Aeroplane, 8 June 1911, 21

A few months back I wrote about alternatives to the (still missing, still missed) FlightGlobal archive of Flight magazine, a key source for aviation history (for me, anyway). I forgot to mention that Flight's great rival, The Aeroplane (founded and edited by the egregious C. G. Grey), is also partially accessible through the Internet Archive. This is thanks to the Smithsonian, which has scanned and uploaded The Aeroplane's first 23 volumes covering 1911-1922 (except for the second half of 1920 1921 [thanks, John]). This is much more limited than the Internet Archive's Flight holdings, which cover 1909-1935; but it does nicely do for the First World War, for example. As with Flight, you can flip from page to page, search for text, or download in a variety of formats (including PDF). But because the scans are labelled somewhat erratically (most of them have the publication date as 1911, for example) they're a bit confusing to navigate. So I've gone through the available volumes and put them in a more usable order:


Image source: Aeroplane, 8 June 1911, 21.

Duprée and Ashley, Britannia Must Rule the Air

This stirring scene is the cover for the sheet music for a song published in 1913, Britannia Must Rule the Air, written by Frank Duprée and composed by Charles Ashley. It shows a reasonable (if stubby) approximation of a Zeppelin in the process of being destroyed by gunfire from two aeroplanes, a Farman-type biplane and a monoplane.

The lyrics are a little more subtle:

When wooden walls and straining sails bore Britain's flag afar,
The Nation prospered well in peace and feared no foe in war,
For Britain's might was ev'rywhere and ruled the endless waves,
Proclaiming to the world at large 'we never shall be slaves.'

And when the ironclad replaced the ships that caught the breeze
Britannia still retained her throne up on the charted seas,
For frowning fleets and giant guns outnumbered two to one
The navies of all other lands beneath the sov'reign sun.

And now that ev'ry cloud conceals a lurking bird of prey,
Which threatens our supremacy in peace and war today,
Britainnia must be equal to the peril and prepare
To hold our Empire sacred from these dreadnaughts of the air.


Britannia must rule the air
As still she rules the sea,
To guard this realm beyond compare
And keep her people free.
Britannia, Britannia must like the eagle be;
Britannia, Britannia must rule both air and sea!
Britannia, Britannia must rule both air and sea.1

The message is clear enough: just as Britain's naval superiority has kept it safe from the Napoleonic Wars through the ironclad era to now, so must it have a superiory aerial superiority to safeguard its freedom in the new century. This was exactly the comparison and the message of the Navy League in response to German aerial superiority, as supposedly revealed by the phantom airships supposedly seen flying all over Britain.2
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  1. Frank Duprée and Charles Ashley, Britannia Must Rule the Air (London: Laurence Wright Music Co., 1913). []
  2. Brett Holman, 'The phantom airship panic of 1913: imagining aerial warfare in Britain before the Great War', Journal of British Studies 55, no. 1 (2016): 99–119 (free). []

N. R. Gordon was behind the Chowder Bay flying machine, but who was N. R. Gordon? His full name was Newton Roberts Gordon, and he emigrated from Britain in 1882.1 Although he described himself on a 1900 patent application as an 'engineer', and worked at one point as a mining engineer, it's not clear if he had any formal training.2 He was, though, said to be 'an exceptionally clever mechanical draughtsman' who did 'professional work for various civil engineers'.3 This no doubt helped him to draw up plausible blueprints, and he certainly had a penchant for invention -- besides aviation-related patents, he also dabbled in motion picture technology.
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  1. Sylvia Black, 'Dreaming the impossible dream', East Melbourne Historical Society Newsletter, June 2016, 6-7. Though brief, this is the best source for Gordon's life. See also David Craddock, 'Antipodean aeronautica', Journal & Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 135 (2002): 1–15; The Aerodrome. []
  2. National Archives of Australia [NAA], A4618, 10449, 'Correspondence with Newton Roberts Gordon concerning invention entitled - Improvements in aerial machines'; Evelyn Observer, 30 August 1907, 2. []
  3. Table Talk (Melbourne), 16 May 1907, 7. []


Flight, 16 January 1909, 31

Since 2007, the FlightGlobal Archive (AKA the 'Flight archive') has been an incredibly useful resource for me, many other aviation historians, and Wikimedia Commons, as it provides online access to high-resolution PDFs (with OCR) of nearly every page of the key British aviation trade magazine Flight (from 1962 Flight International), from the first issue in 1909 up to 2004 -- all for free!1 Or rather it was incredibly useful, because since a FlightGlobal upgrade in late 2019 it has been unavailable, with the following message splashed on the landing page:

As part of the relaunch, the Flight magazine archive is undergoing maintenance to transition to our new web platform. It will be back online as soon as possible.
Thanks for your patience.
In the meantime, why not subscribe to Flight International and get access to the past editions from 2012 through the digital library.

As the Archive been down for over three months, that patience is starting to turn into anxiety, and I think some people have tried contacting FlightGlobal to find out what the story is, but with no luck, as far as I know. My uninformed (but not uneducated) guess is that the original archive depended on a bespoke and probably very spaghetti environment written by some long-gone sysadmin, which was broken by the site upgrade. And precisely because it's free and presumably generating no revenue, there would understandably be little incentive for FlightGlobal to fix it quickly, even with the best of intentions. If that's the case, then considerably more patience may be required. But there's good news, and bad news; and more good news and more bad news.
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  1. '100% FREE ACCESS -- forever. In fact we’re positively encouraging you to link to, copy and paste from, and contribute to the development of this unique record of aerospace and aviation history.' []


Sea, Land and Air (Melbourne), February 1920, 765

Although the war had been over for more than a year by this point, in 1920 the editor of Sea, Land and Air issued a rather hysterical warning of the danger of foreign pilots being allowed to fly in Australia.1

The passenger-'plane of to-day may be the bomber of to-morrow. It depends on the man who owns the machine, and the one who flies it, upon whom she will drop her bombs. If he be an Australian it is pretty certain that he will not let them fall on his own countrymen. At present there is nothing to say that the man who is learning to fly here, or the man who is going to own the machine for him to fly, shall be even a British subject. In certain parts of Australia it is reasonably probable that he will be a German, for instance.

Australia is quite big enough to offer concealment while the alien airmen replaces passenger seats by bomb-racks. Unless there is control of flying, every possible enemy of Australia can be an aircraft-owner here.2

Hence the need for 'Regulations that insist that no aliens may either fly or own aircraft in Australia'.3 What's going on here?
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  1. Sea, Land and Air has been digitised in its (near?-)entirety and is freely available from American Radio History, which credits the National Library of Australia for the scans although they're evidently not in Trove. []
  2. Sea, Land and Air (Melbourne), February 1920, 732. []
  3. Ibid. []


Australian Air Squadrons Fund leaflet

This is the cover of a leaflet produced in 1916 by the Australian Air Squadrons Fund, the Australian arm of the Imperial Air Flotilla which raised funds around the British Empire for presentation 'battle-planes' for the Royal Flying Corps. My interest in it is not so much for its own sake, though I am struck by the slightly confusing promise that this aircraft 'will carry your name and message of sympathy and support over the heads of our troops into the enemy capitals', as well as the sadly forlorn hope that 'This is, please God, the only war in which we will be able to take part'. Rather, it's here as an example of the aviation records to be found in the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP), which is being digitised and made freely available through Trove.
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George D. Warren, 18 November 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 416 is a report from Lieutenant Commander George D. Warren RANR, commanding officer, HMAS Coogee, a civilian coastal steamship requistioned by the Navy for use as a minesweeper. Warren is reporting on the results of his investigation of an aeroplane seen from a naval lookout on the northern end of King Island, a large island in Bass Strait, between Victoria and Tasmania. This was seen back on 1 November, first one (NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 426):

Aeroplane sighted 3 50pm to day Victorian time steering south easterly direction skying [sic] very low distance away unc[e]rtain about 7 miles fairly strong wind blowing.

A second report gives a different time (NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 424):

aeroplane sighted 4.50 p.m. north east flying south east lost in clouds 4.58 p.m.

In fact this was originally interpreted as a second aeroplane, but the near-identical descriptions combined with the difference of an hour exactly suggests that this confusion resulted from the new institution of daylight savings time, in force on this date in Tasmana, to which King Island belongs, but not in Victoria, for some reason used as the time reference in the first report.
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P. J. Connolly, 3 June 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 836 is a report by Senior Constable P. J. Connolly regarding 'an aeroplane flying in a Westerly direction' seen at 9pm the previous evening at Charlton, in the Mallee region of Victoria, by William Bannon and no less than 'eight other farmers', who all saw the machine together:

One bright white light could be seen, and the [?] buzzing sound heard.

One of the witnesses, a returned soldier named Kenyon, claims 'that he 'is well used to aircraft, & in his opinion it was about twenty miles away'. Connolly has interviewed all the farmers, and 'they bear out Bannon's statement'. He has also 'wired Secretary of Navy Dept'.
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T. J. Wilson, 31 May 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 529 is a statement by Captain T. J. Wilson, master of the SS Koolonga, a merchant vessel plying the Newcastle-Port Pirie route. At 8.15pm on 26 May 1918, Koolonga was off Cape Willoughby, Kangaroo Island, South Australia; Wilson was on the bridge when, 'Casually looking aloft, he saw a dark square object, which he took to be an aeroplane'.

This is my single favourite mystery aeroplane sighting of the whole 1918 panic, mainly because of all the sailors swearing like sailors, which Wilson freely relayed in his statement, and Captain Fearnley, Senior Naval Officer Newcastle, just as freely censored in his report:

  • Nicolson, 3rd Officer: 'By C[hrist]! there's an aeroplane'
  • AB McKinnon: 'There's a b[lood]y Aeroplane!'
  • Elms, Chief Officer: 'God spare my days, that's a b[lood]y Aeroplane!'
  • Sullivan, 2nd Officer: 'That's an Aeroplane' (okay, that one's less colourful, but he was called up from his cabin to the bridge in his pyjamas, so perhaps he wasn't quite awake yet)

I was so amused by Elms's exclamation in particular that not only did I quote it in my article as an example of an aeroplane sighting, I used it as a section heading too. But more seriously, especially when taken together like this, like the conversation of the four boys at Ouyen these excited utterances speak to the immediate responses of witnesses: they were startled, amazed, stupefied by what they were seeing, but also very sure about what they were seeing. According to Wilson, he'd just seen what 'he took to be an aeroplane' when Nicolson said 'there's an aeroplane'; he avoided asking Elms and Sullivan leading questions when pointing out the object to them, but they both independently identified it as an aeroplane. Still, we don't know the context for the sighting; perhaps they'd just been discussing mystery aeroplanes at the captain's table and guessed what everyone else was thinking. On the face of it, though, it's an impressive report: five experienced seamen who presumably were familiar with the usual natural phenomena seen at sea, all instantly agreeing that this was not natural.
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C. Joyes, 22 May 1918

NAA: MP1049/1, 1918/066, page 134 is a report by Constable C. Joyes, Victoria Police, about an 'Aeroplane seen in the vicinity of Dromana', a seaside resort town about 70km from Melbourne.

Doctor J. G. Weld of Dromana reported to me today that he saw an Aeroplane about 530 am yesterday morning (21st [May 1918]) flying between Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Bay, and finally flew in the direction of the Naval Base. The Dr was visiting a patient when he saw the lights he called his wife and two male friends, and they also saw the lights, sometimes the lights would disappear as if behind a cloud. The Dr. states he did not actually see the machine nor did he hear any noise.

There's not a lot to say about this one. In my article I use it as an unusual example of someone of a relatively high social status reporting a mystery aeroplane; the typical witnesses were working or lower middle class. Hard to know what they actually saw; perhaps Canopus which was very low on the SSE horizon at the time, but there's not enough information to make a judgement -- and anyway, the report does say lights, plural. Oddly, the report is addressed directly to 'the Minister for Navy', perhaps due to an internal police directive, though the Minister would have been less than interested by this stage. And, in yet another addition for the errata file, I originally read the constable's name as 'Joyce' but looking more closely it's clearly 'Joyes'.