In 1903 the Wright Brothers became the first men to fly. This was a tremendous relief to those who had been waiting patiently in airport departure lounges around the world. The aviation industry quickly took off too, and the city of Bristol was in the vanguard.
The world’s first aeroplane that could be bought in kit-form from furniture D-I-Y shops was made by the Bristol Boxkite Company in Filton. The Bristol Boxkite could be assembled and airborne within three hours on a hot summer’s day, as the glue dried quicker then. Initially there were two kits available, a light-aircraft one and a commercial airline version. As it was usually purchased from furniture stores, mix-ups inevitably occurred. In 1911, for instance, a group of fifty passengers at Whitchurch Airport were dismayed to discover when their plane had been assembled on the runway, that they were expected to fly to Paris on a set of mahogany drawers and matching bedside table. Even the presence, soon after, of a Gideon’s bible on the bedside table failed to instil the necessary faith to commence the flight.
In 1912, Mr Hampling Corey , who thought he had assembled a bunk bed for his two sons, Sam 7 and Nigel 5, in their family residence in Easton, Bristol, was alarmed to discover when reading a national newspaper at breakfast the following morning, after a windy night, that his sons had successfully landed in Madrid, setting several aviation distance and flight duration records in the process.
Another problem was that the kit easily fell into the hands of enthusiastic schoolboys, who wanted to progress from their Airfix model making to full-scale efforts. Unfortunately, upon completing the assembly of the boxkite, they usually pinned the light-aircraft to the ceiling of their bedrooms, bringing extra business to Bristol’s building and plastering community. It seemed like the ceiling would quite literally cave in on the Bristol Boxkite due to this flaw, and parents were warned to look out for these warning signs:
- Their sons start requesting copious amounts of glue.
- They ask for goggles and a black box flight recorder at Xmas.
- They ask for good points of reference, visible from a height of 300 feet, to that nudist colony with the high fences in Somerset.
- They mention that there are some tiles missing, or that need replacing, on your roof (although usually this indicated that the plane had been assembled and it was now too late).
The problem was finally resolved in the fall of 1912 when it was decided to hang a Bristol Boxkite from te reinforced ceiling at he Bristol Museum. It was correctly assumed that no ‘with-it’ boy would ever want his bedroom compared to the stuffy museum, and thus these incidents of irresponsible aircraft assembly and display were curtailed.
In 1913 the Bristol Boxkite Company advertised the world’s first ‘Jet Propelled Aircraft’. But anyone ordering it was swiftly brought back down to earth, as it was simply a standard Bristol Boxkite that came supplied with the address of a local suffragette who offered to push it, as long as it wasn’t a Wednesday afternoon or alternate Saturday when she was usually chained to railings in Lawrence Hill.
The first wing-walker in history achieved the feat on a Bristol Boxkite during a half-hour flight along the Somerset coast. However, the ashen faced record breaker, Rex Mockford, modestly played down his achievement; stating that he had only intended to give an estimate for work on guttering at a property in Westbury-on-Trym and had mistaken the Boxkite parked adjacent, for scaffolding.
The Bristol Boxkite fell out of favour with the British in WWI. It was when the British fighter plane, the Sopwith Camel, was taking a pounding in dogfights from the notorious Red Baron. The British Flying Corps asked the Bristol Boxkite Company to design a plane like the Sopwith Camel that would be more beneficial to British pilots in their encounters with the Red Baron. The Bristol Boxkite Company soon designed a version of the Sopwith Camel that included an onboard toilet. This outraged the top brass at the Flying Corps who thought it was unpatriotic, and it was never commissioned. However, the Japanese airforce liked the design, and ordered thousands of them. They became very popular amongst Japanese pilots where they became affectionately known as Camel Khasi planes.