Chocks away for aviators

Thousands turned out on the beach at Southsea to see the Daily Mail 'waterplane', probably in 1913.    Picture: Costen.co.uk
Thousands turned out on the beach at Southsea to see the Daily Mail 'waterplane', probably in 1913. Picture: Costen.co.uk
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These two fascinating and rare photographs show Southsea in the early, if not pioneering, days of flying.

The earlier picture was taken before the First World War on the beach shortly after this very early seaplane had come up on to the shingle.

Three Blackburn Dart carrier-based torpedo bombers flying past the Royal Naval War Memorial, Southsea, in the 1920s.    Picture: Costen.co.uk

Three Blackburn Dart carrier-based torpedo bombers flying past the Royal Naval War Memorial, Southsea, in the 1920s. Picture: Costen.co.uk

You can tell by the sheer numbers of spectators how fascinated people were then about the prospect of taking to the air.

There is even a mounted soldier on the right keeping back the crowd which included hundreds of children many of whom have been pressed into the water to see the strange contraption.

This was the Daily Mail seaplane, or waterplane as it was called then, on a tour of Britain before attempting a record-breaking flight.

The year is probably 1913, the year the newspaper announced a £5,000 prize to the first aviator to successfully fly around the British coastline. The proposed route ran 1,600 miles, starting at Cowes before heading east along the south coast, up the east coast to Aberdeen and Cromarty then on to Oban, across the Irish Sea to Dublin and finally to Southampton via Falmouth.

The paper stipulated that the plane had to be British-made in an attempt to stimulate innovation in an industry that had lagged behind the French in both achievement and public profile. No British aviator had rivalled Louis Bleriot’s crossing of the English Channel in 1910.

The plane was built by Thomas Sopwith (1888-1989) and it was flown by the Australian-born Harry Hawker, Sopwith’s chief engineer and test pilot.

However, Hawker failed in August, 1913, On the way to Dublin, he lost control and crashed into the sea. He survived.

Although he had failed to complete the course, the Daily Mail gave him £1,000 as a consolation prize and for stimulating such public interest.

The main photograph was almost certainly taken in the mid to late-1920s. It was definitely after 1924, the year the Royal Naval War Memorial was unveiled.

The picture shows three Blackburn Darts possibly returning to Gosport where training was carried out by D3 Flight.

The Dart was a carrier-based torpedo bomber biplane and made by Blackburn Aircraft. They flew first in 1921 and it became the standard single-seat torpedo bomber used by the Fleet Air Arm from 1923 until 1933.

The Dart entered service in 1923 with No 460 Flight aboard HMS Eagle stationed in the Mediterranean and with 461 and 462 Flights on HMS Furious based in home waters.

Both pictures come from Paul Costen, the collector and photographer.