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Topical Budget 104-1: The Great Waterplane Race (1913)


Main image of Topical Budget 104-1: The Great Waterplane Race (1913)
35mm, black and white, 100 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Co.

Mr Hawker starts from Southampton water on the great seaplane race of 1,600 miles round the British Isles.

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In 1913, the Daily Mail announced a £5,000 prize to the first aviator to successfully fly around the British coastline. The proposed route ran some 1,600 miles, starting at Cowes in the Isle of Wight, then to Aberdeen and Cromarty via the southern and eastern coasts, then to Oban via the Caledonian Canal, then to Dublin, and finally to Southampton via Falmouth. The paper also stipulated that the plane had to be British-made, in an attempt to stimulate innovation in an industry that had hitherto lagged behind the French in both achievement and public profile (no British aviator had rivalled Louis Blériot's crossing of the English Channel in 1910).

Thomas Sopwith (1888-1989) was a pioneering aviator who had recently turned to aircraft manufacture, having set up the Sopwith Aviation Company the previous year. The Australian-born Harry Hawker (1889-1921) was Sopwith's chief engineer and test pilot. On 16 August, Topical Budget's cameras captured Hawker and Sopwith preparing an experimental flight from Southampton Water to Yarmouth, a distance of some 240 miles, and on the 25th, less than a fortnight later, Hawker attempted the full circumnavigation.

He successfully reached Scotland, but severe turbulence over the Caledonian Canal hampered progress. On the way to Dublin, Hawker lost control of the plane, which crashed into the sea at nearby Lough Shinny, thankfully without fatalities. Although he had failed to complete the course, such was the public interest that the Daily Mail decided to award him £1,000 as a consolation prize.

After his waterplane feat, Hawker continued to work for Sopwith during the war (the firm's best known creation would be the Sopwith Camel fighter biplane, introduced in 1916 and immortalised in both Captain W.E. Johns' Biggles books in Britain and Charles M. Schulz' Snoopy cartoon strips in the US), and the two men would subsequently co-found H.G.Hawker Engineering - despite Sopwith's seniority, they wanted a new name as the old Sopwith firm had been controversially liquidated for tax reasons. This would eventually become part of the famous Hawker-Siddeley Group in the 1950s, though this was several decades after Hawker's death in an air crash when training for an air show.

Sopwith, by contrast, enjoyed an immensely long life, was knighted in 1953 for services to aviation and in 1988 witnessed a celebratory military flypast over his home to mark his 100th birthday.

Michael Brooke

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A Very Topical Year: 1913