Hilda Hewlett

Infobox Person
name = Hilda Hewlett

image_size =
caption =
birth_date = birth date|1864|2|17|df=y
birth_place = London, England
death_date = death date and age|1943|8|21|1864|2|17|df=y
death_place = New Zealand
occupation = Aviator and business entrepreneur
spouse = Maurice Hewlett, married 3 January 1888–separated 1914
parents = Louisa Hopgood,
George William Herbert
children = Pia (Hewlett) Richards,
Francis Hewlett

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett (17 February 186421 August 1943) was the first British aviatrix to earn a pilot's licence. She was also a successful early aviation entrepreneur. She created and ran the first flying school in the United Kingdom. She also created and managed a successful aircraft manufacturing business which produced more than 800 aeroplanes and employed up to 700 people. She later emigrated to New Zealand.


Early life

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett was born in Vauxhall, London on 17 February 1864 to Louisa Herbert née Hopgood and George William Herbert. Her father was a Church of England vicar. Hilda was one of nine siblings.Fact|date=August 2007

As a young woman she attended the National Art Training School in South Kensington. She specialised in three skills which served her well in her later aviation engineering career: woodwork, metalwork, and needlework. Her art was good enough to be exhibited. When she was 19 she visited Egypt with her parents. At the age of 21 she spent a year training as a nurse at a hospital in Berlin. She was an early bicycle and motor car enthusiast and participated in automobile rallies.

She married Maurice Henry Hewlett on 3 January 1888 in St. Peter's Church, Vauxhall, where her father was the incumbent. The couple had two children, a daughter, Pia, and a son, Francis, but separated in 1914. Maurice Hewlett was unsympathetic to his wife's involvement in aviation and claimed, "Women will never be as successful in aviation as men. They have not the right kind of nerve."Fact|date=August 2007

Achievements in aviation

Hewlett attended her first aviation meeting at Blackpool in 1909. Later that year, after adopting the pseudonym "Grace Bird", she travelled to the airfield at Mourmelon-le-Grand, France, to study aeronautics. She met aviation engineer Gustav Blondeau and they became business partners. Hewlett returned to England with a Farman biplane, nicknamed the "Blue Bird", and Blondeau and in the summer of 1910 they opened the first flying school in the United Kingdom at the disused Brooklands motor-racing circuit at Weybridge, Surrey. Many people gained their first experience of flying at Hewlett and Blondeau's school, including Thomas Sopwith. Thirteen pupils graduated from the school in the year and a half it operated and, with a remarkable safety record for the time, there were no accidents.

On 29 August 1911, at Brooklands, Hilda Hewlett became the first woman in the UK to earn a pilot's licence when she received certificate No.122 from the Royal Aero Club after completing the test in her biplane. Hewlett also taught her son, Francis, to fly; he earned his pilot's certificate on 14 November 1911 and went on to have a distinguished military aviation career in both the UK [He took part in the Cuxhaven Raid, during which he had to ditch his aircraft, a Short Type 135, due to engine failure. He was rescued by a Dutch fishing vessel, which took him to the Dutch port of Ymunden, where he arrived on 2 January 1915; from there he was able to make his way back to England.] and New Zealand, making him the first military pilot taught to fly by his mother. He earned a Distinguished Service Order in 1915 and rose to the rank of Group Captain.

Hilda Hewlett participated in airshows and aviation competitions. On 11 September 1911 she flew her Farman biplane in an airshow at Chelson Meadow, Plymouth. [cite web
last = Moseley
first = Brian
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Early Flying
work = The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
publisher = Brian Moseley
date = 2003-10-01
url = http://plymouthdata.info/Flying.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-03-14
] In 1912 Hewlett won a quick-start aviation competition.

Hewlett and Blondeau started an aircraft manufacturing business, Hewlett & Blondeau Limited, which was managed by Hewlett. They built Farman, Caudron and Hanriot aircraft under licence. The business began at Brooklands, moved to Clapham, London, and finally settled on a 10 acre site at Leagrave, Bedfordshire, in May 1914. By August 1914 the company had produced 10 different types of aircraft. During the First World War, Hewlett's company manufactured more than 800 military aircraft, a specialised convert|90|hp|abbr=on engine which the British government considered vital to the war effort, and employed up to 700 people. After the war the business diversified into making farming equipment, but the factory had closed by the end of October 1920. The site remained unsold until 1926. [ [http://www.bath.ac.uk/~ensegb/hbomnia.htm Hewlett and Blondeau history] ] A road in Luton, Hewlett Road, was named after her in recognition of the importance of the company towards the war effort.

Emigration to New Zealand

Hewlett had previously spent nine months touring New Zealand, Rarotonga, and the United States, but it wasn't until the factory site was sold that she emigrated to Tauranga, New Zealand, with her daughter Pia Richards and Pia's family. Hilda stated, "The urge to escape from the three Cs, crowds, convention, and civilization, became strong." She enjoyed the outdoor life, especially camping and fishing. Her family gave her the nickname "Old Bird".

In June 1932 Hewlett was present at the inaugural meeting of the Tauranga Aero and Gliding Club. In July she was elected as the club's first president. In January 1939, at the opening of a new aerodrome in Tauranga, Frederick Jones, New Zealand's then Minister of Defence, named a nearby road after Hilda Hewlett and her son Francis, in recognition of their services to aviation.

Death and afterwards

Hewlett died 21 August 1943 in Tauranga, New Zealand. Following a service on the railway wharf, she was buried at sea.


Published non-fiction

* "Our Flying Men", Mrs. Hilda Beatrice Hewlett, pp. 40, T.B. Hart: Kettering (1917). [cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Full Record
work = British Library Integrated Catalogue
publisher = British Library
date =
url = http://catalogue.bl.uk/F/?func=file&file_name=login-bl-list
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-03-14

Unpublished non-fiction

*Hewlett's autobiography remains unpublished. The manuscript is in the care of her family.


External links

* [http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb/default.asp?Find_Quick.asp?PersonEssay=4H30 Hilda Hewlett by Pat Irene Winton at the "Dictionary of New Zealand Biography"]
* [http://www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/images/hewlett_350.jpgPhotograph of Hilda Hewlett with her aeroplane]
* [http://www.scienceandsociety.co.uk/results.asp?
* [http://people.bath.ac.uk/ensegb/hbomnia.htm "A History of the Hewlett & Blondeau Company"]

NAME= Hewlett, Hilda Beatrice
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Herbert, Hilda Beatrice
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Aviator and business entrepreneur
DATE OF BIRTH= 17 February 1864
PLACE OF BIRTH= London, United Kingdom
DATE OF DEATH= 21 August 1943

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