THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN IDEA
The first number of the well-thumbed file of Flight, carefully kept by “Theta” up to the present day, bears date July 30, 1910, just two years after the first public flight in the world. At that time this particular public-schoolboy was thirteen years of age. His interest in aviation, however, dated from considerably before that period, and its first manifestation took the form of paper gliders. Beyond the fact that they could be manipulated with marvellous dexterity and that they could be extremely disturbing to the rest of the class in school, no more need be said. In December 1910 “Theta” felt that he had a message on airships to convey to the world, and he communicated it through the medium of the school Journal. Thenceforward he wrote regularly on flying topics for the Journal, and for four years acted as its Aeronautical
Editor. Throughout 1911, with two school friends, he also assisted in producing Aviation, a cyclostyle sheet of small circulation proudly claimed as “the first monthly penny Aviation journal in the world.” Therein the various types of machines were discussed with all the delightful cocksureness of youth, and various serial stories based on flying adventures duly ran their course. For some years he pursued the construction of model aeroplanes with an assiduity that may well have been fatal to school work and games, and that was kept up until the German power-driven model drove the elastically-propelled machines into the realms of toydom. A motley crowd of enthusiasts used to gather every Saturday and Sunday in one of the great open spaces of London for the practice of their craft—nearly all boys in their teens, occasionally one or two grown-ups with mechanical interests. When the War came the group broke up. Some of them took up real aircraft construction; others became attached to the Air Service, naval and military, as mechanics. At least two became flying officers.
In July 1911 “Theta” obtained his first Pilot’s Certificate, from an Aero Club which he had assisted in founding. The document is perhaps sufficiently interesting to reproduce:
X.Y.Z. AERO CLUB: PILOT’S CERTIFICATE
I hereby Certify that “Theta” has passed the required tests for the above-named Certificate. The tests have been witnessed by the undernamed:
R. H. W. and J. H. C.,
who are Members of the X.Y.Z. Aero Club.
The tests are as follows:—
1. Flight of 100 yards.
2. Circular flight of any distance provided the machine does not touch the ground and lands within fifteen yards of the starting-point.
3. Or (alternative) flight of any distance when machine flies not less than six feet higher than the starting-point.
4. Flight lasting at least eight seconds.
The above tests have been approved by the members of the Club.
(Signed) R. H. W., Secretary.1
J. H. C., President.2
The tests would have been very different a few months later, and really wonderful long-distance flights were afterwards accomplished.
In order to be able to write with some authority, “Theta” kept abreast of all developments in Aeronautics, reading with avidity all the literature on the subject and visiting the flying-grounds. The first aeroplane
he saw in the air was when Paulhan gave a demonstration of flying at Sandown Park. Subsequently numerous pilgrimages to Brooklands and Hendon were made.
There followed visits to France in the vacations. On the second visit “Theta” and a companion, it was afterwards discovered, cycled round the rough and narrow stone parapet of a fort when a single slip would have meant precipitation into a moat on one side, or into the sea on the other. It was a test of nerves. The return from the third visit was memorable. “Theta” had left his portmanteau on a railway platform in Normandy and his waterproof on the Cross-channel steamer; but he arrived at Waterloo serenely content with the wreck of his model aeroplane wrapped up in an old French newspaper and a bathing-towel. His knowledge of French and his customary luck, however, served him, and the missing impedimenta duly followed him up in the course of a day or two. Of his French friends—three brothers—one was killed in the opening months of the War; a second was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans, after an adventure that would have won him the V.C. in this country; and the third, as interpreter, was one of the links between the Allied forces at the Dardanelles, and is now engaged on similar work.
A few months before war broke out “Theta” visited Germany and photographed the Zeppelin “Viktoria Luise” and its hangar at Frankfort. He was immensely struck by the ease with which the huge airship was manipulated, and with its value as a sea scout; but as a fighting instrument he put his money on the heavier-than-air machines. So grew day by day, month by month, and year by year—without the least slackening—that interest in aviation which came to fruition in war time.