Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


AN HISTORIC IMAGE encouraged my most recent GMax/Microsoft Flight Simulator aircraft project: I had seen other photographs of the French Deperdussin Monocoque, but a particularly stunning image shows crewmen trying to hold one in place prior to its 1913 Gordon Bennett Cup takeoff.

A Deperdussin Monocoque, about to be released at the 1913 James Gordon Cup Race in Reims, France. Image from Racing Planes and Air Races: a Complete History (Vol. I. Reference Series No. 1. Air Planes. 1909-1923), by Reed Kinert, Aero Publishers 1969.

In many ways, the Deperdussin was years ahead of its competitors; in other ways, its technology traced back to the 1903 Wright Flyer. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits on this aeroplane, together with those of my GMax construction.

Streamlined Beyond Compare. The Deperdussin contrasted dramatically with the spindly stick-and-wire assemblies of the era. From its oversize spinner to cowl-wrapped engine to faired headrest to tapered tail, its streamlining was years ahead of the era. According to Racing Planes and Air Races, “Indeed, with equal horsepower, the Deperdussin of 1913 would outperform the U.S. Army Ryan PT-22 trainer of World War II.”

Image from Pioneer Aircraft 1903-14, by Kenneth Munson, illustrated by John W. Wood, Blandford, 1969.

A Lightweight Monocoque Construction. Unlike conventional fabric-covered, wire-braced trusses, the 1913 Deperdussin’s fuselage was a monocoque. As detailed in Racing Planes and Air Races, the “Monocoque fuselage of the Deperdussin was built up of 1/8-in. three-ply tulip wood covered on both sides with linen fabric which was glued on and then varnished several coats.”

My GMax Deperdussin fuselage.

“All Deperdussin aircraft,” Racing Planes and Air Races noted, “were described as being chocolate in color.” Its designer Louis Béchereau obtained an “ultra-sleek finish on all his Deperdussin aircraft by using several coats of varnish and sandpapering the finish between each coat, like cabinet work.”

To reduce drag, winning pilot Maurice Prévost chose to fly sans windscreen at the 1913 Gordon Bennett Cup Race. The photo was taken by a daring photographer perched atop one of the race pylons. Prévost’s speed was 125.4 mph (200.4 km/h), the first aircraft to break the 200 km/h barrier. Image from Racing Planes and Air Races.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see more of the Deperdussin’s advanced engineering, together with an aspect that was already a decade old in 1913. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. Bob
    November 4, 2019

    I suspect that you’re going to focus on the wing warping aspects of the Schneider Deperdussin. I always considered that an advanced feature, while hinged surfaces are an awkward make do. For example, In my favored sailplanes, control surfaces are as small as possible and in competition designs, carefully sealed along the gaps. It has been one of the holy grails of aerodynamicists to develop differential gapless airfoils for roll control … like the birds!In my undergrad years at Mississippi State I worked on the Marvel program.,  Studies still are ongoing to develop flexible wing skins, even for supersonic aircraft. You might want to look up drag studies where the drag goes ballistic as controls are deflected … especially ailerons.Mississippi State has always been one of the innovative aero programs, never well funded, but leading in creativity. Paul MacCready did some of his early studies there. Most recently, they did initial design on the Honda Jet, and has done studies for Chrysler and Lexus aviation programs. MSU is an Ag school, and many aero projects work in that area.I always considered the early Deperdussins as shocking among the Wrights, Farmans, Curtisses and Voisons of the pre WWI era as a F104 would have been in 1944.Cheers, Bob

Leave a Reply to Bob Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: