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5th NOVEMBER 1914, AGED 28


Edward in the cockpit of his R.E.1
(Photo courtesy of Adrian Roberts)

EDWARD TESHMAKER BUSK (known as Ted) was born in Winchmore Hill on 8th March 1886, the son of Thomas Teshmaker Busk and Mary Busk (nee Acworth), and brother of Mary Agnes Dorothea Busk (1888-1960), Henry Gould Busk (1890-1956) and Hans Acworth Busk (born Rudwick 1894).

The Busk family had previously lived at Ford's Grove, Winchmore Hill, London, which had been the seat of the family since 1720. On 28th September 1889 the family acquired and moved to Hermongers in Rudgwick, but sadly Thomas Teshmaker Busk died less than five years later on 28th May 1894, aged 41, just prior to the birth of his youngest son, Hans. Edward displayed a tremendous interest in engineering from an early age. At the age of eleven he wrote a letter to an engineering firm, which in turn invited him for an interview to discuss his letter. His mother replied to appraise the firm that he could not attend as he was still a schoolboy.

(L) Edward at Harrow (C) Edward and Hans 1904 (R) Edward on Stickle Pike
(Photo courtesy of Adrian Roberts)

Edward was educated at Bilton's Grange, Rugby, Harrow (Mr Marshall's House 1900-04) before attending Kings College,  Cambridge University as a foundation scholar, attaining a First Class Degree in Mechanical Sciences Tripos in 1907 and winning the John Winbolt Prize the following year. A colleague, Shane Leslie, wrote of Edward "He was the most promising engineer of his year." In 1911 he commenced work on flying machine designs with the desire of completing a successful machine before moving on to commercial work. At this time he was  living at 17 King Edward Avenue, Dartford, Kent, and registered his occupation as 'mechanical engineering student'. He spent several years in the employ of Messers. Hall and Co. at Dartford.

Edward had also enlisted in the Territorial Royal Engineers, serving with The London Electrical Engineers. This unit, based at 56 Regency Street, Westminster, consisted of six companies employed with the lighting provision of coastal defence (prior to the advent of radar, searchlights were the sole means of detection of shipping at night). On 15th February 1911 Corporal Edward Teshmaker Busk was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

 Aeronautical Syndicate Valkyrie
An Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd. Valkyrie monoplane.

By November 1911 Edward had begun to learn to fly on Aeronautical Syndicate Ltd. Valkyrie monoplanes at the   Valkyrie Flying School at Hendon.  On 10th June 1912 he was appointed assistant engineer physicist at the Royal Aircraft Factory (on the current site of Farnborough airport), where he continued to learn to fly under the tutelage of Geoffery de Havilland until he was able to fly well enough to undertake experiments. Harald Penrose  refers to Edward's arrival at the Royal Aircraft Factory in his book 'British Aviation - The Pioneer Years':

"In mid-summer the Farnborough group were joined by Edward Teshmaker Busk, B.A., a round-faced, smiling 26-year-old of so friendly a nature that even the mechanics affectionately referred to him as 'Ted'. Contemporaries of the poet Rupert Brooke at Kings, he and Melvill Jones, known as 'Bones', had been members of a select mountaineering coterie at Cambridge, and perhaps it was this experience of heights which inclined Ted Busk so strongly towards flying. After graduating he had taken a two-year trainee-ship at Halls Engineering Works of Dartford, on the advice of his friend Walter Wilson, one-time associate of Percy Pilcher, the gliding pioneer."

A great deal of Edward's work at the Royal Aircraft Factory was involved with the development of the mathematics and dynamics of stable flight, research into the nature and cause of wind gusts, the offensive and defensive uses of aircraft in warfare, chemical, metallurgical and physical research and test work at the factory. He experimented with a B.E.2A aircraft, which he flew up to and beyond the limits of it's controllability as he investigated the possibility of stable flight.

The R.E.1

Edward in his R.E.1 after it's first stable flight
(Photo courtesy of Adrian Roberts)

Edward completed the design of the first inherently stable aeroplane, the R.E.1 (Reconnaissance Experimental.1) which first flew in May 1913. This aircraft was to be the forerunner of the B.E.2c.  Stability of an aircraft is its tendency in flight to return to a neutral position having been disturbed, without input by the pilot to correct the divergence. This dramatically reduces the control inputs required by the pilot to achieve controlled flight. This achievement was recognised within the aviation world as a major advance.

Prior to the First World War the only military use seen for aircraft was in reconnaissance. Stability was seen as the most desirable feature for a reconnaissance aircraft, making the aircraft less tiring to fly and allowing the pilot to contribute to the reconnaissance. The B.E.2c was designed to be a stable reconnaissance platform at a time well before the advent of fighter aircraft. Modification of a B.E.2b aircraft involved new staggered wings with dihedral and ailerons, and the tail section was extensively redesigned. The B.E.2c was first flown on 30 May 1914. On 9 June Major W. S. Brancker flew it to Salisbury Plain and reported that once he had reached his cruising height of 2,000ft he hadn't needed to touch the controls for the next forty miles!

In May, 1914, Edward had the honour of personally showing Their Majesties, the King and Queen, through his department of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, and later, by command of the King, flew the R.E.1 with Colonel Clive Wigram as passenger on a demonstration flight.

The B.E.2c

On the outbreak of war in August 1914, Edward was in Plymouth with a Territorial section of the Royal Engineers, the London Electrical Engineers.  He was immediately recalled to Farnborough, where he became one of the busiest men at the Royal Aircraft Factory.

On 5th November 1914, as the sun was setting, Edward was flying the second B.E.2c made which was equip with a new engine, the air cooled, 8 cylinder, V type R.A.F.1. He was approximately 800ft above Laffan's Plain (now Farnborough Airport) near Aldershot when his machine burst into flames. Although the aircraft glided to the ground, Edward was killed.

On 18th November 1914 the Council of the Aeronautical Society chose to recognise Edward's distinguished services to aeronautical science with the posthumous award of the Gold Medal of the Society, their highest award. Colonel Mervyn O'Gorman, C.B. in summing up an obituary notice regarding Edward's life and work stated: "He resembled other men of genius in the simplicity of his methods and the speed at which he worked, and he was remarkable for the soundness of the scientific judgments he arrived at. His youth, for he was only 28 years of age, is an added cause for regretting the termination of a career so brilliantly commenced."

Following his death, his mother received the following letter from Buckingham Palace dated 11th November 1914:

Dear Mrs. Busk

The King has heard with much concern of the tragic death of your son Mr. Busk. His Majesty well remembers meeting him at the Royal Aircraft Factory on the occasion of their Majesties’ visit to Aldershot last summer, and was much struck by his ability and technical knowledge of the machinery of aeroplanes.

The King also saw him give an exhibition of flying in a stable aeroplane of his own invention. In offering you his sincere sympathy in your bereavement, the King feels that the country has lost the services of one who by experiment and research, contributed in no small measure to the science of flying.
Yours very truly


Edward Teshmaker Busk was buried with full military honours at Aldershot Military Cemetery. A subsequent inquest into his death held at Aldershot heard from a witness how a small light was seen at the front of Edward's aircraft, which rapidly developed into a fierce flame. After gliding for a little way, the aeroplane fell to the ground. Mr Heckstall Smith, the assistant superintendent at the Royal Aircraft Factory, said the accident was due probably to the engine backfiring. It is possible that this caused ignition of petrol vapour through the engine's carbourettor. The engine had been adopted as the standard factory type, after many months’ exhaustive experiment. A verdict of ‘Accidental Death’ was returned, the jury expressing the opinion that the death of Mr. Busk was a loss to the country.

The first production B.E.2c was delivered a month after Edward's death on 19th December 1914.Harald Penrose's 'British Aviation: the Great War and Armistice' comments that "[BE 2c] production would have started sooner but for a bad set-back the previous November through destruction of the first experimental engine [the RAF 1] in the prototype BE 2c which caught fire when being flown by Farnborough's star scientist-pilot, Ted Busk, the ensuing crash destroying aeroplane and killing the pilot."

The first B.E.2c arrived in France for service over the Western Front on 25th January 1915. Given it's intended reconnaissance role at a time when no aircraft were armed, the B.E2c was a perfectly capable military aircraft. With the advent of fighter aircraft to oppose reconnaissance, such as  the Fokker E.I, its built-in stability and lack of any defensive armament made it a sitting duck. The lack of a suitable replacement meant that the B.E.2c remained in use on the Western Front well into 1917, steadily gaining a worse and worse reputation as time went by and making it the most controversial British aircraft of the First World War.

Eighteen months or so after Edward's death Frank Courtney was testing another BE2c at Farnborough . He wrote:

"At 1500 feet I dived to restart the engine. Fortunately the propellor was slow in starting and I was down to two or three hundred feet before it got going..... As the cold engine picked up, it backfired and a couple of seconds later wisps of black smoke began to come from somewhere in the cowling...... During the glide, a stuck needle had allowed fuel to dribble into the new, lower cowling which had no provision for drainage.... [fortunately he was very close the airfield].. I put the machine into a sideslip to carry the increasing smoke and flame clear of the cockpit, but I had to straigten out for landing and then the choking smoke and heat closed around me .. the wheels had hardly touched before I was overboard ... if I had been two or three hundred feet higher up, it would have been another mysterious fire like that which killed Edward Busk on another BE2c"

In 1915 Mary Busk obtained approval to commission a stain glass window to be installed in The Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick, to commemorate the lives of her husband Thomas, and son Edward. The window, designed by Mr A.K.  Nicholson, was dedicated to the Archangels St. Michael and St. Gabriel, and placed in the southern wall. At the end of the year more sad new was to reach the family with the loss of Edward's brother, Hans Acworth Busk whilst flying on operations with the Royal Naval Air Service over the Gallipoli Peninsula. The brothers are commemorated on the Rudgwick War Memorial and their father's grave in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Rudgwick.

Mary Busk sold Hermongers on 15th December 1916 and moved to 6, Wadham Gardens, Hampstead, London. In 1917 she published a short book about Edward's life and achievements, which was re-published in 1925 as E. T. Busk—A Pioneer in Flight,  including a short memoir of Edward's brother Flight-Commander Hans Acworth Busk.


Further Resources for Research:
 WO 374/11334 BUSK, Lieut E T
AIR 1/724/91/7/36 Royal Aircraft Establishment Photographic Department. Photograph of the burnt out wreckage of BE2c 601 [Blériot Experimental]. It crashed on 5 November 1914, killing ET Busk. 1914 Nov 6
AIR 1/827/204/5/186 Fatal aircraft accident report to 2/Lt. Busk and suggested Busk Memorial. 1914 Nov. - 1916 Nov.


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