CHAPTER XXXII. Three Historic Flights
When the complete history of aviation comes to be written, there will be three epoch-making events which will doubtless be duly appreciated by the historian, and which may well be described as landmarks in the history of flight. These are the three great contests organized by the proprietors of the Daily Mail, respectively known as the "London to Manchester" flight, the "Round Britain flight in an aeroplane", and the "Water-plane flight round Great Britain."
In any account of aviation which deals with the real achievements of pioneers who have helped to make the science of flight what it is to-day, it would be unfair not to mention the generosity of Lord Northcliffe and his co-directors of the Daily Mail towards the development of aviation in this country. Up to the time of writing, the sum of L24,750 has been paid by the Daily Mail in the encouragement of flying, and prizes to the amount of L15,000 are still on offer. In addition to these prizes this journal has maintained pilots who may be described as "Missionaries of Aviation". Perhaps the foremost of them is M. Salmet, who has made hundreds of flights in various parts of the country, and has aroused the greatest enthusiasm wherever he has flown.
The progress of aviation undoubtedly owes a great deal to the Press, for the newspaper has succeeded in bringing home to most people the fact that the possession of air-craft is a matter of national importance. It was of little use for airmen to make thrilling flights up and down an aerodrome, with the object of interesting the general public, if the newspapers did not record such flights, and though in the very early days of aviation some newspapers adopted an unfriendly attitude towards the possibilities of practical aviation, nearly all the Press has since come to recognize the aeroplane as a valuable means of national defence. Right from the start the Daily Mail foresaw the importance of promoting the new science of flight by the award of prizes, and its public-spirited enterprise has done much to break up the prevailing apathy towards aviation among the British nation.
If these three great events had been mere spectacles and nothing else - such as, for instance, that great horse-race known as "The Derby" - this chapter would never have been written. But they are most worthy of record because all three have marked clearly-defined stepping-stones in the progress of flight; they have proved conclusively that aviation is practicable, and that its ultimate entry into the busy life of the world is no more than a matter of perfecting details.
The first L10,000 prize was offered in November, 1906, for a flight by aeroplane from London to Manchester in twenty-four hours, with not more than two stoppages en route. In 1910 two competitors entered the lists for the flight; one, an Englishman, Mr. Claude Grahame-White; the other, a Frenchman, M. Paulhan.
Mr. Grahame-White made the first attempt, and he flew remarkably well too, but he was forced to descend at Lichfield - about 113 miles on the journey - owing to the high and gusty winds which prevailed in the Trent valley. The plucky pilot intended to continue the flight early the next morning, but during the night his biplane was blown over in a gale while it stood in a field, and it was so badly damaged that the machine had to be sent back to London to be repaired.
This took so long that his French rival, M. Paulhan, was able to complete his plans and start from Hendon, on 27th April. So rapidly had Paulhan's machine been transported from Dover, and "assembled" at Hendon, that Mr. White, whose biplane was standing ready at Wormwood Scrubbs, was taken by surprise when he heard that his rival had started on the journey and "stolen a march on him", so to speak. Nothing daunted, however, the plucky British aviator had his machine brought out, and he went in pursuit of Paulhan late in the afternoon. When darkness set in Mr. White had reached Roade, but the French pilot was several miles ahead.
Now came one of the most thrilling feats in the history of aviation. Mr. White knew that his only chance of catching Paulhan was to make a flight in the darkness, and though this was extremely hazardous he arose from a small field in the early morning, some hours before daybreak arrived, and flew to the north. His friends had planned ingenious devices to guide him on his way: thus it was proposed to send fast motor-cars, bearing very powerful lights, along the route, and huge flares were lighted on the railway; but the airman kept to his course chiefly by the help of the lights from the railway stations.
Over hill and valley, forest and meadow, sleeping town and slumbering village, the airman flew, and when dawn arrived he had nearly overhauled his rival, who, in complete ignorance of Mr. White's daring pursuit, had not yet started.
But now came another piece of very bad luck for the British aviator. At daybreak a strong wind arose, and Mr. White's machine was tossed about like a mere play-ball, so that he was compelled to land. Paulhan, however, who was a pilot with far more experience, was able to overcome the treacherous air gusts, and he flew on to Manchester, arriving there in the early morning.
Undoubtedly the better pilot won, and he had a truly magnificent reception in Manchester and London, and on his return to France. But this historic contest laid the foundation of Mr. Grahame-White's great reputation as an aviator, and, as we all know, his fame has since become world-wide.