Simanaitis Says

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THIS CONTINUES yesterday’s look at the Deperdussin Monocoque racer, an aircraft that displayed technology far in advance of 1913, yet also a feature dating back to the 1903 Wright Flyer.

This and the following image from Racing Planes and Air Races: a Complete History (Volume I. Reference Series No. 1. Air Planes. 1909-1923), by Reed Kinert, Aero Publishing, 1967.

Enhanced Efficiency. The Deperdussin had low drag by virtue of its sleek fuselage and stubby low-aspect-ratio wings. In fact, the winner of the 1913 Gordon Bennett Cup lopped off an additional 2 ft. 1 1/2 in. from the aircraft’s standard 21 ft. 9 3/4 in. span.

Photographers shoot a Deperdussin rounding a race pylon at Reims.

Wing Warping, à la Wright Flyer. With all its advanced features for 1913, the Deperdussin depended upon lateral control from a decade before. In lieu of ailerons, the aircraft warped its wings through elaborate wire linkages.

My Deperdussin’s controls. The inverted U pivoted fore and aft for pitch. A foot-actuated bar actuated the rudder. And the steering wheel controlled wires warping the Deperdussin’s wings for yaw.

Monoplane Controversy. The Deperdussin’s monoplane layout, favored by French designers, eliminated the drag of a biplane’s interwing struts. However, monoplanes were not without controversy: By late 1913, statistics suggested they were more deadly than biplanes.

The view from my Deperdussin’s cockpit.

This was in part because of the monoplane’s higher speeds. Also, as Terry Gwynn-Jones noted in The Air Racers, “When the slower biplanes crashed, the maze of wings, wires and struts absorbed more of the initial impact, and frequently their pilots walked away from seemingly unsurvivable accidents.”

Gwynn-Jones continued, “The British and French authorities, who were finally taking a superficial interest in aircraft, banned monoplanes from their programmes.” Thus, biplane layouts were preferred in World War I combat.

My Deperdussin in a virtual flight above Brooklands.

Deperdussin as a Businessman. Armand Deperdussin was to have a mixed business career. In 1913, he was arrested for large-scale embezzlement. The company was taken over by Louis Blériot and renamed Societé Provisoire des Aéroplanes Deperdussin. Later, it became Societé Pour l’Aviation et ses Dérivés, with acronym SPAD. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

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