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British Army Aeroplane No 1
Replica of Cody's Aeroplane No 1 as first flown at the FAST-Museum
Role Experimental biplane
Manufacturer Balloon Factory
Designer Samuel Franklin Cody
First flight 16 October 1908[1]
Number built 1

The British Army Aeroplane No 1 or sometimes Cody 1 was a biplane built by Samuel Franklin Cody in 1907 at the Army Balloon Factory at Farnborough. It made the first recognised powered and sustained flight in the United Kingdom on 16 October 1908.[1]

Background[edit | edit source]

In the early years of the twentieth century the British Army's limited interest in aeronautical matters was largely confined to the use of tethered balloons or kites for artillery observation purposes. Many people did not believe the Wright Brothers's claims of sustained controlled flight, and in 1907 officially sanctioned experiment at the Balloon Factory in Farnborough was limited to the building of the Dirigible No. 1 Nulli Secundus, which was the Army's first powered airship, under the supervision of Colonel J.E. Capper, the commander of the balloon factory. In addition some highly secret experiments with gliders were being carried out at Blair Atholl in Scotland by J.W. Dunne in collaboration with Capper. In late 1907 the Director of Fortifications, Capper's immediate superior, was persuaded to allow the use of some of the Balloon Factory's resources for the construction of a powered aircraft, to be designed and built by the American Samuel Franklin Cody, who was at that time working with Capper on the Nulli Secundus.

Development and design[edit | edit source]

The Army Aeroplane No. 1 was a biplane of similar configuration to that designed by the Wright brothers, being a three bay biplane with horizontal control surfaces mounted in front of the wings and a rudder behind, but was larger, with a wingspan of 52 ft (16 m).

The aircraft had a long history of alterations, but as first built it had a short square-section wire braced wood fuselage, with the engine mounted on top in front of the leading edge of the lower wing, with the pilot’s seat behind it. A pair of V struts at the front carried two wheels on an axle and a tailwheel was mounted at the back. This was augmented by small wheels mounted on the leading edge on the lower wingtips. The wings had wooden spars at the leading and trailing edges and had an arrangement for altering the camber when on the ground by means of tensioned wires between the spars.[2] The wings were connected by streamlined interplane struts, some wind-tunnel experiments on strut sections having been carried out at Farnborough. Lateral control was to be achieved using a pair of small ailerons mounted above the leading edge of the lower wing. The forward-mounted elevator was mounted on three sets of bamboo booms attached to sockets on the leading edge of the wings, the lower members sloping steeply upwards so that the surfaces were just below the level of the upper wing. These could be operated in conjunction to act as elevators as well as assisting in the lateral control of the aircraft. A single rectangular rudder was mounted between two booms, the upper attached to the centre of the rear spar and the lower to the rear of the fuselage. A large canvas triangle was stretched between the trailing edge of the upper wing and the end of the upper tail boom. A small fixed vertical surface was also mounted above the upper wing.

The engine drove a pair of tractor propellers using a belt drive. Twin radiators were vertically mounted in a V configuration. The original intention had been to use a 50 hp Panhard-Levassor engine, but this proved unreliable when bench tested. Lacking funding for a new engine, Cody had to wait until the 50 hp (37 kW) Antoinette engine which had been fitted to the Nulli Secundus became available. This happened in August 1908, when Cody transferred the engine to his aircraft.

Operational history[edit | edit source]

First flight and Army career[edit | edit source]

The first sustained flight in the UK

Cody carried out taxying trial of the aircraft during September, briefly leaving the ground on the last of these. The aircraft was then returned to the workshop for the first of a long series of modifications to be made. The small ailerons were removed, a nosewheel added, the radiators moved outboard from their central position to the forward interplane struts, and modifications were made to the booms supporting the elevator. In this form, with a Union Jack flying from the strut between the upper and lower tail booms, the aircraft was presented to the press at Farnborough on on 13 October. After further ground trials Cody finally judged conditions suitable for a flight trial on 16 October, and made the first recognised powered and sustained flight in the United Kingdom, which covered only 1,390 ft (424 m).[3]

The flight of 16 October had ended when Cody attempted a turn to avoid trees and a wingtip touched the ground. The resulting crash caused substantial damage, and the rest of the year was spent in repairing it and making major modifications. The gap between the wings was increased from 8 ft (2.44 m) to 9 ft (2.74 m), the booms carrying both sets of control surfaces lengthened, and provision for lateral control made by installing a wing-warping system and fitting differentially-moving surfaces at each end of the elevator. The radiators were moved to the aft interplane struts, the triangle of canvas that had stretched between the trailing edge of the upper wing and the top of the rudder was removed, and the small vertical stabiliser was moved from above the top wing to a position between the centre booms supporting the elevator, and linked to the rudder control. New larger propellers were fitted.[4] On 6 January 1909 this work was complete and testing continued,[5] on this occasion with a number of streamers attached so that the airflow might be observed. More ground were trials were made, the ailerons moved to a position in the middle of the aft interplane struts, and the radiators moved forward slightly to adjust the aircraft's trim. In this form Cody made another flight on 20 January covering about1,200 ft (370 m) and reaching a height of 25 ft (7.6 m) but crashed after a turn, Cody being unhurt. The aircraft was again taken back to the factory for alterations and repairs.The ailerons were discarded and a pair of horizontal stabilisers were fitted in front of the rudder. Cody flew the aircraft again on 18 February, this time landing with no more damage than a burst tyre and a broken rigging wire. Further successful flights were made on 22 February, after which the rear stabilisers were removed and the ailerons repositioned, now being placed on short outriggers trailing from the forward interplane struts, and the front rudder was moved to a position above the elevator.

Despite the fact that Cody's aircraft could now be considered a success, in February 1909 a report by the Aerial Navigation Sub-Committee of the Committee for Imperial Defence had recommended that all government-funded heavier-than air experimentation should stop, leaving development to the private sector.[6] Funding was to be provided for the construction of airships: official support for anything else was limited to toleration of aviation activities on some government land. If Cody wished to develop the aircraft further he would have to do so at his own expense and not as an employee of the Balloon Factory. Cody's contract, due for renewal that September was not renewed, but he was allowed to keep the aircraft, now officially surplus to requirements, and to continue to use Laffan's Plain for flight testing.[7] The Army were left with only a set of drawings of the Army Aeroplane No. 1 labelled "Top secret", possibly the earliest full set of technical drawings for an aircraft.

Subsequent use[edit | edit source]

Cody's personal relationship with Capper was unharmed, and he continued to operate the aircraft at Farnborough. On 14 May 1909 he made a flight of over a mile between Laffan's Plain and Danger Hill. Later the same day he attempted to repeat the performance at the request of the Prince of Wales, who was observing Army manoeuvres at Aldershot. Unluckily on takeoff he was caught by a gust as he turned the machine to avoid some troops on the ground, and was forced to land, the aircraft sustaining some damage to the tail. The Prince of Wales was nevertheless satisfied, telling Cody of his pleasure at seeing a British aeroplane that could fly.[8]

Back in the workshop, Cody made further adjustments, discarding the twin rudders and moving the radiators so that they were now in front of the front interplane struts. The tailwheel was removed and replaced by a substantial skid. In mid-July Cody flew the aircraft again, managing to complete a circular flight of four miles on 21 July, after which he decided to fit a 60 hp E.N.V. Type F engine.[9] Importantly, the position of the pilot and engine were exchanged: the pilots seat now being directly in front of the leading edge of the wing, and the engine above it. The position of the ailerons was also adjusted; the outriggers were deleted, the ailerons now being directly mounted on the forward interplane struts.

Apart from very minor adjustments, this was the aircraft's final form. It was flown for three miles on 11 August. Cody was initially startled by the experience provided by the new seating position, recording "I find my new position in front of the engine has a much more sensational effects on the nerves than the old position, in fact until last night I never knew I had any nerves. I think, however, I shall get over this slight timidness after a few runs".[10] but the aircraft was now performing well and after several flights on 13 August Cody considered it safe enough to take a passenger. The next day this honour went to Capper, and later that day Cody took his wife for a three mile flight, making her the first woman to fly in an aeroplane in the United Kingdom.[11]

On 8 September 1909 he made a flight lasting over an hour, covering around of 40  miles (64 km), landing because he was out of fuel.[12] He also flew the aircraft at the Doncaster Flight Meeting in October 1909. Although he did not win any of the prizes on offer, Cody made use of his appearance to publicly take British citizenship on 28 October, and promptly entered his name for the Daily Mail prize for the first British aircraft to make a circular flight of over a mile.[13] However, the Doncaster meeting had not been sancioned by the Royal Aero Club, and so any flights made there could not be officially ratified, and the prize was to be won by J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon on 30 October.

In January Cody had hoped to win the £1,000 prize offered by Sir William Hartley for a flight between Manchester and Liverpool, which had to be made before 26 January. Although he took the aircraft to Aintree, his attempt was prevented by fog.[14] After this flight Cody concentrated his efforts on the new aircraft he was building, the Cody Michelin Cup Biplane.

Nomenclature[edit | edit source]

Originally Cody's aircraft was officially called the Army Aeroplane No. 1. After the War Office stopped supporting Cody's experiments, it was simply referred to as the Cody Flyer or the equivalent. Any attempt to describe its various forms as the Cody 2 and so forth run the risk of confusing this aircraft with subsequent aircraft built by Cody, and were certainly not used in contemporary sources. Subsequent aircraft tend to be referred to as "Mr Cody's new aeroplane", subsequently being known by his most notable achievement in the aircraft, as in the Cody Michelin Cup Biplane. To further confuse matters the name "Cody Cathedral" is indiscriminately used both for this aircraft and for the 1912 Cody V also known as the "Military Trials Biplane".

Specifications[edit | edit source]

Data from Biplanes, Triplanes, and Seaplanes[1]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 38 ft 6 in (11.73 m)
  • Wingspan: 52 ft 4 in (15.85 m)
  • Height: 13 ft in (3.96 m)
  • Wing area: 640 ft2 (59.46 m2)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Antoinette, 50 hp (37 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 65 mph (105 km/h)

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Sharpe, Michael (2000). Biplanes, Triplanes, and Seaplanes. London: Friedman/Fairfax Books. pp. 108. ISBN 1-58663-300-7. 
  2. The Cody FlyerFlight28 May 1954
  3. [1] Hops and Flights - A Roll Call of Early Powered Take-Offs]Flight 3 April 1959
  4. Lewis 1962 p. 187
  5. The British Army Aeroplane 'Flight' 16 January 1909
  6. Driver, 1997 pp 209-11
  7. Hare 1990, p. 10
  8. "Mr Cody Flies a Mile" Flight 22 May 1910
  9. Lewis 1962, p 188
  10. Penrose 1967 p. 181
  11. Lewis 1962, p.189
  12. "Mr Cody Flies for Over An Hour" Flght 11 September 1909
  13. Three Blank Days Flight 30 October 1909
  14. Aviation News of the Week- Mr Cody Flies Again, Flight 29 January 1910

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Driver, Hugh The Birth of Military Aviation. London: The Boydell Press for the Royal Historical Society, 1997 ISBN 0-86193-234-X
  • Hare, Paul R. The Royal Aircraft Factory. London: Putnam, 1990. ISBN 0-85177-843-7
  • Lewis, P. British Aircraft 1809-1914. London, Putnam and Co., 1962
  • Penrose, Harald. British Aviation: The pioneer years 1903-1914. London: Putnam, 1967
  • The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft (Part Work 1982-1985). Orbis Publishing. 

External links[edit | edit source]

  • First powered flight's centenary BBC item about the 100th anniversary of powered flight in Great Britain featuring film of a replica of British Army Aeroplane No 1.

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