While Hatfield is mainly famous for its British planes and pilots, the development of aviation was (and remains) an example of global cooperation. The French made the first balloon flight. The Germans developed the glider (although Sir George Cayley is credited with building the first to carry humans aloft – a 10-year old boy, and later a male servant who is reported to have handed in his notice on landing). The Americans were the first in an aeroplane. Collectively, we have learnt from one another and built on that knowledge to extend our reach out of this Solar System. From its beginnings in the Thirties people of all nations have been associated with aviation in Hatfield – some were already internationally renown, others were pioneers in their own countries' aviation history.
Some of these remarkable people are covered in other Claims to Fame aviation pages.
Howard Hughes (USA)
James A Mollison, better known as Jim Mollison (Australia)
Leonard Gillespie Reid (Canada)
Edgar Kain, better known as 'Cobber' Kain (New Zealand)
Indra Lal Roy is not connected with Hatfield aviation – he was killed long before the airfield opened. However, his is a remarkable story and he is thought to be the first Indian (Pakistan and Bangladesh were then parts of India) to fly as a member of the British Armed Forces.
Born in Calcutta, India on 2 December 1898. After being educated at St Paul's School, West Kensington and turning 18, he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps (which became part of the newly formed RAF on 1 April 1918). He was duly commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 5 July 1917. Trained to fly at Vendome in France, his first posting to a frontline squadron (No.56) came in October 1917. He was injured when his SE5 biplane crashed on 6 December 1917.
Declared medically unfit, he apparently fought against the decision and was certified fit again on 13 May 1918. He was then posted to No.40 Squadron in France on 19 June 1918.
Making up for the lost time, he shot down 9 German planes in 13 days (some sources state 10, with two being 'shared' kills).
He was shot down and killed after a dogfight, reportedly with Fokker D.VIIs of Jasta 29, on 22 July 1918. He was 19.
Lieutenant Indra Lal Roy was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in September 1918 – the first Indian to receive this award.
He is buried in the Estevelles Communal Cemetery (his CWGC entry lists him as Flight Lieutenant Indrulal L Roy). His service records are preserved in the National Archives at Kew (AIR 76/438).
Dewan Misri Chand (India) – Born on 11 October 1907, Lieutenant Misri Chand of the 1st Battalion, Punjab Regiment was trained at the Prince of Wales Military School, Dehradun and Sandhurst. He was commissioned in 1927 and saw active service on the North West Frontier (Afghanistan). In 1932 he won the Amatuer Flying Trophy in India. Two years later, he took part in the National Air Rally in the USA. In 1936 he became the first native Indian to win the Viceroy's Cup Air Race (started in 1932 and modelled on the King's Cup Air Race in Britain). He completed the 1,520 miles from Madras (now Chennai)-Delhi in a DH.60 Moth. He then flew to Britain to take part in the King's Cup Air Race at Hatfield, flying a Percival Vega Gull (G-AEAB) with Lieutenant P Randolph of the Grenadier Guards, in July 1936. In September, also with Lieutenant Randolph, he took part in the Air Race to the Rand (South Africa). Lieutenant Chand rose to the rank of Major General. He died on 13 March 1970. On 22 October 2009, the Indian Post Office issued a stamp in his honour.
Jean Batten (New Zealand) – Born on 15 September 1909, she accompanied her mother on a visit to England in 1929. She learnt to fly at the London Aeroplane Club (operated by de Havillands) at Stag Lane. Here she met Geoffrey de Havilland, who proved to be a very good friend in her future record-breaking career. She qualified for her B Licence (which allowed her to fly commercially). In April 1933 she made her first attempt on the England-Australia record but suffered a major engine failure after reaching India. However, this failure only spurred her on to greater efforts, and she is arguably the most successful female pilot ever. In total she achieved five world records, and a number of notable firsts: first woman to make a England-Australia-England solo flight; first solo flight to South America; first solo flight to New Zealand; first solo flight across the South Atlantic, and the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea. She won or was awarded 20 trophies, medals and decorations – including the Britannia Trophy, and Federation Aeronautique Internationale Gold Medal – from international bodies and national awards from Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden and the USA. Her record time of 5 days, 21 hours for a single engine solo flight to Australia, established in a Percival Gull (G-ADPR) in 1936, was eventually bettered – by Judith Chisholm in November 1980. For some time before this historic flight G-ADPR was based at Hatfield, while Jean and her mother Ellen rented a cottage near Hatfield House (reportedly in Endymion Road). However, this was not her first time in Hatfield, she was photographed taking tea at the airfield with fellow England-Australia flight record holders Jimmy Melrose and H L Brook (Howard Leslie's surname is spelt 'Brooke' on his pilot's licence but it is spelt 'Brook' in many newspaper and magazine articles) in May 1935. Renown for her good looks, sadly, she later became a recluse and disappeared from the public view. Her death in Marjoca in November 1982, aged 73, as a result of complications from a dog bite went unnoticed (her death was only announced in The Times in 1987), and she was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave. Her exact address in Hatfield remains a mystery.
Margaret Mary 'Peg / Peggy' Kelman (Australia) – born in Glasgow, she gained her pilot's licence in Australia as Peggy McKillop (her maiden name) in 1932. As Nancy Bird's co-pilot it is claimed they were the first women to fly at night. Another source states her only flying record was to be the first woman to fly from England to Australia while pregnant (she married Colin Kelman in London in 1936 – another source says in 1939). She briefly lived in Harpenden and flew with the London Aeroplane Club at Hatfield. She reportedly saw Jean Batten off from Hatfield when the latter made the short positioning flight to Lympne prior to her record England-New Zealand flight in 1936. Peggy Kelman joined the Australian Women Pilots' Association in 1951 and served as its President from 1974-76. She died in Australia, aged 89, in 1998.
Charles James Melrose, better known as 'Jimmy' Melrose (Australia) – qualified as a pilot at the age of 19 with the Aero Club of South Australia (later the Royal ACSA). His first plane was a DH.80A Puss Moth (VH-UQO). In it he covered the 8,000 miles around Australia in a record time of 5 days, 11 hours in August 1934. On 13 September 1934 (his 21st birthday) he took off from Darwin for Croydon – completing the journey in 8 days, 9 hours – in order to take part in the MacRobertson England to Australia Centenary Air Race. He was the youngest entrant and came third in the handicap race. He was also the only solo flyer to finish. In October 1934 he set a South Australian altitude record; in December he made the first non-stop Adelaide-Tasmania flight. In 1935 he returned to England to study navigation and blind flying. That same year he entered the King's Cup Air Race, held at Hatfield, in a Percival Gull (VH-UVH). Less than a year later, on 5 July 1936, he was killed, along with his passenger, in a Heston Phoenix (VH-AJM) monoplane. The charter flight from Melbourne-Darwin encountered bad weather and the plane suffered a structural failure. He was 22 but achieved more in 3 years than many did in a lifetime. The road that borders Adelaide Airport is named in his honour.
Lokusatu Heva Sumanadasa (Sri Lanka) – one of the first Sri Lankan (then Ceylon) pilots. He learnt to fly at Hatfield and qualified as a pilot on 13 April 1934. A graduate of Imperial College he later served as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Lanka from 1974-75.
Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata (India) – a grandson of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the Indian group (now a global concern which bought Corus Steel, Jaguar and Land Rover in the UK), he later headed the family firm and is regarded as the father of Indian civil aviation. J R D Tata (often referred to as JRD) spent much of his early life in France (where his mother came from), and caught the flying bug from watching a neighbour – the famous aviator Louis Bleriot (who may also have taken JRD on his first flight). JRD appears to have been a natural pilot, and after only 3.5 hours dual instruction on Bombay Flying Club's DH Gipsy Moths he became the first Indian to qualify for an A licence in India on 10 February 1929 (the May 1932 edition of Flight magazine mentions a 'Mr Tata' passing the tests for his B licence at Brooklands). In 1930 he took part in the Aga Khan Trophy race for the first Indian to fly solo between England and India, in either direction. He took off from Karachi (now in Pakistan) for England but was beaten by a matter of hours by a rival, Aspy Merwan Engineer, who was flying from England to India. On 15 October 1932, JRD piloted DH.80A Puss Moth VT-ADN from Karachi to Bombay (now Mumbai) on the first leg of the first scheduled – by Tata Aviation Services which had been set up in July – internal flight in India. It later became Tata Airlines, which became Air India in 1946 (nationalised in 1953). JRD, who had also taken over as chairman of the Tata Group in 1938, continued to head Air India until 1977. It was as chairman of Air India that he visited Hatfield in mid-1948. He had a flight in a DH.100 Vampire III (the DH.106 Comet only made its first flight in 1949, so this was probably his first jet flight) at Hatfield. It was around this time that he also served as president of IATA (International Air Transport Association). JRD is also credited with helping found the International Institute of Population Studies. Among his many awards and honours was the Bharat Ratna – India's highest civilian honour. He died in Switzerland on 29 November 1993, aged 82.