Simanaitis Says

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MY INTEREST IN Noel Pemberton-Billing arose from my GMax/Microsoft Flight Simulator hobby: It was Pemberton-Billing who designed the 1913 P.B.7 flying boat which I modeled. Here, in Parts 1, 2, and 3, today, tomorrow, and the next day, are tidbits on this aircraft as well as other Pemberton-Billing activities.

Why an extended three parts? Pemberton-Billing was a proponent of British air power and of women’s suffrage. His conspiracy theories attacked German immigrants, lesbians, and Oscar Wilde’s play Salome. He was issued more than 500 patents, including those for a two-sided stove, a spy camera, and an innovative gramophone.

And Pemberton-Billing was quoted preferring “fast aircraft, fast speed-boats, fast cars, and fast women.”

Yes, I thought that might capture your attention. It got mine.

Noel Pemberton Billing, aka Pemberton-Billing, 1881–1948, British aviator, inventor, publisher, Member of Parliament, and conspiracy theorist.

Youthful Adventures. After setting fire to the school headmaster’s office in Hampsted, a London suburb, 13-year-old Noel ran away from home, and stowed aboard a ship bound for Delogoa Bay, Portuguese Mozambique, near the South African border. In Durban, South Africa, he worked as a manual laborer, then enlisted in the mounted police where he exhibited a talent for boxing. Later joining the British Army and fighting in the Boer War, Noel was invalided out of the army in 1901 and returned to England, married, in 1903. He was all of 22.

Pemberton-Billing opened a garage in South London, a business that may or may not have failed. He might have returned to South Africa, worked as a horse trader, and founded a newspaper for motorists. In any event, he also developed a passion for aviation.

Pemberton-Billing’s Passion for Aeroplanes. Back in England in 1908, Pemberton-Billing opened an aerodrome in South Essex. According to the article “Noel Pemberton Billing and The Cult of the Clitoris” (we’ll get to that in Part 3), the aerodrome “funded his own experiments in building airplanes. These were not successful, however; nor was his attempt to raise further financing through gambling in Monte Carlo. In 1909, he founded an aeronautical periodical called Aerocraft, but it folded due to poor sales.”

Pemberton also lobbied Parliament to establish a separate air arm, though he was ignored. Later, in 1918, the Royal Air Force was founded, the world’s first to be independent of army or navy control.

Establishing Supermarine. In 1913, Pemberton-Billing bet aircraft pioneer Frederick Handley Page that he could pass the pilot’s license exam within a day of first flying an aeroplane. After four hours and two minutes of instruction, he earned British license no. 683 and used his £500 winnings to establish Pemberton-Billing Ltd, with the telegraphic address “Supermarine.”

Several Pemberton-Billing aeroplanes may have accomplished more than a few hops; maybe not. According to G.R. Duval’s British Flying-Boats and Amphibians, 1909-1952, Pemberton-Billing’s P.B.1 flying boat “fell victim to the twin problems of low power and water drag, and did not fly.”

A teaser ad for Part 2.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see one of his flying boats that gets into the air, albeit only virtually. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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