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MILESTONES OF THE AIR: Jane’s 100 Significant Aircraft includes the biplane of Frenchmen Gabriel and Charles Voisin as its second entry, directly following the Wright Flyer, and for good reason. Aircraft of the Voisin brothers were central to early squabbles regarding French/American aerial supremacy. In fact, there were those, Gabriel Voisin among them, who considered the Wrights’ claims to be hoaxes.
It was no surprise, then, that when the Voisins’ first aeroplane failed in 1907, Orville Wright rejoined, “From what Wilbur says in a letter just received, Kapferer [for whom the Voisin craft had been built] is earnestly in favour of the formation of a company to take over our invention. From this I would infer that the French are not so sanguine of success as they were some months ago.”
The Voisins’ next craft, built later in 1907, was for Leon Delagrange, destined to earn Aéro-Club de France license no. 3 (of which more anon). This craft made a few tentative hops, but nothing to change Orville’s opinion.
Then the third Voisin biplane was ordered by a French-domiciled Englishman who preferred Henri to his given name Henry. Henri Farman and his brother Maurice tinkered with the Voisin craft and transformed it into a record-setter.
On November 9, 1907, Henri Farman won a prize offered by Ernest Archdeacon, one of the Aéro-Club founders, for the first aeroplane [in Europe] to fly a distance of 150 meters/492 feet. Farman’s flight beat this easily, with a distance of 1030 meters/3380 feet. What’s more, its duration of 74 seconds was the world’s first of more than a minute for a non-Wright aircraft.
To put these in perspective, in 1904 Orville had piloted the Wright Flyer above Huffman Prairie, near Fairborn, Ohio, for a flight of approximately 536 meters/1760 feet. In 1905, the Wright Flyer III flew 24 miles circling Huffman Prairie for 39 minutes 23 seconds.
By the summer of 1908, Wilbur was to dazzle Europeans with his flights at Le Mans. One flight exhibited a figure-eight and a precise landing. Quelles hoaxes!
Earlier in 1908, on January 13, Farman and his Voisin-built craft won the 50,000-franc Deutsch-Archdeacon Prize for the first [European] plane to fly a 1-km. circle. The prize was no small change, $2500 back then, perhaps $60,000 in today’s dollars.
In July 1908, Farman flew his craft for 20 minutes 20 seconds, garnering the Armengaud Prize of 10,000 francs. And on October 30, Farman achieved what’s recognized as the world’s first cross-country flight, a 17-mile/27 km. trip from Bouy to Reims, France.
Another Voisin biplane was bought by magician Harry Houdini who flew for the first time in 1909. He and it are part of a controversy about the first flights in Australia.
The Voisin brothers’ design favored a box-kite origin. Indeed, endplates on the tail and wings were on-and-off features fitted for lateral stability. Originally devoid of any lateral control, Farman incorporated the novelty of ailerons in 1908. American Glenn Curtiss’s June Bug featured them that year as well.
A popular engine choice for the Voisin biplane was the Antoinette V-8. This engine featured direct fuel injection, evaporative cooling and produced 50 hp. Farman experimented with Renault power in 1908, but switched back to Antoinette after a single flight.
Henri Farman held the Aéro-Club de France Aviator’s Certificate no. 5. His brother Maurice was no. 6. Others include Louis Bleriot no. 1, Glenn Curtiss no. 2, Léon Delagrange no.3, and Robert Esnault-Pelterie no. 4.
Where are the Wrights?
Actually, there’s a story to it. When the Aéro-Club established licenses retrospectively dated January 7, 1909, it included Orville and Wilbur Wright among the first eight licensees. Later, the club reorganized the first 15—in alphabetical order. The Wrights ended up nos. 14 and 15.
Gabriel Voisin received the Aéro-Club de France’s Grande Médaille “to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of aviation,” but not until 1958. Neither he nor his brother Charles is listed among French aviators in Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 1913.
Mon dieu! ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016
Hi Dennis, Henry Farman never designed anything. He was a wealthy enthusiast and a gifted pilot and business man. Everything on the aircraft he flew and manufactured was designed by the Voisin team. The Wright brothers were not listed a aircraft builders, because they never built an airplane. They built a working kite, put an engine in it and never developed anything beyond that kite. The ailerons on Glenn Curtiss’s aircraft were Voisin creations. Curtiss had spent time in Paris at the Voisin factory and learned what they were doing to make their airframe more maneuverable and went home and added those elements they had shared to his design, which was quite different from the Voisin pusher prop design. They, like the Wrights, never developed beyond that pusher design with a utility pod in the nose, though they made many versions of the design. WWI made Curtiss and Voisin very successful, but only Curtiss famous, because the Voisin licensed design was manufactured by several builders and Curtiss made his volume production with his own name. Just one old guys’s opinion.
As an old friend (and another old guy), I delight in your opinion. Part of the fun is observing that this opinion is not universally held.
I’m curious why the Aero-Club de France took until 1958 to honor Voisin. And why he isn’t listed among the club’s certificate holders in 1913.
Having read his “Men, Women and 10,000 Kites,” I know his eccentricities.
A hoax indeed.
Gabriel Voisin famously said he was an aircraft manufacturer until November 11 1918, after that date he was an automobile manufacturer — same crew, same factory.
Always excellents items Dennis. Bravo ! I follow, I read you
with pleasure and curiosity, from France !
Merci bien, Coline.