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1900: Fleet Air Arm

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Article Highlights

  • Introduction

  • Airships

  • Naval officers learn to fly

  • Seaplane trials

  • Royal Flying Corps

  • The run up to war

Seaplane trials

In September 1911, whilst the first batch of pilots were undertaking their flying training at Eastchurch, other naval officers were making their own developments. Commander Oliver Schwann and a group of officers had clubbed together to buy an aircraft from AV Roe in an attempt to produce an aircraft that could take off from water. Schwann’s group experimented with floats, skids, engine position and balancing. Experiments were conducted next to the hangar in Barrow-in-Furness where HMA No.1 was being built.

Trials of float designs (FAAM)
Cdr Oliver Schwann RNAS Album; beginning of seaplane trials 1911. (FAAM)

On 18 November 1911 after many attempts Commander Schwann made the first take-off by a float fitted seaplane, from Cavendish Dock. A recent improvement on the aircraft saw it accelerating much faster than Schwann had expected and was soon skipping off the surface. He was quite unprepared for the leap to 15-20ft and its fall back to the water; this surprise and Schwann’s lack of flying experience caused him to demolish the plane on landing. Nonetheless Schwann had proved the theory and the path was laid for the development of seaplanes. A fortnight later on 1 December 1911, Lt AM Longmore RN successfully landed naval biplane number 2, fitted with floats, on the river Medway; the first successful landing by a seaplane.



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