The British Army's first powered airship became the Dirigible No 1 "Nulli Secundus" born at the Balloon Factory in Farnborough. One of the chief players in its design was American Samuel Franklin Cody who, for a time, was then granted use of the factory to construct a formal powered and winged aeroplane. Work was completed under the strictest of secrecy and eventually begat the "British Army Aeroplane No 1", later also recognized as the "Cody 1". The Cody 1 was similar in arrangement to the Wright Bros "Flyer" which officially established flight through a powered and sustained, heavier-than-air flight recorded on December 17th, 1903. The Cody 1 achieved first flight on October 16th, 1908, bringing about the dawn to the British Age of Flight. It was also the first formally recognized flight anywhere on the European continent.
The Cody 1 arrived at a time when the British Army - and many world powers of the time - still relied on tethered kites and balloons for many of the aerial duties today handled by aircraft and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). During this period of history, such instruments were highly useful in reconnaissance of enemy positions and formations as well as artillery spotting for more precise results. Observation balloons proved powerful in the American Civil War for these very reasons - as well as the many other large-scale wars permeating the world in Europe and elsewhere. Aircraft would become a major focal point in World War 1 (1914-1918) where they would graduate to become aerial killing machines, fast-flying scouts and dedicated strategic, multi-engined bombers.
Samuel Cody began his career as an entertainer across America before discovering an interest in kites. He then took to experimentation through various designs and attempted to sell one of his earliest, perfected arrangements to the British War Office for the Second Boer War. However, his work was more recognized by the British Admiralty who then commissioned Cody to begin research into military applications for his kites, specifically for observation duties. Cody responded with a design that was successfully launched from the battleship HMS Revenge on September 2nd, 1908.
His proficiency at kite design eventually earned him the position of Chief Instructor in Kiting at the Balloon School of Aldershot with the British Army in 1906. Cody assisted in establishing the first Royal Engineers kite section which would eventually evolve over the years to become the storied No 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF). To fulfill the Army interest in airships, Cody took part in the design and development of the British Army Dirigible No 1, bestowed the nickname of "Nulli Secundus" and this development became the first British powered aircraft of note. After successful completion and testing of the airship, the Army then granted Cody development funds and facilities to begin work on the first British aeroplane - "British Army Aeroplane No 1".
Cody began work on the type soon after and the aircraft began testing into September of 1908. As with the Wright Brothers progress in the Flyer series, the primitive Aeroplane No 1 needed to progress in stages before stability could be achieved. As such, the primary design changed over the months the project was given life, milestones achieved through small and large changes applied. These early tests amounted to nothing more than the aircraft "hopping" its way to the next development tier before true sustained flight could be reached. Cody's work, however, hit a snag when the War Office dropped its interest in the aeroplane concept in 1909 - intending to have private inventors take the mantle and further the British cause. Cody continued his work, undeterred, and used his own funds while still being granted access to Farnborough (since Army interest was dropped, the aircraft became known as the "Cody 1" from this point on). His tests eventually netted a flight of 1 mile on May 14th, 1909. Individual passengers were then taken on in August of that year. Several more public flights then followed to prove the validity of manned, powered flight in Europe sound.
The Cody 1 certainly mimicked the primitive scope of the Wright Flyer with its many cables and unconventional wing surfaces. The aircraft utilized a standard biplane wing arrangement though the elevator was mounted to a forward position. The pilot sat in an open are section with various controls at his disposal. The undercarriage amounted to a series of multi-spoked wheels supporting the various sections of the aircraft. A rudder was fitted to the rear in the usual way. The Cody 1 was dimensionally larger than the Wright Flyer, featuring a length of 38 feet, 6 inches, a wingspan of 52 feet, 4 inches and a height of 13 feet. The type was powered by a single French-originated Antoinette gasoline-fueled, 8-cylinder, water-cooled engine of 50 horsepower output, allowing the Cody 1 to reach a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour in ideal conditions. The mount was still susceptible to environmental factors and several test flights were cancelled or rearranged to accommodate for this.
On September 8th, 1909, Cody managed a flight of 40 miles covering over one hour's flight time and was forced to land when his fuel supply ran dry. On October 28th of that year, Cody officially became a British citizen. One of the last notable Cody 1 flights was in an attempt to claim a 1,000 Sterling Pound prize with a flight destined from Manchester to Liverpool. Cody's flight was hampered by heavy fog and never materialized. With the Cody 1 already set for the aviation history books, Samuel Cody now turned his attention to the experimental one-off Cody Michelin Cup Biplane of 1910.