In November 1911, it was announced that the War Office was to hold a competition to select the most suitable aeroplanes to equip its air services. The location for the trials was to be at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain, where some members of the Air Battalion, the forerunner of the Royal Flying Corps, were already in residence.

One of the two Bristol Coanda Monoplanes built especially for the competition outside the sheds at Larkhill. They showed excellent workmanship but were both bought for use by the RFC. At the time this photo was taken, its crew’s attention was being taken up by something, or someone, on the ground behind it.

Details of the competition, including all rules, entry requirements and prizes, were published in Aeroplane and Flight magazines. All competing aircraft were required to be delivered in a packing case suitable for transport by rail or sea, and their assembly to flying condition was to be timed. They should have accommodation for a pilot and a passenger, who should be able to communicate effectively and should be provided with dual controls. Parts were to be interchangeable, and the engine should be effectively silenced. Each machine should be able to stand on the ground with the engine running without moving. Machines should be able to climb to 1000 feet in no more than five minutes, reach a height of 4,500 feet and fly for three hours, fully loaded.

Originally planned to begin on 1 June 1912, the start was delayed until July, then until August to give manufacturers more time to prepare new designs. A total of 31 aeroplanes were formally entered, although, despite the delayed start, only 25 turned up at Larkhill and of these, only 22 undertook any of the tests. None of the entrants had fitted silencers to their engines, and few, if any, had provided dual controls.

Since 1910, there had been a steadily growing collection of sheds at Larkhill, and, to provide accommodation for the competing aircraft, these were temporarily vacated, with the British & Colonial Flying School, which was based at Larkhill, moving en masse to Brooklands, where it had another branch. More space was needed, and an additional row of sheds was erected behind the existing ones. These were later relocated to Farnborough. Tents were provided for the many mechanics attending upon the competitors, while most of the owners and their pilots took rooms in nearby inns and hotels.

The competition was to be judged by Brig-Gen Sir David Henderson (Director of Military Training), Major F.H. Sykes (Officer commanding the Royal Flying Corps, Military Wing), Captain Godfrey Paine RN (Commandant, Central Flying School), and Mervyn O’Gorman (Superintendent, Royal Aircraft Factory). The judges’ secretary was Carden ( Assistant Superintendent, Royal Aircraft Factory).

Unfortunately, the weather that August was the worst on record, with steady rain and high winds, severely limiting the time available for flying and delaying the whole competition.

Logically, the competition began with the quick assembly test results, which varied considerably, with the six men of the Avro team assembling their machine in just 14½ minutes. Yet, it took almost nine and a half hours to rig the Maurice Farman.

The Avro crew had their entry fully rigged and ready to fly in just 14½ minutes. The only aircraft with an enclosed cabin, it met all the requirements for crew protection and ease of communication but, badly underpowered, it faired poorly in many of the performance tests. However, it had the lowest fuel consumption of any competitor.

The view from the cockpit was assessed by standing the machine on a squared grid and counting how many squares could be seen from the cockpit. With its exposed pilot’s seat, the Cody pusher did particularly well in this test, while the mid-wing monoplanes all scored very badly.

Glide angle was measured by a special device created by the Royal Aircraft Factory, which marked attitude against time. A barograph was provided for the machine undertaking the three-hour test to establish that the height of 4,500 feet, which was needed to place the aircraft out of range of small arms fire from the ground, had been achieved. The Hanriot monoplane proved to be the fastest over the measured course, reaching 75.4 miles/hr, but its rotary engine could not be effectively throttled back, so its minimum speed was a little less although, at 364 feet/min, it also had the fastest rate of climb.

Cody had the shortest landing run on both grass and plough as his machine was fitted with a kind of plough brake. There was remarkably little variation in glide angle, with eight entrants meeting the set minimum of 1 in 6, albeit each by a fairly narrow margin, whilst the others recorded angles of between 1 in 5.9 and 1 in 5.3. The 60 hp green engine of the Avro had the lowest fuel consumption at 4 gallons/hr, whereas Cody’s 120 hp Austro-Daimler consumed just over twice as much.

Although one entrant, a French-built Deperdussin monoplane, had completed all the tests by 10 August, others, plagued by engine problems or waiting for better weather conditions, took far longer, and it was not until 27 August that the competition was finally able to be brought to a close. Only nine competitors had completed all the tests.

A Deperdussin monoplane was awarded second place and a Prize of £2,000. It and another example were bought by the War office. However, one crashed soon after and, in part, led to a temporary ban on the use of monoplanes by the RFC.

When the Judges had assessed all the results and had completed their deliberations, Cody was declared the winner and was awarded a total of £5,000 in prize money. The Deperdussin monoplane, which was placed second, won £2,000, and the remaining aircraft which had completed all the tests were awarded £100 each.

Crowds surround Cody’s winning machine. When the King congratulated S.F. Cody he addressed him as ‘Colonel’, a title to which he was not strictly entitled but which he adopted thereafter.

The Monoplanes, such as the Depperdusin, the Hanriot and the Bleriots, if judged simply as flying machines, were probably better aircraft but had scored badly on the view from the cockpit, their poor speed range, and their rotary engines’ lack of speed range and heavy consumption of both petrol and oil.

Since the rules guaranteed a production order for the winner, the War Office, although aware that the Cody aeroplane was not what they wanted, bought just two with Cody, who had made no drawings, needing to retain the competition machine as a pattern from which to build another. Several other aeroplanes, including two British-built Deperdussins and the two Bristol Coandas, were also purchased, but the War Office was generally dissatisfied with the outcome and placed further orders for Royal Aircraft Factory designs, which may have been what it had planned to do all along