Claude Grahame-White 1879 1959

Claude Grahame-White, c.1912

Claude Grahame-White, born at Southampton on 31 August 1879 and educated at Bedford Grammar School had been a yachtsman, a motoring enthusiast, and a dealer in automobiles before he was converted to aviation at the Reims meeting in 1909.

Forthwith, he had ordered a duplicate of Blériot's ill-fated Model XII; and to become acquainted with its construction he enrolled as a worker in the Blériot establishment at Neuilly-sur-Seine.

He could hardly restrain his impatience. On the morning he was to take delivery at Issy-les-Moulineaux, instructions had not yet arrived. Impulsively he got into the machine and began practicing short hops. He then shipped the plane to Pau, where Leblanc was his instructor; and on 4 January 1910 he received the first French license --- No. 30 --- to be awarded to a Briton. (Under date of 26 April he would be granted British license No. 6 for having qualified as a pilot a Pau.)

The Model XII, however, had only a brief career. A miscalculation on landing one day, with Blériot himself at the controls, resulted in the two-seated monoplane being wrecked; it was the last of its kind. Grahame-White returned to London and began the development of a great flying centre at Hendon, on what was then a vacant, weed-covered lot.

At the same time he entered the Henry Farman school at Chalons, learning to fly the biplane with which he would become famous for a dramatic dash in the dark of the night, racing Louis Paulhan for a 10,000 pound prize offered by the Daily Mail. The course from London to Manchester --- a distance of 183 miles --- had to be covered within 24 hours.

Grahame White was one of the first Britons to exploit aviation commercially after achieving heroic status for narrowly losing the £10,000 prize the Daily Mail offered for the first London to Manchester flight to a Frenchman! He went on to scoop almost all the prizes on a tour of America which included a flight into the White House grounds where he invited President Taft up for a flight. As Taft weighed 21 stone it is probably as well that he declined!

By now White had made a fortune and he invested it wisely in 220 acres of pasture at Hendon, turning it into London's first aerodrome. For 3 years up to the outbreak of WW1 the weekend flying displays there were the greatest attraction in London and the aircraft he designed, which were boxkite affairs not unlike Farmans and Bristol Boxkites, formed the backbone of his Flying School.

CW 'Boxkite' Variant, c.1911

CW 'Boxkite' Variant, 1911

CW 'Boxkite' Variant, c.1912

GW XV development, 1913

They were also used for the first demonstration of aerial bombing, strafing and pioneering night flying. On the outbreak of WWI he joined the Royal Naval Air Service and took part in attacks on German held ports before resigning to manage his business, whose staff had increased from 20 to 1000 due to war contracts.

The company built a number of aircraft under licence (Air-Co DH 6, Morane Saulnier G/H) plus a number of aircraft of their own design, including the Type XV pilot trainers, as the boxkites were now designated, despite being very different to the original machines of 1912.

The XV trainers were the type used by 48 Reserve Sqn at Waddington from November 1916 to June 1917, as they were established for 18 machines, and A1700 was definitely on their charge. Along with Farman Shorthorns they were the first aircraft based here.

Judging by the lack of information they were not particularly charismatic aircraft but they were made in a variety of forms from 1912 - 17, undergoing a gradual evolution, losing the front elevator and having a cockpit nacelle, aileron balance cables, top wing extensions and dual controls fitted.

GW XV, c.1916

60hp Le Rhone, 70 & 80hp Gnome and 60hp Green engines were among those used to power this machine so there appears to have been a huge variation of types built under the general umbrella name of GW XV! At present we do not know the exact type used at Waddington. It is possible, but unlikely that other GW types were also used here.

We do know that White was out of favour by the end of the war and was forced to go to France looking for contracts. Eventually he became so disillusioned by Britain that he sold Hendon to the Air Ministry and emigrated to California where he was a realtor. In 1959 he died in Nice on his 80th birthday. Hendon is now the main site of the RAF Museum so perhaps it is not surprising that they were the only people able to provide us with some information on his aircraft.

Henri Farman HF.22

Henri Farman HF.22 Hydro