattinson from Windermere (whose son George's collection formed the basis of the Windermere Steamboat Museum), whilst piloting a Felixtowe flying boat, shot down a Zeppelin for which he was awarded the DFC, and Captain Wavell Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's nephew, later Lord Wakefield of Kendal) landed a Sopwith Pup on the deck of HMS Vindictive. Click here for more information about Captain Wavell Wakefield.

 

All images & text courtesy of www.waterbird.org.uk