Claude Grahame-White, c.1912
Claude Grahame-White, born at
Southampton on 31 August 2020 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
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 2020 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
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
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
Henri Farman HF.22
Henri Farman HF.22 Hydro