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Lincolnshire Transatlantic Flights & Elsie Mackay

Transatlantic Flights from Lincolnshire
A look in time to 1928 and a remarkable endurance flying attempt which was based in Lincolnshire and an even more remarkable woman . . .

This is a story of tragedy, endeavour (quite literally) and aviation out of Lincolnshire but really one of the protagonists is of greater interest – a remarkable woman called Elsie Mackay.

March 14 1928 sees an American newspaper The Pittsburgh Press report that ‘hope was diminishing by the hour’ for the Stinson Monoplane which was attempting to fly from RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire to North America.

They reported the pilot as being Captain Walter Hinchliffe and feared him lost, the headline also declared that they believed there ‘was a girl on board’
There was indeed but not a girl, a woman . . . and what a woman!

Elsie Mackay was born in 1893 to a wealthy family based in Colonial India, she reportedly eloped in 1917 and married an actor which is said to have got her disinherited, though I don’t see Elsie having worried about that.

She took to the stage herself as Poppy Wyndham and starred both on stage and in films.
The marriage and glamorous film career lasted but 5 years and the marriage was annulled seeing Elsie return to her family in India.

Did she sit there being a lady of leisure as was the wont of most in her position? No!
She started an Interior Design business

Now, if you think this was about choosing chintzy fabrics for Society Friends then think again – she designed lavish state rooms for public buildings and then moved on to luxury steam liners including some of P&O’s finest.

In 1923 she learned to fly and got her Pilot’s Licence, bought a plane and declared her ambition to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic.
Talk about a Poster Girl for Women’s Liberation!

She was renowned for not only aerial acrobatics in the Scottish Skies but also for horse riding and tearing around the country at high speed in her Rolls Royce and one remarkable story which sums Elsie Mackay up I reproduce below:

”She participated in an “outside loop,” the most dangerous of all stunts in air, with Capt. E.C.D. Herne as her pilot. During this manoeuvre her safety-strap broke but she clung to bracing wires while her body swung outside the plane like a stone twirled on the end of a piece of string”

What a woman!

Sadly though her ‘luck’ wasn’t to hold out. In 1927 Elsie ordered a Stinson Detroiter aeroplane from America and had it delivered to the famous Brooklands Racing Circuit.

In 1928 Elsie and Captain Walter Hinchliffe set up camp in Lincolnshire at The George Hotel in Leadenham and set about doing test flights in preparation for an attempt at a Transatlantic Flight.

The Stinson, named Endeavour and painted black and gold, was based at RAF Cranwell and on 13 March 1928 it took off with Elsie registered on the flight plan under a pseudonym Gordon Sinclair several sightings of the plane were noted but after 5 hours or so flying no further reports were heard. It is believed the plane went down in the Irish Sea and some 8 months later a single piece of wreckage was washed up on the Irish Coast.

Elsie Mackay was clearly a remarkable woman, spectacularly so given the time and all these years later she’s remembered and admired here from a small corner in Lincolnshire.

I raise a glass to Elsie . . .

7 Comments »

  1. v said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

    … and this at a time where women weren’t even allowed to vote equally with men.

    Here’s a golden nugget if ever there was one.

    Absolutely BRILLIANT; I love this.

    8th March 1928 Press Association Statement

    The Press Association was asked to state that a report they had published stating that the intended flight of Elsie Mackay across the Atlantic was entirely unfounded.

    They said that Miss Mackay had taken part in trial flights and had some financial interest in the transatlantic flight but had never intended to take part in the flight itself with Capt. Hinchcliff and Capt. Sinclair. She was there at the airfield merely as an interested spectator.

    ( The monoplane was painted black and gold with two union jacks painted on the fuselage.

    Miss Mackay was petite, always beautifully dressed and bubbling over with life. She had a crop of dark curly hair and was rarely seen without a smile.

    She designed the inside of her family’s company Inchcape Luxury Liners

    After her death, her parents donated her personal fortune of 500,000 to the government to pay off the national debt. )

  2. Rod said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

    V,
    further to that:
    At the time they were doing the test flights The Daily Mail got hold of the story and intended to publish what she was going to do - Elsie threatened to sue the pants off the newspaper so they dropped the story - she didn’t want her family trying to stop her making the flight.

    “Spectator” . . . my eye!!
    What a woman!
    Best
    Rod

  3. v said,

    June 15, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

    Yes

    feisty AND tiny AND dark curly hair AND always beautifully dressed …. hey that’s MEEEEEEE reincarnated !!! :)

    Imagine getting the press to print a retraction, then going ahead with the flight.

    RIP ma’ame

  4. Paul Rowe said,

    June 16, 2013 @ 10:53 pm

    Miss Mackay did indeed perish somewhere in the North Atlantic.She was the daughter of Lord Inchcape who was the chairman of the P.and O.line .Elsie Mackay designed the interiors of the P. and O. liners.The pilot Captain Hinchcliffe was British but worked as a pilot for the fledgling K.L.M. Dutch airline company and had married a Dutch lady called Emilie .Mrs Hinchcliffe was left almost destitute when her husband and Mrs Mackay went missing.Here it all depends what you believe in but eventually Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame heard about this poor lady.He believed in spiritualism in other words getting into contact with the dead, ouija boards etc.The spiritualist got into contact with the dead Captain Hinchcliffe who sent a message to his wife to search his ancient antique desk and told her where there was a hidden compartment.Whether you believe it or not she did investigate the old desk and found a deed for a piece of land.She was able to sell the land and was rescued from destitution.Eventually Lord Inchape gave Mr Inchape 10 000 pounds in compensation after a barrage of publicity by Lord Beaverbrook and his newspapers.The fortune of Elsie Mackay remained in the vaults of the executors until 1977 at which time was worth 4 million pounds.The full story is in a book called ,”The Airman who would n’t die” by John G. Fuller (corgi book)

  5. Rod said,

    June 17, 2013 @ 7:10 am

    Paul,
    that’s fascinating, great addition and really appreciated
    All the best
    Rod

  6. Jayne Baldwin said,

    July 22, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

    The full story of the remarkable Elsie Mackay is in my book West Over The Waves The Final Flight of Elsie Mackay. Delighted to see her featured on your blog, she was overlooked for far too long.

  7. Rod said,

    July 22, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

    Jayne,
    thanks for the comment and welcome to the site - she certainly was a remarkable woman
    Best
    Rod

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