On this day in history : 12th July 1910 – Pioneering pilot and co-founder of Rolls Royce, Charles Rolls, is killed when the tail of his bi-plane breaks off during a flying display….
32-year-old Charles had been flying at Hengistbury Airfield, Southbourne, Bournemouth when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke away…. He was the first air fatality in the UK – and the 11th internationally….
Charles Steward Rolls had been born on the 27th of August 1877 at Berkeley Square, London but kept strong connections with the family home, The Hendre, in Monmouth, Wales…. He attended Eton and then Trinity College, Cambridge and studied mechanical and applied science….
In 1896, at the age of 18, he travelled to Paris to buy his first car….a Peugeot Phaeton – and it is thought this was the first car in Cambridge – and one of the first three in Wales…. He became a founder member of the Automobile Club of Great Britain….
Charles was also a keen cyclist and captained Cambridge University’s Bicycle Club before his graduation in 1898…. In January 1903 he started one of Britain’s first car dealerships, C.S.Rolls & Co. in Fulham, selling Peugeot and Belgian Minerva automobiles….
It was on May the 4th 1904 that he met Henry Royce, through a mutual friend at the Royal Automobile Club…. Charles was impressed with Henry’s ‘Royce 10’ – a two-cylinder car….and the two formed a partnership….’Rolls Royce’….
But alongside that Charles was also a keen pioneer aviator, initially as a balloonist – having made over 170 flights…. In 1903 he won the Gordon Bennett Gold Medal for the longest single flight time…. Then on the 8th of October 1908 he became the second ever Briton to go up in an aeroplane – in a plane piloted by Wilbur Wright…. In October 1909 he bought his own aircraft….a Wright Flyer and made over 200 flights in it….becoming the second person licensed to fly a plane…. He was the first man to make a non-stop double-crossing of the English Channel….and helped found the Royal Aero Club….