Godfather to Naval Aviation
from Flight and Aeroplane
Collection of Ian Sayer, 10-7-06
Frank K. McClean
WE REGRETto record the death at 79 in a London nursing home after a long illness of Sir Francis McClean, A.F.C., whose vital part in fostering naval aviation in this country was reported on the front page of our issue for July 29 last at some length.
     Like many another personality in the early days of aviation, Francis McClean was trained at the Royal School of Mines in London. And before he went to India in 1898 at the age of 22 he had spent three years at the Royal Indian Engineering College at Cooper's Hill. He returned to England after three and a half
     Francis McClean, who was 34 when he gained his aviator's certificate No. 21 in 1910, owned 16 aeroplanes in all including, we believe, the first twin-engined aeroplane that ever flew. He also test-flew the Short aeroplanes built for the Admiralty and Army, but strictly as an amateur. He caused in his own words "considerable displeasure in high police circles" when in Augusst, 1912, he flew a Short seaplane from Harty Ferry in Sheppey to Westminister, following the river and flying under Tower and London Bridges. The remainder of the bridges he negotiated on the water--it seemed safer.
     In 1914 McClean flew from Alexandria to Khartoum in a Short seaplane with a 140 h.p. Gnome engine, following the course of the Nile, leaving on January 3 and arriving on March 22. On August 6, 1914, he joined the Royal Naval Air Service with his two remaining machines. After a period as instructor at Eastchurch he ended his active flying career.
     During the 1914-18 War he was awarded the Air Force Cross and was mentioned in despatches. In 1923 he received the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club in appreciation of his work in connection with British aviation.
years in the Indian Public Works Department, to join the family business. It was in 1902 that he became a director of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company, a post he retained until its nationalizaiton in 1948. He was a member of the board of Powell Duffryn from 1904 until the same date. He must have had remarkable qualifications at a youthful age for he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the Royal Institution in 1902.      His other exploits and his knighthood in 1926 were duly recorded in our previous article. He was twice chairman of the Royal Aero Club, first in 1923-24 and again from 1941-44. He was elected a vice-president in 1945.
     A memorial service will be held at 12 noon at Christ Church, Down Street, London, W.1, on August 25.
     His interest in aviation did not begin until 1907. He took part in his first Gordon Bennett balloon race in 1908 and his second in 1909. In the first he was assistant to Griffith Brewer; in the second he was in charge with Mortimer Singer as his assistant. Griffith Brewer introduced him to WIlbur Wright in 1908 and in that year on December 7 at Le Mans he had his first flight in an aeroplane. He at once ordered a Wright machine and another to Shorts' designs. The story of his experiences with Shorts and his generosity in purchasing the land at Eastchurch was set ou in the previous article.
Frank K. McClean
Francis McClean at Eastchurch in 1909
Frank K. McClean
Flying throughTower Bridge
in a seaplane in 1912.

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