Harry Hawker: Aviation Pioneer

Aviation hero crashed in Loughshinny, tended to by Doc Healy of Skerries

Lecture by David Ryan
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – 12th March 2013)
Published: Time & Tide Vol 9

Harry Hawker, Aviation Pioneer
Harry Hawker, Aviation Pioneer

David Ryan’s recent talk on Harry Hawker, world-famous Aviation Pioneer, who crash landed in Loughshinny in 1913, took off after a flying start, with Ryan explaining how his own love of aeroplanes began when he read comic hero Biggles and made model aeroplanes as a boy. David went on to tell how Hawker, born in 1889 not far from Melbourne, Australia, was 12 years of age when he left school to work with his father, a local blacksmith. He had a great aptitude for fiddling with engines and went on to work with Mercedes, then Astro Daimler, near Brooklands, where he spent his spare time watching aeroplanes. His luck changed when he saw an advertisement for a job as a mechanic with the Sopwith Aircraft Company and was engaged as a mechanic. He worked 15 hours a day, seven days a week and saved all his money so that he could pay for flying lessons.


Harry’s progress with his flying was rapid and even before he received his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate he was working as a flying instructor and shortly appointed to run the hangar at Brooklands. He continued to break records and won his first prize, the British Empire Michelin Cup and £500 in October 1912. On October 24, 1912, flying a Sopwith Tractor aircraft, he set another British record. This resulted in the British Army and Navy placing orders for the aircraft. Sopwith took over the management of the company leaving Hawker and Sigrist to look after design and production. Australians were at the very forefront of aviation in those early days and Harry Hawker was among great names such as Sir Ross and Keith Smith, Sir Charles ..


It was on a Daily Mail sponsored ‘Round British Isles Race’ in August 1913 that the aircraft was badly wrecked in Loughshinny. Hawker was uninjured but his mechanic Harry Cauper suffered a broken arm and bad bruises to his neck and head. Captain Frank Ryan a local sailor was at hand as was Dr Healy of Skerries who attended both men.The wreckage of the plane was salvaged and returned to England but the souvenir hunters story is true by the fact that the ‘sparking plug’ came into the hands of the late Christopher Fox of Skerries. The plug is probably the oldest piece of Aviation Memorabilia in Ireland.

Harry Hawker went on to break many aviation records and was awarded the Air Force Cross which he received at Buckingham Palace from King George V. He continued his flying along with motorcar and powerboat racing, becoming a leading figure in all of these sports. In July 1921 he was flying a Newport Goshawk which caught fire in the air. He managed to extinguish the fire but while attempting a forced landing he was thrown from the aircraft. The impact, combined with the burns he received, meant that he died in minutes.


Page updated – 23 / 2 / 2014