Reaching for the sky with 'B C' Hucks; 90 YEARS ago this month Ben C Hucks made aviation history. Dan O'Neill tells the story.
IT'S appropriate at a time when speed cameras are causing such commotion that we should skip back almost a century to what must surely have been one of the first speeding offences in South Wales.
But this wasn't any old foot-on-thegas gaffe. This one turned a pretty reckless car-driver into a plane pilot with a claim to some sort of immortality.
It's 1904 and Bentfield Charles Hucks is sales manager of the Automobile Company, based in Charles Street, Cardiff. He looked to have a future in motoring until, in 1908, he was caught speeding - no cameras, either. Fined and licence suspended for three years.
So he left Cardiff and took up this new-fangled aviation. Echo reader Mr R L Thomas, of Llanedeyrn, tells us that Hucks gained his Royal Aero Club certificate (number 91) in May, 1911, flying a Blackburn monoplane.
Later that year Hucks bought the plane, christened it Mercury, and went on a tour of the West of England.
And that might have been that. . .
But on the morning of September 1, 1911, Mercury was wheeled out in Weston, and up she went, the first plane to cross the Bristol Channel, circling Cardiff at about 2,000 feet before returning to Weston after 40 minutes in the air.
Was that enough for the 27-year-old described by the Echo as a "daring young aviator"? Of course not.
And on September 11 he was back again, after being engaged to give aerial demonstrations at the American Skating Rink on Westgate Street. You trust that the demonstrations weren't INSIDE the rink that stood just about where the south stand of the Millennium Stadium is today.
He'd planned to make the flight a couple of days earlier but, as the Echo explained, "his machine dashed into a tree with the result that one of the wings became very badly damaged." But repairs were "so expeditiously carried out that the monoplane was again ready for use soon after midnight."
So our intrepid pioneer, determined to get over the Channel again as early as he possibly could, entered his machine at 4.45am.
"After a splendid flight across Mr Hucks descended at the Polo Ground, Whitchurch, at 90 seconds past six." The flight took exactly 16and-a-half minutes with Mercury flying at 70mph at an altitude of 1,500 feet.
It was "a splendid trip, " enthused the pilot who would become, through his initials, Bristol Channel Hucks. "I saw no boats or ships during the first half of my journey, but after passing Flat Holm I saw some, which made me feel a bit easier." Why? In case he came down in the drink, that's why.
He spotted the pavilion on the Polo Ground (Polo? In Cardiff? ), and after circling once, dropped down.
"After reaching terra firma I immediately took the wings off the machine, which, by courtesy of Captain Beattie of the Cardiff Tramways Company, was removed to the motor bus shed in Llandaff."
The flight coincided with the introduction of an Aerial Post service. So Hucks carried the first letter to arrive by air in Cardiff, addressed to T S Fairgray, the Cardiff Postmaster, from R C Tombs, ex-Controller of the London Postal service.
Was that enough for our "intrepid aviator"? Don't ask. Later in the month, B C flew 700 feet above Ely racecourse and, as the Echo put it, "established wireless telephony, transmitting a message from an instrument fixed on the ground.
"Above the roar of the wind and the noise of the engine Mr Hucks plainly heard Mr Grindell-Matthews' voice shouting 'Hullo, Hullo' but was unable to reply , not being provided with a transmitter.
Mr Grindell-Matthews was the inventor of what we called the "aerophone" and made a special trip from Chepstow to conduct the experiment. The Echo also explained that Mercury was Britishmade, driven by a 50 horse-power Gnome engine.
B C stayed on in Cardiff for a few days, continuing his flights for the awed citizens, taking the Chief Constable, David Williams, up for a spin from Sophia Gardens. He also became the first Briton to loop the loop - in 1913 he did it 21 times during a flight over France.
He joined the Royal Flying Corps (what else? ) when war broke out in August, 1914, and was sent to the Western Front. But he was invalided home after an attack of pleurisy before working as a test pilot at Hendon, north-west London.
He died in November, 1918, just days before the Great War's end, of double pneumonia.
His achievements weren't quite in the class of Louis Bleriot (the English Channel) or Lindbergh (the Atlantic. ) But the Bristol Channel is on our patch - so let's remember B C Hucks for that pioneering flight just 90 years ago this month.
FLIGHT FEAT The Western Mail edition of September 11, 1911, reports the crossing, and, inset, a rare surviving picture of B C Hucks, Cardiff aviator.
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|Publication:||South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)|
|Date:||Sep 11, 2001|
|Next Article:||ECHO DETECTIVE.|