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TIME TUNNEL: How Daimler took off as a plane manufacturer; ... A JOURNEY INTO OUR RICH HERITAGE.

Byline: David McGrory

THIS week historian DAVID McGRORY looks at the origins of Radford Aerodrome. IN these days of cheap flights from Coventry Airport few now have heard of Radford Aerodrome or how it came into being.

The manufacturers of Daimler cars built a factory on the site of Stripes Farm and rifle range in the early part of the 20th century.

At this factory, up until the Great War, cars were built. But this changed on the outbreak of war.

Up until this time few major manufacturers bothered with aircraft production and Daimler opened negotiations with the French manufacturers of the Gnome engine and made promises to the War Office to have an English-built Gnome engine constructed and running in eight weeks.

By Friday, August 7, 1914, the first week of the war, the company undertook the construction of an 80hp Gnome aircraft engine.

Engineers dismantled it and took precise measurements of all its 1,100 parts.

One week later an illustrated specification book was printed and sent to all relevant departments.

Work got underway and the men had their own engine completed on the last day of September, within eight hours of the promised completion time.

With hours left to test it, it was mounted on a specially-designed carriage and by the light of a pair of car headlamps was primed, but coughed and would not work.

A fault was found with the ignition, remedied and once again the cylinders primed with petrol. Then it is recorded, "in response to a vigorous swing of the propeller, it suddenly burst into a roar of life."

At this time the company were also building a Royal Aircraft Factory- designed engine called the RAF1.

This was to replace the French Renault engine in their reconnaissance aircraft known as the BE 2C.

With the RAF1 engine under production the Daimler, although not in full production of the Gnome, entered into a contract with the War Office to build the BE 2C two-seater reconnaissance plane.

New shops were added to the factory for production of its first aircraft and its new aeroplane division grew rapidly.

The production of the BE 2C gave way to the production of the BE 12, a single-seater fighter with a 150hp engine. This too was superseded by the RE 8 a two-seater reconnaissance two-seater fighter, fitted with the same engine and carrying two machine guns.

With the production of these planes in Coventry the War Office looked into the possibility of having a flight ground created and officers where sent to check for suitable sites.

It was realised that the area at the rear of the factory by the newly- built aircraft sheds lent itself to such a site. The land, which was generally flat was made up mainly of old farmland.

Originally Daimler acquired the site by purchase and placed it in the hands of the government for the duration of the war. The War Office, however, decided to extend the aerodrome and acquired more farmland under the Defence of the Realm Act.

When finished, Radford Aerodrome was put into the hands of the Royal Air Force and served as a testing ground for planes built at the Daimler and other planes built in Coventry.

Towards the end of the war, Daimler were still producing RE 8 fighters, then came the first DH 10 a twin-engine 240hp bomber.

During the Great War Radford Aerodrome was a busy place and in the sky above Radford, Whitmore Park, Holbrooks and Keresley small planes could be seen being tested.

This could be a dangerous practice as the late mother of Time Tunnel reader Bob Ashworth wrote in March 1914, "Yesterday another aeroplane came down bang and the lieutenant killed. That makes six poor fellows who have been burnt to death around here in the last three weeks."

There were probably more than one reason for these fatal accidents; firstly possible inexperience and secondly because of the proximity of the White & Poppe munition works in Whitmore Park.

White & Poppe was home to the "Canary Girls" who got their name from the staining on their hands and faces from using the yellow explosive tetrol during the production of bombs.

At certain times of the day large numbers of young women would sit outside and watch the young pilots flying overhead, who would no doubt wave to them.

These young men were well aware they were being watched by lots of young ladies and responded by doing stunts in their aircraft to show off. Sometimes the inevitable would happen and the pilot would lose control, crash and be killed.

This caused White & Poppe to have buried concrete bunkers made called the "dumps" to store the explosives and keep them from the danger of crashing aircraft.

Many thanks to Coventry Local Studies for supplying some of the information and photos. If you have any memories of Radford aerodrome or the aircraft industry write to David McGrory, Time Tunnel, Coventry Evening Telegraph.


FLIGHT WORK: BE12 planes in course of construction at the Daimler works and (inset) an artist's aerial view of the Daimler factory at Radford; CHOCKS AWAY: A BE12 plane at Radford Aerodrome
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jul 24, 2004
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