First All British Powered Flight: Sir Alliot Verdon Roe
Sir Alliot Verdon Roe
First All British Powered Flight
Sir Alliot Verdon Roe was born in 1877 in Manchester, England. The son of a doctor, he left home when was 14 to Canada where he spent a year working odd jobs. Once he returned to England, he became an apprentice at the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Locomotive Works.
During this time, he was a winning bicycle racer, a similar hobby of the Wright brothers. Soon he became bored and got another job in a boat yard. This led him to London University where he earned a degree in Marine Engineering.
While at sea from 1899 to 1902, he became fascinated with the birds that hovered over the ship’s deck, and he began to experiment with flying models. During one year, he helped a man in America named Davidson construct an experimental helicopter.
Upon returning to London in 1907, one of Roe’s models won a 75 pound prize from the Daily Mail newspaper which often featured airplane model contests. He used this money to build a full sized biplane which he finished and tested at the Brooklands in September of 1907. The owner of the land was not very hospitable, and forced Roe to live in the hangar and spend only 5 shillings a week for food. His design endured many crashes, but its first hop airborne was on June 8, 1908 and flew a distance of 75 ft (23 m).
After encountering problems with the management of Brooklands he moved his flight experiments to Walthamstow Marshes, where he rented space under a railway arch at the western end of the viaduct, which also served as his home. In early 1909 he completed the Roe I Triplane. Roe was so impoverished that he covered the wings in packing paper since cloth was too expensive.
On July 13, 1909 he achieved flight in the Roe I, which was more intent on crashing than flying, a distance of 100 ft (30 m). Ten days later, one of 900 ft (280 m).
The flight is marked by a pair of plaques on the ‘Avro arches’. The first is now difficult to read, thanks to a barrier. The newer plaque is pictured below.
Over the next two months further successful flights were made and the aircraft was modified slightly: the drive belt was replaced by a chain, the vertical tail surfaces were removed and both the engine and pilot’s seat were moved forwards.
Sir Edwin Alliot Verdon Roe was one of the few men lucky enough to witness first hand the birth of aviation and its evolution to spaceflight.