Aviation > Landing Grounds

Royal Naval Air Station, Grain

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Riding With The Angels:
Is that likely what the ship is in the pic Pepex?

For the aviation anoraks amongst us  :)  there is a 6 page article on Albatros B-ll 890, flown from RNAS Grain 1914 to 1918, in the July 2010 edition of Aeroplane Monthly. There is also quite a bit on the Battle of Britain.

HMS Slinger

The Air Department of the Admiralty had considered the use of aircraft catapulting apparatus before the outbreak of WW1, but had shelved the idea. America had developed catapults for shipboard aircraft to a useful degree and by 1916 three U.S. Navy cruisers were equipped with the devices.  In 1916, seeing the value of aircraft in providing long-range ?eyes? for the fleet and protection against Zeppelins, the Admiralty called tenders for the construction of a sea-borne aircraft catapult.
Messrs Armstrong designed and built a pneumatically operated catapult which was installed on the front of a steam hopper, appropriately named Slinger, which had been specially commissioned for the experiments. Preliminary tests of the Armstrong catapult were made in September, 1917, on the Tyne. On October 1, 1917, a Short seaplane fuselage was used for catapult tests, the engine bay filled with sandbags. Also a pair of new floats, filled with sand, was launched successfully. HMS Slinger was sent to the Marine Experimental Aircraft Depot (MEAD) at the Isle of Grain for real-life tests with the Fairey F.127, N9. These were started in May 14, 1918 under the direction of Lt-Col H. R. Busteed, who also did the flying. The F.127 was specially strengthened for catapulting and successful launches were made with the Slinger at rest and under way.
The launching rail of the Armstrong catapult was about 60 feet long and was mounted centrally on top of a steel box girder. The launching trolley was pulled along the central rail by wire ropes, and was steadied by two additional rails. The prime mover was a cylinder of compressed air, and with very high pressure the catapult could achieve a speed of 60 mph. Because of the low stalling speed of 38 mph it was possible in the trials to launch the F.127 at a maximum speed of about 40 mph, thereby reducing the g forces on the pilot.
It would not be until October 1925 before a Service aircraft was actually launched from a warship. This was a Fairey IIID seaplane which was catapulted from the cruiser HMS Vindictive.

A photo and information on HMS Slinger can be found at:http://www.clydesite.co.uk/clydebuilt/viewship.asp?id=7661

Further reading:

Royal Navy Shipboard Aircraft Developments 1912-1931, Dick Cronin, Air-Britain
Fairey Aircraft since 1915, H.A.Taylor, Putnam
British Aeroplanes 1914-18, J.M.Bruce, Putnam
In and Over "The Drink" - Experimental Work at the Isle of Grain, David Collyer, Air Enthusiast No.49

If you look in Maurice Egerton's logbook http://www.eastchurchpc.kentparishes.gov.uk/userfiles/File/The_Pilots_Log_Book_of_Maurice_Egerton_2.pdf you will find a reference to Seddon's early 'exploits' while at Eastchurch which I have related to journal articles of the time.... also some more stuff on Seddon's later experiments at Port Victoria
Feb 11
The last time I was down at Sheppey, January 20th, I couldn't take my machine out, as Seddon had run into my door & jambed it fast.
I got Chapman last night to look at my plugs, & put some hot Caster-Oil into my tank and mix it up well with what was already in, otherwise it wouldn't run, he said.
Blowing hard all day, but dropped a lot in the afternoon & I got out at 5 PM.
1 trip. 22 mins. Till it got dusk. Engine going quite well. Rather dusty. Maximum height 300 ft.
My machine is to be pulled down tomorrow, for conversion into a Triple-Twin.
Oil 0. 1. 2.    X

Royal Aero Club Flying Ground, Eastcburch.
EASTCHURCH last week had a very busy time although the weather throughout was rather unsettled, and the winds frequently very gusty. A further batch of naval officers, viz., Lieut. Randel, R.N., Lieut. Seddon, R.N., and Captain Gordon, R.M.L.I., are now undergoing an aviation course at Eastchurch, including technical training in the Short factory as well as tuition in actual flying. With the characteristic promptness of the service they are already well on the way to try for their pilots' certificates, having put in some strenuous work since their arrival. Capt. Gordon, R.M.L.I., is, of course, already well known as a flyer, having taken his pilot's certificate at the Bristol school some time ago.
??On Thursday [11th Jan]  McClean was again out on the tractor biplane, whilst Capt. Gerrard, R.M.L.I., on the Short No. 38, and Lieut. Gregory, R.N., on the triple propeller twin-engine machine, were out from early morning until dusk, putting the new naval pupils through their paces.
In the afternoon the Aerodrome was visited by Admiral Sir Richard Poore, K.C.B., &c, Commander-in-Chief of the Nore, who accompanied by Captain Paine, of H.M.S. Actreon arrived on the ground in time to see the completion of a magnificent vol plan? by Lieut. Gregory, who with his engine stopped, glided down and came to a standstill almost at the Admiral's feet. The Admiral was keenly interested in all that was going on and after witnessing two excellent exhibitions of monoplane flying by Lieut. Samson and Lieut. Longmore, on the Bleriot, expressed a desire to make a flight and was taken up by Capt. Gerrard, R. M. L. I., on the Short No. 38 Biplane for a flight lasting twenty minutes, an experience with which he was highly pleased.  [reported in Flight Jan 20th, 1912].

Fortunately the Admiral was well out of the way when 2 days later on 13th January John Wilfred Seddon crashed into Egerton?s hangar, breaking his leg.
Seddon obviously recovered well as later in the year, in October 1912, he flew Short No. 38 to a height of 5,287 ft with A B Minter as passenger and solo for 2 hrs reaching over 7,000 ft.
He subsequently went on to win the Britannia Trophy in 1914 for his seaplane flight, January 21st 1914, from Isle of Grain to Plymouth via Calshot in a Maurice Farman Seaplane (70 h.p. Renault).

J M Bruce wrote of John Wilfred Seddon in Flight 29th November, 1957:            
 ?The officer commanding the original Isle of Grain seaplane station when it was commissioned in December 1912 was Lt. J. W. Seddon, R. N. As squadron commander he was still at Grain in 1916. Early that year he read reports of National Physical Laboratory experiments with heavily-cambered aerofoils. The results clearly indicated that such aerofoils gave much more lift than the widely-used contemporary thin aerofoils. Seddon was well aware of the limitations of the Sopwith Baby seaplane and of the possible consequences of constantly overloading it. He was convinced that the Baby could lift its load with much greater ease if it were fitted with wings of high-lift section, although it was realized that the aircraft?s speed would be reduced.
It was decided, as an experiment to fit a Baby with high-lift wings; the work was undertaken by the Experimental Construction Depot??..
The product of this reconstruction was designated Port Victoria P. V. 1 and was quite 300lb heavier than the standard Sopwith Baby. Nevertheless with a further 300 lb of lead on board, the P. V. 1 climbed to over 8,000 ft. and was reported to be responsive to the controls, Thus, in its climbing performance, P.
V. 1 fulfilled Sqn. Cdr. Seddon?s expectations. The level speed suffered considerably, but at 67 kt (77 mph) was little worse. ?
By the time Sqn. Cdr. Seddon's belief in the high-lift aerofoil had been vindicated by the P. V. 1, the Fairey Hamble Baby was in prospect and was considered likely to be capable of meeting all known service requirements. Consequently the P. V. 1 was not developed further, but it is of considerable interest as the forerunner of several excellent single-seater seaplanes which were built at Grain, some of which might with advantage have replaced the Baby?.?
The report Seddon used was probably this one: EXPERIMENTS ON AEROFOILS DESIGNED FOR HIGH VALUES
POWELL, B.Sc.-March, 1916.
[The introduction is a good summary of the trade-offs facing Seddon]
Two model wings were constructed for the Admiralty to
contours used?by them for wings for small scouting machines.
For convenience in transport on
a carrier ship this particular
class of rnachine must possess small overall dimensions, and,
therefore, wings with high values of maximum lift coefficient.
It should be noted, however, that high lift wings do not
compare well with thin wing sections for speed range and have
very little advantage in the matter of climbing speed, but since
external circumstances impose special restrictions, the only
alternative to a high lift wing is an aerofoil with movable flaps
if a good speed range is also stipulated.

A brief history of RNAS Grain:

On 30 December, 1912, the first British seaplane station was commissioned at the Isle of Grain (in the region TQ889745) under the command of Lieutenant J. W. Seddon, R.N. An extensive area of foreshore was purchased and a slipway cut through the sea wall, giving access to land on which sheds were built, while a number of coastguard cottages (close to the village) were taken over for the personnel?on the understanding that the navy performed the coastguard duties.

The Isle of Grain was an obvious choice for such a station as planes based here would be in a position to give aerial protection to the eastern approaches to London, both Chatham and Sheerness docks, and the Admiralty oil tanks on the Island itself. At the outbreak of war the seaplane station was given the task of patrolling the Thames estuary and part of the Channel out to the North Hinder and Galloper lightships. The first patrol was on August 9 but most flying was expended giving cover to ships transporting the BEF to France.

 By August, 1914, the air station at Grain had become one of the largest seaplane stations in the country. It employed about eight hundred workers, many of whom came from the ranks of local civilians.

Used as a holding unit for reserve Short and Sopwith seaplanes for the forward bases at Westgate and Clacton, the emphasis at Grain shifted away from front-line operations, and a number of very rough grazing fields were joined up to form an aerodrome by boarding over numerous dykes. Bessoneaux hangars joined the seaplane sheds inside the sea wall.

Early in 1915 the R.N. Aeroplane Repair Depot was commissioned under Squadron Commander G. W. S. Aldwell. This unit was housed in what had once been a Salvation Army Congress Hall; the building having been transported to the Isle of Grain and re-erected a few hundred metres away from the original Air Station. The new unit was named Port Victoria and was located to the immediate SW of Grain in the region TQ886743.

Later in 1915, the Experimental Armament Section was set up beside the Repair Depot, and early in the following year the Seaplane Test Flight came into being.

As the war progressed, Port Victoria grew in size using three large sheds, while the Test Flight became a separate organisation with hangars on the main Air Station and the Isle of Grain air station declined to little more than an Acceptance Depot, though it did continue to administer both stations.

Ultimately the place became known as the Marine Experimental Aircraft Depot, and was divided into the Experimental Construction Depot, Seaplane Test Depot, and Experimental Armament Section. The Experimental Construction Depot was originally the R.N. Aeroplane Repair Depot. It began its construction work early in 1916.

Work on the airfield concentrated on landing trials by Sopwith Pups and 1?-Strutters, using a 200 ft diameter dummy deck, trying various arrangements of arrester wires. Meanwhile, the Experimental Construction Depot started modifying a Sopwith Baby with high-lift wings. This aircraft was designated the PV1 (for Port Victoria). It was the start of a number of Port Victoria designs. The PV2 was an anti-Zeppelin fighter which flew in June 1916 but suffered from poor lateral control. The PV3 was a two-seat pusher fighter landplane project, and the PV4 a seaplane version which was not a success. The PV5 was a single-seat fighter seaplane. The depot was asked to build a small aeroplane capable of being carried aboard torpedo-boat destroyers and similar small craft. The resulting PV7 Grain Kitten had a span of 18 ft (5.5 m) but, powered by the inadequate 35 hp ABC Gnat, was not a success. A rival design produced at Eastchurch fared better when tested in September 1917 as the PV8. The Port Victoria design team now tackled another single-seat fighter in the same category as the PV2. It first flew in December 1917 as the PV9, but its 150 hp Bentley BR1 engine caused continual problems. During 1917, a Sopwith B1 single-seat bomber was delivered to Port Victoria for conversion into a two-seat fleet reconnaissance aircraft for carrier operations. In addition to the conversion, a number of redesigned aircraft were produced under the name Grain Griffin. The Experimental Armament Section evaluated British and German equipment, including such devices as the Davis recoilless gun and the Rankin anti-Zeppelin explosive dart. Flight testing of both land and seaplanes involved such diverse items as flotation bags, hydrovanes, catapult trials, W/T sets and hydrophones?the latter to detect submarines under the water.

By the autumn of 1918 the number of sheds had reached 15, most of them just behind the sea wall which was now cut by three slipways. A large accommodation camp had been built just south of Grain village, around the coastguard quarters, for the staff which numbered about 1,480.

In 1918, Grain seaplane station was integrated into the newly formed R.A.F., and given the title 'Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment' (M.A.E.E.). It was given the task of test flying all new seaplanes. During these years, the nearby Shorts aircraft company at Rochester also used the facilities at Grain. After the war, work proceeded at a relaxed pace but when Orfordness closed in 1921 the Armament Experimental Squadron moved in. The testing of flying boats, in particular the Saunders Valentia, the Short Cromarty and the Fairey Atalanta went ahead slowly, the latter probably the last new type at the depot. But with the amalgamation of the Army's Royal Flying Corp and the Navy's Royal Naval Air Service, there was an obvious duplication of facilities.

On March 17, 1924 Grain was closed; the wireless experiments were moved to the, then, new air field of Biggin Hill whilst the maritime work was transferred to Felixstowe. By early 1924 sufficient accommodation was ready at Martlesham, and a small group of personnel, stores and aeroplanes moved from Grain to form the first flight of No.15 Squadron for armament testing. Orfordness, 20km east of Martlesham was reopened in May 1924, although, at first, unsuitable for much of the firing and bomb dropping and as a result the smaller bombs and explosive devices for testing continued to be dropped onto the aerodrome at Martlesham.

The importance of these air stations to the development of naval aviation now seems to be largely forgotten. December 30, 2012 will be the centenary of their founding. Let us hope they are given a fitting place in British military history.


Action Stations 9. Military Airfields of the Central South and South-East, Chris Ashw
orth, Patrick Stephens Ltd, ISBN 1 85260 376 3, 1990, 329 pages.
British Aeroplanes 1914-18, J. M. Bruce, Putnam, 1957, 742 pages.
British Flight Testing Martlesham Heath 1920-1939, Tim Mason, Putnam, ISBN 0 85177 857 7, 1993, 256 pages.
The Hoo Peninsula, Philip MacDougall, John Hallewell Productions, ISBN 0 905540 19 0, 1980, 209 pages.
The Isle of Grain Defences, Philip MacDougall, The Kent Defence Research Group, 1980, 21 pages.
The Sopwith Pup, J. M. Bruce, Gordon Page and Ray Sturtivant, Air-Britain Publication, ISBN 0 85130 3102, 2002, 320 pages.


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