© Defence Evaluation Research Agency In 1907, in addition to fulfilling his duties as kite instructor to the Army, producing his motor kite and working on the Nulli Secundus, Cody began work on his first aeroplane. Construction was carried out over many months in the airship shed at Farnborough during which time he experimented with the relative positions of the wings, wheels, chassis, radiators, steering column, etc. An Antoinette engine was purchased in Paris around July 1908 and on the 19 September the British Army Aeroplane No 1 made its first appearance. Short hops and runs along the ground were made during September and October and further alterations were made to the position of the radiators and in addition the wing tip ailerons were removed.
© Defence Evaluation Research Agency On the morning of October 16 1908 the British Army Aeroplane No 1A was brought out onto Farnborough Common and with a Union Jack flag positioned at the top of the rear, centre strut, the machine took off and flew for a distance of 1,390 feet at a speed of 25 to 30mph. The flight ended in a crash when, on turning sharply to avoid a clump of trees, the left wing struck the ground. The flight had lasted for only 27 seconds but it was the first sustained flight in the United Kingdom of a heavier than air, powered aeroplane and ensured Farnborough a place in history as the birthplace of British Aviation.
© John Roberts British Army Aeroplane No 1B first appeared in January 1909. Very little of the previous machine remained – primarily the engine and its auxiliary components – the wings and chassis having been entirely rebuilt. Over the following weeks and months Cody was constantly changing the configuration of the aircraft trying simultaneously to perfect the balance of the aircraft and find the ideal arrangement for the control surfaces. At the same time he was learning the art of flight. At this critical point the British Government decided that there was no future for the aeroplane, the Army abandoned its involvement in the experiment and Cody’s contract was terminated. He was, however, allowed to keep the aircraft and to borrow the engine. He was also given permission to build a shed on Laffan’s Plain from where he continued his flying experiments. Here he laboured under great difficulties having lost both the financial backing of the Government and the supporting man power of the Royal Engineers. He also had to cope with the hazards of uneven ground, strong winds and the presence of the trees and shrubs in the area, besides having to work in the open until his shed could be built.
© Defence Evaluation Research Agency On 12 August 1909 the final development of the January 1909 aircraft, the Cody No 1C (The Cathedral), made its first flight. The pilot’s seat was now positioned in front of an ENV engine improving the balance of the machine. Two days later Cody took up his first passenger Colonel Capper followed by Lela Cody. Throughout his flying career Cody demonstrated a great willingness to take passengers aloft and often referred to his aeroplane as ‘an aerial omnibus.’ There was never any shortage of volunteers although he did, apparently, make a small charge for the privilege. The illustration shows Cody on the 27 September with Mrs Capper.
In October 1909 one of England’s first aviation meetings took place at Doncaster. It was not a great success because bad weather greatly limited the amount of flying, but Cody entertained the crowds by taking his Oath of Allegiance on becoming a British subject – complete with brass band and the usual array of gentlemen of the press.
© Defence Evaluation Research Agency June 1910 saw the completion of a new Cody aircraft – the Cody No II (Cody Flyer/Michelin Cup Machine). The most obvious differences to the earlier machine were the one large propeller installed at the rear in place of the two forward propellers and a 60hp Green engine fitted in place of the ENV. The machine suffered a crash on only its second appearance but Cody soon recovered and was able to take the repaired machine to the Bournemouth Aviation Meeting in July. In the following month he attended the Lanark Aviation Meeting, during which he reverted to an ENV engine. Cody had hoped to use two Green engines in this aircraft but could not get them both synchronised. A single Green engine was reinstalled at the end of 1910 so that Cody could compete in the Michelin Cup Trophy as this required the use of a British engine. He won the trophy on the last day of the year when Cody flew his machine for 4hrs. 47mins. covering a distance of 185.46 miles and established a new British record for duration and distance.
© Defence Evaluation Research AgencyGreat confidence must have been felt in Cody’s capabilities as a pilot because in February 1911 his friend and biographer, G.A. Broomfield agreed to be taken aloft standing on the wing. This machine was put in store after being flown before His Majesty King George V at Farnborough in June and did not reappear until December. By this date the machine had been fitted with a 120hp Austro Daimler engine, twin rear rudders and four extra seats for passengers and was known as the Cody Omnibus.
In 1911 the Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000 for the first pilot to complete a circuit of Great Britain a distance of 1,010 miles. Nine British machines were entered including Cody in his Cody III machine. This machine, completed in June 1911, was the smallest of his aircraft with only a 40ft. wing span and was powered by a 60hp Green engine.
On the 21 July twenty one machines gathered at Brooklands for the start of the race with Cody a most unlikely looking entrant wearing a dark suit and everyday shoes and hat. But Cody was – ‘in the very best of spirits. He is affable to all, and has established himself as a firm favourite.’ His good spirits prevailed all round the course despite many set backs and disasters but, with the help of his loyal band of helpers, he would just roll up his sleeves and repair the latest damage or mechanical fault. He also stopped to give lectures en route and although this impeded his progress it proved very popular with the huge crowds that gathered wherever he landed. He finished fourth, arriving ten days after the winning French machine but his biplane was the only British built aircraft to complete the course. This plane went on to win two more Michelin Trophies before crashing on 3 July 1912 when piloted by one of Cody’s pupils.
The loss of the Circuit of Britain Biplane was a blow to Cody as he had hoped to enter this machine in the Military Trials, to be held the following month on Salisbury Plain, in the hope of winning the £5,000 prize offered by the British War Office to the winning aircraft. He had further bad luck when the other machine he had hoped to enter, his Cody No IV (Monoplane) was involved in a collision with a cow. During the ensuing court case the owner of the cow claimed for damages. The judge, ignoring the defence’s plea that the cow had committed suicide, awarded the sum of £18 to the farmer. Cody was now left with an Austro Daimler engine and the wreckage of two machines. Within weeks he had built a new biplane using the engine but little else from the two damaged aircraft.
The Cody No V A (The Military Trials Biplane No 1) was not particularly large, it had twin triangular shaped rear rudders and one four bladed propeller but it housed the powerful 120hp Austro Daimler engine. Cody’s machine won the trials and although some considered this machine ‘outmoded’, Cody had made sure that his machine was capable of fulfilling all the requirements laid down by the War Office. This machine was purchased for the Army and handed over to the Royal Flying Corps in November 1912 but was involved in a crash the following April. A second machine had been ordered but in February the Cody No V B (The Military Trials Bilpane No 2), was also involved in a crash and in November 1913 was handed over to The Science Museum where it is displayed to this day. The Cody No V A machine temporarily fitted with a 100hp Green engine to enable it to compete for another Michelin Trophy, won the prize for the fastest time covering a cross country circuit of 186 miles in October 1912.
Cody’s last machine was a water plane – the Cody VI built in 1913 to compete in the Daily Mail’s Aeroplane Race around Britain. This was Cody’s largest machine with a wing span of nearly 60 feet, fitted with a 100hp Green engine, a single rear rudder, a four bladed propeller and a large skid forward. In June this skid was removed and one large central float and two wing floats were fitted and the machine was tested for buoyancy on the Basingstoke Canal although it never flew with floats on. Later, in July, with the aircraft returned to its land plane configuration it was converted into a flying ambulance. The aeroplane could carry three hospital orderlies and was equipped with stretcher, operating table and all the supplies necessary for medical emergencies.
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On the morning of 7 August 1913 Mr. W.H.B. Evans was Cody’s second passenger of the day. The machine rose steadily and after a flight over Bramshot golf course the machine was headed for home when an incident occurred which resulted in the machine crashing into a group of oak trees at the foot of Ball Hill. Cody and Evans, neither of whom was strapped in, fell to their deaths.
What did actually occur on that day is difficult to say as the eye witness accounts differed. One said he saw the – ‘rear part of the machine leave the other part…. The rear part fell first…. The front part turned up… then the bodies fell, thrown out by the jerk, Cody fell first then Evans…. Plane fell from 300 to 400 feet…’ A second witness said – ‘Right plane went upwards… the body of the machine then seemed to dip and fall, the whole lot crumbling up… I did not see any part break away…. Both men fell together.’ A third said- ‘Possible cause could be the bursting of the propeller. Part of this could have gone through the planes, and the wind blowing through would cause the whole lot to collapse.’ Another said – ‘The aeroplane was no more than 100 or 150 feet from the ground.’ The Secretary of the Royal Aero Club said… ‘The top right hand section of the wing, he was given to understand, was picked up about 100 yards away from the trees where the machine actually fell. It appeared that it was the piece that was seen floating away.’ He disagreed with the witness who thought the tail had come away as the tail had been found under the wings. An examination had found that the control wires were intact. Another witness when questioned over the Daily Mirror report that Mr. Evans was seen clinging to Cody said that he saw ‘nothing of the kind.’
It was in that very year that the Royal Aero Club started issuing accident reports and the conclusion they came to concerning Cody’s accident was that ‘The failure of the aircraft was due to inherent structural weakness.’ They also added that the accounts of the eyewitnesses conflicted.
If eyewitnesses at the time could not agree on the cause of the accident it is unlikely that the true reason will ever be unearthed, although different theories will forever be discussed. What can be said with certainty is that with the death of Samuel Franklin Cody the world of aviation lost one of its most colourful pioneers.