The Cambridge Chronicle 24th September 1909



Two keen-eyed young men stood, in the sunshine of a warm September afternoon, at the wide open doors of the huge old barn at Oakington. Before them was spread an engineer’s “blueprint” or diagram drawing of a four-cylinder air cooled petrol engine. Behind, suspended from ropes – slung over rafters high up in the dimness of the roof – was the frail looking wooden skeleton of the Grose – Feary monoplane, its varnish stays gleaming in the sunshine like burnished brass. From a corner came the “chip chip” of a chisel, where “David”, the village carpenter’s mate, was working away at a wondrously curved piece of wood – more like a distorted section of the American “jig-saw” game gone suddenly mad.

That was how a representative of this paper found Messrs. A. M. Grose and N. A. Feary at work on their all-British monoplane at Oakington one afternoon this week. As already announced, Messrs. Grose and Feary have entered their machine for the “Daily Mail” £1,000 prize for the first circular mile flight by an all-British monoplane. They are housed in the Oakington barn in order to work rapidly and to secure immunity from the distractions and interruptions that almost inevitably accompany such work when carried out near London. If possible it is hoped that the monoplane will be ready to take part in the Blackpool aviation week, which will be held in about a month’s time.

The inventors, who come from London, have all the characteristics of the flying men type. The high brow, the direct, wide-eyed gaze, the slight, compact build – these things stamp them indubitably. This is the modern type. It is seen in Santos, Dumont, Latham, Bleriot, Curtiss and poor young Lefevbre, who was killed only the other week. Only the Wright brothers seem to provide exceptions. Neither Wilbur, with his heavy-lidded eyes and sardonic smile, nor Orville, with the air of a spruce City stock-broker, could be adjudges typical flying men.

But Messrs. Grose and Feary probably don’t care a tin-tack either way about appearances. They work in the true Wright manner, supervising and attending personally to almost every detail. Nothing is left to chance in aeroplane building. In the air there’s plenty of outside emergency to contend with, they say, without contributing to it yourself by indifference as to whether a splintered stay should be substituted by a sound one or not. When you are some two or three hundred feet off the ground with something gone wrong you’d call yourself fancy names and deserve all you got if you built aeroplanes on that system.

Around Oakington and district some excellent meadows of over a quarter of a mile in length have been inspected by Messrs. Grose and Feary with a view to obtaining permission for trial spins. When exactly these will take place is not certain. The work, which up to the present week had been proceeding rapidly, is now almost at a standstill owing to the failure of a Cambridge firm to supply certain fittings on the date specified. Such a delay is tantalising in the extreme. The inventors naturally desire to have the distinction of being one of the few all-British competitors at Blackpool. But even if they are unable to be there they would be perfectly satisfied if some other Englishman should turn up. They rather hope he will, in fact, for, in the words of Mr. Grose they are “sick for poor old England that she is so far behind in aviation.” It rankles too, with the inventors that the Blackpool Councillors returned from France the other day saying they had brought back with them a full list of competitors, “as though there is not a flying man in England to represent her,” said Mr. Grose disgustedly. London firms, is seems, with whom other orders have been placed were quick to recognise the urgency (not to mention the advertisement) of the matter, and placed other work aside that there might be no delay.

“We came here for quietness,” said Mr. Feary, “but we have no use for sloth. Don’t Cambridge people ever hurry?”

“Not in the Long Vacation.”

“Then roll on term-time as soon as you like,” replied the inventor, with a shrug of the shoulders.

Since the announcement in this paper a week ago a tremendous amount of interest has been aroused in Cambridge and district in the monoplane building at Oakington, Messrs. Grose and Feary have been the recipients of some very quaint requests from curious sight-seers. One lady wrote from Cambridge asking if she might bring over her girls’ school. Whether she wanted to picnic in the barn was not stated, but the inventors being married men – and for other reasons – replied in the negative, with many thanks.

A schoolboy, who arrived in person, was rather more trouble. He wanted to see, etc. He was a particularly pertinacious investigator, and played off several little painstaking ruses. Eventually he was gently captured, escorted from the farm yard and some good advice on the advisability of joining the Boy Scouts administered. “Well,” he said, dolefully, as he left the gate, “I’ve lost five bob over this. I bet a pal of mine I would see the monoplane.” But the appeal fell among the stones by the way-side. Others waiting to join the inventors in their work are rather more subtle; for the most powerful book in the world to-day is the cheque-book. It can do almost anything; but not quite – it can’t provide its owner with brains. And men who, as the result of a life-time of investigation, have learned to build flying machines can hardly be expected to relate their secrets at the point of a pen in a cheque-book. Not much. The Oakington men are going to fly the Grose-Feary monoplane themselves.

To keep out the morally maimed as regards mine and thine, and those who are intellectually halt and anything but blind, a canvas palisade has been erected in front of the big south doors of the barn. The citadel cannot therefore be “rushed” when the defenders are off their guard. There is also a 56lb. weight to help as a door-stop. For those of a more polite persuasion a bell-pull has been installed. But “David” is doorkeeper, and quite up to “slinging out” and invading Goliath without the aid of stones. During the past week another unknown visitor was seen prowling about after nightfall near the barn.

“Why don’t you try a charge or two of small shot in him?” Mr. Feary was asked.

“We shall try a discharge or two on him – when we see him,” was the reply.

Truly it is a strangely fascinating thing to stand on the barn floor beside this slight frame-work of white wood that has proved such an almost irresistible magnet to the country side. Its slender lines are as clear-cut and dainty as those of a racing eight. But its apparent frailty is false. An eight is no tougher in comparison than an eggshell. In its vital parts the monoplane is steel-stiffened and wire tautened. “Catch hold here and feel the rigidity,” says Mr. Grose. As he speaks he suddenly jerks the frame bodily from the ground. Under the palm one feels it spring like a live thing with the resiliency of a well-seasoned cricket bat. A flyer, surely, in every rib!

“She’s a real beauty! Do you call a monoplane ‘her’ by the way?”

“Well one of you newspaper Jonnies called it the ‘Dark Hued Pegasus’ last week,” said Mr Grose.

Pegasus? Oh, of the earth too earthy by far! Perseus if you like ! ! And so we left it. Oakington Plane