Primetime has been filming on location at Wickenby Airfield in Lincolnshire, and Lake Windermere in Cumbria, with the team dedicated to returning a record breaking aviation relic to the skies. The Waterbird was built and first flown off Lake Windermere in 1911, the first time any aircraft had flown successfully from water in the UK or from British colonised countries. The hydro-aeroplane, based on the Curtiss aircraft, was commissioned by Captain Edward Wakefield, and first flown by Herbert Stanley Adams on November 25th.
What is less well known is that the Waterbird was the fourth aircraft ever built by A.V.Roe & Co making this a triple bill of AVRO aircraft restorations documented by Primetime's team - Joanna White recently completed three years exclusively documenting the return to flight of Vulcan XH558 at Bruntingthorpe airfield and produced our fourth 'Just Jane' DVD with guided tours inside the Lancaster and the museums of the Aviation Heritage Centre.
First flight of the Waterbird documented on Flight Magazine, January 1912, and Gerry and Jenny Cooper fabric covering the newly constructed wings of the Waterbird replica.
The original rudder of the Waterbird remains at the RAF Museum, Hendon, and displays the legend of 'A.V. Roe and Co', along with the original float a few other parts that have avoided complete deterioration. These pieces, along with the original plans drawn in May 1911, have been essential in the recreation of this record breaking hydro-aeroplane, which began in 2010. Despite trials and tribulations with funding and design alterations (the original had some design methods considered unorthodox by today's standards) Gerry Cooper and his team are rapidly nearing the conclusion, and hope to begin the flight test phase soon. The aircraft is not only being built by Gerry, but flown by him as well and he's just completed his licence conversion to enable him to fly from water for the first time.
Along with Gerry Cooper, Windermere boat designers and builders Richard and James Pierce are recreating the float having painstakingly measured the original, and calculated the weight and balances required. They are also helping to follow the historical precedent, as Borwick & Sons of Windermere were the craftsmen hired to build the original float - since taken over by Windermere Aquatic Ltd.
But not everyone was excited by Windermere's first steps in aviation, as Beatrix Potter and Canon Rawnsley (founder of the National Trust) began a campaign to see the Waterbird removed, a campaign opposed by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty:
Churchill's confirmation was in response to a question raised by Russell Rea, who was against flying at Windermere. Correspondence was sent by both sides to local and national newspaper editors. For example, in a letter to the Westmorland Gazette, in December 1911, Beatrix Potter wrote: "The majority of the Lancashire artizan excursionists and lodgers are perfectly alive to the quiet beauty of the Lakes; those who want noise go to Blackpool." In a letter to the Times, in January 1912, Wakefield wrote: " Canon Rawnsley has written to the Times and several other papers a poetical appeal calling all lovers of the English Lakes to rise and protest against this new invasion of the charms of Windermere. I yield to no one in love for the scenery and loyalty to the interests of my country. England is too far behind other powers in aircraft and in flying men for both the Army and the Navy." An Official Inquiry took place at Windermere in 1912, regarding an application to impose a speed limit of 12 mph over certain portions of the lake, the outcome of which was in Wakefield's favour.
(Extract from The Lakes Flying Company Ltd. website)
Joanna White is delighted to be working with Gerry, James, Ian Gee and the rest of the Waterbird team to document this build over the remaining weeks, leading up to a recreation of the 1911 first flight - billed for September 17th 2015. If you would like to know more, or donate to the cause, please visit: http://www.waterbird.org.uk/
The new film should be available shortly on DVD and video on demand, please watch this space.