On 7 August 1913, Samuel Franklin Cody, Britain’s first successful pilot, met his death in a flying accident over Farnborough. Exactly 100 years later an impressive bronze statue of Cody, by leading sculptress Vivian Mallock, was unveiled by legendary wartime test-pilot Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown RN, at a ceremony outside the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) Museum.
Attending from QinetiQ was Doug Gale, Engineering Director, Air Division; QinetiQ was pleased to be a main contributor to the memorial fund (alongside Hampshire County Council and Rushmoor Borough Council), as we perceive Cody to be the predecessor to our first top flight national defence laboratory, and as such consider him part of our heritage. Outside the main entrance to our Farnborough offices is the ‘Cody Tree’, an aluminium replica of the tree that Cody first tethered his aircraft to.
Cody, born in Iowa, USA in 1867, was trained as a cowboy and a Wild West showman before coming to England. The British army took him on in Aldershot as their Kiting Instructor – his kites were used by the Royal Navy for reconnaissance. Cody moved with the Army in 1906 to Farnborough and became involved with the development of their first airship, Nulli Secundus, which made its record breaking flight from Farnborough to London in October 1907.
In a second aircraft Cody made several flights in 1909 after which the Department decreed that, heavier than air machines being useless, all government-funding should cease. Cody was sacked, but allowed to keep his airframe and to borrow the engine. All subsequent work was done at his expense from a shed adjacent to Farnborough Common. He became a British citizen in 1909.
Cody built another six aircraft, winning the Michelin Cup for the longest flight of 1910 and the Military Trials on Salisbury Plain in 1912. He earned his living in competitions and teaching others to fly.
On 7 August 1913, whilst giving a pleasure flight over what is now Farnborough Airfield, Cody’s aircraft suffered a structural failure, resulting in Cody and his passenger falling out (they were not strapped in) and both were killed. The Times wrote “The tragic death of S.F. Cody is one of the greatest blows which aviation has sustained in recent years.” He received a full military funeral and is buried in the Aldershot Military Cemetery.