H.A. and E. Petre


Brothers Edward and Henry A. Petre, known to the flying fraternity of that time as Peter the Painter and Peter the Monk, respectively built a monoplane in 1909-1910. It was shown at the 1910 Olympia Aero Show in its uncovered state on the stand of Leo Ripauld Ltd., completed later at Brooklands in Shed No.11. The machine was a single-seater, with the pilot's cockpit in front of the wing and with the four-cylinder 35 h.p. N.E.C. engine buried in the fuselage at the trailing-edge. A 16 ft. long, hollow, 2 ins. diameter steel extension shaft drove the 7 ft. propeller, which was at the extreme end of the fuselage behind the tail unit. Radiators for cooling the engine were mounted on each side of the nose, and the incidence of the wings was adjustable in flight. The fuselage was entirely of wood, the whole being screwed together. Lateral control was by means of ailerons.

The machine’s first, and only, flight was on 23 July 1910, with Henry Petre piloting. It was airborne for about 100yards before a gust of wind caused it to crash. It was not rebuilt, and the brothers went on to other flying careers.

Henry Aloysius Petre, born on 12 June 1884, and Edward Petre, born on 27 April 1886, of Tor Bryan, Ingatestone, Essex, were the eldest sons of Sebastian Henry Petre and Catherine Elise Wilhelmine (née Sibeth). Sebastian was a solicitor with the family firm, Blount, Petre and Co. He also took a keen interest in architecture and the Arts and Crafts movement and provided his children with a well-appointed workshop in the centre of their house. The five sons all went to Jesuit boarding schools and qualified in architecture, engineering and agriculture.

As teenagers, the boys were keen on sport as well as any machine that moved. First came bicycles and a yacht, followed by early motorbikes and then early cars, and finally, as a natural progression, flying machines. Henry joined his father as a solicitor, while Edward chose architecture as his profession, but both gave that up, with generous support from their father, to build their aeroplane.

Following the end of their experiment with the monoplane, Edward worked for a time with Howard Flanders. He then joined Handley Page and carried out early testing of the Types D and E at Fairlop, Essex, where he gained his Aviators Certificate (No. 259) on the Handley Page Type E on 24 July 1912. He was then induced to carry out test flying for Martin and Handasyde.

Towards the end of 1912, Edward Petre attempted to be first man to fly non-stop from London to Edinburgh in the latest Martin-Handasyde monoplane. Progress was been impeded by the atrocious weather conditions of 1912, and on 24 October Edward narrowly survived an accident when his machine landed awkwardly and skidded in deep mud. However, by December the rain had stopped, the weather was mild and it was generally felt that the flight should be attempted before more wintry conditions set in.

He left Brooklands at 09.10 on 24 December; as he left a gale was already blowing becaming worse the more northerly he got. At about noon he was observed near the North Yorkshire coastal village of Marske-by-the-Sea. At this point Edward had descended from a normal flying height of 2,000 feet to about 500. The wind had become strong and was threatening to blow him out to sea. He might have been looking for a landing site, but the gale at the lower height, which was blowing from the Cleveland hills to his west, hit him with tremendous force as he flew over the village. The gusts of wind hurled his machine to the ground and he was killed instantly.

Henry’s career took a more fortuitous route. He gained his Aviators Certificate (No. 128) on 12 September 1911, flying a Hanriot monoplane at Hanriot School, Brooklands, where he then became an instructor. From December 1911, Petre assisted Handley Page with the design of the Type F, which he piloted in the Military Trials of August 1912, and was briefly Chief Instructor at the Deperdussin School at Brooklands, replacing Eardly Billing in February 1912, before leaving in May.

In December of 1911 Henry had answered an advertisement from the Australian Defence Department in Flight magazine. The advertisement asked for two "mechanist aviators" to go to Australia to found a military flying school. He was chosen and commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Australian Military Forces, his appointment on 6 August 1912 making him the nation's first military pilot. The other appointee, Eric Harrison, joined him later that year. Henry Petre arrived in Australia in January 1913, his first task being to choose a site for the proposed Central Flying School (CFS), which he was to command. After travelling hundreds of kilometres on his motorcycle, and rejecting the government's preferred location near the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in Canberra, he selected 297 hectares at Point Cook, Victoria, where he assumed command of the Aviation Instruction Staff and Central Flying School in February 1914. He and Harrison established CFS over the following year with four mechanics, three other staff, and five aircraft including two Deperdussin monoplanes, two Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 biplanes, and a Bristol Boxkite for initial training.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Henry Petre was appointed commander of the Mesopotamian Half Flight, the first unit of the newly formed Australian Flying Corps to see active service. He led the Half Flight through the Battles of Es Sinn and Ctesiphon, and the Siege of Kut. He was awarded the Military Cross on 14 January 1916, and was mentioned in despatches twice more over the course of the year. In May 1916 he contracted typhoid and was sent to India for recuperation. He transferred out of No. 30 Squadron in December, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order the same month. In February 1917, he was posted to France with No. 15 Squadron RFC, a reconnaissance unit operating B.E.2s. Two months later his youngest brother John, a squadron commander in the Royal Naval Air Service and a Distinguished Service Cross recipient, was killed in a flying accident. Petre subsequently returned to England and took charge of No. 5 Squadron AFC (also known as No. 29 Squadron RFC), a training unit for Australian fighter pilots, particularly those destined for Palestine. He had hoped to command No. 1 Squadron AFC in Palestine but received an adverse report concerning his leadership abilities, and the position went to Richard Williams. Henry Petre was discharged from the AFC as a Major on 31 January 1918, to take a commission with the RFC. In April that year, he transferred to the newly formed Royal Air Force, establishing and commanding No. 75 (Home Defence) Squadron.

Henry Petre retired from the RAF on 15 September 1919, and resumed legal practice with Blount, Petre & Co., solicitors, in London. He married Kathleen Coad Defries of Toronto, Canada, in 1929. He introduced Kathleen to racing cars and, as Kay Petre, she became one of Britain's leading female drivers of the 1930s. Henry Petre maintained his interest in aviation for the rest of his life, taking up competitive gliding. In 1951, he received the Royal Aero Club's Silver Medal for his long record of active flying.

Having retired from his legal practice in 1958, Henry Petre died in London on 24 April 1962.

Company References
  1. British Aircraft Before The Great War, Michael H. Goodall and Albert E. Tagg (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001)
  2. British Aircraft 1809-1914, Peter Lewis (Putnam, 1962)
  3. The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 (11th edition): Volume VIII – The Australian Flying Corps in the Western and Eastern Theatres of War, 1914–1918. Cutlack, F.M. (Sydney: Angus & Robertson) via https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1069925/
  4. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/petre-henry-aloysius-8030
  5. http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/22nd-december-2012/26/on-a-wing-and-a-prayer
  6. Aeroplane Monthly, January 2013

Project Data top

Project No
Type No
Alternative Name(s)
 1S, 1E monoplane

Project References
  1. British Aircraft Before The Great War, Michael H. Goodall and Albert E. Tagg (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001)
  2. British Aircraft 1809-1914, Peter Lewis (Putnam, 1962)
  3. Aeroplane Monthly, January 2013
  4. Flight Magazine April 16 1910

Production Data top

One aircraft only, no c/n or registration.

   Total Petre Production     1   

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V1.4.0 Created by Roger Moss. Last updated July 2019