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News > Archives > Sir Frederick Handley Page

Sir Frederick Handley Page

Sir Frederick Handley Page, CGS alumnus and pioneer of the aviation industry, died sixty years ago.
Sir Frederick Handley Page at Radlett Aerodrome in the 1950's.
Sir Frederick Handley Page at Radlett Aerodrome in the 1950's.

Sir Frederick Handley Page attended Cheltenham Grammar School in the last decade of the 19th century. The school magazine, The Patesian, makes many references to his achievements over the years - it's clear that the school was very proud of this particular old boy! 

The school would like to thank St Albans Museum and the Handley Page Society for their permission to use some wonderful images in this feature and the linked photo gallery. St Albans' online Handley Page exhibition can be found by following this link https://www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/explore/exhibitions/handley-page

We are grateful for the following article which was put together by Christoper Morgan-Jones, Captain (Ret).

Sir Frederick was born in November 1885 at 3 Kings Road in Cheltenham. He attended Cheltenham Grammar School and at the age of seventeen in 1902 and against his parents’ wishes, he moved to London to study electrical engineering at Finsbury Technical College. Following graduation from the College, in 1909 he formed his own company in Barking, Essex, which was to be the first in the country specifically for aeronautical engineering. In the pre-war period he was also engaged in journalism and lecturing. He lectured at the Finsbury College and also at the Northampton Polytechnic Institute in Clerkenwell, and at the latter he had a wind tunnel built.

Handley Page’s first aircraft - later to be known as the HP 1 - was exhibited at the 1910 Aero exhibition at Olympia and after the exhibition he set about teaching himself how to fly it. One of his early flights resulted in a crash when he attempted a turn.

In 1912, Handley Page moved his company to Cricklewood where they were eventually able to fly from Cricklewood aerodrome. From here Handley Page developed the O/100 and O/400 bombers which were used during the First World War. By the late 1920s housing was being built much closer to the aerodrome and a new site was needed.

One of Handley Page's test pilots, Major James Cordes, remembered an occasion when he had been forced by bad weather to land in a field between Frogmore and Colney Street, alongside the Midland Railway line and suggested this as a new location for the factory and aerodrome. Radlett Aerodrome was opened by the Duke of Kent on the 7 July 1930. Cricklewood aerodrome closed in 1929 but a factory was kept there until 1964, the site is now covered by housing and an industrial estate The company was to stay at Radlett until the bankruptcy of the company in 1970.  

At the start of the First World War, Captain Murray Sueter, the Head of the Royal Navy's Air Department, asked Handley Page to produce a 'bloody paralyser of an aircraft' which he could use for long distance bombing raids. The O/100 was named because of its 100-foot-wide wingspan and it was the largest aircraft  built in Britain at the time. It was a biplane and could carry a crew of two and six 45kg bombs. In 1917 the O/400 went into production with bigger engines, an increased bomb load and stronger plating. The O Type bombers flew in operations across German occupied territory in France and Belgium and as far away as the Dardenelles (in modern-day Turkey).

In 1919, Handley Page set up his own airline using converted 0/400 aircraft initially for carrying freight and later passengers, from Cricklewood to Paris. In 1924 the airline plus three others merged to form Imperial Airways which is the ancestor of the current British Airways.

A short film, in two parts, of a flight in an 0/400 from Cricklewood to Paris can be viewed here-

Part 1 https://youtu.be/edhWPlYBWHA

Part 2 https://youtu.be/q0ihY7Vs_nU

In 1928, Imperial Airways needed a large airliner to operate on its long-distance routes to various parts of the globe and so work was initiated on what would become the HP42. Handley Page ultimately designed two largely similar aircraft: the HP42 was for their long-range Eastern routes and the HP45 for shorter routes across Europe. The HP42 had two separate passenger cabins, one positioned forward, and the other aft, of the wings. The cabins featured a high degree of luxury with lots of space, relatively wide windows, and full onboard services. On 11 June 1931, the first flight with fare-paying passengers was carried out to Paris. Due to the high cost of air travel at this time, typical passengers were usually members of high society, such as royalty, celebrities, and senior business figures.

The design was a four engined biplane and when it was introduced it was the biggest airliner in the world. It had a wing area comparable to a modern Boeing 767. In the 1930s large aircraft were not commonly seen in  Gloucestershire but one of these HP42 aircraft appeared at Brockworth aerodrome in 1932 operating a  private charter for thirty two drama critics who were travelling to the Malvern festival to see the premier of  George Bernard Shaw’s play “Too good to be true”.

With the prospect of another war approaching, Handley Page turned back to bomber design and produced the Hampden which took part in the first British raid on Berlin. In response to a 1936 government request for heavier, longer-range aircraft, Handley Page designed the four-engined Halifax. Alongside the Avro Lancaster, the Handley Page Halifax was the most prolific British heavy bomber of the war and unlike the Lancaster it was used in all campaigns. Although in some respects better than the Lancaster (such as crew  survivability), the Halifax suffered in terms of altitude performance and was redeployed toward the end of the war as a heavy transport and glider tug. A total of 6176 Halifax aircraft were built and in the immediate post war period some were repurposed as airliners. In 1948 41 Halifax aircraft were used as freighters for the Berlin airlift flying 4653 flights carrying freight and 3509 flights carrying diesel fuel to the beleaguered city.

With the science of aeronautics continuing to advance, Handley Page built and tested a number of different research aircraft from the 1940s onwards. In the 1940s they built the HP75 to test out problems around aircraft without tails. Because of its unusual appearance it was nicknamed The Manx (named after the tailless cat). The first flight in June 1943 was terminated early when the canopy was lost in mid-flight, but the pilot managed to land the plane safely. In December 1945, the Manx's regular crew were killed flying the Handley Page Hermes prototype. The Manx had only accumulated about 17 hours of flight time over approximately 30 flights when flight tests were finally ended in April 1946. Other research aircraft included the HP88, built to test a crescent shaped wing which was used on the later Victor aircraft, and the HP115, a subsonic aircraft built to test problems with low-speed handling of Concorde.

On Saturday 1 June 1957, test pilot John Allam, supported by flight observers, Paul Langston and Geoffrey Wass, were returning to Radlett in their Victor XA917 when the cockpit indicators registered a speed of Mach 1.1 – the aircraft had exceeded the speed of sound. On arriving back at Radlett, the control tower operator mentioned that local residents had phoned in to complain about aircraft noise that day. Allam claimed the crew hadn’t heard anything but the following day one of Allam’s superiors mentioned he had heard the sonic boom whilst  shopping with his wife in Watford and Allam admitted he had planned the whole thing before take-off to demonstrate the Victor's superiority over the rival  Vickers Valiant and Avro Vulcan. Because the Victor had  seats facing backwards for their rear crew members, one of the flight observers became the first person to fly through the sound barrier backwards.

Sir Frederick in 1946 played a major role in the establishment of the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield and the College continues today as Cranfield University, a post graduate public research university specialising in science, engineering, design, technology and management.

The company continued its tradition of  building large transport aircraft post-war. The HP67 Hastings was a troop-carrier and transport aircraft made by Handley Page for the Royal Air Force. It came into service during September 1948 and at the time was the largest transport plane ever designed for the service. It was first used alongside HP Halifax aircraft, in the Berlin Airlift. Later, Hastings were used by the RAF during conflicts such as the Suez Crisis and the Indonesian Confrontation. Beyond its use for transport, several Hastings were modified to perform weather forecasting, training, and VIP duties. A civilian version of the Hastings was the Handley Page Hermes. In August 1950, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), started using the Hermes on their West Africa service from London Heathrow to Accra via Tripoli, Kano and  Lagos, as services to Kenya and South Africa commenced before the end of that year.

The Handley Page Victor sometimes referred to as the HP80 was designed as a replacement for the wartime piston-engined bombers such as the Lancaster. It was to be designed to drop a freefall nuclear weapon or a conventional bomb load. The two prototypes were constructed at Radlett but due to concerns over the available runway length it was decided that they would make their first flight at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. To achieve this the company broke the aircraft down into sections and shipped them disguised as parts of a ship. The sections were covered with a tarpaulin marked Geleypandhy, Southampton. This was an anagram of Handley Page but the sign writer had misspelled the name to Handley Pyge. The aircraft of this order served with the RAF until the 1990s latterly as flight refueling tankers. Even today the design looks incredibly futuristic especially when it is considered that the design was conceived in 1947.

The Handley Page Dart Herald is a 1950s era turboprop passenger aircraft. The initial design was inherited from the Miles aircraft company of Reading when Handley Page bought the aviation assets of the Miles company following it going into administration. The name "Herald" was chosen as it is easy to translate into French and Spanish. The first prototype made its maiden flight from Radlett on 25 August 1955 as a four engined aircraft, however during the design period a new Rolls Royce Dart turboprop engine had shown proven success in their competitor’s Vickers Viscount. Handley Page responded by adapting their design by replacing the four piston engines with two Dart engines to create the HPR7 Dart Herald. The first Dart Heralds to take passengers on holiday were on the Highlands and Islands routes of BEA and Jersey Airways. They were eventually bought by more than thirty airlines operating across the world from Canada to the Philippines. The aircraft was put forward for a contract for transport aircraft for the RAF and it was the  preferred choice but it was the victim of Sir Frederick Handley Page refusing to join one of the two post-war consolidated aviation manufacturer groups as he wished to preserve the independence of his company and the contract was awarded to the Hawker Siddeley design.

Sir Frederick Handley Page passed away on 21st April 1962 at his home in Grosvenor Square, London and he is buried near Eastbourne. His birthplace in Cheltenham and the house in which he passed away both have blue plaques to commemorate him.

The company bearing his name continued after his death and in  the late 1960s Handley Page designed the Jetstream. It was a small, streamlined aircraft as the company could not afford to compete with the larger  aircraft of the British Aircraft Corporation and Hawker Siddeley. The design had a distinctive long nose profile and the first production model Jetstream 1 flew on 6 December 1968. However, delivery and engine problems had driven development costs from original estimates of £3 million to over £13 million. Only three Jetstream 2s were completed before Handley Page went bankrupt, and the production line was eventually shut down in 1970. When Handley Page was closed down the development of their final Jetstream aircraft was transferred to Scottish Aviation which then became part of British Aerospace. Variants of the Jetstream are still in use around the world.

One of Handley Page's greatest achievements was the development of the Handley Page slot which was his solution to the frequent and often fatal crashes caused by stalling and spinning. This still has a worldwide influence on aircraft design today. A slot is an air gap between a small slat and the wing allowing  wind to pass between the two. Using a wing with a slot has many advantages. It

-allows a larger angle of attack

-reduces the speed at which the aircraft stalls

-allows for a short runway take-off  

-gives higher stability at low speeds is more manoeuvrable

The Handley Page slot was patented in 1921 and provided the company with much of its profit during the 1920s and 30s as well as saving many lives.

In 1961 Sir Frederick gave a lecture to the Royal Aeronautical Society’s historical group (link to the lecture below). The lecture takes listeners through the step-by-step development of his First World War designs for the Handley Page O/100 and O/400. He describes how they overcame the technical challenges in designing such large aircraft, before going onto the roll-out and use of the aeroplane for bombing during the war. He also talks about the conversion of the aircraft into civil use and explains the consequences of moving a large aircraft from sheds at Edgware Road to the location for its development flight at Hendon. Toward the end of the lecture, Handley Page turns his attention to the V/1500 (H.P.15), and outlining a test flight with fatal consequences, and its use as a bomber during the Afghan War.

The lecture can be listened to by clicking here

It can be seen from this very brief summary of the life of Handley Page and his company that he and his company played a pivotal part in the birth of aviation and the subsequent advances in that field. As Patesians we should be very proud of what he achieved.

I am a recently retired airline Captain and also an old boy of the school. At the start of my airline career I flew Dart Herald aircraft for a number of airlines mostly flying mail and freight and I am currently part of a group that is trying to save one of the last surviving complete Herald aircraft (which I flew several times in 1988). The group is known as UKHAT and we have a GoFundMe account to fund the restoration which can be found by clicking here If any readers of this story feel compelled to support the fund then we would be very grateful - thank you.

The Trust have recently released two youtube films of the Herald filmed recently at Gatwick:

Interior- https://youtu.be/mihzRPy8YBM

Exterior- https://youtu.be/HFuqiWruG9Q

 

Photo gallery

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