Wilfred Parke

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Wilfred Parke
Born 1889
Died 1912
Wembley, London
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1905–1912
Rank Lieutenant

Lieutenant Wilfred Parke RN (1889–1912) was a British aviator who was the first pilot to make an observed recovery from a spin.


Parke was the son of Alfred Watlington Parke,[1] the Rector of Uplyme, and Hilda Fort. He was the grandson of Charles Joseph Parke of Henbury in Dorset, a former High Sheriff of the county, and was a great nephew of General William Parke as well as being great great grandson of the Reverend Charles Wicksted Ethelston, who read the riot act at the Peterloo riots and signed the arrest warrant for the speakers.[2]


Parke became a midshipman in the Royal Navy in September 1905, was promoted to sub-lieutenant in 1908 and lieutenant in 1910.[3] He had his first flying lesson at the Avro school at Brooklands on Sunday 11 April 1911. At that time dual-control instruction was almost unknown, and Parke was in sole charge of the aircraft, in which he had been told to try taxying. To the surprise of all, he opened the throttle, and made series of short hops, managing to land successfully. The following Wednesday Parke, at his third attempt, succeeded in flying a half-circle in a stiff breeze, landing with minor damage to the undercarriage.[4] The following Monday he successfully took the test for his pilots license in a Bristol Boxkite,[5] and was awarded Royal Aero Club flying license no.73, awarded in a RAeC meeting that also awarded licenses to the pioneer naval aviators C. R. Samson and Arthur Longmore.[6]

In October 1911 he was taken on as a demonstrator and instructor by the Grahame-White flying school at Hendon,[7] doing this when not engaged on naval duties. In May 1912 he was posted to HMS Actaeon (part of the Royal Navy's torpedo school HMS Vernon) as an officer of the Naval Wing of the R.F.C.[3]

In August 1912 he was the pilot of the Avro G cabin biplane which had been entered in the British Military Aeroplane Competition taking place at Larkhill Aerodrome on Salisbury Plain. On the morning of August 25 he had carried out a three-hour endurance trial, accompanied by Lieut. Le Breton, R.F.C., and was approaching the aerodrome in order to land. When flying upwind an altitude of about 650 feet (200 m), Parke entered a spiral gliding approach and closed the throttle without switching the engine off. Having turned though a half circle and now more or less flying into wind, Parke thought the aircraft was too nose-up and also insufficiently banked for the turn he was making. He therefore applied up elevator and possibly applied the wing warping control, and at once the aircraft entered a spin.

Parke attempted to recover from the spin by increasing engine speed, pulling back on the stick, and turning into the spin, with no effect. The aircraft descended 450 feet (140 m), and observers braced themselves for a fatal crash. Parke was disabled by centrifugal forces but was still considering a means of escape. In an effort to neutralize the forces pinning him against the right side of the cockpit, he applied full right rudder, and the aircraft levelled out fifty feet above the ground. With the aircraft now under control, Parke climbed, made another approach, and landed safely.[8]

The British pilot Fred Raynham had already made a successful recovery from a spin, but the event was unobserved.[9]

In spite of the discovery of "Parke's technique," also known as the "Parke Dive",[10] pilots were not taught spin-recovery procedures until the beginning of World War I.


Parke was killed a few months later on 15 December 1912 when the Handley Page monoplane in which he was flying from Hendon to Oxford crashed at Wembley, also killing his passenger Alfred Hardwick, the manager of Handley Page. The accident was caused by loss of engine power, combined with the loss of airspeed caused by turning, exacerbated by the wind disturbances due to the local topography, especially the presence a belt of trees on the windward side of a ridge.[11]

There is a stained glass window dedicated to his memory in Uplyme parish church.[12]


  1. ^ St Peter and St Paul Parish News Uplyme, July 2006
  2. ^ Manchester Cathedral News Page 8 February 2013
  3. ^ a b Aeroplane Accident at Wembley The Times Monday 16 Dec 1912; p. 4; Issue 40083.
  4. ^ From the British Flying Grounds Flight 22 April 1911.
  5. ^ From the British Flying Grounds Flight 29 April 1911, p.377
  6. ^ RAeC Notices Flight 29 April 1911
  7. ^ Air Eddies Flight 14 October 1911, p.895
  8. ^ Parke's Dive Flight 31 August 1912 p.787
  9. ^ Sydney Camm's recollections – Raynham the unlucky Flight 18 June 1954, p.808
  10. ^ http://www.fleetairarmoa.org/fleet-air-arm-history-timeline August 25th 1912
  11. ^ Report on the fatal accident to Lieut. Wilfred Parke, R.N.Flight 11 January 1913, pp.38-9
  12. ^ Memorial to Lieut Parke, R.N. Flight, 2 August 1913, p.853


  • The Old Flying Days By Charles Cyril Turner 1927