1919 Flight To Interlaken

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7 months 1 week

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I'm looking for any information on the flight by Major Nicholas Rothesay Stuart-Wortley from London to Interlaken in an Airco 4a on 24 September 1919, and then back again.
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I did some research into this flight some years ago, helping someone who was researching the engineer who accompanied Major Stuart-Wortley. I'm afraid I've lost touch with him, so I hope he doesn't mind my sharing some facts that he gave me as well as my own research. Major Stuart-Wortley was apparently intending to be the head of a proposed Swiss subsidiary of Aircraft Transport & Travel, which may have been intended to be called “Fluggesellschaft A.G. Interlaken” (the name was 'reused' for an entirely Swiss venture some years later). I say 'apparently' because aside from the record of his flight there are no surviving company records that mention him, and just about every mention of him (if indeed it is him) elsewhere uses a different version of his name, so he's not the easiest fellow to track down, as I'm sure you've discovered. Assuming there can't have been many people with that surname, he's recorded as Stuart-Wortley, Stewart-Wortley, Stuart-Worphley or Stuart-Worthley, with a variety of possible first names, and even his military rank is somewhat variable. The RAF Lists for February 1919 have, amongst the flying officers, a Captain R.N. Montagu-Stuart-Wortley, MC, who was gazetted "Transferred to the unemployed list" on July 2nd, only a week or so after being given a staff appointment in the RAF. However, there don't seem to be any other mentions of a Stuart-Wortley (or any of the obvious variations) who might have been a pilot. The Swiss airline in question, whatever it's name was to have been, was expected to fly initially London-Paris-Interlaken, and thence to Lucerne and Lausanne. Reports in the summer of 1919 suggest they would have been operators of a large airliner - this would appear to be the DH.17, being designed and promoted at that time, but which was never built. The aircraft Major Stuart-Wortley flew is a little better documented. AirCo DH.4A G-EAHG was originally built as F.2694 for the RAF, and with F.2699 / G-EAHF was one of Aircraft Transport & Travel's original experimental 'airliners'. Records are sparse, but both aircraft would have been used on early British 'domestic' flights before international commercial flying became legal on 25 August 1919. G-EAHG was one of the AirCo display aircraft at the ELTA exhibition at Amsterdam, where it arrived on 6 August and stayed until well into September. Major Stuart-Wortley was apparently not part of AirCo's exhibition 'team'. Returning to the UK, the aircraft was prepared for the flight to Switzerland. It is not recorded what those preparations were, but since various reports suggest the flight was more-or-less non-stop, something to extend the range of the standard DH.4A may well have been part of it. From the photographs in Flight, it can be seen that there is a canvas bag along the left-hand flank of the fuselage, so that the company title is only applied on the right. Some contemporary reports have this as a 'ski carrier' (not a bad idea for Switzerland, one might think) but other DH.4s (particularly that used by River Plate Aviation in South America) used a similar 'bag' for the carriage of general luggage. The effect on aircraft handling is not recorded! Whilst the aircraft was apparently well prepared, and the airfield newly built to receive it, with hindsight other preparations for the expedition left something to be desired. Major Stuart-Wortley, with an engineer as passenger, left Hounslow at 13:00 on 24 September and probably stopped at Le Bourget to refuel before proceeding to Interlaken-Unterseen, where he arrived at 13:15 on 25th. (Unterseen is not the current Interlaken airfield, but probably not too far from a field on the other side of town that was, six years ago when I went there, used by the local hang-gliders and so forth.) He may have flown direct from Le Bourget, and this was certainly claimed at the time as something of a record, but it would have been at the limit of the endurance of the standard DH.4A (with a substantial mountain range at the end of the flight), so you might think another refueling stop was wise, and Dijon seems the obvious place. Whether he stopped en route or not, the Swiss authorities insisted that all arrivals landed at Dubendorf to clear customs. I am told there is no record that he did so, nor is there any record of the requisite special dispensation to land elsewhere - but neither is there any record of trouble because he'd broken the rules... Once in Switzerland, he intended to give demonstration flights and generally drum up business for the new airline, and to this end a second DH.4A was due to join him a week or so after he went out (this was probably to be G-EAHF). Both aircraft were flying at this time with the bare minimum of national registration markings, presumably to ease painting of the Swiss registrations they were expected to take up (but never did). In the event, he arrived at Interlaken to discover that just about every air-minded Swiss had gone to Geneva to participate in drawing up the country's new civil air regulations. Oops. Despite this setback, he is said to have toured widely, but there do not seem to be any records of where he went, and he seems to have had little success on the business front. At this time, G-EAHF was in use on early air mail trials and this combined with Stuart-Wortley's lack of success to ensure it never went to Switzerland. It may have come as something of a relief when G-EAHG and crew were recalled to the UK to help carrying essential goods during a British railway strike. G-EAHG and Major Stuart-Wortley left Interlaken on October 4th, with a refuelling stop at Dijon, then possibly non-stop back to England, arriving successfully, only for the strike to be resolved on 5th! Neither he nor the aircraft returned to Switzerland, and I find no other mention of him as a commercial pilot at the time. G-EAHG's demise in the English Channel was not on the return flight from Interlaken, nor was Major Stuart-Wortley in any way involved. Indeed, it was not even on 20 October as in ASN, but on a 'normal' Paris-London flight on 29th. Jerry Shaw was the pilot. They ran short of fuel in foul weather and alighted next to a small steamer (the Harlech) mid-Channel, close enough that pilot and passenger (an American businessman) walked to the ship along the top wing, and suffered only wet feet!

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7 months 1 week

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Wow! What a wealth of information Lazy8! Thanks ever so much!