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24 September 2014

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You are in: Manchester > History > History features > Flying into history

A. V. Roe's Triplane

A. V. Roe's Triplane

Flying into history

A mere 97 years after the original took flight, the Museum of Science and Industry are celebrating the achievements of Greater Manchester's most famous aviator by building a replica of his triplane, the first successful all-British aeroplane.

The Triplane, which is being built by a group of aeronautical engineers in the Museum's Air and Space Hall, soared into the record books on 23 July 1909 when it managed to fly 900 feet at an average 20 feet off the ground. A first step into the skies for Britain and it was designed, built and flown by Salfordian engineer, Alliot Verdon Roe.

A.V. Roe was born in Patricroft in 1877, the son of a doctor who went on to be one of the most important names in British aviation history. Originally an apprentice on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, Roe went onto study marine engineering in London, having an interest in all things mechanical. His engineering studies soon led him away from the wonders of shipbuilding and into the world of flight.

The beginnings of British flight

His interest took off when in 1903, the Wright Brothers made the first ever powered flight in America. On hearing about it, Roe began writing to them and even went as far as cycling all the way to France to meet them when they came to Europe to show off their flying machines.

"A.V. Roe had a rather unscientific approach to flying. He would build the aeroplane, start it up and then figure out how to fly it."

Mike Taylor on Roe's approach to flight

Soon he was designing his own machines, with one set of blueprints winning a Daily Mail competition in 1907. Taking the prize money, Roe built a full-size version of his model.

The original aeroplane weighed just 320 pounds, with a nine horse power engine. Its three pairs of wooden wings, covered in cotton-backed oiled paper, and bicycle wheels for landing, meant the contraption was light, and had just enough lift to get off the ground, which it did successfully two years later.

"An unscientific approach"

According to Mike Taylor, one of the engineers rebuilding the Triplane though, Roe’s way of coming at flight was an unorthodox one.

"A.V. Roe had a rather unscientific approach to flying. He would build the aeroplane, start it up and then figure out how to fly it. It was a fundamentally different approach to the Wright Brothers, who solved each problem in turn and tested everything beforehand."

Avro Lancaster Bomber

Avro Lancaster Bomber

Roe went on to form the A.V. Roe and Company, established at Brownsfield Mills on 1 January 1910.

The company would go on to be one of the most important in Britain, building the First World War 504 trainer and the World War Two bombers, the Lancaster and the Shackleton, while Roe himself was knighted for his achievements in 1929.

The 2006 Triplane

A model of Roe's 1909 Triplane already sits in the Museum, alongside an Avro Shackleton, but the 2006 version will be fully working... hopefully!

"We said we would build a replica as close as we can to the original, and if the original flew then then ours should fly too," said Mike Taylor.

Building the new Triplane

Building the new Triplane

"We have a 1912 engine produced by JA Prestwich, with whom A.V. Roe had a business arrangement. We don’t know how much power it will deliver but it ought to be enough to get it off the ground."

The group of 20 volunteers aim to build the Triplane for around £7000, excluding the engine. The wings are made from a glued wooden frame covered in artificial fabric, replacing the fragile paper of the original, and the propeller from poplar wood. Whether it will fly or not remains to be seen, though Mike is hopeful.

"We’re testing wheels to check whether they will take the impact, which is something that A.V. Roe would never have done, and we will have done vibration tests for the propellers as well as tension tests on fittings. We also have history on our side, so we know what works!" he smiled. Fingers crossed he's right.

last updated: 05/06/2008 at 15:16
created: 20/12/2006

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