Henry Farman Makes First Circular Flight in Europe - History

Henry Farman Makes First Circular Flight in Europe  - History

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On January 13th 1908 Henry Farman flew the first circular flight in Europe at Issyles- Mouineaus. The flight was took place in Voisin Biplane. Farman thus obtained the coveted Deutch- Archdecon prize of 50,000 French francs for the first monitored circular flight.

From Graces Guide

Henri or Henry Farman (1874-1958) was a French aviator and aircraft designer and manufacturer with his brother Maurice Farman.

1874 May 26th. He was born in Paris, and was baptised as Harry Edgar Mudford Farman. He was a son of Thomas Frederick Farman (1845-1921), the Paris correspondent of the London Standard. His father was born in 1845 at Layer Marney, Essex. His mother, Sophia Ann Louisa Mudford, was born in Canterbury, Kent, and was a daughter of the author William Mudford.

Farman trained as a painter at the École des Beaux Arts, but quickly become obsessed with the new mechanical inventions that were rapidly appearing at the end of the 19th century. Because his family had the money, he was able to pursue his interest as an amateur sportsman.

In the 1890s, with his brothers Maurice and Richard, he was amongst the first to take up the sport of bicycle racing using the new pneumatic tyres Ώ] . He became a championship cyclist and, at the turn of the century, he discovered motor racing, competing for Renault in the Gordon Bennett Cup.

1904 FARMAN, Messrs. Henri and Maurice, 10, Rue Notre Dame de Lorette, Paris (private address) Rue des Acacias (business address). Are the sons of the Standard correspondent in Paris. At fourteen they began their career as professional cyclists by winning a number of prizes in French races. In 1892 Henri became bicycle champion of France, and the following year his brother Maurice took the French Championship from him. In 1895 both brothers rode tandem, and found nobody to beat them until 1897, Owing to this fact they were nicknamed the "Virgin team." When the first motor-tricycles came out, both brothers began hiring machines from different makers, and soon became very expert motorists. Henri won the first motor-tricycle race, the Cote de Chanteloup, with a 1.75-h.p. tricycle. In 1901 Henri began racing in earnest, and won the Pau 150 kilometre race on a light Darracq. In the same race Maurice came in first in the heavy cars section. In May, 1901, Henri got in fourth in the Paris-Bordeaux race of that year he then drove a Panhard. It was also on a Panhard that he took fourth place in the 1901 Paris-Berlin race. In 1902 Maurice came in first in the French Northern Circuit, or alcohol race. Henri took second place in the same race. In the 1902 Paris-Vienna race Henri got in first in spite of an accident, which delayed him two hours. It was an accident that obliged him to abandon the Paris-Madrid race at Vendome. In the Irish race for the Gordon Bennett Cup Henri had a puncture, his reservoir leaked badly, and his brake refused to act, but he got in third, ten minutes after the winner. Henri and his brother Maurice have a tremendous amount of pluck, and though brought up in France, and earning their living there, they are still essentially British in character. Henri is now in business with his brother Dick, and according to all accounts is doing well. Both the racing brothers believe that very few of the present big factories make any money they are obliged to spend too much in experimenting. They assert that the future of the motor trade lies in the building of cars for industrial and commercial purposes, more than, as now, for pleasure or recreation. ΐ]

When Gabriel Voisin began to produce a powered aeroplane for sale in 1907, Farman was one of his first customers. He set numerous Official Records (though still well short of those achieved by the Wright Brothers) for both distance and duration. These include the first to fly a complete circuit of 1 kilometre (January 13, 1908) and 2 kilometres (March 21, 1908). On the latter date he is also recorded as becoming the first ever aeroplane passenger, flown by Leon Delagrange.

Later in 1908, on October 30, Farman went on to make the first cross-country flight in Europe, flying from Chalons to Rheims (27 kilometres in 20 minutes).

After designing his own aeroplane, on May 30, 1908, he took Ernest Archdeacon for a 1,241 metre flight at Ghent, Belgium. Although his own flight as a passenger should take precedence there is some evidence that on or around this date he made the first flight with a woman passenger.

In 1909, he made further record breaking flights of 180 kilometres in just over 3 hours (at Rheims on August 27) and 232 kilometres in 4 hours 17 minutes and 53 seconds (at Mourmelon on November 3). On August 28, he was the pilot of the first 3-person flight when he carried 2 passengers for 10 kilometres.

1911 At this time, Maurice's designs were approaching the "aerobus" whilst Henri favoured the biplane which possesses the lightness, the rapidity, and general handiness of the monoplane. Maurice Farman's biplane was said to be able to carry loads of petrol whilst Henri Farman's machine needed to carry much less fuel in travelling a similar distance in shorter time. Henri had also designed a monoplane Α] .

1912 Maurice merged his aircraft business with his brother's aircraft company - presumably Farman Aviation Works

In partnership with his two brothers Henri built a highly successful and innovative aircraft manufacturing plant. Their 1914 model was used extensively for artillery observation and reconnaissance during World War I. The Farman Aviation Works's Goliath was the first long-distance passenger airliner, beginning regular Paris-London flights on February 8, 1919.

He was made a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur in 1919 and retired in 1937, when the French government nationalized the aircraft industry.

1958 July 18th. Henry Farman died in Paris and is buried in the Cimetière de Passy in Paris.

The machine is of the Chanute type which appears to have greater stability than the aeroplane was believed to possess. During his many experiments Mr. Farman was on one occasion caught broadside by a strong gust, when the apparatus sailed with the wind in a perfectly horizontal direction. Constructed by Messrs. Voisin Freres, who have specialised themselves in the building of aeroplanes, the original Farman machine was composed essentially of two transverse planes, at the centre of which was a skeleton of ash at right angles terminating in a box-shaped cell at slightly above the horizontal level of the transversal planes.

The actual machine in which the successful flight was made was slightly different at its rear end from the original type, as may be seen in the engravings. The two transversal planes have a length of 33ft. 6in., and their width is 6ft. 6in. The distance between the top and bottom planes is 5ft. The light ash girder extending at right angles to the rear of the main planes has a length of 14ft. 9in., and the rectangular cell which it carries has a length of 19ft. 7in., and is 6ft. 6in. square. This box-shaped plane was covered on four sides with a light varnished fabric, and the same material is also used on the main planes.

The total surface offered by the machine is 170.5 square feet. The aeronaut sits between the two main plain's, where he has command of the propelling mechanism, consisting of an 8-cylinder Antoinette engine, developing about 50 horse-power. This type of engine has been designed especially for aeroplane experiments, and it is largely due to engine builders obtaining such remarkable results in the reduction of weight that mechanical flying has become possible.

The engine drives a two-blade propeller immediately behind the main planes, the diameter of these blades being 6ft. 7in. The steering apparatus is at the rear. The machine is mounted on pivoted wheels to allow of its travelling along the ground before taking flight.

Having got complete mastery over his machine, and being assured that it was in proper running order, Mr. Farman carried out some private tests on Saturday of last week with such good results that he convened the judges of the Aero Club to an official test on the following Monday. The conditions imposed for winning the prize were that the competitor had to cross a line between two posts placed 50m. apart, and, flying to a flag 500m. distant, turn round and finish across the line without having touched the ground.

On starting his engine, the machine was propelled along the ground for a distance of about 50 yards, when it started rising about 100 yards behind the line, which it crossed at a height of about 12ft. Continuing to rise to about 2Oft., the machine described a flat curve towards the turning post, and, before reaching it, Farman raised the machine to a height of about 30ft. so as to avoid all danger of the planes touching the ground.

He glided round very easily at a much sharper curve than would have been (teemed possible, with only a slight inclination of the planes, and then continuing with a flat curve behind the post for about 50 yards or so, he turned again somewhat sharply and steered almost straight home, crossing the line at almost the point where he started. He brought the machine to the ground as gracefully as a bird, without any shock.

The whole performance gave one the impression of the flight being carried out with perfect ease, while there appeared to be no reason why Farman should not have continued for a much longer time. As a matter of fact, to escape the attentions of a particularly enthusiastic crowd, he flew off to the shed where the machine is kept, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The time that elapsed from the start to the finish was 1 min. 28 sec., the actual distance covered being probably a little over a mile.

Having thus secured the most coveted prize for mechanical flight, Mr. Farman intends to try for the prizes which are being offered in England. He thinks he will have no difficulty in securing the prize for the mile in a straight line, and he has also been engaged to fly round the Brooklands track.

Mr. Farman has no intention, however, of continuing his experiments with his present type of machine, which he considers to have a certain defect in that it is not capable of travelling at sufficiently high speeds to be able to fly against any strong wind. Obviously, it is quite possible it could be made to fly faster by the application of more suitable propellers. On the other hand, the machine seems somewhat fragile, and may possibly not be able to withstand the resistance offered when travelling against strong winds, since an appreciable surface must be presented by the numbers of struts and stays that are employed for strengthening the planes.

Mr. Farman has decided to experiment with a machine of the Langley type, which, while being much less cumbrous, has been shown by experiments with models to be capable of travelling at very high speeds. Obviously, in mechanical flight speed is a very important factor in rendering time machine independent of the varying forces of the wind. The successful flight of Monday last is bound to stimulate interest in the art of mechanical flying, and we may look forward to very rapid progress in the construction and handling of flying machines in the early future.

The Airplane Changed Our Idea of the World

The advent of human flight not only boosted our power of movement, but also enhanced our vision: We gained the ability to see the Earth from above. Before the Wrights’ epochal breakthrough, there had been perhaps thousands of human flights, mostly in balloons. But it was the advent of the airplane—a whole new way of seeing and experiencing our planet with speed and control—that led to euphoric reactions across the world. Wilbur and Orville caused the eruption with their first public flights in the summer and early fall of 1908.

In order to appreciate just how big the news was, it’s important to remember the widespread skepticism of the Wrights’ claims to have perfected a fully practical flying machine. They did not hide their machine during its development through 1905, but didn’t exactly invite crowds either. On February 10, 1906, the New York Herald put it bluntly: “The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars.”

The aerial perspective of Robert Delaunay’s 1922 painting illustrated the new human experience of the Eiffel Tower and Field of Mars granted by airplanes. (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian)

But when they flew for the public—Wilbur first, on August 8, 1908, in Le Mans, France—the press reports were breathless: “I’ve seen him! I’ve seen them!” a reporter for Le Figaro cried. “There is no doubt! Wilbur and Orville Wright have well and truly flown!” Wilbur’s flights came on the heels of earlier French and American successes by other competitors: Henry Farman winning the Deutsch-Archdeacon prize for a one-kilometer circular flight Glenn Curtiss winning the Scientific American Cup for a one-kilometer straight-line flight in his June Bug. But Wilbur’s flights in France, and then Orville’s at Fort Myer, Virginia, were longer and in greater control by far than anything that had come before. “WORLD’S AIR SHIP RECORD SMASHED BY ORVILLE WRIGHT AT FT. MYER, VA.,” blared the Washington Times on September 13 after he flew for more than an hour. An eyewitness was quoted as saying, “I would rather be Orville Wright right now than the President of the United States!”

Wilbur Wright delighted crowds when he passed in front of the Statue of Liberty in September 1909 in his Wright Type A. These three images are among dozens shown in the Wright gallery. (NASM (SI-85-6235))

When airplanes first flew, they brought two new astonishing experiences to the human race. One was simply the sight of a fellow human being traveling through the sky at speed and in control. Grand contests were held for the public to witness the miracle. The first such competition in the United States was at Dominguez Field in Los Angeles in January, 1910. “In Trial Flight [Glenn] Curtiss Soars Like Huge Bird. Thousands Cheer as New and Untried Biplane Leaps into the Sky,” announced the Los Angeles Herald. The meet ran for 10 days, and more than 250,000 people attended.

The second novel aspect of airplane flight was what the aviators and their passengers saw from the sky—experiencing our enhanced vision for the first time. Famed reporter Richard Harding Davis best describes the transformation. He went to Aiken, South Carolina to fly with Wright exhibition pilot and instructor Frank Coffyn in 1911. Although he’d covered the Johnstown Flood and the Spanish-American War, he approached Coffyn’s Wright Model B with terror. “I began to hate Coffyn and the Wright brothers,” he wrote. “I began to regret that I had not been brought up a family man so… I could explain that I could not go aloft because I had children to support. I was willing to support any number of children. Anybody’s children.”

But once they were in the air, “a wonderful thing happened,” he wrote. “The polo field and then the high board fence around it, and a tangle of telegraph wires, and the tops of the highest pine trees suddenly sank beneath us. They fell so swiftly that in a moment the Whisky Road became a yellow ribbon, and the Iselin house and gardens a white ball on a green billiard cloth. We wheeled evenly in a sharp curve, and beyond us for miles saw cotton fields like a great chess board.”

He underwent an epiphany. “I began to understand why young men with apparently everything to make them happy on earth persist in leaving it by means of aeroplanes. What lures them is the call of a new world waiting to be conquered, the sense of power, of detachment from everything humdrum, or even human, the thrill that makes all the other sensations stale and vapid, the exhilaration that for the moment makes each one of them a king.”

When they landed, Coffyn told Davis they’d flown about six miles. “But we had gone much farther than that,” wrote Davis. “And how much farther we still will go no man can tell.”

Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age is made possible by the generous support of David M. Rubenstein and Frederick and Barbara Clark Telling.

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This story is a selection from the April/May issue of Air & Space magazine

About Paul Glenshaw

Paul Glenshaw is a frequent Air & Space contributor who writes from Silver Spring, Maryland. He created education programs for the Wright Experience and Discovery of Flight foundation, and is the co-writer and co-director of the documentary The Lafayette Escadrille.

Henry Farman Makes First Circular Flight in Europe - History

Those Fabulous and Foolhardy Flyers II

In 1907 Henry Farman takes the Deutsch-Archdeacon prize for a public flight of more than one kilometer in length.

Part 2: Flight from Wilber to War

On a wind-swept beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17th, 1903, history records that the Wright Brothers made the first heavier-than-air-flights. The longest of these flights was only an 852-foot hop, yet scarcely 6 years later aviators would be braving the 20-mile wide English Channel. By the middle of World War I, aircraft would have matured into fighting machines capable of penetrating hundreds of miles behind hostile enemy lines. In less than 15 short years the airplane would move from an inventor's toy to a weapon of war.

Early European Aviation

Much experimentation with early aviation occurred in France. The first manned hot-air balloons were built by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783. In 1884 a French inventor built the first successful dirigible. In 1890 Clement Ader, a French electrical engineer, created a steam-powered heavier-than-air machine that managed a brief uncontrolled hop. Despite Ader's success, at the beginning of the 20th century most French would-be aviators, with the one exception, seemed to be focused on lighter-than-air research rather than heavier-than-air flight.

That exception was Captain Ferdinand Ferber, an artillery commander whose interest in aviation had been kindled by the gliding experiments of Germany's Otto Lilienthal. Ferber started corresponding about aviation with Octave Chanute, a friend and counselor to the Wright Brothers. Later, Ferber exchanged letters with the Wright Brothers themselves and developed a great respect for them. Ferber, in turn, lectured and wrote (often under the pen name of Monsieur de Rue) about aviation in Europe and influenced many would-be aviators there, including a man named Earnest Archdeacon.

Archdeacon, a Frenchman of Irish decent, wanted France to be first in flight and helped found the Aero Club of France. After hearing of the Wright's success in 1903, Archdeacon (along with Henry Deutsch de la Meurthe) put up a prize of 50,000 francs ($10,000) to go to the first aviator that could publicly fly a heavier-than-air machine around a one kilometer course and land it safely.

By 1905 the Deutsch-Archdeacon prize was still unclaimed when unbelievable news reached Europe from the United States: In Ohio the Wright Brothers had flown a plane they dubbed the Flyer III as far as 24.2 miles over the Huffman Prairie (which was the equivalent of 39 kilometers). The debate that followed at the Aero Club was lively. Captain Ferber accepted the reports as true while Archdeacon refused to believe them. Archdeacon even issued a public letter to the Wrights including this challenge:

I take the liberty of reminding you that there is, in France, a modest prize of 50,000 francs bearing the name 'Pix Deutsch-Archdeacon,' that will go to the first experimenter who flies an airplane in a closed circle of not 39 kilometers but only one kilometer. It will assuredly not tire you very much to make a brief visit to France simply to 'collect' this little prize.

The Wrights, always more interested in the business of selling airplanes and protecting their patents and design secrets than in what they called "circus" flying, did not even respond to the challenge.

It wasn't until 1906 that a European made his first flight. Brazilian-born Alberto Santos-Dumont was a short, slim, dapper, man rich from the profits of his family's coffee plantation. As hobbies he had raced motorized tricycles and flown primitive dirigibles. In 1904 he began experimenting with gliders and in 1906 completed a powered flying machine dubbed a canard in French because it looked like a duck. It had a 24-horsepower engine and a box-like rudder and elevator that jutted out from the front of the craft like the head of a waterfowl. Santos first tested it by dropping the craft from his dirigible. In September, after replacing the engine with a more powerful one, Santos managed to get the plane to rise off the ground and hop less than fifty feet. About a month later a flight of 197 feet was made and on November 12 Santos and his plane flew 722 feet.

The news electrified Europe, but the Santos' record was still less than the Wrights had achieved on their first day of flight in 1903.

Many early aviators used a trial and error method of designing their airplanes. Take a gander at our page on Strange Aircraft from the Early Years of Flight to see what they looked like.

In 1907 a man named Henry Farman, son of an English newspaperman based in Paris, became interested in aviation. Farman decided he would be that man to win the Deutsch-Archdeacon prize and ordered a plane from the newly-founded airplane manufacturer Vosin Freres. The plane he ordered had a reputation of being difficult to fly, so Farman (who would later go into airplane manufacturing himself) added a front rudder, cut the tail down and adjusted the trim. Being satisfied with his changes, he went after the prize on January 13, 1908. The flight was slow and far from graceful. European aviation had yet to discover the Wright's secret to making a banking turn through warping the aircraft's wings. Even so, Farman won the prize and Europe's admiration by completing the course in one minute and 28 seconds.

A Wright Brother Goes to Europe

By 1908 the Wright brothers began to have some success at selling their airplanes and it was decided that Wilber should travel to Europe to demonstrate their model "A" plane to French businessmen that were interested in licensing the design. When Wilber arrived in France he found the plane he'd shipped over was damaged (apparently by customs officials when they were examining it) and would take weeks to repair. Wilber got along well enough with the local workmen he'd hired to assist him, but was annoyed by the French press who tried to snap unauthorized pictures of the flyer.

By August 8th, though, the plane was repaired and ready for a short test flight. A crowd (including some of Europe's leading authorities on aviation) gathered at a race track near Le Mans some 115 miles southwest of Paris. Among them was Archdeacon. The flyer was readied, and after a false start ran down the wooden track the Wrights' used for a runway and lifted into the sky. Aviation writer Francois Peyrey later wrote they watched "the great white bird soar above the racecourse and pass over and beyond the trees. We were able to follow easily each movement of the pilot, note his extraordinary proficiency in the flying business. " The flight lasted only one minute and 45 seconds but left not doubt in the minds of the observers that the Wrights had solved the problems of controlled flight with astounding success. The flight, and others that would follow, ensured the formation of Wright-licensed companies throughout Europe.

The demonstration also helped European aviators understand how to modify their own planes to get greater control. In 1909 the British newspaper, the Daily Mail, laid down a challenge that now the bravest aviators might consider accepting: A flight across the 21 miles of the cold waters of the English Channel. The prize would be a thousand English pounds ($5,000).

The English Channel Challenge

The press asked Wilber Wright if he would attempt the channel crossing challenge. He currently held the record for the longest continuous flight: 1 hour, 31 minutes and 25 seconds. This was more than enough time necessary to cross the channel. Wright was not interested putting the challenge down as a "useless risk."

Louis Bleriot sits in his aircraft waiting for his attempt to be the first aviator to cross the English Channel.

Others thought otherwise. In the end two men would compete for the prize: Twenty-six year-old Hubert Latham, a Frenchman with an English background, and Louis Bleriot, a longtime French aviator with an impulsive spirit.

Latham, rich and handsome, had led an adventurous life. He raced motorboats and hunted big game in Africa. Just that year he had taken up the sport of flying and had already held the record for flying endurance in a monoplane: 1 hour 7 minutes and 37 seconds. He flew an Antoinette IV, a slim and graceful aircraft designed by Leion Levavasseur.

The engine in the Antionette was also designed by Levavasseur and had many advanced features including fuel injection and a crankcase made of aluminum. Despite this, the engine had a habit of cutting out in mid-flight, something that would plague Latham in his attempt to win the prize.

His opponent, Louis Bleriot, was perhaps the most erratic of the early aviators. Bleriot, easily recognized by his mustache and prominent nose, used the funds from his prosperous automotive accessories business to pursue his interest in flying and designing airplanes. He operated in a reckless and haphazard manner, trying one idea after another. Some flew, but almost half never got off the ground or crashed immediately. Some of this was due to his unorthodox design, but much of it was because, according to his contemporaries, he was a poor pilot. "As soon as we had fixed up a plane the boss, burning with eagerness to succeed, would try it out right away, without paying the slightest attention to air currents," recalled one of his mechanics.

By the time of the channel challenge Bleriot had spend almost all of his fortune on flying machines. He was also hobbling around on crutches as he recovered from a burned foot. He had, however, a working airplane he'd designed designated the Bleriot XI. It wasn't nearly as elegant as the Antionette, but it had one feature that would prove critical for the trip: an engine designed by Alessandro Anzani. The engine was crude, half the power of the Antionette's and it rattled and spit oil out on the pilot with every stroke. It had one redeeming virtue, however. It kept running and running.

Latham tried his first attempt at the channel on July 19th. All was well for the first seven and one half miles until the Antoinette's engine stopped and it glided into the water. Latham was rescued and vowed to try again with a new plane.

The weather turned bad and neither pilot had a chance to fly until July 25th. Around midnight the night before the wind began to slacken and the Bleriot camp came alive. By 2 AM the air was clear and calm. Despite this Bleriot wasn't in the mood to fly. "I would have been happy if they'd told me the wind was blowing so hard there was no point in trying," he said later.

But the weather stayed calm and the plane was readied. Bleriot took it up for a test spin and found no problems. At 4:41 AM the sun rose and Bleriot took off. By mid-channel he was doing so well that he outdistanced the ship escorting him. It was soon lost behind him and all Bleriot could see was the ocean all around him. A wind started sweeping him northward past and he might have flown into the North Sea if he hadn't spotted three ships heading toward the port city of Dover. Bleriot soon found the famous white Dover cliffs and landed at an opening in them near the castle. Waiting for him with a French flag was Charles Fontaine, a French newsman. Bleriot had crossed the channel in 37 minutes while Lathem, still asleep when Bleriot had taken off, had never gotten off the ground.

The Rheims Airshow

Bleriot was a hero both in his native France and England. A month later he appeared as the star attraction at the world's first organized aerial competition at Rheims, France. The show at Rheims drew aviators from all over the world. Acres of grainfields had been cleared to build what was termed an "areopolis" consisting of grandstands, hangers, restaurants, and a ten kilometer flying circuit. Competitions included the Grand Prix for distance with a 50,000 franc prize and the International Aviation Cup (with a 25,000 franc cash award) for speed. Newspapers reported that "The air was thick with areoplanes." and that it was "a spectacle such as has never before been witnessed in the history of the world."

Many of the planes involved in the Rheims airshow were exhibited the following month at the International Exposition of Aerial Locomotion in Paris at the Grand Palis.

The Wright brothers, never interested in racing, abstained from the show. However, America was represented by Glenn Curtiss. Curtiss was a mechanical expert who had a self-professed craving for speed. He raced motorcycles, designed engines and in 1906 had tried to make a deal with the Wright brothers to have his engines used in their planes. The Wrights weren't interested. Curtiss had picked up the flying bug and in 1907 joined with Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, to form the Aerial Experiment Association. The A.E.A's aim was to make a working airplane, but they had to try to do it without infringing on the Wright's patents for controlling the craft by warping the wings. By 1908 they were making short hops with a plane named the Red Wing. On the 4th of July that year Curtiss used another A.E.A. plane, June Bug, to win Scientific American's $2,500 silver-trophy for the first public flight of a plane over a one-kilometer course (a prize that the Wrights could have won years earlier, if they'd been interested).

After the A.E.A was disbanded, Curtiss went into the airplane building business with August Herring. This immediately drew the attention of the Wrights who accused Curtiss of patent infringement and legal battles started that would continue between them for many years. Curtiss took the first design of the new company, a plane called the Golden Flyer, to Rheims for the competition.

Curtiss hoped he would do well in the speed competition, but was discouraged when he heard that Bleriot had installed a huge eight-cylinder 80 h.p. engine on his new Bleriot XII aircraft. Curtiss' mechanic, Tod Shiver, reminded Curtiss how he'd succeeded when he was racing motorcycles. "Glenn, I've seen you win many a race on the turns."

Curtiss had only one irreplaceable airplane and avoided competing with it until the speed competition for several good reasons. "At one time," he later recalled, "I saw as many as 12 machines strewn about the field, some wrecked and some disabled and being hauled slowly back to the hangers, by hand or by horses." On the morning of the race, Curtiss took the Golden Flyer up for a test run. He hit a rough, turbulent updraft that pitched his plane around the course. He was surprised to find that when he reached the ground that his time around the course had been the shortest yet recorded and reached the conclusion that the turbulence somehow had added to his speed.

After finding this out he decided to take his turn at the course immediately to try and take advantage of the turbulence. "The shocks were so violent indeed that I was lifted completely out of my seat and was only able to maintain my position in the aeroplane by wedging my feet against the frame." Curtiss completed two circuits around the 10-kilometer course in 15 minutes and 50 seconds with a speed of 46.5 miles per hour, beating Bleriot's time later that day by 6 seconds.

Exhibition and Competition Flying: Glory, Gold and Death

The Rheims show was so successful that the idea was copied all over Europe and the United States. Though many were not as financially rewarding to organizers as Rheims, the air show quickly became an established institution. The size of the prizes offered at these competitions reflected the public's interest in aviation. In 1909 nearly half a million dollars were put up as prizes at various shows.

Exhibition Flying at Old Rheinbeck Aerodrome

Though not nearly as dangerous as the airshows of yesteryear, exhibition flying of aircraft from the first decade of flight continues at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, New York. Founded by Cole Palen to preserve early flight history, the museum features World War I and pre-World War I aircraft in airshows many weekends during spring, summer and fall. For more information about visiting this flying history museum, go to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome website.

Soon exhibition teams, often sponsored by an aircraft manufacturer, were put together to tour with the various shows. Even the Wright Brothers fielded an exhibition team. Pilots for these teams could earn immense sums, as much as $1,000 a day, but took incredible risks by pushing themselves and their machines to the limit. Each race seemed to get longer and faster as more and more pilot's lives were claimed in the pursuit of glory and money.

Typical of this era was the challenge to fly the Alps. Italian promoters posted a $14,000 prize for the first aviator to fly though the Simplon Pass, a height of 6,600 feet, which lay between Switzerland and Italy. Thirteen aviators entered the contest, but the race committee only accepted five who seemed to have the best credentials. One of them was a Peruvian aviator named Jorges Chavez Dartnell (who was referred to France as Georges Chavez). In preparation for the flight Chavez took his Bleriot XI up in a test flight 8,487 feet, breaking the current altitude record.

The race opened on September 18, 1910, but Swiss authorities forbade flying as it was a Swiss holiday. The next day the weather turned bad and for the next four days either the Swiss or Italian side of the pass was clouded over. Chavez took his plane up for a look and was tossed about, "The machine, it was like a toy in that wind," he said later.

On September 23, weather cleared and Chavez decided to make an attempt. Slowly his plane climbed to the top of the pass. Witnesses on the ground reported that he seemed to be hanging onto the controls as the wind tossed his craft violently around. He made it through the dangerous, twisting gorges, though, and headed for a landing at the town of Domodossola on the Italian side. As he approached the landing field he gave the Bleriot a little gas to get past a road. Then suddenly it happened. The craft was so weakened by the high winds it failed under the strain. "I saw the two wings of the monoplane suddenly flatten out and paste themselves against the fuselage," a watcher said "Chavez was about a dozen meters up he fell like a stone." Four days later Chavez, age 23, died of massive internal injuries.

Such fatalities did not seem to reduce the public's interest in flying competitions or shows. It would not be long, however, before airplanes would find uses beyond exhibitions. The Wrights had been trying to sell airplanes to the military almost since they had invented them. Also a stunt by aviator Ralph Johnson at a Boston air meet in 1910 had intrigued military observers. Johnson, using a standard Wright Biplane had made "bombing" runs at a mock battleship using plaster bombs. He scored nine straight hits on the model.

In 1913 stunts took a different turn when Frenchman Adolphe Pegoud, who was nicknamed "the foolhardy one," started experimenting with air maneuvers that previously would have been considered suicidal. First he learned how to fly his airplane upside down and right it again. Then, before an astounded crowd, he took his plan up to 10,500 feet, dove screaming toward the ground, then pulled up to complete an inside loop.

Pegoud wasn't the first to try this maneuver. A month earlier a Russian military flyer named Peter Nesterov had done one just on a lark (and ended up under house arrest for endangering government property). Pegoud was the first though to systematically push the airplane to its acrobatic limits. Pegoud's object wasn't just to create amazing stunts. As he said later, "It seemed important to me to prove to my comrades that they should never believe themselves lost. I would like to say, 'My friends, you have seen me fly upside down you know that it is possible. Consequently, if the day comes when, in a dive, your plane goes over on its back, let it do it. Deliberately, calmly, take your time and straighten it up, using the controls as if you were flying normally.'"

Aerial acrobatics soon became standard fare at airshows, though they had a dark side. These maneuvers, so well explored by Pegoud would become the standard tools of fighter pilots as the airplane became a military weapon.

The Wright's Patent War

While World War I was still a few years away, the war between the Wright brothers and the rest of the world of aviation was in full swing. The Wrights held patents to key aviation technologies and charged a significant fee for licensing them. Other aircraft builders who did not want to pay the fee had to challenge the Wrights on legal grounds, or find a way to control the aircraft that did not fall under the Wright patent. This second approach led to a string of strange designs many of which flew poorly or not at all.

In 1914 Glenn Curtiss gets Samuel Langley's 1903 aircraft to lift off the water's surface in an attempt to break the Wright's patents.

Curtiss tried a different approach. At about the same time the Wrights were preparing their first aircraft in 1903, Samual Langley (of the Smithsonian Institution) had been working on a plane to be launched from the top a houseboat. During tests it crashed because of a failure of the catapult mechanism designed to launch it. In 1914 Curtiss made an agreement with the Smithsonian to rebuild the craft so that it was identical to the original design to see if it would fly. Curtiss thought that this would show that the Langley craft could have flown before the Wright brothers Flyer did and therefore be used to break their patents. Curtiss did manage to get the craft rebuilt and into the air, but secretly made modifications, including a bigger engine, heavier trussing and changes to the camber of the wings, that made it flyable.

The legal battle continued past Wilber's death at age 45 in 1912. It was effectively ended in July of 1917 when three months after entering World War I the U.S. government forced a pooling of all aircraft patents in the national interest. Orville, who had sold out of the company in 1915, continued to devote his life to aviation serving as an advisor to federal boards and private foundations until his death in 1948.

One decade after invention, airplanes had moved from infancy to adolescence. In the next decade they would pulled in to the very adult world of war.

Read the conclusion of the story on early flight in Part3: The Warbirds

Henri Farman

Born May 26, 1874, in Paris died there July 17, 1958. French aircraft designer and aviator.

In 1907 and 1908, Farman established several aviation records, including those for flight distance in a straight line (771 m) and for a circular flight (approximately 1 km). He also completed a flight from Bouy to Reims (27 km in 17 min). In 1909 he organized an aviation school near Paris the school was attended by several Russian pilots, including M. N. Efimov.

Farman began building airplanes in 1909. One of his early models, the F-4 (1909), was used in several countries to train pilots. In 1912, together with his brother Maurice, Farman founded the firm that bore his name (the enterprise was nationalized in 1936). The firm manufactured approximately 30 models of civil and military airplanes and also produced aviation engines. Farman&rsquos F-20, F-30, and F-40 reconnaissance airplanes and F-50 bomber were widely used in World War I, and his Goliath passenger airplane was used by the first European airlines in 1919.

Reader Interactions


The more complete description of Farman’s “ailerons” – from Wikipedia, but confirmed by my knowledge as an air and space docent in DC follows in this paragraph: Henry Farman’s ailerons on his 1909 Farman III were the first to resemble ailerons on modern aircraft as they were hinged directly to the wing planform structure, and thus were viewed as having a reasonable claim as the ancestor of the modern-day aileron.
However, ailerons were invented in the 1860s and their effective control function, using wing warping (e.g, Wrights) or small winglets (e.g., Curtiss) preceded Farmon’s. His was an engineering innovation, not a control conceptual innovation.
That said, Farmon aircraft were certainly important in the early days of flight and this article is excellent.

Thank you for your comment and clarification. You are absolutely right. It is generally accepted that the principle of the ‘ailerons’ (French for ‘little wings’) was first described in 1864 by the British scientist and inventor Matthew Piers Watt Boulton (1920 – 1894) in his publication entitled “On aërial locomotion”. He patented his ‘invention’ in 1868. However, Boulton had no aircraft at his disposal to prove his theories. The fact that the Wright brothers in 1906 were able to obtain a US patent does in no way invalidate Boulton’s original British patent.

But it is clear that during the early 1900’s, the pioneer pilots and aircraft builders on both sides of the Atlantic, such as the Wright brothers, the French military engineer Esnault-Pelterie and Henri and Maurice Farman discovered the practical advantages of the ‘little wings’ and used them to improve the control of their aircraft.


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1925 - 1950

On 22nd January 1926 the seaplane "Plus Ultra", piloted by Major Franco, departed for Buenos Aires, Argentina, (¿¿??). Also, between the 5th April and the 11th May of that year the "Elcano" Squadron conducted a mock raid into the Philipines. The airplane "Jesús del Gran Poder" made the flight Sevilla-Narsiya (Mesopotamia). Barberán and Collar flew from Seville to Cuba in the airplane "Cuatro Vientos" between 10th and 20th June 1933, before vanishing during the leg to Mexico to extend their "raid".

In July 1936 a three-year civil war broke out in Spain, providing a vast practice area for the aviation that would later become involved in World War II. Airplanes were employed mainly as close support to ground operations, thus underplaying the significant potential of air power. The civil war meant, as well, the phase out of the biplanes of the old generation. Bombing operations showed the essential weakness of slow bombers, an easy target for combat airplanes. Also proven was the importance of air transport operations of armed units and the provision of supplies to under attack forces, operations that both Germany and the United States would use extensively during World War II.

On 8th August 1939 General Juan Yagüe was appointed Minister of the newly established Ministry of the Air. He developed a fertile legislative activity, which included structuring the newborn Air Force (Ejército del Aire) by Act of 7 October 1939 and creating the Arms of Aviation, Aviation Troops, and the Corps of Aeronautical Engineers, Specialists, and Clerks, as well as the Services of Engineering, Administration, Health, Legal Affairs, Chaplaincy and General Auditing.

Henry Farman Makes First Circular Flight in Europe - History

Gorgeously endowed with dashing “Super Sport” torpedo bodywork finished in metallic silver (replicating its original 1921 silver finish, achieved with varnish incorporating fish scales), this technically advanced six-cylinder survivor of an exclusive production run bears one of the greatest names in French aviation history. The Farman brothers Henry and Maurice had first achieved fame as racing cyclists and balloonists in the late 19th century, before distinguishing themselves as racing motorists in the great city-to-city races and Grands Prix of the years 1899-1908 they also operated the biggest garage and automobile sales business in Paris, with a London branch run by their brother Dick. Though the Farmans seemed uncompromisingly French, they were in fact the sons of English parents, for their father was the Paris correspondent of the London Standard newspaper.

Henry (who spoke little English and eventually spelt his name “Henri” and took French citizenship), was an early convert to aviation and ordered his first aeroplane from Gabriel Voisin in 1907. In this plane in January 1908 he became the first European to make a circular flight of one kilometre, winning a � prize for the feat, and is credited with coining the word “aileron” to describe a fundamental component of an aircraft’s control surfaces. He left the car business in 1908 to devote all his time to flying, and set up his own aircraft factory in 1909. His outstandingly successful Farman biplane was widely copied. Maurice, another early convert to aviation, established his own factory in friendly rivalry with Henry, and in 1912 introduced the famous “Longhorn” biplane, the world’s first great training aeroplane, on which many famous French aviators learnt to fly. The brothers eventually merged their aircraft companies and after the war ended, introduced the Farman “Goliath”, one of the world’s first commercial airliners. The airline that they founded was eventually incorporated into the company that became Air France, though to their intense disappointment the Farman aircraft manufacturing business was nationalised in the turbulent year of 1936.

In 1919 the Farman brothers “decided to make an automobile absolutely perfect in every detail”, and introduced the “A6” 6.6-litre overhead camshaft six-cylinder luxury car leaning heavily on aircraft practice at the 1919 Paris Salon, though production as the “A6B”did not get under way until 1921, by which time significant improvements like the adoption of servo-assisted four-wheel brakes had been made. Curiously, the “Icarus” radiator mascot adopted by Farman was a reduced facsimile of the monument by sculptor Georges Colin erected at St-Cloud to commemorate the achievements of rival pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, who flew aircraft of his own construction…

The original Farmans had a complex cylinder construction on Mercedes lines, with separate steel cylinders with a sheet steel water jacket, but a cast “Alpax” alloy cylinder block was later adopted for the “Sport” chassis and eventually fitted to all Farmans. The company boasted that substantial weight savings had been made in the construction of the chassis by using steel stampings and forgings rather than iron castings indeed, the only cast-iron component used on the car was the little cylinder of the built-in air pump.

Also making extensive use of aluminium in its construction and priced to rival the contemporary Hispano-Suiza, the Farman automobile was sold from palatial showrooms in the Champs Elysées, and attracted a distinguished clientele that included silent film star Pearl White, the Shah of Persia, the Sultan of Morocco and World War One air ace Charles Nungesser, who was married to Californian Gold Rush heiress Consuelo Hatmaker and was lost during an attempt to fly the Atlantic in May 1927, ten days before Lindbergh’s successful solo crossing.
In keeping with its sophisticated construction methods, the Farman was offered with daringly advanced open and closed bodywork, of which the car offered here is a supreme example. However, while all Farmans were custom bodied, many owners opted for more conventional bodywork by established coachbuilders, with the attendant weight penalties, ultimately leading to the replacement of the A6B by the more powerful 7.1-litre “NF” model in 1927. Though only about 120 Farman cars of all types are estimated to have been built before production ended in 1931, the marque achieved near-legendary status, its slogan – “an automobile rolls, a Farman glides” – cheekily emphasising its claimed superiority over the most famous of its rivals.
According to research undertaken by the previous and current owners and confirmed by his great-nephew, automotive historian Manvendra Singh, this particular Farman Super Sport originally belonged to Lieutenant-Colonel HH Maharaja Sir Daulat Singh, the hereditary ruler of the Indian princely state of Idar, and is well remembered by members of his family. It is understood that the Maharaja used his Farman for tiger hunting as well as touring, and later presented the car to his brother’s father-in-law HH Maharaja Sir Bhom Pal, the ruler of the princely state of Karauli, in neighbouring Rajasthan. The car was discovered, “somewhat derelict but intact”, in the garages of the Karauli Palace in 1967 by Rolls-Royce authority John Fasal during one of his many trips to India at the period. Its odometer recorded a mere 10,802 miles. Fasal was able to acquire the car along with a pair of 20-hp Rolls-Royces, though plans to ship the cars to Europe from Bombay took several years to materialise. The acquisition was fortuitous, for on a more recent trip to India, John Fasal returned to the Karauli Palace garages to find them completely overgrown by the encroaching jungle.

Soon after its return to Europe, the Farman was acquired by that noted connoisseur Wolfgang Gawor, who undertook an extensive restoration. Typical of Gawor’s fastidious quest for quality was the fact that the brightwork was sent to America for plating.

With the restoration complete, the car was featured in an extensive article in the leading French magazine Automobiles Classiques in 2000. The car remained in Gawor’s custody until his death, and was purchased by the current owner in 2004. While it has since been shown at the Meadowbrook and Amelia Island concours d’elegance, Pebble Beach awaits!

Long regarded in Europe as among the finest French cars of their day, Farman automobiles were accepted as Full Classics by the Classic Car Club of America Classification Committee in June 2005, following application by the current owner.

No more than four or five Farmans survive, of which this – believed to be the only Farman in private hands - must surely be the finest example. It is offered with a file of information relating to the A6B models as well as some specific information. With such stunning coachwork and provenance, this glorious Farman would surely be a welcome participant at any of the world’s finest concours events.
For further information, this car is offered for sale in Europe under temporary import and local taxes will apply.

• Original Maharajah ownership
• One-off Super Sports Torpedo coachwork
• Four wheel brakes
• Never publicly concours exhibited

1921 Farman 37,2 hp
1921 Farman A6B Super Sport Torpedo

Châssis no. 428
Moteurs no. 428

Magnifiquement dotée d’une superbe carrosserie de torpedo « Super Sport » de couleur argent (réplique de sa finition originale argent de 1921 réalisée en incorporant des écailles de poissons dans le vernis), cette automobile six cylindres techniquement très avancée est rescapée d’une production exclusive à mettre à l’actif d’un des plus grands noms de l’histoire de l’aviation française. Les frères Farman, Henry et Maurice, ont tout d’abord connu la gloire en tant que coureurs cyclistes et aéronautes à la fin du 19ème siècle, avant de se distinguer comme pilotes de course auto dans les principales épreuves en ville ainsi que dans les grands prix des années 1899 à 1908. Ils ont également été à la tête de la plus belle affaire de réparation et de commerce automobile à Paris, avec une antenne à Londres gérée par leur frère Dick. Bien que les Farman semblaient indubitablement être français, leur parents étaient anglais, le père étant le correspondant du journal London Standard à Paris.

Henry (qui parlait anglais lorsqu’il était enfant et qui a finalement orthographié son prénom « Henri » et pris la nationalité française) a été un des premiers convertis à l’aviation et a commandé son premier avion à Gabriel Voisin en 1907. Aux commandes de cet appareil, en janvier 1908, il est devenu le premier Européen à effectuer un vol en circuit fermé d’un kilomètre, gagnant une prime de 2 000 livres pour son exploit, et il est crédité de l’invention du terme « aileron » qui décrit un élément indispensable des surfaces de contrôle d’un avion. Il a quitté le milieu de l’automobile en 1908 pour consacrer tout son temps à voler et a créé son usine de construction d’avions en 1909. Le biplane qu’il a développé avec un succès remarquable a été largement copié. Maurice, également séduit très tôt par l’aviation, a créé sa propre usine dans un contexte d’amicale rivalité avec Henry, et a présenté en 1912 le fameux biplane « Longhorne », le premier grand avion d’entraînement au monde, sur lequel de nombreux aviateurs français célèbres ont appris à voler. Les frères ont fusionné par la suite en une seule société d’aviation et après la fin de la guerre, ont présenté le Farman « Goliath », un des tout premiers avions de ligne au monde. La ligne commerciale qu’ils ont fondée par la suite a été rattachée à une société qui est devenue plus tard Air France, et malgré, leur désaprobation la plus profonde, leur entreprise de production d’avion Farman a été nationalisée au cours de la mouvementé année 1936.

En 1919, les frères Farman « ont décidé de concevoir une automobile absolument parfaite dans tous ses détails ». Présenté lors du Salon de Paris 1919 le modèle de luxe « A6 » doté d’un moteur six cylindres 6,6 litres arbre à came en tête, largement issu de leur expérience dans l’aeronautique, tout comme la « A6B », ne rentre pas en production avant 1921, le temps de valider des options particulièrement importantes telles que l’adoption d’un servo-frein sur les quatre roues. Curieusement, la figure de radiateur « Icare » choisie par Farman était une copie en réduction du monument du sculpteur Georges Colin érigé à Saint-Cloud pour commémorer la réussite d’Alberto Santos-Dumont, un rival pionnier de l’aviation qui avait volé avec un engin de sa conception…

Les premières Farman étaient d’une conception complexe sur une base de moteur Mercedes, avec des cylindres séparés et des chemises à eau en acier, avant qu’un bloc moteur moulé en alliage « Alpax » soit adopté plus tard pour le châssis « Sport » et ensuite monté sur toutes les Farman. La société a mis en avant les économies substantielles de poids qui ont été réalisées en construisant le châssis acier soudé plutôt qu’en fer moulé. En effet, le seul élément moulé en fer utilisé sur la voiture était le petit cylindre de la pompe à air encastrée.

Utilisant également abondamment l’aluminium dans ses constructions, et pour rivaliser avec son concurrent de l’époque Hispano-Suiza, l’automobile Farman était vendue dans des espaces fastueux sur les Champs Élysées et attirait une clientèle distinguée qui comprenait la star des films muets Pearl White, le Shah de Perse, le Sultan du Maroc et l’as de la Première Guerre Mondiale Charles Nungesser, qui s’était marié avec Consuelo Hatmaker, l’héritière de Californian Gold Rush et qui périt lors d’une tentative de traversée de l’Atlantique en mai 1927, dix jours avant la traversée réussie en solo par Lindbergh.

Conservant des méthodes de constructions sophistiquées, la Farman était audacieusement proposée avec une carrosserie élaborée ouverte et fermée, dont le modèle présenté ici est un exemple parfait. Cependant, les Farman étant construites sur commande, beaucoup de propriétaires ont opté pour des carrosseries plus conventionnelles proposées par des fabricants reconnus. Malgré le remplacement de la A6B par le plus puissant modèle « NF » de 7,1 litres en 1927, cela entrainait des problèmes chroniques de poids.
La marque Farman a atteint un statut de quasi-légende, bien que seulement 120 automobiles aient été construites avant l’arrêt de la production en 1931, son slogan « une voiture roule, une Farman glisse » marquant avec insolence sa supériorité supposée sur ses plus fameux rivaux.

D’après les recherches menées par l’ancien propriétaire et le propriétaire actuel, et confirmées par son petit neveu, l’historien automobile Manvendra Singh, cette Farman Super Sport a appartenu à l’origine au lieutenant-colonel H.H. Maharaja Sir Daulat Singh, souverain héréditaire de l’état princier d’Idar, et parfaitement authentifiée par les membres de sa famille. Il semble que le Maharaja se servait de sa Farman pour la chasse au tigre aussi bien que pour le tourisme, et il a présenté la voiture au beau-père de son frère H.H. Maharaja Sir Bhom Pal, le souverain de l’état princier de Karauli, voisin du Rajasthan. La voiture a été découverte « en quelque sorte abandonnée mais intacte » dans les garages du palais de Karauli en 1967 par le spécialiste des Rolls-Royce John Fasal pendant l’un de ses nombreux voyages de l’époque en Inde. Son compteur totalise seulement 17 400 kilomètres. Fasal a été en mesure d’acheter la voiture avec deux Rolls-Royce 20 hp, bien que le processus pour acheminer les voitures de Bombay vers l’Europe ait pris plusieurs années. L’achat était judicieux, puisqu’’à l’occasion d’un voyage plus récent en Inde, John Fasal est retourné dans les garages du palais de Karauli, et a trouvé les voitures complètement couvertes d’une végétation galopante.

Dés son retour en Europe, la Farman a été achetée par le fameux connaisseur Wolfgang Gawor qui a entrepris une restauration complète. Detail caractéristique de la quête absolue de qualité et d’authenticité menée par Gawor, les garnitures métalliques extérieures ont été envoyées en Amérique pour être rénovées.

À l’issue de sa restauration, la voiture a fait l’objet d’un article complet dans le principal magazine français Automobiles Classiques en 2000. La voiture est restée la possession de Gawor jusqu’à sa mort et a été achetée par le propriétaire actuel en 2004. Bien qu’elle ait été exposée aux concours d’élégance de Meadowbrook et d’Amelia Island, Pebble Beach attend toujours !

Considérées depuis longtemps en Europe comme les voitures françaises les plus fameuses de leur époque, les Farman sont entrées dans la catégorie des « Full Classics » du Classic Car Club of America, suite à la demande du propriétaire actuel.

Pas plus de quatre ou cinq Farman ont survécu, dont celle-ci – probablement la seule Farman détenue par un propriétaire privé – qui doit sûrement être le plus bel exemplaire existant. Elle est proposée avec un dossier d’informations sur les modèles A6B ainsi que des renseignements spécifiques sur le chassis numero 428. Avec une carrosserie si spectaculaire et une telle provenance, cette glorieuse Farman sera à coup sûr la bienvenue dans les plus prestigieux concours d’élégance du monde.

À titre d’information supplémentaire, cette voiture est proposée à la vente en Europe sous importation provisoire et les taxes locales s’appliquent.

• Provenant de la collection d'un Maharajah
• Modèle unique de carrosserie Torpedo
• Super Sport
• Freins sur les quatre roues
• Jamais encore exposée dans les concours d'Elegance

Aviation's Huge Debt to the French

In a muddy farmyard above the white sand beaches of Les Baraques, near Calais, Louis Blériot had just started the sputtering engine of his 20-horsepower monoplane. He nodded to his ground crew to let go of the heaving aircraft, which lurched forward, then rose quickly to a height of 150 feet, or 45 meters. Belching thick black smoke in its wake, the plane skirted briefly along the steep white cliffs and then veered northward over the English Channel.

Thirty-seven minutes later, the 37-year-old auto-parts maker and part-time airplane designer crash-landed in a cricket playing field near Dover Castle. He had just made the first successful international, over-water flight.

News of Mr. Blériot’s 22-mile, or 35.4 kilometer, hop, on July 25, 1909, electrified Europe, vividly demonstrating the potential of air navigation for both civil and military use.

“No Englishman can learn of the voyage of Blériot without emoting that the day of Britain’s impregnability has passed away,” The Daily Telegraph wrote in an editorial. In Paris, Ernest Judet, publisher of L’Éclair, exclaimed: “The victory over the Channel promises that of the Atlantic to the audacious pilot, who will dominate it from Brest to New York.”

While the American brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright had, six years earlier, made the first powered flight of a heavier-than-air plane, their invention had garnered little recognition in the United States. The Wrights received the news of Blériot’s flight with astonishment, calling it a “remarkable” and “splendid” achievement.

The Wrights knew Mr. Blériot well, having traveled frequently to France since 1905, where interest in their airplanes was far more intense than in their home country. The brothers flew in exhibitions all over France and even set up schools in Pau and Le Mans, where pilots trained on Wright machines.

“There was a kind of competition and mutual motivation” among the Wrights and the French air pioneers, which included Mr. Blériot, Gabriel Voisin, Henry Farman and others, said Patrick Guérin, co-author of “Le Ciel en Heritage” (Heritage in the sky), a history of French aviation.

While France and the United States both laid claim to the first major advances in controlled flight — the Frenchman Clément Ader, for example, propelled a steam-powered avion 50 meters, at an altitude of 20 centimeters, or 7.9 inches, in 1890, 13 years before the Wrights — Mr. Blériot’s achievement marked a clear threshold: the end of aviation’s experimentation phase.

Because of the unprecedented international attention, Mr. Blériot was the star of the 1909 Exposition Internationale de Locomotion Aérienne — the first Paris air show — and by the end of that year, he had received more than 100 orders for his machine, the Blériot XI.

“This was the first manifestation of the industrialization of aircraft manufacturing,” Mr. Guérin said. “There had never been such demand, and no one had ever mass-produced planes before.”

Peter L. Jakab, chairman of the aeronautics division of the U.S. National Air and Space Museum in Washington, said, “The year 1909 was a pivotal year.” He added: “The Blériot XI became a sensation. It was the single-most produced aircraft type of the period.”

By the time of the outbreak of World War I, the airplane’s usefulness in the battlefield was clear, and French manufacturers, among the few who were able to build planes in large numbers, became by default the main suppliers to foreign military forces, including the U.S. Army. By 1914, French aircraft were being produced at a rate of around 50 a month, principally by Mr. Blériot and Mr. Farman. By the time the armistice was signed in 1918, the French were churning out more than 2,700 planes a month.

After the war, the U.S. military actively promoted the development of a home-grown aeronautics industry and American production soon caught up and eventually surpassed the French. By the 1930s and 1940s, heavy public funding of research and development led to several technological breakthroughs by American manufacturers. Many of the technologies used in the Douglas Aircraft DC-3, for example, the first plane with sufficient range and speed to make long-distance commercial air travel possible, were born from research financing by the U.S. military.

Meanwhile, manufacturers in other countries were also making great strides of their own. Fritz Opel, the grandson of Adam Opel, the founder of the German automaker, flew the first rocket-propelled plane in 1929, while Frank Whittle, an officer in Britain’s Royal Air Force, patented the first jet engine in 1930. Igor Sikorsky, a Russian émigré to the United States, developed the first successful single-rotor helicopters in the late 1930s and 1940s.

With the advent of World War II and the German occupation from 1940-1944, French aviation research and development all but stopped. Many French aircraft factories were looted for their machine tools while others were put to use supplying the German Luftwaffe. Hundreds of engineers fled and some, like Marcel Dassault — born Marcel Bloch — were deported to Nazi concentration camps. By the end of the war, one-third of the country’s production sites had been destroyed and French engineers were largely cut off from the considerable technical progress made by the United States, Britain and Nazi Germany.

It was not until the mid-1950s that France came back with a jet-powered airliner of its own. Sud Aviation, a state-owned manufacturer that eventually became Aérospatiale, developed the Caravelle, a midrange jet that went on to become one of the most commercially successful planes of its generation, alongside the British-built de Havilland Comet. When United Airlines added the Caravelle to its fleet in 1961, the French saw it as a major milestone.

“Caravelle was confronting the big U.S. manufacturers like Boeing and Douglas in their own market,” said Mr. Guérin. “The French market was small, so in order to grow, the manufacturers had to export. But they also had to be technologically at the cutting edge to compete.”

The drive to push the envelope did not always lead to financial success, however. The Concorde, built in 1969 by Aérospatiale together with the British Aircraft Corp., was an undisputed technological marvel, capable of flying from London to New York in less than three and one-half hours. Yet only 20 of the planes were ever made, and just 14 entered regular commercial service with Air France and British Airways. The two airlines operated the supersonic jets at a loss for three decades, before they were formally retired in 2003.

Aérospatiale was a founding member of the European consortium that became Airbus, whose first plane, the twin-aisle A300, entered service in 1973. At that time, U.S. manufacturers still dominated the civil aircraft market, but within two decades Airbus had firmly established itself, with its hot-selling A320 and A330 jets, as a technological and commercial rival of equal measure to the dominant U.S. manufacturer, Boeing, in the global marketplace.

Today’s aerospace manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic are postwar creations in terms of their corporate lineage. Yet their debt to the achievements of aviation’s pioneers a century ago is unquestioned.

“The airplane really is one of the great technologies of the modern era,” Mr. Jakab said. “It is clearly a technology that has changed the world in countless and significant ways.”

Watch the video: Paris Le Bourget To London Croydon Airport - Air Union Artois Farman Goliath F-GEAC