NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

First plane landing on moving ship in Scapa Flow remembered

Edwin Dunning flight Image copyright Crown Copyright
Image caption Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning's feat was achieved in 1917

The 100th anniversary of the first time an aircraft touched down on the deck of a moving ship has been marked.

Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning landed a Sopwith Pup biplane on HMS Furious in Scapa Flow, Orkney, on 2 August, 1917.

It was seen as marking the dawn of aviation from aircraft carriers. He died days later attempting a repeat.

A plaque to mark the landing - which relied on crew members to grab the plane's wings to stop it - was unveiled at Scapa.

Image copyright Stuart Wylie
Image caption A plaque has been produced by a local craftsman

A flypast by a Hawk aircraft also took place.

'All the more poignant'

Lt Cdr Barry Issitt, commanding officer of 736 Naval Air Squadron, said: "The event itself is of particular significance to the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm as it marks the first successful landing of a fixed-wing aircraft on a ship under way at sea; a moment that would be the genesis for the establishment of the pre-eminence of aircraft carriers.

"It is all the more poignant considering the current regeneration of the UK's carrier capability, with HMS Queen Elizabeth currently conducting sea trials not far from the location of Dunning's landing, with Merlin helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron operating from her flight deck."

The new plaque has been produced by local craftsman Stuart Wylie, of Orkney Crystal.

Making aviation history

Image copyright Geograph
Image caption A memorial stone was unveiled at Swanbister Bay in Orkney in 1992 in recognition of his feat

On 2 August 1917, Dunning made aviation history by becoming the first man to land a plane on a moving ship.

The pilot, who was born in South Africa, was just 25.

He achieved the feat by landing his Sopwith Pup on the deck of the HMS Furious as the ship steamed through the waters of Scapa Flow in Orkney.

The landing was extremely perilous - whereas now arrest wires would bring a plane to a halt, Dunning was relying on the deck crew of the Furious to grab the wings of his Sopwith Pup to bring it to a halt.

Five days later, the dangers became all too apparent.

While attempting to repeat the feat, Dunning waved the ground crew away.

On approach, his engine stalled and he came down on the deck of the Furious at too steep an angle. Dunning was knocked unconscious, his plane went over the side of the ship and he drowned.

In 1992, a memorial stone was unveiled at Swanbister Bay in Orkney in recognition of his feat.