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Bill Frost – The Incredible Flying Welshman

Bill FrostChances are that you most likely think that the Wright brothers — Orville and Wilbur — were the first human beings to achieve heavier than air flight. If you do believe this, then you may be surprised to find out that you’re actually quite in error, and that you hold a misconception which is indeed held by many. The Wright brothers were not the first to fly a heavier than air flying machine, nor did they invent such a vehicle. In fact, Orville and Wilbur Wright’s contribution to modern aviation was merely the invention of a three-axis control system that made sustained, controllable and powered heavier-than-air flight possible. However, before the Wright brother’s famed flight at Kitty Hawk, others took to the air in successful flights of heavier-than-air machines.

Many historians agree that three years before Orville and Wibur’s historic flight in 1903, a man named Gustave Whitehead flew his powered airplanes in Connecticut. But, even before Gustave, there was Bill Frost.

The story of Bill Frost begins way back in 1868, when the then twenty year old lad was working on a construction site at Hean Castle in Saundersfoot, Wales. As the young man was struggling to carry a long pine plank across a scaffolding, a sudden and vigorous gust of wind caught the plank and pulled both it and Bill Frost up into the air. However, Frost was not hurt by the incident — still holding on to the large wooden plank, Frost landed relatively gently on the ground. Bill Frost was inspired by the incident and from then on the young man became practically obsessed with the notion of flight.

Bill Frost took to spending most of his free time charging like a mad-man down Stammers Hill, strapped to all manner of contraptions of his own design, attempting to once again take to the air and land safely back on Earth as he had done that day on the construction site. Again and again, however, Bill Frost was not successful. Again and again he would end up at the bottom of the hill, entirely disappointed with his failed efforts and entirely out of breath. But, the young Bill Frost was a bright and clever sort of a chap, and he took lessons from his failures.

Eventually, Bill Frost would come up with an ingenious idea. He envisioned a machine that would be powered by dual propellers spinning in horizontal motion, thus providing its own lift.

Bill Frost Airship Glider Patent Illustration

In 1894, Frost had saved enough money to patent his invention, and just one year later, he took off from a field owned by his Father-in-law, Fred Watkins. Bill Frost’s flying machine worked! It buzzed and whirred as Bill soared over the heads of the dazzled townsfolk that looked on in amazement. He flew a total of five hundred meters on that flight — outdistancing Orville and Wilbur’s first attempt.

Unfortunately for Bill Frost, not long into his maiden flight, the weather took a turn for the worse. Swift winds raced in from Cardigan Bay and violently buffeted the aircraft. Frost struggled to maintain control, but the weather was too much. The machine was blown into a tree and both Frost and his flying machine came crashing down to earth. He was fortunate to survive. Bill Frost’s “Airship Glider”, as he had named it, however, was not so lucky. It was smashed beyond repair.

Bill Frost was a man of small means, and he found himself without the money needed to re-build his wondrous flying contraption. He decided instead to offer his patent to the War Office for what he expected would be a hefty sum. Instead, he received a response from the Under Secretary of State, which read, in part:

“This Nation has no intention of adopting aerial navigation as a means of warfare.”

Unable to afford the fees for renewal of his patent, he was forced to let it lapse. He died, in 1935, a poor man without any recognition to speak of for his achievement.

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