British Klemm Eagle VH-UTI

The British Klemm Eagle had its geneses in the German Klemm L 32. This was a design built in 1932 which was well ahead of its time. The German Klemm had a 120 h.p. Argus motor and was a low wing monoplane with fixed undercarriage. It had an interesting forward opening hinged canopy with unparalleled access to the seats provided.[i]  As with all Klemm designs it was capable of carrying differing engines and as a more common engine the Siemans 7-cylander radial of 130-H.P. was often fitted. The Argus was an engine with roller bearings and was a difficult engine to manufacture under war conditions. The Klemm L-32 came to Australia and was used by Loris Bonnie to fly to South Africa. This was a serious record breaking aeroplane of that era.

It was also used as an aerial staff car by General Rommel during the desert war and it is of interest that Hanns Klemm was the only German aeroplane designer to spend time arrested and in a concentration camp.[ii]  There are two sides to the story, one that he was unhappy with the Nazi induced slave labour in the factory and the other that he was deposed because his factory was taken over to manufacture Me-163 rocket fighters. On release he was a shadow of his former self and died in the 1950’s after designing some other aircraft post-war.

George H. Handasyde had designed several aeroplanes with Mr H.P. Martin including one of the best light bombers the “Elephant”. The Elephant was used at the latter part of WW1. After the war Handasyde joined the British Aircraft Co. of Hanworth which had initially been been called the British Klemm Manufacturing Co. It was renamed in 1935.  His first responsibility was to design the Klemm L-25, which was changed to accommodate British conditions. The undercarriage was increased in track and made stronger. The whole frame was “squared off” to enable economic construction and it was an extremely successful design. When he looked at the Klemm L-32 he completely redesigned it to create the B.K. Eagle and the Eagle can be looked at as an indigenous “Handsyde design” inspired by the Klemm L-32. There are design similarities but it is inherently a new aircraft with some improvements and some problems.

The B.K. Eagles, VH-USI and VH-USP were sold to Adastra Airways of Sydney and USP was sold to “Pat” O’Hara who renamed it “Zeelandia“ and flew it across the Tasman to New Zealand from Richmond. This is a story in itself and there were “discussions”, somewhat heated with the “Department” at the time. The aeroplane was then reregistered in New Zealand, returned to Australia but lost on take-off with O’Hara killed at a property, Eumangerie near Dubbo on 24th of May 1936.  English Eagles were impressed into the R.A.F. in 1941 but all were lost due to undercarriage collapse during the war.

B.K. Eagle UTI was built in 1934 in Feltham, Middlesex with constructors number 109. Constructors number 108 was named “Santander” and flown on a record attempt by Senor Juan Pombo but crashed at Port Natal on the 26th of May on take off. The Spanish Government kindly bought him another {C/N 115} and he and his young bride crossed the South Atlantic and completed a 9000-mile trip to Mexico City. [iii]

UTI was fitted with Gipsy Major 5838 and test flown on December 7th 1934 before the company name change from B.K. to B.A.  It was shipped to Australia and test flown at Parafield in February 1935.  It was registered to Percy Knapman of Exeter.

In 1936 on 29th of January it suffered an undercarriage collapse at the end of its landing run with only minor damage done.  BA Eagle VH-UUY, {C/N 128} also came to Australia and it also suffered periodic undercarriage collapse to the extent that it was returned by truck to Sid Marshal’s on several occasions. Jack Davidson, his partner, recalled a small poem which recalled it’s undercarriage problems. He then produced a small modification, which seems to have helped the problem and this is in UTI also. 

In December it flew in the Brisbane –Adelaide air race as Number 29 but withdrew for unknown reasons. [iv]  Afterwards it was withdrawn from use and reregistered in 1937.  In 1939 it had a fuel shortage and a forced landing and again after the Certificate of Airworthiness lapsed in 1941. There was some unconfirmed story that the owner did not wish the aeroplane impressed and camouflaged for use in the air force so it was then dismantled and placed in storage in a brick kiln.

After the war, Glen Maxwell McWilliam, the vingeron bought the aeroplane and flew it with the Griffith Aero Club.

The aero club then sold the aeroplane to a Mr Jones who had the aeroplane for a few years. He collected it with a friend and then flew it north. He had been advised to stay on runways but he declined this advice.  Jack Hodder who owned “ACN” relates in a letter to the Challiner brothers what happened next.

Jonsie was a red hot pilot, so hot that he took a bloke home in the Eagle and landed in a grass paddock. Long grass and supposed to be a good landing ground. However Jonsie went in, put the Eagle on the ground and in the long grass found the trunk of a tree. The right wheel ran alongside the tree, which was too high for the wheel to climb over. By the time they got half along the tree it had ripped the R H wheel and the leg off. This was on a Saturday night. Jonsie phoned me and said come out with a truck and cart the Eagle into the hanger. I said, nothing doing, Do it yourself, which he did the next day. Jonsie disappeared and I looked for him for months

The Challinor brothers then bought the Eagle, restored it and then sold it to Wangaratta when the current owner bought it.

So then the B.A.Eagle came along with retractable undercarriage folding wings and a gipsy major. If you can imagine a tiger moth on steroids then you can see how the Eagle performs though she has a C of G sensitivity. Interestingly too we have had a long discussion about the oleos.  The oleos in the Eagle are probably laughingly called oleos.  They shouldn’t really be termed as such as they are probably best described as a primitive form of shock absorber.  They have a piston with a hole in it and as the aircraft takes off the wheels fall down and the oil runs into the reservoir.  Therefore the wheels hang down quite a considerable distance from the aircraft prior to it landing. The idea of this undercarriage is to take the initial shock of landing and if you are going to end up doing four or five bumps you can find that one wheel is lower than the other before contacting.  It does not immediately bounce back. This may have historically been one of the reasons why a lot of them were lost on landing but because the situation was that some swung on landing.  Now if you hit with one wheel first and end up with one wheel lower than the other without instantaneous response, you can understand how a swing could be induced very easily. Lateral movement with the “into wing” down can knock the leg from the over center position.


This is a wonderful machine for its era.


This aeroplane is usually found at The Missions 1937

[i]Hanns Klemm, Der Schopfer des Leichtflugzeugs, Drei Brunnen Verlag Stuttgart, Page 80

[ii]Hanns Klemm, Der Schopfer des Leichtflugzeugs, Drei Brunnen Verlag Stuttgart, Page 112

[iii]Jackson, The British Light Aeroplane, Putnam, Page 170

[iv]Hopton john, Man and Areil Machines, reprinted “Rag and Tube”

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