London party

The story of Louis Paulhan’s groundbreaking London-Manchester flight in 1910

After being nominated by a national newspaper in 1906, it took four years for someone to claim the prize.

It is now 112 years since Louis Paulhan made the first flight between London and Manchester. The French aviator achieved the feat on April 27, 1910.

money to be won

Described as the greatest aviation event of 1910, Louis Paulhan took on Claude Grahame-White for a prize of £10,000 (£1.2 million today) offered by Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. The journey between the two English cities is only 185 miles, but such a flight had not yet been made.

Grahame-White attempted the trip in a Farman biplane on April 23. It took off from Willesden Junction in London and flew 85 miles north to Rugby in a record time of two hours and five minutes. He departed for Crewe an hour later but landed near Lichfield after engine trouble and was unable to continue his mission.

Paulhan took off four days after his competitor. He arrived in Manchester 12 hours after leaving London and spent four hours and 12 minutes in the air with just an overnight stopover in Lichfield.

The rules were that there could be no more than two stops in 24 hours, and the take-off and landing points could not be more than 5 miles from the Daily Mail offices in the two cities. Photo: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

Overcome Challenges

In 1953, Air Science: c. 1. Introduction to AFROTC by United States Air Force ROTC shared the following about the London-Manchester exploit.

“On April 27, Paulhan arrived at Hendon with a Farman biplane crated. The craft was quickly assembled, and at 5:30 p.m. the day he arrived, Paulhan took off for Manchester. His mechanics, his wife and a group of friends traveled to Willesden, where there was a special train that was to guide the airman on his way. The roof of the train had been whitewashed to make it more easily distinguishable from the air. An empty petrol tank brought Paulhan to Lichfield, where, in the darkness, he made a dangerous but safe landing after a 117-mile journey. In one bound, he traveled as far as his rival had already flown in two.

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A decorated career

Paulhan’s achievements did not begin and end with this journey within Britain. He was a balloon pilot in the army and won a competition to design model airplanes. He quickly became a skilled pilot and participated in several air shows across Europe. A year before the London-Manchester race, he made the first official powered flight at Brooklands, Surrey. He even made a name for himself across the Atlantic, touring the United States after arriving with two Blériot planes and a pair of Farman biplanes.

Overall, the early 1910s were a particularly pioneering period for British aviation. Just two years later, Denys Corbett Wilson became the first pilot to fly from Britain to Ireland. There would be many more achievements in the aviation scene in the years to come.

What do you think of Louis Paulhan’s prize flight between London and Manchester in 1910? What do you think of the pilot’s overall achievements? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Source: Air Science: c. 1. Introduction to AFROTC, 1953

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