Commemorative Exhibition at the Classic Boat Museum Gallery,

Columbine Road, East Cowes

8 June – 28 September 2013

Artwork from "River to Sea" book cover courtesy of Ray Wheeler

Artwork from “River to Sea” book cover courtesy of Ray Wheeler

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the first flight of the Sopwith Bat-Boat on the River Medina, the first successful British flying boat. 

Bat-Boat 100 Exhibition location

Bat-Boat 100 Exhibition Arrangements

The Bat-Boat 100 exhibition officially opened at 11am on Saturday 8 June 2013 at the Classic Boat Museum Gallery, Columbine Road, East Cowes, Isle of Wight, and will continue until Saturday 28 September 2013. Normal entry charge for the Classic Boat Museum Gallery will apply.

© Bob Wealthy - Solent Aeromarine Enterprises

© Bob Wealthy – Solent Aeromarine Enterprises

The Sopwith Bat-Boat

In March 1913 the Sopwith Bat-Boat made its first flight from the River Medina having been assembled and launched from Sam Saunders works, the “Folly Sheds” on the east bank of the River Medina south of the Folly Inn. The Sopwith Bat-Boat was designed by aviation pioneer T. O. M. Sopwith’s company Sopwith Aviation Ltd based at Kingston-upon-Thames.

The Bat-Boat gained its name from a mythical flying machine that was mentioned in one of Rudyard Kipling’s short stories. Its design featured a flying boat hull based on one of Sam Saunders’ light and powerful high speed boats and used his patented “Consuta” plywood type construction which gave excellent lightness and strength that suited an aircraft application. Sopwith Aviation Ltd was responsible for the overall design of the Bat-Boat and construction of the bi-plane wing and tail assembly.

The Sopwith Bat Boat 1A

The Bat-Boat prototype was flown by T. O. M. Sopwith around mid March, 1913, when he attained a surprising speed of 60mph on water. It is believed that a certain amount of damage occurred due to too rough a descent and when Sopwith’s chief test pilot Harry Hawker tried to fly the Bat-Boat he was unable to leave the water. After these first trials the Bat-Boat was left all night on the beach only to be wrecked in a gale. According to reports only the engine and propeller were left intact. By mid May a second Bat-Boat, built in a modified form, was on test and later on, with the addition of a set of wheels, the Bat-Boat became the first successful amphibious aircraft. In fact on 8 July 1913 the Bat-Boat, piloted by Harry Hawker, went on to win the Mortimer-Singer prize for making the required number of alightings on land and water in a specified time.  Interest was shown in the Bat-Boat by the Royal Naval Air Service and an example was delivered to the Calshot base for evaluation.

In summary the significance of the Sopwith Bat-Boat relates to the following facts:

  • It was the first successful flying boat built in Britain;
  • It marked the entry of Sam Saunders into the aviation business;
  • In amphibious form it won the Mortimer – Singer prize for an aircraft able to operate from land and water;
  • It became the first aircraft type to enter service with the Royal Naval air Service at Calshot;
  • It ushered in the flying boat era which was to last through to the design, construction and flight testing of the Saunders-Roe Princess flying boat some 40 years on in 1952/53
© Bob Wealthy - Solent Aeromarine Enterprises

© Bob Wealthy – Solent Aeromarine Enterprises

During the First World War Saunders built several different types of aircraft such as the Avro 504, the Short 184 seaplane and Felixstowe flying boats. An aircraft design department was set up around 1917.

Later in the 1920s after experiencing difficult trading conditions the Saunders company was acquired by aviation pioneer Alliot Verdon Roe, founder of the famous AVRO company. As a result of this acquisition the new company was named Saunders-Roe and used the SARO trademark name for its products. The company concentrated on producing a range of flying boats and over the years gained a reputation for high quality and innovative products, although not always generating the required financial returns expected.

At Kingston-upon-Thames the Sopwith Aviation Company expanded rapidly and produced large numbers of aircraft during World War 1. At the end of the war aircraft production slumped and Sopwith Aviation became the main part of the Hawker Aircraft Company set up by Sopwith’s Chief Test Pilot Harry Hawker.

Large Scale Bat-Boat Model for Bat-Boat 100

bbmBat-Boat 100 Donation Appeal

An appeal for donations to help fund the large scale and highly detailed Bat-Boat model is now underway. For a minimum £50 donation donors will receive a Bat-Boat 100 donation package consisting of:

  • An A3 size print, suitable for framing, of a specially commissioned Bat-Boat 100 artwork by renowned Island artist Ivan Berryman;
  • A copy of the Bat-Boat 100 commemorative booklet;
  • A copy of the Bat-Boat 100 exhibition guide;
  • An invitation for the donor and a guest to attend the official opening of the Bat-Boat 100 exhibition at the Classic Boat Museum Gallery at 11.00 on 8 June 2013;
  • Acknowledgement of the donor’s name/organisation on the Bat-Boat 100 “Roll of Honour”, subject to each donor’s authorisation.

If you wish to make a donation or need further information then please contact the Bat-Boat 100 project office by telephone on 01329 315561, by e mail at or by post to:

Bat-Boat 100 Project, c/o 7, William Close, FAREHAM, Hampshire, PO14 2PQ.

Donations by cheque please, payable to “Solent Aeromarine Enterprises”

Global Aviation Resource extends thanks to Bob Wealthy for making us aware of this project.