Original WWI Aircraft are very rare in collections of Warbirds around the world and one of the rarest of these is an original Bristol M.1C Scout. Even more significant is the association of the aircraft with a famous Australian, Capt. Harry Butler RFC. This particular aircraft is Serial Number C5001, one of just 125 operational aircraft of the type produced in the UK during WW1 and is the sole survivor of the breed.
The Bristol M.1C was widely regarded by pilots who flew it both in operations in the Middle East with several RFC/RAF Squadrons and with various training units in the UK and in one case was the preferred mount of an ace Captain Frederick Dudley Travers DFC of No. 150 Squadron RAF, the only ace on this type who scored 5 of his 9 victories in an M.1C on the Macedonian Front. The RFC and later RAF had a preference for biplane and triplane aircraft so the little M.1C had little chance of wide scale production from the start coupled with a then high landing speed of 49 mph.
Many M.1C s made their way to training units in the UK including C5001 which served with RAF/RFC No. 2 & 4 School of Aerial Gunnery at Marske-by-the-Sea, Yorkshire. During the aircrafts time at Marske-by-the-Sea C5001 was actually flown by Harry Butler in the training role on several occasions. C5001 was delivered in 1918 and upon the war ending was one of 4 M.1C’s disposed of to civil owners. In what was a huge coincidence the aircraft was acquired by Harry Butler when it was disposed of by the Aircraft Disposal Board and had only flown 28 hours and 35 minutes during its wartime service. C5001 was co purchased by H.A. Kauper (Harry Hawker’s assistant), together with an Avro 504 and three Le Rhone engines and shipped back to Australia to Adelaide and assembled and then flown by Butler to the small town of Minlaton (his home town) on 6 August 1919 to a hero’s welcome.
C5001 was then utilized to carry mail, Barnstorm and it won the Peace Loan Aerial Derby in Adelaide on 8 September 1920. Butler initially kept the M.1C in its service colors and markings however as time passed the aircraft was repainted in bright red color scheme and was known as “The Red Devil” and on 28 June 1921 it was civil registered as G-AUCH (as Australia was still using the G prefix at that time).Later in 1922 Butler stored the aircraft in his garage at Minalton and shortly after was seriously injured in an unrelated air crash, sadly he died in 1924 from a cerebral abscess and the aircraft remained in storage.
In 1930 the little Bristol was purchased by purchased by “Horrie” Miller (another pioneer Australian Aviator) and relocated to Parafield, South Australia, where it was modified to take a Gipsy I in-line engine and the fuselage was also reconstructed to give the sides a flat appearance and was then re-registered VH-UQI on 15 October 1931 and was given the name “Puck”. With these modifications instituted the Bristol won the 1932 and 1932 Adelaide Aerial Derbys flown by Miller and the aircraft had two further engine upgrades to Gipsy II and finally a Gipsy III. By now the aircraft was fairly tired and had reached the end of its development potential and as such was withdrawn from use and struck from the civil register in 1936 due to a decision not to reissue its C of A. However the Bristol flew several more times, most notably in 1940 when it was flown all the way to Perth WA by Miller and was eventually hung from the hangar roof at MacRobertson Miller Aviation Co. (MMA) at Guildford Airport (now Perth International Airport) in 1948.
In 1956 a Mr. C.B. Tubrook of Minlaton SA was able to secure the aircraft as a gift from Horrie Miller to the town of Minlaton and it was returned to the town and was partially restored in 1973 through the refitting of a Le Rhone rotary engine but retaining the fuselage modifications then it was later reconfigured to standard M.1C configuration as it sits today in the purpose built Museum building at Minlaton – the Captain Harry Butler Red Monoplane Memorial.
The M.1C is displayed in the red scheme it wore whilst being flown in Australia by Harry Butler and does not have the distinctive wide spinner fitted to service aircraft of the type. It is believed that the spinner was removed during Australian operation to enhance the cooling to the Le Rhône 9J rotary engine, 110 hp (82 kW).
This M.1C is a real Australian treasure because of its Australian provenance and also because it is the sole survivor of a very small number of the type constructed – a very rare and valuable aircraft.
Bristol M.1C Facts
- Thirty-three M.1Cs served in the Middle East and the Balkans in 1917–18
- Twelve M.1C s were sent to Chile in second half of 1918 in part payment for the battleships Almirante Latorre and Almirante Cochrane being built for Chile in Britain but commandeered for the Royal Navy before completion. A further six aircraft were acquired later.
- One of the Chilean aircraft was flown by Lt. Dagoberto Godoy travelled from Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina and back on 12 December 1918, the first flight across the Andes mountain chain
At least 3 high quality replica M.1C aircraft have been built, all of which flew. The Royal Air Force Museum Cosford has on display a formerly airworthy replica aircraft with the identity C4994.
The Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden in the UK maintains and operates a replica M.1C C4918 (G-BWJM) to airworthy condition, built by members of the Northern Aeroplane Workshops, delivered to the Collection in October 1997. It is powered by an original Le Rhône 110 HP rotary engine, and the aircraft can be seen flying at home air displays during the summer months. Warbirds Online has attended airshows at the Shuttleworth collection at which this aircraft has flown and is an excellent performer.
- A flying replica was also constructed in the UK in 1988 By AJD Engineering (now Hawker Restorations) and supplied to the Museo Nacional Aeronáutico y del Espacio in Chile. The aircraft is finished in the colors of Dagoberto Godoy to celebrate the famous first flight over the Andes. The aircraft flew once in Chile and is now a static aircraft in the museum.
- Several lesser quality replicas have also been constructed over the years and some are still evident in the USA and the UK.
- Crew: one- pilot
- Length: 20 ft 5 in (6.24 m)
- Wingspan: 30 ft 9 in (9.37 m)
- Height: 7 ft 9 in (2.37 m)
- Wing area: 145 ft²  (13.6 m²)
- Empty weight: 900 lb  (409 kg)
- Loaded weight: 1,348 lb (611 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône 9J rotary engine, 110 hp (82 kW)
- Maximum speed: 113 knots (130 mph, 209 km/h) at sea level
- Endurance: 1 hr 45 mins
- Service ceiling: 20,000 ft (6,096 m)
- Guns: 1 × fixed-forward .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun
© John Parker 2017