Wills’s Aviation Card #83 – “Avro” Hydro-Aeroplane.

Wills Aviation 83F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Avro” Hydro-Aeroplane.

Card #83 of 85, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1912, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue.

  • Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe OBE, Hon. FRAeS, FIAS, April 26, 1877 in Patricroft, Eccles, England, Great Britain – January 4, in Portsmouth, Great Britain;
  • Captain Edward Wakefield: I have zero information. HELP!
  • Commander (later Air Vice-Marshal Sir) Oliver Schwann KCB, CBE, November 18, 1878, in Wimbledon, Great Britain – March 7, 1948, in Littleton, Guildford, Surrey, Great Britain;
  • Major Sydney Vincent Sippe DSO OBE FRAeS, April 24, 1889. London, Great Britain – November 17, 1968 in Leatherhead, Surrey, Great Britain.

The reverse of this card offers undeniable proof that the Wills’s Aviation 85-card series was issued in 1912, as it clearly states within the year 1912, and describes an event for this aircraft having already taken place.

1912… I knew it. I’m going back and altering the dates on all the applicable blogs.

As usual, calling this card simply an Avro Hydro Aeroplane is blatantly misleading.

By the time of this card’s publication in 1912, Avro already had success with one water aircraft known as The Water-Bird. The aircraft depicted in the card No. 83 is not The Water-Bird. A simple look at the aircraft’s design, is proof of that.


Photo via AVRO Heritage Museum, depicting The Water-Bird, Avro’s first successful hydro aeroplane, first flying on November 11, 1911. It is based upon the Avro 501 aircraft. It was destroyed in March 29-30 of 1912, when its hangar collapsed during a storm.

What the Wills’s card No. 83 is depicting, is an Avro Type D equipped as a floatplane. This particular aircraft made its first flight on November 18, 1911.


Avro Type D Floatplane. The Type D was Avro’s first biplane, seen here converted into a floatplane.

What exactly is a floatplane? Afterall, the Wills’s card calls it a Hydro-Aeroplane”?

The term “hydro aeroplane” is archaic… much like the spelling of aeroplane.

A floatplane (aka float plane or pontoon plane) is a type of seaplane, that has one or more slender pontoons (floats) mounted under the fuselage to provide buoyancy. For reference, a flying boat uses its fuselage for buoyancy. Either type of seaplane may also have landing gear suitable for land, making the vehicle an amphibious aircraft.

Wills Aviation 83R.jpg

Let’s take a look at the Avro Type D biplane first – before anyone thought to convert it into a floatplane, with a brief look at Roe’s aviation company.

The A.V. Roe and Company was established on January 1, 1910 in Manchester, Great Britain by (Alliott Verdon) A.V. Roe and his brother Humphrey Verdon (they both had the middle name of “Verdon”), and is considered to be one of the earliest aeroplane manufacturing companies in the world.

While Humphrey was the money man, A.V. was already a successful aircraft builder, having built the Roe I Triplane known as The Bullseye (after a brand of braces manufactured by his brother), that first flew on June 5, 1909 – doing short flights of 50 feet (15 meters).

Roe then built the two-seater pusher (engine at rear) biplane seaplane known as The Water Bird based on the Avro Curtiss-type, featuring a 50 horsepower rotary Gnome engine. Built in 1911, and first flying successfully on November 25, 1911 with pilot Herbert Stanley Adams on and over Lake Windermere, England’s largest natural lake. The plane was built at the behest of E.W. Wakefield of the Lakes Flying Company.

Flight Magazine January 27, 1912-A4-latest.jpgIt was Wakefield who wanted Roe to built the plane on the Curtiss design. In fact, the aeroplane was never given a Roe Company designation… hence we just know it as The Water-Bird.

Even though the January 27, 1912 edition of Flight magazine’s cover doesn’t note it as such, the January 25, 1912 cover The Aeroplane magazine does. Note the spelling of the plane. I have tried to maintain The Aeroplane’s spelling.


It was built as a landplane using the main components designed by Glenn Curtiss, with the intention of converting it to a seaplane once testing was complete. The plane was built by the A.V. Roe Company, however, with pontoons (float and balances) constructed by boatbuilders Berwick and Son of Bowness-on-Windermere.

The pontoons were constructed using mahogany, reinforced with metal strips and canvas covered by local.

Here’s a curious aside. Beatrix Potter, who wrote amongst other children’s books, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, petitioned prior to November 25, 1911 then-First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to stop the testing of The Water-Bird over and on Lake Windemere, writing: “Those who want noise go to Blackpool.” Ouch. Poor Blackpool.

Churchill ignored her pleas, and the testing and flight went off as planned.

But… in 2011, with plans to honor the centenary of The Water-Bird‘s historic flight as the first seaplane, with a flight of a 1949-built Hawker Sea Fury naval aircraft, Potter finally won her battle – albeit 100 years later.

Town council refused to lift the 10 mile per hour speed (16.1 kilometer per hour) limit on the waters – put there in 2005 for boats, mind you, but apparently equally applicable for seaplanes, such as the Hawker Sea Fury that needs a speed of 35 miles per hour (56.3 kilometers per hour) to achieve flight from the waters.

With regards to the Lakes Flying Company, after The Water-Bird, it built in 1912 the Water Hen and the Sea Bird, with work begun on a Hydro-monoplane. In November of 1914, the company was bought by the Northern Aircraft Company and the lakeside facility was expanded and pilot training (advertised as The Seaplane School) as well as the pleasure flights were undertaken.


In this advertising poster, A.V. Roe is showing off its D-Type seaplane, but hyping up the fact that it (the company) was the first to produce a British sea plane. It can be confusing, because the image implies that aeroplane there was the first British seaplane. It wasn’t. That was the Avro/Lakes The Water-Bird. As noted i the article (here), Avro never called The Water-Bird an Avro aircraft, seeing as how it was built using Curtiss’ design.

Seeing as how Wakefield and his Lakes Flying Company had success with The Water-bird, Roe set his sights on constructing another hydro (sea) aeroplane, using his own newly-designed biplane landplane – the Type D.

Maybe. Either this was his idea, or it was Oliver Schwann’s. The Roe

The Avro Type D was first flown as a landplane on April 1, 1911 at Brooklands, over a 4.43 kilometer (2.75-mile) motor racing circuit and aerodrome built near Weybridge in Surrey, England. It opened in 1907, and was the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, closing in 1939.

Pilot C.H. Pixton was the first to fly the Type D landplane, saying it was “easy and pleasant to fly.” Pilot Lt. Wilfred Parke took his first ever flight a few days later in the same Type D, flying it the length of Brooklands.

On May 12, 1911, Pixton flew the Type D landplane to Hendon in London, to give a demonstration of the aircraft in front of the British Parliamentary Aerial Defence Committee.

In attendance was Charles Rumney Samson (later Air Commodore Samson, CMG, DSO & Bar, AFC), who later became one of the first four officers selected for pilot training by the Royal Navy, and was the first person to fly an aircraft from a moving ship.

Also at that demonstration, Roe made his first solo flight ever in the Type D.

In June of 1911, the aircraft was sold to Commander Oliver Schwann of the Naval Airship Tender Hermione. It was sent by train to Barrow-in-Furness, where Schwann converted it to a floatplane (seaplane/ hydro aeroplane – per the Wills’s card).

Now… did he do this on his own, or under instruction from Roe? I think it may have been Schwann on his own, simply using the fabulous Avro Type D as the base from which to convert into a hydro plane.

The Avro people seem to think that Roe did this, selling Schwann the finalized seaplane. Other accounts say Schwann converted it on his own….

In my words, but per author: Jackson, A.J., Avro Aircraft Since 1908. London, Putnam, 1965: (Schwann) covered the rear section of the fuselage, modified the tailplane, moved the radiator to a position lying flat over the wing center section, and placed a series of experimental floats to the skids.

That implies that Schwann did all of the work in making a landplane into a seaplane.

Taxiing trials were carried out in the Cavendish Dock at Barrow using narrow flat-bottomed floats. On November 18, 1911, Schwann piloted the aircraft it became the first seaplane to take off from British waters.

Alternatively, in Wikipedia per Sydney Vincent Sippe, citing the November 30, 1914 Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, it says that pilot Major Sydney Vincent Sippe was the first man to ever take-off from the sea in Britain, on April 2, 1912.

This Type D was reconstructed in 1912 as the Royal Aircraft Factory H.R.E.3 (Hydroplane Reconnaissance Experimental) – though there is no record of its success, and was later flown as a landplane in 1913, obviously deconstructed as such.

Avro Type-D general characteristics:

  • Crew: one pilot;
  • Capacity: one passenger;
  • Length: 28 feet (8.53 meters);
  • Wingspan: 31 feet (9.45 meters);
  • Height: 9 ft 2 in (2.79 meters);
  • Wing area: 310 square feet (28.8 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 500 pounds (227 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × 4-cylinder Green Engine Co. C.4 water-cooled inline piston engine, making 35 horsepower. It was designed by Gustavus Green;
  • Maximum speed: 49 miles per hour (78 kilometers per hour).

And… for the hell of it:

The Water-Bird general characteristics:

  • Crew: one pilot;
  • Length: 36 feet 5 inches (11.1 meter);
  • Wingspan (upper): 41 feet (12.50 meters);
  • Wingspan (lower) 32 feet (9.75 meters);
  • Wing area: 365 square feet (33.9 square feet);
  • Gross weight: 1,130 pounds (513 kilograms);
  • Empty weight: 780 pounds (354 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 x Gnome Rhône 7-cylinder rotary, making 50 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour);
  • Service ceiling: 800 feet (244 meters).

Dammit. This one was a confusing story to make heads or tails out of. It seems that conflicting parties each have their own version, with different people being involved, or evening claiming that the Avro Type D was the first seaplane. I’m pretty sure that distinction belongs to The Water-Bird.

So… it beggars the question… why was there no Wills’s card for The Water-Bird, and why create a card for the Type-D?

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 Airfields, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, People, Pilots, Seaplanes, Tobacco Card and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s