Tuskegee Airmen Tribute Debuts in Canada at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#42R 001 (2).jpg

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

He created joystick control.

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

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

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

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

Next up… designing and building an aeroplane.

R.E.P 1


The R.E.P. 1 in 1907

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General characteristics

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


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

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

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

R.E.P. 2


The R.E.P. 2 in 1908

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

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

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

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

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


The R.E.P. in 1909… modified?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Not a bad way to leave this mortal coil.

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The First Japanese Airplane – Kaishiki No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Tokugawa Yoshitoshi

Captain Tokugawa Yoshitoshi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaishiki No.1 Specs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wills's 41R 001 (2)

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

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

Henri Farman.jpg

Henri Farman

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

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

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

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

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

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


Henri Farman (left) and Gabriel Voisin

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

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

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

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

Farman III Specifications:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farman III

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice and Henri Farman retired at this time.

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

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

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

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

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

Henry Farman's gravestone

Henry Farman’s gravestone – forever flying the Farman III. Image https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/62/75/7d/62757dfe5c3fe26487a693e1623e46e3.jpg

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

Hero’s Aelipile


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

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

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

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

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

We do know that he wrote at least six texts:

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

Hero’s inventions include:

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

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

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

Want to see it in action?

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

What the hell is an aelipile, anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Pischoff Flyer

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

Pischoff (Capt. Windham).

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

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

Specs of the Windham Pischoff Flyer:

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

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

Windham Glider

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

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

 Windham Tandem Monoplane (The Wills’s card above)

Windham Monoplane.jpg

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

Still… the plane didn’t work.

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

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

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

The pilot sat on the lower longeron.

Specs of the Windham Tandem Monoplane

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

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

Windham Tractor Monoplane II

windham_monoplane II.jpg

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

Doncaster 1909 Aviation Meet Poster.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specs of the Windham Tractor Monoplane II

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

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

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

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

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

In 1914, Windham closed up his Detachable Body Co.

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

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

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

Ever Wanted To Pilot The Hindenburg?

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

I was talking about the Hindenburg…

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

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

I would.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No really… that Batman ride was sweet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that stupid late night jogger!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Click HERE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a great video of the Rocket:

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

Wills’s Aviation Card #39 – The “Antoinette” Monoplane, 1909

#39FHistory Behind The Card: The “Antoinette” Monoplane, 1909

Card #39 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  •  Léon Levavasseur, January 8, 1863 in Le Mesnil-au-Val, Cherbourg, France – February 26, 1922, Pureaux, France

This blog is kind of a history of the Societee Antoniette manufacturing business that made some great, lightweight engines for the aviation industry, as well as eight different aeroplanes. I’m just saying that so you know I’m not concentrating too much on the particular aeroplane in the Wills’s cigarette card above.

From the heights of success to the depths of poverty, Léon Levavasseur experienced it all as a pioneer of aviation as he flew to close too the sun melting his wings.

Levavasseur helped form the aeroplane engine manufacturing business Antoinette, with him as the technical director, and finances from Jules Gastambide.

Levavasseur‘s innovations included the V8 engine and direct fuel injection in 1902, and various forms of evaporative engine cooling to help reduce drag.

Leon Levasseur

From around 1905, Leon Levasseur. Image © National Aviation Museum/CORBIS

It was while Levavasseur was on holiday with the Gastambide family in 1902 (Wait… was he a single man holidaying with the Gastambide family??!!), he discussed his idea of designing and manufacturing a light, powerful engines for use in aircraft.

The word “light” is important. Perhaps knowing he was talking to a rich man, Levavasseur smartly suggested that they should name the engines after Antoinette, Gastambide’s daughter. What a kiss-ass.

It worked, as Gastambide decided to finance the business, with Levavasseur patenting the first V8 engine later in 1902.

The Antoinette was highly successful in its aeroplane engine manufacturing business, as the light gas engines became a near-staple in the early aviation set.

It’s why the company figured it could enter the competitive world of aeroplane manufacturing.

If you are expecting failure – wrong. The Antoinette company was very successful, and while not the originator, was a key proponent of the monoplane… you know, what we use nowadays instead of biplanes or triplanes…


I have written a bit about the principals involved in the Antoinette company – most notably for Wills’s Aviation Card #34 – “Gastamabide & Mengin” Monoplane, 1908. So I ain’t gonna do it again.

But I will expand on a few things, which means we have to step back a few paragraphs.

Antoinette, situated in Puteaux, France, was a private company led by engineer Levavasseur who, after going on a vacation with Gastambide (and family) in 1902, suggested to the guy who owned an electricity generating station in Algeria, that he was interested in aviation.

While I am confounded as to the whole idea of someone getting rich building a power station in Algeria – whose idea was that??!! – I will say that Levavasseur’s idea to try and develop lightweight, but powerful aviation engines was even more bizarre, considering no one had been up, up and away in an aeroplane at this point in time (that didn’t happen until 1903, Wright? Right). 

So using Gastambide’s money and Levavasseur’s engineering skills, a partnership was forged. 

Always a good idea to kiss butt when money is on the table, Levavasseur suggested that the company’s engines should be named after Gastambide’s daughter – Antoinette.

Antoinette Gastambide

Antoinette Gastambide – the woman that got the motor running of an aviation company.

Later in 1902, Levavasseur patented the very first V8 motor… so Mad Max can get down, and pucker up, because here was the FIRST of the V8s.

By 1904, if you wanted to drive a speedboat, you used an Antoinette motor – some having up to 32 cylinders. My 1999 Oldsmobile Eighty-eight Special Edition car and its V8 owe its origins to this brilliant inventor. OMG… my car and the engines are from the same century.

The same was true for those inventors of 104 looking to solve the as yet unobtainable secret to heavier than air flight (The Wright Brothers were keeping their success a secret still).

By 1906, Levavasseur experimented with the construction of aircraft and in 1906 the Antoinette company was contracted to build an aircraft for Captain Ferdinand Ferber (February 8, 1862 – September 22, 1909) – who did some great work in the early days of aviation experimentation, and although his own aeroplane designs while working with Levavasseur  were a failure, he did achieve notoriety for pumping the tires of the Wright Brothers and their Wright Flyer.

Did you see what I did there? “Pumping the tires”… the Wright Brothers, despite being bicycle manufacturers did not build aeroplanes with wheels. Ha.

In 1908 French pilot Louis Blériot – who was also working alongside Levavasseur  – tried to dissuade the directors of Antoinette from becoming aircraft manufacturers, fearing that they would begin competing against him for customers. Blériot left the company when his advice was ignored.

Despite losing the ‘face’ of European aviation from their company, Antoinette kicked some butt, when in early 1909 it was able to work with the French Army to establish the first military aircraft trials, a flight school and a workshop. It was here at Camp Châlons, that they established one of the earliest flight simulators, using an  Antoinette Trainer.


The Antoinette Trainer… didn’t even cost you a dime. Actually, if you were learning how to fly, it probably cost you a lot of dimes.

The Antoinette Trainer was a bare bones flight simulator that comprised a half-barrel mounted on a universal joint, with flight controls, pulleys, and stub-wings (poles) to allow the pilot to maintain balance while instructors applied external forces.

Cool! One of the early pilots at the flight school was Hubert Latham, who after just a few months of training, became the Antoinette company’s head flight instructor.

Of the Latham students in 1909, includes:

  • Marie Marvingt, the first woman to fly combat missions as a bomber pilot, and established air ambulance services throughout the world;
  • Infante Alfonso, Duke of Galliera, cousin of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and the first Spanish military pilot.

Latham, himself made quite a few impressive flights in the Spring of 1909, which helped convince Levavasseur that with Latham as the pilot, they could fly across the English Channel (for the first time) in an Antoinette monoplane, winning a huge prize offered by the Daily Mail newspaper.

Ironically, both attempts by Latham to fly across the English Channel in July of 1909, were met with failure thanks to engine failure… engines… which were the bread-and-butter of the company in the early days.

To make matters worse, former Antoinette vice-president Blériot swas able to fly across the English Channel in his own aeroplane that used a simpler (but obviously more reliable) 25 horsepower air-cooled Anzani W3 engine and a more efficient Chauvière propeller.

A W-Engine is a type of reciprocating engine arranged with its cylinders in a configuration in which the cylinder banks resemble the letter W, in the same way those of a V engine resemble the letter V. The same W3 three-cylinder engines were being used to power Anzani motorcycles.

Antoinette V8 aeroplane motor

An Antoinette V8 aeroplane engine designed by Leon Levavasseur.

Despite missing out on being the first across the English Channel, Latham (and Antoinette) were far more successful at the world’s first airplane show, the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne held August 22-29, 1909 at Reims, France. You can read about that event in my two blogs HERE and HEREAGAIN.

Latham won the altitude prize; came in second in the speed competition; grabbed third in the Gordon Bennett Cup for aeroplanes (this was a two lap race around a 10 kilometers (6.2 mile) circuit);and came in both second and fifth for an event where one had to fly the longest distance without stopping. He came in second in an Antoinette IV, and fifth in an Antoinette VII.

By the way, the Antoinette IV was the plane used in the first attempt by Latham to cross the English Channel, while the VII was used in his failed second attempt.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Gastambide-Mengin I


There was no Antoinette I. Back in February of 1908, the aircraft… a monoplane… was called the… er, monoplane… and then eventually the Gastambide-Mengin I.

Using a 50 horsepower Antoinette piston engine, it powered a tractor propeller and featured a complex quadricycle landing gear.

Between February 8-14, 1908, the Gastambide-Mengin I made four test flights, piloted by a mechanic named Boyer… but the longest flight was only 150 meters… but there is no evidence it actually flew in the air… just that it may have skipped.


  • Crew: one
  • Length: 7.9 meters (25 ft 11 in)
  • Wingspan: 10 meters (32 ft 10 in)
  • Wing area: 24 m2 (260 sq ft)
  • Max takeoff weight: 350 kilograms (772 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 Antoinette eight valve, V8 water-cooled piston engine, 37 kW (50 hp)
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Levavasseur paddle bladed propeller

After the four flights, the Gastambide-Mengin I was reconfigured between February and August 1908, and was renamed the Gastambide-Mengin II.

Gastambide-Mengin II/Antoinette II


The Antoinette II included the addition of trailing edge-hinged triangular ailerons.

The aircraft made three short flights in August of 1908. On August 20, 1908, Robert Gastambide became the first passenger to be flown in a monoplane; while a day later the aircraft became the first monoplane to fly in a circle.

The aeroplane was again renamed, this time as the Antoinette II, with subsequent aeroplanes carrying the Antoinette moniker.


  • Crew: one
  • Length: 7.9 meters (25 ft 11 in)
  • Wingspan: 10 meters (32 ft 10 in)
  • Wing area: 24 m2 (260 sq ft)
  • Max takeoff weight: 350 kilograms (772 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 Antoinette eight valve, V8 water-cooled piston engine, 37 kW (50 hp)
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Levavasseur paddle bladed propeller

Antoinette III

Antoinette III

Next up in was the Antoinette III, sometime after August of 1908… because of the limited success of Antoinette II, Levavasseur completely revised the design.

While roll control was not improved–still using wing warping, both the ground handling and take-off / landing performance was improved by revising the quadricycle undercarriage of the previous two designs, with the craft’s strut supported wheels forward and aft on the center-line and side-by side wheels mid-way between the singles.

Other improvements came in the form of the cruciform tail unit with large triangular fins above and below the rear fuselage, as well as the large tailplane, all of which supported triangular control surfaces. It still wasn’t flying as well as they wanted, but it was still flying.


  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 14 meters (45 ft 11 in)
  • Wingspan: 12.5 meters (41 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area: 40 m2 (430 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 519 kilograms (1,144 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 Antoinette eight valve, V8 water-cooled piston engine at 50 hp at 1,100 rpm;
  • Maximum speed: 75 km/h (47 mph; 40 kn)

Antoinette IV

Antoinette IV

First flown on October 19, 1908, the Antoinette IV would have to be called a very successful aeroplane. On February 19, 1909, it flew five kilometers (3.1 miles), and on July 19, 1909, it was part of the unsuccessful attempt to fly across the English Channel—though it did manage to cover 11 km (6.8 miles) before engine failure ensured a forced water landing.

The Antoinette IV was like its predecessors a single-seat monoplane, and was a high-wing aircraft with a fuselage of extremely narrow triangular cross-section and a cruciform tail.

Power was provided by a V8 engine of Léon Levavasseur’s own design driving a paddle-bladed tractor propeller. Lateral control was at first effected with large triangular, and shortly afterwards trapezoidal-planform ailerons hinged to the trailing edge of the wings, although wing-warping was substituted at an early stage in flight trials, and in this type proved more effective.


  • Crew: one, pilot
  • Length: 11.50 meters (37 ft 9 in)
  • Wingspan: 12.80 meters (42 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area: 50 m2 (538 ft2)
  • Empty weight: 250 kilograms (550 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 Antoinette eight valve, V8 at 50 hp

Antoinette V

Antoinette_VFirst flown on December 20, 1908, the Antoinette V had an increased upper vertical tail area with no fabric covering the lower fin framework. The fuselage consisted of a wooden framework of triangular section covered with fabric, except in the cockpit area abreast the wing trailing edge. The wings were built in a similar fashion and were also covered in fabric.

Control was affected by wheels either side of the pilots seat for roll and pitch and a rudder bar for yaw. The pilot operated a triangular elevator hinged to the tailing edge of the large tailplane, rhomboidal ailerons hinged from the trailing edges of the wing-tips and two triangular rudders above and below the tailplane.

This aeroplane was delivered to Réné Demanest and was apparently easy to fly.


  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 11.5 meters (37 ft 9 in)
  • Wingspan: 12.8 meters (42 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area: 34 m2 (370 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 520 kilograms (1,146 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 Antoinette eight valve, V8 water-cooled piston engine at 50 hp
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Antoinette paddle-bladed, 2.2 meters (7 ft 3 in) diameter;
  • Maximum speed: 72 km/h (45 mph; 39 kn)

Antoinette VI


Flown in early 1909, the Antoinette VI, was a further development of the Antoinette V, which itself was an upgrade of the Antoinette IV.

The  principal upgrade of the Antoinette VI, was the addition of ailerons, but for whatever reason, Levavasseur wasn’t happy with the the results and reverted back to a wing-warping technique that was present in the Antoinette V.

Other than the wing-warping, the specs are the same as for the Antoinette V.


  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 11.5 meters (37 ft 9 in)
  • Wingspan: 12.8 meters (42 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area: 34 m2 (370 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 520 kilograms (1,146 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 Antoinette eight valve, V8 water-cooled piston engine, at 50 hp;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Antoinette paddle-bladed, 2.2 meters (7 ft 3 in) diameter;
  • Maximum speed: 72 km/h (45 mph; 39 kn)

Antoinette VII

Antoinette VII belonging to Latham

The Antoinette VII, was  Levavasseur going back to the Antoinette IV, and adding more engine power, but again using the wing warping, rather than the ailerons that were prevalent in the Antoinette IV.

This was the plane that Levavasseur hoped pilot Hubert Latham would be able fly as the first to cross the English Channel, but as we all know, he failed in his attempt on July 25, 1909 due to engine failure, only to see his rival Louis Bleriot succeed hours later in his Bleriot XI.

Just because, Latham made a second attempt on July 27, but again there was engine failure, and he crash landing in the water only about 1.6 km (0.99 miles) from shore.

As mentioned above, Latham flew the same aeroplane at the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne, winning the prize for altitude (155 m, 509 ft) and coming second in the contest for the fastest circuit, with a speed of 68.9 km/h, 42.8 mph.


  • Crew: one, pilot (later versions after 1910 could accommodate one passenger)
  • Length: 11.50 meters (37 ft 9 in)
  • Wingspan: 12.80 meters (42 ft 0 in)
  • Height: 3.00 meters (9 ft 10 in)
  • Wing area: 50 m2 (538 ft2)
  • Empty weight: 590 kilograms (1,300 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 Antoinette 8V, V8 cooled to 50 hp
  • Maximum speed: 70 km/h (44 mph)

The Antoinette VII is the one pictured on the Wills’s aviation card above.

Antoinette VIII

antoinette VIII
Like beating a dead horse, Levavasseur tried to take the Antoinette IV design, adding wing-warping of larger wings (for greater lateral control), with a more powerful powerplant (motor) with his Antoinette VIII.
The Swiss pilot Eugene Ruchonnet was one of the first to fly the Antoinette VIII.
  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 11.5  meters (37 feet nine inches);
  • Wingspan: 14.02 meters;
  • Height: 3.0 meters
  • Wing area: 50 m2 (538 ft2);
  • Empty weight: 590 kilograms (1,300 lb);
  • Powerplant: 1 x Antoinette 8V, V8 cooled to about 60hp.
By the way, I can not guarantee that the image above is the Antoinette VIII.

Antoinette Military Plane/Antoinette-Latham/Antoinette Monobloc

Antoinette MonoblocIn 1911, the Antoinette company hoped to be able to manufacture aeroplanes specifically for the military, creating its Antoinette military monoplane, aka the Antoinette-Latham or the Antoinette Monobloc.
This plane—only one was built—first flew in 1911, but since we know this was the first and only one built, we can all assume it wasn’t a success.
Based on the design of the Antoinette IV, the Antoinette military monoplane tried to add in some aerodynamic kicks, such as using cantilever wings without bracing wires… or spats to enclose the landing gear struts… which made the aeroplane too heavy for its punky little motor.
It’s too bad they cheaped out on the motor. Obviously a heavier plane would need a stronger motor.  I love the streamlined look of this plane. It’s modern-looking!
No orders were received when it was exhibited at the 1911 Concours Militaire (Military Competition) at Reims in 1911.
  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 1
  • Length: 11.5 meters (37 ft 9 in)
  • Wingspan: 15.9 meters (52 ft 2 in)
  • Empty weight: 935 kg (2,061 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Antoinette 8V, V8 water-cooled piston engine, 37 kW (50 hp)
Levavasseurhad left the company in November of  1909, just after Gastambide had, but both returned in March 1910.
It was actually Levavasseur who had designed  the Antoinette military monoplane, and with zero sales, it should come to no one’s surprise that the Antoinette company soon went thhhhffffffffttttttttt!
After the bankruptcy of the company, I can’t much out about Levavasseur, except that as of 1918, he began working on an aircraft with variable wing surface … a design that won him a “Safety in Aeroplanes” prize (according to Flight magazine, June 2, 1921, p.377: “French Aeroplane Safety Prizes”)… a design that later acquired by the French government.
Levavasseur died in poverty on February 26, 1922.
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Ann Frank Display At Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

Anne-FrankThis is an event of historic significance and one that should not be missed.

From March 12, 2016 to August 28, 2016, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum presents Anne Frank – A History For Today, with artifacts never before displayed in Canada.

This an opportunity not just to see, but to experience the courage of Anne Frank (pictured above, age 12, in Amsterdam) as she and seven other people of Jewish faith hid from World War ll Nazi Germans in a secret annex in Amsterdam.

As most people are aware, during her self-imposed exile from freedom, Anne Frank recorded their struggle in her diary.

Every day, for almost two years, as she hid from the Nazi occupation, Anne Frank entered her thoughts and eye-witnessed accounts of the day in a journal, a history of the prejudice that was faced by so many during the Holocaust, a true testament to her perseverance and bravery.

The international exhibition Anne Frank – A History For Today has traveled all over the world, and is presented more than 300 times per year. The worldwide tour is coordinated by the Anne Frank House, in Amsterdam and is designed to:

  • Inform visitors about the history of the Holocaust from the perspective of Anne Frank and her family;
  • Show visitors that cultural, ethnic, religious and political differences between people exist in every society. In many countries there are groups who consider themselves superior and deny others the right to equal treatment. Such views can lead to discrimination, exclusion, persecution and even murder;
  • Challenge visitors to think about concepts such as tolerance, mutual respect, human rights and democracy;
  • Help visitors to understand that a society where differences between people are respected does not come about by itself. Legislation is of course necessary, but people also have to make a personal commitment.

Don’t miss this glimpse into history. For tickets, general admission applies and tickets can be purchase at the Museum.
Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum
9280 Airport Road
Mount Hope, ON
L0R 1W0, Canada

For details, please visit www.warplane.com; T: 905-679-4183; LDT: 1-877-347-3359. Hours: 9AM – 5PM, daily


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Daredevils Play Tennis In Sky – 1925

Gladys RoyAbove we see a classic 1925 photograph of Gladys Roy and Ivan Unger playing a game of tennis on the wings of a bi-plane above Los Angeles.

Now regular readers will know I can’t just leave things at that.

Who the hell was Gladys Roy and Ivan Unger? And how could anyone play tennis on a flying airplane?

In answer to the second question – you can’t.

They had to fake it. If you try and hot a ball straight across to the other person, that ball is long gone.

What if you hit it in front of the aircraft? Well, if it didn’t hit the propeller, it would still blow past you thanks to the speed of the airplane.

So… fake it, playing with an imaginary ball. How could anyone below actually see a tiny tennis ball – even with opera glasses or binoculars?

As for wing walker Gladys Roy… let’s go back a a bit farther and discover who the heck was crazy enough to try something like that first.

Apparently there are two crazy buggers.

One is Colonel Samuel Franklin Cody, who in 1911 reportedly was attempting to show how stable his Flying Cathedral bi-plane was with a passenger 10-feet six inches away from the aircraft’s center of gravity.

But is that wing walking?

Let’s take a look at Ormer Locklear (October 28, 1891 – August 2, 1920) of Greenville Texas, who had no problem during WWI to simply step out of his cockpit to move up to fix his aircraft while in flight. This could in clued the engine, or perhaps the wings themselves.

I suppose if the alternative was going to be a crash, I’d wing walk, too.

Gladys Roy1
Now… Gladys Roy. As you can see from the image directly above, she was one hot daredevil.

To me, anyone getting up in one of those old crates prior to WWII was incredibly brave… and to know there were daredevil fliers and daredevil wing walkers in that era – well… wow.

The photo above shows wing walkers Gladys Roy and Ivan Unger (foreground) playing tennis atop a Curtis JN-4 Jenny bi-plane.

The plane was flying at a speed between 40 and 60 mils per hour, which while still strong, wasn’t enough to blow them over – especially when you realize that they were booted and strapped in place.

Gladys and Ivan were members of the 13 Black Cats, a famous wing walking group of daredevils of the 1920s.

Along with the tennis act – the image above is probably what she is best remembered for—and I’m sure you can find postcards of that for sale on-line somewhere—Gladys also danced the Charleston while on the wing of a bi-plane and walked across the wings blindfolded. She was also purported to be a daredevil parachutist.

Little is actually known about Gladys, but it is suspected that she was from Minnesota, had moved to Los Angeles by 1921.

There is a November 1921 news report from the Los Angeles Times noting that there was an upcoming attempt by Gladys to break the women’s world altitude parachute record by jumping from 16,000 feet.

Perhaps because things were called off, there is no further mention of her success or failure in the attempt. It was, reported in that earlier article, that it was only to have been her third time in a parachute.

Brave or crazy? Probably helps to be a bit of both.

Her 1924 personal letterhead declares her to be the record holder of the world’s lowest parachute jump, at 100 feet.

“Needless to say, I don’t care to make the jump again,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1925.

Although Gladys was earning anywhere from $200 to $500 per performance (anywhere from $2,600 to $6,700), she still said in 1924 that she was barely making any money as her expenses were high.

If I had my guess, it would because of those amazing waves she has in her hair. Still, it makes one wonder what her expenses could have been?

By 1926, with crowds seemingly no longer as fascinated by daredevil flying, Gladys was barely making $100 per performance.

In a May 1926 article in the Los Angeles Times, Gladys said: “Of late the crowds are beginning to tire of even my most difficult stunts and so I must necessarily invent new ones, that is, I want to hold my reputation as a dare-devil. Eventually an accident will occur and then—”

While one would expect the life of a daredevil to be short, due to the inherent dangers, Gladys actually died on the ground in a most-tragic manner.

While performing at an aviation exhibition in Youngstown, Ohio in August of 1927… and getting her plane ready for a New York to Rome flight with Lt. Delmar Snyder.

For the gory details, let’s take a look at an August 16, 1927 article from the Knoxville Journal:

Youngstown, O., Aug. 15(AP) – Gladys Roy, 25, attractive aviatrix who had planned a New York to Rome airplane flight as a climax to years of stunt flying, died in a hospital here tonight from injuries received when she was struck by a whirling propeller at Watson field here late today.
      Rushed to a hospital after the accident, surgeons there reported her skull was torn away by the spinning blade.
      The accident happened as the noted aviatrix climbed aboard a plane which was motionless on the ground with its motor running.
      Miss Roy arrived in Youngstown today on a business trip. She appeared in a plane stunt act at Kinsman fair grounds yesterday and was to have appeared near here in another exhibition feat early next month. Her home was in Minneapolis.
      Miss Roy, well known in aviation circles since 1920, was being groomed for a New York to Rome flight. Her co-pilot in the flight was to have been Lieutenant Delmar Snyder. She recently paid a visit to Lieutenant Snyder’s mother in Cleveland.
      Miss Roy had climbed into the plane to have her picture taken with an Ohio bathing beauty who won a place to compete in the Atlantic City annual bathing beauty contest. The picture was nearly finished being taken when the woman flier started the engine, stepped down from the fuselage and unconsciously walked into the propeller.
      She is the holder of several parachute record jumps from airplanes. “Chadwick Smith, her brother, also is a pilot. He flies a mail plane between Chicago and Minneapolis.

Bizarre, eh? She walked into her airplane’s propeller.

If you are sober or thinking in your right frame of mind, you don’t do that. If you do… is it really possible for someone to forget where a propeller is on one’s own airplane?

I don’t wish to cast any falsehoods, so I’ll just wonder aloud if it was a suicide… she seemed down regarding her profession and her place in it… in debt…

Suicide possibility? Yes… a possibility… but no one alive can say so for sure.

Her mind could simply have been clouded with thoughts… anxious to get the flight underway… in a hurry to get the photo pop done… anxious about her flying companion… the trip… money… life… people get absent-minded when too many things, or even one thing gets in their head.

Whatever the reason… a tragic death for Gladys Roy. Gone, but not forgotten.

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