25 October 2014
at Rathmines, NSW
Harry George Hawker
Harry George Hawker. An Australian pioneer aviator, Aircraft Designer, Engineer and Test Pilot, was born in Moorabbin on 22 January 1889. Harry became one of the world's greatest aviators. Harry left Australia for England in 1911, and in less than 12 months was Chief Test Pilot for the Sopwith Aviation Company.
Harry George Hawker
From Bicycle Mechanic To Chief Test Pilot
Long before Harry Hawker left Australia’s shores to pursue his aviation ambitions, ambitions which led to him to being regarded as one the most talented pilots and aeronautical designers of his time, he was already regarded as a highly competent motor car driver and mechanic. After leaving school at the age of 11, he became a trainee mechanic at the Melbourne branch of Hall & Warden bicycle depot. By age 14 he was road-testing Oldsmobile cars having joined the Tarrant Motor and Engineering Co. in 1905 as a qualified mechanic.
Harry’s early interest and ability in all things mechanical led him to employment as both mechanic and driver. When Victoria first issued drivers license, Harry and his brother Herbert were amongst the first obtain them. After working for Tarrant Motors, he set up his own workshop at Caramut, in the western district of Victoria, where he serviced a small fleet of cars owned by the de Little family.
It was during his employment with the de Littles that, along with his father George, brother Bert and brother-in-law Albert Chamberlin, heard that the famous escapologist, Erich Weisz, or as he was more commonly know - Harry Houdini, was planning to make a powered flight at Diggers Rest – reputedly the first in Australia.
Harry’s attendance at this event did nothing to dampen his ambition to fly. Over the next twelve months he saved all he could with the aim of going to England, as England offered the greatest opportunities for him to realise his dream. With £100 saved, Harry, along with three friends who similarly wanted to have careers in aviation, left Australia in March of 1911. They were Harry Kauper, Harry Busteed and Eric Harrison. Interestingly, each of them all went on to have enormous influence in aviation.
Harry’s entry into aviation was not immediate, as when he arrived in England he initially found it difficult to find employment, especially without the benefit of English references. Initially, he took on employment as a mechanic with the Commer Company, before moving to the Mercedes company in January and then to Austro Daimler before his friend Harry Kauper, who had obtained work at Sopwith, contacted Harry and suggested that he call on Mr Sigrist the company’s works supervisor. At that time the Sopwith Company had a workforce of 14, and Harry was to become the fifteenth member. The business of the Sopwith company centred around a flying school and the building of the Howard Wright biplane, but to Harry Hawker it was the opening to the world of aviation.
After impressing the chief mechanic Fred Sigrist with his mechanical proficiency, it was not long before he convinced T.O.M Sopwith to take him on as a pupil at his newly formed flying school, using the money he had put aside for his return to Australia as tuition fees.
Just four days after his first flying lesson he was flying solo, and with only 24 hours of logged flying time, on 20 Oct 1912 he created an endurance record of 8 hours 23 minutes, and in doing so awarded the Michelin trophy for flight endurance, a record which he held for several years.
Harry was gifted with natural flying ability and was instructing others and recouping some of his tuition fees before he had actually received his pilot’s license, No.297, in September 1912. His ability was recognised by TOM Sopwith, who quickly appointed Harry as Chief test pilot and responsible for flying exhibitions as well as testing all Sopwith prototypes.
In May, 1913, the Brooklands Automobile Club offered a prize of £50 to anyone breaking the existing height record of 10,650 feet. Harry broke that record with 11,450 feet. He then went on to set another record with a passenger – 13,400 feet, then10,800 feet with two passengers and 8,400 feet with three passengers.