History Behind The Card: The “Windham” Monoplane.
Card #40 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910
- Captain Walter George Windham, September 15, 1868 in ???, Great Britain – July 5, 1942 in Builth Wells, Wales.
Phoptographic images in this blog article are courtesy of www.oakingtonplane.co.uk/windham.php. Go check out their website for great information on pioneer aviation.
Called the father of British aviation, Captain (later Commander) Windham was, at the time of the publication of this tobacco card not yet as successful as he thought, as the “monoplane” – notice the card has it in “quotation marks” – wasn’t flying like he hoped it would.
In fact… the Windham Monoplane never flew. If you look at the drawing of the aeroplane, you can see why. It was too long and not strong enough – both structurally and in its powerplant.
The canvas wings makes me think it would have had better success as a glider or as a kite.
So… in a set of cards celebrating early aviation successes (and a few myths), why on Earth did Wills’s include this aeroplane?
Well… the inventor or at least the guy who fronted the build, was British… and so was the cigarette company making the cards. A little nationalistic pride did seem to be in order.
Let’s start with what we know about Windham. For one thing… I can’t determine where he was born – he was British, so to be safe, let’s just say Great Britain. Though remembered as a founding father of British aviation, he did die in Wales.
Windham was descended on his father’s side from the Wyndhams and the Smijths and on his mother’s side form the Russells, Dukes of Bedford – so there was probably money in the family. We do know that he spent a lot of time at Woburn Abbey in Beddforshire, England as a child. Maybe where he was born? I’d have to look at the birth registry for the appropriate year and city.
Windham’s first motor vehicle was a De Dion-Bouton tricycle motor vehicle, which was one of the most successful vehicles of the late 19th century from 1897. He drove his first automobile in 1898.
Details are sketchy as to the when, but he later formed The Windham Detachable Motor Body Company in London… constructing hundreds of vehicles with his patented ‘Windham detachable body’.
The system he developed allowed the rear part of the body behind the driver’s seat to be removed and replaced with a body of a different style. C.S.Rolls of Rolls Royce fame asked Windham to join the firm, and while he did, it was short-lived, as Windham preferred to have his own company (D’oh!). Some of the Rolls Royce of the day did use the detechable rear, however.
What we do know, is that in 1908 Windham formed the Aeroplane Club (not the Aero Club) whose goal was to: “To advise, help, and give practical information to all English inventors who are interested, directly or indirectly, in the ‘heavier-than-air’ flying machine, and to provide them with a congenial meeting place for the discussion of their ideas.”
Keep in mind that at this time, the Wright Brothers had first flown an aeroplane in December of 1903, but had kept their success a secret. Yes, newspaper reporters did report on their early flights, but without photographic proof, most of the world poo-pooed their claims. It wasn’t until the first official public flights were given in May of 1908 that the world believed and aviation experts everywhere else played catch-up.
As such… the Aeroplane Club was formed to help fliers develop the first aeroplane…
Windham was also the person who offered up a gold cup to the first person who could fly an aeroplane across the English Channel, a feat that was achieved and won by Louis Blériot in 1909. You can read about that HERE. He flew in his Blériot Type XI, flying 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Les Barraques near Calais to Northfall Meadow near Dover Castle in 37 minutes.
As a side note, while Bleriot was warming up his aeroplane in France in his attempt to cross the English Channel, a dog ran into its propeller and was killed thereby becoming the first terrestrial wildlife strike involving an aircraft. That we know of, of course.
Early in 1909 Windham commissioned de Pischoff & Koechlin of France to manufacture a biplane for him—the Pischoff Flyer. It was exhibited at the first aeroplane event at Olympia in Great Britain from March 19-27, 1909.
The following is an extract from Flight Magazine March 27, 1909:
Pischoff (Capt. Windham).
Capt. Windham, who has entered the commercial side of aviation, shows a biplane, which was constructed for him by Messrs. Pischoff, in France, embodying ideas of his own. Capt. Windham has now arranged to build similar machines in England for sale to the public for the price of £650.00 complete. One of the most characteristic features of the machine is that derived from the appearance of the outrigger framework which carries the biplane elevator in front and the ridged biplane tale behind. The first impression is that this framework is one complete elliptical unit, but closer inspection show the lack of continuity in the upper girder members which stop short under the main planes. The machine is mainly constructed of wood, but has a certain amount of tubular steel work in connection with the chassis and the brackets for the support of the two chain-driven propellers which hare situated immediately behind the main planes and therefore a little aft of the center of the machine as a whole. The planes themselves are doubled surfaced, but the appearance of the end webs does not give evidence of any close attention to special curvature. The decks are separated by vertical wood struts, with usual system of diagonal wiring. The struts are bolted to strip iron angle plates, which in turn are either bolted or screwed to the main bars, but although this detail in the construction in evidently not intended to be flexible, the rough fitting certainly belies rigidity; in fact, there is a distinct lack of refined workmanship in many parts of the machine.
An original feature of the control is pivoting the back of the pilots seat so that by swaying his body he can operate the movements of a pair of small righting planes which are pivoted midway between the main planes at each extremity. The elevator and rudder, the latter being in the middle of the tail, are controlled by a single lever operated by the driver’s right hand. The engine with which the machine is at present equipped is a 2-cyl. Dutheil-Chalmers, but the machines which Captain Windham will construct in the country will have 4-cyl. Engines of the same make.
Specs of the Windham Pischoff Flyer:
- Length: 35 feet (10.67 meters);
- Wing Area: 495 feet (150.88 meters);
- Weight: 390 pounds (176.9 kilograms)
- 2 cylinder Dutheil-Chalmers motor (plans for a 4 cylinder never occurred)
There was a guarantee from the manufacturer that the plane would fly 300-400 meters (1,000 – 1,300 feet), but there are no reports it ever successfully flew. No sales.
Next, in 1909, The Windham Detachable Motor Body Company manufactured a Chanute-type motorless glider that featured biplane wings, a box kite tail with the pilot supporting him or herself in the cutaway center of the bottom wing enabling them to shirt the body for flight control. It was constructed of poplar and bamboo. Tests were so-so.
Windham Tandem Monoplane (The Wills’s card above)
The aeroplane seems to have the name of the Windham Tandem Monoplane. As you can see from the photograph above, the artist’s rendition on the card is actually quite accurate.
Still… the plane didn’t work.
This unusual looking machine appeared at Wembly Park in August 1909, being first reported as under construction in June, thus succeeding the de Pischoff machine, which may already have been abandoned. Although the design was described at the time as ‘ingenious’, the machine was not capable of flight. I mean… look at it.
The aircraft consisted of a single top and bottom longerons of bamboo, spaced by vertical struts and braced by wires. Extending from the top longerons were single spars of bamboo for the front and rear wings, which were set at a pronounced dihedral angle. The wings were merely diamond shaped panels of fabric, laced to wire leading and trailing edges. Set below the wings, were long triangular shaped panels provided as fins. A small square elevator and a rudder were fitted at the extreme rear. The undercarriage consisted of two pairs of wheels, mounted separately, below each wing spar.
The aircraft packed a 35/45hp 4-cyl water-cooled, horizontally opposed Dutheil-Chalmers motor that was placed at the front to drive a tractor propeller. The motor was cooled by a circular radiator, as used on the Windham Pischoff Flyer biplane, but mounted end-on to the airflow, above the front wings spar.
The pilot sat on the lower longeron.
Specs of the Windham Tandem Monoplane
- Width: 24 feet (7.3152 meters);
- Length: 50 feet (15.24 meters);
- Weight less engine: 125 pounds (56.7 kilograms);
- Motor: Dutheil-Chalmers 35/45 horsepower, 4-cylinder water-cooled, horizontally-opposed.
You might read stories on the Internet that state that this aeroplane plane broke pretty much in half while at an aviation meet. One plane did, but it wasn’t the kite-looking monoplane… no… it was the:
Windham Tractor Monoplane II
The first ever aviation meeting in the world had taken place just a couple of months before at Rheims in France, but Doncaster, England was the first to host a similar event in Great Britain.
Windham’s second monoplane (Windham Tractor Monoplane) appeared at the Doncaster Meeting on the first day, Friday October 15, 1909.
However… during a photo op that day,Windham was sitting in the plane (still grounded) when the fuselage broke causing Windham to topple to the ground. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!
After fixing it, the plane was involved in a collision with a car (everything was still on the ground) on October 17, 1909… smashing it badly enough that further repairs were not deemed worthy. It also never flew – though perhaps it did before the Doncaster Meet… who would bring an untried aeroplane out to an air show and test it out then and there? I would assume the plane flew before the event… but I have no proof.
The Aero magazine described the machine as being ‘on distinctly Bleriot lines, and reproduces that machine with more or less accuracy except in a few details’.
Unsurprisingly, the fuselage girder was built lightly with weak longerons at the top – which was why it collapsed… still better in fron of the news media than up in the air. The plane also featured a biplane type tail, with two elevators. The engine was of a V-type style, probably a JAP or (possibly a 25hp Advance).
Specs of the Windham Tractor Monoplane II
- Width: 9.144 meters (30 feet);
- Chord 1.83 meters (6 feet);
- Length: 7.62 meters (25 feet).
Chord? What’s that? A chord is the imaginary straight line joining the leading and trailing edges of an aerofoil.
Fortunately for Windham, he didn’t give up his work in aviation.
On August 10, 1909, Hubert Latham flew a letter addressed to Windham from France to England, believed to be the first letter ever transported by air.
In December 1910, Windham made the first passenger flight in Asia (India, actually) and, in 1911, he founded the world’s first two airmail services: the first, established in February 1911, from Allahabad crossing the Ganges using Humber biplanes, and the second, established in September 1911, between Hendon and Windsor for which special stamps and envelopes were issued – it was also for the Coronation of King George V.
In 1914, Windham closed up his Detachable Body Co.
He served in the Royal Indian Navy during WWI, gaining the rank of Commander (like James Bond).
In 1923, he became Sir Walter Windham as a Knight Bachelor in 1923 and made a Freeman of the City of London in 1933. He died in Builth Wells, Wales (which looks beautiful) on July 5, 1942 at the age of 73.