WHEN the first copy of the "Independent" was printed in 1905, few of its readers believed a heavier-than-air machine was ever likely to be a practical proposition. True, about 18 months before, two Americans had flown a Kitty Hawk, but it had not taken the world by storm. Many people did not believe the story, despite the fact that H. G. Wells, greatly daring as he himself suggested, had. at the beginning of the century, forecast that, by 1940. it was probable an aeroplane would have taken off. flown and landed under its own power!
But in the first few years during which the " Independent " was published, things changed rapidly. In 1906 an aeroplane designed by Santos Dumont flew in Europe 250 yards. Two years later, an Englishman made a flight lasting nearly threequarters-of-an-hour and the Wright brothers made flights in Europe, which demonstrated that, after centuries of hopes and experiment, Man was really going to conquer the air. Ninety-nine readers out of a hundred had probably not seen an aeroplane, but flying was no longer considered merely a hobby for enthusiasts, but something destined to change our lives, perhaps as much as the motor car which had made such rapid progress during the previous decade.
THE CHANNEL CROSSED
Just how much it was destined to change history was realised when in the early hours of July 25th. 1909, the people of Dover were awakened by a strange sound. It was the engine of an aeroplane, piloted by Louis Bleriot who had crossed the Channel in it from Les Baraques. a distance of 26 miles in 37 minutes, other pilots had previously flown farther, but Blerlot's bridging of the English Channel the " moat " which had so long guarded England, brought it home that a new age had dawned. It was a year later (1910) before an aeroplane passed over Northamptonshire Its pilot was the famous Grahame White who was attempting to win a prize of £10,000 for the first flight from London to Manchester, a distance of 183 miles, with only one halt en route. His only rival was M. Paulhan, a Frenchman, and White was expected to pass over Roade in the " box-kite " plane named after him. It. was a biplane " pusher" In which the pilot was perched precariously in a seat at the front of the machine with no protection or covering, whatever, and not even a " floor " beneath, his feet ! Vast crowds of people were out, in and around Roade, waiting for him but it was not until 7.55 p.m. that he was eventually spotted a tiny droning speck In the evening sky.
There was a terrific thrill when it became obvious that he was going to land and he did so in a field while the twilight around was stabbed with rays from the lamps of a few early cars and hundreds of cycles and horse-drawn vehicles. Alter resting at the house of the late Dr. Ryan. White re-started at 2.50 a.m. on the following morning, thus making the first night flight, but he had to come down again at Lichfield. Meanwhile. Paulhan had been making fine progress and captured the prize. Grahame White had already become known locally, as for two years he had lived at "The Laurels" on the Court Estate at Rushden. A year later, on October 6th, 1911, Northampton enjoyed the thrill of the first aeroplane landing In the town itself. The pilot was the late Captain W. Rhodes-Moorhouse, V.C., of Spratton Grange, who put down on the Racecourse cricket ground. It happened during the lunch-hour just as local workers were about to return to the factories, but the excitement was so Intense that large numbers played truant from work for the afternoon. Moorhouse was flying a Bleriot monoplane with Gnome rotary engine similar to that in which its inventor crossed the Channel.
FIRST AIRMAN V.C.
By the time that Moorhouse was ready to take off there were thousands to witness his departure, and he was cheered enthusiastically and watched with an awed and fascinated interest until he disappeared from view. Alter that. Moorhouse was frequently to be seen flying over Northampton between his home and the aerodrome he established at Huntingdon. Death put an end to his promising career, for early in the 1914-18 war, in which he at once Joined the, then, Royal Plying Corps, he was shot down by the enemy at Courtral after bombing troops de-training. He was the first airman to win the V.C., which was awarded to him posthumously. There was another Racecourse thrill In 1912 when a French, airman, M. Salmon, alighted on the , Borough Ground and was soon surrounded by surging crowds. A special police guard had to be mounted around his Bleriot plane until he took off again.
FIRST PASSENGER FLIGHTS
The first passenger flights by air from Northampton were made with B. C. Hucks, also flying a Bleriot. in Delapre Park on March 28th, 1914, and the first passenger was an "Independent " photographer, who secured some striking pictures of the town from the air. On that occasion Mrs. H. W. Dover became the first Northampton woman to make a flight from the town. Subsequently, local passenger flights and demonstrations were given in the town by Gustav Hamel, who mysteriously disappeared en the outbreak of the 1914-18 war and was supposed to have been lost In the North Sea.