The beginnings of British aeronautics; 1909 – 2009


On the 19th June 1909 the magazine Flight published the official rules concerning the £1,000 Daily Mail Flight Prize. 

Rule 1: The flight shall be accomplished by means of a machine which is not in any manner supported by a gas lighter than air’ 

Rule 4:  ‘The distance to be travelled will not be less than 1 mile on a course round a mark half a mile distant from a prescribed starting line….’

Rule 11: ‘Each competetor agrees to waive all claims for injury either to himself or his apparatus…’

The Wright brothers had demonstrated to the World  sustained powered flight in December 1903 using the Wright Flyer , and in 1907 British aviator and ‘famous aeroplanist’  Henri Farman  won  the Archdeacon Cup for flying over 3,000 feet over 492 feet.   A year later in 1908 , in England, the Aero Club held an exhibiton of model flying machines at Olympia, and the Wright brothers showed their plane in France,  which attracted enormous interest.

Flying caught the public imagination. Both Bleriot [the first man to fly across the English Channel in July 1909] and Farman later appeared in newspaper and magazine phamaceutical adverts for products such as ‘Phosferine; the greatest of all tonics…and the remedy of kings’ .  The adverts quote Bleriot as saying…

  ‘For anyone, no matter what capacity, I can with confidence, recommend Phosferine as a bracing nerve tonic and preventative against fatigue and a resorative for loss of vitality..’

Several successful short flights in 1909 helped  British flying to gather momentum.  In March 1909 the English aviator Lord Moore- Brabazon flew three miles at Chalons Camp in France at a height of fifteen to twenty feet, using an eight cylinder motor in his plane and it was Moore-Brabazon who won the £1,000 Daily Mail Flight Prize, flying a British built Short No 2 biplane,  in the Isle of Sheppey. Moore-Brabazon later flew the first live freight aircraft, by strapping a large basket to the wing of the aircraft, containing a small pig [named Icarus ll], before flying off.

The success of aviation in the UK sporned several local competitions, such as aeroplane point-to-point races, competitions for the longest distance of flights, longest duration of flights, carrying an aviator alone, carrying a pilot and passenger, flying a closed circuit of an aerodrome or flying in a straight line.  As an expensive sport for wealthy gentlemen [and ladies such Ireland’s first aviatrix Lilian E. Bland and France’s  Baroness Raymonde de la Roche] pilots were also invited to join the Hurlingham Club which  had held a ‘hare and hounds’ balloon race in July 1909. 

For more information on the history of British aviation you may like to visit these resouces.

Aviation on Sheppey

Sky Sheppey 2009

Flight Magazine Archives

Daily Mirror Archive

The Times Digital Archive

Pioneer  aviation picture gallery

Departmenf of  Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering at Loughborough University



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