Little Bits of History

Men and Their Flying Machines

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 28, 2014
Louis Paulhan's biplane

Louis Paulhan’s biplane

April 28, 1910: Three aviation firsts occur. In 1906, the Daily Mail, a British newspaper issued a challenge and would pay the first person to fly between London and Manchester. The distance is about 185 miles. Flying long distances was a challenge and this was considered a very long distance. The £10,000 prize was to be given for making the trip with no more than two stops and within 24 hours. The take-off and landing could not be more than five miles from the newspaper’s offices in both cities. This contest was not immediately won and so in 1908, the paper offered £1,000 to the pilot of the first flight across the English Channel (a distance of 21 miles) which was won in 1909 by Frenchman Louis Bleriot.

The first pilot to even make an attempt at the long-distance trip was Englishman Claude Grahame-White. He was one of the first people in Britain to obtain a flying license after learning to fly in France in 1909. He took off from London on April 23, 1910 and made his first planned stop at Rugby, a distance of about 90 miles or approximately half way to Manchester. He was able to make it about 40 miles nearly to Lichfield, before engine trouble forced a landing. High winds kept him from taking his biplane back into the air and the craft suffered more damage when it was blown over on the ground.

He managed to get his plane back to London for repairs. But while these were being attended to, on this date, Frenchman Louis Paulhan took off late in the day, heading for Lichfield. When Grahame-White learned of Paulhan’s departure, he immediately set off in hot pursuit. This was one of the firsts – a night time take-off. By the next morning, he had nearly caught up with the Frenchman but Grahame-White’s plane was overloaded and was forced again to land. He had to admit defeat. Paulhan reached Manchester early on April 28 and won the challenge. Both pilots were at the Savoy Hotel in London to celebrate at a special luncheon.

Paulhan was an experienced pilot in both heavier and lighter than air vehicles having started flying balloons. Prior to this contest, he had been in California and had only recently arrived in England. His plane was brought in and assembled in under eleven hours. He took off at around 5.30 PM and followed a special train with white washed sleeper cars on the ground below who were both tracking and helping the pilot. While Paulhan won the contest, it was Grahame-White who made the historic first night time flight guided by the headlights of his ground crew’s cars. He heroically took off at 2.50 AM but was unable to catch up to the Frenchman. This was the first long-distance air race, first night-time take off proving it could be done, and the first powered flight into Manchester from outside the city. Paulhan made the flight again in 1950 on the fortieth anniversary of this historic flight. This time, he was a passenger aboard a British jet fighter. This later flight was of much shorter duration.

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return. – Leonardo da Vinci

Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying. – Neil Armstrong

Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price. – Amelia Earhart

I hate flying, flat out hate its guts. – William Shatner

Also on this day: A Voyage to the South Sea – In 1789, the Mutiny on the Bounty takes place.
Kon-Tiki – In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl set sail.
Exposed! – In 1967, Expo 67 opened in Canada.
Scully’s Predecessor – In 1988, Aloha Airline Flight 243 met with disaster.