Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

afterwards proved that the British airman and constructor were the equals if not the superiors of any in
the world, at the date of this contest they were behind in many respects.

As these conditions precluded the use of the famous Gnome engine, which had won so many contests,
and indeed the employment of any engine made abroad, the competitors were reduced to two aviation

firms; and as one or these ultimately withdrew from the contest the Sopwith Aviation Company of

Kingston-on-Thames and Brooklands entered a machine.

Mr. T. Sopwith chose for his pilot a young Australian airman, Mr. Harry Hawker. This skilful airman
came with three other Australians to this country to seek his fortune about three years before. He was

passionately devoted to mechanics, and, though he had had no opportunity of flying in his native country,

he had been intensely interested in the progress of aviation in France and Britain, and the four friends set

out on their long journey to seek work in aeroplane factories.

All four succeeded, but by far the most successful was Harry Hawker. Early in 1913 Mr. Sopwith was
looking out for a pilot, and he engaged Hawker, whom he had seen during some good flying at


In a month or two he was engaged in record breaking, and in June, 1913, he tried to set up a new British
height record. In his first attempt he rose to 11,300 feet; but as the carburettor of the engine froze, and as

the pilot himself was in grave danger of frost-bite, he descended. About a fortnight later he rose 12,300

feet above sea-level, and shortly afterwards he performed an even more difficult test, by climbing with

three passengers to an altitude of 8500 feet.

With such achievements to his name it was not in the least surprising that Mr. Sopwith's choice of a pilot
for the water-plane race rested on Hawker. His first attempt was made on 16th August, when he flew

from Southampton Water to Yarmouth - a distance of about 240 miles - in 240 minutes. The writer, who

was spending a holiday at Lowestoft, watched Mr. Hawker go by, and his machine was plainly visible to

an enormous crowd which had lined the beach.

To everyone's regret the pilot was affected with a slight sunstroke when he reached Yarmouth, and
another Australian airman, Mr. Sidney Pickles, was summoned to take his place. This was quite within

the rules of the contest, the object of which was to test the merits of a British machine and engine rather

than the endurance and skill of a particular pilot. During the night a strong wind arose, and next morning,

when Mr. Pickles attempted to resume the flight, the sea was too rough for a start to be made, and the

water-plane was beached at Gorleston.

Mr. Hawker quickly recovered from his indisposition, and on Monday, 25th August, he, with a mechanic
as passenger, left Cowes about five o'clock in the morning in his second attempt to make a circuit of

Britain. The first control was at Ramsgate, and here he had to descend in order to fulfil the conditions of

the contest.

Ramsgate was left at 9.8, and Yarmouth, the next control, was reached at 10.38. So far the engine, built
by Mr. Green, had worked perfectly. About an hour was spent at Yarmouth, and then the machine was en

route to Scarborough. Haze compelled the pilot to keep close in to the coast, so that he should not miss

the way, and a choppy breeze some what retarded the progress of the machine along the east coast. About

2.40 the pilot brought his machine to earth, or rather to water, at Scarborough, where he stayed for nearly

two hours.


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