Honoured at last, Scotland's answer to Wright brothers

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The Independent Online

When John Damian de Falcuis launched himself from the ramparts of Stirling Castle in 1507 wearing wings of hen's feathers it seemed Scotland's place in aviation history was destined to be, at best, a footnote.

When John Damian de Falcuis launched himself from the ramparts of Stirling Castle in 1507 wearing wings of hen's feathers it seemed Scotland's place in aviation history was destined to be, at best, a footnote.

Four hundred years later, however, in the shadow of the same battlements, two brothers successfully completed the first powered flight in Scotland.

Aviators Harold and Frank Barnwell were Britain's answer to the Wright brothers and pioneered some of the most significant developments in aeronautical history.

Today their achievement in travelling more than 80 metres over a field on the outskirts of Stirling in 1909 - two years after the Wright brothers first took to the skies - is being honoured with the unveiling of a sculpture depicting their award-winning biplane.

The silver granite sculpture - with a 3ft wingspan - is set atop a 10ft cairn at Causewayhead in Stirling, yards from the site of the Grampian Motor and Engineering Company, which the brothers ran to fund their pioneering flights.

"It is important that the part the brothers played in the development of manned flight should be remembered and marked," said Iain Sinclair, Causewayhead Community Council's project director, who initiated the sculpture plan.

"It seems appropriate that we should erect a cairn and sculpture to honour their work."

Harold and Frank Barnwell began by experimenting with gliders fitted with motorbike engines which they built in their Causewayhead garage. Although they lost the race to be the first men to achieve powered flight, their influence on the development of aviation was of profound importance.

During the First World War Frank was charged with designing a rival to Germany's deadly Fokker E-type aircraft, which was destroying Britain's cumbersome BE2s on the Western Front. He also designed the high-speed, "Britain First" bomber in 1933, predecessor to the Blenheim bomber.

He died in 1938, but his designs, including the Beaufort torpedo bomber, were crucial to Britain's success in the Second World War and his influence on aviation continued well into the second half of the century.

Harold was killed in 1917 during the First World War after rising to become chief test pilot for Vickers.

"The Americans had the Wright brothers, Scotland had Harold and Frank Barnwell," said Stirling historian Craig Mair. "They built an aircraft hangar in Stirling, and put together their first full-sized aeroplane in 1908, though the engine was not powerful enough for it to take off.

"Their next design made its first flight Then, on Wednesday July 28 1909, Harold piloted the plane more than 80 metres at an altitude of about four metres over a field in Stirling.

"The following year, the brothers' next design managed around 600 metres, this time with Frank piloting," Mr Mair said.

The following year, in the same plane, Harold attempted a flight over the Bridge of Allan. Although he crashed into a field he was the first Scottish pilot to fly more than a mile.

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