Most people know that it was the American Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, having experimented for five years at Dayton, Ohio, with petrol engines for man-carrying aeroplanes, who first achieved sustained flight, with Orville as pilot, in their petrol driven biplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in December, 1903. Many people know that the French then took over aviation supremacy, (when the Wrights were given no commercial backing by their government), that they developed the monoplane, and were the first country to fly the English Channel.
What few people know is that Filey was in the vanguard of Yorkshire aviation. This was due to the foresight of a West Riding business man, later retired from Leeds to Scarborough, Mr. J. W. Tranmer, who first realised that the firm, sweeping sands of Filey Bay would be splendid for taking off and landing, with an aerodrome at the top of the cliffs. On land owned by Mr. R.W. Smith, he built a hangar and bungalows, which he let to aviators at moderate rates. Several experimental pilots occupied them but the first to be really successful was Mr. H.C. Hucks, of Leeds, who made several flights to Scarborough in his Blackburn monoplane, and he was able to stay in the air for three hours at a time. After a bad smash on Filey Sands when a propellor flew off Mr. Hucks redeemed his reputation with several brilliant flights. When he left Filey to take part in the Circuit of England Race his place was taken by Mr. Hubert Oxley of Heckmondwyke, who flew on almost every fine day, and there was talk of a regular air service being started between Filey and Scarborough. The Blackburn Aeroplane Company of Leeds, for whom Oxley was pilot/instructor, had four or five 'planes at a time at Filey and several students, including Mr. Robert Weiss, of a Dewsbury wool trading family, learned their flying there. Filey people had become so used to the sound of aeroplanes overhead that they scarcely bothered to look up any more, and it was only the visitors from other parts who gazed in amazement. Both Mr. Oxley and Mr. Weiss were well known and very popular in Filey, taking part in all community activities. It was, therefore, a great shock and occasion of grief to the little town when a fatal accident happened on 7th December, 1911. Oxley was piloting the aeroplane and Weiss at the last minute begged to go as passenger, Mr. Albert C. Hunt, the Company's engineer, resigning his seat, thereby unwittingly saving his life.
The original intention had been to fly to Leeds for 50 Pounds prize money and Oxley had already made a trial flight with no problems, landing safely about two miles further along the Sands. He had taken off again, made a circuit of the town and gained a height of about 500 feet when, returning to the beach before attempting the longer flight, the machine went into a steep dive, falling like a stone. The pilot was thrown out and broke his neck, being killed instantly. Robert Weiss was still in the aeroplane, the back part of which was undamaged, the front part broken off, and could be heard moaning. Doctors C. Butler Simpson and Tom Haworth soon attended him when the engine was lifted off him and he was carried carefully to the Coastguard Station, but he had horrific injuries and died within the hour.
At the Inquest, held in Filey by Sir Luke White, M.P., Coroner for the East Riding, a verdict of "Accidental Death" was given, although no mechanical fault was found in the machine and Mr. A.C. Hunt, the engineer, gave his opinion that Mr. Oxley frequently took risks in descending too far with the engine still working, instead of switching off and gliding down. Today it would probably be described as "Pilot Error".
Pam SMITH, Brisbane, Australia. 1999.
articles by my grandfather, George Forest Frank, a Filey freelance journalist,
published 5th September, 1911 by the Yorkshire Observer,
7th December, 1911 by the Yorkshire Evening News, the Leeds Mercury, the Daily Mail,
and 8th December, 1911 by the Yorkshire Post.