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CIRCUIT OF BRITAIN AIR RACE—1911

THE WORDS Brooklands and Brighton resonate today with historic motorsports: the wonderful Brooklands Museum and the annual London-to-Brighton Run for veteran cars. Back in 1911, these two locales were only part of an air race around Britain. To put this 1010-mile event in perspective, it occurred just seven and a half years after the Wright Brothers first demonstrated powered controlled flight; their initial achievement, 120 feet.

“Round Britain Race 1911” at thosemagnificentmen.co.uk. gives complete details. Here I offer selected tidbits.

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Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail had already awarded substantial prizes for achievements in aviation. For example, flying London to Manchester had garnered Louis Paulan a prize of £10,000 in 1910 (equivalent to more than $1.2 million today).

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This and other images from thosemagnificentmen.co.uk.

The newspaper set its Circuit of Britain challenge to be held in the summer of 1911, its route beginning and ending at Brooklands, the Surrey aerodrome and race circuit 25 miles southwest of London.

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Competing aircraft in the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain included designs from Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. My notations hint at their varied success. The Cody “Cathedral,” not pictured, deserves one +.

The Royal Aero Club received entries from 30 competitors, their nationalities American, Argentine, Austro-Hungarian, British, Dutch, French and Swiss. Aircraft included 15 of British origin (one with dual American heritage and another, the Howard Wright, not having anything to do with the Wright Brothers). The 14 craft from France included five Blériots. An Etrich Taube, a German design,completed the list.

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The Circuit of Britain consisted of eight stages, several with compulsory stops in between. The first stage, Brooklands to Hendon, was only 20 miles. However, July 22, 1911, was the peak of a severe heat wave: Nearby Epson recorded 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit, a record not broken until 2006. Flying was treacherous enough without superheated turbulence.

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Samuel F. Cody and his “Cathedral” take off from Brooklands, with the race circuit’s banking evident in the background.

Nine of the original 30 entrants didn’t even attempt a start. One of these was Graham Gilmour, his license suspended for buzzing Henley Regatta two weeks before. Indeed, Gilmour had already placed in an earlier Brooklands-to-Brighton event held in May 1911.

Each plane carried a 22-foot-long strip map of the route. (Years later, “Jenks’ Box of Magic” would be a similar device used in the 1955 Mille Miglia.) Unwound on rollers, the air race’s map indicated compass headings, cross-sections of terrain, selected elevations and details of the countryside on both sides of the route radiating out seven miles.

American entrant Charles Weymann had to return to Brooklands shortly after takeoff because his map came adrift. Relegated to last-place departure, he continued undaunted to arrive 13th of only 17 that made it to Hendon Aerodrome at the end of the first stage.

Stage Two, a long one from Hendon to Edinburgh, separated Frenchmen Jules Védrines’ Morane-Borel and André Beaumont’s Blériot from other competitors. In fact, André Beaumont was a nom de course for Lieutenant Jean Louis Conneau of the French Navy.

Forced landings, waiting for parts, sickness and just plain getting lost were among the reasons that dropped others from contention. Repairs and replacements were permitted en route, but four of ten tagged elements of each aircraft had to remain functional at the Brooklands finish.

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Védrines’ Morane-Borel had the same 50-hp Gnome rotary power as Beaumont’s Blériot, but was 140 lbs. lighter and had a speed advantage.

Edinburgh to Bristol, Stage Three, with its four additional checkpoints, was dogged by windy rainy conditions. Védrines missed a bonfire built to attract attention and wasted 50 minutes finding the Glasgow checkpoint.

Beaumont had a forced landing near Settle, North Yorkshire. Locals helped him get away after spark plugs were cleaned and fuel replenished.

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Beaumont’s Blériot in a field near Settle, on the way to the Manchester checkpoint.

At Bristol, Védrines mistook the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s facility for the official Stage end; the two aerodromes were only a half-mile apart. This mistake dropped him from first to second, now 1 hour and 20 minutes in arrears of Beaumont after some 18 hours of accumulated flight time.

Bristol to Brighton, 224 miles, and the hop from Brighton to Brooklands remained. Beaumont arrived at Salisbury Plain, near Stonehenge, 22 minutes ahead of Vedrines in Stage time. Both got some much needed rest there, and Beaumont got back his lucky cap, swiped by a souvenir hunter at the Brooklands start.

Both flyers encountered heavy rain that soaked their maps. However, Beaumont left Brighton for the 40-mile flight to Brooklands with a comfortable lead in accumulated flight time.

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André Beaumont (aka Lieutenant Jean Louis Conneau) glides his Blériot to its Brooklands landing and the Circuit of Britain win.

At 2:08 p.m. on Wednesday, July 26, 1911, Beaumont and his Blériot set down onto the grass airfield of Brooklands Aerodrome to place first in the Circuit of Britain and win the Daily Mail’s £10,000 prize. His total flight time was 22 hours 28 minutes and 18 seconds, an average 44.9 mph over the 1010 miles. Verdrines arrived 1 hour 9 minutes and 47 seconds later.

At nightfall on July 26, sportsmanship and minor prizes kept five others in the race. However, in the days following the only two pressing on were James Valentine and his Deperdussin Type B and Samuel F. Cody piloting his “Cathedral,” the Anglo-American entry of Cody’s own design, construction and nickname. Valentine arrived on August 4; Cody was an official finisher as well by landing before the 7:30 p.m. August 5 deadline.

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All along the 1010-mile route, the crowds loved it. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016

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