The British path to heavier-than-air, manned flight was no less difficult as the country produced its own pioneering engineers and pilots. Alliott Verdon Roe (A.V. Roe) was just one contributor to the field and became responsible for several designs bearing his name that helped to further the British cause of aviation. The A.V.Roe name would eventually be part of many combat aircraft designs of the First World War (1914-1918) as well as World War II (1939-1945) and beyond.
One of Roe's first major contributions to the field became the "Roe I" triplane, notable as becoming the first all-British designed, produced and flown aircraft. Roe established operations at Brownsfield Mill, Manchester in 1910 though two years earlier, in 1908, he was already drawing up plans for his groundbreaking triplane aircraft and moved to secure patents for the work in 1909.
This aircraft's design was dominated by its three-winged assembly which positioned the mainplanes well-forward of midships. The single-seat, open-air cockpit was seated aft of the mainplanes and engine. At the aft-end of the slab-sided fuselage was another, though smaller, triple-winged arrangement for added control. The engine was fitted ahead of the pilot's position and set between the central wing mainplane (middle/second spar), the engine used to drive a four-bladed propeller unit at the nose.
Roe originally planned to use a Prestwich-originated JAP 4-cylinder inline engine to power the machine but its unavailability meant that a JAP 6-horsepower unit was used in its place. The aircraft was then run about in ground tests beginning April of 1909. A newer JAP engine of 9-horsepower output then became available in May of that year so this engine was now used to power the aircraft. The following month, the aircraft went airborne through a series of short "hops" - officially marking its first time in the air as June 5th, 1909. The best achievable altitude to this point was about 50 feet but 100 feet was gained a short time later in July through further testing and tweaking of various components.
As completed, the Roe I featured a crew of one with an overall length of 23 feet, a wingspan of 20 feet and a height of 9 feet. Empty weight was 300lb against an MTOW of 450lb. Power was from a single JAP V-twin air-cooled piston engine of 9 horsepower driving a four-bladed wooden propeller unit. Maximum achieved speeds reached 25 miles per hour and range was a meager 0.3 miles.
A second prototype was then constructed by Roe and this differed in having a tapered fuselage and tailskid as well as shifting to a 20 horsepower out JAP series engine. More flights greeted the series into October of 1909 but the second prototype was prevented from going into the air due to poor weather during the Blackpool Aero Meeting event. The second prototype eventually got into the air on December 6th, 1909 after further work. This same aircraft then crashed on December 24th of that year but was salvaged.
Undeterred, Roe continued to advance the project and ultimately established his famous "A.V. Roe" concern in January of 1910. The aircraft was put into the air once more (now over Brooklands) in March and, in April of 1910, Roe moved his attention to getting his newer "Roe II" triplane into the air. Two of these were built and flown that same year.
The Roe I series aircraft were on display at Manchester for a time in 1914 before settling at the Science Museum of London. Today (2018), the Science Museum of London retains the original first prototype of the Roe I. A replica was constructed in 1952 that resides at the Museum of Science and Industry of Manchester. Both serve as testaments to this historical British aircraft which helped to further the frontier of flight.
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