The Aerial Derby of 1913

A postcard view  of the 1913 Aerial Derby
A postcard view of the 1913 Aerial Derby
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The postcard shown above shows some of the competitors in the 1913 Aerial Derby flying past Epsom Grand Stand. This event took place on Saturday 20 September 1913. The weather was fine and there was no wind, in other words perfect flying conditions.

Starting at 4pm, then at one minute intervals, eleven planes took off, from the London Aerodrome at Hendon. Just twenty minutes later the first few planes were sighted by the crowd of several hundred waiting on Epsom Downs. Five minutes later the first five planes circled low over the Grand Stand so that their markings could be clearly seen by the naked eye. These five were shortly to be followed by five more.

The Epsom spectators had just over 10 minutes of this novel entertainment but heavier than air flight was still new so I have no doubt that it would have left a lasting impression on many.

Only nine planes reached the finish line of the 94mi (151km) course which went from Hendon via Kempton Park, Epsom Downs, West Thurrock, Epping, Hertford and back to Hendon.

The 1913 Aerial Derby Course
The 1913 Aerial Derby Course
Image source Flight 20 September 1913

Gustav Hamel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Hamel) won, coping in-flight with a faulty petrol tap that vibrated loose and threw fuel over his face while he struggled to keep his finger over the leak for more than 30 miles!

This was only the second Aerial Derby, the first was the year before. Both was organised by the Daily Mail who gave a trophy valued £100 and a £200 prize. New this year were three handicap prizes of £100, £70 and £25 given by British Petroleum Co., Ltd., the distributors of "Shell" Motor Spirit.

Pilot Aircraft Handicap Time Speed Notes
Gustav Hamel Morane-Saulnier
80 hp Gnome
Scratch 1h 15m 49s 76 mph (122 km/h) Overall winner
Harold Barnwell Martinsyde
120 hp Austro-Daimler
6m 39s 1h 18m 44s 72.5 mph (116.7 km/h)  
Harry Hawker Sopwith
80 hp Gnome
12m 10s 1h 25m 24s 67 mph (108 km/h)  
F. P. Raynham Avro 504
80 hp Gnome
11m 43s 1h 26m 1s 66.5 mph (107.0 km/h)  
R. Slack Morane-Saulnier
80 hp Rhône
5m 4s 1h 29m 59s 62.5 mph (100.6 km/h)  
B. C. Hucks Blériot
80 hp Gnome
19m 0s 1h 30m 53s 63 mph (101 km/h) Winner of the Shell trophy
for the handicap competition
W. L. Brock Blériot
80 hp Gnome
19m 57s 1h 32m 29s 61.5 mph (99.0 km/h)  
P. Marty Morane-Saulnier
50 hp Rhône
10m 46s 1h 35m 51s 59.5 mph (95.8 km/h)  
P. Verrier Henry Farman
80 hp Gnome
29m 8s 1h 45m 7s 54 mph (87 km/h)  

Hamel is perhaps best remembered for delivering the first official UK aerial post on Saturday 9 September 1911, covering the 21 miles between Hendon and Windsor in just 18 minutes.

Stamp celebrating the first 100 years of UK aerial post
Stamp celebrating the first 100 years of UK aerial post

Researched and written by Peter Reed 2014

If you are interested in early aviation I suggest you take a look at our page about Harry Harper