The centenary of Harry Hawker's Circuit of Britain attempt was marked on 12th February when Australian Geoff Boyling gave a talk to the Association on Harry's original flight and on his own re-enactment 100 years later. Team Leader of 'Project Hawker 2013' and co-pilot of Catalina G-PBYA, Geoff came to flying quite late after 35 years as a physiotherapist, achieving a CPL in the 1990s and becoming a shareholder-pilot in Duxford-based 'Plane Sailing', operators of G-PBYA.

Firstly, Geoff described the original flight, saying that it all started when Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of the Daily Mail, offered a prize of 5000 for an over-water flight round Great Britain in a British seaplane with a British engine. To be organised by the Royal Aero Club, there would be eight control points and a limit of 72 hours flying time. There were four entries including Cody and Hawker. Sadly Cody was killed a week before the event and all the entrants except Hawker withdrew making it a 'one horse race', but none the easier for that. Sopwith built a special 'Circuit Waterplane' with a 100 hp Green six cylinder in-line engine for Hawker and his fellow Australian, Harry Kauper, to fly in the competition. Hawker took off from Southampton on August 16th 1914 for Ramsgate and Yarmouth but on landing Hawker collapsed through exhaustion. Sidney Pickles was to have taken over but bad weather put an end to the attempt.


Circuit Of Britain

Toptop toptoptop

On August 25th the two Harrys set off again anti-clockwise, this time flying 495 miles to Beadnell in Northumberland, a new over-water record. Next day they reached Oban via Cromarty and the Caledonian Canal, a distance of 341 miles. On day three disaster struck when Hawker's foot slipped off the wet rudder pedals as he was landing at Loughshinny, north of Dublin, causing the Waterplane to crash and Kauper to sustain a broken arm. The aircraft was a write-off but the engine was salvaged. In recognition of the 1043 mile over-water flight the Daily Mail awarded Hawker 1000, a very considerable sum. Shell, suppliers of the fuel, presented Hawker with Silver model of the Waterplane by Mappin & Webb, and a handsome watch, both of which are still in the hands of Harry Hawker's descendants.

So, in 2013 a choice had to be made; should the 100th anniversary of this epic flight be ignored or celebrated? Geoff plumped for the second option and set about getting endorsements and sponsorships for the project and starting detailed planning. Endorsements were given by the Hawker Association, the Brooklands Museum and Flight International magazine, and partnerships were made with the RAF Benevolent Fund and the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. All together fourteen sponsors were recruited including the Daily Mail and Shell Aviation. In 1913 Shell had supplied the fuel but this was not possible now for logistical reasons so they were joined by Total and Exxon, Shell supplying the oil. Great help was provided by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in arranging Airspace Co-ordination Notices, including permission to over-fly London, and display authorisations at several points en-route, and also by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). The National Air Traffic System (NATS), the RAF and various airports were equally helpful.

On August 28th, after final aircraft preparation at Duxford, the Catalina amphibian, Captained by Rod Brooking with Geoff as co-pilot and Shaun Jarvis as Crew Chief, took off in fine weather for Southampton with Barry Pegram and Julian Temple (Brooklands Museum) as passengers. This was witnessed by four of Harry Hawker's grandchildren, three great grandchildren and a niece! Departing at 10.30 the route was across London to Kingston, Hook (where Harry Hawker is buried) and Brooklands, landing at Southampton. From there the 1913 starting line was crossed at Netley then on to Scarborough and RAF Leeming via Portsmouth, the south coast, Ramsgate and Great Yarmouth.

On August 29th the weather had deteriorated and Aberdeen was invisible and abandonment of the destination seemed possible. However ATC directed the Catalina to 4000 ft for a long circuit and they broke through the cloud at 900 ft for a display then headed north for RAF Lossiemouth, along the Great Glen at low level (700 ft) to Oban. The 30th was a 'rest day' with a display and local flights but on the 31st August the Catalina headed for Dublin, Pembroke Dock (with PBY associations), Newquay and RAF St Mawgan. The last day, the 1st September, took the Catalina along the coast back to Southampton, north to Brooklands, Hook and Kingston then across London (looking up at the Shard), and home to Duxford for a TV welcome. This flight was awarded an FIA UK Aviation Record certificate for a Coastal Circumnavigation of the United Kingdom covering 3317 km (2061 miles) in 18 hrs 12 minutes, and a special Pooley's Dawn to Dusk Seaplane Trophy.

The vote of thanks for this excellent and well illustrated talk was given by Barry Pegram who had been privileged to participate in this flight. Please visit www.projecthawker2013.com for more details of this project and to see many of the photographs that Geoff showed.