When visiting Larapindi in Biggles in the Orient, Biggles noticed a picture of a "Gull" civil marine aircraft on the wall. No details of the maker were given, but the Percival Gull is the best fit for the type of aircraft Biggles saw.
First built in 1932 by the Percival Aircraft Company, the Gull was a single-engine cabin monoplane of wood and fabric construction. The aircraft became popular in the 1930s as a touring aircraft and company transport, offering speed and comfort for those who needed to travel fairly long distances.
Although not faster than military types, the Gull was faster than most other civil aircraft. An early model Gull Four with a Hermes engine had a maximum speed of 145 mph. The Gull 6 with a Gipsy Six II engine could reach 178 mph, as could the Vega Gull, a four seater variant with a wider fuselage. Gulls were used for several long distance record breaking attempts. For example, on 4 October 1933, Charles Kingsford Smith flew a Gull 4 from Lympne to Darwin, Australia in a record 7 days, 4 hrs, 44 min. On 4 May 1936, Amy Johnson in a Gull 6 took off from Gravesend on a record flight to Wingfield aerodrome, Cape Town, and back to Croydon Airport in 7 days 22 hr 43min. Another aviatrix, Jean Batten, also made several memorable flights on a Gull 6. On 11 November 1935, she departed Lympne and flew two legs to Thiès, Senegal. After a 12 hr, 30 min crossing of the Atlantic on 13 November, she arrived at Port Natal, Brazil, and was later awarded the Britannia Trophy. On 5 October 1936, Batten flew from Lympne to Darwin in the record time 5 days, 21 hr, 3 min, then flying on across the Tasman Sea to Auckland to set another total record time of 11 days, 45 min.
Gulls were sold to private owners as well as companies such as Shell. Indian Airlines used two Gulls as mailplanes from Karachi to Lahore. Gulls were also evaluated by the R.A.F. which resulted in an order for a military variant which became known as the Percival Proctor. No Gulls were fitted with floats in reality but a Proctor was fitted with floats for the Hudson Bay company.
Biggles and GullEdit
In Biggles in the Orient, Larapindi tells Biggles he uses his Gull to visit his various companies all over India. This is exactly the kind of role the relatively fast Percival Gull was designed and sold for.
The floatplane version of a Gull is fictional, of course. It is plausible that Larapindi could always have ordered a private modification for his aircraft. But why did John's choose to use a fictional Gull floatplane aircraft when there were other real aircraft available? Elsewhere in the book, for example, he mentions a Gipsy Moth floatplane used by an air taxi company in Calcutta which Tug Carrington borrowed to fetch Biggles from a river in the Burmese jungle.
The answer was probably to give Biggles some feeling of a challenge. A Moth would have been too slow. Instead, Biggles was faced with the prospect of a pursuit by night. We don't know which version of Gull Larapindi had, and perhaps Biggles didn't know either but assumed the worst case--the fastest Gull. His quarry had an unknown amount of headstart and the aircraft had a reputation for speed. Faced with these uncertainties, it is small wonder that Biggles chose the best aircraft in his inventory--the Spitfire.
- Crew: 1
- Capacity: 2 passengers
- Length: 24 ft 9 in (7.54 m)
- Wingspan: 36 ft 2 in (11.02 m)
- Gross weight: 2,050 lb (930 kg)
- Engine: Various. 1 × Cirrus Hermes IV 130 hp is typical. The Gull 6 had a 200 hp Gipsy Six II engine.
- Maximum speed: 145 mph (233 km/h) to 178 mph in the Gull 6.
- Cruise speed: 125 mph (201 km/h)
- Range: 700 miles (1,126 km)
- Service ceiling: 16,000 ft (4,877 m)