Wills’s Aviation Card #76 – Italian War Monoplane.

76F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Italian War Monoplane.

Card #76 of 85, W.D.& H.O WillsAviation series 1911, Vice Regal  – Black-back issue

  • Captain Carlo Maria Piazza on March 17, 1881 in Busto Arsizio, Italy – June 24, 1917, Milan, Italy.

This Wills’s Aviation card is about an Italian War Monoplane, but actually depicts a French designed and manufactured aircraft. And I already wrote about it a while back.

That’s no fun… but since this card clearly depicts an aeroplane used by Italy in a war, we should discuss the war it flew in… and considering this card was issued in 1911, it sure wasn’t flown in WWI…

More than anything, this tobacco card represents military history—it also gives us a better time-line as to when this 85-card set of Aviation cards was released.

It is representative of Sunday, October 23, 1911,when Italian Captain Carlo Piazza took off at 6:19AM and flew his French-designed and -manufactured Blériot XI monoplane aircraft over the lands of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire to spy on its ground troops.

We know that the 75- and 85-card Wills’s related tobacco cards were released in 1911.

But, since the reverse of this card denotes that information (sort of), we know that the 85-series of card was released at least after October 23, 1911… but before 1912 began.

Since there are 10 additional cards (from the previously released 75) in the 85-card series, and this was first (as card No. 76), it was hardly a late news-arriving after-thought. Regardless… it implies that the card series was released in late October 1911 through December of 1911.

No histories of this card series have ever given a 1912 issue date.

Let’s look at the actually aviation history now.

The October 23, 1911 flight of Captain Piazza as depicted on the card’s reverse, was the first time an aeroplane was actually used in a war—in this case in the Italo-Turkish War fought between the Kingdom of Italy and the Ottoman Empire of September 29, 1911 to October 18, 1912—for reconnaissance.

Before we get into the interesting details of the war, let’s first take a look at the man named Maria, Captain Carlo Maria Piazza.

Carlo Piazza.jpg

Born March 21, 1871 in Busto Arsizio, Italy, Piazza was a person who loved his athletics, taking part in fencing, gun shooting, horse riding, even winning a gold medal at a horse racing contest in Pesaro in 1899.

He obtained his pilot’s license on June 30, 1911 in Somma Lombardo (in Lombardo, Italy), and then added a military pilot’s license on August 1 of the same year.

It was at this time, that Piazza, when learning to fly and actually flying, he became friendly with aeroplane manufacturers and their pilots across Italy, especially in Malpensa.

I only bring that up, because the town where Piazza was born—Busto Arsizio–is now known as Milan–Malpensa. I know, nothing earth-shattering. Gimme a break, I’m trying to translate an Italian Wikipedia page on Piazza…

Italy, in September 1911, carried out military maneuvers in Monferrato—and thus became the first to have an aeroplane deployment. The while idea was to fly over enemy lines for the Red Team, and spy on what the Blue team was doing or what its full compliment was.

Despite a fog, the reconnaissance went well… paving the eventual way for aviation to be needed, should a war arise.

The war began over Tripoli, Libya.


Italy’s claims for Libya go back to Turkey’s defeat by Russia The claims of Italy over Libya dated back to Turkey’s defeat by Russia in the Turkish-Russia war of 1877-1878. At that time, there were discussions whereby France and Great Britain agreed to the occupation of Tunisia and Cyprus, respectively, which were both a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

After the French took over Tunisia in 1881, the Ottoman Turks loaded up the city of Tripoli in Libya to protect it from possible invasion by the French.

Italy, however, felt differently about Tripoli—and Libya in general. The Italians felt that it should belong to them.

The feelings continued to fester until March 1911 when Italy’s newspapers staged a large-scale lobbying campaign in favor of an invasion of Libya.

The newspapers claimed that Libya was rich in minerals, had plenty of water, and most importantly, was only defended by about 4,000 Ottoman soldiers. The population was described by the Italian media as being hostile to the Turkish troops, and thus could use with a bit of liberating… besides, claimed the Italian newspapers, any war over the land could simply be considered a ‘walk-in-the-park’.

I’m not sure if Libya was rich in minerals, or even packed with large amounts of water… anyone reading such claims would think it would make a wonderful addition to the Italian territories. How could they know, except from what they were told.

So… since Italy felt that Tripoli was within its own territories in Africa, Italy decided it needed (in 1911) to protect its Italian citizens who were living there from “the evil Ottoman” people trying to over run it (since 1881).


When the war began, Italy’s Royal Army Air Services took all of its aeroplanes—every single one the country had… all French-made, except for the Austrian-made Taube’s—to Tripoli, Libya, and all under the command of Piazza and the 1st Flottilla Aeroplani (the 1st Aerplane Squadron).

You can read more about the Etrich aeroplane HERE.

Its aeroplane inventory consisted of:

  • two Blériot XI;
  • three Nieuport monoplanes;
  • two Farman biplanes, and;
  • two Etrich Taube monoplanes.

Nine aircraft. It’s actually quite a large number considering we are talking about 1911.

Carlo Piazza and Bleriot monoplane 1912 Tripoli.jpg

This photo shows Captain Piazza in the center with crew, with his Bleriot XI monoplane in Tripoli in 1912.

Piazza’s inaugural recon flight on October 23, 1911 was aboard a Blériot XI that only had a 25-horsepower, three-cylinder engine, no instruments of any kind, and used Wright brothers’-style wing-warping.

How could they send a man up in a crate like that? It was like a small lawnmower with wings.

On November 1, Second Lieutenant Giolio Gavotti, in an Etrich Taube, would carry out the first aerial bombardment.

After a shipment of  of bombs were sent to the pilot’s base, the pilots weren’t exactly sure what to do with them.

These bombs weren’t like the bombs we know today, rather these were actually two crates of WW1 hand grenades. A Gallaher’s Cigarettes The Great War Series I card issued in 1915 below will give you a decent idea of what they looked like, and how they worked.

While these cards show the hand-made version, regular military hand grenades weren’t much different, essentially looking like classic cartoon TNT sticks, but with a a longer fuse.

Keep in mind that the image below depicts a typical trench scene from 1915… but what we are talking about was four years earlier still in 1911.

Please note, that a version of the hand grenade had been invented and used commonly some 150 years earlier… but was reinvented again in the early 1910s..

WWI Grenade F.jpg

WWI Grenade R.jpg

WWI hand grenades. That’s looks safe…

By the way, you can also click HERE to see how pilots dropped bombs during WWI. Please note, however, that our story here is pre-WWI.

Anyhow, because no one told the pilots how to use them, the pilots were quite nervous, and yet Second Lieutenant Giolio Gavotti volunteered to go on a flight with a few grenades to try them out.

Flying an Etrich Taube monoplane, Gavotti tied a padded leather pouch to the inside of his open cockpit, and then added three grenades, with a fourth tucked in his jacket pocket.

On November 1, 1911, Gavotto took off on his mission, flying to Ain Zara, an oasis east of Tripoli, where he spied a large camp of Arab warriors who were working with the Ottoman Turks.

After circling the oasis twice at a height of about 100 meters, he attacked.

He held the aeroplane controls in his left hand and using his right, took out a single grenade, armed it and then tossed it over the side of the plane, taking care not to hit his own wing.

Landing in the middle of the camp, the grenade exploded, tossing up a cloud of smoke and dust.

Encouraged, he threw the other three grenades, but does not appear to have hit anything else in the world’s first air raid.

Here’s what Gavotti had to say about the event in a letter home to his father:

“Today I have decided to throw bombs from the aeroplane. It is the first time that we will try this and if I succeed, I will be really pleased to be the first person to do it.”

“After a while, I notice the dark shape of the oasis. With one hand, I hold the steering wheel, with the other I take out one of the bombs and put it on my lap… I take the bomb with my right hand, pull off the security tag and throw the bomb out, avoiding the wing. I can see it falling through the sky for couple of seconds and then it disappears. And after a little while, I can see a small dark cloud in the middle of the encampment. I am lucky. I have struck the target.”

If Gavotti killed anyone with his aerial assault, no one knows… not even if anyone was hurt., and yet the Italian press called him a hero after hearing about the attack.

Because the aviation term “bomber” had not yet been invented, newspaper reports of the day called Gavotti the “flying artilleryman” who invented “the art of winged death.” Nice.

Back to Piazza… in 1912 he was the first ever person to be captured behind enemy lines as an aeroplane pilot. His aeroplane had developed engine problems, and was forced to land.

Captured, the Turks did not release him until November of 1913.

During the course of the war the Italian pilots would go on to fly 712 sorties, drop several hundred bombs, and according to intelligence estimates kill a total of 26 people. Their effect on morale, however, was far greater than the low number of casualties might suggest. Having bombs dropped down on them, the enemy felt shock and awe, and yes, fear.

Of course, at some point in time, the Turks became the first to shoot down an enemy aeroplane via a rifle.

What’s interesting to me, however, is that the Italian Wikipedia entry claims that while Piazza’s initial adventures in Tripoli were interesting, it suggests in stead that his flight on October 20, 1913 was one more worth remembering.

In an afternoon flight, Piazz flew his aeroplane up from Mirafiori to the valley of Susa, and then flew towards Moncenisio high up in the mountains… He flew to height of 3,200 meters (1.99 miles), and made his landing at an altitude of about 2,000 meters (1.242 miles)… it was the first landing in the high mountains… and was done without much incident to Piazza, except for perhaps that time he fainted from the thin air…

While there seems little doubt that French aviation Alfonso Pègoud was the first pilot to perform a loop in an aircraft back on September 3, 1913, Piazza became the first Italian pilot (and fourth all-time) to perform the feat in March of 1914.

During 1914, Piazza spent a long period of time as a pilot trainer in Malpensa, and was a proponent for stating just how important an aeroplane could be used during WWI.

He gained a promotion to Colonel, earned a silver medal from Italy and war cross from France for his war time contributions.

Unfortunately, it was in 1917 that Piazza contracted an illness, eventually succumbing to it on June 24, 1917, dying in Milan, Italy. He was buried with full military honors in the cemetery of Viggiù, in Italy.

Bleriot XI Specifications:
  • Crew: 1;
  • Wingspan: 34 feet – 10 inches (10.62 meters).
  • Length: 38 feet (11.58 meters);
  • Weight: 816 pounds (370.13 kilograms);
  • Powerplant:Gnome air-cooled 7-cylinder radial, 50 horsepower engine;
  • Armament: none.

Should you wish to read more about the Bleriot XI aeroplane, check out my article HERE.

Posted in Bombers, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Pilots, Scouts, Tobacco Card, Weapons, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911 – 75-Card Series

checklist 2.jpgThe Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911  – 75-Card Series features 79 different cards, owing to different brands/backs opting for different aircraft/people to be featured on four cards: Cards No. 63. (2x); No. 69 (2x); No. 73 (2x); and No. 74 (2x).

Note that there are multiple issues of the 1911-75 card series – noted on the reverse of the cards, with different color ink used on complete series of the cards.

The series available in the 1911 issued 75-cards vary per the tobacco company advertised on the reverse: Capstan Black; Capstan Green; Vice Regal Black; Vice Regal Green; Havelock Black; Havelock Green. There’s even a no name/Anonymous issue black back version identical in design (front and back) to the Capstan Black, Havelock Black and Vice Regal Black issues.

The Capstan Green and the Vice Regal Green series each come with two special backs: a matte version; and a glazed version. There really is quite an obvious difference. I am unsure if one is more difficult to find than the other, suffice to say that I have more glazed cards than matte – but I have too few of these green cards en masse to make an adequate judgement.

The Capstan Green, Havelock Green and Vice Regal Green each have their own individual green back stylings.

Below… I have created only one listing per card or color, UNLESS a card number shows a different aircraft from another series, in which case you will see multiple numbers for a card on the checklist below.

Under the “Title of Card”, is a click-thru link to a full feature article written by yours truly, researched heavily, featuring as much information on the subject I dared investigate. There are errors on the cards, errors in many of the sites proclaiming to have information, and there are cards where little to no information is provided. I do my best to clarify the truth to present historical accuracy… yeah, I’m blowing my own air horn, but I am proud of the work I have put into the Pioneers Of Aviation blog.

As a former newspaper reporter with the Toronto Star, and a personal curiosity of all things, every article tries to answer every question THIS curious mind could ask… ensuring every story is as complete as a blog can bring, without having to write a book.

Should you be intrigued, I also write a daily blog on Japan, featuring what my life was like living as a foreigner in Japan for three years. The blog is now my own Encyclopedia Japonica featuring everything I didn’t know about Japan at the time, but have found interesting enough to write about. It’s called Japan – It’s a Wonderful Rife.

1911 Wills’s Aviation 75-Card Series – see HERE for more details on each possible type of series

Card # Company Brands Title of Card Back Color
1.1.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Flying Ship” of Francesco de Lana. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

2.2.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Montgolfier, 1783. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

3.3.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First Balloon Flight in England, 1784. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

4.4.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First Successful Crossing the Channel, 1785. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

5.5.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First Parachute Display, 1837. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

6.6.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First “dirigible,” 1852. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

7.7.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First Successful Dirigible, 1883. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

8.8.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Rounding the Eiffel Tower, Santos Dumont. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

9.9.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name First British War Balloon, “Nulli Secondus,” 1905. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

10.10.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name United States Military Dirigible No. 1. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

11.111.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The Wellman Airship “America,” 1907. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

12.12.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name French Dirigibles Lebaudy Type. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

13.13.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Modern British Army Dirigible “Baby.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

14.14.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Ville de Paris” (French.) Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

15.15.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name German Parseval Type. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

16.16.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Italian Dirigible “Italia.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

17.willss-tobacco-card-1910-aviation-card-17.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Spanish “Torres Quevedo.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

18.18.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name German Military Dirigibles Gross Type. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

19.19.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name French Zodiac type.


Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

20.reverse-of-1910-wills-card-20-italian-military-dirigible-no-1.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Italian Military Dirigible No. 1. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

21.21.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name German Dirigible “Clouth.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

22.22.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name French Military Dirigible “Colonel Renard.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

23.23.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name German Zeppelin Type. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

24.24.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name French Dirigible “Capazza.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

25.25.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name British Dirigible “Clement Bayard.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

26.26.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name An Early Idea of Aviation. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

27.27.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Besnier. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

28.28.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Henson’s Idea. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

29.29.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Lilenthal Gliding Machine. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

30.30.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Maxim, 1890. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

31.31.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The “Ader” Flying Machine. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

32.32.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Chanute, 1895. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

33.33.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Santos Dumont’s First Monoplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

34.34.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Gastamabide & Mengin” Monoplane, 1908. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

35.35.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Wright Bros.’ Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

36.361.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Professor Langley’s Aerodrome. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

37.willss1910_37.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Voisin” Type Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

38.willss1910_38.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Bleriot XI.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

39.39f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The “Antoniette” Monoplane, 1909. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

40.40f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The “Windham” Monoplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

41.41f-32.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Farman” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

42.42f-001-2.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The R.E.P. Monoplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

43.43-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Silver Dart.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

44.44.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Cody” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

45.card-45.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Santos Dumont’s Monoplane, No. XIX. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

46.card-46.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Herring-Curtiss.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

47.card-47.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Jerme” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

48.card-48.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Kimball.” Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

49.card-49.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Rickman” Helicopter. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

50.card-50.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The First Lady Aviator. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

51.card-51.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Bristol” Military Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

52.card-52.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Maxim” Biplane, 1910. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

53.card-53.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Vedovelli” Multiplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

54.card-54.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Piquerez” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

55.card-55.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Paulhan’s New Aeroplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

56.card-56.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Howard-Wright” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

57.card-571.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Givaudin II.” Triplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

58.card-58.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name New “Voisin” Biplane, 1911. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

59.card-59.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Vanniman” Triplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

60.60f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Dunne V.” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

61.61f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Roe II.” Triplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

62.44f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Goupy III.” Biplane. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

63a.63f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name  “Tellier” Monoplane. Black version
63b.etrich-f-001.jpg Capstan, Vice Regal The Etrich Monoplane  Green version: matte and glazed
64.claude-grahame-white-f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Mr. Claude Grahame-White. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

65.65f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name M. Henri Farman. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

66.66f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name M. Louis Paulhan. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

67.louis-bleriot-1911-wills-aviation-f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name M. Louis Bleriot. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

68.captain-bertram-dickson-1911-wills-aviation-f.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Capt. Bertram Dickson. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

69a.morning-post-dirigible-1911-capstan-navy-cut-69-of-75-series.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Morning Post” Airship, 1910. Black version
69b.69f.jpg Capstan, Vice Regal The Morane-Borel Monoplane. Green version: matte and glazed
70.70f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Mr. J. Armstrong Drexel Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

71.71f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name The late Mr. John B. Moisant. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

72.72f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name M. Hubert Latham. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed

73a.73f-001.jpg Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name “Willows II.” Dirigible. Black version
73b.73gf 001 Capstan, Vice Regal Lieut. Jean Conneau (Beaumont) Green version: matte and glazed
74a.74f 001 Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Army Dirigible “Beta.” Black version
74b.74gf 001 Capstan, Vice Regal M. Jules Vedrines Green version: matte and glazed
75.75f 001 Capstan, Havelock, Vice Regal, No Name Mr. Tom Sopwith. Black version

Green version: matte and glazed



Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Aviation Art, Balloons, Bombers, Concepts, Failures, Fighters, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Pilots, Races, Tobacco Card, WWI, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #75 – Mr. Tom Sopwith.

75f 001History Behind The Card: Mr. Tom Sopwith.

Card #75 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue

  • Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith on January 18, 1888 in Kensington, London, England, Great Britain – January 27, 1989 in Hampshire, England, Great Britain.

Sadly, I admit that it took nearly 40 more years for me to learn about Tom Sopwith and his famous flying machines… but that’s what this blog is all about… learning.

To be perfectly frank (and earnest… another old comic strip reference), I am kind of glad that my last blog entry on the 75-card series is on Tom Sopwith, as I have quite fond memories of Snoopy et al… having played him in Grade 4 for a rendition of a Charlie Brown Christmas. Snoopy, of course was ever hunting down the Red Baron while flying around in his doghouse/Sopwith Camel aircraft.

Good grief, that actually occurred at Our Lady of Airways school. When it was still open, it was located a hop, skip and a jump from the Canadian AVRO facilities in what was then Malton, Ontario, Canada, but since absorbed into Mississauga, one of the largest cities in Canada most people out side the country have never heard of. It’s immediately west of Toronto, and is the home of Pearson International Airport… the aviation gateway to Toronto.

My dad, as one of the early computer programmers, was involved in creating the computer program for the previously named Malton Airport (later Toronto Airport, Toronto International and now Pearson International Airport), that provided the take-off and arrival times for the whole place.

Anyhow… Sopwith, and Card No. 75. Don’t worry… there’s also an 85-card set, with 10 different cards taking off from where the 75-card set ended. Both the 75-card and 85-card sets were published in 1911.

By the way… I’m missing one of the 76-85 cards… so hopefully I’ll resolve that issue before too long. Ka-ching.

Not just an aeroplane manufacturer, Tom Sopwith was first an aviator of some renown long before Snoopy came into the picture, and was 23-years-old at the time this Wills’s Aviation card was published… and only about three months after he first flew an aeroplane.

While the first thing that you should know about Sopwith is that he lived to be 101-years old, long before that, however, Sopwith had a tragic childhood.

Born in Kensington, London on January 18, 1888, he was the only son of eight children of Thomas Sopwith and Lydia Gertrude nee Messiter. Eight children… he was number eight – which is probably a nod to one of his middle names: Octave. Ha!

Dad was a a civil engineer and managing director of the Spanish Lead Mines Company in Spain.

Sopwith had excellent schooling and eventually studied the Seafield Park engineering college in Hill Head.

And now you are wondering just what my definition of “tragic childhood” I could possibly have…

When Sopwith was just 10-years-old, on July 30, 1898, the family was a holiday on the Isle of Lismore off Scotland, when a gun that was lying on young Tom’s lap went off, with the bullet striking and killing his father.

This accident haunted Sopwith for the rest of his life.

Of course, he was now heir to a decent enough fortune…

At the age of 16, in 1904, Sopwith took part in the 100-mile Tricar motorcycle trial, being one of four medal winners.

In 1906 as an 18-year-old, Sopwith began being interested in hot air ballooning, and because there’s nothing this blog loves doing more than perform name-dropping, Sopwith’s first ascent in a hot-air balloon was in one owned by C.S. Rolls.

C.S. Rolls is Charles Stewart Rolls (August 27, 1877 – July 12, 1910), a Welshman born in England, who was, believe it or not, an aviation pioneer as well as the automation pioneers you supposed him to be.

Rolls, along with Henry Royce, they formed Rolls-Royce.

Rolls, unfortunately, achieved less fame but more infamy for being the first Brit to be killed in an aviation accident featuring a powered aircraft when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying demonstration in the Southbourne district of Bournemouth, England.

Whatever. The experience with Rolls in his hot air balloon must have been something spectacular, because Sopwith soon joined up with mate Phil Paddon to purchase a balloon of their own from the Short Brothers plc of London.

The Short Brothers consisted of brothers Eustace, Oswald, and to a zero extent, Horace.

The business started when Eustace Short bought a used coal gas filled balloon to fly and study in 1897. Joined by Oswald, they tried their hand at designing and manufacturing their own similar balloons.

In 1900 the two Short brothers attended the 1900 Paris Exposition and checked out the exhibit space of Édouard Surcouf working for Société Astra des Constructions Aeronatiques, who had developed a method of constructing truly spherical balloons, which inspired them to do the same, eventually coming up with a proper design by 1902.

At that time, the Short Brothers worked at manufacturing their balloons at Hove Sussex, in the space above an acoustic lab operated by their brother Horace.

Horace had invented an acoustic amplifier, and was working to perfect it with an European agent for Thomas Edison.But when Horace left in 1903 to try and better develop a steam turbine with Charles Parson, Eustace and Oswald Short moved their business to London before eventually settling in a spot in Battersea next to the Battersea gas works.

As for Sopwith, he and Phil Paddon were selling cars as Paddon & Sopwith in London before going whole hog in to the balloon manufacturing business. The balloon business was okay, but not spectacular.

Sopwith, for example, still sought thrills and played hockey – yes… ice hockey. He was actually considered a pretty good player with great skating ability and played in net as the goalie in 1908-1910 for the Princes Ice Hockey Club.

He also was part of the Great Britain national team that won the first ever European championship in 1910.


Tom Sopwith circa 1910, wearing the clothes the Wills’s card captured.

The Story Takes Flight – Finally
When that was all done, he saw pilot John Moisant on August 17, 1910 fly the first ever flight across the English Channel with a passenger–mechanic Albert Fileux, and Moisant’s cat Mademoiselle Fifi. You can read my write up on Moisant HERE.

That fueled Sopwith’s desire to now fly an aeroplane.

Now 22-years-old, Sopwith took a flight as a passenger with pilot Gustave Blondeau in a Farman aircraft at Brooklands.

Gustav Jules Eugene Blondeau formed Hewlett & Blondeau Limited, an aircraft manufacturer in Great Britain.After working at Farman Aircraft and the Gnome motor company, he started up his own flying school at Brooklands where he met Hilda Hewlett.

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett was an early aviator and aviation entrepreneur, and once married to a chauvinist.

After separating from his wife Hilda, ex-husband Maurice had this to say: “Women will never be as successful in aviation as men. They have not the right kind of nerve.”

Well… no wonder they separated.

Nonplussed, Hewlett became the first British woman to earn a pilot’s license, founded and ran the first flying school in Great Britain, and with Blondeau formed the Hewlett & Blondeau Limited aircraft company producing over 800 aeroplanes and employing up to 700 people building Farman, Caudron, Avro and Hanriot aircraft under license.

Curses, Foiled Again
Back to Sopwith…

Sopwith then taught himself to fly, and by October 22, 1910 Sopwith lifted his Howard Wright Avis monoplane into the air for the first time… and after flying for about 300 yards (275 meters), he crash landed.

Because you can’t keep a good pilot down, Sopwith got the hang of things and earned the British Royal Aero Club Aviation Certificate No. 31 on November 22, 1910 (one month later), while flying a Howard Wright 1910 biplane.

75r 001.jpg

Glancing at the cigarette card’s reverse (above), you’ll notice that a mere four days after getting licensed, he set a British distance record traveling 10.75 miles – in what I assume was his Howard Wright aircraft.

On December 18, 1910, Sopwith won a £4000 prize for the longest flight from England to the Continent in a British-built aeroplane, flying 169 miles (272 km) in three hours and 40 minutes. He used the winnings to set up the Sopwith School of Flying at Brooklands.

In June 1912 Sopwith with Fred Sigrist and others set up the Sopwith Aviation Company, initially at Brooklands.

Initially, the aircraft designs took what Sopwith considered to be the best parts of other planes and recombined them into his own vision.

For example, in July of 1912, the company took the wings from a Wright Model B biplane, the tail and fuselage from a COW (Coventry Ordnance Works) biplane (it was a plane unsuccessfully designed for the 1912 British Military Aeroplane Competition) and then added a 70 horsepower Gnome Gamma rotary motor.

Not surprisingly, the Sopwith Aviation company called the plane the Hybrid, first flying it on July 4, 1912.

Using the rebuilt plane, primary test pilot at Sopwith Harry Hawker took the British Michelin Endurance prize with a flight of 8 hours and 23 minutes.

The Australian Hawker, (22 January 1889 – 12 July 1921) after WWI, co-founded Hawker Aircraft which built some of Britain’s most famous aircraft.

Using the Hybrid, but replacing it with an an ABC Motors Limited (All British (Engine) Company) of Hersham, England 40 horsepower engine, the repackaged aeroplane was first tested on October 24, 1912, and sold delivered to the British Navy in November of that year – its first military aircraft order.

Because of that sale–and the hope of greater things to come, the Sopwith Aviation Company moved to a larger premises in December of 1912 to a recently closed roller skating rink in Canbury Park Road near Kingston Railway Station in South West London.

The British Admiralty then placed an order for a better tractor biplane based on the Hybrid design for the just-formed British Royal Flying Corp.

Sopwith Three-Seater
The plane was known as the Sopwith Three-Seat Tractor Biplane, aka the Sopwith 80 hp Biplane, aka the Sopwith D1, aka the Sopwith Tractor Biplane.

They really needed to work on their branding.

Sopwith Aviation Company 1912 Three-Seater.jpg

The Sopwith Three-Seater (another name) was first flown on February 7, 1913… and then put on display at the 1914 International Aero Show at Olympia, London, starting February 14, 1913.

Wikipedia describes it as: It had two-bay wings, with lateral control by wing warping, and was powered by an 80 hp (60 kW) Gnome Lambda rotary engine. It had two cockpits, the pilot sitting aft one and passengers sitting side by side in the forward one. Three transparent celluloid windows were placed in each side of the fuselage to give a good downwards view.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 pilot;
  • Capacity: 3 people;
  • Length: 29 feet 6 inches (8.99 meter);
  • Wingspan: 40 feet 0 inches (12.19 meter);
  • Wing area: 397 square feet (36.9 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,060 pounds (482 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 1,810 pounds (823 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome rotary engine, 80 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 73.6 miles per hour (118 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 2½ hours;
  • Service ceiling: 12,900 feet ( 3,932 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 400 feet/minute (5.1 meters/second).

The Sopwith Aviation Company built a second such aeroplane, but kept it for demonstration purposes – flown by test pilot Harry Hawker, the Sopwith Three-Seater set plenty of British altitude records during tests in June and July of 193.

Next two more Sopwith Three-Seaters were built for the Navy, delivered in August and September of 1913.

They also built their original Hybrid to the same specs.

The company then field-tested a plane using ailerons instead of wing warping, which made the Royal Flying Corps. happy enough to order nine more in September of 1913.

A collaboration with the S. E. Saunders boatyard of East Cowes on the Isle of Wight, in 1913, produced the Sopwith Bat Boat–a flying boat with a Consuta laminated hull which could operate on sea or land. Consuta was a type of construction that used four veneers of mahogany planking interleaved with waterproof calico that was then stitched together with copper wire to make it watertight.


The Sopwith Bat Boat at the ice rink premises in 1913.

Success allowed Sopwith to open an additional-but smaller-manufacturing facility in  Woolston, Hampshire in 1914.

And then The Great War happened… which was later amended to World War I.

The Sopwith Aviation Company – which lasted from 1912-1920 – may simply be the most recognizable name from WWI after Herr Red Baron.

The company produced more than 18,000 British World War I aircraft for the allied forces, including 1,770 of the Sopwith Pup, and  5,747 Sopwith Camel single-seat fighter (designed by Herbery Smith) and first flown in WWI in 1917.

Sopwith 1½ Strutter aka Sopwith LCT

In December of 1914, the Sopwith Aviation Company designed a small, two-seat biplane powered by an 80 horsepower Gnome rotary engine, which became known as the “Sigrist Bus” after company’s manager Fred Sigrist. The Sigrist Bus first flew on June 5, 1915, and although it set a new British altitude record on the day of its first flight, only one was ever built, and ended up as the company’s own “taxi” or “bus”, transporting personnel as required.

However, the Sigrist Bus formed the basis for a larger fighter plane dubbed the Sopwith LCT (Land Clerget Tractor). It was designed by Herbert Smith and was powered by a 110 horsepower Clerget engine.

Like the Sigrist Bus, the upper wings of the Sopwith LCT was joined to the fuselage by a pair of short (half) struts and a pair of longer struts, forming a “W” when viewed from the front.

This is what gave the Sopwith LCT its nickname of the Sopwith 1½ Strutter. The first prototype was ready in mid-December 1915, with further tests done through January of 1916.

The 1½ Strutter was built with a wire-braced, wood and fabric construction–pretty standard fare for the era.

The pilot and machine gunner sat in separated tandem cockpits (one behind each other), with the pilot sitting in front, giving the Vickers gunner a view for his targeting. I should mention that the pilot was also given a machine gun…. a Lewis

Special design features of the 1½ Strutter include: the addition of a variable-incidence tailplane that could be adjusted by the pilot during the flight; and airbrakes under the lower wings to helped reduce the required landing distance.

There were, however, different landing gears put into the aircraft, wholly-dependent on the customer.

The Royal Flying Corps. preferred the Vickers-Challenger synchronization gear for the Vickers machine gun, while the RNAS (Royal Navy) wanted the Scarff-Dibovski gear for the Lewis machine gun.

The Vickers-Challenger synchronization gear was designed by George Challenger, then with Vickers. This gear when fitted to planes like the Bristol Scout and the Sopwith 1½ Strutter–both of which used rotary engines–because each had a forward firing machine gun in front of the cockpit, the long push rod linking the gear to the gun had to be mounted at an awkward angle… which meant it could be bent or deform in flight or even be subject to temperature changes. The end result was a gun that might or might not work when needed. D’oh.

As for the Scarff-Dibovski gear, it used a standard push rod and levers, and was geared slow enough that while the rate of fire was reduced, it was more reliable.

After the initial order, aeroplane customers received either  Ross gears or the Sopwith-Kauper gears for the machine guns.

While these synchronized gears helped a shooter NOT to accidentally take out their own propellers, more often than was preferred, they would accidentally take out their own props.

The aeroplane was powerful enough to carry four 25 lb (11 kg) bombs underwing, which could be replaced by two 65 lb (30 kg) bombs for anti-submarine patrols.

Specifications (1½ Strutter – two seater, 130 hp Clerget)

General characteristics

  • Crew: two – one pilot and one observer;
  • Length: 25 feet 3 inches (7.70 meters);
  • Wingspan: 33 feet 6 inches (10.21 meters);
  • Height: 10 feet 3 inches (3.12 meters);
  • Wing area: 346 square feet (32.16 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,305 pounds (593 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 2,149 pounds (975 kilograms);
  • Max. takeoff weight: 2,150 pounds (977 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9B rotary engine, 130 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour) at 6,500 feet (1,980 meters);
  • Endurance: 3¾ hours;
  • Service ceiling: 15,500 feet (4,730 meters);
  • Climb to 6,500 ft (1,980 m): 9 minutes and 10 seconds.


  • Guns:
    • 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) forward-firing synchronized Vickers machine gun;
    • 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis gun in observer’s cockpit;Bombs: 130 pounds (60 kilograms) of bombs.

Sopwith Pup aka Sopwith Scout


Sopwith Pup. Image is public domain, but Wikipedia indicated it was from www.earlyaviator.com – a very, very good resource!

Although known as the Sopwith Pup, this bird’s official name was the Sopwith Scout.

In 1915, the Sopwith company built an aeroplane just for test pilot Harry Hawker… a single-seat biplane that used a 50 horsepower Gnome engine, which everyone simply called Hawker’s Runabout because that’s what he used it for – runabouts.

They built another four planes using the same plan, calling these the Sopwith Sparrows.

Using the same plan, Sopwith built a larger fighter plane that was more powerful and used the progressive ailerons rather than wing-warping for lateral control.

This was the Sopwith Pup, a single seat biplane with fabric covering the frame, and with staggered, equal-span wings.

Wikipedia notes that the Sopwith Pup used a: cross-axle type main landing gear (that) was supported by V-struts attached to the lower fuselage longerons.

Most of the Sopwith Pups used a Le Rhône 9C rotary engine pushing out 80 horsepower. This engine was built on the design of the French company Société des Moteurs Le Rhône.

It featured a single 0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun that was synchronized via a Sopwith-Kauper synchronizer – to better avoid shooting off the propeller blades.

The Sopwith Pup first began flying with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service in the autumn of 1916, and was considered to be a very good plane all around with good maneuverability.

Although the Germans eventually developed planes better than it, the Pup remained in service during WWI through 1917, after which they were used for training and for the Home Defense.

A total of 1,770 Pups were built by and for Sopwith, with 96 built by the Sopwith Aviation Company, and the remainder by sub-contractors: Standard Motor Company – 850; Whitehead Aircraft – 820; and William Beardmore & Co. building 30.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one
  • Length: 19 feet 3¾ inches (5.89 meters);
  • Wingspan: 26 feet 6 inches (8.08 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet 5 inches (2.87 meters);
  • Wing area: 254 square feet (23.6 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 787 pounds (358 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,225 lb (557 kg);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône air-cooled rotary engine, 80 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 111.5 miles per hour, 180 kilometers per hour;
  • Service ceiling: 17,500 feet (5,600 meters);
  • Endurance: 3 hours;
  • Climb to 10,000 feet (3,050 meters): 14 minutes;
  • Climb to 16,100 feet (4,910 meters): 35 minutes.


  • Guns: 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine with a Sopwith-Kauper synchronizer.

Sopwith Triplane


An official British Government photograph of Sopwith Triplanes from No. 1 (Naval) Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service, in Bailleul, France. The aircraft nearest the camera (N5454) was primarily flown by ace Richard Minifie.

While not the first triplane ever designed and flown successfully, the Sopwith Triplane was a British single seat military aeroplane, and was the first military triplane to see operational service – even before the Germans.

Only 147 such Sopwith Triplanes were ever built – used by the Royal Naval Air Services in the beginning of 1917, and was taken out of service when the famous Sopwith Camels arrived on the scene at the end of 1917. After service, they were used to help train pilots until the end of WWI.

While the fuselage and empennage were similar to the Sopwith Pup, Sopwith chief engineer Herbert Smith provided three narrow-chord wings in an effort to give the pilot a better range of sight.

The plane used ailerons, and with a variable incidence tailplane, the aeroplane could be trimmed to fly hands-off. The Sopwith Triplane also used a smaller eight-foot wide tailplane in February 1917, which gave it improved elevator response.

When it first debuted, the Sopwith Triplane used a Société Clerget-Blin et Cie 9Z nine-cylinder 110 horsepower rotary engine, However, most of the planes built used a Clerget 9B rotary engine pushing 100 horsepower. One was even built with 110 horsepower Le Rhône rotary engine, but this did not provide a significant improvement in performance.

How good was the Sopwith Triplane? Well, it first flew on May 28, 1916 under the control of Hawker who, only a few minutes after take-off, performed a loop – three times in a row.


Sopwith N500 prototype – image from www.earlyaviators.com via Wikipedia

The prototype N500 was sent to Dunkirk for further testing in July of 1916, though the second prototype N504 used a 130 horsepower Clerget 9B motor – serving as a trainer for pilots.

Germany also liked the triplane, and built the Fokker Dr.I (Dreidecker, aka triplane) … oh yeah, which was what the Red Baron enjoyed flying.

Triplanes, despite how well Germany’s pilots like the Red Baron flew them, all the aircraft had a design flaw.

While the aeroplane had a very fast climb rate–the Red Baron von Richtofen once said his plane could “climb like a monkey and maneuver like a devil”–but that had nothing to do with having three wings.

While you might think that more wing area means more lift, climb rate is from weight, power and wingspan. The Fokker was just a well-built plane… for a triplane.

 General characteristics
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18 feet 10 inches (5.73 meters);
  • Wingspan: 26 feet 6 inches (8 meters);
  • Height: 10 feet 6 inches (3.2 meters);
  • Wing area: 231 square feet (21.46 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,101 pounds (500 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,541 pounds (700 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9B rotary engine, 130 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 117 miles per hour (187 kilometers per hour;
  • Service ceiling: 20,500 feet (6,250 meters);
  • Climb rate to 6,000 feet (1,830 meters): 5 minutes – 50 seconds;
  • Time to 16,400 feet (5,000 meters): 26 minutes 30 seconds


  • Guns: 1× .303 in Vickers machine gun

And now… the most famous WWI aircraft – arguably – of WWI, the :

Sopwith Camel aka Sopwith F.1


The legendary Sopwith Camel. Image from www.warbirdsnews.com.

The Sopwith Camel was a single-seat biplane fighter aircraft introduced on the Western Front in 1917, designed to take the place of the Sopwith Pup and the Nieuport 17s that had been purchased from the French to take the place of the Pup after it was no longer effective against German fighters like the Albatross D.III.

In order to be competitive against the superior German aircraft, the Sopwith Camel needed to a much faster plane than the Pup and have much stronger armament.

Originally called the Sopwith F.1, with the nickname of Big Pup while in the design stage, it is the brainchild of Herbert Smith, the chief designer at Sopwith.

Actually…. the Sopwith Camel is not the Sopwith Camel.

It’s a nickname. It really IS called the Sopwith F.1.

It was called a Camel by pilots who flew it after seeing a casing over the gun breeches looked like a hump – thus… Camel.

On December 22, 1916, the prototype F.1 (okay, let’s just call it the Camel) was first flown at Brooklands. It was piloted by Harry Hawker, and was powered by a Clerget 9Z powerplant with 110 horsepower.

Five months later in May of 1917, a contract for 250 Sopwith Camels was issued by Great Britain’s War Office.

In just 1917 alone, a total of 1,325 Camels were manufactured, almost all based on the F.1 variant.

By the time that production of the type came to an end, approximately 5,490 Camels of all types had been built, including the Camel 2F.1, a Navy version that was first built in November of 1918.

Snoopy vs the Red Baron.jpg

Here’s a description of the Camel via Wikipedia:

The Camel had a mostly conventional design for its era, featuring a wooden box-like fuselage structure, an aluminum engine cowling, plywood panels around the cockpit, and fabric-covered fuselage, wings and tail. While possessing some clear similarities with the Pup, it was furnished with a noticeably bulkier fuselage. For the first time on an operational British-designed fighter, two 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns were mounted directly in front of the cockpit, synchronized to fire forwards through the propeller disc. In addition to the machine guns, a total of four Cooper bombs could be carried for ground attack purposes.

The bottom wing was rigged with 3° dihedral while the top wing lacked any dihedral; this meant that the gap between the wings was less at the tips than at the roots; this change had been made at the suggestion of Fred Sigrist, the Sopwith works manager, as a measure to simplify the aircraft’s construction. The upper wing featured a central cutout section for the purpose of providing improved upwards visibility for the pilot.

Production Camels were powered by various rotary engines, most commonly either the Clerget 9B (a nine-cylinder rotary aircraft engine ) or the Bentley BR1 (it was developed from the Clerget 9B, and is also a rotary engine) In order to evade a potential manufacturing bottleneck being imposed upon the overall aircraft in the event of an engine shortage, several other engines were also adopted to power the type as well.

The Camel was considered to be difficult to fly. The type owed both its extreme maneuverability and its difficult handling to the close placement of the engine, pilot, guns and fuel tank (some 90% of the aircraft’s weight) within the front seven feet of the aircraft, and to the strong gyroscopic effect of the rotating mass of the cylinders common to rotary engines. Aviation author Robert Jackson notes that: “in the hands of a novice it displayed vicious characteristics that could make it a killer; but under the firm touch of a skilled pilot, who knew how to turn its vices to his own advantage, it was one of the most superb fighting machines ever built”.

The Camel soon gained an unfortunate reputation with pilots.[13] Some inexperienced pilots crashed on take-off when the full fuel load pushed the aircraft’s centre of gravity beyond the rearmost safe limits. When in level flight, the Camel was markedly tail-heavy. Unlike the Sopwith Triplane, the Camel lacked a variable incidence tailplane, so that the pilot had to apply constant forward pressure on the control stick to maintain a level attitude at low altitude. The aircraft could be rigged so that at higher altitudes it could be flown “hands off”. A stall immediately resulted in a dangerous spin.

A two-seat trainer version of the Camel was later built to ease the transition process:[14] in his Recollections of an Airman Lt Col L.A. Strange, who served with the central flying school, wrote: “In spite of the care we took, Camels continually spun down out of control when flew [sic?] by pupils on their first solos. At length, with the assistance of Lieut Morgan, who managed our workshops, I took the main tank out of several Camels and replaced [them] with a smaller one, which enabled us to fit in dual control.” Such conversions, and dual instruction, went some way to alleviating the previously unacceptable casualties incurred during the critical type-specific solo training stage.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 18 feet 9 inches (5.72 meters);
  • Wingspan: 28 feet 0 inches (8.53 meters);
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches (2.59 meters);
  • Wing area: 231 square feet (21.46 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 930 pounds (420 kilograms);
  • Loaded weight: 1,453 pounds (659 kilograms);
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0378;
  • Drag area: 8.73 square feet (0.811 square meters);
  • Aspect ratio: 4.11;
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9B 9-cylinder Rotary engine, 130 horsepower or a Bentley BR1, also capable of 130 horsepower.


  • Maximum speed: 113 miles per hour (182 kilometers per hour)
  • Stall speed: 48 miles per hour (77 kilometers per hour)
  • Range: 300 miles  (485 kilometers)
  • Service ceiling: 19,000 feet (5,791 meters)
  • Rate of climb: 1,085 feet/minute (5.5 meters/second)


  • Guns: 2× 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns.

Perhaps most famously, while flying a Sopwith Camel on April 21, 1918, Captain Roy Brown of Canada is believed to have shot down and killed 25-year-old Baron Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron.

Or maybe it’s still so well known because of that goofy 1966 rock and roll song by The Royal Guardsmen called Snoopy versus The Red Baron, or better yet because of Charles Schultz and his Peanuts strip. I know that both are where I first came across the might of Red Baron and of Snoopy flying his Sopwith Camel.

Despite Sopwith himself being awarded the CBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1918, he was bankrupt after the war ended thanks to being hit with anti-profiteering taxes.

Broke, but no broken, Sir Thomas Sopwith re-entered the aviation business in 1920 when he joined Harry Hawker’s new firm Hawker Aircraft as its chairman.

Still fighting the Germans, but this time in WWII, Sopwith’s Hawker Hurricane aircraft continued to take out enemy aircraft.

Sir Thomas, a restless, energetic man, made a large fortune and was able to finance two attempts to win the America’s Cup in yachting, although neither succeeded. The Last of Eight Children

Reminiscing in 1988 about his early flying, he said, ”We had a lot of crashes in those days, but, bless you, it was fun.”


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Scorchy Smith Comic Strip

Scorchy SmithI must admit that while I have heard of Scorchy Smith, I was not around on this planet to enjoy any of his adventures when they first appeared.

Scorchy Smith was and is an aviation adventure comic strip that appeared in newspapers from 1930 through 1961.

Inspired in part by the heroics of aviator Charles Lindbergh who in 1927 performed the first solo aeroplane crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, Scorchy Smith was created by artist John Terry, who debuted the pilot-for-hire character in 1930.


Scorchy Smith – art by John Terry.

As a pilot-for-hire, Scorchy Smith‘s adventures would take him and the reader all over the world.


A panel of the Scorchy Smith strip from 1931, with art by creator John Terry.

John Terry was stricken by tuberculosis in 1933, and rather than have the popular comic strip fall by the wayside, he was replaced on his own strip by artist Noel Stickles.

Stickles is considered to be a better artist (subjective, of course) that John Terry, but at least at the beginning Stickles maintained Terry’s art style while slowing putting in his own artistic elements.

Stickles, however, was too good to kept down, and soon enough his art style took off in the strip, which helped make Scorchy Smith even more popular. Image at top of this blog is by Stickles.

In fall 1936, Sickles researched Scorchy Smith’s circulation, information that AP Newsfeatures never shared with their artists. Estimating that the strip was running in 250 papers across the country, Sickles determined that the syndicate’s monthly take approximated $2,500 a month, of which he, as both scripter and artist, received only $125. Sickles asked for a raise, and when his request was refused, he quit cartooning to become involved in commercial illustration for magazines.


Three Scorchy Smith dailies from March 11-13, 1935. If you were to compare this art against say… Superman a few years later, it’s easy to state that Noel Stickles artwork is far superior.

Allen “Bert” Christman, who co-created DC’s comics’ The Sandman and kid sidekick Sandy took over on November 23, 1936.

While Christman’s art was decent enough – Milt Caniff-like (he did Steve Canyon and the more famous Terry And The Pirates)… and subjectively, I never much cared for his art – especially when compared to contemporary comic strip creator Hal Foster who did Prince Valiant… Christman’s Scorchy Smith was technically sound.

Christman continued to draw Scorchy Smith until June of 1938, when he joined the US Navy as an aviation cadet… hmmm, I wonder where he got that idea?

I’m, unsure who did the strip between June 1938 and May of 1939.

Scorchy Smith 1938

June 3, 1938 daily strip of Scorchy Smith by Bert Christman.

As for Christman, he resigned his Navy commission three years later to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG) who were being recruited to fly for the Chinese Air Force.

China, at this time was besieged by Japan… and as we all know, the US did not enter WWII until December of 1941 after its Pearl Harbor military base was attacked by the Japanese.

Christman only flew for a very short while with the AVG (known as the Flying Tigers), as his airplane was shot at on January 23, 1942. He bailed out, but was strafed by the enemy, killed over Burma.

After Christman and the unknown by me art team, Robert Farrell (writer) and Frank Robbins (artist) took over Scorchy Smith on May 22, 1939.


Frank Robbins art on Scorchy Smith published July 6, 1942.

Robbins left sometime in 1944, and was replaced by Ed Good…

Scorchy Smith 1944-06-11

Ed Good art on Scorchy Smith from June 11, 1944.

… then Rodlow Willard…


A June 4, 1950 Sunday page of Scorchy Smith drawn by Rodlow Willard.

Alvin C Hollingsworth… a Black American… and I only bring up his skin color because for the era, it was still incredibly rare for a Black man to work as a comic book or comic strip creator outside of publishers that catered to Black audiences.

The only other Black creator I can think of working on a “White” audience comic-anything, is Phantom Lady by Matt Baker, whose good-girl art on the book is some of the best the industry has EVER seen.

Hollingsworth was well into aviation-related comic book/comic strip material long before he took on Scorchy Smith.

He did a four-page war comic story called Robot Plane in Aviation PressContact Comics #5 (cover-dated March 1945). Throughout the rest of the 1940s, he also drew Holyoke Pubishing‘s Captain Aero Comics, and Fiction House‘s Wings Comics, where he did the feature “Suicide Smith” at least sporadically from 1946 to 1950.

I can’t find confirmation about when Hollingsworth worked on Scorchy Smith, but the page below is definitely credited to him – it’s from May 30, 1954.

AC Hollingsworth Scorchy Smith

May 30, 1954 Sunday strip of Scorchy Smith by AC Hollingsworth.

… then George Tuska …

Scorchy Smith George Tuska

February 21, 1955 daily by George Tuska.

… and finally Milt Morris from June of 1959 until the strip ended in December of 1961.


A Milt Morris strip of Scorchy Smith – date unknown (by me). Taken from https://www.lambiek.net/artists/m/morris_john_milt.htm, where there’s a biography of Milt Morris. I’m looking at the art and wondering when that insult will be hurled that will make a man out of Mac.

For those looking for a collection of Scorchy Smith strips, check out Amazon or e-Bay. There was a book issued back in 2007 called: Scorchy Smith And The Art Of Noel Stickles.

Posted in Aviation Art, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #74 – Army Dirigible “Beta.”

74f 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Army Dirigible “Beta.”

Card #74 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Black-back issue

  • Major-General Sir John Edward Capper born December 7, 1861 in Lucknow, British India (now just India) – May 13, 1955 in Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, Great Britain;
  • Colonel James Lethbridge Brooke Templer born May 27, 1846 in Greenwich, Kent, England, Great Britain – January 2, 1924 in Lewes, Sussex, England, Great Britain.

Before I began writing this Pioneers of Aviation blog, I had no idea that 1) monoplanes were being flown successfully at the same time as biplanes, and 2) that aside from zeppelins, that dirigibles were being built as viable flying machines after the advent of the aeroplane.

I really thought that aeroplanes took the air out of the dirigible industry. While it’s true that they did, in the still early days of 1910/11 (and beyond), aeroplanes were still so much in their infancy that no one was sure if it would truly catch on as a viable flying device.

As such, before I started this blog, I had purchased cards from the Wills’s Aviation series… the first 50 cards were from 1910, with a 75-card and 85-card series published in 1911.

Card No. 74’s Army Dirigible “Beta” surprised me… as I thought the series’ first 25 cards had dealt with the past of aviation (non aeroplanes)… so why was the Beta deemed important enough to be included in a more “modern” series of 1911 cards?

The Beta, aka Beta 1, was a non-rigid dirigible built by Great Britain’s Army Balloon Factory in 1910 for the express purpose of experiments.

Dirigibles were, as of 1910, still a fairly new aviation concept (which I didn’t realize), and were called the “dirigible balloon” or “airship”.

From 1904-1906, Britain’s Army Balloon Factory was part of the Army’s School of Ballooning under the command of Colonel James Templer.

The school was moved from Aldershot to the edge of Farnborough Common in provide it with adequate space to inflate the new dirigible invention.

Although the Wright Brothers first flew in December of 1903, they kept their flight a secret.

By January of 1906, however, when full details of the Wright Brothers’ system of flight control had been published in l’Aerophile, people still hadn’t grasped just how important this discovery of heavier-than-air flight really was.

On September 13, 1906, aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont made a public flight in Paris with the 14-bis aeroplane, becoming the first non-Wright Brother to fly an aeroplane.

As such… the Army Balloon Factory could be excused for moving its balloon/dirigible facility.

While the school’s command changed with the move to Farnborough with Templer out and Colonel John Capper in, the Army Balloon Factory not only kept up with the new trend of dirigibles, it also experimented with Samuel Franklin Cody’s war kites and aeroplanes designed by Cody and J. W. Dunne. In October 1908, Cody made the first aeroplane flight in Britain at Farnborough.

Here’s the interesting stuff: in 1909, Britain’s Army work on aeroplanes was halted, as the Army Balloon Factory was renamed the Balloon Factory as it came under civilian control led by Mervyn O’Gorman.

In 1912, the Balloon Factory was renamed something you might recognize: the Royal Aircraft Factory, aka the RAF.

Interesting stuff… but still nothing about Beta… what happened to Alpha, by the way?

Uh… this is just a guess because there was no Army Dirigible “Alpha”.

The Beta is considered to be a rebuild of “Baby” which was also known as British Army Airship No. 3… featuring a new envelope.

Before that… Nulli Secundus II was a rebuild of 1907’s Nulli Secundus No. 1, which was also designated as British Army Dirigible No. 1.

Ergo, Beta… the second letter of the alphabet, IS the second Army dirigible… with Nulli Secundis being the non-named Alpha.

So… the airships are:

British Army Dirigible No.1

  • Nulli Secundis;

British Army Dirigible No. 2

  • Nulli Secundis II, rebuilt from Nulli Secundis – but still actually the “Alpha” airship.

British Army Dirigible No. 3

  • Baby;
  • Beta, rebuilt from Baby;
  • Beta II, rebuilt from Beta (and Baby);
  • HMA No. 17, simply a rename from Beta II.

If Beta and Beta II were designated as Army Dirigible No. 4 or 5, I don’t know. But they were both rebuilds of Baby, Army Dirigible No. 3.

Holy crap…

So, per above, we know that Beta 1 (at the time of its issue in 1911, Card No. 74 did not know there was going to be a Beta II, and that’s why the dirigible is simply called Beta) had used the gondola of British Army Airship No.3 aka Baby, using a new envelope made of a rubberized fabric.

Per Wikipedia:

It had rectangular horizontal stabilizers fitted on both sides of the tail assembly. It had a fixed fin with a rudder mounted on the trailing edge below the tail.

A long uncovered framework suspended below the envelope held the 35 horsepower Green water-cooled engine, which drove a pair of 5′-9″ (1.75 meter) diameter two-bladed propellers.

An elevator was mounted on the front of this structure to provide pitch control. As first built, the engine drove a pair of propellers which could be swiveled to provide vectored thrust, but this arrangement was later replaced with a more conventional chain drive to fixed propellers.

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Beta was first flown in April 1910 at Farnborough, after which the engine was removed to make some handling experiments, during which its gondola was damaged.

So they fixed it up… and took it up for a second test flight on April 8, 1910 staying aloft for about 70 minutes before landing safely.


British Army Dirigible Beta

I’m unsure why they decided to do this at night, but the Beta was taken up again on a flight beginning specifically at 11:39PM on June 3, 1910, flying from Farnborough to London and back to Farnborough returning on June 4, 2910 at dawn.

The next flight was done on June 12, 1910 with Captain W. P. L. Brooke-Smith at the helm, leaving Farnborough at 3:40PM and, flying against a 12 mph (19 km/h) headwind, reaching central London around 6PM. After circling St Paul’s Cathedral, Beta returned to Farnborough, after making a slight flight plan deviation to fly past Aldershot where British King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

Under the command of Colonel John Capper, Beta was flown in the British Army maneuvers on Salisbury Plain in September of 1910 where it was used to observe “enemy troop” positions, and even dropped a map of the enemy positions to General Horace Smith-Dorrien.

In 1911 the first trials with radio communication were made after a return flight from Farnborough to Portsmouth.

(Did you know that the sandwich could have been called a portsmouth? The first Earl of Montagu was going to take the title of Earl of Portsmouth, but changed his mind at the last moment to instead honor the town of Sandwich in Kent, England where the fleet he was commanding happened to be offshore from. This Earl’s great-grandson, the 4th Earl of Sandwich John Montagu, did in 1762AD spent 24 hours at a gaming table… at at some point in between requested the establishment’s cook prepare a meal that would allow him to continue playing with one hand, while allowing him to eat with the other. While no one knows the cook’s name, the repast of cold, sliced beef presented between two toasted slices of bread became known as a sandwich rather than a portsmouth.)

Anyhow, while they were able to make contact between Beta and the ground, communication back and forth was less than convenient owing to the very loud noise of the dirigible’s engine… maybe next time they could place the radio further away from the engine?

Beta I specifications:

  • Crew: 3;
  • Length: 104 feet inches (31.7 meters);
  • Diameter: 24 feet 4 inches (7.42 meters);
  • Volume: 33,000 cubic feet ( 934.5 cubic meters);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green C.4, 35 horsepower engine;
  • Maximum speed: 25 miles per hour (40.23 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 5 hours

Then what happened? Nothing special actually. The Beta continued its experimental flights until 1912, when it was decided to tear it down in a redesign to construct the Beta II.

The airship’s redesign included a new enlarged envelope, had its length increased to 108 feet (33 meters), providing the “balloon” with a capacity to 50,000 cubic feet (1,400 cubic meters).

The gondola was also rebuilt, and new Clerget 50-horsepower engine was added to power the craft’s dual four-bladed propellers.

The Beta II made many successful flights, participated in the 1912 army maneuvers, during which it was fitted experimentally with a machine gun.

On June 20, 1913 the Great Britain’s Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) was taken for a 30-minute flight in the Beta II.


British Army Dirigible Beta II – moored to a mast at Farnsborough.

It was used for the first experiments in mooring airships at a mast at Farnborough, and was also used for experiments with aerial photography.

In fact, it was during a royal inspection of Farnborough in 1913, that a photograph was taken of the royal party from the air (aboard Beta II). The photographic plate was parachuted to the ground where it was developed and printed in a mobile darkroom.

Perhaps in anticipation of the start of WWI, all airships were taken over by the RNAS in January of 1914, with the Beta II officially designated as HMA No.  17.

HMA stands for His Majesty’s Airship… and by 1914, His Majesty was King George V.

During December 1914 and January 1915, HMA No. 17 it was based at Firminy near Dunkirk as part of the Dunkirk Squadron and was used for artillery spotting. It was then used for training at RNAS Kingsnorth.

The dirigible, in all its many incarnations and name changes was finally retired by the RNAS in 1916, with its gondola now part of the collection of the Science Museum in London, Great Britain. And yes, it is on display.

Posted in Airfields, Balloons, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Africa’s Flying And Invisible Warrior – The Story Of Kibaga

Through the Dark Continent.jpgIn a western society, one often gets caught up in all things Europe or North America, and tends to ignore the rest of the world. Mea culpa.

I have on occasion written about and published stories about Japan – because I lived there – and sometimes about Australian and New Zealand (because I like the beer and women, not in that order)… but have ignored a lot of other places on this planet… which I will do my best to rectify.

So… what I have for you here, is a myth… a myth about Africa’s first flyer… or at least the one we all assume to be the first. Since I assume you all read the headline, you are aware that I am talking about Kibaga. The thing is… he’s not a pilot. He is a man who had the ability to fly.

I can’t give you a “date” for when the following adventure took place.

While most representations of Kibaga simply refer to him as an African, Sir Henry Morton Stanley recorded the story of Kibaga in his 1871 book “Through the Dark Continent“, calling him a Uganda warrior.

Sir Henry Morton Stanley 1872.jpg

Sir Henry Morton Stanley, 1872.

For those wondering why the name Stanley seems familiar, note that Sir Henry Morton Stanley, GCB (Knight Grand Cross – knighted in 1899) was a Welsh-American journalist and explorer who was famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone. You know: “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”… though that in itself may not have actually been the words of their initial contact, and may have been concocted later as a “selling point”.


You should, at the least read the Wikipedia entry on Livingstone, where you might learn that it wasn’t his real name.

He was born John Rowlands on January 28, 1841 in Wales, dying on May 10, 1904 as Sir Henry Morton Stanley.

Rowlands aka Stanley was a journalist and explorer,  who was famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone, finally finding him on November 10, 1871.

The story of Kibaga describes the warrior as being able to turn invisible as he flies over his enemies to first do aerial reconnaissance, and later return to drop rocks upon them (first possible mention of aerial bombardment). Kibaga was killed when the enemy shot their arrows up into the air, killing him with blind luck.

Like many such cautionary tales, it was meant to discourage humans from getting too close to god and heaven… like the story of Icarus… for some it is a cautionary tale, for others a tale of inspiration.You can read about Icarus HERE… in my second ever article written for this blog.

Here’s what Stanley had to say about Kibaga:

“One of the heroes of Nakivingi (one of the ancient kings of Uganda, whom Stanley calls the Charlemagne of Uganda) was a warrior named Kibaga, who possessed the power of flying.

“When the king warred with the Wanyoro (I believe this is a family name in Uganda… of the Kingdom of Bunyoro – part of the Bantu peoples), he sent Kibaga into the air to ascertain the whereabouts of the foe, who, when discovered by this extra-ordinary being, were attacked on land in their hiding-places by Nakivingi, and from above by the active and faithful Kibaga, who showered great rocks on them and by these means slew a vast number.

“It happened that among the captives of Unyoro, Kibaga saw a beautiful woman, who was solicited by the king in marriage. As Nakivingi was greatly indebted to Kibaga for his unique services, he gave her to Kibaga as wife, with a warning, however, not to impart the knowledge of his power to her, lest she should betray him.

For a long time after the marriage his wife knew nothing of his power, but suspecting something strange in him from his repeated sudden absences and reappearances at his home, she set herself to watch him, and one morning as he left his hut, she was surprised to see him suddenly mount into the air with a burden of rocks slung on his back.

On seeing this she remembered that Wanyoro complaining that more of their people were killed by some means from above than by the spears of Nakivingi, and Delilah-like, loving her race and her people more than she loved her husband, she hastened to her people’s camp, and communicated, to the surprise of the Wanyoro, what she had that day learned.

To avenge themselves on Kibaga, the Wanyoro set archers in ambush on the summits of each lofty hill, with instructions to confine themselves to watching the air and listening for the brushing of his wings, and to shoot their arrows in the direction of the sound, whether anything was seen or not.

By this means on a certain day, as Nakivingi marched to the battle, Kibaga was wounded to the death by an arrow, and upon the road large drops of blood were seen falling, and on coming to a tall tree the king detected a dead body entangled in its branches.

When the tree was cut down, Nakivingi saw, to his infinite sorrow, that it was the body of his faithful flying warrior Kibaga.”



Now… Stanley’s story is pretty interesting, but I’ve heard a slightly different version of it.

Kibaga was the legendary chieftain of some African tribe – a great warrior who could make himself invisible by wrapping a cloak about himself.

If the cloak of invisibility wasn’t enough, he could also fly.

So, whenever some tribe would get it in their heads to cause trouble, Kibaga would don his cloak, and fly invisibly over the lands of his enemies and throw down spears, arrows rocks and more.

But, one day, a tribe hearing about Kibaga set a trap for his invisible flying self.

Using a men to act as decoys, other men of the tribe watched as rocks would suddenly appear in the sky to fall upon their brethren.

Some stories say that Kibaga was flying around and around, others say he perched himself up in a tree… regardless, the enemy tribe that was watching figured out where Kibaga was and fired their arrows up at him, killing him, eventually finding his body up in a tree after his cloak became dislodged.

So… is this the African version of stealth aerial warfare?


Which story is more correct? It doesn’t matter too much.

Stanley’s version gives names to the Uganda warriors and enemies and seeks to make a woman the downfall of the superhuman Kibaga.

The other version is more sparse, but provides greater detail as to how they figured out something invisible was above them.

Perhaps the “truth” of the myth depends on who is telling the story, and who and how it is retold.

Mayhaps that in the retelling, facts and stories get turned into something more fantastic.

Perhaps Kibaga was simply an expert of stealth… a regular human warrior who climbed a tree within an enemy camp while wearing a green leafy cloak to blend in. Once high up in the tree, the sunning Kibaga threw rocks and other projectiles down onto his enemy… who eventually figured out that there was someone hiding up in a tree raining destruction down upon them, and counter attacked by simply firing arrows up into the tree to kill their “invisible” enemy.

Or… maybe there really was a magical Uganda warrior who could fly and did wear a cloak of invisibility.

By the way… you think I would be able to find at least one drawing of Kibaga somewhere on the Internet… but no… not a single representation of this wonderful African story.

If I could draw, I would create one myself.


Posted in Myth, People, Stories | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #74 – M. Jules Vedrines

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History Behind The Card: M. Jules Vedrines

Card #74 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Green-back issue

  • Jules Charles Toussaint Védrines on December 21, 1881, Saint-Denis, Seine-Saint-Denis, France April 21, 1919, Saint-Rambert-d’Albon, France;

One of the few times that Wills’s has not added a proper accent to a French aviator’s name, though it does maintain the tradition. However, it does maintain the FRENCH aviator tradition of adding  an “M.” in front denoting “Monsieur”.

I am, however, adding the appropriate French accent above the first ‘e’ in Védrines.

If you glance up at the death date of Védrines, you’ll note that he is young… survived WWI, which means he was probably  involved in some sort of daring-do aviation accident.

Was it exciting? Was it stupid? Did it lead to any innovation? I don’t know… I’m writing this even before I read up on Védrines!

Actually… I know a bit about Védrines, considering I wrote about him within the copy for Card #69 HERE.

Okay… so Védrines… first pilot to fly at more than 100 mph (160 kilometers per hour) and for winning the 1912 Gordon Bennett Trophy Race.

I’m taking a short cut here considering I spent a great deal of time writing up that #69 blog… doing a copy and paste… but here’s it’s at least all Védrines.

74gr 001.jpg

Jules Védrines was a pilot… and not just any pilot, but a test pilot… and a test pilot in the days when aeroplane’s had less power than some modern-day lawnmowers.

Born in Saint-Denis in Paris on December 21, 1881, he was brought up in what would have to be considered one of the “tough” parts of the city… a place that helped him develop a bit of a rough-and-tumble personality… which would actually help him in later years as a pilot, as being someone the common man could identify with.

He worked at the Gnome engine manufacturing factory before moving to England to work as aviator Robert Loraine’s mechanic in 1910.

Loraine, while primarily a stage actor, does have some claim to fame within the aviation (and video game industry). Flying a Farman biplane, in September of 1910, he achieved a measure of fame for being the first to fly from England to Ireland… except he actually crash landed in  the water about 60 meters (200 feet) from the shore… that’s close enough, right?

Later that same month, Loraine was a pilot of one of two Bristol Boxkites which took part in the British Army maneuvers on Salisbury Plain, during which he sent the first radio signals to be sent from an aeroplane in Britain.

Who was the other guy? Well… that would be Bertram Dickson, who was just featured in Pioneers of Aviation – HERE.

Loraine, by the way is famous… thanks to his personal diary that is cited in the Oxford English Dictionary for containing the first written example of the word joystick to describe aircraft stick controls.


Far more dapper than his Wills’s card.

Back to Védrines. After returning to France, Védrines earned his pilot’s license (No. 312) on December 7, 1910.

Globally, when newspapers couldn’t get enough news on aviation, Védrines was a media darling. That love affair began when in April of 1911 he flew over a Catholic religious procession known as Mi-carême dropping bouquets of violets as the people entered the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Classy… like an angel from up on high…

In May of 1911, Védrines won the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race flying a Morane-Borel monoplane. You can read all about that confusing bit of aviation history HERE, where I have attempted to present the facts in a cohesive manner, but admit that I was stymied a few times by even the most basic of things.

On July 22, 1911, he came second in the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race (held annually between 1911-1914) – a circular route with 11 compulsory stops covering a distance of 1,010 miles (1,630 km).

You can see a video on YouTube featuring photo stills and some live motion picture work along with THE aviation song by clicking HERE. It won’t let me embed – even when I type it in character by character.If the link doesn’t work search YouTube by typing in: “Round Britain” air race in 1911.

He also came third in the 1911 Circuit of Europe race, a race with a total of 990 miles (1,600 kilometers) flying from Paris-Liège France to Spa-Liège in France to Utrecht Netherlands to Brussels Belgium to Calais France to London England.

In 1912, flying a Deperdussin 1912 Racing Monoplane built by the Société de Production des Aéroplanes Deperdussin, he was the first person to fly an aircraft at more than 100 mph (160 kph) and he also won the 1912 Gordon Bennett Trophy race in a Deperdussin Monocoque aircraft.

In January of 1912, Védrines, a politically active fellow, flew a plane over the Chamber of Deputies in Paris, dropping political leaflets demanding they provide more aeroplanes for the French Army.

Later that year, Védrines  ran for and lost a seat on the Chamber of Deputies for the constituency of Limoux. He ran as a Socialist, which wasn’t a bad thing in 1912.

In 1913 he flew from Paris to Cairo in a Blériot monoplane. But upon arriving in Nancy, France, but officials were adamant to let him proceed, because they figured he would fly a short cut over German airspace.

Now I don’t know why a Germany a mere one year away from WWI would not want anyone flying over their country – oh… right – but Védrines felt that up in the sky, there were no boundaries… that aviators should be able to fly anywhere and everywhere – screw international boundaries.

One hundred years later… despite his good intentions… a couple of global wars, more in Asia, and every nation on the planet becoming very protective of itself, airspace is rigidly controlled, and more or less observed unless you are China (in Japan) or Russia (also in Japan).

At that time, however, Védrines took off from Nancy pretending he would not fly over German airspace, but would change course for Prague when out of sight from the airfield. Sounds like a plan…

All well and good, but Védrines seems to have forgotten that he would be visible to the Germans in Germany whose airspace he was flying in.

He was tried in absentia by the Germans and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment… which essentially means he should not go back to Germany. But he did…

Still on the same race, he pleases the Sultan of Constantinople (Istanbul) by dropping a Turkish flag atop the Imperial Palace.

Things went downhill again when in Cairo, Védrines became embroiled in an argument with a Mr. Roux, after Védrines accused him of some unpatriotic French behavior.
Roux asked for a duel… but Védrines wisely said he wasn’t brave enough.

To resolve the dispute, the French Ligue Aerienne president Mr. Quinton told Védrines that the issue could only be resolved by the duel or him leaving Cairo.

So…. Védrines left Cairo, returned to Paris and then challenged Quinton to a duel in place of Roux. I’m guessing he found out that Roux may have been an established veteran at duels (IE he wins), whereas Quinton may have been a paper pusher. Always pick your battles, is the lesson here, I guess.

Védrines wanted to duel with pistols at 10 paces – and was all the rage in the Paris media of the day – but dueling experts quickly determined that Védrines had no right to issue the duel, and it was called off, probably with an apology… but I can not confirm that.


Védrines and his Blériot XXXV Ibis he called La Vache (The Cow) ,  August 31, 1914

Jules Védrines’ Last Flight
When WWI broke out, Védrines performed clandestine missions— landing behind enemy (German) lines to drop or pick up agents in his Blériot XXXV Ibis aircraft La Vache (The Cow) – pictured above. He flew some 1,000 hours of reconnaissance missions and was awarded Order of the Day for it in July of 1915.

The aircraft had a picture of a cow on it (not seen in the photo), but it was meant to be an homage to his family’s roots in the Limousin region of France.

With the war over, on January 19, 1919 he landed his Caudron Airplane Company  G.3 on the roof of the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris, winning a 25,000 franc prize which had been offered before the war. After his death a stone commemorating the achievement was placed there.

Three months later, on  April 21, 1919, he was killed when attempting to fly a Caudron C.23 long-range twin-engine night bomber after flying from Villacoublay, France to Rome, Italy, when the aeroplane’s engine conked out. He and his mechanic Guillain died on the forced landing near Lyon.

Posted in Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Pilots, Races, Races & Contests, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GoFly Contest To Create A Working Personal Flying Device

Adam StrangeIn my much younger days scientists promised us jetpacks. I want my jetpack! I want to fly!

Sadly, jetpacks and rocket suits a la Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Adam Strange, The Rocketeer, IronMan and other comic book characters remain a mostly scientific curiosity and out of the hands (and backs) of the general public.

But that’s where GoFly comes in.

The contest wants someone to create a working personal flying device.

This contest—offering US$2,000,000 in total prizes over the course of the 24-month competition—is calling on the world’s greatest thinkers, designers, engineers, and inventors to make the impossible possible—and who’s to say that isn’t you?

As GoFly states: “Today we look to the sky and say, ‘That plane is flying.’ We challenge innovators around the world to create a device that makes us look to the sky and say, ‘That person is flying.’

Someone get me my jetpack or personal flying vehicle a la George Jetson or Marty McFly hoverboard (with real hovering!!!) before I get too old!

GoFly is a Boeing-sponsored competition to build on the fantastic visions of the above named comic strip and cartoon shows, as well as the fantastical stuff of Icarus, and combining the primitive dreams with modern-day thinking and technology to take (finally) humans further than just one giant leap for mankind.

GoFly wants participants to develop a safe, quiet, ultra-compact, near-VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) personal flying devices capable of flying 20 miles while carrying a single person without refueling or recharging.

The invention should be user-friendly and, of course, provide the thrill of flight. Outside of these requirements, the function and design are up to innovator teams.

What’s cool about the GoFly contest, is that along with the nice financial prize, and getting one’s name glorified in greater fashion than the Barney-copter, is that participants will have access to global automation experts to help bring their ideas to life, without the worry of someone stealing their idea.

Boeing, the world’s largest and most forward-thinking aerospace company, has partnered with GoFly to turn dreams into reality.

Since its founding more than a century ago, Boeing (read about an early misadventure with Boeing founder William Boeing HERE has been at the forefront of innovation and exploration, pushing the limits of what is possible through game-changing technologies that impact the world and meet the needs of the global community.

Through GoFly, Boeing will help empower the next generation of dreamers and thinkers to take on one of the most ambitious and exciting opportunities of our day. As the Grand Sponsor of the GoFly competition, Boeing is sponsoring tomorrow.

Here’s what GoFly has to say:

Do competitors keep their Intellectual Property?
Yes, Teams will keep all of their intellectual property, except that teams will grant limited media rights to GoFly so that GoFly can publicize and promote the Competition and the Teams.

How much money can you win?
GoFly is offering US$2,000,000 in total prizes over the course of the 24-month competition. This purse will be spread out over three prize phases. Phase I will include 10 $20K prizes awarded based on written technical specifications; Phase II will include four $50K prizes awarded to Teams with the best VTOL demonstration and revised Phase I materials; and Phase III will unveil the Grand Prize Winner, awarded at the Final Fly-Off in the fall of 2019.

In Phase II, the actual building begins, and innovators will have the opportunity to learn from and work with some of the world’s leading experts in aircraft design, systems engineering, fabrication and testing, and finance and funding.

With one-on-one guidance and monthly seminars, teams will have unprecedented resources to help bring their ideas to life. At the end of Phase II, we’ll award four prizes at $50,000 each based on a VTOL demonstration and revised Phase I materials.

Who are the experts? Holy crap… I get goosebumps looking at the names and companies involved:

  • Dan Wolf, Cape Air founder;
  • Chris Van Buiten, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation vice-president of innovations;
  • Dr. Steven H. Walker, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency acting director;
  • Stephen Welby, US Department of Defense Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering;
  • Dr. Marilyn Smith, Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence, Director;
  • Dr. Patricia Stevens, Boeing Phantom Works, program manager – rotorcraft technology program;
  • Tony Tether, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, but LinkedIn says he is former director of DARPA 2001-2009, but a current research professional;
  • Dr. Kenneth M. Rosen, Aero-Science Technology Associates, LLC, Principal Partner;
  • Suna Said, Nima Capital, Founder and CEO;
  • Marc Sheffler, American Helicopter Museum and Education Center, Chairman, Board of Trustees;
  • Boris Popov, BRS Aerospace Inc., founder;
  • Will Porteous, RRE Ventures, General Partner & COO;
  • Dan Ratmer, Conceptual Research Corporation, President;
  • Kristin Little, Boeing, Associate Technical Fellow, Crew Systems, Human Factors Lead;
  • Dan Newman, Boeing, Senior Technical Fellow for configuration development, and chief engineer of Phantom Works Rotary Wing Aircraft;
  • Daryll J. Pines, Clark School of Engineering, dean and the Nariman Farvardin Professor of Aerospace Engineering;
  • Vijay Kumar, University of Pennsylvania, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science;
  • Dr. John S. Langford, Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, founder Chairman and CEO;
  • Earl Lawrence, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Director of the Office;
  • Mark Hirschberg, AHS International, executive director;
  • Emily Howard, Boeing, Senior Technical Fellow;
  • Dr. Greg Hyslop, Boeing chief technology officer;
  • Matt Desch, Iridium Satellite, Chief Executive Officer;
  • Fernando Dones, Boeing, Boeing Technical Fellow – Flight Critical Systems;
  • Richard Golaszewski, GRA, Incorporated, Executive Vice President;
  • Dr. Inderjit Chopra, University of Maryland, University Distinguished Professor & Alfred Gessow Professor in Aerospace Engineering & Director Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center at University of Maryland;
  • Roger Connor, Smithsonian Institute National Air and Space Museum Specialist/Curator at Smithsonian Institution;
  • Blanche Demaret, ONERA, Programme Director for Rotorcraft;
  • Akif Bolukbasi, Boeing, Senior Technical Fellow;
  • Pete Buck, Lockheed Martin, lead engineer;
  • Aditi Chattopadhyay, Adaptive Intelligent Materials & Systems (AIMS) Center, Director;
  • Dr. Shane Arnott, Boeing, Director of Phantom Works Australia;
  • Dr. Paul Belivaqua, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, aeronautics engineer;
    Mark Bezos, DemoMode Marketing, founder.

Interested in making your dreams a reality? Visit http://goflyprize.com/

Good luck.

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Of Bees And The Wright Brothers

Gleanings In Bee Culture.jpgWhat we have here, is an item at the Swann Galleries auction site offering what it calls the most unlikely scoop in journalistic aviation history.

What we have here is: Gleanings in Bee Culture, which, as far as anyone can determine, features the first eyewitness report of the Wright brothers in flight.

Featured within 14 unbound issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture, is the description of a flight taken by the Wright Brothers on September 24, 1904.

The Wright Brothers first flew an airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S. on December 14, 1903. While no reporters were there that day, a telegraph operator spread word of the flight to a Virginia newspaper. Unfortunately, the details were a third-hand account and suffered from inaccuracies. Still… it did receive some global press.

In May of 1904, reporters were present for the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, but the Wright Flyer failed to perform as advertised.

But, on September 20, 1904, the boys were able to complete their first-ever circular flight—and this time there was a witness, one Amos Ives Root of Ohio, who was actually invited by the Wright’s to buzz around.

Amos Ives Root (1839–1923) was an Ohio entrepreneur who developed innovative techniques for beekeeping during the latter 19th century (how to harvest honey without destroying the hive).

This was around the 1860s, and Root’s technique helped him beecome (sp) (sorry) an internationally-renowned expert in apiary. At this point in time in American economics, beekeeping was a big part of local economies. A company formed by Root exists today as Root Candles.

Anyhow, Root back in 1904 was asked to write an article on the Wright Brother’s flight for Scientific American… but they rejected it.

So Root decided to write about it in a column he had called Our Homes in HIS company’s Gleanings In Bee Culture magazine.

You can see a page of it below:

Gleanings in Bee Culture 2.jpg

Expected auction price is between US1,500-$2,000.

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Wills’s Aviation Card #73 – Lieut. Jean Conneau (Beaumont)

73gf 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Lieut. Jean Conneau (Beaumont)

Card #73 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Green-back issue

  • Jean Louis Conneau (aka André Beaumont) on February 8, 1880 in Lodève, Hérault, France – August 5, 1937, Lodève, Hérault, France.

This is another Card No. 73 within the 75-card cigarette trading card set.

The other No. 73 was Card #73 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue (see HERE) … this blog is about the Capstan Navy Cut GREEN back issue.

While I applaud Wills’s for having the real name of the aviator on this cigarette card, we should note that Jean Louis Conneau (in the day) was best known by his pseudonym of André Beaumont… which is WHY there’s a bracketed name under his real name on the front of the card.

One hundred years removed, I had no idea just why “Beaumont” was bracketed, and assumed it was some sort of aeroplane.

So… why did Conneau have another name… a more famous name?

The card’s front provides the main clue.

Lieut. Jean Louis Conneau. Lieutenant. His was a military man…

Jean Louis Conneau.jpg

As an aeroplane pilot who enjoyed flying in various events and races of the day to earn a few extra dollars, because Conneau was a Lieutenant in the French navy.

I can’t find a lot (any) information about Conneau’s childhood—which I have found CAN explain why some people became interested in aviation or aerodynamics…


Google Translate says: The Blériot XI of the LV Jean-Louis Conneau (aka Beaumont) after its cowling on the ground of Reims-Betheny – Postcard of time. I assume it means: Lt. Jean-Louis Conneau (aka André Beaumont)’s upside-down Bleriot XI, after crashing at  Reims-Betheny… Image from: http://albindenis.free.fr/Site_escadrille/debut_aviation_militaire3.htm

Here’s what we know… on December 7, 1910, Conneau earned The Aéro-Club de France pilot’s license No. 322.

He earned his French military pilot’s license (No. 4) one year later on December 18, 1911.

Of course, in 1911, Conneau was entered in all sorts of aviation meets, and it is during this time that he utilized the pseudonym André Beaumont, as he was still in the Navy… even though he did not have a military pilot’s license at that time… no biggie… as you can see, being No. 4 for a French military license just meant that one wasn’t required within the military until late in 1911.

So… what is Conneau famous for?

Well… that would be his winning (or rather André Beaumont’s winning) of the Paris-Rome aeroplane race.

The race, which began on May 29, 1911, was originally supposed to have been a longer race, and was to be from Paris-Rome-Turin… but organizers cut the Rome to Turin leg, making it a separate race to be run one week after the Paris-Rome event.

During the Paris-Rome race, an aviator was allowed to stop, fix a plane, and even exchange an aircraft—though the pilot had to let race officials stationed throughout the race if this action was undertaken.

Beginning on May 28, 1911, Conneau (Beaumont) arrived at the race’s end-spot of the Parioli racetrack on May 31, 1911 in a time of 82 hours and five minutes

The quick pace set by Conneau surprised race organizers who had estimated the race would take about one week to complete.

In fact, second place winner Roland Garros (Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros) arrived in Rome in 106 hours and 15 minutes, having crashed two aircraft.

(Editor Note: Garros, by the way, was reported to have been involved in the first air-battle ever when his plane rammed a zeppelin, killing him. The only problem here is that Garros was still alive when that 1914 claim was circulated, and he denied being involved in the suicide run… especially since he was still alive.)

Third place was achieved in 156 hours and 52 minutes by André Frey in a Moranes; while the only other aviator to complete the journey was René Vidart in a Deperdussin at 195 hours and eight minutes.

Conneau landed like a rock star, as men knocked over women to have the honor of hoisting Conneau upon their shoulders, showing you just how different a world it was.

You can get a full-blown read on the Paris-Rome race at the www.earlyaviators.com website by clicking HERE.

Conneau also won the Circuit d’Europe (Tour of Europe), a route that took it from Paris-Liege-Spa-Utrecht-Brussels-Calais-London-Calais-Paris, winning on July 7, 1911.

Conneau/Beaumont also won the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain Race (England and Scotland) on July 26, 1911, flying a Blériot XI.

He also participated in the 1911 Paris to Madrid race beginning May 21, 1911. The race is infamous only because of the injuries and deaths that occurred upon the race’s beginning. See Wikipedia HERE – for a brief outline on that.

73gr 001.jpg

In 1913 he co-founded the Franco-British Aviation (FBA) to build flying boats known as a hydroplane (or in French as a Hydravions) 

The FBA was headquartered in London, England, Great Britain, maintained a factory in Paris, France, and thanks to its set-up, serviced both the French and British.

Conneau flew as a flying boat pilot during WWI, commanding squadrons at Nice, Bizerte, Dunkirk and Venice.

Between 1915-1919, Conneau was the guy in charge of perfecting the hydroplane on behalf of the French Navy.

After the war, Conneau continued to work in the hydroplane industry, taking up the position of technical director for the French firm Donnet-Lévèque.

Despite living until the age of 57, dying in France on August 5, 1937, the memory of Jean Louis Conneau aka André Beaumont has faded into the hangar with time.

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