Commemorating a 100 year old flight in the aircraft’s own 70th birthday month

On Wednesday 21 August, Catalina G-PBYA, operated by Plane Sailing Air Displays Limited and based at IWM Duxford, undertakes a remarkable aviation challenge.

Honouring the daring flying expeditions of the pioneer aviators, the Catalina will undertake, in its centenary year, the 1913 Circuit of Britain flight, which was flown by pilot Harry Hawker and mechanic Harry Kauper, both Australians, in a Sopwith Waterplane.

The Catalina celebrates its 70th birthday this month, making it the oldest UK-based airworthy amphibian.

In 1913, the Circuit of Britain Race was the first major British competition for seaplanes. It was supported by Lord Northcliffe, the proprietor of the Daily Mail, who was a great fan of aviation races. Shell Aviation provided the lubricants for the original race and will be doing the same 100 years on.

The route in 1913, as reported by Flight magazine, started and finished at Southampton Water, with eight control points en route. These were the Royal Temple Yacht Club in Ramsgate, the Naval Air Station in Yarmouth, the Grand Hotel in Scarborough, the Palace Hotel in Aberdeen, the Naval Air Station in Cromarty, the Great Western Hotel in Oban, the Royal St George Yacht Club in Kingstown, Dublin and the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club in Falmouth.

While the airspace in 2013 is somewhat more restricted then 100 years ago, the crew of the Catalina intends to follow the 1913 route as closely as possible. The full route is outlined below. The crew will take off from IWM Duxford on Wednesday 21 August to complete the 1600 mile route over approximately five days. They will be flying over some key historic sites, including Kingston, where the Sopwith Factory was based; Hook in Chessington, where Harry Hawker is buried and Brooklands Aerodrome (now Brooklands Museum), where Harry Hawker learnt to fly and tested aircraft for use in the First World War.

The Catalina will also orbit the Classic Boat Museum at Cowes, which has on display a 1/8 scale replica of the Bat Boat tested by Harry Hawker in 1913.

The Catalina crew aspires to succeed where Harry Hawker and Harry Kauper did not.

Harry Hawker was the Chief Test Pilot for the Sopwith Aviation Company, while Harry Kauper was an experienced mechanic and Foreman of Works at Sopwith.

Although four aeroplanes were originally entered for this aerial challenge in 1913, of their competitors, Samuel Cody was killed in a flying accident on 7 August, while F K McLean withdrew his Short S.68 aircraft due to engine trouble. The Radley-England Waterplane was withdrawn for the same reason. Only the two Harrys took off on the day of the race.

Their first attempt ended at Yarmouth with a cracked cylinder head and pilot exhaustion. They started again on 25 August and managed to fly to just north of Dublin, but crashed in the sea when Harry Hawker’s foot slipped off the rudder while landing.

The aircraft was destroyed and Harry Kauper broke his arm. Harry Hawker got a soaking, but was otherwise unharmed. While the Daily Mail prize money of £5,000 could not be given, a consolation award of £1,000 was donated. Shell commissioned Mappin & Webb to make a model of the Sopwith Waterplane, which was presented to Harry Hawker.

The 2013 Catalina commemoration is led by pilot Jeff Boyling, who, like Harry Hawker, was born in Australia and shares a passion for aeronautical adventure. By marking this occasion, Jeff hopes to inspire younger generations with the wonder of flying and to keep the golden era of aviation alive today. Jeff said:

“Flying the Catalina G-PBYA is a huge privilege and honour. It is wonderful that this historic aircraft can pay tribute to a great aviator who was a real pioneer. May the memory of Hawker live on.”

Why not come down to IWM Duxford and see Jeff and the Catalina team depart in grand style as they take off for this challenging aerial expedition on Wednesday 21 August?

We’ll be tracking the Catalina’s progress on the Imperial War Museum Duxford facebook page and also via our twitter feed at https://twitter.com/I_W_M