The cutting edge of technology at the start of the 20th Century was aviation. This was a period in the Parish’s history which still excites many today.
The Wright brothers first flew an aircraft at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903 and later became frequent visitors to Sheppey as aircraft were developed and built here.
J.T.C.Moore-Brabazon was the first Englishman to fly in Britain, at Leysdown in 1909, and where Messrs Short Brothers also built the first true aircraft factory. Later in 1909 Frank McClean purchased Stonepitts Farm at Eastchurch. He gave the members of the Aero Club (later Royal) use of the ground for a nominal rent of one shilling per year from the Club. The first aircraft to land here was a Short (Wright) Flyer piloted by the Hon.C.S.Rolls on November 20th 1909.
By September 1910 there were eighteen sheds occupied by members of the Aero Club together with the Short Brothers aircraft factory which had moved here from Leysdown.
Eastchurch Flying Ground |(part) 1910/1912
Among the many notable early pioneers of British aviation to fly and experiment at Eastchurch were T.O.M.Sopwith who, in December 1910, won the Baron de Forest’s prize of £4,000 for the longest flight from England to the Continent (Eastchurch to Belgium).
Another first for Eastchurch was the aeroplane built by Short Brothers for Lt.J.W.Dunne whose aircraft was the first swept wing design. This aircraft first flew here and later flew to Paris.
Mr.Francis McClean (later Sir) offered the loan of aeroplanes to the Admiralty for the purpose of training Naval Officers in aviation. In March 1911 four officers and twelve ratings arrived to undergo instruction including technical training at the Shorts’ factory. Eastchurch thus became the first Royal Naval Air Station.
Mr. Winston Churchill (later Sir) was another noteworthy person who learned to fly here.
Perhaps the best summing up of the events which took place here over that period was the comment by Harold Ingleton, son of the former owner of Stonepitts Farm, viz: –
“Nobody ever thought they would get off the ground long enough to get any distance. They were treated rather like people would be treated today if they started to practice with wings attached to their arms and were determined to fly to the moon. We humoured them and at the same time made an honest shilling out of it. If I had known these men were making history I would have paid more attention to their doings, but as it was we became used to their capers and crashes”.
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