THE BRITISH AIRCRAFT ON THE ELTA OF 1919
Between the 1 August and 14 September 1919 the Eerste Luchtverkeer Tentoonstelling Amsterdam – ELTA (First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam) was held. It was hailed as a great success: more than 100 aircraft participated and more than 500,000 spectators (some sources take about as many as 1,000,000) passed the gates. The French Captain Hirschauer wrote about the exhibition ’…since the air exhibition of Reims of 1909…never has an air show been as impressive as the ELTA’. After 90 years it is time to reflect and have a look at the British participation.
Once the guns of the First World War fell silent the world could focus on the rebuilding of their nation. France, Great Britain and Italy were particularly hard hit, but the Netherlands had remained neutral and in many ways benefited from the war trade. But already during the First World War plans emerged in many nations to start up air services once practically possible. In the Netherlands Lieutenant M L J Hofstee and R J Castendijk (officers in the Luchtvaartafdeeling – LVA, the Dutch Army Air Corps) had written an essay about the possibilities for civilian aviation in the future. The essay was read by their colleague Lieutenant Albert Plesman, who thought about how to find interest in the Netherlands for such plans? The Dutch population had not seen many aircraft during the First World War as the country had been neutral. The only flying activity taking place was by the military. The LVA and the Marine Luchtvaartdienst – MLD (Dutch Naval Air Corps) used mainly confiscated aircraft and had a mix of German, English and French aircraft at their disposal. They also operated some locally built aircraft like the Spyker V.2.
The Lieutenants Plesman and Hofstee came together and decided to form an organising committee that would set up an aviation exhibition with the main focus on the civilian site of aviation. It was important to show what the modern aircraft could mean for civilians. They found government support and a guarantee fund was formed to make sure that the idea could be realised and not became a financial disaster. In the spring of 1919 the plans for the Eerste Luchtverkeer Tentoonstelling Amsterdam – ELTA (First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam – ELTA) were put into life. On a newly developed site in Amsterdam an exhibition hall and an air field (670 m x 750 m) were constructed. Invitations were send out to the Entente members as well as to Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Austria. Under pressure of the Entente members Great Britain and France the German and Austrian invitation was withdrawn. It was too early after the First World War for them to compete at this event and also Allied pilots were not too keen to meet their former rivals in the air. Nevertheless, the ELTA was to become one of the finest exhibitions the world had ever seen. The exhibition opened its doors on 1 August and lasted for six weeks until 14 September 1919. During the six weeks the committee had organised numerous activities, including night flights, air races, display flights, joy rides and much more. There was even an informal flying display with a lady jury present.
In the exhibition hall numerous exhibitors displayed their products and in a cinema on the site lectures were held by people like Anthony Fokker, H B Pratt (Technical Manager of the Airship Department of the Naval Construction Work at Barrow-in-Furness, the airship department of Vickers Ltd) and the well-known French professor L Marchis. During the six weeks more than 100 aircraft (both land- and seaplanes) came to the ELTA. In the beginning mainly civilian aircraft, but more and more military and converted military aircraft arrived as well. Not many pure civilian aircraft existed yet. The four countries represented (Italy, France, the Netherlands and Great Britain) displayed a beautiful mix of aircraft:
Italy: Caproni Ca.450, Ca.48 and Ca.57; Ansaldo A300/2, A.1 Balilla and SVA.10; Macchi M.7 and M8; Savoia S.9 and S.13 and the racer Fiat B.R.
Check out: The Italian Aircraft on the ELTA of 1919
France: Caudron G.III, Spad S.15/5, SEA-4, Breguet 14T2 Salon, Breguet 17C.2, Breguet 14A.2, Morane-Saulnier MoS.30bis, Morane-Saulnier MoS.35, Nieuport 29C.1, Farman F.50P and F.46 and fly-over of a Farman F.60 Goliath.
The Netherlands: Fokker D VII, Fokker D VIII, LVG B III, Fokker C I, Fokker V33, Fokker V39, Fokker M17E (all these were former German aircraft, but displayed by Fokker’s new Dutch company NV Nederlandsche Vliegtuigenfabriek). Also present the Carley S.1, the Spijker V.2 (trainer) and V.3 (fighter), Rumpler C VIII (from the LVA), Van Berkel W-A (MLD) and Friedrichshafen FF 49C (MLD). Finally the LVA bomber Vreeburg A.2M was on display in the hall.
The British contingent
Beside the Dutch the British had the largest contingent of aircraft and exhibitors. Most of the joy rides were done by British aircraft and it is safe to say that their participation made the success of the ELTA possible. The joy rides were done by no less than nine AVRO-aircraft and up to three Blackburn R.T.1 Kangaroo’s. Many of the display flights were made by the versatile B.A.T. F.K.23 Bantams flown by Major Christopher Draper and Captain Cyril Turner.
CHECK OUT FILM FOOTAGE:
Opening of the ELTA and the arrival of the Handley Page V/1500
On 25 July 1919 the first British aircraft arrived on the boggy, sandy ELTA airfield. It was the huge Handley Page V/1500 that immediately sank into the mud. It had to be brought to dry grounds and was put on display in the exhibition hall. It was simply too heavy to take-off from the airfield. Beside this huge four-engine bomber Handley Page Ltd transferred two O/7s (G-5414 ex F5414 and G-5417 ex F5417) to Amsterdam also with little fortune. Captain Meintjes’ O/7 (G-5414) tipped on its nose after the landing. No joy rides could be made with these aircraft either.
A V Roe & Co Ltd was the largest single participant and sent over ten aircraft. They included five Avro 504Ks (G-EAIH, G-EAII, G-EAIJ, G-EAJQ and G-EAJU), two 504Ls (G-EALH and G-EALI), two 536s (G-EAHA and G-EAID) and finally the beautiful decorated 534 Baby. Latter carried two different registrations: K-131 and G-EACQ! During the ELTA Captain H A Hammersley did most of the flying on this aircraft.
Vickers Ltd flew the bomber F.B.27 Vimy B9952 and the civilian version of this bomber, the F.B.28 Vimy Commercial K-107 over to Amsterdam. Latter was flown over by Captain Stanley Cockerell. It was sporadically used for joy rides. Captain Sir John Alcock was given a hero’s welcome upon his arrival in Amsterdam and was pretty impressed by it.
An interesting participant was the British Aerial Transport Co Ltd who displayed three F.K.23 Bantams (K-123, F1659 and G-EAJW), one F.K.28 Crow (unregistered prototype) and two F.K.26 Commercial (K-167 and K-102). Latter type was actually the world’s first aircraft designed and built for commercial use. It made a good impression on the ELTA. Nice for the Dutch was that its designer Frederick ‘Kully’ Koolhoven originated from their country.
An important participant from Great Britain was also the Aircraft Manufacturing Co Ltd. On the stand in the exhibition hall it had the complete fuselage of the Airco D.H.16 G-EALM, while on the field the D.H.4A G-EAHG and the D.H.9B G-EAGY were presented. It also had the D.H.10 G-EAJO over for a short visit. The impressive D.H.9R, G-EAHT, a racer, participated in the air race on 5 September 1919 and made a great performance. The Airco Co showed at this stage how military aircraft could be converted into civilian aircraft.
Joy rides were during the ELTA an important source of income, both for the committee, who received a part of the fee, and the operator. The Blackburn Aircraft & Motor Co Ltd sent over the R.T.1 Kangaroo G-EAIT with Reginald W Kenworthy as pilot. His aircraft was converted for civilian use and had an enclosed cabin for four. After its arrival it was immediately put into service and carried numerous joy ride passengers throughout the time the exhibition lasted. It was supplemented by another two aircraft: G-EAIU and G-EAKQ. Latter had its registration painted wrongly on top of its wing!
Finally, there was a rather unknown participant from Great Britain: Gosport Aircraft Co. It was the first company to send a flying boat to the ELTA: the Gosport-built Felixstowe F.5, N4634. It also sent the F.2A N4441 and its own construction the Gosport Flying Boat FBA, G-EAIK. It was both on display in the hall and made later some display flights.
The British Air Ministry cooperated fully and had General Sir Fred J L Sykes, the Controller-General of British Civil Aviation flown over in a flight of five Felixstowe F.5 flying boats. It was an impressive site above Amsterdam. If that was not enough he returned above the ELTA (on the day the French would have their special flying displays) in the early morning of 11 September 1919 with the two rigid airships (HMA R.32 and HMA R.33). HMA R.32 hovered above Amsterdam a while before following R.33 back home.
A Dutch journalist had joined a Swiss colleague of the Journal de Genève-Gazette de Lausanne for a flight in the Avro flown by Mr Shanks. Describing the flight, he wrote that the propeller starts up the engine and the engine makes a bang. The Avro starts to roll, dancing on its rubber wheels across the uneven ground to take off with the nose pointing into the wind. It all has the feeling of a car ride over bumpy obstacles. At the starting line that is placed between two orange flags I assume the starter, Lieutenant W L Bisschoff, who is sitting quietly in his chair on the field, keeps a sharp eye on the field. For a while, Bisschoff seems to point at an aircraft in front of us, but before we know it he gives the signal for takeoff and our bird jumps up and flies into the air. We still have contact with the ground, but just a split second later we are hovering above the ELTA restaurant, where people on the terrace wave to us with their hats and handkerchiefs. About flying he wrote …it is the same feeling as driving a car as fast as an arrow up a steep mountain. Easy and stable. They made a flight above the IJ and could see the canal that links Amsterdam with the North Sea. Flying above Amsterdam he recognised the many well-known buildings like the Royal Palace and the Lutheran Church in the city centre. The wind made it difficult for him to look down and Shanks’ habit of flying as if the aircraft was a boat following waves, continuously descending and ascending. He felt this gave people a feeling of how safe flying was. Turning was spectacular and the journalist was sorry when Shanks started the decent and returned smoothly to the ELTA airfield where he landed without any problems. At the booking office the re-born journalist collected his certificate.
Another Dutch journalist asked Captain Saint for a flight in the D.H.9B and was granted one. He wanted to enjoy some stunt flying, but Captain Saint had eaten too much and refrained from any heavy stunt flying. He was another victim of the good Dutch food. One loop was all Captain Saint managed to perform. The Captain had agreed with the journalist that he would raise his hand when he would start the loop, but he never did raise his hand. He was of the opinion that passengers would be anxious if he warned them on beforehand. After take-off Captain Saint was struggling with turbulence. Then suddenly the journalist felt a powerful push in his neck and managed with great difficulty to remain seated. Looking up at the sky, he saw green meadows divided by narrow canals. After a short while the aircraft returned to a level flight and the journalist later wrote that my shoes and socks were in the right position again. He had survived his first loop.
Another highlight of the ELTA was the arrival of Captain Gerald W Gathergood and the Airco D.H.9R G-EAHT. He had flown from Hounslow to Soesterberg military airfield (for custom clearance) in two hours and ten minutes with an average speed of 134.5mph. He continued to the ELTA in Amsterdam and participated in the air race that consisted out of flying a 220km (136.7 miles) long circuit over the Netherlands. Of course he made the fastest time using 55 minutes and 53 seconds. But after the handicap time had been added he ended up eighth. The competition was won by the French Farman F.50P flown by Captain Gaston Damelincourt. The best British participant was actually the Airco D.H.4A with Captain H J Saint. He ended on the fourth place.
Throughout the six weeks the ELTA took place the British pilots were very much present. They were popular and the Dutch press wrote a lot about their performances. Major Draper was also very much liked by the ladies. During an informal competition the lady’s jury just simply had to look at the flying display and tell what they liked best. But before the start of the competition they summoned all the pilots one by one to come and present themselves. The ladies concluded that Major Draper was the most handsome one and would win! The flying display did not make them chance their mind.
For Thursday, 7 August 1919 the ELTA organisation committee had announced that for the first time night flights would be arranged. The display would start at 2200 and last for several hours. This led to a chaotic situation around the Amsterdam Central Station and on the De Ruyterkade. Thousands of people wanted to cross the river IJ to the exhibition and soon the police could not control the crowd. All regular traffic was stopped and only pedestrians were allowed on that harbour area. The ferries were by no means sufficient to meet demand and private boats supplemented the ferries. Many of them were overloaded and that there were no accidents can only be described as a miracle. Thousands were still on their way to the exhibition when a searchlight lit up the sky, quickly followed by another. One of the searchlights lit up one of the hangars and out of it rolled the beautiful Avro 534 Baby, K-131/G-EACQ with Australian pilot Lieutenant Roberts at the controls. He took off and climbed easily into the dark. The searchlights soon found him allowing the crowd to follow his aerobatic display. He occasionally disappeared out of the searchlights, but was soon found again. After a half-hour he fired flares as a sign that he wished to land. One of the searchlights was trained on the landing ground and the Avro Baby landed smoothly. The crowd was ecstatic and some sixty people ran to the aircraft and took Lieutenant Roberts on their shoulders. He was, of course, presented with a laurel wreath and carried to the ELTA restaurant, where the organising committee honoured him even more. Much to the disappointment of the crowd, who was now waiting for the next display, none came. Although disappointed, the crowd had been impressed by the Robert’s display and showed their enthusiasm for this young Australian aviator. On their way home the crowd met those unfortunate ones who had not made it to the ELTA for the display.
The ELTA was a success – not only for the Dutch organising committee, but also for the British participants. They dominated in the early days after the ELTA the aviation scene in the Netherlands. The first international air service between The Netherlands and Great Britain was operated by the British Aerial Transport Co Ltd on behalf of the Dutch company “Cobor”. On Thursday, 18 September 1919 Major Draper flew in the B.A.T. F.K.26 Commercial between London/Hounslow and Soesterberg. It was the first international air service out to the Netherlands. Although it was irregularly operated (once a week depending on demand) it showed that interest was there. In March 1920 the North Sea Aerial General Transport Co Ltd organised a freight service between the UK and the Netherlands using Blackburn R.T.1 Kangaroos. And finally, once the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines had been established its administrator Albert Plesman turned to the Air Travel & Transport – AT&T and started to cooperate on the Amsterdam – London air service. This service is now one of the world’s oldest air services still in operation.
The conclusion must be that the British participation on the ELTA and the subsequent support on regular services meant a lot to the development of civilian aviation in the Netherlands. Actually two aircraft present on the ELTA can still be seen in museums: The BAT F.K.23 Bantam, K-123 is on display in the Aviodrome at Lelystad (The Netherlands) and the Avro 534 Baby, K-131/G-EACQ can be found in the Aviation Museum of Queensland in Australia!
A book with the title ‘ELTA – The First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam, 1919’ has been written by Rob J M Mulder. It describes in detail the ELTA, the preparations, what happened day-by-day, which aircraft were present, which pilots and what impact the exhibition had on the development of aviation in the Netherlands.
Check out: Digital sample of the book!
ELTA – The First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam, 1919 –Rob J M Mulder,
ISBN 978-82-997371-1-1, 236 pages, more than 370 photographs many of them never published before. Price Euro 12.95 + pp. Information at www.europeanairlines.no/webshop