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Samuel Franklin Cody

Samuel Franklin Cowdery (later known as Samuel Franklin Cody) (6 March 1867 – 7 August 1913) was an early pioneer of manned flight, most famous for his work on the large kites known as Cody War-Kites that were used in World War I as a smaller alternative to balloons for artillery spotting. He was also the first man to conduct a powered flight in Britain, on 16 October 1908[1]. A flamboyant showman, he was and still is often confused with Buffalo Bill Cody, whose surname he took when young.

Contents

Early life

Cody's early life is difficult to separate from his own stories told later in life, but it appears he was born Samuel Franklin Cowdery in 1867 in Davenport, Iowa,[2] where he attended school until the age of 12. Not much is known about his life at this time although he claimed that during his youth he had lived the typical life of a cowboy. He learnt how to ride and train horses, hunt buffalo, shoot and use a lasso. He later prospected for gold in an area which later became Dawson City, centre of the famous Klondike Gold Rush. Again these could be stories he picked up while traveling with various shows.

Showman

In 1888, at 21 years of age, Cody started touring the US with a Wild West show, starring as 'Captain Cody, King of the Cowboys'. He married Maud Maria Lee in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and the name Samuel Franklin Cody appears on the 1889 marriage certificate.

Cody, 1909

Cody, together with his wife Maud Maria, toured Europe giving rifle and horse riding displays and it was while touring that they met Mrs Elizabeth Mary King [later known as Lela Marie Cody] (née Elizabeth Mary Davis) who was also touring with two of her younger children, Vivian and Leon King (later known as Leon and Vivian Cody to save embarrassment). Maud Maria Lee (Cody's real wife) taught them to ride and shoot on horseback, then later returned to the USA alone, while her husband took up with Mrs King.

While in England, his company, including several members of the 'King' family, (to save embarrassment Leon and Vivian King still used the name of Cody as neither Mrs King or Cody ever divorced) toured the music halls, which were very popular at the time, giving demonstrations of his horse riding, shooting and lassoing skills. In 1898 Cody's latest show, The Klondyke Nugget, became very successful; it included Edward Le Roy (Edward King, Lela's eldest son from her marriage to Edward John King, a licensed victualler and brother to Leon and Vivian). While in England, Cody still lived with Mrs King (his common-law wife who used the name of Lela Marie Cody, and who was generally assumed to be his legal wife.) One of Lela's great-grandsons is the BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson.

Kites

Man-lifter War Kite designed by Samuel Franklin Cody

It is not clear why Cody became fascinated by kite flying. Tales exist that he first became inspired by a Chinese cook; who, apparently, taught him to fly kites, whilst traveling along the old cattle trail. [3] His first interest was in the creation of man-lifting kites, which were joined one after the other, forming a single line of kites in the sky. Leon also became interested, and the two of them competed to make the largest kites capable of flying at ever-increasing heights. Vivian too became involved after a great deal of experimentation. Financed by his shows, Cody patented his famous design in 1901, a winged variation of Lawrence Hargrave's double-cell box kite. He offered this version for spotting to the War Office in December 1901 for use in the Second Boer War, and made several demonstration flights of up to 2,000 ft in various places around London.

A large exhibition of the Cody kites took place at Alexandra Palace in 1903. Later he succeeded in crossing the English Channel in a Berthon boat towed by one of his kites. His exploits came to the attention of the Admiralty, who hired him to look into the military possibilities of using kites for observation posts. He demonstrated them later that year, and again in 1908 when he flew off the deck of battleship HMS Revenge on September 2.

Cody's gliders

Cody's interests turned to gliders, based largely on his kite designs. He built a glider and flew it a number of times in 1905. It eventually suffered damage in a hard landing and was not repaired. This was because the British Army had since become sufficiently impressed in his kites to hire Cody as Chief Instructor in Kiting at the Balloon School in Aldershot in 1906. Cody was charged with the formation of two kite sections of the Royal Engineers. It was this group that would evolve over the years into Air Battalion, Royal Engineers; No. 1 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps; and then finally No. 1 Squadron Royal Air Force.

'Nulli Secundus'

During this period he also built a motorized kite that he wanted to develop into a man-carrying airplane. However the Army was more interested in airships, and during 1907 he was part of the team at Aldershot making British Army Dirigible No 1, christened Nulli Secundus, England's first powered airship. On October 5 the Nulli Secundus flew from Aldershot to London in 3 hours 25 minutes with Cody, the principal designer of the propulsion system and gondola, and Colonel J E Capper on board. After circling St Paul's Cathedral they attempted to return to Aldershot, but 18 mph headwinds forced them to land at Crystal Palace.

Cody aeroplanes

Later that year the Army decided to fund the completion of his airplane design, British Army Aeroplane No 1. After just under a year of construction he started testing the machine in September 1908, gradually lengthening his "hops" until they reached 1,390 feet on October 16. The machine was damaged at the end of this flight, which was announced as the first official flight of a heavier than air machine in the British Isles.[4] The War Office then decided that there was no future in aeroplanes, and Cody's contract with the Army ended with no funding for further machines.

Cody continued on his own, however, building a new machine and receiving permission to use Laffan's Plain at Farnborough for his test flights. Cody carried passengers for the first time in the world on 14 August 1909, first his old workmate Col. Capper, and then Lela Cody (Mrs Elizabeth Mary King). Cody made a world-record cross-country flight of 1 hour 3 minutes on 29 August.

On 29 December 1909 Cody became the first man to fly from Liverpool in an aborted attempt to fly non-stop between Liverpool and Manchester. He set off from Aintree Racecourse at 12.16 p.m., but only nineteen minutes later was forced to land on Eccleston Hill, St Helens, close to Prescot because of thick fog.[5]

On 7 June 1910 Cody received Royal Aero Club certificate number 9 and using a newly-built aircraft won the prestigious Michelin Cup with a flight of 4 hours 47 minutes. In 1911 the Cody III was the only British plane to complete the Daily Mail's 'Circuit of Great Britain' race, finishing fourth. The Cody V machine with a new 120 hp (90 kW) engine won the £5,000 prize at the Military Trials on Salisbury Plain in 1912.

The grave of Samuel Franklin Cody in Aldershot Military Cemetery

Cody continued to work on aircraft using his own funds. On 7 August 1913 he was out for a joyride in his latest design, a floatplane, when it broke up at 500 ft and he and his passenger were both killed. He was buried with full military honours in the Aldershot Military Cemetery; the funeral procession drew an estimated crowd of 100,000.

Adjacent to Cody's own grave marker is a memorial to his only son, Samuel Franklin Leslie Cody, (father of Sam born 1913 and grandfather to S.F. 'Colin' Cody) who joined the Royal Flying Corps and 'fell in action fighting four enemy machines' in 1917.

A full-sized replica of British Army Aeroplane No 1 is on show at the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Museum in Farnborough, to commemorate the first powered flight in the UK.

References

See also

External links

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