Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Samuel Cody statue unveiled to commemorate 'first UK pilot'

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Media captionCody, who was born Samuel Franklin Cowdery, died 100 years ago when his aircraft broke apart

A statue created in memory of the first person to pilot a powered and sustained flight in Britain has been unveiled near the airfield he flew from.

US-born Samuel Franklin Cody took off from Farnborough Common in Hampshire in October 1908 for a flight which lasted a mere 30 seconds.

He died on 7 August 1913, aged 46, in a plane crash at the same site.

Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (Fast) unveiled the new statue and memorial on the centenary of his death.

The trust has raised £100,000 for the bronze statue, which was created by sculptress Vivian Mallock.

Wartime test-pilot Captain Eric "Winkle" Brown, 94, unveiled it at a ceremony outside the Fast Museum.

Buffalo Bill claim

David Wilson, Cody statue project leader, said there was no other public monument to the aviation pioneer and he was in danger of being forgotten.

"Cody was a showman and cowboy by trade, but he was a man of the people," he said. "What he did for aviation in this country should be remembered.

"In making that flight he was the first to do what the Wright brothers did in America. He was Britain's first, and did not just copy what the Wright brothers did, he pioneered his own aeroplanes.

"They [the Wright brothers] only demonstrated their flight in public six weeks before Cody flew, and after he had already built his plane."

Mr Cody was born in Davenport, Iowa, in 1867 and trained as a cowboy, becoming a popular wild west show performer before moving to England in 1890.

He claimed to be the son of Buffalo Bill Cody, but in fact he was not related to him and his real name was Cowdery.

In England he started experimenting with kites, becoming the leading expert in man-lifting kites which led to the Army taking him on.

He later developed aeroplanes with the backing of the War Office and became a British citizen by naturalisation in 1909.

On 16 October 1908 he took to the skies in his British Army Aeroplane No 1, which he had designed and constructed.

He reached about 18ft (5.5m) and flew for about 1,400ft (426m).

It was the first official sustained and controlled flight of a powered "heavier-than-air" machine in the British Isles.

Mr Cody was in the air for just 30 seconds and flew over a clump of trees before crash-landing after being hit by a gust of wind, damaging the machine.

The military authorities were not convinced about investing in his new flying machines, which were prone to crashing.

Mr Cody's funding was withdrawn but he continued his trials and plane-building with his own funds, trying to develop new aeroplanes.

Image caption A replica of Samuel Cody's plane is on permanent display at the FAST Museum

But on 7 August 1913 he and his passenger, Hampshire cricketer William Evans, died when they fell out of their aircraft and plunged 300ft (90m) to the ground after it broke up during a test.

Afterwards, the air correspondent for the Times newspaper wrote: "The tragic death of SF Cody is one of the greatest blows which aviation has sustained in recent years."

His funeral in Aldershot, with full military honours, attracted up to 100,000 mourners and he is buried in the town's military cemetery.

A full-size replica of Mr Cody's British Army Aeroplane No 1 was built in 2008 to commemorate the centenary of his first flight. It remains on permanent display at the Fast Museum.

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