Wills’s Aviation Card #44 – “Cody” Biplane.

#44.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Cody” Biplane.

Card #44 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Samuel Cody, nee Samuel Franklin Cowdery, March 6, 1867 in Davenport, Iowa, United States of America – August 7, 1913, Farnborough, Great Britain (now United Kingdom).

Samuel Cody is an interesting man… born as Samuel Franklin Cowdery, he was, above all else, a showman. He says he took the name Cody when he was a boy, but all it did in later years was confuse him with the illustrious showman Buffalo Bill Cody, who had achieved that nickname about a year after Cody was born… so at least you know who came first – Buffalo Bill.

But… when it came to aviation, Cody was more than just a showman – he was the real deal pioneer of aviation.

I have actually written quite a bit about Colonel Cody, and for a deeper understanding of who he is through 1908 when he flew his last dirigible, read Card #9 and Card #13. This blog is about the years after that.

It’s interesting to me that Colonel Cody actually received three notations in this set of 50 cards. Yes, he was an American who worked a lot in England, but really, I suspect the British were bamboozled a bit by his showmanship.

That’s not to say that Cody wasn’t a successful aviation – he was… just not in the same vein as the Wright Bros. or Henri Farman or the AEA’s Glenn Curtiss.


Samuel Franklin Cody

So… Read Card #9 and #13’s description for the early years of Cody, and let’s take a closer look at his early work on aeroplanes, namely the Cody Biplane… and then we’ll detail a bit more on Cody’s latter part of his life.

After the Wright Bros. first flew in 1903, you’d thing everyone would have jumped on the bandwagon and had successful flights… but the brothers… they kept their first heavier-than-air flight under wraps… with the world not truly hearing about their success until around 1908.

That’s when every country wanted to achieve air superiority, and by that I mean their government’s wanted it.

And so, after some minor success with his dirigibles for Great Britain, the British Army wanted an aeroplane of their own.

Colonel Cody, seeing £-signs in his eyes, set about building the British Army Aeroplane No. 1 (at least you know where you stand with British aviation names).

The aeroplane was first tested in September of 1908, and it pretty much was under-powered and never got off the ground except for a few hops. But… he continued to lengthen his aeroplane’s hops, eventually achieving a distance of 420 meters (1,390 feet) on October 16, 1908, and a speed of 25 to 30 miles per hour.

Outfitted with the British flag the Union Jack at the top of the plane’s rear strut, British Army Aeroplane No. 1 piloted by Cody, took off from Farnborough Field in England. It used a 50 horse power Antoinette engine taken from his Nulli Secundus  dirigible and… and it was in front of the British Army brass.

The aircraft hopped, dipped and crashed after a sharp turn was made to avoid crashing into some trees with the left wing hitting the ground – for a total time of 27 seconds in the air – but this did not matter, as the British Army was now airborne and was the first sustained flight in the United Kingdom of a heavier-than-air powered aeroplane.

British Army Aeroplane No. 1 Crash.jpg

The British Army Aeroplane No.1  – despite the crash upon landing is considered the first successful British heavier-than-air flying machine.

It just wasn’t a successful flight, as rules of the game suggest that the landing must be a successful one. At least in my opinion. Great Britain thought otherwise, as does the United Kingdom nowadays.

It was this era that gave us the advice that “any landing you can walk away from is a good landing” – still… it wasn’t really a successful event.

 ENGINE 1 x 50hp Antoinette 8-cylinder water-cooled V-type engine
    Take-off weight 1152 kilograms 2540 pounds
    Wingspan 15.85 meters 52 feet
    Length 13.41 meters 44 feet
    Height 3.96 meters 13 feet
    Maximum speed 64 kilometers per hour 40 miles per hour

Upon examination of the aeroplane afterwards, it was badly damaged, taking many months to fix before it could fly again in January of 1909, when the aeroplane was renamed British Army Aeroplane No. 1B.

Very little of the previous machine remained, just the engine really, with the wings and chassis having to be completely rebuilt.

Over the following weeks and months Cody was constantly changing the configuration of the aircraft trying simultaneously to perfect the balance of the aircraft and find the ideal arrangement for the control surfaces.

But it wasn’t enough.

The British War Office decided it couldn’t see the value in heavier-than-air aircraft and decided to stop funding to Cody, ending his contract in April of 1909.

At least they gave Cody the aircraft… although the plane’s engine was still the property of the British Army, who at least gave him permission to keep using it.

That’s when he rightfully changed the name of the aeroplane to Cody No. 1.

He was allowed by the British Army to build a shed on Laffan’s Plain to continue his aviation experiments. While he had lost the finances from the British government, and additional manpower from the Royal Engineers, his shed locale was right smack dab in the middle of a windy area, with plenty of trees and shrubs abound – not the type of area you’d want to try and fly in in those days.

His aeroplane looked somewhat similar in design to the Wright Flyer, but he did not copy it to the extent that it was an exact copy… he should have… then the plane would have flown.

The Wright Brothers had only debuted their flying machines to the public at large six weeks prior to Cody’s flight… and Cody says he actually had the plane built long before that… but if that were true, you can bet he would have flown it a heck of a lot sooner… and certainly not a whole six weeks after news spread of the Wright Brothers (not to mention they did it even earlier in secret back in 1903).

Without the benefit of an exact copy and thus the many years the Wright Bros. had spent on aerodynamics et al, Cody’s Cody No. 1 aka the Cody Biplane underwent a plethora of adjustments before he was able to take it from mere hops, to an actual flight, as you can see by the back of this tobacco card.


On August 12, 1909, he finished the  Cody No. 1C  – also known as The Cathedral), made its first flight.

The pilot’s seat was placed in front of an ENV engine in an effort to improve the plane’s center of gravity.

On August 14, 1909, Cody flew Colonel Capper and then Lela Cody as his first passengers. In fact, Cody enjoyed taking people up in his aircraft, calling his aeroplanes an ‘aerial omnibus’.

Not stupid, Cody did charge a nominal fee to be a passenger, as I would assume fuel needed to be covered – plus a meal of two.

In the photo below, you can see Colonel Capper’s wife in the passenger seat behind pilot Cody… head thrust at an odd angle because of the plane’s construction. This was on September 27, 2909.

Colonel Cody Cody No. 1C.jpg

Mrs. Capper looks comfortable – not.

In October of 1909, Cody became a citizen of Great Britain during the Doncaster Aviation Meet.

In June of 1910, Cody completed his next aircraft, the Cody No. II  – perhaps his best. It was also known as the Cody Flyer and the Michelin Cup Machine, proving those in the aircraft naming committee lacked an imagination.

The big difference between the Cody No. II and other machines, was the installation of one large propeller at the rear and a 60 horsepower Green motor. Previous aircraft had two forward propellers and used the ENV engine.

On its second flight, the Cody No. II crashed taking Cody out for a while, but he recovered soon enough to enter the aircraft in Bournemouth Aviation Meeting in July of 1910.

In August of 1910, Cody entered the Cody No. II at the the Lanark Aviation Meeting, replacing the Green motor with the old ENV engine

He had taken out the Green motor in an effort to have a replica of it built and to then install dual Green engines, but he was unable to get them synchronized.

By the time 1910 closed, he had replaced the ENV with a single Green motor so he could take the Cody No. II into the Michelin Cup Trophy event that had all entrants having to use a British-made engine.

On December 31, 1910, Cody won the Michelin Cup after flying the Cody No. II for an endurance time of four hours and 47 minutes, flying a distance of 185.46 miles – both British aviation records.


This image shows Cody flying the Cody No. II on December 31, 1910.

Buoyed by his success and corresponding celebrity, in February of 1911, Cody convinced his friend and biographer, G.A. Broomfield to go up in the Cody No. II while standing on the wing. Everyone survived this early daredevil stunt.

After flying the Cody No. II in front of his Highness King George V (Great Britain), he stored the aircraft, fiddling with its engine adding a 100 horsepower Green motor later in the year.

This is where stuff gets confusing. Is this still the Cody No. II, or is now what others call the Cody No. III because it has a more powerful motor?

I’m not sure… the Cody No. III might be a completely new aeroplane, or it might be a re-naming of the Cody No. II.

I don’t think he renamed it the Cody No. III. I think he built a second plane, while he altered the appearance of the Cody No. II, eventually fitting it, in 1913, with a 120 horsepower Austro-Daimler engine, twin rear rudders and four extra seats for passengers… nicknaming it the Cody Omnibus.

As for the other aeroplane—the Cody No. III—because many other documents are calling it as such.

In 1911 the Daily Mail newspaper offered a monetary prize of £10,000 for the first pilot to complete a circuit of Great Britain – a total of 1,010 miles (1,624.44 kilometers) – in a competition. Nine British aircraft entered out of 21 flying machines in total, including Cody piloting his Cody III.

The Cody III, built in June of 1911 was considered to be the smallest of Cody’s aeroplanes with a wingspan of 43 feet (13 meters) and was then propelled by a 60 HP Green motor.

The competition began on July 21, 1911, with the aircraft flying and landing and taking off again – as it was obviously such a long trek that no one could do it without several stops for fuel.

For whatever reason, Cody liked to stop along the way and give lectures on flying and his past life as a showman, but eventually gave that up as it was slowing him down. He ended up finishing in fourth place, completing the course some 10 days after the winning French machine but his biplane was the only British built aircraft to complete the course.

Late in 1911, Cody installed the 100 horsepower Green motor into the Cody No. III, which then went on to win two more Michelin trophies before it was cashed and badly damaged by one of Cody’s pupils on July 3, 1912.

Cody never really built more than one-off’s of his aircraft, so when he lost that plane, it was a huge deal. He had planned on entering it in the upcoming Military Trials to be held in August on Salisbury Plain, with the winning entry earning a £5,000 prize from the British War Office.

Now, as luck would have it, Cody had begun work on his next plane – the Cody No. IV, but it was damaged after it collided with a cow.

As if that wasn’t enough, Cody was then involved in litigation over the death of the same cow in the crash.

The judge wasn’t buying it when Cody suggested (seriously) that the cow had committed suicide by getting in the plane’s way. Now that’s udderly ridiculous.

Cody lost the case, and was forced to pay £18 in damages to the farmer.

I have no idea if Cody was given custody of the deceased cow, because that’s what his £18 should have got him, but we do know that he at least had  a 120 horsepower Austro-Daimler engine and the wreckage of two aeroplanes – holy cow!

Still… he also had an old 100 horsepower Green engine from a previous crashed aeroplane… so he built a new plane, the Cody No. V, and entered it in the Michelin flying contest, winning the prize for the fastest time covering a cross country circuit of 186 miles in October of 1912.

Then he replaced the 100 horsepower engine with the 120 horsepower engine, and slightly renamed the aircraft as Cody No. V A/ The Military Trials Biplane No. 1.

Not a huge aeroplane, it had twin triangular-shaped read rudders and a single four-bladed propeller and that fairly powerful 120 horsepower Austro-Daimler engine.

Believe it or not, the Cody No. V A/Military Trials Biplane No. 1 won the Military Trials competition, even though by this date his aircraft was considered to already be ‘outmoded’.

Regardless, Cody made sure his aeroplane fulfilled every single one of the War Office’s previously agreed upon requirements.

It was purchased by the Army and handed over to the Royal Flying Corps. in November of 1912, and flew until April of 1913 when it was damaged during a crash.

However, the lads must have liked it because before the crash occurred, in February a second plane was ordered: the Cody No. V B aka The Military Trials Biplane No. 2.

It crashed in November of 1913 and has given to The Science Museum, where it is displayed to this day.

As for that original Cody No. II, Cody added the 120 horsepower Austro-Daimler, and then be renamed as the Cody Omnibus. I think. To be honest, the data I found immediately below seemed to contradict other data I had researched… but the new data was from a reliable source… what to do…

The following chart and notes in italics are from Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft 1913 manual – page 45, but I have added in my own best guesses on what the plane’s actually were.

Specifications 1911 4-seater biplane 1913 4-seater biplane

 May 1912
Length feet (m) 38 (11.60) 38 (11.60) 38 (11.60)
Span feet (m) 43 (13) 43 (13) 43½ (13.25)
Area sq. feet (m²) 484 (44¾) 483 (44¾) 260 (19)
Weight total lbs. (kgs) 1900 (862) 1900 (862) 2400 (1088)
useful lbs. (kgs) 1000 (453) 1000 (453) 700
Motor 60 HP Green, later a 100 HP Green 120 HP Austro-Daimler 120 HP Austro- Daimler
Speed max mph (km) 70 (115) 75 (120) 83 (135)
min mph (km) 47 (75) 47 (75) 58 (95)
Number built to end of last year 1 1 1

Remarks.—The 1911 is the famous Cody, which, as a 60 h.p., won both Michelin 1911 prizes, and completed the Daily Mail circuit. (Ed. Note: Note that this was not yet known on the Wills’s tobacco card, as it is a 1910 series… still, the card was correct in insisting that Cody’s planes were becoming better.)

At a top speed of 100 h.p. it won the 1912 Michelin cross-country. By the end of 1912 it is said to have flown a total of 7000 miles. The 1913 is practically a duplicate with a more powerful engine. Special features of the biplanes, maximum camber to lower plane. Both planes equal span. Very strong landing gear. Propeller chain driven: 1¾ to 1 gearing. In February, 1913, four biplanes were ordered for the British Army.

Cody lists a mono. for 1913 a trifle longer than the above; also five variations on the biplane of from 35 to 160 h.p., which can be built if required.

Okay, back to me.

Cody’s last machine was a water plane – the Cody No. VI built in 1913 to compete in the Daily Mail’s Aeroplane Race around Britain. This aeroplane was Cody’s largest flying machine, with a wing span of nearly 60 feet (19.288 meters), fitted with a 100 horsepower Green engine, a single rear rudder, a four-bladed propeller and a large skid forward.

In June of 1913, the skid was removed and one large central float and two wing floats were fitted and the machine was tested for its floatability on Basingstoke Canal.

I should note that the Cody No. VI water plane never actually flew with the floats on, and as of July of that year, the Cody No. VI was altered again, with the floats removed and then converted to a flying ambulance, where the four-seater could carry the pilot and three medical orderlies.

The aircraft was also equipped with a stretcher, an operating table, plus additional supplies for medical emergencies.

I would imagine that the Cody No. VI was not going to transport patients, rather to be used in times of war to fly medical personnel to the emergency zone – but since it was never used in an actual emergency, who can say what Cody actually planned.

However… the Cody No. VI was involved in one emergency.

On August 7, 1913, Cody took aloft his second passenger of the way – (Mr.) W.H.B Evans, a cricket player for Hampshire.

During the flight, the plane flew over the Bramshot golf course and was heading back to the airfield when the plane came apart in the air, crashing into some trees, causing Cody and Evans to plunge to their deaths.


The final resting place of the Cody No. VI after its deadly crash into a patch of oak trees.

Witness 1 saw: “(the) rear part of the machine leave the other part…. The rear part fell first…. The front part turned up… then the bodies fell, thrown out by the jerk, Cody fell first then Evans…. Plane fell from 300 to 400 feet…”

Witness 2: “Right plane went upwards… the body of the machine then seemed to dip and fall, the whole lot crumbling up… I did not see any part break away…. Both men fell together.”

Witness 3: “Possible cause could be the bursting of the propeller.  Part of this could have gone through the planes, and the wind blowing through would cause the whole lot to collapse.”

Witness 4: “The aeroplane was no more than 100 or 150 feet from the ground.”

In other words, because of people’s unfamiliarity with aviation and the newness of aeroplanes, no one could give a real description of just what it was they were seeing.

Look at the differences in plane height from two witnesses: 100-150 feet or 300-400 feet…

A third-hand witness was the secretary of the Royal Aero Club: “The top right-hand section of the wing, he was given to understand, was picked up about 100 yards away from the trees where the machine actually fell.  It appeared that it was the piece that was seen floating away.”

Really? “He was given to understand”? That means someone speaking on behalf of the secretary gave his view of what happened based on the opinion of an actual witness.

Why does the Royal Aero Club care? Well, earlier in 1913, the club had begun to issue accident reports.

The Aero Clubs official statement was that the Cody No. VI crashed: “The failure of the aircraft was due to inherent structural weakness” adding that the eyewitness accounts were conflicting of each other.

So… Cody was dead, and so was his aeroplane. It’s tough to argue the virtues of an aeroplane that kills its designer and pilot.

At the full military honors funeral in Aldershot, it was attended by up to 100,000 mourners. Cody is buried in the Aldershot military cemetery.

A full-size replica of the British Army Aeroplane No. 1 was built in 2008 to commemorate the 100-anniversary of his flight and remains on permanent display at the Fast Museum.


2008 replica of the Samuel Cody British Army Aeroplane No 1. Flimsy-looking doesn’t begin to describe it – but that darn thing flew!

In conclusion, the American born Samuel Franklin Cody flew a 30-second flight in October of 1908 becoming the first pilot in Great Britain to fly an aeroplane.

After dying on August 7, 1913 at Farnborough Common in Hampshire where his historic flight took place, in 2013 – the centenary of his death, the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust placed a bronze statue there.

It is the only such commemoration of Cody, ensuring that at least for now (until an EMP hits), that he and his achievement will not be forgotten.

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
This entry was posted in Air Shows, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Pilots, Tobacco Card, Uncategorized, Zeppelins & Dirigibles and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Wills’s Aviation Card #44 – “Cody” Biplane.

  1. GP Cox says:

    I never knew all this! Thanks !


  2. Pingback: Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1910 – 50 Cards | Pioneers Of Aviation

  3. Pingback: Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911 – 75-Card Series | Pioneers Of Aviation

  4. Pingback: Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911 – 85-Card Series | Pioneers Of Aviation

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