Bangladesh Air Scouts

The Early History of Air Scouting

undefinedI have excused myself in the Early History of Sea Scouting for never having been a Sea Scout, yet having the nerve to write about its history. The same is true for Air Scouting, but as on all other Scouting Milestones pages the hard won historical 'bones' stemming from my researches have been enlivened by those who have taken the time to contribute their own or in many cases the experiences of family members who were present at the time our Scouting history was created but have since passed away.

Major Baden F S Baden-Powell - 1860-1937

ANOTHER similarity with the Sea Scouting Milestone Page is that this account also begins with a profile of one of Baden-Powell's brothers. It is reasonable to suppose that the Chief Scout would look to those around him, especially his nearest and dearest, to provide expertise when he thought it was relevant to the cause. Warrington Baden-Powell's credentials were not found lacking in Sea Scouting and his influence was profound. I believe that many people will be surprised to find that the same holds true for Baden Baden-Powell and Air Scouting. Baden Baden-Powell was no mere bystander in pioneer aviation, he was at the forefront in balloon, kite and then powered aircraft in the very earliest days of manned flight.

Firstly, an explanation of the name is in order. The Chief Scout was not baptized Robert Baden-Powell. He was the son of the Reverend Professor Powell whose Christian name was Baden. The Rev. Powell died in 1860 when Robert was only three, but not before he had fathered the last of his ten children, Baden Fletcher Smyth Powell. The Chief Scout's Biographer, William Hillcourt, says kindly that Mrs. Henrietta Powell decided to change the family name to honor her dead husband. However, she did little without good reason and much of what she did was to improve her own, and her children's, status in society. A double-barreled name would help, especially one with a Germanic ring to it, like that of her sovereign, Queen Victoria. So, with the change of the family name on September 21st, 1869, to Baden-Powell the youngest son took on the unlikely name of Baden Baden-Powell. We are not told what his school friends (Baden attended Charterhouse) made of that!


IN 1880 Baden Baden-Powell witnessed his first balloon ascent, and was enthralled. He made a point of getting to know some of the Balloonists and joined the Aeronautical Society, as it was then called. In 1882 he was commissioned in the Scots Guards, but his passion for things aeronautical was unabated. Aged only 23, he gave a lecture to his elders and betters at the Royal United Services Institution on Ballooning - and what he had to say on that occasion, as indeed was the case often in his life, turned out to be prophetic.

"It seems surprising that a body of astronauts does not form a regular branch of every civilized army."

Baden B-P seized the opportunity of going to see anything that had the potential to fly and, like his mother and brother, was very good in making important connections with the great and good of the day. He visited the Zeppelin works in Germany, was present at many major pioneer balloon ascents in Europe and the USA and developed and proved his own design for man-lifting kites. At Bright Camp in 1894, Baden constructed a huge kite 36 feet tall, which raised him off the ground. Later that year, with five smaller kites only 12 feet high, his 11-stone (150-pound) body was lifted to an altitude of 100 feet.

Baden Baden-Powell is either in the air, on at the forefront of the picture as his kite lifts its human load

In 1886, with only six active members left in the dwindling society, Baden was elected a member of the Council of the Aeronautical Society, a role he was to fill for over 50 years. Around this time however, his duties in the army led him to travel to even more countries than his more illustrious older brother. They were, though, both in South Africa during the Boer War, resulting in an amazing coincidence at the Relief of Mafeking on May 17th, 1900. Baden Baden-Powell entered Mafeking with the Relief forces and reportedly woke his brother from his slumbers to tell him that Mafeking had been relieved!

In 1901, Marconi used one of Baden Baden-Powell's 'Levitor' kites to raise the Ariel to a height that would enable him to help make the first electronic wireless transmission to America and this apparatus, complete with 'Levitor' kite, was used in the field in the later stages of the Boer War. Baden's kites were also put to use in transferring mail from the destroyer daring to another ship. In these early days interest in 'avionics' encompassed all matters relating to flight including kites, balloons, gliders and model aircraft. The vision of powered aircraft had yet to be achieved which until Orville and Wilbur Wright's fist flight in June 1903.

On his return from South Africa in 1902, Baden Baden-Powell became President of the Aeronautical Society and the Society prospered, becoming the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1918 and has a membership today of over 17,000 in over 100 countries. On 1907 the Aeronautical Society put on a 'Kite Display' and Major Baden Baden-Powell and the Hon C S Rolls were central to its organization. Though Rolls was to go on to found, in partnership, the prestige automobile company that bears his name. (The Founder of the Scout Movement was to own two Rolls Royce Motor Cars, including the famous Jam Roll. In 1903, Rolls was a friend of Baden Baden-Powell and like him was a pioneer balloonist with over 170 ascents, and also a founding member of the Aeronautical Society. In June 1910 he became the first man to make a nonstop double crossing of the Channel, but was killed just ten days later at a flying display in Bournemouth when the tail broke away from his Wright Flyer.

The competitions in Kite design and kite flying were to remain a feature of the Aeronautical Society for many years. The Flight of July 10th, 1909 carried the charming photo below of Frank Slater who is described as "the youngest Boy Scout" with his Scout. It should be remembered that the Wolf Cubs were not formed until 1913, and though against the Founder's wishes, some Scout Masters allowed recruits of a very young age. How it was that young Frank Taylor came to be a Scout may never be known, but he was, without doubt, the first Scout ever to be photographed taking part in Air Activities!

Naturally Baden-Powell's enthusiasm for all matters aeronautical included powered flight and in 1908 and he went to France, just before the first powered flight in England, to fly with Wilbur Wright, one of the two Wright brothers. He wrote at the time:

"That Wilbur Wright is in possession of a power which controls the fate of nations is beyond dispute."

He developed his own plans for a military plane, which he tried to sell to the War Office. At the 1909 Olympia Air Show, he successfully demonstrated his own semi-rigid air ship and a clockwork aeronautical camera. Baden Baden-Powell was also an early glider pilot and in 1910 designed and flew his own lightweight powered monoplane 'The Midge'. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society in 1919, a position he retained until he died 1937.

The above is only a very brief account of Baden Baden-Powell's achievements, the significance of which are certainly recognized by the Society he served so well, but little known of him today by the general public compared if compared with to his more famous brother. The Royal Aeronautical Society still has his portrait in army uniform (see above opposite first paragraph) which, not surprisingly, is very similar indeed to those of the same period painted of his brother, the Founder of the Scout Movement. (See Sources below)

Baden Baden-Powell was without doubt a visionary and, like most prophets, attracted a fair amount of scorn and derision at one time or another. In answer to his critics in the early days of the 20th Century he wrote:

"What will the good citizens of London say when they see a hostile dynamite-carrying aerostat hovering over St Paul's?"

These words came to have a terrible significance in both the First and Second World Wars.