During aviation’s pioneering years Francis Kennedy McClean used his vast inherited wealth to help the now famous Short Brothers company become established as one of Britain’s greatest aircraft manufacturers and, in doing so, he helped the Royal Navy’s first pilots into the air. In effect, he was Godfather to British naval aviation.
But McClean did much more than even that.
He was himself a balloonist and pioneer aviator, flying with Wilbur Wright in France in December 1908.
He provided the Royal Aero Club with one of the first flying grounds in the UK; personally purchased no fewer than sixteen aeroplanes from Short Brothers before the First World War, and also acted as the company’s unpaid test pilot.
Convinced that aviation was destined to play a vital role in the nation’s defence, he made his own aeroplanes freely available for training and ensured that the Navy had a suitable site from which to fly, founding England’s first naval flying school, at Eastchurch in Kent.
His flight up the Thames to Westminster on 10 August 1912, during which he flew between the upper and lower spans of Tower Bridge and passed beneath the other bridges, caught the public imagination, but despite all these achievements he remained unassuming, modest and reticent.
This is a fascinating and informative account of McClean’s great influence on early aviation, and his achievements and significant contribution to naval aviation are revealed here for the first time.
Philip Jarrett is an well-known author and consultant and an internationally recognised authority on early aviation. He has edited many books and written numerous papers.
His biography of British aviation pioneer Percy Pilcher, Another Icarus, was published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1987. He is a regular contributor to Aeroplane Monthly.
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