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‘I WANT TO BUILD THIS TRIPLANE!’

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Copyright Peter Sissons © 2023

avro pilot plane triplane flying
A. V. Roe piloting his triplane with a brave passenger

In 1911, "I want to build this triplane" is what my grandfather might have said, thumbing through A.V. Roe’s comprehensive ‘The Aviator’s Storehouse’ publication, which listed all the components to enable him to construct a Roe III Triplane (Alliott Verdon Roe - later to found AVRO, the company that built the iconic Lancaster bomber, part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight).

avro triplane catalogue
A. V. Roe's Aviator's Storehouse catalogue
Aviator's Storehouse catalogue of aircraft parts
The Aviator's Storehouse catalogue of aircraft parts
This is Mr Roe, adjusting the triangulation tension wires fuselage.
Mr Roe, adjusting the triangulation tension wires of his slightly basic fuselage.

Looking through A. V. Roe & Co.'s catalogue, there are parts on page 11 that he sold also manufactured by the early French aviators Henry Farman and even Louis Blériot - the first pilot to conquer the English Channel in his own Blériot XI monoplane.

Parts manufactured by Henry Farman even Louis Blériot
Parts manufactured by Henry Farman and even Louis Blériot

My grandfather knew all the early aeroplane designers and aviators - pre-WW1. At an early age, I was completely nuts about aviation (and still am), and who could not sit spell-bound listening to a relation who had known and who had been friends with A. V. Roe, Louis Blériot, Claude Grahame White, Sir Hiram Maxim, Frederick Handley-Page, Samuel Franklin Cody and Henry Farman? And why did he know all these famous names from aviation history?

My grandfather was a timekeeper  Hendon Aerodrome WW1.
My grandfather was a timekeeper at the top of Pylon Number 1 at the Hendon Aerodrome air racing before WW1.
Above is his letter from Grahame-White Aviation, who owned Hendon Airfield,  pass a pylon keeper.
Above is my grandfather's letter from Grahame-White Aviation, issuing his pass to be a pylon keeper.

Notice the faint plane designs at the top of the letter. All these early aircraft types were featured in the 1965 comedy film, 'Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines'.

aircraft 1965 comedy film Flying Machines
The 1965 comedy film, 'Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines' advertisement

The frail planes were specially constructed for the film - for example, the Bristol Boxkite was built by F, G, Miles Engineering at Ford, in Sussex.


 replica Bristol City Museum aircraft box kite Art Gallery
The replica in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery

The Avro Triplane was built by Peter Hillwood of the Hampshire Aero Club, using original blueprints provided by Geoffrey Verdon Roe, the son of the famous aviation pioneer. There were 20 aircraft built in 1964 at £5,000 each (£90,000 in today's money); six could fly, flown by six stunt pilots and maintained by 14 mechanics. The film is an excellent piece of period fun, but it does give you a flavour of the era and how slow the planes flew - a heart-stopping 40 mph or 64 km/h!

The following pictures show the Hendon air races.

the Bristol Boxkite, which is about to take off. Notice the letters of the L. Bleriot School, written in white, above the doors of the famous row of Hendon sheds behind it.
The Bristol Boxkite about to take off, with the Louis Bleriot School behind

I’m always fascinated by the detail you see in these old black-and-white pictures. I had to enlarge part of the photo I showed you earlier and the Bristol Boxkite, which is about to take off. Notice the letters of the L. Bleriot School, written in white, above the doors of the famous row of Hendon sheds behind it.

weird and wonderful flying machines
Some weird and wonderful flying machines!
monoplane racing hendon raf rnas
My grandfather must be having a tea break?
bleriot plane hendon rnas raf
A beautiful study of the French monoplane at Hendon

What I find astonishing is that there are only 41 years between A. V. Roe’s bamboo, wire, and fabric-covered triplane, with a 50 h.p. Gnome engine,

a v roe triplane ww1 england france sopwith
Avro's 'Bullseye' Triplane

and his Avro Vulcan VX770, designed in response to the British government’s Air Ministry specification B.35/46. Here it is, returning to Farnborough after its maiden flight on August 30th 1952.

Avro Vulcan VX770
The first of many - the magnificent Avro Vulcan VX770

The first Vulcan was in the hands of Wing Commander Roland ‘Roly’ John Falk, who was dressed in his best and very distinct pin-striped suit! A.V. Roe’s 50 h.p. (7 kW) engine had grown to a Rolls-Royce Avon engine, developing a whopping 6,500 lbs of thrust.

My grandfather went on to join the R.N.A.S. - the Royal Naval Air Service, which was the air arm of the Royal Navy; it began in 1914, but in 1918 it was combined with the British Army's Royal Flying Corps to form the first independent air force - the Royal Air Force. Here he is looking serious in his uniform.

R.N.A.S. - the Royal Naval Air Service
Grandfather in the R.N.A.S. - the Royal Naval Air Service

He told me many fascinating stories about the R.N.A.S., describing his adventures riding a Rudge Multi motorbike during manoeuvres and when he got leave.

Rudge Multi motorbike
A collection of Rudge Multi motorbike during manoeuvres

I wish he had kept one or two of them! This example was sold by Bonhams for £20,000 in 2022.

Rudge Multi motorbike during manoeuvres
Rudge Multi motorbike

He also told me about his involvement in the first tracked 'water tank', the name the army chose to try and disguise the design of their first engine-powered fighting vehicle - but that's another story...

To finish this article, let us put the progress of flight and technology into perspective: it was only 58 years between my grandfather’s ‘The Aviators Storehouse’ catalogue, advertising how to build an A.V. Roe's triplane...

moon apollo mission space craft LEM earth
A boot about to make history

... and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

Astonishing!


(But remember... there have been 54 years since that happened...)


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