Welcome to my site on Scottish aviator Preston Watson; one of the more controversial early aviation pioneers. Very little is known publicly about his actual achievements and here I document his aviation activities and the controversy surrounding them.
Introduction and Acknowledgements
When the 15 December 1953 issue of the Manchester Guardian hit the newspaper stands, the article about a claim of Scotsman flying a powered aeroplane before the Wright Brothers in the summer of 1903 didn't cause much of a stir. Few who read the paper that morning would have known who on Earth Preston Watson was, and even fewer would have cared. The numerous eyewitness reports would not surface publicly for another year or so, and articles in the likes of Flight and The Aeroplane on Watson written nearly forty years earlier remained hidden away in dusty volumes on library shelves.
The aviation establishment wasn't expecting Mr James Y. Watson of Blairgowrie, Perthshire appearing at the Royal Aeronautical Society/Royal Aero Club dinner at the Dorchester Hotel on the Strand in London, where those organisation's esteemed guests were honouring fifty years since the Wrights flew their first powered aeroplane. The 74 year old Scot's tale of flying a powered aeroplane at Errol in Perthshire in the summer of 1903 was quite convincing; he provided eyewitness accounts and photographs showing unfamiliar shapes to knowledgeable eyes.
This didn't have the desired impact that James Watson sought however, not many people took him or his claim seriously. Although few in the aviation community knew anything about the inventive Scot, they knew a lot more about the history of aviation than James Watson did and were able to dispute the claim almost immediately.
Sadly, the truth about Preston Watson remains as obscure to the public today as it was before December 1953, and although James Watson later publicly denied the claims he made about his brother, there are still many who refuse to accept that his tale has been so comprehensively debunked.
Preston Watson didn't leave a paper trail, and it is largely thanks to the efforts of the late Charles Gibbs-Smith, who was a member of the History group of the Royal Aeronautical Society, that what little there is available about Watson can be accessed relatively easily.
Apart from Gibbs-Smith, Watson's work has been largely ignored by the aviation press, primarily because his efforts, regardless of how ingenious were not very spectacular; this was at a time when a flight from one city to another made front page news. His untimely death did not help matters; therefore his work has been largely forgotten, and any notes he made were probably discarded in haste after he died.
As a result of the claims made by James Watson in the winter of 1953, any work examining Preston Watson's aviation doings is going to be clouded by the tales of powered flight before the Wrights, which is unfortunate. This is because James Watson set out with the intention to demonstrate his claim to be true, rather than to establish the facts behind his brother's work, then make an unbiased assessment of the claim based on these facts. It is sad that those who have accepted his initial version of the Watson story choose to ignore this.
The principal aim of this site is to provide information on Preston Watson's aircraft and to put his efforts into context. Many of the conclusions drawn here are my own opinions, but they are based on the application of logic derived from historical fact.
This work is by no means the last word on Watson, nor do I profess to be an expert on him or his aircraft for that matter; there are likely to be more references to him hiding out there somewhere that are truly new, which truthfully assist in revealing more about his experiments and are not some ill-considered and poorly motivated rehash of existing tales.
For their generous assistance with my research into Preston Watson, I would like to thank the following:
Jim Allan; Colin Connelly; Paul Dunlop; Peter Elliott, former Keeper, DoRIS, RAF Museum; Stuart Hadaway, formerly of DoRIS, RAF Museum; Philip Jarrett; Dawn Kemp, former curator of the Museum of Flight; Jan Keohane of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton; Errol Martyn; Jan Nelson, formerly of the Museum of Flight; Mick Oakey; Leo Opdyke; Adam Smith, former curator at the Museum of Flight; Tork1945, user of The Aerodrome Forum; Clem Watson (no relation).
Read about Preston Watson's Aviation History: