Updated: Aug 28
Copyright Peter Sissons © 2023
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).
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.
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?
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
I wish he had kept one or two of them! This example was sold by Bonhams for £20,000 in 2022.
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...
... and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.
(But remember... there have been 54 years since that happened...)
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