Blantyre’s Aeronautical Pioneers

Most of us will have heard of the Wright Brothers and their remarkable achievements in 1903 in undertaking the world first heavier than air flight. (albeit a very short one and a crash). This was the birth of flight. As the world looked on with unknowing, wry curiosity at these early strange machines which would later be labelled ‘aeroplanes’, the years 1904 – 1907 were particularly difficult for the Brothers as they adjusted their designs. Finding a way to land, to steer, to control pitch by tweaking wings, adding rudders proved effective but one huge problem persisted in trying to work out how to install a control system, which would let them have full controlled flight over all these things.

According to the April 1907 issue of the Scientific American magazine, the Wright brothers seemed to have the most advanced knowledge of heavier-than-air navigation at the time. However, the same magazine issue also claimed that no public controlled flight had been made in the United States before its April 1907 issue.

In 1906 and 1907 other inventors scrambled to solve the problem and it may astonish you to know that amongst them were TWO Blantyre brothers!!

In Europe, inventors hurried out their own designs. On 12 November 1906, Santos-Dumont in France set the first world record recognized by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale by flying 220 m (720 ft) in 21.5 seconds. Just over a year later, on 13 January 1908, a second example of the type was flown by Henri Farman to win the Deutsch-Archdeacon Grand Prix d’Aviation prize for a flight in which the aircraft flew a distance of more than a kilometer and landed at the point where it had taken off. The flight lasted 1 minute and 28 seconds.

But it is at the end of 1907, just slightly before that flight which we pick up the Blantyre connection.

On 13th December 1907, an American paper, the Pittsburg Herald reported on the success of two Blantyre, Scottish men. Daniel and Matthew Rae, the sons of Matthew Rae of LintButts, High Blantyre. The young men were well known in Blantyre for their creative spirit and several years before had emigrated to America to try their fortune and it seemed fortune and some fame followed.

The newspaper showed photos of the brothers invention, an “Aerial car” with sketches of the car and their system for full, controlled powered flight. Although I couldn’t find photos or sketches, the full article is transcribed below:

“Daniel and Matthew Rae, two Eastend inventors living at 223 Willing Street, Blackadore plan, claim after 3 years of study and experimenting to have solved the problem of aerial navigation by means of a controllable aerial car. A side view and cross section is shown. The brothers in a number of tests claimed to have proved beyond the slightest doubt the success of their aerial car. The car is operated they say purely by mechanical means being raised and propelled by a gasoline engine or electric motor without the aid of either wings or gas balloons.

“The Rae brothers claim their car can be operated in either air or water with the utmost safety and when in the air, cannot possibly fail as the downward movement is under perfect control and can be made either fast or slow.

“By the study of the cross section, it will be seen that it resembles a parachute or chambers which in the descent compress the air pressure to a minimum. The car it is claimed by the inventors can easily be brought to a dead stop in mid air, and turned without making a large circuit for a return trip. The car is arranged for good ventilation and heat is also applied with powerful searchlight. Windows in the side and in the floor provide light for the passengers and furnish them with a view of all points. Cars of various sizes may be constructed. It is claimed to carry as many passengers as desired.”

“A four passenger car would be about 20 foot long, 14 foot high and 10 foot wide and would weigh about 450 pounds. The Rae Brothers say that the principal of their aerial car has been recognised by the Wright Brothers of Dayton. In the construction of their aeroplane and more particularly by Mr Younger in Sheridanville in his recent invention, but in neither of these inventions it is said has the principle been properly applied. Arrangements are almost completed for a car to carry seven persons after which a company will be formed for the construction of cars of various sizes. We can only add further that we wish our Blantyre friends success in their undertaking.”

Reading this, it sounds like the Rae Brothers had created some kind of early helicopter, rather than plane. So there you go! Two Blantyre men amongst the first to invent flight control! I read the article again in disbelief wishing I could find their actual photos. If you ever find them on or offline, please message me! Picture is for illustration only.

Shortly after in 1909, widespread global recognition of powered flight was seen as something other than the preserve of dreamers and eccentrics. Aeroplanes were here to stay and the rest, as they say….is history.

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  1. Great story – my father(R.I.P.) being a Blantyre man would be overawed by this article.

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