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Waterbird Video Showreel - all courtesy of

Waterbird and Siegfried Herford

An extract from the film "Herford: the life and death of the Edwardian climber" depicting a meeting between Siegfried Herford and Edward Wakefield

Waterbird on TV

Above is the video of Waterbird's appearance on North West Tonight 

Waterbird Rebirth

This short video combines highlights of the progress at Nov 2013, which are taken from the DVD 'Waterbird - The Rebirth'.



Edward William Wakefield

Captain Edward Wakefield (1862-1941) was one of Britain's most important aviation pioneers. It was his aeroplane, Waterbird, which on 25 November 1911 made the first successful flight from water in the UK at Windermere.


Born into a prosperous Lakeland family, Edward Wakefield trained as a banker and lawyer. But from an early age his restless disposition, combined with a strong sense of religious duty and Victorian patriotism, drove him to wider pastures. He was active in charity work, mainly with children in need, in London in the 1890s and again in the early 1900s. On the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, he joined the Carlisle-based Border Regiment and saw two years active service in South Africa.


Attending a flying meeting in 1909, he was told that casualties were inevitable when flying from land. He decided that flying from water would be much safer. Helped by considerable wealth and self-confidence, he set out to prove it. He built hangars at Windermere. He bought and tested one of the earliest Avro aeroplanes, which he named Waterbird, for experimentation and adaption. National publicity followed. A strong protest campaign led by Beatrix Potter and Canon Rawnsley was foiled with government help. Soon his Hill of Oaks base became a centre for Admiralty testing and, by WW1, for the large-scale training of naval pilots whose graduates fought, and all too often died, on the Western and Mediterranean fronts.


In 1914, despite advancing age (he was then 52) Wakefield re-joined the army, spent three years training troops, commanded a Labour Battalion on the Western front, served in Italy and ended the War as Chief Church Army Commissioner for France and Belgium. His health badly damaged, he spent the rest of his life in Kendal, active as Mayor, Chair of Magistrates, local landowner and supporter of good causes. He died in 1941. His wife Mary pre-deceased him in 1921. He had one child, Marion, who many years later fondly reminisced of helping sew fabric for Waterbird's wings and foiling pre-WW1 German spies. His grandson, James Gordon (1913-98), was also a distinguished figure in aviation history - pioneering air-sea rescue dinghies and revolutionary wood epoxy construction techniques for Mosquito aircraft and Horsa gliders in WW2.

John Gordon
Great Grandson


Arthur William Wakefield

Dr Arthur Wakefield (1876-1949) was the brother of Captain Edward Wakefield who commissioned Waterbird.

Wakefield was a member of the 1922 Mount Everest expedition.


At the Winter Olympics in 1924, Wakefield was awarded a gold medal which in 2012 was taken to the summit of Everest by Kenton Cool.


Wakefield was President of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club when in 1924 at Great Gable the dedication took place of a bronze memorial tablet listing its members killed in the First World War, the same day on which Mallory and Irvine disappeared on Everest. (The original is now at the Imperial War Museum North.) Amongst the names on the tablet is that of 'S. W. Herford'. Siegfried Herford carried out aeronautical research at the Royal Aircraft Factory, Farnborough in 1913-1914. W. G. Collingwood designed the tablet and was the father-in-law of Oscar Gnosspelius who was a designer and aviator at Windermere 1909-1914.


His wife, Marjorie ('Madge'), was a founder of the Friends of the Lake District.


William Wavell Wakefield

Captain Wavell Wakefield (later Lord Wakefield of Kendal) (1898-1983) was the nephew of Captain Edward Wakefield who commissioned Waterbird. Below is his Report of making the first and only landing on the after deck of H.M.S. Vindictive, in the fleet's last operational Sopwith Pup on 1st November 1918 at Scapa Flow.


In April 1918 H.M.S. Vindictive was sunk in the attack on the mole at Zeebrugge. During the Summer of 1918 a new aircraft carrier was nearing completion at Harland and Wolff in Belfast. It was decided to name this aircraft carrier H.M.S. Vindictive.


An R.A.F. Unit composed of officers and ratings, formerly in the R.N.A.S. (the R.A.F. had been formed on 1st April 1918 by the amalgamation of the R.N.A.S. and the R.F.C.) was being formed with Lt. Colonel Tomkinson as C.O. for service in this ship.


I was transferred to Turnhouse during the latter part of August for a few days for flying practice prior to serving in H.M.S. Pegasus. On the 26th August I did my first deck take off in a Sopwith Pup with folding wings, from H.M.S. Pegasus. On the 28th and 30th I did two more deck take offs, each time in a Sopwith Pup.


I was then posted to the Isle of Grain, where the H.M.S. Vindictive R.A.F. Unit was being assembled. I took this opportunity to do as such flying as possible in Sopwith Pups, Curtiss aircraft with the wheel instead of stick control, and a Grain Griffin. This was a two seater aircraft rather like, but larger than a Sopwith 1½ Strutter. I believe that only six were built. It was intended that this aircraft would carry one large bomb. We were told that the idea was to steam into the Kattegat when we would fly off, drop the bomb on Berlin and then return to land in the sea near a ship, and if possible outside territorial waters.


In anticipation of a sea landing I did a practice landing in the Medway, close to the shore at the Isle of Grain, in a Curtiss aircraft with air bags which leaked. In the remarks column of my log book I said that: "…. Landing was O.K. and I did not get wet although the machine half sunk." In the middle of September the R.A.F. Unit joined H.M.S. Vindictive in Belfast.


We carried out steam trials in the Clyde and then steamed up the West Coast of Scotland in October for Scapa Flow. On October 26th I took off from Smoogroo Aerodrome in a Sopwith Pup and flew around H.M.S. Vindictive at anchor. On October 29th I did the same in a Sopwith Pup with the ship under way and accompanied by the C.O. in another Pup. My log book says that "I did experiments with Lt. Col. Tomkinson all around the ship to find out the bumps with a view to landing on the deck."


After this flight it became very clear to me that with the hot air from the funnels, and the turbulence caused by the superstructure amidships between the take off deck forward, and the landing on deck aft, the air conditions were so disturbed that to make a successful landing on the after deck was an impossibility. It seemed to me that if the ship were to steam 15˚ out of wind so that the turbulent air was carried over the starboard quarter, then I could side slip in to land from the port quarter in calm air.


I therefore arranged with Captain Grace (a son of the great cricketer Dr. W. G. Grace) that the ship would steam 15˚ out of wind, with a landing speed for me of not less than 20 knots nor more than 25 knots.

On the 1st November, flying a Sopwith Pup with wind direction S.E. and force 1 to 2 I took off from Smoogroo Aerodrome. After testing the air conditions astern of the ship, and finding adequate calm air on the port quarter, I side slipped in and on to the deck. The extract from my log book was as follows :- "Very calm, landed on deck 104ft. run. Swung a bit otherwise O.K. Tail skid caught edge of a plate and broke."


During the Summer about a dozen unsuccessful attempts were made to land on the after deck of H.M.S. Furious where catching gear had been erected for the Sopwith Pups especially provided with skids.

I had heard about these unsuccessful attempts, but did not know the reason for this lack of success. However, immediately I had made the necessary air tests astern, the reason became obvious as I have already stated.

Although I had demonstrated that it was possible to make a successful landing on the after deck of an aircraft carrier by use of the 15˚ angle into wind and the correct head wind strength, it was very obvious that to carry out a successful landing in ideal conditions in Scapa Flow was very different from doing the same thing at sea on operations, perhaps in bad weather and with submarines around and with pilots tired out after an operational sortie.


Moreover, throughout the Spring and Summer I had been at Cranwell giving advanced flying instruction, with particular attention to forced landing techniques so that I did have special knowledge, and had acquired skills to make such a deck landing, which the average pilot aboard a ship would not normally possess.

In the event no further attempts were made to land an aeroplane on the after deck of either H.M.S. Furious or H.M.S. Vindictive. The future construction was a flat deck ship without funnels and superstructure amidships, to be followed by the "Island" amidships and the 15˚ angle deck which allowed for errors in overshooting on landing, and avoided air turbulence astern, as well as other advantages.


All information courtesy of