CHAPTER XXXV. A Famous British Inventor of the Water-plane
Though Harry Hawker made such a brilliant and gallant attempt to win the L5000 prize, we must not forget that great credit is due to Mr. Sopwith, who designed the water-plane, and to Mr. Green, the inventor of the engine which made such a flight possible, and enabled the pilot to achieve a feat never before approached in any part of the world.
The life-story of Mr. "Tommy" Sopwith is almost a romance. As a lad he was intensely interested in mechanics, and we can imagine him constructing all manner of models, and enquiring the why and the wherefore of every mechanical toy with which he came into contact.
At the early age of twenty-one he commenced a motor business, but about this time engineers and mechanics all over the country were becoming greatly interested in the practical possibilities of aviation. Mr. Sopwith decided to learn to fly, and in 1910, after continued practice in a Howard Wright biplane, he had become a proficient pilot. So rapid was his progress that by the end of the year he had won the magnificent prize of L4000 generously offered by Baron de Forest for the longest flight made by an all-British machine from England to the Continent. In this flight he covered 177 miles, from Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey, to the Belgian frontier, in three and a half hours.
If Mr. Sopwith had been in any doubt as to the wisdom of changing his business this remarkable achievement alone must have assured him that his future career lay in aviation. In 1911 he was graciously received by King George V at Windsor Castle, after having flown from Brooklands and alighted on the East Terrace of the famous castle.
In the same year he visited America, and astonished even that go-ahead country with some skilful flying feats. To show the practical possibilities of the aeroplane he overtook the liner Olympic, after she had left New York harbour on her homeward voyage, and dropped aboard a parcel addressed to a passenger. On his return to England he competed in the first Aerial Derby, the course being a circuit of London, representing a distance of 81 miles. In this race he made a magnificent flight in a 70-horse-power Bleriot monoplane, and came in some fifteen minutes before Mr. Hamel, the second pilot home. So popular was his victory that Mr. Grahame-White and several other officials of the London Aerodrome carried him shoulder high from his machine.
From this time we hear little of Mr. Sopwith as a pilot, for, like other famous airmen, such as Louis Bleriot, Henri Farman, and Claude Grahame-White, who jumped into fame by success in competition flying, he has retired with his laurels, and now devotes his efforts to the construction of machines. He bids fair to be equally successful as a constructor of air-craft as he formerly was as a pilot of flying machines. The Sopwith machines are noted for their careful design and excellent workmanship. They are made by the Sopwith Aviation Company, Ltd., whose works are at Kingston-on-Thames. Several water-planes have been built there for the Admiralty, and land machines for the War Office. Late in 1913 Mr. Hawker left Britain for Australia to give demonstrations in the Sopwith machine to the Government of his native country.
A fine list of records has for long stood to the credit of the Sopwith biplane. Among these are:
British Height Record (Pilot only) ... ... 11,450 feet
" " " (Pilot and 1 Passenger) 12,900 "
" " " (Pilot and 2 Passengers) 10,600 "
World's " " (Pilot and 3 Passengers) 8,400 "
Many of the Sopwith machines used in the European War were built specially to withstand rough climate and heavy winds, and thus they were able to work in almost every kind of weather. It was this fact, coupled with the indomitable spirit of adventure inherent in men of British race, that made British airmen more than hold their own with both friend and foe in the war.