Rolls-Royce is celebrating the 110-year anniversary of Charles Stewart Rolls’ first non-stop double crossing of the English Channel by airplane.
At 6:30 pm on June 2, 1920, aviation pioneer Charles Stewart Rolls took off alone in his flimsy biplane from Swingate aerodome, near Dover, to achieve the world’s first non-stop double crossing of the English Channel by airplane. He had been waiting in frustration for over a week, his departure repeatedly frustrated by high winds, fog or mechanical problems with the machine. But finally, conditions were perfectly calm and clear. Among the spectators on the cliffs were Rolls’ parents, Lord and Lady Llangattock, and his sister and brother-in-law, Sir John and Lady Shelley.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, Rolls reached an altitude of 900 feet and a speed of ‘quite forty miles an hour’ as he approached the coast of France. By 7.15 pm, he was flying over the small French town of Sangatte, where the present-day Channel Tunnel emerges. Leaning out of his airplane, he threw overboard three weighted envelopes, each containing the message: ‘Greetings to the Auto Club of France…Dropped from a Wright airplane crossing from England to France. C. S. Rolls, June 1910. P.S. Vive l’Entente.’’
He then turned northward and set a course for the English coast. At 8.00 pm, he was back in Dover where, the Daily Telegraph reported, “the sea front, cliffs and piers were thronged with people, all in the most intense state of excitement.” Rolls rewarded them in typically flamboyant style, by flying in circles around the outer towers of the town’s medieval castle. “I decided that, as I had plenty of petrol and my engines were working splendidly, I would encircle the Castle, although it would lengthen my flight considerably,” he told the Telegraph correspondent. The crowd loved it. This was more than mere entertainment: they knew they were present at a moment of history.
In an adventure lasting 95 minutes, Rolls had achieved two immortal landmarks. He had become both the first Englishman to fly an airplane across the English Channel, and the first aviator ever to fly non-stop from England to France and back again.
Torsten Müller-Ötvö, Chief Executive Officer of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, said “Charles Rolls combined a fine technical mind with a bold, adventurous spirit; it is no wonder that aviation and motoring held such powerful, almost magical attractions for him. He was a true pioneer in both fields, instrrumental in the development of aeroplanes and motor cars with his record-breaking feats.”