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Aerogram March 2014
CENTENARY OF MILITARY AVIATION SPECIAL ANNIVERSARY ISSUE
Samuel Franklin Cody and Point Cook
Jean Roberts and Andrew Willox
The most colourful of all pioneering aviators must surely be
the American-born Samuel Franklin Cody. Not to be confused
with the original Buffalo Bill Cody, an American ‘Wild West’
showman, Samuel Cowdery changed his name to Cody Jr. for
the purposes of performing similar shows and was promptly
threatened with legal action by the original Cody.
When, in 1890, Cowdery (Cody) first arrived in Europe it was
as a Wild West Showman appearing in music halls with a trick
shooting and fancy roping act. He later ventured into the
world of the Wild West melodrama which was so popular with
the audiences of the day and, having conquered the English
stage, he moved on to conquer the air.
Over a period of several years Cody developed a deep
interest in kite flying and his success in the theatre provided
the finance to progress this interest from a hobby to an aerial
system of great practical value. For a while his theatrical and
kiting interests coincided but gradually more and more of his
time was concentrated on to the latter and ultimately led to
the development of a sophisticated system of man-lifting kites
for military purposes.
By 1901 he was sufficiently confident in this system to
attempt to gain the interest of the British War Office in its use
for observation. It was not, however, until 1905 that they
accepted the value of kites to the Army at which time Cody
was given the post of Kite Instructor to the Royal Engineers’
Balloon School at Aldershot. The relationship between Cody
and the Army was a rather uneasy affair with difficulties on
both sides. Cody must have felt greatly restrained by the
Army’s rules and regulations and for their part, the Army must
have found it difficult to accept this flamboyant American who,
although now severed from his theatrical life, still retained the
appearance of a showman.
His man-lifting kite system having proved successful Cody
progressed to the creation of a glider kite and, soon after, a
motor kite with the ultimate intention of developing a piloted,
powered aircraft. Although the Wright Brothers had been flying
for a number of years it was difficult to interest the British
Government, whose primary interest lay in airships, in
financing the building of aeroplanes.
In 1907 Cody was called upon to work on the Army’s first
dirigible balloon, the Nulli Secundus, but by the latter part of
that year he was free to concentrate on the completion of his
aeroplane which, on the 16th October 1908 made the first
official flight of a heavier than air machine in the British Isles.
Early in 1909, the British War Office, in their wisdom, then
decided that there was no future in aeroplanes and Cody’s
contract with the Army was terminated.
From then on Cody continued working on his aircraft without
official monetary backing and without the assistance of Army
manpower. Relying entirely on the help of family and friends
and his own financial resources he went on to break many
records, win a number of trophies and suffer several crashes.
Samuel Cody died on 7 August 1913 when one of his aircraft
broke up after hitting a group of oak trees and he and his
passenger, WHB Evans, were killed.
But, could things have been different?
18 months earlier, on 15 January 1912, Cody had written to
the Australian Government in response to the advertisement
placed in the Government Gazette, as discussed by Alf
Batchelder on page 8. Never letting the facts get in the way of
a good story, or his own reputation, his application letter read:
January 15th 1912
In answer to your inquiry re aviators and machines for the
Commonwealth Government of Australia, I have the honour
to offer you my services as a Constructor Aviator as well
as Instructor in the art of handling Aeroplanes and
Dirigibles. I am pleased to say that my Biplane is the most
efficient one in the world, in the following attributes, safety
in handling and manoeuvring on rough ground, flying in
rough weather, actual speed in miles per hour, rate of climb
in feet per minute, capable of carrying 1,500 lbs useful
load, and last but not least ease of manipulation.
This present machine stands in readiness to give a
demonstration of any of the above mentioned capabilities,
and my latest machine, which is now in course of
construction, will be of the monoplane type with which I
hope to create a worlds record.
I enclose herewith a pamphlet giving specifications of my
various types biplanes, as well as man-lifting kite, now in
use in the British Army.
I could see you if you care to make an appointment either
at your office, or at my flying ground here.
(Signed) S.F. Cody
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