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J C Porte (1884-1919)
Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of J C (John Cyril) Porte, who was an early British aviation pioneer. While serving in the Royal Navy’s submarine division, Lieutenant Porte found time to experiment with gliders and a small aircraft of his own design and first flew in 1910. Around this time, he contracted tuberculosis and was invalided out of the service, but continued to fly, obtaining his aviator’s certificate in France in 1911. In 1912, he formed a partnership with Lawrence Santoni to establish the British Deperdussin Aeroplane Company, holding the licence to manufacture Deperdussin designs in Britain and the Empire. Porte flew the company’s aircraft in many races in Britain and at the Army’s military aircraft trials. After the company was dissolved in 1913, Porte was employed as test pilot by White and Thompson, which had obtained the British licence rights to Curtiss flying boats. Through these contacts, Porte travelled to the USA to work with Glen Curtiss, who was to construct the “America” flying boat, with the intent to be the first to fly the Atlantic and win the Daily Mail’s £10,000 prize. However, engine and water-handling problems delayed the project, which had to be abandoned on the outbreak of the War. Porte returned to Britain to re-enlist in the RNAS, working first to train airmen and subsequently to lead the new flying boat division at Felixtowe. Porte advocated the purchase of the “America” flying boat and other Curtiss machines of similar design. The family of “Felixtowe” flying boats carried out coastal reconnaissance, anti-submarine and anti-Zeppelin patrols with some success in the later years of the War. The “Felixtowe” boats provided good service and were the nucleus, around which Britain’s coastal defence force was developed. Porte died on 22 October 1919 at the age of just thirty-five, a victim of the tuberculosis that had afflicted him for ten years.