Considering that the Wright brothers first flew at the end of 1903 and there was quite a lot of aeronautical activity around Europe and in the south of England, the North West did not really wake up to the marvel of the aeroplane until quite late. The Birkenhead News in September 1909 reported that a Mr Edward Mines of “Brightholme” Hydro Avenue West Kirby had been building his own aircraft in the Marine Pagoda enclosure adjacent to the promenade. The machine was based on the Wright Brothers machine with his own refinements to reduce weight to 400lbs., a necessary requirement as he was only using an 8hp JAP engine. The newspaper also reported that another unnamed gentleman of West Kirby was working on the design of an aircraft. Nothing further was heard about these gentleman efforts.
Flight magazine for the 25th September 1909 had commented, “It is reported from Liverpool that three practicable monoplanes have been constructed in the neighbourhood, and that on one of them, a flight of about 35 miles has been made. It is said that the trials of these machines have been carried out in secret on a lonely part of the Lancashire coast, north of Liverpool, and along the Deeside in the neighbourhood of West Kirby”. Again no further information is known about this.
There had also been reports that T. Elder Hearn a Music hall performer and Freddie A. Fyfe had been using a grassy recreation ground at Eastham Ferry to fly from. Hearn had bought a Bleriot aircraft in France, and after a basic flying course managed to get the plane to Liverpool without serious mishap. In 1914, Hearn is known to have flown over New Brighton Tower, and from Liverpool Polo Clubs ground. Freddie Fyfe was a local photographer who later became a photographer in the RFC and re-enlisted during the Second Would War, ending up as a Squadron Leader.
The Wirral would eventually witness quite a lot of aerial activity from 1910 till 1914 when the start of World War I put an end to civil flying till after the war.
1st August 1910 – Robert Loraine flies over New Brighton On Bank Holiday Monday 1st August, a French built Farman biplane, flown by 34-year-old Robert Loraine, electrified the holiday crowds, when it suddenly appeared at about 4.15pm, flying towards New Brighton Tower. Loraine, who had been born in Wallasey on 14th January 1876, was a famous actor manager of the time. He had obtained his French flying certificate (No 126), at the Henry Farman flying school at Pau, France. He returned to England, bring with him his £7,000 Farman aircraft and the schools chief mechanic, Jules Vedrines. Loraine saw himself as a pioneer of aviation, but in order not to appear to be using his flying exploits, to further his theatrical career, used the name of Robert Jones whilst flying. He was taking part in the Blackpool Aviation Carnival, having previously amazed the crowds at the July Bournemouth International Flying Week, by flying across to the Isle of Wight in a storm.
At the Blackpool carnival, Loraine was competing for the £100 prize, for the aviator that remained in the air for the longest time. The aircraft he was flying, was designed and built by Henry (Henri) Farman, an Englishman living in France. It was a biplane, with the pilot seated out in the open, in the middle of the lower wing. The engine, a 50hp Gnome, and propeller were mounted in pusher configuration, behind the pilot. The fuselage was an open framework with only the wings and flying surfaces covered in fabric.
Loraine had taken off from Blackpool an hour earlier. As he approached New Brighton Tower, it looked as though he was going to circle it, but before he reached it, he turned and headed across the river to fly around the Pier Head. The first that Blackpool knew of his whereabouts was when a “wag” from the New Brighton Tower rang Blackpool and said, “There’s an aeroplane hanging about over the river here. Do you happen to have lost one from Blackpool” As Loraine crossed the River Mersey; the air was filled with a cacophony of sirens and hooters from vessels on the river. He then flew back across the River Mersey to Birkenhead and then up to New Brighton where as a schoolboy he had dreamed of flying.
The details of his progress were being broadcast to the crowds at Blackpool, by megaphone. “Jones has flown over the Mersey and is now over Egremont”. “Jones is rounding the tower at New Brighton”. “Jones is returning to Blackpool”. Having flown over New Brighton, he turned towards Blackpool. The flight back was not without incident. Loraine began to lose height and looking around discovered a large black balloon on the tail plane. This was causing the aircraft to loose lift. Loraine, landed at five past five on a sand bank at Fairhaven in the Ribble estuary, opposite the King Edward School. It was not long before a large crowd gathered and dragged the aircraft to the beach, safe from the incoming tide. Loraine was able to call his team from Blackpool to affect repairs. His French mechanic, Jules Vedrines declared that the bubble was caused by oil from the engine being blown on to the tail plane and saturating the fabric that covered it. Following a quick repair Loraine took off for Blackpool at 6.45pm, only to be greeted by the news on landing, that as he had left the confines of the aerodrome, he did not qualify for first prize, even though he had been in the air for two hours. First prize had been awarded to a French aviator who had flown for one and a half hours, but within the confines of the aerodrome. The judges said that Loraine would be awarded the second prize of £50, if he flew for another 42 minutes. The petrol tank was duly filled up, and he flew for another 42 minutes.