History Behind The Card: Capt. Bertram Dickson.
Card #68 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Black-back issue
- Captain Bertram Dickson, December 21, 1873 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Great Britain – September 28, 1913 in Lochrosque Castle, Scotland, Great Britain.
Never heard of Bertram Dickson? I don’t blame you… his aviation career was fairly short-lived, but obviously of import enough for Wills’s to have created a card featuring him.
His was a case of shoulda-woulda-coulda, except that fates conspired against him to cut his aviation career—and life—short.
As a Scott, Great Britain lays claim to Bertram as being its first serviceman to qualify as a pilot in 1910, and was one of two men to have been involved in the first-ever aeroplane collision, which the reverse of the Wills’s card sort of relates.
He also prophesied the military’s use of aircraft in war, but the Wright Brothers had done that at least seven years previous considering they kept their flight achievement (in December of 1903) a secret while they tried to sell their flying machine concept to the U.S. military.
Much of Bertram’s early civilian life is blank. We don’t know much about his parents and family, about what his likes and dislikes were as a young man, or even what steered him towards aviation—besides the obvious of it being an exciting new technology.
We do know that in 1892, Dickson went with English geographer (later knighted as a “Sir” and later president of the Royal Geographical Society) Thomas Holdich to the Andes Mountains to define the border between Chile and Argentina. The data was used to officially recognize the boundary in 1902.
Then, after training to be an officer at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, England, Dickson was made a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in November of 1894.
He was promoted to Lieutenant in November of 1897, and later to the rank of Captain in November of 1900.
In May 1901, Dickson was sent to work for Britain’s Foreign Office department, and ended up in 1908 Van, a city of Armenia as a military attaché and vice-consul.
By 1910, he became infatuated with aeroplanes… again, I can only assume it was because they are cool.
I am unsure if he was posted in France—which I assume—or if he received a leave of absence to go there, but he attended Henri Farman’s aviation school in Chalons, France, and earned pilot’s license No. 71 from the Aéro-Club de France on May 2, 1910.
Apparently one did NOT need to have a pilot’s license in order to fly an aeroplane, as evidenced by the fact that Dickson still had earned his, and was taking place in the Aéro-Club de France aviation meet Tours, starting on April 30, 1910 and running through May 5, 1910.
Dickson flew a Farman biplane with a seven-cylinder Gnome motor capable of 60 horsepower.
We know that Dickson (and others) rolled their aircraft out to perform in the events on April 30, but strong winds prevented anyone from going up until later in the evening when Dickson and a few others braved the winds.
In a distance event, Dickson flew eight laps of a 2.2 kilometer (1.4 mile) lap.
On May 1, Dickson managed 32 kilometers (19.9 miles) even with the winds.
May 2, the winds died down, but the rain began—but the pilots did get up in the air even if no one came out to see them because of the poor weather. Dickson flew 45 kilometers (28 miles).
May 3, no wind or rain… and while Dickson managed to fly 93 kilometers (57.8 miles), another pilot (Chávez) flew 108 kilometers (67.1 miles).
May 4 – another day of poor weather when only one pilot flew for three kilometers (1.9 miles) and no one else dared.
May 5 – windy and heavy rain showers meant little flying… Dickson had just taken off in a wind of 10 meters per second (22.4 miles per hour) when the rudder jammed so that he couldn’t fly straight ahead. He managed to control the plane with the ailerons, but while landing he lost control and crashed. He was thrown out of the plane and escaped without injuries, but the plane was heavily damaged.
The big winner of the meeting was Dickson, who flew a total of 267 kilometers (165.9 miles) and took home half of the prize money being offered by the organizers,
I know that Dickson won 18,000 French Francs… as well, there was a 1,000 Francs entry fee, that was given back if the entered plane could fly at least between the finish/start line differential—which he obviously did.
I am unsure if Dickson tried out for and was awarded the pilot’s license on May – a day when it was really poor weather, or whether he took the test before the Tours Meet, and was only awarded it days later on May 2… anyone know?
The following month, on June 6, 1910, Captain Dickson achieved an aviation first, carrying a passenger on a flight that lasted over two hours.
Next was the Great Aviation Week of Rouen airshow held in Rouen, France June 19-26, 1910. Dickson flew the same Farman with a seven-cylinder Gnome motor putting out 60 horsepower
Dickson won the longest distance without landing prize, flying 141 kilometers (87.6 miles) in two hours, 27 minutes and 44 seconds. Going well over an hour more than the nearest competitor.
He also won the planing prize doing 204 meters (0.127 miles), came third in the passenger contest carrying 141 kilograms (310.9 pounds) of passenger weight).
He also came in first for the total distance flown, traveling 747 kilometers (464.2 miles), taking home the prize by a mere 12 kilometers (7.46 miles) in cumulative distance.
Dickson took home 28,100 Francs. Hmmm… a guy could get rich doing this sort of stuff. Let’s just say that was a lot of money for back then.
The next big event for Dickson, was the Bournemouth, England aviation meet. Dickson was awarded a prize for General Merit (along with Morane, Drexel and Grahame-White) flying his Farman biplane.
Because of his exploits in France, all of Great Britain was interested in seeing one of their own at a British aviation meet.
(I did find a lot of great information on these aviation meets over at www.gracesguide.co.uk)
- L. F. Morane, Bleriot monoplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome) … £500;
- J . A. Drexel, Bleriot monoplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome) … £225;
- C. Grahame-White, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome) … £225;
- Capt. B. Dickson, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome) … £50.
- 1. L. F. Morane, Bleriot monoplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome) 4,107 feet (1,251.8 meters), £1,000;
- J. A. Drexel, Bleriot monoplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome) 2,490 feet (759 meters), £400;
- C. Grahame-White, Farman biplane (60horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome) 1,660 feet (506 meters), £100;
- Capt. B. Dickson, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome) 1,340 feet (408.4 meters), £50
- Cecil Grace, Short biplane (65-horsepower eight-cylinder E.N.V.) 1,161 feet (353.9 meters);
- Hon. C. S. Rolls, French Wright biplane (30-horsepower 4-cylinder Wright) 900 feet (274.3 meters);
- L. Wagner, Hanriot monoplane (40-horsepower four-cylinder Clerget) 694 feet (211.5 meters).
Daily Prizes for Altitude.
- Monday: J. A. Drexel, Bleriot monoplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 2,490 feet (759 meters), £25;
- Wednesday: L. F. Morane, Bleriot monoplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 4,107 feet (1,251.8 meters), £25;
- Friday: Cecil Grace, Short biplane (65-horsepower eight-cylinder E.N.V.), 1,161 feet, (353.9 meters) £25;
- Saturday: Capt. B. Dickson, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 1,340 feet (408.4 meters), £25.
- 1. C. Grahame-White, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome). 90 miles 1,740 yards (146.4 kilometers), 35.2 miles per hour (56.65 kilometers per hour), £300;
- Christiaens, Farman biplane (65-horsepower eight-cylinder E.N.V.). 83 miles 1,500 yards (134.95 kilometers), 35.6 miles per hour (57.3 kilometers per hour) ,£150;
- E. Audemars, Bayard-Clement monoplane (35-horsepower four-cylinder Bayard-Clement). 17 miles 1,480 yards (28.7 kilometers), £60;
- Capt. B. Dickson, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome). 12 miles 860 yards (20.1 kilometers), 33.8 miles per hour (54.4 kilometers per hour), £40;
- James Radley, Bleriot monoplane (25-horsepower three-cylinder Anzani). 1 mile 1,380 yards (2.9 kilometers), 36.49 miles per hour (58.7 kilometers per hour).
Weight Carrying. (Load including pilot)
- Capt. B. Dickson, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 407.5-pounds (184.84 kilograms), 3-minutes 23-seconds, £350;
- C. Grahame-White, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 425-pounds (192.78 kilograms), 3-minutes 23.8-seconds, £150; HMMM THIS SECOND-PLACE FINISH DOESN’T MAKES SENSE – HEAVIER LOAD AND LONGER TIME IN AIR;
- L. F. Morane, Bleriot monoplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 412-pounds (186.88 kilograms), 2-minues 37.8-seconds, £50.
Starting. (closest distance from spot)
- Capt. B. Dickson, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 105-feet 7-inches (32.18 meters), £250;
- L. F. Morane, Bleriot monoplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 105-feet 8-inches (32.2 meters), £50;
- C. Grahame-White, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 111-feet 9.5-inches (34.07 meters), £25;
- Hon. Alan Boyle, Avis monoplane (40-horsepower eight-cylinder E.N.V.), 126-feet 10-inches (38.66 meters), £25;
- James Radley, Bleriot monoplane (25-horsepower three cylinder Anzani), 129-feet 9-inches (39.55 meters);
- L. D. L. Gibbs, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 144-feet 4.5 inches (44 meters);
- Christiaens, Farman biplane (65-horsepower eight cylinder E.N.V.), 152-feet 8.5-inches (46.55 meters);
- E. Audemars, Bayard – Clement monoplane (35-horsepower four cylinder Bayard-Clement), 153-feet 9-inches (46.86 meters).
- C. Grahame-White, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 7-feet (2.13 meters), £250;
- Christiaens, Farman biplane (65-horsepower eight cylinder E.N.V.), 29-feet 3-inches (8.92 meters), £50;
- Hon. C. S. Rolls, French Wright biplane (30-horsepower four cylinder Wright), 78-feet 10-inches (24.03 meters), £25 – Rolls was the co-founder of Rolls-Royce in December of 1904. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display at this aviation show!;
- Capt. B. Dickson, Farman biplane (60-horsepower seven-cylinder Gnome), 83 feet 1-inch (25.32 meters), £25.
If you are counting, Dickson won £740 – not a bad week at all. Still, he and his plane were overshadowed by Morane (in a Bleriot monplane), Drexel (in a Bleriot monoplane), and Grahame-White in a Farman biplane.
At the Lanark Aviation Meeting, August 6-13, 1910, Dickson won £900 – good for 5th overall in the event.
Thanks to the financial success and fame he had achieved through aviation, Dickson resigned from the British Army by September of 1910, and took up a position with the British & Colonial Aircraft Company to help promote its products.
The British Army would hold military maneuvers on Salisbury Plains every year until WWI.
Seeing an opportunity, Dickson joined one of the sides named Red Force, and on September 21, 1910 he flew a Bristol Boxkite aircraft taking it up in the air to tray and find the enemy side, Blue Force.
It appears as though Dickson found the Blue Force team, and when he happened to land to make a telephone call to commanders of Red Force (his team), his aeroplane was captured by Corporal Arthur Edwards of the 4th Dragoon Guards – part of “Blue Force“.
Was it fair that Dickson was caught while he landed to make a telephone call (sure). But while waiting for the umpires to rule on the situation, Dickson met British home secretary Winston Churchill, who was observing the maneuvers.
Churchill liked how the aeroplane was used and could be used for the military.
Despite being captured, Dickson had flown the world’s first-ever military sortie by aeroplane. Though it was just maneuvers…
By the end of day September 21, Dickson flew twice more for Red Force… which made the Daily Telegraph newspaper the next day… which caused actor and aviation flyboy Robert Loraine to arrive on the Salisbury Plains and offer himself and his Bristol Boxkite to the “Blue Force” team to even things out.
Still with the British military after a few days, and while up in the air flying, Loraine used a 40-pound radio to send Morse Code reports over a one mile distance to his Blue Force headquarters, which was actually at Dickson’s Bristol & Colonial Aeroplane Co. Ltd.’s hangars at Larkhill, which still stand as of 2017.
Thanks to Dickson and Loraine, Churchill purchased its second and third Bristol Boxkite aeroplanes, delivered in 1911.
It was because Lord Kitchener and Winston Churchill watched their flying exploits and were impressed, it led (eventually) to the creation of the British Royal Flying Corps, which was the “flying” part of the British military prior to WWI. It merged with the Royal Naval Air Service on April 1, 1918 to form the British Royal Air Force (the RAF).
On October 1, 1910 while in Milan, Dickson in his Farman biplane was crashed into from both behind and above by René Thomas of France in his Antoinette monoplane aeroplane.
While both pilots were hurt in the crash, Dickson, as noted in the Wills’s card No. 68., was actually never able to full-recover from his injuries, and it is believed that those injuries contributed to his early demise a few years later.
Back in 1911, Dickson did express to Churchill the importance for Great Britain to have some sort of military organization.
Unable to fly anymore, in late 1911, Dickson consulted with many a British aeroplane manufacturer to improve their designs.
In November of 1911, British Prime Minister H. H. Asquith asked the Technical Sub-Committee for Imperial Defence (TSID) to consider what part aeroplanes could play in future military operations.
Dickson himself discussed his opinion:
“In case of a European war, between two countries, both sides would be equipped with large corps of aeroplanes, each trying to obtain information on the other… the efforts which each would exert in order to hinder or prevent the enemy from obtaining information… would lead to the inevitable result of a war in the air, for the supremacy of the air, by armed aeroplanes against each other. This fight for the supremacy of the air in future wars will be of the greatest importance…”
The TSID’s recommendations led directly to the formation of the Royal Flying Corps on April 13, 1912.
Bertram Dickson saw the formation of a military wing, but did not survive long enough to see his prophecy surrounding air supremacy during The Great War (WWI).
Dickson died from complications surrounding that airplane collision on September 28, 1913, and is buried the Scottish village of Achanalt in Ross and Cromarty.