Gustav Hamel

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Hamel as caricatured in Vanity Fair, July 1912

Gustav Hamel (25 June 1889 - missing 23 May 1914) was a pioneer British aviator.

Hamel was prominent in the early history of aviation in Britain, and in particular that of Hendon airfield, where Claude Graham-White was energetically developing and promoting flying.


Gustav Hamel was educated at Westminster School and chose to learn to fly at the Blériot school at Pau, France in 1910 at the age of 21. He obtained the Royal Aero Club's Aviator's certificate no. 64 and the Aéro-Club de France's certificate no. 358.[1] His first flight of note was on 24 March 1911 when he flew from Hendon to Brooklands in a record 58 minutes.

In the exploit for which he is best remembered, Hamel flew a Blériot on Saturday 9 September 1911, covering the 21 miles between Hendon and Windsor in 18 minutes (took off at 4:55pm and arrived at 5:13pm) to deliver the first official airmail to the Postmaster General. Included was a postcard he had written en route. The many thousands of items of mail included commemorative postcards which are today treasured by collectors.

27 July 1912 The Hinkley Times reported:

"Mr Gustav Hamel, the famous aviator, brought his aeroplane to the Outwoods and gave a demonstration of powered flight. This would have been the first time that most Hinckley people had witnessed a motorized aeroplane. The aeroplane flew over Burbage and Sketchley. Many people in Mount Road saw the plane as it flew low over their heads. A mishap at the conclusion of the flight made any further flying that day impossible."[2]

In August 1913 a seventy five mile air race around the Midlands was arranged between Benfield Hucks & Hamel. The take-off point for the contest was the Tally-Ho grounds, adjacent to Cannon Hill Park. Both aviators then flew anti-clockwise around the circuit, landing at Redditch recreation ground, Coventry, Nuneaton, Tamworth and Walsall in turn, and then finishing at Edgbaston. Hamel won the race by a margin of just twenty seconds. Hamel was quite active in Worcestershire, visiting Pershore racecourse in October 1913 where he gave exhibitions of flying. He also visited Upton On Severn, Worcester racecourse & Kidderminster cricket ground in October 1913.[3]

Carrying newspapers by aeroplane[edit]

An item in the magazine Flight, of 26 August 1911, covered Hamel's unsuccessful attempt to convey newspapers from Hendon to Southend the previous Saturday. It appears that the publisher sponsored this event as a publicity stunt. However, heavy weather forced the plane down at Hammersmith in West London.

Saturday 9 September 1911. Gustav Hamel, flying his Bleriot XI monoplane, left Hendon at 4.58pm. He carried one bag of mail with 300-400 letters, about 800 postcards and a few newspapers weighing 23Ib and arrived safely at Windsor around 5.13pm. The centenary of the event was marked by the Royal Mail with the issue of a set of commemorative postage stamps on 9 September 2011.[4]

Further reportage appears in the history of another airfield called 'Hendon' at Bradford, Yorkshire. He was the first to fly from there on Friday 1 August 1913[5]

Late in 1913, looping the loop was perfected and became a popular event during the many public displays. On 2 January 1914, Hamel took Miss Trehawke Davies aloft to experience a loop, and she thus became the first woman in the world to do so.

In March 1914 Hamel flew to Cardiff to give a public flying display. While there he met Charles Horace Watkins, who was an engineer perfecting his own aircraft called the Robin Gôch, or Red Robin. Contemporary newspaper reports indicate that a few minutes after they met, Hamel flew them both to Watkins' hangar, where they inspected the Robin Gôch.[6]


In these early days, flying was a dangerous endeavour; accidents and deaths were common. Hamel died before reaching the age of 25. He disappeared over the English Channel on 23 May 1914 while returning from Paris in a new 80 hp Morane-Saulnier monoplane he had just collected.

On 6 July 1914, the crew of a fishing vessel found a body in the Channel off Boulogne. Although they did not retrieve the body, their description of items of clothing and of finding a road map of southern England on the corpse provided strong circumstantial evidence that the body was Hamel's.[7]

At this time of high international tension, there was speculation that he might have been the victim of sabotage, but no trace of the aircraft was ever found and the story faded with his memory.

His contribution to flying, however, did not end entirely with his death: posthumously published was a seminal co-authored book on flying.[8]

Mark Bostridge's The Fateful Year. England 1914 (2014) has a chapter about Hamel's last months and disappearance.


  1. ^ List of deaths from Early Aviators website
  2. ^ Untitled Document
  3. ^ Various local newspapers including Birmingham Post & real photographic postcards showing Hamel in action.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Yorkshire Pride
  6. ^ Information supplied by Richard Davies, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Industry at the National Museums & Galleries of Wales. The museum has a Robin Gôch In storage.
  7. ^ "Body Surely Hamel's; Corpse found and abandoned by fisherman that of airman". New York Times. 9 July 1914. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  8. ^ Flying; some practical experiences Gustav Hamel and Charles C. Turner, London, New York [etc.] Longmans, Green and Co., 1914. xii, 341 p

Additional links[edit]