The Lure of Aviation
In 1905 the respected technical magazine 'The Engineer' published an in-depth article 'proving' that powered heavier than flight was 'an impossibility' and gave all the
scientific and mathematical reasons why it could not be done. This was published at a time when there was still much scepticism as to whether the Wright brothers
had actually flown. The Wright's did not seek publicity until their patents had been granted worldwide. Arthur read the article, showing his interest in aviation started
right at the dawn of powered flight, and dismissed it out of hand. Once aviation started to be taken seriously in Europe (France in particular) around 1906, he was one
of the first Englishmen to take an active part. Given his service in the Boer War and cycling days in France, Arthur may have been familiar with ballooning. He did
know at least two balloonists, C S Rolls and J T C Moore-Brabazon from his time as a racing driver.
I have become amazed by the lack of credit given to Arthur for his aviation exploits. In spite of good press coverage of the G & J biplane, historians barely give the
man or the plane a mention. Even the fact he was only actively involved in aviation as a pioneer for about eighteen months cannot excuse this because he was among
the first to fly properly in this country. Despite that he never went in for the big prizes on offer at the time for various aviation feats. Later in his life he came to regret
this, saying that he missed out on publicity that might have led to his dreams of being a manufacturer becoming a reality. His plane was of advanced design without
being too experimental, and his 'triplicate' control was truly innovative, particularly the way it was field-tested.
Arthur has variously been reported as being the second Englishman to fly in England (a claim he even made himself) and as being the first to fly a mile in England.
Sadly neither of these is, strictly speaking, true. The first to fly a mile was John Moore-Brabazon and the second Englishman to fly in England was A V Roe. Indeed,
Roe MAY have been the first Englishman to fly in England but this honour officially goes to Moore-Brabazon. Arthur's actual achievement (I think) was to be the
second Englishman to fly in England in an aeroplane of his own design.
Captivated by reading reports of the activities of people like Bleriot, the Wright's, the Voisin's and fellow Briton Moore-Brabazon, Arthur took himself off to Reims in
France where the world's first aviation meeting was taking place. The 1909 event itself is very well documented, including the aviators and their performances, and
North East press reports of the period hint that Arthur may have made a short 'hop' in a borrowed plane (he didn't!). On his return, Arthur joined the Aero Club in
September 1909. Following on from Reims, aviation meets were held all over the world. The first in Britain was at Blackpool hotly followed by Doncaster where some
allege that Arthur 'hopped', in a borrowed biplane belonging to a Capt. Maitland. It was reported that some young ladies tied Cambridge blue ribbons to the plane as a
mascot. In fact, he did not fly there. The plane in question was a Voisin (familiar to Arthur) that Maitland had modified by fitting his own design of gyroscopically
stabilised control system. It appears nobody successfully flew this plane although Maitland did manage to get it off the ground at Salisbury Plain before crashing.
Even if not landed or titled like most of his contemporaries, Arthur was a real sportsman, having been a cycling champion and of course he raced cars at a time when
drivers did it for sport rather than gain. Now these same values of sportsmanship were to be found in the new, brave, world of aviation. Many of the early aviators in
Britain and elsewhere had come from the ranks of motor racing, including several who Arthur would have known personally. It should be no surprise that the
gentlemanly manner of these sportsmen allowed others to try their aeroplanes. Such was the excitement and enthusiasm for flying.
In 1908 an event happened that might have had an influence on Arthur. Moore-Brabazon worked for the Darracq factory in France and was already an accomplished
balloonist and racing driver. He paid a visit to South Street and toured the G & J factory, declaring he was impressed by the quality of work being turned out. The pair
already knew one another from motor racing but did the pair talk of flying?
In 1909, many aviation firsts took place, perhaps the most important being Louis Bleriot's flight across the English Channel. Spurred on by such achievements and
needing a base to hone their skills, the English aviators found the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent, an ideal place to fly. It was here that Arthur acquired his first plane. The
story goes that he went to the Shellbeach (Leysdown) flying field of the Royal Aero Club and saw a French Voisin biplane being flown. The Voisin was perhaps the
most stable and reliable of the European planes of the day, if a little dated even for 1909, and was ideal for a beginner. The plane was owned and flown by John
Theodore Cuthbert Moore-Brabazon, the first Englishman to have flown in a powered plane, having been taught by the Voisin brothers in France and obtaining
French license number 40 (he was later granted Pilot's License No.1 issued by the RAeC). Brabazon had named the plane 'Bird of Passage', which was painted on the
tail-plane section. Enthralled by the sight, Arthur approached Moore-Brabazon and asked if he would consider selling the plane. Brabazon was in the process of
ordering a Short Brothers built Wright Type A biplane so a deal was struck. G & J bought it and in August 1909 Arthur returned to the North East the proud owner of
his very own plane. Maybe Arthur had gone to Shellbeach with the idea of his company entering into aeroplane building alongside their motoring activities. I had a
feeling, from previously known dates, that as well as many famous aviators of the day from England and Europe the Wright brothers were present at Shellbeach. The
Times and other sources confirm they were, drawing up final contracts with the Short brothers so, just maybe, they gave Arthur some flying tips.
Back at Shellbeach with the 'Bird of Passage' now renamed 'G & J 1', Arthur soon learned his craft as a pilot, graduating from the obligatory 'hops' to proper flights until
he gained his pilots license. His first recorded flight took place on the 17th August 1909. On one of his first tentative flights, Arthur took off alright but the nose of the
Voisin suddenly dropped and the plane dived into soft ground. He was thrown out but picked himself up and walked away, only to collapse unconscious shortly
afterwards. Fortunately, apart from concussion, he was uninjured and the plane was virtually undamaged. Arthur sent a telegram to his firm, telling of his first flight,
stating 'Second Englishman to fly in England'. By the time he gained his license, flying on Sheppey had moved to the North of the island, to a much better site at
Eastchurch. The grounds had been purchased by Frank McLean and rented to the RaeC for an annual rent of £1.00, specifically for the purpose of flying, and
incorporated Britain's first aeroplane factory. This was founded by the Short Brothers at Shellbeach to build Wright biplanes under license as well as their own
designs but was greatly enlarged following the move to Eastchurch. The Voisin was soon sold on, to Cecil Grace, an Irish-American aviator learning his craft at
Sheppey. Grace was later killed in a flying accident when he crashed in the North Sea during an endurance flight for the Baron de Forest prize. It seems the 'Bird of
Passage' might have had a bit of a curse attached to it. All three owners managed to crash it, fortunately never seriously, and it ended its days hanging from the ceiling
of Cecil Grace's shed at Eastchurch. Its ultimate fate is not known.
This was a time when planes were pretty experimental and no clear leader was emerging between the monoplane and biplane, the two most popular and successful
designs of the day. So it should come as no surprise that Arthur, through G & J once more, purchased a second plane. This time it was a Bleriot monoplane for
comparison with the Voisin. Arthur took delivery of the Bleriot in early 1910 at Pau in France where he made several flights in it at the Bleriot flying school. Both the
Voisin and Bleriot were taken to Newcastle at some point where they were scrutinised, stripped and measured because Arthur now embarked on the design of his own
aeroplane, a biplane. He must have found a big difference between flying the cumbersome but stable Voisin and the much more manoeuvrable Bleriot. The Bleriot was
sold on, too, as progress was made on the G & J biplane, this time to Claude Grahame-White for use at his flying school.
By now, his flying activities, preceded by the motor racing, had made him a celebrity in Newcastle. There seemed hardly a week when one or other of the local
newspapers did not feature an article on 'Mr A E George'. They were pretty formal back then. Reports appeared on his activities at Shellbeach, Eastchurch and
elsewhere, many making references to his business activities and motor racing achievements as well as his flying. Once it became known he had designed and built his
own plane, in his own factory with the assistance of his workforce, the reports came thick and fast. Following on from these local news items, his fame spread and
pretty soon he was being quoted in national and international newspapers and periodicals. Arthur was becoming a noted expert in aviation.
In June 1910 Arthur took on the role of hero at Eastchurch. On the 10th Maurice Egerton was flying his Short-Wright when he encountered an air pocket as he was
turning the plane (a remarkable parallel to Arthur's own accident later the same year at Gosforth). As Egerton tried to leap clear he became tangled in a broken wing
spar and suffered a badly injured left leg. As a crowd rushed to Egerton's aid, it was Arthur who ran to his car and drove at speed to fetch the doctor from nearby
Minster. Egerton recovered but for the rest of his life always had a limp.
It was at Eastchurch that Arthur gained his pilots license in September 1910, in the G & J biplane. The criteria were quite difficult for a time when flying could still be a
bit frightening but the G & J was a stable and very controllable flyer, unlike the Voisin which, while being very stable in flight, lacked the full roll, pitch and yaw
controls afforded to his own design. To obtain a license the plane first had to be checked on the ground, then take off and complete three separate circuits of the
flying field (each circuit to be at least three miles duration at altitude). Finally, again at altitude, the pilot had to cut the planes engine and glide to a smooth landing.
This landing had to be within 150yds of a position marked previously by the pilot. The flights did not have to be completed on the same day but Arthur just went out
and did it straight off. His warm up the day before had been to do an eight-mile flight and then take up a passenger for a trip round the field. This was pretty
demanding given the primitive nature of the planes and limited abilities of the pilots.
Sheppey is rightfully proud of its involvement in the pioneer years of aviation. The Eastchurch parish church has a stained glass window commemorating the lives of
C S Rolls and Cecil Grace who flew from there and were both killed in flying accidents, Grace over the North Sea and Rolls at Bournemouth. Opposite the church is a
fine memorial to the pioneers. Muswell Manor at Leysdown, a holiday centre, has an exhibition to the fliers. The site of the airfield is now one of Her Majesty's prisons,
of which there are three in the area (Swaleside, Elmley and Stanford Hill) giving it the largest concentration of inmates anywhere in England. The airfield at Leysdown
is now designated as one of special scientific interest.
What really spurred the media in its pursuit of Arthur was the forthcoming aviation and boat show to be held at Olympia in London in March 1910. His biplane was
complete, having been built, under Arthur's guidance, by two of G & J's best mechanics, Billy O'Hara and Artie Walker. Before it flew it was displayed for the press and
public at the George & Jobling factory in Newcastle before it was partly dismantled and taken to Olympia where it gained much praise from aviation reporters, all of
which filtered back to the North East to appear in local newspapers. The main areas of praise were its construction from steel tube (at a time when most planes were of
all wood construction), the sprung landing gear, a tail wheel that steered and its innovative control system. American elm was used for wooden parts except the
outriggers that were made of bamboo for greater resilience. All the wooden parts were hollow in order to save weight. The control column combined the movement of
rudder, ailerons and tail in a single unit. Although the system was patented and unique to the G & J it was based on one designed and patented by Louis Bleriot
almost a year earlier. Other craft used separate mechanisms to control roll, pitch and yaw movements and could be cumbersome and difficult to get to grips with but
Bleriot combined control of the ailerons and elevator in one lever and operated the rudder by means of foot pedals. The G & J control system was always recorded in
print as 'the triplicate control', but is today described as a 'joystick' in the Newcastle Discovery Museum. Apparently Arthur called it a 'George Stick'. Arthur, or G & J,
went on to patent the tail wheel mechanism and landing gear as well as the control system. Arthur's control system did not infringe any patents but was perhaps a step
too far. By incorporating all directional controls in one unit it could have been as confusing for a novice pilot to operate as the old separate controls.
The Aero and Boat Shows at Olympia were International events with exhibits from all over the world. The Times reported on the shows at great length, including a
two-page pictorial spread for the 1910 event, which unfortunately does not show the G & J biplane or their stand. No doubt other national and regional newspapers
also reported the event. The 'Scientific American' published a special edition covering the show. It is said the G & J biplane was taken later that same year to Paris, to
be displayed at the aero show there. This was the second year of this show, held at the Grand Palais in Paris, and there were 24 aircraft on display as well as various
balloons and airships. Most of what was on display at both shows was practical rather than fanciful, as it had been in 1909, showing that aviation was coming of age.
Unfortunately, I have found no reports to confirm its appearance at the show except a recollection from George family descendants. Arthur's nephew William (son of
his brother Samuel) heard the plane was on show at Olympia and cycled from his home in Leicestershire to London to see it. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived the
show was over and the G & J had gone, it was said, to Paris. So, William cycled back home. However, dates for known flights show the plane could not have been
shown in Paris.
Although successful planes of the day did tend to follow similar lines of design, the G & J looked very similar to a Farman biplane despite differences in construction
and engine type. At the Olympia show, a French aviation expert passed comment on this fact but found himself pilloried by a very patriotic aviation press in England
for daring to suggest such a thing. He was right, though. After the Olympia show ended, Arthur had the plane transported to Eastchurch for its flying trials.
Remarkably, the G & J flew well at the first attempt. Arthur put this down to sound practical engineering. The only modifications that had to be made were altering the
centre of gravity by moving the engine back by 4in and the addition of a small supplementary elevator above the rudder. To get used to his triplicate control Arthur
had used every scrap of his ingenuity. He removed the steering wheel from his car and installed the control column in its place. Once he became used to moving the
control column to drive, it was reinstalled in the biplane. This is why, he believed, he was so instinctive with the controls of the plane and why it flew so well on its
maiden flight. Arthur claimed that after the balance of the plane had been corrected, he could fly straight and level with his hands off the controls. The only other
modifications undertaken during the life of the plane seem to have been the addition of small side curtains to the front elevator and upper wings to aid stability and the
fitting of a larger propeller. It was intended to fit a Gnome rotary engine as a replacement for the Green engine. Had it made it to mass production, the G & J would
probably have sold for around £7-800 once tested and proven in the air.
Arthur was a cautious flier. His early flights were of short duration at low altitude and this carried on when flying in his own design of biplane. Initially flights were
only a few hundred yards long and only thirty or so feet in altitude. Self-preservation was obviously uppermost in Arthur's mind. Of course, being of steel
construction it had an instant advantage over other planes in that if it did crash it would suffer little damage whereas a wooden plane would often be a pile of
matchsticks when it crashed. In fact Arthur was never a record breaker in the air, always erring on the side of caution, with good reason being a family man. After the
proving trials at Eastchurch, the plane was taken back to Newcastle where Arthur was to hold a series of exhibition flights in October at Newcastle racecourse in
Gosforth Park, literally in his back garden. Arthur had asked the Freemen of Newcastle whether he could take to the air on the Town Moor, but they refused. So,
Arthur took his machine to Gosforth Park and flew it there until the disaster. Being late in the year, the weather must have been against ideal flying conditions. The
local press reported that several flights were cancelled or delayed due to adverse weather. Generally, the Gosforth exhibition was not a success and, sadly, led to the
end of Arthur's career as Newcastle's aviation baron. This was unfortunate for all in Newcastle as the day before the exhibitions started Arthur had made many
successful practice flights in almost perfect weather conditions.
The 7th October 1910 was not a good day for Arthur. Weather delayed the start of his flying for an hour or so. Then at 2.30pm, on the first flight, the plane hit a ditch
at the side of the racecourse and suffered minor damage. Not a problem, Arthur and his team carried out the repairs in about an hour. At 3.45pm Arthur prepared his
plane for what would be its last flight. The take off was good, as was the weather by now. About half a mile into the flight, Arthur banked into a turn to return to the
takeoff point. Half way through the turn he hit some turbulence, and, with the plane banked into the turn, he was unable to gain altitude. The wing dropped and hit the
ground and the plane crashed to the ground badly damaging the landing skids and wheels and smashing the propeller. The crash caused the plane to end up in a
bunker on Gosforth golf course. Arthur himself was unhurt, although his language on emerging from the wreckage was a little ripe according to eyewitnesses. The
plane could not be repaired quickly so the rest of the exhibition flights were cancelled and the plane taken back to the factory. Naturally the press reported the crash in
great detail, but Arthur was still buoyant about flying and said the plane would be repaired in time for the 1911 flying season and press reports in late 1910 have him
saying the plane was in fact repaired. Sadly, the plane never flew again and it was dismantled and stored about the factory. Some time during the Great War it was
broken up for scrap and disposed of. The only parts to survive are the control column that is on display in Newcastle's Discovery Museum and the propeller in the
possession of the Jobling family. The engine was built into a marine generator. At the time of the crash, the G & J had racked up over 300 miles in the air. Spokesmen
for the factory were quoted as saying they were geared up for production of the G & J biplane. A very advanced monoplane design was on the drawing board as a
follow up and Newcastle was poised to become the aviation capital of Britain.
Arthur wasn't bitter and he had many other interests to keep him busy, including cycling, skating, fast cars and of course the business. But he never gave up on his
love affair with flight. Shortly before his death aged 75 in 1951 he piloted a plane for more than half an hour. But it could have all been so different if the biplane hadn't
crashed that day in 1910. In 1939, he said: "We had many thrills and I have few regrets that much time and money was spent on an adventure which did not yield quite
what was anticipated for aviation in the North of England."
Over 30 years later, in a newspaper interview, Arthur was asked about the safety of flying in the pioneer years. He said that had they been in existence, the Air
Ministry would never have allowed anyone to take to the air. A factor of safety of 10:1 was now demanded, he said, but in 1910 the factor of safety would probably
have been 1.01:1. In other words, there was none.
Day Our Hopes Crash-Landed - by Will Mapplebeck - (from The Newcastle Journal Dec 17th 2003)
As the world looks back on a century of powered flight, Will Mapplebeck tells the story of the North-East's own air pioneer.
The canvas and wood biplane, strung together with piano wire, wobbles down the makeshift runway before soaring 60 feet into the air above Gosforth Park
Racecourse. At the controls, a revolutionary joystick design which has already been patented, is the North-East's very own magnificent man in his flying machine,
Arthur George. It is an autumn day in 1910 and Arthur's plane, built at workshops in Forth Street, Newcastle, can travel through the air at up to 80mph. After covering
half a mile, Arthur leans on the control stick and swings the plane around, heading back to Gosforth Park, but then disaster strikes. Suddenly the pioneering aeroplane
hits an air pocket, the engine stutters and the machine drops on to the golf course, crashing into a bunker. Arthur steps out of the wreckage covered in sand and
unhurt, but his new toy has had its propeller and landing gear smashed. That crash marked the moment when the region lost its place as a worldwide leader in aviation.
Arthur was a true pioneer, only the 19th person in the country to earn a pilot's licence. But such derring-do did not go down well with his bank manager. Unimpressed
by the crash, Arthur's financiers cut off the funds and that meant the biplane, with its revolutionary joystick, was never mass produced.
Experts such as John Clayson, keeper of science and industry at Newcastle's Discovery Museum, believe it was the North-East's great lost industrial opportunity. He
says: "Who knows what would have happened if Arthur George hadn't crashed his plane that day. We could have had an aircraft industry as big as Seattle in the US
where Boeing is based." And John believes Arthur's skill as an engineer and a pilot are greatly underrated. Today the Discovery Museum regards the revolutionary
control column as one of its most precious exhibits. After lying undiscovered for years in the vaults, it will take pride of place in a new display, opening next February,
which will pay tribute to Arthur George.
So, what went wrong? Why did the G & J not go into production and why did Arthur stop flying? It is claimed he flew 34 different types of craft during his lifetime, so
Arthur continued to fly and to be involved with aviation matters. At Cramlington, on 4th September1926, he was responsible for the laying out of a course for a flying
competition. This was for stunt fliers and the flight path was twenty miles long. Arthur also acted as chief judge for the event. The G & J planes did not go into
production for two reasons. First, Arthur's bankers refused to allow more loans for aircraft development and production, forcing the factory to return to its roots as a
motor engineering company. You can hardly blame them as flying was a risky pastime. Charlie Rolls had died in a plane crash, a plane in Co Durham had killed a
spectator at an air show and of course Arthur had crashed at Gosforth. The bankers obviously preferred to see Arthur alive, well and running the business. Secondly,
Newcastle City Council was not exactly an enthusiast of aviation. They refused to allow an organised aviation week (like Doncaster) to be held within the city
boundaries despite pleas from the public and aviators (although it has to be said that Arthur was less enthusiastic than many in Newcastle, believing it to be too early
in aviation development) but, more importantly, they refused Arthur permission to fly the G & J on the Town Moor (an area ideal for flying) or anywhere within the city
boundary. Arthur never forgave the Council for this refusal. This forced him to use his own back yard at Gosforth, which was really far from ideal with the racecourse
and golf course in close proximity that gave rise to safety problems. Maybe Arthur could see no future in flying in Newcastle, but his other ties in the city of business
and family prevented him leaving for pastures new. It was widely believed at the time that Arthur really did have a world beating aircraft at his disposal and one can
only wonder what would have happened if he had achieved his dream of becoming a major player in the world of aircraft manufacture.
While Arthur was pursuing his aviation dream of becoming a major manufacturer he was busy preparing the drawings for his next plane. This time it would have been
a monoplane, a forward thinking plan no doubt done to test his ideas. Remember that Arthur had in his possession the Voisin biplane and a Bleriot monoplane when
the G & J biplane was being built. From the only known drawing, the monoplane appears to have been of advanced design. Little exists in the way of specification but
we should expect its construction to have been similar to the biplane with a steel fuselage framework. It was also designed from the outset as a two seat, tandem
fashion, and had retracting landing gear. At a time when most planes gave little thought to aerodynamic styling, the monoplane was pretty streamlined compared to
most of the opposition. Indeed, the biplane, when compared to a Wright or Voisin, seems sleek in its lines. It is extremely sad that Arthur never pursued the
construction of the monoplane but at least the drawing (dated June 1910) and a brief specification are available to us.
His dream of being an aircraft manufacturer ended after only a couple of years. In 1939 Arthur was quoted as saying, 'We had many thrills and I have few regrets that
much time and money was spent on an adventure which did not yield quite what was expected for aviation in the North of England.'
When Arthur's dream of being a major player in aviation died, that of Newcastle did flicker a little. Less than a year after his exhibition flights ended the G & J biplane's
career the Daily Mail Round Britain Air Race visited Newcastle. In conjunction with Claude Grahame-White, Arthur was responsible for the organisation of the flying
and landing areas.
His last flight took place on his 75th birthday in 1951, three months before he died. It was the first day of a new manager at the Aero Club, Jim Denyer, and as he was
being shown round the grounds he saw an expensive looking vintage car draw up. An elderly gentleman got out, dressed in leather flying jacket, helmet and gauntlets.
On asking who it was, he was told it was Arthur George and that it was his birthday and he would be taking up a Tiger Moth. Arthur was helped into the plane, the
engine was started and he took off and flew like the veteran he was. Jim was a little worried until it was explained to him what Arthur's background was in flying. His
mind was put at rest immediately.
A Little Problem?
Now, despite all the evidence to the contrary, a friend of the Jobling family threw a spanner into the works. He claimed that Arthur never designed or built his own
aeroplane, that it was in fact designed and built by Tommy Sopwith in the Lake District. He also claimed that Sopwith had gone to Arthur and Robert with a business
proposal. They were to lend him £1200 to finance the building of 6 more aircraft but, after chewing it over, the partners declined. This is interesting, but almost
certainly totally untrue. The partners would have known Sopwith (his father was a famous Northumbrian) and later G & J did make components for Sopwith Camel's as
part of a contract with W G Armstrong. I believe this is a combination of several events and tales that have been twisted over a long period of time by too many