Versatile pilot



The autumn 1992 issue of the VSCC’s Bulletin reproduced an article from The Motor about the adventures of its reporter in getting his account of the 1922 French GP published within 36 hours of the finish of that race, which involved being flown to Strasbourg in a chartered Martinsyde aeroplane powered by a 200hp Wolseley Viper engine. The outward and homeward flights were indeed adventurous.

In the same journal, extracts from Motor Sport’s story of how Moss and Jenks won the 1955 Mille Miglia for Mercedes-Benz at record speed were also reproduced, another instance of high adventure. But after reading about The Motor‘s expedition to that Grand Prix, DSJ said of that epic 1922 flight that he didn’t think he could have coped with that pioneering age…

The pilot involved in getting the report of how Fiat had won the Grand Prix back from France to England on time was FP Raynham. Let’s look at his versatile career.

Frederick P Raynham was born in 1892. He became interested in the new world of aviation and, by 1910, had found his way to Brooklands. Before getting his ‘ticket’ to fly he was experimenting there with the Neale VI monoplane, designed to avoid infringement of the Wright patents which involved litigation at the time. In May of the following year Raynham took his Pilot’s Certificate (no 85) after instruction at the Avro School at Brooklands. Not long after this he decided to try for British Empire honours, for which the Michelin Cup No 2 was the prized award. He duly set off from Brooklands in the Avro bi-plane, heading for his intended base at Hendon. It has been said that the aeroplanes of the Avro School were in a very dubious condition due to casual maintenance, and that the state of its decrepit and dirty Farman training machine was a standing joke among the pilots. Apparently the fabric of the Avro’s wings was so loose that the machine was virtually unairworthy. However, the newly-qualified Raynham took off and soon flew into dense fog. He climbed to 1500 feet to try to get over it, on a compass course. But when the compass misbehaved he bent forward to adjust it, stood too hard on the rudder-pedals and spun down to 500 feet. He contrived to correct the spin, saw a patch of clear ground, and put the Avro down. A very lucky escape! He is thought to have been the first British pilot, perhaps the only one in the world, to have got out of an engineon spin.

Undeterred, Raynham made further onslaughts on the No 2 Michelin prize, at Brooklands. But the engine of his Avro let him down, literally you might say, and Cody, using the reliable 60hp Green engine, took both the Cup and £500. Fred Raynham then made an effort to create a good impression at the Military Trials at Larkhill with a Flanders B2 bi-plane, but its eight-cylinder 100 hp ABC engine never arrived. The young pilot had to be content with delivering the Burgess-Wright bi-plane from Brooklands to Hendon for Sopwith to compete with it at the Easter races, and then return in it, which he did against a severe headwind that reduced the average speed for the 20 miles to just 23mph… He then demonstrated his versatility by testing, at Shoreham, the 50 ft span seaplane which AV Roe had constructed for the German government.

Raynham also returned to the role of racing pilot, flying a 50hp Gnome-engined Wright round the pylons at Hendon, and with M Bloudeau’s Farman he beat Sopwith by one-fifth of a second in a quick take-off test and, back at Brooklands, won a race to Chertsey and return with the Burgess-Wright.

By 1912 Raynham had been appointed test-pilot to Howard Flanders, who was building a 70 hp Renault-powered machine capable of 67 mph, which meant Fred giving up his instructor’s job with the Sopwith school. That summer Raynham had fought an exciting duel with his close friend, Harry Hawker (who was to become a driver of AC and Sunbeam racing cars after the war, until his fatal accident at Hendon in 1921 while testing the Aerial Derby Nieuport Goshawk). They were both after the Michelin Trophy for endurance flights, Raynham flying the military Avro-G bi-plane, Hawker a Sopwith-Wright. Hawker, over Brooklands, achieved 3h 30m on his third attempt. Raynham beat this, at Shoreham, with 3h 48m on the same day. But a minimum of five hours was stipulated. Raynham changed to the advanced Avro cabin bi-plane and stayed up for 7h 31m 30s until there was no oil left for his 60 hp Green engine. Hawker replied by staying aloft in the well-used Sopwith for 8h 23m, setting a new British duration-record. By now well set up as a test-pilot, Raynham undertook the first trials of the now-immortal Avro 504 at Brooklands in July 1913. Taking it to Hendon, he made an engine-off or deadstick three-point landing with it, which much impressed those experts who witnessed it.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Raynham’s skilled test-flying proved invaluable. Martinsyde had first call on his services but he tested many other important aeroplanes. At the advent of the fast single-seater Scouts, Freddie was there, sorting them out for action at The Front. The war-time dog-fights demanded aerobatic tactics, which is why in 1915 Raynham had looped a Martinsyde Scout several times. Its tail then began to break away. The machine fell in a flat spin, finally nose-diving into the corner of the muddy field where the roads from Chobham, Byfleet and Weybridge met, just outside Brooklands track. I have a feeling that the spot may have long since been built over. Ever lucky, Freddie escaped unhurt.

He test-flew the Bristol Scout at Filton in 1916 and piloted the Avro 523 Pike, at Hamble, on its initial ascent. When this 97mph aeroplane proved to be so tail-heavy that it refused to respond to the controls, Raynham persuaded young Roy Dobson to climb along the fuselage from the rear cockpit into the nose-gunner’s position, after which he was able to sideslip it in. His trials of the latest fighters continued, especially with the Martinsyde and Bristol machines, and with AV Roe’s Clerget rotary-engined Avro 521.

After the Armistice the drastic reduction in the strength of the RAF and the inertia in Civil aviation put the industry in the doldrums. However, when the Daily Mail put up a prize of £10,000 (the equivalent of some £140,000 today) for the first non-stop crossing by air of the Atlantic, even the smaller firms were enticed into joining the bigger companies to compete for it. Those who prepared machines for this formidable task included Vickers-Armstrongs, Sopwith, Martinsyde, Handley-Page, Short bros, Boulton & Paul, Fairey Aviation and the Alliance Aeroplane Co. De Havilland and Bristol thought it an unsafe venture and Avro abandoned the attempt as too costly.

In the event it was a fight between Vickers with the twin Rolls-Royce-engined 740 hp Vimy, Sopwith with the 350 hp Rolls-Royce Eagle-engined ‘Atlantic’ and Martinsyde with the 275 hp Rolls-Royce Falcon-powered ‘Raymor’. All were attempting to return to Brooklands, where they were built. In spite of the importance of the flight, Hawker and Raynham remained close friends, helpful to one another. It is now history that only the Vimy made it, landing in an Irish bog in County Galway in June 1919, after a most perilous flight lasting 15h 57m. The pilot, Capt John Alcock DSC, and navigator, Lt Arthur Whitten Brown, were both knighted. Hawker and Lt-Commdr Mackenzie-Grieve were forced to come down in the sea when the Atlantic’s engine overheated, to a dramatic rescue. It was rumoured that the radiator-shutter controls had been crossed, so that on Hawker opening them for full cooling, they closed. However, Bob Chamberlain, Hawker’s nephew, has told me that this is nonsense. With the enormous fuel-load, Hawker needed full throttle for take-off, and had the shutters not been open the engine would have overheated then and he would have aborted. Bob said Hawker attributed the trouble to a blocked filter on the coolant system, but this was never proved. The radiator shutters were found to be closed when the aeroplane was recovered but Bob said that even in such dire moments Hawker would have had the presence of mind to shut them, so that he and his navigator would not have been scalded when the hot engine turned the sea water into steam.

Raynham and Morgan had tried to take off after Hawker had left but the yellow-and-scarlet Martinsyde crashed and burst its tanks. Neither was badly hurt but Morgan was sent home. After planning to make another attempt, Raynham had to abandon the idea. The 1500 hp Handley Page V1500 bomber (four R-R Eagles) also abandoned after the Vimy’s success. After his return home, Raynham also set the British ASR to 161.434 mph, flying the Martinsyde Semiquaver bi-plane, with 300 hp Hispano-Suiza engine, at Martlesham Heath in 1920. W B
The story of Frederick Raynham’s aviation career will be continued in next month’s Motor Sport.