Inspired by the achievements of the Wright Brothers, the French took an early lead in European aviation and their designers of 'flying machines' and aero engines were given every encouragement. Even the Farman brothers from England had gone to France to develop their successful biplanes. British aviation began to lag sadly behind, something which was recognised by the proprietors of the Daily Mail newspaper who came to the rescue and made Britain conscious of the possibilities of flying and aware of the military potential of these new flying machines. To encourage British designers and aviators the Daily Mail provided considerable sums of prize money as a challenge — a challenge which was accepted and resulted in many great names in British aviation.
To demonstrate to the British public the capabilities of flying machines the Daily Mail initiated a 'Circuit of Britain' and enlisted a corps of the leading aviators to visit various parts of the country; one of these pilots was Gustave Hamel who, despite his name, was a young Englishman who had first learned to fly in 1911. He soon became famous for his daring exploits and in 1912 won the Daily Mail Flying Derby around London. It was while on the Circuit after this success that he made a memorable visit to the Isle of Man where he received a tremendous reception by everyone, including the tens of thousands of holidaymakers.
Gustave Hamel's machine and attendants travelled to the Island by Steam Packet and it was made ready at the aerodrome in Noble's Park. the machine he was going to demonstrate was a French Morane Saulnier parasol monoplane powered by a 50 h.p. Gnome engine capable of turning the two bladed propeller at 1000 r.p.m. Gustave Hamel arrived on the Island on Saturday, 3rd August, and was taken by car to Noble's Park ready ro make the first of his many flights. He was clad in cap, overcoat and silken scarf. The weather conditions were perfect and soon the little engine was being warmed up. Hamel checked the round the machine and prepared for take-off. The machine bounced along the playing fields and then gently climbed into the air watched by the intensely interested spectators. They saw him circle round the tower of St. Ninian's Church, then in course of construction, before heading out to sea where Hamel could see an incoming Steam Packet ship. He climbed high above it and then turned back towards the crowded promenades. At this point he executed a 'vol plane' for which he was famous. He would appear to stop the engine by throttling back and then spiral downwards as if out of control, stunning the spectators into silence. Then at low level the engine would pick up and he would roar overhead to tremendous cheers of relief from all. After twenty minutes he landed but was in the air again over Douglas for the benefit of the strolling holidaymakers.
The newspapers gave enthusiastic coverage to Gustave Hamel's visits to various parts of the Island. Because of high winds it was not until late on Tuesday afternoon that he ventured into the air again and headed westwards to Peel where a reception committee was waiting for him as he landed on the golf links. He had carried with him what is regarded as the first local air mail a letter of greetings from the Mayor of Douglas to the citizens of Peel. This was ro be a feature of his visit; wherever he flew he would be given letters to deliver or drop at various places. About seven of these letters are still in existence and are greatly prized as collectors' items Hamel's visit to Peel culminated in a display over Peel Castle before he returned to Douglas.
During the week he was also received with tremendous enthusiasm at Port Erin, Ramsey and, finally, Castletown, each visit including a spectacular demonstration of his skills. By the end of the week he had signed hundreds of autographs and after landing at Douglas for the last time he was presented wlth a gold cigarette case and matchbox holder. This was to commemorate a highly successful and much appreciated visit on behalf of the Daily Mail.
Manx Aviation in War and Peace published by kind permission of: The Manx Experience