Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Percy Pilcher, Leicestershire aviation pioneer

The Shropshire Star, with commendable objectivity, rubbishes the idea that Ernest Maund of Craven Arms was one of the pioneers of British aviation.

But this story reminds me that we really did have such a pioneer here in Leicestershire: Percy Pilcher.

Oliver Burkeman told his story in the Guardian some years ago:
Percy Pilcher's life ended on September 30 1899, when he was 32, as the result of a rapid and unforeseen reduction in the distance between his homemade wooden glider, the Hawk, and the well-kept lawns of Stanford Hall in Leicestershire. Until that moment, the atmosphere among the moneyed gentlemen gathered to watch him must have been one of high anticipation: Pilcher's display, in what he called a "soaring machine", was the final fundraiser for a project so revolutionary that it promised to make him one of the most famous men of the coming century. 
For years, the race to design a motor-powered aeroplane had obsessed professionals and eccentrics across Europe and America; now Pilcher announced that he was days from completing one - all he needed was a bit of cash to fix its broken engine. But then, on his third flight at Stanford Hall, the Hawk "came down heavily", in the words of one aristocrat in the audience, the Honourable Adrian Verney-Cave, "with a crash that could be heard some hundreds of yards". Two days later, Pilcher died. Four years later, on December 17 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright coaxed their own biplane jerkily upwards from a North Carolina field and into history.

No comments: