In the autumn of 1910, when he was twenty-two years old, Tommy Sopwith bought himself an aeroplane, took it to Brooklands aerodrome and taught himself to fly. In those early days he soon achieved prominence, capturing Britain's endurance and distance records - and the attention of King George V - within weeks of his first flight. He could hardly have imagined then, however, that just two years later he would be head of the Sopwith Aviation Company, nor that during the coming conflict that were to emerge from its workshops - and those of its many sub-contractors - thousands of Britain's best warplanes: the Triplane, the Snipe, the Dolphin, the Cuckoo and - most famously of all - the Sopwith Camel, credited with destroying more enemy planes than any other fighter of the First World War. He would have been even more surprised to learn that, though this first company would not long survive the end of hostilities, in its place would arise a new one which, under his guidance, was in the course of time to grow into the giant Hawker-Siddeley Group. But that is beyong the scope of this book, which focuses on those early days when a young man took up flying as a sport, only to find that he had evolved into an aviation entrepreneur.