Wickenby rebirth for Winston’s Waterbird

Gerry Cooper and his replica Waterbird at Wickenby EMN-150806-105720001
Gerry Cooper and his replica Waterbird at Wickenby EMN-150806-105720001

Winston Churchill’s first pre-war seaplane is set to take the the skies for the first time in over a century thanks to a Wickenby engineer.

Gerry Cooper has spent five years at the airfield building a replica of the 1911 Waterbird, which was championed by the late PM when he was First Lord of the Admiralty.

Churchill even joined creator Edward Wakefield behind the controls when the pioneering craft first took flight.

Now, Gerry is finishing off the 30ft-long plane with a 43ft wingspan, which is due for its first test flight in July, in time for a major event on Lake Wiindermere in September.

Charity The Lakes Flying Company approached Gerry in 2010 to ask him to build the craft, which he did with a handful of volunteers and employees. The job paused a while when the charity ran out of cash but renewed funding means the job nears completion. Total construction took about two years.

Gerry says the project faced other challenges, such as the original rotary engines no longer being available, so a modern engine was used, something also essential to pass modern certification requirements. Paperwork- “the biggest job”- had to be followed, including an 89-page design analysis. Bamboo was also needed, which was supplied from China. Original fibres would rot, so modern fabrics were used, suitable for its planned siting on Lake Windermere.

Gerry and his team used original drawings and books for guidance. They also visited the RAF Museum in Stafford to see original parts of the craft which crashed in 1912.

Gerry is retired and describes his hangar, which has other planes, as his ‘toyshop.’

The 72-year-old engineer used to run a data gathering company looking for oil, gas and minerals in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

“I started flying in 1962. I have done that much flying it bores me to death now. Every plane I have in here, I found as a piece of rust. I test planes and make sure they are safe. Then I lose interest and find my next piece of rubbish and turn it into a plane,” he said.

“Winston Churchill was the man behind this aeroplane. He stood up against (author) Beatrix Potter. She did not like the planes on the lake, but Winston told her: ‘I’m afraid madam, books don’t win wars’.”