First Flight Of A Solar-Powered & Piloted Helicopter

solar-powered-helicopterWho knew that the University of Maryland would suddenly become the hotbed of pioneering aviation?
While I have been remiss in discussing pioneers or pioneering feats in aviation featuring helicopters—I am a huge fan—let’s take a look at what some aviation engineers have accomplished at the home of the Terrapins, the University of Maryland.
The Terrapin is important, as a student team has (again) become the first to get a helicopter and passenger up off the ground solely through the use of solar power.
Back in 2013, the team also completed the longest duration flight for a human-powered helicopter (you may recall Barney Rubble of the Flintstones cranking a hand pedal to fly his Barneycopter – so did these guys!) in a machine dubbed Gamera.

Gamera, as you sci-fi monster film fans may recall, was the friendly, flying giant space turtle. A terrapin is a turtle that lives in brackish water—so the hand-cranked helicopter name fits!


Pedal-powered helicopter, Gamera.

This time, on August 26, 2016, the University of Maryland team took their new solar-powered helicopter—this one dubbed Solar Gamera—up, up and away into the wild blue yonder! Well… actually, they did manage to get their flying turtle up one foot (30 centimeters) or more off the ground for a total of nine seconds.
And they did it twice.


Okay, this version of Gamera may be cooler, but it runs on nuclear energy, more than likely, while the University of Maryland’s Solar Gamera runs on solar power.

It may not seem like much, but it is a very important and fantastic first step in the evolution of aviation.
“Today you are seeing the first successful flights of the Gamera Solar-Powered Helicopter,” says Ph.D. student William Staruk (from a University of Maryland web story), who assisted with the flight and was a member of Gamera‘s Human-Powered Helicopter Team. “You are seeing aviation history being made in the history of green aviation and rotary blade aviation.”
Michelle Mahon, a materials science major, was in the cockpit for the successful flight and other attempts.
“It’s just a matter of drift before [Solar Gamera] gets longer flights,” explains Staruk. “It’s easier to trim than human-powered helicopter thanks to electronic controls.”


University of Maryland’s dream team.

The solar panels help generate electric power to lift the 100-foot square rotorcraft.
“This is about inspiring and educating students, that’s our product here,” explains Distinguished Professor and Gamera faculty advisor Inderjit Chopra. “No one thought that solar energy could lift a person (via helicopter).”
“This project has come a long way in the past six or seven years from human-power to solar-power,” sums up Staruk. “So we are breaking barriers of all sorts in aviation with this one airframe and we are very proud of that work here at the University of Maryland.”
Now what, University of Maryland? I think the world is curious to see if your team can either improve on the flying process, or perhaps if you will work on turning it into a stealth helicopter capable of performing a controlled loop-de-loop. You guys are crazy enough to make it happen.
Congratulations on your successes and to infinity and beyond.

Posted in Firsts, Helicopters, News | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Wills’s Aviation Card #43 – “Silver Dart” Biplane.

#43 001

History Behind The Card: “Silver Dart” Biplane. And then some.

Card #43 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Dr. Alexander Graham Bell in Edinburgh, Scotland, Great Britain, March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922, Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia, Canada.


  • John Alexander Douglas McCurdy in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, Canada, August 2, 1886 – June 25, 1961, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
JAD McCurdy.jpg

Bell died on his birthday – that’s got to suck.

  • Frederick. W. Casey Baldwin, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, January 2, 1882 – August 7, 1948, Beinn Bhreagh, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Casey Baldwin.jpg

  • Glenn Hammond Curtiss, in Hammondsport, New York, United States of America, May 21, 1878 – July 23, 1930, Buffalo, New York, United States of America.

Glenn Curtiss circa 1909.jpg

  • Thomas Etholen Selfridge in San Francisco, California, United States of America, February 8, 1882 – September 17, 1908, Fort Myer, Virginia, United States of America.
Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge.jpg

If he died at the age of 26, Selfridge is proof that in the old days, people looked older than their counterparts of today.

  • Mabel Bell nee Mabel Gardiner Hubbard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America, November 25, 1857 – January 3, 1923, Chevy Chase, Maryland, United States of America.

mabel bell.jpg

I have been looking forward to doing the write-up for this card from the moment I began this blog.

The Silver Dart is Canada’s first aeroplane to fly… and the main photo atop this blog’s main page IS the Silver Dart on its maiden flight.

I know, because I own one of the five original sets of photographs originally owned by one of the AEA members…

After I volunteered to do a write-up on the 100th anniversary of the Silver Dart‘s first flight for Design Engineering magazine, I purchased the above card from E-Bay figuring it might make a nice accompanying image to the article.

Little did I know that that one purchase would not only lead me to create a blog based on the Wills’s 1910 Aviation series of 50 cards, but to collect all of those cards, and all of the other variants of those cards, including the overseas issues of Canada, Australia, China, and of the various tobacco brands: ICW and others, as well as Havelock, Vice Regal and Capstan–the later three with both Black and Green backs and in 75- and 85-card card collections from 1911.

To be honest, I am still working on collecting some of those sets, and where possible, after I get through the original 50 card series, I’ll present those in the 75 and 85 sets that are different in aviation content.

#43R 001

As mentioned, I own one of the five sets of photographs given to an AEA member, one Casey Baldwin.

My father-in-law went to interview his widow, and she inexplicably gave him the photo album of photos.

He inexplicably gave them to me and then promptly passed away. Damn. I nearly lost them all in a house-fire… in fact, the original album got moldy after the fire when it was placed in a box by the insurance people. I had to remove the photos from the album before they went the way of the dodo… and who wants to see a set of images on pioneer aviation lost like a flightless bird?


Silver Dart in first flight – look… I didn’t glue it into a photo album!

I am going to present my original magazine article here, written for the January/February edition of Design Engineering magazine, pages 24-27. Anything in (brackets) is my addition for this blog… and I did add in the additional photos of the other aeroplanes and kite:


Usually whenever the topic of great feats in Canadian engineering arises, people often point to the AVRO Arrow CF-105, the Space Shuttle’s remote manipulator system (SRMS) also known as the Canadarm or even Dr. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Few, however, seem to recall an event that is celebrating its centennial this month that is related to all three of those great engineering feats—one that helped propel the then-fledgling field of aviation to great heights.

While there always seems to be problems in determining the chronology of who created what in aviation, what can not be disputed is that there is probably nothing more uniquely Canadian than having the nation’s first airplane take off from a frozen lake in the dead of winter.

The Silver Dart airplane—or aerodrome as Bell preferred to call the motorized flying machines—flew on Tuesday, February 23, 1909 atop the icy Lake Bras d’Or near Baddeck, Nova Scotia for about one mile (1.6 kilometers) making the first successfully controlled powered flight in Canada and the first British subject to fly in the British Empire.

In the words of pilot J.A.D. McCurdy from his original home notes, volume 58: “The Silver Dart … rose from the ice after traveling about 100 feet (30.48 meters) and flew at an elevation of about 10-to 30-feet (3.05 – 9.144 meters) directly east for a distance of about a half mile (0.81 kilometers). Landed without any jar whatsoever. The speed I should judge about 40 plus miles per hour (64.37 kilometers per hour).”

The Silver Dart earned its wings thanks to the outstanding achievements of the five-man joint Canadian-American venture called the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA)—a group of some of the finest engineering minds alive. The AEA consisted of Bell, two extremely bright and talented University of Toronto engineering graduates McCurdy and Frederick. W. Casey Baldwin, as well as noted American motorcycle racer and engine builder Glenn H. Curtiss, and U.S. Army Lt. Thomas Selfridge, and though not officially a member, but certainly its biggest sponsor: Bell’s wife Mabel (Ma Bell!!!) who believed so strongly in the Association’s goal of a flying machine driven through the air under its own power and carrying a man, that she invested CDN$20,000 dollars of her own money in October 1907—and added an additional CDN$10,000 a year later in September 1908—a total amount equal to about CDN $700,000 dollars today.

Bell, who had caught the aviation bug a decade previous had specific ideas for improving aircraft performance and felt that the AEA’s technical engineering aspirations could help him not only test a few theories, but could improve the fledgling field of aviation and aircraft.

“From a historical perspective, it should be stated that the Silver Dart was the fourth powered, heavier-than-air machine to be flown by the AEA—but it was also the first to fly in Canada,” explains Doug Jermyn, a 36-year veteran flight test and developmental engineer from Pratt and Whitney who, with the aid of the AEA 2005, is building a replica of the Silver Dart in Welland, Ont. to be flown in Nova Scotia as part of the plane’s centennial celebrations (see Inset (below) for more on the replica aircraft).

In what can only be described as money well-spent, the AEA’s Baldwin, McCurdy, Selfridge and Curtiss are each invited to work on aircraft of their own design, while Bell the mentor opted to focused his energies on motorized tetrathedral kites, including the Cygnet 1, a giant kite made up of 3,393 tetrahedral cells and a hollow middle.

Flying over Baddeck Bay on December 1907 in the Cygnet I, Selfridge takes the first recorded flight in Canada of a heavier-than-air machine lasting seven minutes before crashing—crashing implies the craft was not under successful control. Although Selfridge himself was not hurt in this crash, he did die in September 17, 1908 as a passenger on the Wright Brother’s US Army Flyer, becoming the first fatality of powered heavier-than-air aviation.

Cygnet I.jpg

The Cygnet I… you look it it and think – WTF, Alexander Graham Bell?

After the Cygnet I’s success and winter settling in, the AEA picked up shop and moved to its new headquarters in Hammondsport, New York close to where Curtiss manufactured engines for the AEA.

There they begin flying Chanute-Herring bi-wing gliders to test stability while building its first powered bi-plane, the Red Wing, aka Drome No. 1.


The Red Wing and its tiny motor.

Designed by Selfridge, the Red Wing was essentially a bi-wing glider with a tail rudder and a single plane elevator up front with skid runners to allow it to take off from the ice.

Named for the red silk covering its wings, the Red Wing was powered by a push-type propeller meaning that a group of eight or nine men were required to hold the plane back until the motor reached critical take-off power. Flown by Baldwin on March 12, 1908, the Red Wing flew 318-feet and 11-inches (97.2 meters) over Lake Keuka near Hammondsport making Baldwin the first Canadian and British subject to fly an airplane in the first public flight in North America—the Wright Brother’s flights, though highly successful, were never done under public scrutiny thanks to their involvement with the U.S. Army and their need for secrecy. The Wright Brother’s were highly distrustful of Bell and the AEA—especially of Selfridge—fearing that it had infringed on their copyrights. And while Bell claimed to never have seen the Wright Brother’s fly—thanks to their secrecy—he still had great admiration for their bravery and innovation.

The next airplane to fly from the minds of the AEA is the Baldwin-designed White Wing, so-named for its white cotton nainsook wing covering, and, says Jermyn: “was flown by all four of Bell’s AEA boys.”


The White Wing – the wings look long, don’t they?

Similar in design to the first plane, Drone No. 2 used a lighter laminated wooden propeller featuring a Curtiss-built throttle engine and has two Association innovations—ailerons at the wing tips to control lateral movement and a tricycle undercarriage allowing the plane to take off from land, as by its first flight on May 19, its smooth, icy runway had melted.

According to Gerald Haddon, an Oakville, ON-resident and the grandson of McCurdy, he says his grandfather, when telling him all about the AEA during his teen years, mentioned that he claimed to have invented the aileron, though he failed to patent it.

Haddon says that in September of 1908 his grandfather was watching French pilot Henri Farman fly his plane, watching it go up, fly straight, land, have a team of horses turn it around before flying straight, landing and having another team of horses turn it around again. “My grandfather asked him what he was doing, and was informed it was the only way he could turn the plane around—so my grandfather told him of the little wings his plane had,” notes Haddon. “Ahh, little wing – in French we say, ‘aileron’.”

Despite Bell preferring to call the little wings “horizontal rudders”, the White Wing’s innovations had the desired effect allowing it to easily able to surpass the flight distance of its predecessor, flying 1,107-feet (337.4 meters) in two hops.

A month later on June 21, 1908, the Curtiss-designed June Bug (Drone No. 3) was completed and so-dubbed by Bell because of the craft’s resemblance to the June beetle.

June Bug.jpg

I love the almost sideways take-off of the June Bug.

The Curtiss design is similar to that of the White Wing, save that the June Bug was built with a longer body shaft for increased horizontal stability, removable wings and a folding tail section. Innovations from the AEA include adding a shoulder fork to control the ailerons and the use of a specially concocted wing dope to reduce air resistance from the wing’s fabric.

After a successful flight on June 25th, 1908 in which the June Bug flies 3,413 feet (1,040 meters), the AEA asks Charles Munn, president of the Aero Club of America to request a trial flight for the Scientific American trophy to be awarded for the first flight over one kilometer (0.62 miles). On July 4, with Curtis as the pilot, the plane flies 5,360 feet (1,553 meters) to win the trophy, and six days later becomes the first aircraft to navigate a complete turn. Two months later on August 29, McCurdy flies the June Bug over a three kilometer (1.864 mile) figure eight—another aviation first.

“One morning after wheeling the plane out from its storage shed, the AEA noticed that the wings had become wet and heavy with dew and so devised a ‘dope’ that could be applied to the wing’s rubberized silk fabric to repel the moisture,” states Haddon. “It consisted of yellow ocher, paraffin and turpentine—and they never had problems with moisture on the wings again.”

Before the end of the year, the AEA retrofitted the June Bug with floats, converting it to a seaplane, but despite dubbing it the Loon, during its trials it failed to break free of Lake Keuka’s water and was dismantled.

“The Silver Dart, the fourth drome, was designed and flown by my grandfather, John A. Douglas McCurdy,” says Haddon.

Silver Dart.jpg

“Though the Dart was designed by McCurdy, it would be folly to say that it still wasn’t a group effort, as it incorporated features of, and lessons learned from each of the earlier airplanes and kites built by the Association.”

While the previous planes used a 40-horsepower (HP) Curtiss-built engine, in order to spin the Silver Dart’s 8’ (2.43 m)-diameter propeller that was carved from a single block of wood, it used a more powerful but cantankerous Curtiss 50HP, V8 motor to spin an 8’ (2.43 meter)-diameter propeller that was originally created to power Bell’s Cygnet II, a 3,690-celled red silk tetrathedral kite (aka aerodrome No. 5) that failed to fly in three attempts.

The water-cooled engine was created to prevent the engine from over-heating, an innovation that now made the prospect of long-distance flights possible. The original Silver Dart engine can be seen at the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa.

Silver Dart Specifications:

  • Length:  39’-4”; 11.9 meters
  • Height:   9’-7”; 2.9 meters
  • Wingspan: 49’-1”; 14.9 meters
  • Wing area: 420.0 square feet; 30.0 square meters
  • Gross Weight: 859 pounds; 390 kilograms

Like some of the other aircraft of the day, the Silver Dart featured a canard or two-plane elevator mounted on the front—it was 12 feet (3.65 meters) wide and made the aircraft very sensitive around its pitch axis—and despite the presence of the ailerons, it was still a difficult machine to maneuver, though it was considered a success addition to the plane’s overall design.

The Silver Dart was first test-flown in Hammondsport on December 8, 1908 making three trial flights of about 180 meters (591’) each before being shipped to Bell’s summer home in Baddeck.

Similar in design to the highly successful June Bug, the Silver Dart has its tail section shortened—an idea the AEA correctly believed would aid the craft in turning.

“The day after the Silver Dart’s historic flight,” mentions Haddon, “My grandfather was again at the wheel, and made a flight of four-and-a-half miles (7.24 kilometers), but upon landing, the right wing hit the ice and a wheel collapsed.”

Despite the success of the Silver Dart’s first flight on February 23, 1909 and the fantastic long-distance achieved the next day, Bell was convinced his Cygnet II kite could fly and had both the motor and propeller transferred to the kite. After three more attempts at flight with it failing to leave the ice, Bell has the engine and propeller placed back into the Silver Dart where it made nearly 200 further flights before crashing during a demonstration in front of the Canadian Army at Camp Petawawa on a sandy runway.

That day, the craft had previously made four successful flights, but the Army had decided to base its decision solely on the fifth and final flight when upon the Silver Dart, piloted by McCurdy with Baldwin aboard as passenger, crashed when a wheel got stuck in the sand.

Still, despite the success of the AEA, it disbanded on March 31, 1909 with Bell having the last word, describing the work of group at its last meeting: “The AEA is now a thing of the past. It has made its mark upon the history of aviation and its work will live.”

And it certainly holds true today, as thanks to the AEA and all of its airplanes, including the Silver Dart, Canadians can—weather permitting—simply take an airplane flight around the world should the fancy strike them. However, it’s probably a sure bet that unlike today’s airplane passengers flying encased in their cocoons, the AEA had more fun engineering their wire-framed jaunty jalopies.

To commemorate the Silver Dart’s centennial of flight, Canada Post will be issuing a stamp on the anniversary—one can only hope it’s for Air Mail.


And, while not an Air Mail stamp, Canada Post did indeed honor the AEA and Silver Dart with a stamp issued on February 23, 1909… the exact centennial of the Silver Dart’s first aeroplane flight.

– 30 –

Inset – Re: Centennial Build of Silver Dart Aeroplane:

In anticipation of the centennial of the Silver Dart’s first flight, a group of volunteers gathered in Welland, Ont. near Niagara Falls to build a replica of the plane to fly at the ceremonies in Baddeck, Nova Scotia on February 23, 2009.

After tracking down a copy of the original drawings of the Silver Dart, work began in the summer of 2004. While the idea was to stay faithful to the original drawings, the modern day AEA 2005 discovered its own fair share of engineering concerns and was forced to modify their plane design accordingly, especially when considering safety features for the pilot.

The 2009 version of the craft has been manufactured from Sitka spruce, bamboo and ash for the fuselage and horizontal wing structural spars, vertical struts, wood ribs and strut jackets—plus the addition of some wire, steel tubing, modern wing fabric coverings and good quality tape.

The replica has, for added strength, utilized only approved aeronautical nuts and bolts to hold it all together. Along with seat belts—yes, those magnificent men and their flying machines truly did fly by the seat of their pants—brakes have also been added via foot pedals that on the original simply acted as a foot rest.

The all important ailerons to give horizontal directional control that was originally worked via a yoke around McCurdy’s neck and operated with a shrug, has now been incorporated into the steering wheel and a pulley system attached to the “little wings”.

Along with adding a set of electrical controls for the pilot to monitor engine speed, the replica is using a different engine to ensure the plane has the proper strength to get airborne. The Lycoming 0-145-flight engine produces 65-horsepower, was donated by a group member and sent to Toronto to be thoroughly tested by Leavens Aviation.

Of course, alterations to the plane for safety reasons have also caused its fair share of engineering headaches, too. Not only is the COG (center of gravity) different from its predecessor, but it’s heavier too. As well, during the first trial engine test a mere month to its scheduled flight i99999n Nova Scotia, it was discovered that the engine was not spinning the propeller fast enough to get the ship airborne. During Design Engineering magazine’s visit to the hangar, a volunteer took up a hand saw and cut away two-inches of propeller for each of the two ends. Problem solved.

Silver Dart Replica.jpg

Recent wind tunnel tests on the replica have indicated that the nose wheel needed to be reduced in diameter to bring about a five-inch (12.7 centimeter) drop at the front of the plane—a reduction that is expected to provide more lift.

Among the many volunteers of have worked on the replica, a partial list of the AEA 2005 includes: Jack Minor who conceived of the idea; Gilles Levesque who has lent the group use of his hangar; Doug Jermyn, a 36-year veteran flight test and developmental engineer from Pratt and Whitney who has assumed a leadership role and his right hand man, Raymond Larson an engineer with Atlas Steel; Carol Jermyn, Gerald Haddon; Ray Larson; Ed Russell; Jaro Petruck; Don Feduck; and Irene Manuel who stitched all of the fabric wing panels while on chemotherapy for cancer. Bjarni Tryggvason, a Canadian astronaut who served as a payload specialist on the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-85, will pilot the craft during the centennial celebrations.


As you may have noticed, despite the Wills’s card stating that the Silver Dart was designed by Alexander Graham Bell, it was the brainchild of McCurdy.

It was, for its day, one of the best aeroplanes on and off the planet.

One last interesting thing is that the front of the card is the “Silver Dart” Biplane., but the back of the card simply calls it the “Silver Dart.” It doesn’t mean anything, though.

One of Canada’s other great planes was the AVRO Arrow (as mentioned in the first line of my magazine article)… a plane from the 1950s, that helped lay the foundations of a braindrain from Canada to the U.S. to really give the US moon landing program a kick in the butt. As an aside, I have a set of blueprints of the Arrow. They are huge blueprints… and when I get a few bucks I’ll have it scanned to a more presentable size.


Posted in Aviation Art, Concepts, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Pilots, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2016 Aviation Price Index: Canada Ranks 6th Most Expensive Country for Flights


2016 Aviation Price Index: Canada Ranks 6th Most Expensive Country for Flights

I know this has nothing to do with early aviation, but what the heck – it seemed interesting. And no, I’m not receiving any sort of fee, payment or reward. It just seemed interesting.

Check out the chart above… I’m actually surprised that Canada isn’t No. 1.

Online travel agency have produced a ranking detailing countries of the world which offer the least and most expensive flights.

The research, which took into account over one-million international and domestic journeys, found that India offered the least expensive flight prices per 100km of travel, while the United Arab Emirates clocked in with the most expensive tickets.

As a company which prides itself on offering the best value ticket prices for customers, undertook the research in order to help travelers find the most suited deals on flights around the world.

Canada ranked in position 70, with an average flight cost of US$38.71 per 100km of travel, factoring in both domestic and international journeys. Canada also offered the most expensive international flights on both low cost and legacy airlines, at $43.70 and $94.66 respectively per 100km of travel.

The least expensive country, India, averaged a flight cost of $3.25 per 100km of travel. At the other end of the ranking, United Arab Emirates calculated at a cost over 30 times higher, at $105.71 per 100km of travel.

Full results of the ranking can be found on’s landing page HERE.

To calculate the rankings, analyzed over a million flights to find an average price of domestic and international flights on a low cost and a legacy airline from each of the countries.

Domestic flights were calculated by finding an average of flight costs from the country’s capital to up to five major cities within the country (where available), or a major city in a neighboring country where no domestic flights were available, whilst international costs were calculated from the capital of each country to up to five international hubs within the same continent.

All flights were checked for the same dates of travel (or neighboring dates where necessary) on- and off-season, taking into account the same destinations and travel scheduling.

“The Aviation Price Index is a fascinating guide to the costs of air travel around the globe,” states chief executive officer Oliver Dlouhý. “We always aim to offer travelers the best possible deals, and hope this ranking informs customers on the countries from which they can expect the most cost effective airfare, and assist them in booking the best value journey.”

Further findings from the ranking include:

  • India offered the least expensive domestic flights on both low cost and legacy airlines, at $2.27 and $2.67 respectively per 100km of travel.
  • China offered the least expensive international flights on both low cost and legacy airlines, at $1.22 and $2.84 respectively per 100km of travel.
  • United Arab Emirates offered the most expensive domestic flights on both low cost and legacy airlines, at $181.38 and $202.36 respectively per 100km of travel.
  • Canada offered the most expensive international flights on both low cost and legacy airlines, at $43.70 and $94.66 respectively per 100km of travel.

About, formerly known as Skypicker, is an online travel agency with groundbreaking virtual interlining technology and a focus on exceptional customer service. Its unique combination algorithm allows our customers to combine flights from non-cooperating airlines onto a single itinerary, often resulting in significant savings.

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Tuskegee Airmen Tribute Debuts in Canada at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

tusThe Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Red Tail Squadron, America’s tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, is bringing their RISE ABOVE Travelling Exhibit for its first debut north of the border August 24-28, 2016 at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum.

Squadron’s unique program brings the inspirational history of the Tuskegee Airmen – America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel – out of museums and textbooks with a unique immersive experience. The exciting RISE ABOVE Travelling Exhibit is a fully functional movie theater featuring the original short film “Rise Above,” designed to take the audience on a journey through time – and then through the air.

The theater’s dynamic 160-degree panoramic screen creates the sensation of being in the cockpit soaring above the clouds in a P-51C Mustang, the signature aircraft of the Tuskegee Airmen. It’s much more than a history lesson; the Tuskegee Airmen’s ability to triumph over adversity serves as a means to inspire others to RISE ABOVE obstacles in their own lives and achieve their goals.

“The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is honored to host a special ‘Tuskegee Airmen Red Tails Visit’ that is being made available to several underprivileged Youth organizations from the Hamilton and Greater Toronto Area. As part of the unique experience for these youth they will also go for a flight in one our own vintage aircraft, thanks to the kind financial support of our donors,” says Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum president and chief executive officer David G. Rohrer.

The event will also feature the P-51D Mustang Red Nose on display for up-close viewing, a rare treat for attendees as it is one of only a few like it still flying.

Red Nose traces its roots back to Canada when in 1951 the aircraft was transferred from the United States to the Royal Canadian Air Force under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. It served in Canada until 1956 when it was decommissioned from service and purchased by a private company in the U.S. Rides in Red Nose will be available for purchase, with proceeds going to support the outreach work of the CAF. For more information, contact

“It is my special honor to bring home the Canadian P-51D and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to Hamilton, home of Gerald Bell, Canada’s first black fighter pilot,” says CAF Red Tail Squadron Leader and P-51 Mustang pilot Bill Shepard, a resident of Ontario. “The is truly a one-of-a-kind adventure. Kids and adults walk away from this experience with a greater understanding of the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. Their story, and that of the CAF Red Tail Squadron, is a means to inspire them to achieve their potential. It’s a message that resonates with all ages because of the unique and interactive way it is told. It’s an experience not to be missed.”

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is located at 9280 Airport Rd. in Mount Hope, Ontario, located at the Hamilton International Airport. To learn more, visit

About the CAF Red Tail Squadron
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven non-profit organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. RISE ABOVE Red Tail, their three-fold outreach program, includes a fully restored WWII-era P-51C Mustang, the signature aircraft of the Tuskegee Airmen; the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit 53’ mobile theater featuring the original panoramic film “Rise Above”; and resource materials for teachers and youth leaders. Each year, they embark on a nine-month cross-country tour that includes appearances at air shows, schools, museums and community events. The group’s Six Guiding Principles: Aim High, Believe In Yourself, Use Your Brain, Be Ready To Go, Never Quit and Expect to Win – serve as the foundation for their outreach programs and are based on the experiences and successes of the Tuskegee Airmen. The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization part of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). Learn more at

About the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum
The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum was founded in 1972 and is a non-profit organization whose mandate is to acquire, document, preserve and maintain a complete collection of aircraft that were flown by Canadians and the Canadian military from the beginning of World War II to the present. Their role is to preserve the artifacts, books, periodicals and manuals relating to this mandate. The Museum now houses almost fifty aircraft, an extensive aviation Gift Shop and Exhibit Gallery. Learn more at

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Wills’s Aviation Card #42 – The R.E.P. Monoplane.

#42F 001 (2).jpgHistory Behind The Card: The “R.E.P. Monoplane.

Card #42 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Robert Albert Charles Esnault-Pelterie, November 8, 1881 in Paris, France – December 6, 1957 in Geneva, Switzerland.

At the time of publication (1910) for this Wills’s aviation card, it is safe to say that when it came to success in the air, Robert Esnault-Pelterie was the “Great White Hope” for the British… IE, lots of hope, but no delivery.

Wills’s really tried hard to pump him up with the addition of Esnault-Pelterie and his R.E.P. Monoplane.

The R.E.P. Monoplane of this time period was a failure.

Have a read at the reverse of the Wills’s card:

#42R 001 (2).jpg

But… it wasn’t all bad for Esnault-Pelterie… even this aeroplane design was ahead of darn near everyone else on the planet.

He created joystick control.

Born in in Paris to a textile industrialist, Esnault-Pelterie was educated at the Faculté des Sciences, studying engineering at the Sorbonne.

His first experiments in aviation were based on the Wright brothers 1902 glider, but his earliest design failed owing to him not quite understanding just what the Wright Brothers were doing with their glider.

He tried wing-warping as the Wright’s did to provide steering, but Esnault-Pelterie thought it was a dangerous way to control an aircraft and decided to create an alternative… such as the aileron concept by placing a pair of mid-gap control surfaces in front of the wings.

Later glider test flights became extremely successful now that the aileron-like devices had been installed.

Next up… designing and building an aeroplane.

R.E.P 1


The R.E.P. 1 in 1907

In 1906 he began his first experiments in towed flight like a glider. On September 19, 1906 he flew 500 meters (1,600 feet) with what essentially his Pelterie 1 (also known as the R.E.P. 1).

On October 10 (or 19 – I saw conflicting dates given), Esnault-Pelterie dropped the towline and made his first powered flight with the same plane traveling 100 meters (330 feet) in distance.

This was driven by a seven-cylinder, 30 hp air-cooled engine of his own design.

The R.E.P. 1 was a single-seat tractor configuration monoplane (see image above) that utilized a 30 horsepower, seven-cylinder, two-row, semi-radial motor that powered a four-blade aluminum propeller that was attached via rivets to steel tubes.

As for the body… well… if you look at the photo above and the Wills’s card at the top, you’ll notice that the plane’s body is covered, so that the air doesn’t go through the craft, but rather over and alongside it like a modern aeroplane.

The steel tubing of the plane’s frame was covered in varnished silk, while the wings of the monoplane were made of  wood.

A fixed horizontal stabilizer was placed on the rear of the plane with a rectangular elevator fixed onto the trailing edge.

The craft had a fixed fin and rudder placed UNDER the aeroplane’s frame.

While Esnault-Pelterie went back to using wing warping to provide left-right movement, he still continued to work on creating a better aileron for the plane.

Another interesting feature of the plane that the Wright Brothers lacked despite having once been bicycle builders, was wheels.

There was a large central wheel under the fuselage, a smaller one attached to the rudder, and outrigger wheels attached to the tip of the wings. The right wheel would be down when the plane was grounded, but when taxiing, it would just use the left wheel down, with the right wheel up off the ground.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 6.85 meters (22 feet 6 inches)
  • Wingspan: 9.60 meters (31 feet 6 inches)
  • Wing area: 18 square meters (194 square feet)
  • Empty weight: 230 kilograms ( 507 pounds)
  • Gross weight: 507 kilograms (1,117.7 lb)
  • Motor: 1 × R.E.P.-designed 7-cylinder two-row semi-radial piston engine providing 30 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 60 kilometers per hour (37 miles per hour)

Data from l’Aérophile, October 1907, pp. 290-1

The R.E.P. 1 can be seen at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.

R.E.P. 2


The R.E.P. 2 in 1908

The R.E.P. 2 differed from the R.E.P. 1 in having a slightly different undercarriage (of the same general arrangement) in addition to a large ventral balanced rudder.

Tests with the R.E.P. 2 commenced in June 1908, and on 8 June a flight of 1,200 m (3,900 ft) was made, reaching an altitude of 30 m (100 ft), setting a height and distance record for monoplanes.

If we are to pay attention to the Wills’s card description of the R.E.P. 2 (I assume they meant No.2), the aeroplane would taxi along the ground with the left wheel (on the left wing) rolling until flight was achieved.

We can assume then that at rest, the plane leaned onto the right wing wheel.

The aircraft was then modified by the addition of a trapezoidal dorsal fin, to create the R.E.P. bis. This plane – piloted by Monsieur Châteaux, won the third Ae.C.F. prize for a flight of over 200 meters on November 21, 1908, with an officially observed flight of 316 meters (1,037 ft). It was a goodly distance for the era, Wright Brothers notwithstanding, but improving on it proved difficult for Esnault-Pelterie.


The R.E.P. in 1909… modified?

It was then exhibited at the Paris Aero Salon in December 1908 and at the Aero Show in London in 1909. It was entered for the Grande Semaine d’Aviation in Reims in August 1909, but Esnault-Pelterie didn’t actually compete because he had previously hurt his hand… though I am unsure how that came to be.

It was at this time, that Esnault-Pelterie stopped personally flying aeroplanes and began to work on the design, development and manufacture of planes.

The Vickers R.E.P. Type Monoplane was based upon his designs, and marked the beginning of aircraft production at the later Vickers Limited production facility.

Now… Esnault-Pelterie’s family had invested a lo tof money into his aeroplane designs… which meant that that all of them were close to financial ruin…

The only good thing was that Esnault-Pelterie owned a patent on the joystick flight controller…

The bad thing was that there was a major court case going on as to who actually owned it.

During WWI, many of the aeroplanes in the war used the joystick control, and when the courts finally decided in his favor, a lot of those companies owned him a lot of money in royalties, which made Esnault-Pelterie and his family wealthy again.

Not merely satisfied with aeroplanes, Esnault-Pelterie began working on theories for rocketry, calculating how much energy would be required to reach our moon Luna and other nearby planets. It was wrong, but what the heck…

He did propose using atomic energy – some 400 kilograms of radium – to blast off into outer space.


Robert Esnault-Pelterie and I share a birthday – not a birth date. Photo taken on August 14, 1909.

On June 8, 1927, Esnault-Pelterie gave a symposium for the French Astronautics Society titled L’exploration par fusées de la très haute atmosphère et la possibilité des voyages interplanétaires, concerning the exploration of outer space using rocket propulsion. Jean-Jacques Barre attended this lecture, and developed a correspondence with Esnault-Pelterie on the topic of rockets.

In 1929, Esnault-Pelterie came up with the idea of the ballistic missile, eventually convincing the French war department (with Barre’s aid) to fund a study in 1930.

By 1931, the two of them began to actually experiment with rocket propulsion, including liquid propellants, eventually demonstrating a rocket-powered engine using gasoline and liquid oxygen.

However, a later experiment with tetra-nitromethane cost him three fingers on his right hand when it exploded.

Was he successful with his rocketry experiments? Obviously not, or they might have thrown something heavier than a baguette at the Nazi invaders during WWII.

Esnault-Pelterie filed close to 120 patents for inventions in metallurgy, aviation, rocketry and car suspensions, inventing joystick control, radial engines and a type of fuel pump, and came up with the concept of moving a rocket via vector thrust.

How important was Esnault-Pelterie? Well, the 1910 Wills’s writers need not have worried… there’s a crater on the Moon named after him: Esnault-Pelterie.


Oblique view of Esnault-Pelterie (upper right) and Schlesinger (lower left), from Lunar Orbiter 5.

Not a bad way to leave this mortal coil.

Posted in Aviation Art, Concepts, Heavier-Than-Air | Leave a comment

The First Japanese Airplane – Kaishiki No. 1

Kaishiki+No.+1Japan’s very first Japanese-designed and manufactured aeroplane was the Kaishiki No. 1 (kaishiichigouki, 会式一号機), pusher aeroplane (propeller is behind the pilot, pushing the craft, as opposed to the puller type we commonly have nowadays that leads the aircraft) which was designed and flown by Captain Tokugawa Yoshitoshi (surname first), back on October 13, 1911 at Tokorozawa in Saitama-ken (Saitama Prefecture).

It’s a beautiful aircraft looking similar to Henri Farman’s excellent long-distance aircraft the Farman III biplane. See HERE  for my recently published write up on that plane.

The motor and propeller came from France, but everything else came from or was built in Japan.

The aircraft’s frame was mostly made from hinoki (Japanese cypress), and was covered by two layers of silk glued together with sounds like liquid rubber.

All attachment fittings, bracing wires and turn buckles were purchased from iron works companies or bought from local hardware shops.

Differences from the Farman III design included a reduced wing area, which gave it more speed.

The aerofoil had a larger front curve which was thought to provide better lift. Other differences between the Kaishiki No. 1 and the Farman III include the fact that ailerons were on the upper wing only, and the tail was simplified by having a single horizontal tail surface.

As well, the engine and propeller were mounted higher than in the original design, and therefore the undercarriage could be shortened. A windshield was added for the pilot.

When the aeroplane was constructed, it was called the Tokugawa Type, but was later officially identified as Kaishiki No.1 Aeroplane.

The aeroplane was moved to the Army facility and flying field at Tokorozawa where it made its first flight on October 13, 1911, piloted by Captain Tokugawa.

Captain Tokugawa Yoshitoshi

Captain Tokugawa Yoshitoshi

A later test flight on October 25, 1911 achieved an altitude of 50 meters (164 feet), reaching a top speed of 72 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour).

Further testing had it reach 85 meters (278 feet) in altitude and flying a grand distance of 1,600 meters (1 mile).

Continued testing convinced the flight crew that the propeller ground clearance wasn’t high enough, as the blades would hit the grass below, slowing it down, causing the Kaishiki No. 1 to lose power.

Actually, it was only AFTER the providing greater clearance that the aircraft was given the Kaishiki No.1 moniker.

More changes ensued, including changeable landing skids in case one broke; twin rudders replaced by a single and larger rudder which was part of the advantage of the gained from the propeller slipstream meaning improved directional control.

Longer interplane struts on the aircraft were added to provide more spacing between the two wings.

One other interesting alteration from the Kaishiki‘s original design was the removal of the pilot windshield… while it did provide protection from bug’s flying in the pilot’s mouth while screaming for joy as he flies through the air, the team felt that pilot needed to feel the air so as to get a better sense of the aeroplane’s speed.

If you look at darn near every aeroplane of the day, very, very few utilized a windshield or windscreen of any kind.

Kaishiki No.1 Specs:

  • Crew: 2;
  • Length: 11.5 meters (37 feet 9 inches);
  • Upper wingspan: 10.5 meters (34 feet 5 inches);
  • Lower wingspan: 8.0 meters (26 feet 3 inches);
  • Height: 3.90 meters (12 feet 10 inches);
  • Wing area: 41.0 square meters (441 square feet);
  • Empty weight: 450 kilograms (992 pounds);
  • Gross weight: 550 kilograms (1,213 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine, 50 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed wooden Chauvière;
  • Maximum speed: 72 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour);
  • Endurance: 3 hours
Posted in Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Wills’s Aviation Card #41 – “Farman” Biplane.

#41F (3).jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Farman” Biplane.

Card #41 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Henri Farman, May 26, 1874 in Paris, France – July 17, 1958, Paris, France.

Though not stated, the image on this tobacco card is the famous Farman III biplane, built by Henri Farman. The main difference I can see between the drawing and teh actual plane is that there are no tiny wheels at the rear of the aeroplane.

Although his family was British, Henri Farman was born in Paris, France. Actually… depending on whom one reads, Henri was also Henry. He may have actually started off as Henry, but when in Rome… he probably had everyone call him Henri.

As an FYI… because Farman’s parent’s were British… at that time, their France-born son could immediately be declared British… and he was… only becoming an honest-to-goodness Frenchman in 1937… in anticipation of France’s liberation by Germany. Yeah, I’m being sarcastic.

Farman’s dad was British and seemed to be a well-paid newspaper correspondent. Farman’s mother was an ooh la la French woman.

Here… take a look at the reverse of the Wills’s card…

Wills's 41R 001 (2)

Ha-ha-ha-ha! The British manufactured tobacco card was so desperate to have Henri Farman be British, it felt the need to state his British heritage. How is that an important bit of data? There was so much more they could have added – which is why, I suppose, I do these blogs on the cards.

Anyhow… perhaps the money came in from his mom’s side of the family, but Farman didn’t have do real work, and instead became an amateur sportsman, first becoming a bicycle champion in the 1890s, and then moving into motorcycles in the 1900s, racing for Renault in the Gordon Bennnet Cup.

Henri Farman.jpg

Henri Farman

In 1907, when the Société Anonyme des Aéroplanes G. Voisin (Voisin aircraft manufacturing company) began constructing aeroplanes, Farman ordered a Voisin 1907 Biplane (an exact copy of one already built for French pilot Ferdinand Léon Delagrange).

In this 1907 Voisin, Farman pretty much became one of the most famous pilots on the planet, setting record after record for distance and duration, including:

  • first to fly a complete circuit of one kilometer on January 13, 1908, winning a 50,000 franc Grand Prix d’Aviation award;
  • First to fly two kilometers on March 21, 1908;
  • First to fly with a passenger (Leon Delagrange) on March 29, 1908. Some say Wilbur Wright achieved this first with Charles Fumas as passenger on May 14, 1908;
  • First cross country flight in Europe frying from Châlons to Reims, France – a 27 kilometer trip – in 20 minutes

This was all in the 1907 Voisin Biplane that was also known as the Voisin-Farman I. The aeroplanes were known by the Voisin moniker, and then by the person’s name they were sold to, and then a number, denoting how many that pilot might have owned.

Of course, the very famous Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft calls this aeroplane the Voisin II (mostly because it was built after the Voisin I owned and flown by Delagrange. Regardless, Voisin built about 60 of these aircraft.

Farman, by the way, modified his aeroplane to improve performance, with many of these mods added to later aircraft built by Voisin.


Henri Farman (left) and Gabriel Voisin

In 1909, Farman opened up a flying school at Châlons-sur-Marne, France with (George) Bertram Cockburn as his first student… a person I will do a biography on soon enough.

Now… Farman really loved his Voisin aeroplane… but man was he pissed when Voisin founder Gabriel Voisin took an aeroplane that Farman had designed with his specifications and instead sold the aircraft to J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon (who used the aircraft to perform the first officially-recognized aeroplane flight in England on May 2, 1909. Moore-Brabazon named his aeroplane the Bird of Passage.

This stabbing-in-the-back by Voisin caused Farman to start up his own aeroplane manufacturing business—Avions Farman (Farman Aviation Works), with the first aircraft being his Farman III – a highly successful machine.

The Farman III is the image shown in the Wills’s Aviation tobacco card series above.

Farman III Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Capacity: 1;
  • Length: 12 meters (39 feet 4½ inches);
  • Wingspan: 10 meters (33 feet 9¾ inches);
  • Height: 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 inches);
  • Wing Area: 40 square meters (430.56 square feet);
  • Gross Weight: 550 kilograms (1213 pounds);
  • Engine: 1x Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine @ 50 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 60 kilometers per hour (37 miles per hour)

I should point out that Henry’s brother Maurice (Morris?) had earlier constructed his own biplane in February of 1909 – and like Henri’s, was also based on the 1907 Voisin Biplane.

The Maurice Farman biplane had a pilot’s nacelle and used a Renault inline motor. Henri’s Farman III did not have a nacelle, and used a Gnome engine built by the Société des Moteurs Gnome. Henri and Maurice only began to work together in 1912.

How good was the Farman III? Others copied his design (copied initially from Voisin), but called it the Farman type, and were soon copied in Britain for the Bristol Boxkite, Short S.27 and the Howard Wright 1910 biplane (not related to the Wright Bros… but one of these aircraft was used by Thomas Sopwith (he of the famous Sopwith Camels).

The Farman III was also built in Germany (legally) as the Albatros F-2 by Albatros FlugzeugWerke.


Farman III – with the motor behind the pilot, one should never wear a scarf.

The Farman III is/was a pusher biplane (engine at the rear), and had a single elevator and biplane tail surfaces on booms. As mentioned, there was no pilot nacelle, mounting the elevator on two converging booms.

To control it, lateral control was achieved by upper and lower wing ailerons…

Underneath,  rather than a simple pair of wheels like on the Voisin, the Farman III utilized two wheels total on a pair of skids.

First flown in April of 1909, the mostly ash wood frame used aluminum sockets, and was covered with a single flexible fabric with ribs and spars enclosed in pockets.

For a powerplant, Farman had originally used a Vivinus 4-cylinder inline water-cooled engine capable of producing 50 horsepower, but by the time the Reims, France Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne aeroplane meet (the very first aviation meet) held August 22-29, 1909, Farman had replaced the Vivinus motor (I think it’s the same Ateliers Vivinus S.A. who built automobiles in Brussels between 1899-1912) with the aforementioned Gnome Omega rotary engine capable of producing 50 horsepower… why?

The revolutionary Gnome motor was indeed lighter and more reliable and had the cylinders revolve with the propeller. The Gnome (and Farman III) was not a very fast aeroplane, but it was a pretty darn good aircraft for achieving long-distances, as it did win  the distance prize at Reims on August 27, 1909 when it flew 180 kilometers (112 miles) in just over three hours of continuous flight.

Later, on November 3, 1909, the Farman III flew 232 kilometers in 4 hours-17 minutes-53 seconds at Mourmelon-le-Grand.

At the Reims aircraft meeting, Farman had actually entered the Farman III with the Vivinus motor but performed a last-minute switch—which upset his fellow competitors, who tried to get him disqualified to no avail.

Later Farman aircraft built with this design used different motors, including the Vivinus and Gnome, but also the E.N.V. water-cooled V-8 built by the London and Parisian Motor Company.

In 1910, the Farman aeroplanes added an elevator to the upper tailplane section.

Farman III

Pilot Louis Paulhan flying with a passenger in a Farman III biplane, at the Dominguez Field Air Meet in Los Angeles, January 1910.

Racing versions of the Farman III were built with a reduced wingspan: the upper wing now 8.5 meters (27-feet-11-inches) and with a monoplane tail.

Farman also built the 1910 Michelin Cup biplane to win the long-distance championship. It featured 2.5 meter (8-feet, 2-inch) extensions on the upper wing and a long nacelle to protect the pilot from the cold winds. Ailerons were only on the upper wing and the oil and fuel tanks were enlarged from 230 liters (up from 80 liters) – and could provide a 12 hour flight. On November 3, 2010, he flew 232 kilometers (144 miles( in four hours 17 minutes and 53 seconds, winning the International Michelin Cup.

Before the Reims meeting, the very first Farman III biplane sold was to Roger Sommer who after learning to fly, two months later set the French endurance record of one hour, 50 minutes and later two hours and 27 minutes and 15 seconds… Farman himself smashed these records at Reims. Sommer became an aircraft builder later, initially borrowing heavily from the Farman III.

The Farman III aeroplanes in all their incarnations also became know for their speed in the early days, with many pilots winning trophies, but really… this was a long-distance flyer.
As for Farman and the Farman Aviation Works family business he ran with brothers Maurice and Richard (Dick), they continued to design and build aircraft from 1908 through 1936, at which time France nationalized its aeronautical industry taking the Farman business (as well as Hanriot company) and placing it within the then just formed SNAC (the Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Centre, sometimes known as Aérocentre).

Maurice and Henri Farman retired at this time.

The SNAC was later liquidated at the conclusion of WWII, with assets distributed.

In 1941 the Farman brothers reestablished the firm as the Société Anonyme des Usines Farman (SAUF), but only three years later it was absorbed by Sud-Ouest. Maurice’s son, Marcel Farman, reestablished the SAUF in 1952, but it wasn’t successful and closed its doors in 1956.

The Farman brothers designed and built more than 200 types of aircraft between 1908 and 1941, and even built cars until 1931.

If you are wondering why I never mentioned the Farman II aircraft… well… remember the airplane designed by Farman and sold by the Voisin company to Moore-Brabazon? That was to have been Farman II.

Farman died in 1958 and is buried in the  Cimetière de Passy in Paris.

Henry Farman's gravestone

Henry Farman’s gravestone – forever flying the Farman III. Image

Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Pilots, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hero’s Aelipile


Hero (also known as Heron) was born around 10AD (dying in 70AD) in Alexandria, then part of Roman Egypt.

Despite the Roman and Egyptian mention, Hero was a Greek… and is considered one of the early world’s greatest mathematicians and engineers.

He designed, and I assume built, an aelipile or aelopile, that was the first jet motor invented about 2,000 years ago – obviously long before the jet plane was invented. Whatever you want to call it, it was essentially an engine.

Now… because this wasn’t invented for an aeroplane et al, I admit that simply because this is a ‘jet’ engine, I am using that premise to present this cool story to you.

Much of Hero’s original writings and designs have been lost, but some of his works were preserved in Arabic manuscripts.

We do know that he wrote at least six texts:

  • Pneumatica, described machines that could work via air, steam or water pressure;
  • Automata, a description of machines which enable wonders in temples by mechanical or pneumatical means (such as the automatic opening or closing of temple doors, or statues that pour wine, etc.);
  • Mechanica, preserved only in Arabic, written for architects, containing means to lift heavy objects – perhaps like the stones used to build the pyramids earlier;
  • Metrica, where he explains how to calculate surfaces and volumes of different types of objects;
  • On the Dioptra, ways to measure lengths. It features an odometer (to measure distance traveled)and the dioptra (an astronomical and surveying instrument); 
  • Belopoeica, a description of war machines
  • Catoptrica, discussed how light travels, reflections and the use of mirrors in ways more than sitting around looking at one’s self.

Hero’s inventions include:

  • a primitive, programmable robot… but really, an automaton;
  • a water organ;
  • a coin operated Holy Water dispenser;
  • a fire engine;
  • a fountain that worked via steam pressure;
  • and, of course, the jet engine he called the aelipile.

In the image at the top, Hero’s aelipile is described as a simple, bladeless radial steam turbine engine that spins when the central water container is heated. Obviously when the water is heated, it turns to steam.

Torque is produced when the steam is forced out of the turbine.

Want to see it in action?

Basically… this is a steam turbine… invented nearly 1700 years earlier than it was ‘invented’.

What the hell is an aelipile, anyway?

The word is a mix of Greek and Latin. Aeolus is the Greek god of the win and air. Pila is a Latin term meaning “the ball of”… ergo, and I use that word correctly, “the ball of Aeolus”.

Posted in Concepts, Firsts, Motors and Engines, People | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #40 – The “Windham” Monoplane.

#40F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: The “Windham” Monoplane.

Card #40 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Captain Walter George Windham, September 15, 1868 in ???, Great Britain – July 5, 1942 in Builth Wells, Wales.

Called the father of British aviation, Captain (later Commander) Windham was, at the time of the publication of this tobacco card not yet as successful as he thought, as the “monoplane” – notice the card has it in “quotation marks” – wasn’t flying like he hoped it would.

In fact… the Windham Monoplane never flew. If you look at the drawing of the aeroplane, you can see why. It was too long and not strong enough – both structurally and in its powerplant.

The canvas wings makes me think it would have had better success as a glider or as a kite.


So… in a set of cards celebrating early aviation successes (and a few myths), why on Earth did Wills’s include this aeroplane?

Well… the inventor or at least the guy who fronted the build, was British… and so was the cigarette company making the cards. A little nationalistic pride did seem to be in order.

Let’s start with what we know about Windham. For one thing… I can’t determine where he was born – he was British, so to be safe, let’s just say Great Britain. Though remembered as a founding father of British aviation, he did die in Wales.

Windham was descended on his father’s side from the Wyndhams and the Smijths and on his mother’s side form the Russells, Dukes of Bedford – so there was probably money in the family. We do know that he spent a lot of time at Woburn Abbey in Beddforshire, England as a child. Maybe where he was born? I’d have to look at the birth registry for the appropriate year and city.

Windham’s first motor vehicle was a De Dion-Bouton tricycle motor vehicle, which was one of the most successful vehicles of the late 19th century from 1897. He drove his first automobile in 1898.

Details are sketchy as to the when, but he later formed The Windham Detachable Motor Body Company in London… constructing hundreds of vehicles with his patented ‘Windham detachable body’.


The system he developed allowed the rear part of the body behind the driver’s seat to be removed and replaced with a body of a different style. C.S.Rolls of Rolls Royce fame asked Windham to join the firm, and while he did, it was short-lived, as Windham preferred to have his own company (D’oh!). Some of the Rolls Royce of the day did use the detechable rear, however.

What we do know, is that in 1908 Windham formed the Aeroplane Club (not the Aero Club) whose goal was to: “To advise, help, and give practical information to all English inventors who are interested, directly or indirectly, in the ‘heavier-than-air’ flying machine, and to provide them with a congenial meeting place for the discussion of their ideas.”

Keep in mind that at this time, the Wright Brothers had first flown an aeroplane in December of 1903, but had kept their success a secret. Yes, newspaper reporters did report on their early flights, but without photographic proof, most of the world poo-pooed their claims. It wasn’t until the first official public flights were given in May of 1908 that the world believed and aviation experts everywhere else played catch-up.

As such… the Aeroplane Club was formed to help fliers develop the first aeroplane…

Windham was also the person who offered up a gold cup to the first person who could fly an aeroplane across the English Channel, a feat that was achieved and won by Louis Blériot in 1909. You can read about that HERE. He flew in his Blériot Type XI, flying 34 kilometers (21 miles) from Les Barraques near Calais to Northfall Meadow near Dover Castle in 37 minutes.

As a side note, while Bleriot was warming up his aeroplane in France in his attempt to cross the English Channel, a dog ran into its propeller and was killed thereby becoming the first terrestrial wildlife strike involving an aircraft. That we know of, of course.


Early in 1909 Windham commissioned de Pischoff & Koechlin of France to manufacture a  biplane for him—the Pischoff Flyer. It was exhibited at the first aeroplane event at Olympia in Great Britain from March 19-27, 1909.

The following is an extract from Flight Magazine March 27, 1909:

Pischoff Flyer

AERO SHOW AT OLYMPIA. – Captain Windham’s Pischoff Flyer seen from in front. One of the righting planes, which are mounted midway up the outside stays, is clearly visible. The rudder, which should be between the planes of the rear tail, is not shown.

Pischoff (Capt. Windham).

Capt. Windham, who has entered the commercial side of aviation, shows a biplane, which was constructed for him by Messrs. Pischoff, in France, embodying ideas of his own. Capt. Windham has now arranged to build similar machines in England for sale to the public for the price of £650.00 complete. One of the most characteristic features of the machine is that derived from the appearance of the outrigger framework which carries the biplane elevator in front and the ridged biplane tale behind. The first impression is that this framework is one complete elliptical unit, but closer inspection show the lack of continuity in the upper girder members which stop short under the main planes. The machine is mainly constructed of wood, but has a certain amount of tubular steel work in connection with the chassis and the brackets for the support of the two chain-driven propellers which hare situated immediately behind the main planes and therefore a little aft of the center of the machine as a whole. The planes themselves are doubled surfaced, but the appearance of the end webs does not give evidence of any close attention to special curvature. The decks are separated by vertical wood struts, with usual system of diagonal wiring. The struts are bolted to strip iron angle plates, which in turn are either bolted or screwed to the main bars, but although this detail in the construction in evidently not intended to be flexible, the rough fitting certainly belies rigidity; in fact, there is a distinct lack of refined workmanship in many parts of the machine.

An original feature of the control is pivoting the back of the pilots seat so that by swaying his body he can operate the movements of a pair of small righting planes which are pivoted midway between the main planes at each extremity. The elevator and rudder, the latter being in the middle of the tail, are controlled by a single lever operated by the driver’s right hand. The engine with which the machine is at present equipped is a 2-cyl. Dutheil-Chalmers, but the machines which Captain Windham will construct in the country will have 4-cyl. Engines of the same make.

Specs of the Windham Pischoff Flyer:

  • Length: 35 feet (10.67 meters);
  • Wing Area: 495 feet (150.88 meters);
  • Weight: 390 pounds (176.9 kilograms)
  • 2 cylinder Dutheil-Chalmers motor (plans for a 4 cylinder never occurred)

There was a guarantee from the manufacturer that the plane would fly 300-400 meters (1,000 – 1,300 feet), but there are no reports it ever successfully flew. No sales.

Windham Glider

The Windham Glider under test at Wembly Park in the Summer of 1909.

Next, in 1909, The Windham Detachable Motor Body Company manufactured a Chanute-type motorless glider that featured biplane wings, a box kite tail with the pilot supporting him or herself in the cutaway center of the bottom wing enabling them to shirt the body for flight control. It was constructed of poplar and bamboo. Tests were so-so.

 Windham Tandem Monoplane (The Wills’s card above)

Windham Monoplane.jpg

The aeroplane seems to have the name of the Windham Tandem Monoplane. As you can see from the photograph above, the artist’s rendition on the card is actually quite accurate.

Still… the plane didn’t work.

This unusual looking machine appeared at Wembly Park in August 1909, being first reported as under construction in June, thus succeeding the de Pischoff machine, which may already have been abandoned. Although the design was described at the time as ‘ingenious’, the machine was not capable of flight. I mean… look at it.

The aircraft consisted of a single top and bottom longerons of bamboo, spaced by vertical struts and braced by wires. Extending from the top longerons were single spars of bamboo for the front and rear wings, which were set at a pronounced dihedral angle. The wings were merely diamond shaped panels of fabric, laced to wire leading and trailing edges. Set below the wings, were long triangular shaped panels provided as fins. A small square elevator and a rudder were fitted at the extreme rear. The undercarriage consisted of two pairs of wheels, mounted separately, below each wing spar.

The aircraft packed a 35/45hp 4-cyl water-cooled, horizontally opposed Dutheil-Chalmers motor that was placed at the front to drive a tractor propeller. The motor was cooled by a circular radiator, as used on the Windham Pischoff Flyer biplane, but mounted end-on to the airflow, above the front wings spar.

The pilot sat on the lower longeron.

Specs of the Windham Tandem Monoplane

  • Width: 24 feet (7.3152 meters);
  • Length: 50 feet (15.24 meters);
  • Weight less engine: 125 pounds (56.7 kilograms);
  • Motor: Dutheil-Chalmers 35/45 horsepower, 4-cylinder water-cooled, horizontally-opposed.

You might read stories on the Internet that state that this aeroplane plane broke pretty much in half while at an aviation meet. One plane did, but it wasn’t the kite-looking monoplane… no… it was the:

Windham Tractor Monoplane II

windham_monoplane II.jpg

The first ever aviation meeting in the world had taken place just a couple of months before at Rheims in France, but Doncaster, England was the first to host a similar event in Great Britain.

Doncaster 1909 Aviation Meet Poster.jpg

What? No mention of Windham? Well… he hadn’t really done anything yet…

Windham’s second monoplane (Windham Tractor Monoplane)  appeared at the Doncaster Meeting on the first day, Friday October 15, 1909.

However… during a photo op that day,Windham was sitting in the plane (still grounded) when the fuselage broke causing Windham to topple to the ground. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

After fixing it, the plane was involved in a collision with a car (everything was still on the ground) on October 17, 1909… smashing it badly enough that further repairs were not deemed worthy. It also never flew – though perhaps it did before the Doncaster Meet… who would bring an untried aeroplane out to an air show and test it out then and there? I would assume the plane flew before the event… but I have no proof.

The Aero magazine described the machine as being ‘on distinctly Bleriot lines, and reproduces that machine with more or less accuracy except in a few details’.

Unsurprisingly, the fuselage girder was built lightly with weak longerons at the top – which was why it collapsed… still better in fron of the news media than up in the air. The plane also featured a biplane type tail, with two elevators. The engine was of a V-type style, probably a JAP or (possibly a 25hp Advance).

Specs of the Windham Tractor Monoplane II

  • Width: 9.144 meters (30 feet);
  • Chord 1.83 meters (6 feet);
  • Length: 7.62 meters (25 feet).

Chord? What’s that? A chord is the imaginary straight line joining the leading and trailing edges of an aerofoil.

Fortunately for Windham, he didn’t give up his work in aviation.

On August 10, 1909, Hubert Latham flew a letter addressed to Windham from France to England, believed to be the first letter ever transported by air.

In December 1910, Windham made the first passenger flight in Asia (India, actually) and, in 1911, he founded the world’s first two airmail services: the first, established in February 1911, from Allahabad crossing the Ganges using Humber biplanes, and the second, established in September 1911, between Hendon and Windsor for which special stamps and envelopes were issued – it was also for the Coronation of King George V.

In 1914, Windham closed up his Detachable Body Co.

He served in the Royal Indian Navy during WWI, gaining the rank of Commander (like James Bond).

In 1923, he became Sir Walter Windham as a Knight Bachelor in 1923 and made a Freeman of the City of London in 1933. He died in Builth Wells, Wales (which looks beautiful) on July 5, 1942 at  the age of 73.

Posted in Concepts, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ever Wanted To Pilot The Hindenburg?

Have you ever wanted to step behind the over-sized wheel of a zeppelin and take it up into the clouds knowing that a simple spark could turn your day into a news item that will liven infamy?

I was talking about the Hindenburg…

Okay… maybe you don’t ever want to have piloted THE Hindenburg, but how about a zeppelin?

Fat chance, right? Okay… how about a bicycle that looks kinda, sorta like the Hindenburg? Huh? Huh?

I would.

At least you know it’s not going to explode into a raging fireball. Probably.

Okay… from here on, there’s nothing much to do with aviation, per se, and is more to do with a modern bicycle… but with a pioneer-aviation theme…

Meet Boxer Cycles located in Dorest, UK, and founded by Jeremy Davis in 2013, a craft company that designs and manufactures innovative cargo trike bicycles.

Tired of carrying your children on your back wherever you travel… tired of having to strap the blighters into their child-seat in the back of your Mercedes? Have some money lying around that you want to spend on an aviation-themed road vehicle?

Well, maybe the Boxer – and specifically the Boxer Rocket is for you.

Debuting in 2015, the Rocket cargo trike is essentially an adult tricycle, with two wheels up from and one in the rear, where the adult moves the electric bicycle while carting his kid or kids around in what can only be the most eye-catching kid mover since that 250cent Batmobile ride in front of the grocery store.

No really… that Batman ride was sweet.

Caption – what’s really sad, is that every time I’ve seen this, and other 1966 Batmobile rides on the ‘net, there’s never a kid riding it!

Okay… forget the Batmobile… we were talking zeppelins!!! Kids like zeppelins, right?

Even if they have no clue about what the heck a zeppelin was 100 years ago, they will dig the look of the Boxer Rocket.

Designed originally as a one-off, the Rocket caught the financial attention of Davis, so much so that he has built a full-time job out of it.

Glance at the images of the Rocket spread around this page… it’s an art-deco-like design that Davis says is paired with a heavy-duty and unique 1930’s airliner-inspired girder frame.

It’s got a central headlight with high and low beam, turn signal indicators on its ‘wings’ and a beautiful rear tail/brake light.

I have no idea why one is out with the kiddies so late that you need lights, but let’s say that offensively-termed playdate (it’s called hanging out over at a friend’s house!!!) went a little long because you didn’t realize your son’s friend’s mom was a single mom…

Along with the headlight – everybody loves headlights on a bicycle, there is also a very loud horn fitted to the underside of the Rocket’s chassis which will most certainly alert traffic to your presence on the sidewalk.

Take that stupid late night jogger!

I’m just having fun. Anyhow… all of these gadgets are easily accessible to the bicycle operator via a single easy-to-use instrument cluster on the handlebars, that is probably still easier to manipulate than a real zeppelin.

For the passengers – yes, you could use the trike to cart groceries or make that pick-up at the lumber store – and here I’m talking about your kids… you should have kids if you are going to buy one of these things… the area they are placed, is cleverly called “the cockpit”… hee-haw… you said coc – never mind that…

Actually, Boxer says the Rocket’s cockpit is NOT designed for hauling anything except your kids. No cargo, please.

There are, in the cockpit, two reclining and removable bench seats which can be folded flat to make a child’s bed or an adult seat, or a very uncomfortable bed for an adult.

Each seat comes with two 3-point safety harnesses (with shoulder ‘stop’ strap) fitted – which means you could safely strap in four children’s seats in total… thank goodness this is a mechanized bicycle, eh?

Because storage will still be required when there are kids in the cockpit, Boxer has smartly devised a secure and large locker within the nose cone – so there… you can store helmets and valuables… not wallets, fer crissakes… we’re talking about things like foods, and bottles for the young ones. Not for you! No drinking and driving!

The electric power system is hidden in the cockpit and comprises of a 250Watt motor (larger motors available for U.S. and Canadian models ), a 36V 13.4Ah lithium ion battery. On the handlebars there is an LCD screen which allows you to set the level of power assistance which also shows you distance, speed and range information.

We’ll assume that if the power system is hidden in the cockpit where the kiddies are also hidden, that there is no way in heck the kiddies can get at it. Boxer did state that it was hidden, after all.

Why are larger motors available for the North Americans, but not for the U.K…. is there some sort of horsepower restriction for Europe or Asia or Africa, South America, Australia… and no… not Antarctica, too?!

Because there’s nothing worse than having a puncture in your Hindenburg-like Rocket bicycle, the company has used three-millimeter thick rim walls, which are coupled to Schwalbe Marathon Plus kevlar re-enforced tires – so you can be assured it is a tough bicycle.


  • The 128-pound (58-kilogram) aluminum trike comes in many color options;
  • 36V – 13.4Ah / 250W electric drive system with LCD display and tachometer (up to 500W in Canada and the U.S.);
  • 7-speed dérailleur gears;
  • Tektro 180mm front and 160mm rear hydraulic disc brakes with safety cut out switch that prevent the motor from being operated when the brakes are on;
  • Heavy duty 3mm wall wheel rims;
  • Schwalbe Marathon Plus Kevlar re-enforced tires;
  • Magura ‘Big Twin’ disc brake with 180mm front rotors;
  • Ultra large British made Brooks B33 saddle;
  • Handlebar switch cluster controlled horn, high/low beam front light, 2 x flashing turn signal indicators per side, rear tail/brake light actuated by brakes;
  • USB port for charging devices – which to me, is just plain sad. You better not be on the phone while riding around with the kids…;
  • Removable multipoint reclining seats with three-point seatbelts with shoulder ‘stop straps’;
  • Huge lockable storage area in nose cone – will accept five helmets;
  • Rain cover – unique attractive rocket themed design fitted with heavy duty elastic securing loops and hooks;

Its unique lightweight girder chassis design, all frame parts and upholstery handmade and painted in Dorset, England.

It makes me wish I was a kid… or an adult with extra cash… or better yet an adult with some extra cash and a kid who is young enough not to complain about being humiliated for life because I promised to let him borrow the care if he would sit in it just once as I rode around the block.

But mostly, it just makes me wish (again) that I was an adult with extra cash whose torn meniscus in his knee makes the dream all moot.

If you are the type of person who likes to spoil his or her self as well as the kids, you should order one of these very cool Boxer Rocket cargo trikes… and maybe that will allow Davis to spoil his kids a little more.

Click HERE:

By the way… there are other trike designs available… including a more recent one released a week previous….

Other trike types are: the Boxer Shuttle, a family trike which uses the same running gear as the Rocket but with a conventional wooden cargo box; and the Boxer Cargo, a lightweight and high-speed delivery trike with a roller shutter door and removable front end.

Hindenburg? Sure… but to me, it looks like something right out of those Buck Rogers Big Little Books from the 1930s I sold about 10 years ago before the market got really hot.

Yeah… it’s a Buck Rogers rocket… or maybe something out of Flash Gordon. Not THE Flash… (why did I sell my Showcase Comics #4 thirty-five years ago?!).

If anyone owns or plans to purchase one of these Boxer Rocket trikes, let me know how much you like it.

Oh… and lastly, should you wish to really work on bulging up the old calf muscles, you can purchase a manual Rocket… but it’s a special custom order.

I wonder, though… it should still be less expensive consider they don’t have to add a motor… but how will light and horn work? Maybe they won’t… and all you have is a shell of a zeppelin.

So… how much will a Rocket set you back? Think £5,500 (or ~ US$8,350)…

I want you all to know that when my Madza 6 wagon died this past Christmas Eve, a few weeks later I bought a 1999 Oldsmobile Eight-Eight Anniversary Edition for CDN $1,200. After a minor repair – $429 – it is still more expensive to purchase this cool, but ultimately still, a bicycle.

Here’s a great video of the Rocket:

Posted in Concepts, Lighter-Than-Air, Uncategorized, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment