Waterbird seaplane replica in first public flight at Windermere
A replica of Waterbird, the UK’s first successful seaplane, has made its inaugural public flight.
Its take off at Windermere marks 28 years since any seaplane has flown at the Cumbria lake and 111 years since the original Waterbird flew for the first time.
The event in the Lake District marks the climax of a 13-year-project to create an exact copy of the 35ft-long aircraft.
Apart from having a modern engine, it faithfully recreates the detail of the original and has been constructed from wood, bamboo and wires.
In June, display and test pilot Pete Kynsey took the replica on its maiden flight, at first attempt, in secret trials on Windermere.
On Friday it was repeated for public viewing in two demonstration flights.
Special permission was granted by the Lake District National Park Authority, including an exemption from the normal speed limits on the lake.
A crowd of 500 lined Rawlinson Nab and applauded as the plane, piloted by Mr Kynsey, lifted some 40ft above the water and reaching a speed of about 40mph.
Speaking ahead of the flights, Ian Gee, director of organisers Wings Over Windermere, said: “It’s a thrilling opportunity to step back in history to the very earliest days of aviation when pioneers pushed the boundaries of what was possible through innovation and imagination.
“Waterbird has a lasting legacy that transformed seaplane designs.”
Waterbird was the first seaplane to successfully fly in the UK.
She was commissioned by Edward Wakefield from A. V. Roe & Co (‘Avro’), of Ancoats, Manchester, as a landplane and converted to a seaplane at Windermere, where the pilot was Herbert Stanley Adams. Her original historic flight was on November 25 1911.
Writer Beatrix Potter opposed the noisy test flights of the seaplanes near her home and was involved in a campaign to have them banned.
The campaign was overruled by the Government, including First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, who regarded the test flights as vital to developing the nation’s air forces.
The idea of making a replica was first mooted by Richard Raynsford, the great-great nephew of Captain Wakefield, in a letter to The Westmorland Gazette newspaper.
The cudgels were taken up by retired solicitor Mr Gee, who lives in South Lakeland.
Mr Gee, himself a pilot, is director of The Lakes Flying Company, which was set up after blueprints from the original designs were found in the Wakefield family archives and work was started on making the replica plane.
Former RAF serviceman Gerry Cooper started building the replica at Wickenby Airfield in Lincolnshire and managed a short flight taking off from land. Mr Cooper, 80, and others have had to complete the painstaking work so the seaplane can take off from the water.
Among Friday’s crowd was Captain Wakefield’s great nephew, Sir Humphrey Wakefield, of Chillingham Castle, Northumberland, who said: “My great uncle, a veteran of the Boer War, was snubbed by Government scientists when he suggested people’s lives would be saved by taking off from water.
“Within two years he developed, built and patented a unique float which made it possible and is still used on hydrofoils today.
“I am thrilled to have his memorial made real in Waterbird.”
Another attendee was Sir Ben Bathurst, former first Sea Lord, and president of the Lakes Flying Club.
Sir Ben said: “This has been a wonderful project to replicate this beautiful aircraft and demonstrate the fragility of early aviation.
“I congratulate the persistence and skill of all those involved.”
The ultimate aim of Wings Over Windermere is to display Waterbird in a heritage centre on the lake shore, where it is hoped that regular flights might be arranged.
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