To commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, here is the story of a pilot named Donald Macaskie, who obtained his Pilot’s Certificate at Windermere.

Donald Stuart Calthorpe Macaskie (1896 – 1987), born at Headingley, Yorkshire, of The Red House, Laleham, Middlesex, had been apprenticed in 1913 to the Bleriot works at Brooklands (where Waterbird was tested by Avro in 1911). On the outbreak of World War 1, he joined the Royal Naval Air Service, being posted to Calshot, then under the command of Flight Commander Arthur M. Longmore (later Air Chief Marshal Sir), one of the 4 officers selected for the first flying course at Eastchurch in 1911 and who had test-flown Waterbird for the Admiralty on January 20, 1912. He was advised by Longmore to obtain his ‘ticket’ at a civilian school and then apply for a commission so as to have the cost of the tuition refunded.

Macaskie’s pilot training was on Hydro-aeroplanes from the beginning. His first flight was at Calshot on October 2, 1914, and at Windermere on January 29, 1915.

On September 24, 1915, Macaskie obtained his Royal Aero Club Pilot’s Certificate on a Hydro-aeroplane at Windermere.

Having transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and, as a Second Lieutenant in 23 Squadron, he was posted to France.

Wounded following a fight with a Fokker, he was forced down behind enemy lines whilst flying an F.E.2b over the Somme on July 20, 1916, when he lost his right leg.

Reported as ‘Missing’, then as ‘Prisoner of War’, he was repatriated via Berne through the Red Cross.

His log books, pilot’s certificate and letters have survived.


Following historical precedent, a Windermere Boatbuilder is making the stepped float for the replica Waterbird. Founder of Franklin Eldridge Yachts, Richard Pierce, and his son James, who built wooden yachts and steamers at Ferry Nab, Windermere in the late 20th century, have studied the surviving 1911 float built by Borwick & Sons of Windermere, undertaken a hydrostatic analysis of it and have prepared building drawings for the replica.

Although the FE partnership has moved from its lakeside premises, it continues to thrive in Ambleside now specialising in the construction of Ship and Yacht Research Models, and the adaptation of traditional boat designs for building in the 21st century.

Having measured the surviving but fragile 1911 float, Richard and James are now building a ‘new’ one, alongside technical research models for the world’s leading superyacht and ship designers. The float is very similar in size to towing-tank models; as with aircraft construction, lightness and structural integrity are vital elements.

Aero Engineering is within the heritage of the FE partnership. James’ grandfather, Eric Stutchfield, became a Chartered Mechanical Engineer, working on the design of the Bristol Brabazon airliner in the late 1940’s. In the 1980’s, Eric tutored Richard in structural engineering principles whilst working on the construction of the 1980’s championship winning Windermere Class yachts Freedom and Falcon; meanwhile, James as a youngster became a dedicated aeromodeller and is now well-known in the Lake District as an adventurous Paraglider pilot.

Replicas are nothing new to Richard. He has recently returned from Lake Huron, Michigan, where he led a community project in the design and construction of a traditional Mackinaw boat; closer to home, he prepared lines drawings for Tony Walshaw’s replica 19th century Albert Strange yawl, not long ago launched at Windermere.

A photo of the float is here


ENGLAND’s longest lake is poised to play its part in an aviation epic following the decision to allow a speed limit exemption.

Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) approved the application, paving the way for a £160,000 replica of Britain’s first hydro-aeroplane – which flew from the lake over a century ago – to take to the skies.

For Lakes Flying Company, which has long dreamed of recreating one of the most significant sagas in aviation history, the decision means its wood and fabric construction can reach the necessary speeds of 30mph for lift-off.

Company director Ian Gee said the plan was to fly Waterbird on September 17 from near Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club at about 6.45pm. The seaplane will head towards Waterhead and then down to Lakeside.

Company director Ian Gee said “We are very grateful to LDNPA for allowing a byelaw exemption and will continue to work with them, and others, to find suitable viewing points for the public. They will be announced nearer the time. This means we can share a hugely compelling story of a magnificent man and his flying machine.”

Decried by novelist Beatrix Potter, but with the support of Winston Churchill, Waterbird’s 1911 maiden flight dispelled the belief it was impossible to take-off from water.

For Captain Edward Wakefield, thrice mayor of Kendal, Army officer, barrister and landowner, it was testimony to his determination to achieve an ‘unattainable’ feat.

“His creation captivated the country and when the replica makes its momentous ascent, enthusiasts everywhere are expected to join in the celebrations”, said Mr Gee.

Built near Lincoln, the Waterbird project has been actively supported by former RAF serviceman, Gerry Cooper, who will be at the controls for her Windermere flight.

Only a few parts survived the original’s destruction, only four months after she first took-off from Windermere’s cold November waters. A storm caused the hangar to collapse, leaving her beyond salvage.

Mr Gee added: “Several significant sections, including the rudder, bearing the name of her builders, A.V. Roe, of Manchester, are held by the RAF’s museum service.

“A long-term goal is to establish the Edward Wakefield Memorial Seaplane Centre, but for now we are delighted to be playing a part in recreating important local history.”

Beatrix Potter and Canon Rawnsley, co-founder of the National Trust, fronted a heated campaign against Wakefield’s airborne activities on Windermere.

It made national headlines, but with the support of Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, a public inquiry came out in Wakefield’s favour.

Wakefield became one of Britain’s most important aviation pioneers; a forefather of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. President of the replica project is retired Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Benjamin Bathhurst.

Naval and Civil Aviation at Windermere from 1909 to 1919

Unlikely though it might seem in an area known for its mountains, the Lake District and, particularly, Windermere has a proud aviation heritage which stretched through some thirty six years until the departure of the last Windermere-built Shorts Sunderland flying boat in 1945. Windermere’s story of aviation started when two friends, Edward Wakefield, a lawyer, land owner and three-time Mayor of Kendal and Oscar Gnosspelius, a talented engineer and local resident, attended an air show at Blackpool in 1909. Having witnessed that flying is potentially hazardous, they pondered the possibility of flying from water, which would provide a softer landing in the event of mishap! Such an idea was ridiculed by the experts at Blackpool, but Wakefield and Gnosspelius were undeterred and returned home to the Lake District to put their ideas into practice. Both achieved success, with Edward Wakefield’s ‘Waterbird’ taking the honours on 25 November 1911.

On the evening of Thursday 30 July, Lancaster Military Heritage Group will present an illustrated talk by Waterbird Project Director Ian Gee. Ian will show that Windermere was the birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes and his talk will explain the origin of the concept of flying from water, through to its achievement, and then the detail of aviation activities at Windermere, including the establishment of a Royal Naval Air Station. Also covered is the story behind the replica of Waterbird, which is programmed to fly from the lake in September. The audience will hear that there was considerable opposition to flying at Windermere, led by Beatrix Potter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a founder of the National Trust.

The venue for this summer evening talk is a delightful location on the shores of Windermere, virtually next door to Hill of Oaks, the very place from which Waterbird taxied out to make that historic flight in 1911.

Venue: The Boathouse Cafe, National Trust – Fell Foot Park, on A592 near Newby Bridge, LA12 8NN (near the southern tip of Windermere lake).
Date and Time: Thursday, 30 July 2015, starting with buffet supper at 7.00 p.m.
Tickets: £10 including buffet supper. Booking essential. Order tickets from Adrian Legge – adrian.legge@hotmail.com
(or text 07970 45 90 30 or call 01539 44 52 52)
Parking: in upper car park – free of charge. Disabled parking immediately outside Boathouse Cafe (wheelchair access)
Further information: please contact Adrian Legge.


The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which investigates civil aircraft accidents and serious incidents within the UK, its overseas territories and crown dependencies, is celebrating its centenary this year. As part of their celebrations, members of the AAIB are undertaking a relay cycle ride starting at Belfast on 11 June and finishing at Farnborough on 15 June. During their journey, the cyclists will visit 11 locations that reflect the development of aviation, of which Windermere is one.

On 25 November 1911, Waterbird took off from Windermere and safely alighted, becoming the first successful British hydro-aeroplane. It was the first such flight outside France and the USA. Waterbird was commissioned by Edward Wakefield, thrice mayor of Kendal, Army officer, barrister and land owner. He had attended an aviation meeting at Blackpool in 1909, and, at a time when nobody in the world had successfully flown from water, concluded that the best solution to reducing the risks of flying accidents was an aeroplane capable of operating from water. His ideas were ridiculed by the experts present, but after two years of almost constant experiment he succeeded at Windermere; a wonderful example of success against the odds.

There was considerable opposition to flying at Windermere, led by Beatrix Potter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a founder of the National Trust. A national campaign was launched. Windermere U.D.C. applied for an order under the Aerial Navigation Act 1911 to prohibit aircraft over the lake. There was a public inquiry at Windermere in 1912.

On 28 February 1912, the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, which included Winston Churchill who was First Lord of the Admiralty and Louis Mountbatten who was Second Sea Lord, approved a Technical Sub-Committee’s Report whose remit included future developments for naval and military aviation. On 15 March 1912, Wakefield entered into a contract with the Admiralty for his float and its method of attachment and to convert an Admiralty aeroplane into a hydro-aeroplane. However, Wakefield’s hands were tied in relation to the protesters in that he had signed the Official Secrets Act.

10,000 signatures were obtained by the protesters. Deputations were made to the House of Commons and the entire issue came to a head on 16 April 1912 when a question was tabled. Click here for image.The determining answer was given by Winston Churchill, who confirmed that hydro-aeroplane tests would continue at Windermere.

In 1913, Winston Churchill coined the term ‘seaplane’.

On Saturday 13 June at 07.00, the AAIB cyclists will depart from the Glebe at Bowness, where the Windermere and Bowness Civic Society erected a Waterbird memorial plaque. In recognition of Wakefield’s pioneering contribution to aviation safety, the cyclists will present a pennant to the Lakes Flying Company (LFC) which hopes to fly a replica of Waterbird from Windermere in mid-September. LFC will present the cyclists with a signed print of a painting of Waterbird in flight.

LFC’s Ian Gee stated “We wish the AAIB well on their cycle ride. I have twice visited the AAIB at Farnborough and have the greatest admiration for their work.

“For example, at Windermere on 5 June 1915, the Avro Duigan/ Seabird seaplane crashed tail first into the lake and was wrecked. The cause of the accident was a stall at 300 feet because the pilot, Ronald Buck, was unaware that new floats had moved the centre of gravity. He was uninjured, and was convinced that had the accident occurred over land, he would have been instantly killed.  On each of 21 June and 23 June 1915, he made two flights at Farnborough with Frederick Raynham.  In 1911, Raynham had flown Waterbird at Brooklands whilst it was being tested as a landplane.”

The AAIB’s Chief Inspector, Keith Conradi, said “The AAIB are happy to highlight aviation events, such as those that took place at Windermere, to bring into focus the significant advancements in aviation safety that have taken place since the pioneering days of aviation in the early 20th century”.


For detail about the plaque:


For detail about the history of aviation at Windermere 1909 – 1919:



We have submitted an application to the Lake District National Park Authority for permissions to exceed the speed limit and for approvals for an aeroplane on Windermere for mid-September 2015. 21 organisations and groups will be consulted. At the end of the 6 week consultation on 28 May, the Authority will write a report and a decision should be made within 12 weeks of the application being made.


An extract from the film “Herford: the life and death of the Edwardian climber” depicting a meeting between Siegfried Herford and Edward Wakefield


From 17 July 2014 to 20 December 2014 there will be a display ‘From Fells to Flanders’ at the Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry, Kendal.

This includes Waterbird’s original float and its patent, together with many other fascinating items about early flight on Windermere.


Click here to view the feature of Waterbird on ITV News.

Below is the video taken from the North West Tonight programme


This short video combines the highlights of the progress so far, which are taken from the DVD ‘Waterbird – The Rebirth’.


Click the links below to see the Waterbird coverage in the papers.

Westmorland Gazette
Daily Mail

Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

‘To fly over water is certainly to taste to the full the joy of flight, and when the water is Windermere and the scenery the pick of English Lakeland, which is to many a traveller the pick of the whole world, in its soft intimate loveliness, the result is something not lightly forgotten’
Gertrude Bacon in 1912

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