DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Charles Rolls became the first person to fly a nonstop double crossing of the English Channel in 95 minutes in 1910.
Rolls, who co-founded Rolls-Royce, received the Royal Aero Club’s Gold Medal for his achievements, which included the first eastbound airborne crossing of the English Channel. The flight is commemorated with a statue in Monmouth and another in Dover.
Charles Rolls was a pioneer aviator and, at first, a balloonist, with over 170 balloon ascents under his belt. The Gordon Bennett Gold Medal for the longest single flight time was awarded to him in 1903.
By 1907 Rolls’ interest turned increasingly to flying and he tried to persuade Royce to design an aero engine. He became the second Englishman to go up in an aeroplane. Piloted by Wilbur Wright their flight on 8 October 1908 from Camp d’Auvours, eleven kilometres east of Le Mans, lasted four minutes and twenty seconds.
He bought one of six Wright Flyer aircraft built by Short Brothers under license from the Wright Brothers and from early October 1909 made more than 200 flights.
Rolls was killed in an aircraft crash on July 12, 1910, at the age of 32, when the tail of his Wright Flyer fell off during a flying performance at Hengistbury Airfield, Southbourne, Bournemouth.
He was the first Briton and the eleventh person in the world to die in an aviation accident involving a powered aircraft. He was also the United Kingdom’s first powered aviation fatality.
In Monmouth’s Agincourt Square, a monument of Rolls was constructed, depicting him clutching a model aircraft.
Henry Royce was introduced to Rolls by Henry Edmunds, a director of Royce Ltd and a friend at the Royal Automobile Club. Edmunds showed him Royce’s automobile and set up the historic meeting between Rolls and Royce on May 4, 1904, at the Midland Hotel in Manchester.
Rolls and Royce formed Rolls-Royce Limited in 1906 to formalize their partnership. In 1914, Royce designed the Eagle, his first aero engine that powered the first transatlantic flight and the first flight from England to Australia, both in a Vickers Vimy aircraft.
The company would thus enter the aero-engine manufacturing business, becoming well-known for its popular Trent family aircraft engines until today.
On May 27, 2021, Rolls-Royce announced it had inaugurated Testbed 80, the world’s most extended and sophisticated enclosed aerospace test platform.
Featured image: CPG4XP Rolls, Charles Stewart, 27.8.1877 – 12.7.1910 in an aircraft. Image shot 1905. Exact date unknown. Photo: transportationhistory.org.