Chillingham Castle is now assembling the replica of an historic airplane. This hydroplane, Waterbird, will now be on permanent display at the Castle.
Waterbird may just look like a vast dragonfly but, thanks to Winston Churchill, that hydroplane revolutionised the Royal Navy and marine aviation was born. It all happened in the north of England in 1911.
In 1909, shortly after Louis Bleriot’s first flight, too many pilots were losing their lives, not in action, but from failing to find airstrips in the rain and dark.
Boer War veteran, Lakeland landowner and Sir Humphry Wakefield’s great uncle, Captain Edward Wakefield, suggested that planes should be able to land on water – rivers, lakes, the sea or even reservoirs. The British Government replied that their technical experts had reported that this was impossible, surface tension was the villain.
Within just two years, using his own patch on Windermere, Wakefield had built his Waterbird. His patented ‘stepped float’ defied surface tension and Waterbird made the Empire’s first successful take-off and landing on November 25, 1911.
An enthusiastic First Sea Lord, Winston Churchill, took a hair-raising ride and had Wakefield instruct the Royal Navy forthwith. The Fleet Air Arm, the Royal Naval Air Service and much else followed.