Percy Pilcher

Percy Sinclair Pilcher (16 January 1866 — 2 October, 1899) was a British inventor and pioneer aviator who was his country's foremost experimenter in unpowered flight at the end of the 19th Century. He was planning a flight with a motor-driven hang glider, but died in the crash of another glider before he could make the attempt.

Early life

Pilcher was born in Bath in 1866 to a Scottish mother, and served in the Royal Navy for seven years from 1880. Thereafter he became an apprentice with the shipbuilders, Randolph, Elder and Company, of Govan in Glasgow.



Pilcher set his sights upon powered flight: he developed a triplane that was to be powered by a 4 hp (3 kW) engine; however, construction of the triplane put him heavily into debt, and Pilcher needed sponsorship to complete his work.


On 30 September 1899, having completed his triplane, he had intended to demonstrate it to a group of onlookers and potential sponsors in a field near Stanford Hall. However, days before, the engine crankshaft had broken and, so as not to disappoint his guests, he decided to fly the Hawk instead. The weather was stormy and rainy, but by 4pm Pilcher decided the weather was good enough to fly ['Mr Leicester'. 2008. The Rise and fall of Percy Pilcher. Leicester Mercury Saturday 2 Feb. pp 16-17.)] . Whilst flying, the tail snapped and Pilcher plunged 10 metres (30 ft) to the ground: he died two days later from his injuries with his triplane having never been publicly flown.

He is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London. []


A stone monument to him stands in the field near Stanford Hall at the point where he crashed, and a full sized replica of his "The Hawk" glider is also displayed at Stanford Hall.

Renewal of interest

Pilcher's plans were lost for many years, and his name was also long forgotten except by a few enthusiasts. When the centenary of the Wright brothers' flight approached, a new effort was made to find the lost work, and some correspondence was found in a private American collection. From this it was possible to discern the general direction of his plans and the basis of his design. Based on Lilienthal's work, Pilcher understood how to produce lift using winglike structures, but at this time a full mathematical description was years away, so many elements were still missing. In particular, Pilcher was stuck trying to design a wing that could lift the weight of an engine, the aircraft itself and the occupant - each increase in wing area increased the weight so much that yet more lift was required, requiring a larger wing - a seemingly vicious circle. Pilcher's breakthrough, thanks to correspondence with another pioneer, Octave Chanute, was to stack smaller, lighter wings one atop the other in an arrangement we know today as the biplane or triplane. This allowed the wings to generate much more lift without a corresponding increase in weight.

In 2003, a research effort carried out at the School of Aeronautics at Cranfield University, commissioned by the BBC2 television series "Horizon", has shown that Pilcher's design was more or less workable, and had he been able to develop his engine, it is possible he would have succeeded in being the first to fly a heavier-than-air powered aircraft with some degree of control. Cranfield built a replica of Pilcher's aircraft and added the Wright brothers' innovation of wing-warping as a safety backup for roll control. Pilcher's original design did not include aerodynamic controls such as ailerons or elevator. After a very short initial test, the craft achieved a sustained flight of 1 minute and 25 seconds, compared to 59 seconds for the Wright Brothers' best flight at Kitty Hawk. This was achieved under dead calm conditions as an additional safety measure, whereas the Wrights flew in a 25 mph+ wind to achieve enough airspeed on their early attempts.

ee also

*Aviation history#Picking up the pace
*A-frame for hang gliders, trikes, and ultralights

External links

* [ Lots of info about Pilcher]
* [ More info about Pilcher]
* [,3604,1096724,00.html Guardian story about Pilcher]
* [ The BBC "Horizon" programme's website about Pilcher]


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Percy Pilcher — Percy Sinclair Pilcher (* 16. Januar 1866 in Bath; † 2. Oktober 1899 in London) war ein englischer Erfinder und ein Pionier der Luftfahrt, der es hätte schaffen können, noch vor den Gebrüdern Wright, den ersten motorisierten Flug zu absolvieren.… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Percy Pilcher — Photo de Percy Sinclair Pilcher. Percy Pilcher sur son planeur Hawk. Royaume Uni, 1897. Shown might be Miss Doro …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Percy Sinclair Pilcher — (* 16. Januar 1866 in Bath; † 2. Oktober 1899 in London) war ein englischer Erfinder und ein Pionier der Luftfahrt, der es hätte schaffen können, noch vor den Gebrüdern Wright, den ersten motorisierten Flug zu absolvieren. Pilcher war der Sohn… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Pilcher — ist der Familienname von: Diane Pilcher, US amerikanische Opernsängerin (Mezzosopran) John Leonard Pilcher (1898−1981), US amerikanischer Politiker Percy Pilcher (1866−1899), englischer Erfinder und Luftfahrt Pionier Robin Pilcher (* 1950),… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Percy (Vorname) — Percy ist ein englischer männlicher Vorname. Herkunft und Bedeutung Es ist eine Kurzform des Namens Percival (siehe auch Parceval). Bekannte Namensträger Percy Adlon (* 1935), deutscher Film und Fernsehregisseur, Autor und Produzent Percy Shelley …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Pilcher, Percy Sinclair — SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace [br] b. 16 January 1867 Bath, England d. 2 October 1899 Stanford Hall, Northamptonshire, England [br] English designer and glider aeronaut. [br] He was educated at HMS Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, from 1880 to …   Biographical history of technology

  • Pilcher Hawk — ▪ monoplane glider  monoplane glider designed, built, and first flown by the English aviator Percy Sinclair Pilcher (Pilcher, Percy Sinclair) in 1896.       Pilcher completed work on four gliders between 1895 and 1899: Bat (1895), Beetle (1895),… …   Universalium

  • Pilcher, Percy Sinclair — ▪ British engineer born January 1866 died Oct. 2, 1899, Leicestershire, Eng.  British aviation pioneer and glider experimenter.       Trained as a naval cadet, Pilcher served for six years as a midshipman before beginning an apprenticeship with a …   Universalium

  • 1890s — Millennium: 2nd millennium Centuries: 18th century – 19th century – 20th century Decades: 1860s 1870s 1880s – 1890s – 1900s 1910s 1920s …   Wikipedia

  • Historia de la aviación — Ícaro y Dédalo. La historia de la aviación se remonta al día en el que el hombre prehistórico …   Wikipedia Español

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