Pigs Might Fly? One Did in Kent, Over 100 Years Ago

M@
By M@
Pigs Might Fly? One Did in Kent, Over 100 Years Ago
A pig sat in a basket with a label saying it is the first pig to fly. In a second view, a man is shown holding the basket on his shoulder on an airfield.
"I am the first pig to fly". Image from Daily Mirror, 6 November 1909. Found in the British Newspaper Archive.

The phrase "Pigs might fly!", meaning that something is pretty much impossible, was dramatically overturned on 4 November 1909.   

On that date, at the mouth of the Thames Estuary, a young piglet became the first porcine aviator.

The flight took place from the Aero Club's ground on the Isle of Sheppey. It was here, just six months earlier, that John Moore-Brabazon had become the first Englishman to fly a powered aircraft on British soil.

The famed pilot decided to elevate a pig on pure whimsy. "I was shooting in the neighbourhood when a farmer casually suggested to me that I might take a pig up in my aeroplane," he explained to The Mirror. "...and so accomplish what has so long been proverbially impossible."

A six-week-old piglet was chosen from the yard of the Rose and Crown in Leysdown - a pub which still exists. The aviator immediately dubbed his flying companion Icarus II, an audacious choice given its namesake's fate.

A pig in a basket (indicated by a pink arrow) nestles on an aircraft wing, beside the pilot.
Hogging the limelight. Icarus II ensconced in his basket beside the engines, with Moore-Brabazon at the aircraft's controls. Image from Daily Mirror, 6 November 1909. Found in the British Newspaper Archive.

Icarus II, though, soared through the skies in the Short Brothers biplane without incident. "It was a short, fast flight," related Moore-Brabazon, "and though he squealed a little to begin with, my four-legged passenger soon quietened down, and behaved as if he quite realised the importance of the occasion. Even the proximity of the engines did not distress him in the least."

The 3.5-mile round trip is sometimes considered the first cargo flight on UK soil, and the first flight of any livestock in a powered vehicle. It took place only six years after the first powered flight in history by the Wright Brothers.

The London-born Moore-Brabazon would go on to make other aviation firsts. A few months after his flying farmyard flight, he became the first person to qualify for a UK pilot's licence, and was awarded Royal Aero Club Aviator's Certificate number 1. He would later serve as an MP, Minister of Transport and member of the London County Council.

And what of Icarus II? The aeronautical pig would pave the airfield for other celebrated porkers, such as first world war ace Porco Rosso and the inflatable pig that Pink Floyd released over Battersea Power Station.

The piglet became a local celebrity on Sheppey. His owner, Mr GC Ward, "decided to retain him as a pet, and save him from the fate which awaits his six little brothers and sisters". So not content with overturning the "pigs might fly" cliche, this little piggy also saved his own bacon.

Last Updated 13 October 2021

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