A replica of the UK’s first successful seaplane, Waterbird, has made its inaugural flight in front of 500 avid fans.
The flight at Lake Windermere marks 28 years since a seaplane has flown on the Cumbrian lake and 111 years since the original Waterbird made its first-ever flight.
The two-day event is the culmination of a 13-year-long project to re-create an exact copy of the spectacular aircraft. Materials included in the build were bamboo, wood, and wires, and apart from housing a modern engine, it is a faithful replica of the original Waterbird.
The crowd applauded as the plane lifted 40ft off the water, reaching a speed of just under 65km per hour. The plane’s new engine, made in Australia, boasts 110 horsepower – 60 more than the original.
Speaking ahead of the flight, Ian Gee, the director of the organisers, ‘Wings Over Windermere’ said: “It’s a thrilling opportunity to step back in history to the very earliest days of aviation when pioneers pushed the boundaries of what was possible through innovation and imagination. Waterbird has a lasting legacy that transformed seaplane designs.”
The original historic flight took place on November 25, 1911. She was initially commissioned as a landplane by the pilot, Edward Wakefield, and later converted at Windermere to become the UK’s first successful seaplane.
English author Beatrix Potter complained about the noise of the seaplanes near her home, so much so that she campaigned to have them banned. This campaign was overruled by the British Government, with then Admiral Winston Churchill citing test flights as vital to developing the nation’s air force. Churchill made history when he joined Captain Wakefield behind the controls of Waterbird when the pioneering aircraft first took flight.
Among the crowd was Wakefield’s great nephew, Sir Humphrey Wakefield, who said: “My great uncle, a veteran of the Boer War, was snubbed by Government scientists when he suggested people’s lives would be saved by taking off from the water. Within two years, he developed, built and patented a unique float which made it possible and is still used on hydrofoils today. I am thrilled to have his memorial made real in Waterbird.”
Wings Over Windermere aims to display the replica Waterbird in a heritage centre by the lake, where it is hoped that regular flights will take place.
Did you see the replica seaplane flight? What did you think?