John Crampton continues...
I asked Sopwith about his winning the 'Baron de Forest' prize in 1910.
He started by saying that his first attempts at flying had been
expensive, what with crashing his first aeroplane and so forth, so he
decided to try to get some of his money back by having a go at the big
prizes. There were two: the 'Michelin' for the longest non-stop flight
by a British pilot in a British aircraft, and the other was £
4,000 offered by Baron de Forest for the longest non-stop flight from
any point in England to anywhere on the Continent.
A FEW MORE
said: "Baron de Forest, who became Count de Bendern, was resident in
England during the early part of the century and was an MP. When
Bleriot flew the Straits of Dover in 1909 this event struck the Baron
as one of tremendous strategic importance to Britain. So to stimulate
British aviation, then practically non-existent, he offered his prize
of £4,000, substantial on those days, for this
ambitious flight in an aeroplane wholly manufactured in the UK. Its
object was undoubtedly obtained, leading as it did to the eventual
formation of the Hawker Siddeley Group.
Almost at the end of 1910 I had a go at the 'Michelin' in the Howard
Wright biplane, my second aircraft, and covered 107 miles in 3 hours
and 12 minutes, a British distance and duration record. However, Cody
was making determined efforts to win the 'Michelin' and as I could not
do a proper job of both I decided to leave the 'Michelin' to him and go
for the 'de Forest' prize instead. Both closed on the last day of 1910
so time was short.
Fred Sigrist, who had joined me that year from Parsons, the big marine
engineering firm at Southampton, had a theory that the most likely time
for an engine to fail was in the first few minutes at full throttle, so
he advised me to start on the flight to the Continent at Eastchurch
which meant about half an hour's flight over land before the Channel.
We took the Howard Wright by road from Brooklands to Eastchurch and a
few days before Christmas there was a dead calm; I took off at 0830 on
the morning of 18th December. I hoped to reach Chalions - the Rheims
area. I passed over Canterbury at 1,000 feet - this was my altitude
record so far - and with a following wind I was over Dover in half an
hour. I remember feeling very alone and so, to relieve the constant
apprehension of a change in engine note, I started to sing. This, my
wife insists, is not one of my outstanding talents, but the odd carol,
tuneful or not, served well.
Twenty-two minutes later I crossed the French coast, exactly where I
have never discovered, but I was very relieved to see it. My compass
persisted in pointing NW, no matter how I turned, so I steered by the
sun. Soon it was hidden by cloud so I continued to fly straight ahead
as best I could, passing south of Lille where it was bumpy. Soon I
crossed the Belgian frontier and it got so rough that I was nearly
thrown out but hung on with one hand beneath the seat. We had no seat
belts those days, nor did we have such luxuries as an air speed
indicator. The only instruments were a rev. counter which worked, a
compass which didn't, and a barograph; a very sensitive one which Cecil
Grace had given me, 6 inches in diameter and reading to only 2,000 feet.
The wind was rising and hilly country lay ahead so I decided to land at
the first favourable spot, a field near Beaumont. I was getting
frightened! I still had 11 gallons left from the 20 I had started with
so if the weather had been better I could have covered over 300 miles.
However, the distance in a straight line from Eastchurch was 169 miles
and as the weather got worse no one else beat me and I was awarded the
prize when the competition closed on the 31st December. I landed,
incidentally, in a field where in a corner an old gentleman was hoeing
potatoes. When I stopped he looked at me for a moment - then turned
away and went on hoeing potatoes..!"
On entering the dining room at Compton Manor for my first lunch there I
was placed with my back to the fireplace over which I noticed a
magnificent gold bowl, a trophy of some sort. Should be spelt Trophy it
was so magnificent. I turned to Sopwith and said that a good story must
lie behind it. "Yers", he said, "well, two interesting points: it's
solid gold and I damn near didn't get it."
"In June 1912 I was one of thirteen entrants for the first 'Aerial
Derby', an 81 mile circuit of Greater London starting and finishing at
Hendon. The first prize was that gold cup presented by the Daily Mail.
I flew my 70 h.p. Gnome Bleriot. I was the first to finish but was told
that I had been disqualified as I had not been seen from the Purley
control and so it was assumed that I had turned inside it. I was quite
sure that I had not and so appealed to the Stewards of the Meeting.
They did not support my appeal so I appealed to the Stewards of the
Royal Aero Club.
Gustav Hamel landed second and so was declared the winner, subject to
appeal. I made a little arrangement with Gustav that whoever was
declared the winner would stand a dinner at the Cafe Royal for the
other competitors. Five months later the Club's Stewards did meet and
they upheld my appeal. Other witnesses had seen me pass outside the
Purley turning point and so all was well. I stood the dinner and got
that magnificent gold cup. The dinner must have been a success as Cody,
all dressed up in his evening clothes, fell asleep in the train taking
him back to Farnborough and woke up in Bournemouth..."
On Harry Hawker..."In 1912 four young Australians came to England to
study flying; two came to me and the others went to Bristols. They
included Harry Hawker whom I taught to fly. I well remember the day he
came to my office after being with us for a few months and asked if I'd
teach him to fly. 'Who'll pay for any damages?', I asked him, and added
that I charged seventy-five quid to teach someone to fly up to Aero
Club Certificate standards. Hawker reached down into his socks and
pulled out fifty quid in notes and asked if that would do; it was all
the money he had in the world and he was saving up for his return
journey to Australia but he said he'd rather stay in this country and
fly with me. After only a few flights he proved that he was master of
the art. He was awarded his Certificate, No. 297, in September 1912." I
never asked Sopwith if he took Hawker's fifty quid because I was sure
he did not. "As for the other Australians: Harry Kauper stayed with me
and became the works manager in the early days at Kingston; Harry
Busteed joined Bristols, served in the RNAS and RAF and retired to live
in Cornwall; and E Harrison became a star performer on Bristol
Sopwith continued, "I failed to mention that I was running a flying
school at Brooklands at the time, teaching people to do something I
knew very little about myself. The Royal Flying Corps was formed in
April 1912 and later that year I was approached by a major in the
Scotts Fusiliers, with a deep booming voice, who wanted to join the
RFC. Unless he held an aviator's certificate within the next ten days
he would be over-age to join and he asked me if I could get him through
his tests in time. He was successful, 'Boom' Trenchard, who was to
become the Father of the Royal Air Force.