Heavier-than-air flying

Following developments using kites and gliders, the Balloon Factory encouraged experiments with machines to enable heavier-than-air flying to take place. Samuel Cody at Farnborough and Lieutenant J.W. Dunne at Blair Athol were developing powered gliders. Cody is largely recognised as the first man to conduct sustained powered flight in Britain. On 16 October 1908, his British Army Aeroplane No.1 took off at Laffan’s Plain and covered a distance of approximately 1400 feet before crashing.

Early military experiments with aeroplanes were severely curtailed in 1909 when The Committee for Imperial Defence decided to cut the £2,500 aeroplane budget. They were not convinced that aeroplanes had a future and chose instead to focus efforts on proven lighter-than-air flying. Despite a lack of funds and Government support, research continued and indeed by May, Richard Haldane, Secretary of State for Air, in a dramatic change in attitude to air power was announcing in the House of Commons that he had appointed a special committee

‘for the superintendence of the investigations of the National Physical Laboratory and for general advice on scientific problems arising in connection with the work of the Admiralty and War Office in aerial constitution and navigation’.

This led to the formation of the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics which represented a huge step forward in the Government’s attitude towards aircraft.

In the same year, Captain J.D.B. Fulton became the first serving officer in HM Forces to obtain a Royal Aero Club certificate acknowledging his ability to fly an aircraft. Other officers, including Captain Bertram Dickson flew their personal aircraft at the Army Manoeuvres of 1910. In a further demonstration of a change in attitude the War Office announced in October 1910 that the Balloon Factory’s scope of activity would be broadened out to include opportunities for ‘aeroplaning as well as ballooning’.