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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 11:15 GMT
My grandad was an aviation pioneer
Damien Dill
We're looking for the best stories of your grandparents, whether they are still alive or no longer with us. Here, Damien Dill tells how a toss of a coin decided whether his grandad would be first to fly across the Atlantic. Tell us what your grandad or grandma did, using the form at the bottom of the page.

What my grandad did
FW Merriam about to take off in 1912
My grandad, Frederick Warren Merriam, started flying in 1912, and was the chief instructor for the Bristol and Colonial Aircraft Co.

He always had a love of flying, and made his first attempt to get airborne at the age of six, when he balanced atop his father's penny-farthing bicycle.

He was always quite fearless. He used to fly passes over the house; if his legs were dangling out, it was a signal to my grandmother that he would be home for lunch.

My grandad was also the first man to land upside-down in the sewage farm at Brooklands airstrip - no one would speak to him for a week afterwards and everyone would stand upwind from him. Remember the film Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines? That was the type of aircraft he flew, a Bristol Box Kite.

During the world wars, he mostly trained other pilots. When the British Expditionary Force of 99 pilots went to France in 1914, he had trained 34 of them.

He introduced Alcock to Brown, who became the first men to fly non-stop across the Atlantic

When he did fly, it was mostly scouting missions in unarmed aircraft. He was involved in some combat missions, but in the days when you fired a revolver at the other fellow, waved at each other, and then flew off. He used to take a shotgun up with him, and when the other chap was waving let him have it with both barrels. He never hit anyone, but must have given them the shock of their lives.

After the war, he introduced John Alcock to Arthur Whitten Brown, who became the first men to fly non-stop across the Atlantic in 1919. Both he and Alcock wanted to be the pilot for this feat, so they decided to toss a coin to see who would apply to fly the Vickers Vimy. My grandfather lost.

How I first heard this story
During visits to my grandparents in the 1950s. I was about eight or nine, and a cap gun toting bloodthirsty little tyke, as most children are at that age. I asked him what he did in the war, and he told me about all his adventures.

The influence he had on me
He instilled in me an abiding love of flying. I've done a bit of gliding in my time; and he taught my mother and my aunt to fly. But other than his son, who flew RAF bombers in World War II, none of us inherited his adventurous spirit.

Tell us about your grandad or grandma, using the form below. Please include contact details so we can get in touch with if we need photographs or more details.

Your e-mail address and phone number
Town/city and country
Tell us about your grandparent
When did you first hear this story?
How did he or she influence you?

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