June Sampson on elmbridgeguardian.co.uk - Britain’s oldest airworthy seaplane plane will fly over Kingston and Elmbridge on Wednesday as part of a five-day project marking the anniversary of the Circuit of Britain Race in 1913.
Sponsored by the Daily Mail, it was the first major British competition for seaplanes, with a £5,000 prize for the first aviator to circumnavigate the British coastline – 1,540 miles in all.
Four pilots intended to compete, but one was killed shortly beforehand. The other two had to withdraw because of engine trouble, and only Harry Hawker actually took part.
He was chief engineer and test pilot of Sopwith Aviation Company, launched in Kingston a few months earlier by the pioneering aviator and aircraft manufacturer Tom Sopwith.
The first aircraft to be built in Kingston was the Sopwith Bat Boat, which won an award as the world’s first successful amphibious aircraft.
It was in a later, one-off version that Hawker took to the air.
He completed more than 1,000 miles, the longest distance ever flown over water at that time, before crashing just north of Dublin.
Though he failed to complete the course, his achievement so enthralled the public that the Daily Mail gave him £1,000 as a consolation prize.
Hawker went on to become Britain’s finest aircraft engineer and pilot until his premature death in 1921.
He was test-flying a Nieuport Goshawk biplane when he crashed from a height of 2,500ft, and died from multiple burns and fractures, aged 32.
His death was mourned as a national tragedy, and thousands gathered to pay their respects as his two-hour funeral procession moved through Surbiton.
His coffin was borne by colleagues from the aircraft factory in Canbury Park Road, Kingston before burial in the churchyard of St Paul’s, Hook.
To commemorate Hawker’s heroic circuit of Britain flight in 1912, the oldest airworthy amphibian still flying in the UK – the Catalina G-PBYA, based at Duxford – will complete the same circuit during a five-day flight.
It will be piloted by Jeff Boyling, who says he hopes the event will “inspire younger generations with the wonders of flying and keep the golden era of aviation alive today”.
The intended schedule next Wednesday, subject to weather and other factors is: 10.30am, depart from Duxford; 10.50am, Tower Bridge. 10.55am, Kingston (over the site of the Sopwith factory; 10.56am, Hook (Harry Hawker’s resting place) 11am, Brooklands (where Hawker learnt to fly and tested aircraft for World War I).
From there it will continue to Southampton and have a short stop before following a coastal route to Leeming, where it will say overnight.
It will then follow Hawker’s trail over the next four days, flying back over Brooklands, Hook and Kingston on Sunday (at 4.01pm, 4.04pm and 4.06pm respectively) before returning home to Duxford.