The owner of a Northumberland castle is spearheading a campaign to recreate an historic flight inspired by his great uncle over a hundred years ago.
A plane built by Captain Edward Wakefield completed the UK’s first take off and landing on water in 1911.
The success of that mission saw Winston Churchill and Philip Mountbatten ask Capt Wakefield to instruct the Royal Navy ahead of the First World War.
The captain’s great nephew Sir Humphry Wakefield, owner of Chillingham Castle near Wooler, is now leading an effort to raise the £200,000 needed to build a full size replica of the plane, and to recreate that pioneering flight.
In addition, Sir Humphry has also unveiled a quarter size replica of the plane at Chillingham.
Capt Wakefield, a wealthy landowner in the Lake District who fought with distinction in the Boer War, attended a meeting to discuss the future of the aircraft industry in Manchester in 1909.
Concerns were raised at the meeting about the number of pilots being killed due to not being able to find landing strips in bad weather conditions, with more apparently dying because of this than in action during the war.
Capt Wakefield stood up and asked the meeting why planes could not land on water but was told technicians had proved this was not possible.
Yet within two years, Sir Humphry’s great uncle had designed a plane which could take off and land on water.
His effort overcame surface tension, which holds planes to water, by adding steps below the float which created bubbles and gave the plane lift.
Capt Wakefield’s design “Waterbird” completed the first take off and landing on water at Windermere in the Lakes on November 25, 1911.
The success of that flight saw Capt Wakefield asked by Churchill and Mountbatten to instruct the Royal Navy, with his input in the years before the First World War vital in the advent of the Royal Navy Air Service.
Sir Humphry said: “In a way, he was a formative link in the whole war effort.”
The great nephew is now the patron of the Waterbird board of trustees, a project which aims to raise the £200,000 needed to build a full size replica of the plane, work on which is already underway, and, it is hoped recreate Capt Wakefield’s flight at the Lakes.
The trustees, who include representatives from the navy and president Sir Benjamin Bathhurst - the last admiral of the fleet, are already some way towards meeting that target and are inviting people to sponsor a wing or a wheel of the replica, for as much as £5,000 or as little as £5.
Sir Humphry has also just had a quarter size replica created by Richard Harrison, which is now on show in the museum at Chillingham.
Once its engine is operational, the mini Waterbird will fly in the museum on a wire.
Sir Humphry said of his great uncle: “I am hugely proud of what he has done.
“I have always felt his ghost was flying around. He had a tremendous mindset and he would do what he set his mind to.”