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Cdr Schwann's Avro Type D taxiing for trials at Barrow
Oliver Schwann's aircraft
Cdr Oliver Schwann experiments with floats on his own Avro plane
Oliver Schwann
Oliver Swann in RAF uniform

On this day 18 November 1911

Published: 18 Nov 2014

On this day 18 November 1911 First take-off by a British pilot from water

Commander Oliver Schwann RN bought an Avro Type D landplane (at his own expense with support from friends) for £700 and fitted floats to it. Schwann's group experimented with floats, skids, engine position and balancing. Experiments were conducted next to the hangar in Barrow-in-Furness where HMA No.1 was being built. Despite not having qualified as a pilot, on 18 November 1911 after many attempts, Commander Schwann made the first take-off by a float fitted seaplane, from Cavendish Dock. A recent improvement on the aircraft saw it accelerating much faster than Schwann had expected and was soon skipping off the surface. He was quite unprepared for the leap to 15-20ft and its fall back to the water where it was demolished. Schwann had proved the theory and the path was laid for further development of seaplanes. This was the first aircraft take off by a British pilot from salt water. A fortnight later on 1 December 1911, Lt AM Longmore RN successfully landed naval biplane number 2, fitted with floats, on the river Medway; the first successful landing by a seaplane.

In November 1912, after Schwann had qualified as a pilot (Royal Aero Club Certificate #203, 16 April 1912), he was appointed Assistant Director of the Air Department at the Admiralty, making him deputy to Murray Sueter who was conducting pioneering naval aviation work with airships. Over the next two years Sueter and Schwann worked to establish the Royal Naval Air Service. In 1914 he was appointed captain of the aircraft carrier HMS Campania and later served served as Officer Commanding the Orkneys Division. With the establishment of the Royal Air Force in early 1918, Swann was transferred to the new service where he rose to become an Air Vice Marshal.


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