Connections

Bader, Day and Stephenson with a Bristol Bulldog.

(L-R) Pilot Officer Douglas Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson
during training for the 1932 Hendon airshow, with a Bristol Bulldog. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

What’s the connection between the picture above, and the first men to carry out a successful powered flight in Scotland, in 1909?

The picture is interesting in itself. On the left a very young Pilot Officer Douglas Bader (1910-1982), still full in limb before the fateful crash at Woodley aerodrome which resulted in the amputation of both his legs and the start of a flying legend. In the centre is Flight Lieutenant Harry Day (1898-1977), who became famous later as “Wings” Day. Day was shot down in October 1939 attempting a daylight reconnaissance in a 57 Squadron Blenheim, of which unit he was CO. Day became a significant role in the escape organization of British POWs. On the right, Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson (1910 – 1954) would later become CO of 19 Squadron. He was ironically Douglas Bader’s first operational Commanding Officer on his return to the RAF. Stephenson was shot down on 26 May 1940 in Spitfire I N3200 ‘QV’ – crash landing on the beach at Dunkirk. The Spitfire itself was recovered in the 1980s, and has recently been restored to flying condition. Stephenson was a serial escaper from prison camps and was later held prisoner in Colditz castle. He died in 1954 when on an exchange with the US Air Force. The F-100 he was piloting crashed near Eglin AFB, Florida.

Despite all of this, the connection with Scottish aviation is the airplane behind the three immaculately dressed officers. It is a Bristol Bulldog, designed by Frank Sowter Barnwell (1880 – 1938), who with his brother Harold, designed and flew the first powered aircraft made in Scotland.

The Barnwell brothers established the Grampian Motors & Engineering Company in Stirling in 1906, building a number of gliders and three powered aircraft. Their first aircraft lacked the necessary power to fly. The second made a brief flight in July 1909 and crashed on the second attempt. The third, a monoplane, won a prize for the first flight of over a mile in Scotland, on 30 January 1911 at Causewayhead under the Wallace Monument.

The Barnwell brothers made their mark in aviation in a number of ways. After his successful flight in the Barnwell monoplane in 1911, Harold received his ‘official’ pilot’s license in 1912 and joined the Vickers School of Flying at Brooklands, Surrey as an instructor. He later became chief test pilot with Vickers. Harold sadly was killed in 1917 while test flying a prototype Vickers Vampire night fighter.

Vickers FB.26 Vampire.

Vickers FB.26 Vampire.
(Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Frank served in the Royal Flying Corps in the early part of World War I but was released to become head of design at the Bristol Aeroplane Company, where he spent his entire professional life. His experience in the RFC doubtless inspired his designs for the Bristol Scout and the Bristol F2b (aka the Bristol Fighter). Frank also designed the Bulldog fighter (which to me has the appearance of a World War I era scout biplane using modern materials and a much larger engine) and the Blenheim light bomber. It is said that the Beaufort, and by extension the Beaufighter, drew on Bristol’s experience with the Blenheim. Frank Barnwell did in fact exert some influence in British aircraft design in both world wars. Sadly He was killed in 1938 while test flying a small aircraft he had designed and built privately.

In 2013 a new memorial sculpture was unveiled on a plinth erected near the site of the Barnwell’s former factory. It depicts the prizewinning 1910/11 monoplane.

Barnwell Brothers memorial unveiling at Causewayhead, with Pete Hill, artist blacksmith at Ratho Byres Forge in the foreground – http://www.rathobyresforge.co.uk/?q=node/502

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