Lilian E. Bland (1878-1971)

Lilian Bland

Miss Lilian Bland of Carnmoney, Co. Antrim, who was the first woman in Ireland to design, construct and fly an aeroplane. Developed using a 20 h.p. air-cooled two-cylinder engine, Miss Bland successfully flew her bi-plane at Randalstown, Co. Antrim, c. 1910.

Lilian Bland

An atypical granddaughter of a Dean of Belfast, as a young woman she wore trousers, smoked cigarettes and tinkered with car engines. She was also a successful press photographer and sports journalist.

Louis Blèriot's cross-Channel flight (1909) inspired her to build her own bi-plane glider, the 'Mayfly', which successfully left the ground on Carnmoney Hill, with four Royal Irish Constabulary constables hanging on to the wings. She then installed a 20 h.p. engine (bought from A.V. Roe) in it, intending to build aeroplanes on a commercial scale, but lacked the finance and had to give up.

In 1912 she emigrated to Canada, married a cousin and carved out a farm on virgin land. In 1935 she retired to Cornwall, "gambling, painting and gardening"- to quote her own words.

Lilian Bland and the 'Mayfly'

The first decade of powered flight abounded with gay, dashing and often downright eccentric personalities. Less well remembered than some of the pioneers, yet one of the most remarkable, was Lilian E. Bland. Far from the centres of aeronautical activity in England, she designed, built and successfully flew her own biplane at Carnmoney, Belfast, in 1909-11.

The adventures of this talented and resourceful aviatrix had for long intrigued the writer, but it had been difficult to obtain reliable details, especially as all traces of her seemed to vanish after her emigration to Canada in 1912. Last summer Arthur L Dawe of Montreal was asked to assist in the quest of finding her. Intensive and enthusiastic research by several people in the Vancouver area failed to bring anything to light until a letter in the Victoria, BC, Daily Colonist of November 6 brought word from the pioneer herself, now living in retirement in Cornwall, England, at the age of 85. ...more

The amazing Miss Bland of Carnmoney

Planes in the sky are a pattern of the age we live in, the end product of man's restless quest for speed. But in quieter days, when it all began, primitive assemblies of canvas and struts that barely lifted off the ground were a perpetual challenge to the brave ones. Such a person was Lilian Bland, who, when photographing birds one day, resolved to build her own plane. This she did without technical knowledge, and she flew it too without training. Her story is told by Lewis De Fries.

"On a windy August day a slim, attractive young woman named Lilian Bland crammed a cloth cap over her dark hair, climbed on to a rickety seat perched on a homemade fabric bi-plane, and grasped the cycle handlebars before her. A gardener's boy swung the propeller, and the little engine spluttered into life. A moment later the crude machine was airborne. ...more"

Flying at Carnmoney

Chapter One : Wanting To Fly

"I'm going to build a glider, Aunt Sarah," said Lilian. She was holding a postcard in her hand. It was from her Uncle Harry. He had just visited the Paris Air Show.

The postcard had a picture of Bleriot's aeroplane. Monsieur Louis Bleriot had been the first man to fly across the Channel. He had flown from Calais in France to Dover in England. He had won a prize of one thousand pounds from the Daily Mail. Early in the morning of 25 July 1909 he landed just behind Dover Castle. His flight from France half an hour. His picture had appeared in all the newspapers.

"Speak up, girl!" said Aunt Sarah. She was nearly eighty years old. She had trouble with her legs and could not walk far. She did not go out of the house much. She was a bit deaf. She turned her-ear trumpet towards Lilian. It had a big brass funnel at the end of a long rubber tube.

"I want to fly, Aunt Sarah. I want to build a glider," said Lilian. "Uncle Harry has been to the Air Show in France. He's seen all sorts of new aeroplanes. There's some information about Monsieur Bleriot's aeroplane on the back of this postcard. I'm going to build my own glider and fly it here at Carnmoney." ...more

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