Friday, September 23, 2011

Britain - 1911 S.E.1

Another One from the Odd Duck File

The early days of aviation design was fertile ground for strange planes. The S.E.1 was another example of the "Dancing Bear Syndrome", It did not matter how poorly the bear danced. The fact that it did dance was the miracle. Unfortunately, like a bear it can turn on the hapless handler and kill him.

At first glance trying to establish which end was the nose of the S.E.1 may seem confusing. Since it was a pusher aircraft, the pointed end is the nose sporting a canard stabilizer. The pilot sat in the fuselage section which had radiators mounted on either side for cooling the engine.

The S.E.1 (Santos Experimental) was an experimental aircraft built at the Army Balloon Factory at Farnborough (later the Royal Aircraft Factory) in 1911. Its place in aviation history is mainly that it was the first in the series of Royal Aircraft Factory designs - several of which played an important role in World War I.

In 1911 the Army Balloon Factory was not actually authorized to construct aircraft, but only to repair them. When the remains of a crashed Blériot XI monoplane belonging to the army were sent from Larkhill to Farnborough for repair, authorization for a complete reconstruction was sought, and granted.

The result was a completely new design. A tractor monoplane became a pusher biplane with large balanced fore-elevators, similar in basic layout to the Wright Flyer, but with a fully covered fuselage. Ailerons were fitted to the top wing, and twin balanced rudders were mounted behind the propeller, but out of its immediate slipstream. The only obvious component of the Blériot that found its way into the new design was its 60 hp (45 kW) E.N.V. "F" engine.

The S.E.1 made its first flight, a straight mile in the hands of its designer Geoffrey de Havilland on 11 June 1911. Further fight testing revealed control problems and the area of the front wing/elevator was adjusted to try to bring together the center of pressure and the hinge line and make the S.E.1 stable in pitch. By the beginning of August the front surface was fixed and carried a conventional trailing edge elevator. An attempt to improve the turning characteristics was made by stripping the side covering of the nacelle to reduce side area. de Havilland continued to fly the S.E.1 until 16 August. On the 18 August the aircraft was flown by someone else for the first time; the rather inexperienced pilot Lt. Theodore J. Ridge, Assistant Superintendent at the factory (who had only been awarded his Pilot's certificate the day before, and was described as "an absolutely indifferent flyer". The combination of the inexperienced pilot and the marginally controllable aircraft proved fatal - the S.E.1 stalled in a turn and spun in, killing Ridge.

No attempt to rebuild the S.E.1 was made, and the design was apparently abandoned, with no attempt to develop it. The S.E.2 of 1913 was a completely different kind of airplane - a development of the B.S.1.


  1. Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.1. (2010, May 22). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:35, January 12, 2011, from
  2. Jackson, A.J. (1978). de Havilland Aircraft since 1909 1978, pp. 38-9. London: Putnam Publishing. ISBN 0 370 30022 X.
  3. Jarrett, Philip (2002). "Making Flying Safer". In Jarrett, Philip. Pioneer Aircraft:Early Aviation before 1914 2002. London: Putnam. pp. 202-215. ISBN 0 85177 869 0.


In Chigh said...

That certainly is an odd looking contraption!

Jon said...

Looking at the size of the prop and landing gear, it must of been a bear to land.