A Brief history of Francis K. Mclean


Englishman Francis K. McClean becomes the first pilot to fly under bridges spanning the Thames River when he takes off from Harty Ferry, Eastchurch in his Short biplane S. 36.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Francis Kennedy McClean, AFC, DL was a British civil engineer and pioneer aviator was one of the founding members of the Royal Aero Club and of naval aviation and amateur flying.

McClean was born on 1 February 1876, the son of Dr Frank McClean, and was educated at Charterhouse before the studying at the Royal Indian Engineering College at Cooper's Hill. He worked as a civil engineer in the Indian Public Works Department from 1898 to 1902 when he left to focus on aviation matters.

His first flying experience was in 1907 in a balloon race in Berlin and in December 1908 he flew with Wilbur Wright at Le Mans. At the start of 1909 he began a co-operation with the Short Brothers to develop heavier-than-air aviation in Britain. McLean owned the ground on which the aerodromes at Leysdown and then Eastchurch were built. He was awarded Royal Aero Club Aviators Certificate Number 21 after flying a Short S.27 biplane at Royal Naval Air Station Eastchurch on 20 September 1910. Between 1909 and 1914 he owned sixteen different aircraft, all but one built by Short Brothers.

In February 1911 he offered to let both the Admiralty and War Office use the aircraft and airfield at Eastchurch to teach naval and military personnel to fly heavier-than-air machines. Although the War Office declined, the Admiralty accepted and started to train the first naval aviators.

McClean was also a pioneer in aerial photography: with the help of Hugh Spottiswoode, he took some acclaimed photographs of the wreck of the SS Oceana just off the coast at Eastbourne. In August 1912 he flew a floatplane between the upper and lower parts of Tower Bridge and underneath London Bridge.

In 1914 he made a flight following the course of the Nile between Alexandria and Khartoum in a specially built four-seater aircraft, the Short S.80 named the Nile. Beset by mechanical problems, the flight took from 2 January until 22 March. Upon the outbreak of the First World War in August he was commissioned in the Royal Naval Air Service and carried out patrols in the English Channel before becoming chief instructor at Eastchurch. He transferred to the Royal Air Force when it was formed in 1918 but resigned his commission in 1919. McLean was a founder member of the Aero Club of Great Britain (later the Royal Aero Club) and was Chairman in 1923-24 and again from 1941-44.

Aviation Personalities

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