Wills’s Aviation Card #63 – The Etrich Monoplane

Etrich F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: The Etrich Monoplane

Card #63 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Green back issue

  •  Igo (Ignaz) Etrich, December 25, 1879, in Trutnov, Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic)February 4, 1967, Salzburg, Austria.
  • Franz Xaver Wels, February 10, 1873 in Maribor, Slovenia – October 18, 1940, Wien, Austria.

First things first. I already did card No. 63 of the Wills’s Aviation series, but that was for the Black back cards.

The Capstan Navy Cut backs of the 75-card series came in both a Black and a Green back series… while most of the cards were identical, some like the Green series offered a completely different card featuring a completely different topic.

Card No. 63 of the Green Back series is one such example. It’s not one of my prettier cards. Finding the 75- and 85-card series is always a challenge, and finding them in good shape is even more so. Finding the green-backed cards… well… it just seems to be even more difficult.

By the way, I’m going to set up a Trade Shop soon, where aviation card collectors need not worry about paying stupidly high prices in shipping or for the card themselves… we just trade… one for one… to help each other complete our collections.

I figure I’ll post images of the cards I have for trade, you tell me what you want, I’ll tell you what I’m after, and then we trust each other to post the card safely. We pay our own shipping costs to send the card to each other. Easy-peasy. No one gets ripped off.

Back to this card:


Is it just me, but does Igo Etrich look a lot like Bud Abbott (of Abbott & Costello)?

Igo Etrich is the designer of the Etrich Monoplane… born in the Czech Republic to a textile manufacturing father (Ignaz Etrich – 1839-1927), Etrich was, in fact, an Austrian.

A pioneer in the early days of aviation (obviously, the Wills’s card is from 1911), Etrich’s monoplane (fixed wing) designs utilized wings shaped like a bird’s wings.

An unorthodox design all around as biplanes were thought to be more stable in the air than monoplanes, the Etrich wings were slightly swept back and turned upward. The tail (note that there is no vertical) was also designed to look like a bird’s tail.

The aeroplane’s model was nicknamed “Taube“, a German word for “dove”.

Along with the wings, the wheels and skid mount at the front of the aircraft were all cable-braced together to the fuselage to provide additional stability – you can see that in the image above.

Anyhow… let’s see what we can discover about Etrich himself first.

We know that his father owned a textile factory, so we can assume the family had some money, which was how he was able to attend schools in Leipzig.

It was at school that he learned of the glider work of the famed Otto Lillenthal.

The elder Etrich also became intrigued by gliders and with his son they constructed their own glider laboratory to study and experiment with flight.

Igo Etrich was also intrigued by birds and how they flew, and felt that using wings curved like a birds would create better lift for their gliders. But they didn’t build any gliders in this form at this time.

When Lillenthal died in 1896, Etrich’s father purchased two of the gliders for their studying: Sturmflügelapparat” (storm wing apparatus)  and “Flügelschlagapparat” (flapping/flying apparatus).

A year later in 1897 the Etrich’s read about a scientific paper by a Professor Ahlborn who described the see of the Zanonian macrocarpa—now known as the Alsomitra macrocarpa or Javan cucumber (see below)—that when detached from the plant would glide through the air.


Dad and son Etrich attempted to build a glider in 1900/1901, but were unsuccessful in their attempts of flight.


Franz Wels in 1908.

Igo Etrich and Franz Xaver Wels decided they would design and construct an unmanned glider based on this cucumber seed—eventually getting it to fly successfully in 1904.

Subsequent attempts to motorize it with an engine he purchased failed to get it to fly as an aeroplane, but a manned non-powered glider version did successfully fly in 1906.


Etrich-Wels “Leaf” glider in 1906. Image from Flying Wings: http://www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/etrich.html

In the Wiener Prater district in Vienna in 1907, Etrich set up a second experimental aviation laboratory.


1908 Etrich Nurflugel. Image from Flying Wings:  http://www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/etrich.html

He designed and built the Etrich “Nurflügel” (Flying Wing) tractor monoplane in 1907-8, and the Etrich Taube (Dove) tractor monoplane in 1909.

The Flying Wing had its first flight attempt on October 2, 1907, flying a distance of 225 (~738 feet) meters at a height of between 15-17 meters (~49-56 feet).

Later that year (1909), he built the Praterspatz (Prater Park Sparrow) – also known as Etrich I, an improved version of the Dove.

But because the aircraft was using an under-powered 24-horsepower motor, the aeroplane was unsuccessful.

He set up two hangars at the newly developed Wienr Neustadt airfield later in 1909, and working with partner Franz Wels they improved the Etrich I by adding a stronger engine.

It flew.

It used foot adjustable side rudders for control, and added a car’s steering wheel to act as a steering horn to provide height control.

By 1910, Etrich had designed and built the Etrich II Taube (Dove) two-seater tractor (motor in front) monoplane. Monoplanes are fixed wing aircraft just like single wing aircraft we have today.

Problem arose between Etrich and co-designer Wels after the latter had traveled to Paris to see the Wright Brothers demonstrate their Wright Flyer. Wels believed that a biplane would be a better wing configuration, leading the two to dissolve their partnership.

The Etrich II Taube made its maiden flight in early 1910… but during a later test flight the plane crashed with Etrich as pilot, nearly breaking his back.

The scare, and perhaps the physical damage to his body allowed Etrich to name Karl Illmer as his test pilot.


Igo Etruch (left) and pilot Karl Illmer – 1912.

Thanks to the successful test flights, two things happened:

  1. The Austrian government wanted him to build them aeroplanes, so further refinements were made to the Etrich II Taube. The military wanted Etrich to ensure that the Taube could land safely on a freshly plowed field.
  2. Etrich signed a contract with German Edmund Rumpler allowing Rumpler the right to build the Taube II in Germany under the name of Etrich-Rumpler-Taube.

However, because the German patent office did not give Etrich a patent, it meant t hat anyone could use his designs to build the Taube for free.

So that’s what Rumpler did, having private companies construct the Taube II under the name of Rumpler-Taube. In fact, there are known to have been some 14 companies that built the Taube with some variations to each… and not a pfennig (German penny, essentially) going back to Igo Etrich. D’oh.


Go ahead… build your own 1913 Taube.


Rumpler claimed to be the designer of the Taube… so Etrich sued him, keeping the battle ongoing until WWI broke out in 1914, when he dropped the lawsuit and patriotically made his aviation design of the Taube available to anyone.

Even while this was going on, in 1912 Etrich founded Etrich Fliegerwerke in Liebau (now part of Poland) and designed an aircraft with the first fully-enclosed cabin for the passengers, which he named Luft-Limousine (aka Air Limousine or the Etrich VIII – yeah, I’m skipping some), The Luft Limousine was a four-seater high-wing monoplane. A German named Ernst Heinkel was in charge of the design office. 


The 4-seater Etrich Luft-Limousine… what a beautiful-looking aircraft! And this is 1912?!

Heinkel was one of Germany’s top aircraft designers through WWII – you might have heard of him. Excellent planes, good Nazi.

Etrich R 001.jpg

The caption reads: The most powerful machine in the “Daily Mail” Circuit of Britain second £10,000 prize. This monoplane was driven by Lieutenant Bier, who also carried a passenger. The wording at the reverse is choppy… and as such, the reader couldn’t be sure if the aeroplane won second place, or if this was the second Daily Mail contest. By the way… you’ll notice the offer for an album to hold these and other tobacco cards – the bane of the future collector, as people would glue them in, even though that meant you couldn’t read the back of the cards!

Let’s take a look at the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain… since these are cards issued in 1911, we can assume the contest was either in 1910 or early to mid-1911.

So… looking that up, we find that the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain was a British cross-country air race which took place from 1911 until 1914, with prizes donated by the Daily Mail newspaper.

The 1911 race took place on 22 July and was a 1,010 miles (1,630 km) event with 11 compulsory stops and a circular route starting and finishing at Brooklands in Surrey.

Look at the results, I see that the Etrich Taube II monoplane flown by  Lt. H. Bier did not do very well.


From 1913 Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft pubication.

The winner was Jean Conneau in a Blériot XI who took 22 hours, 28 minutes to complete the course at an average speed of 45 mph (72 km/h) and received the first prize of £10,000. The runner up was Jules Védrines in a Morane-Borel monoplane with James Valentine, in a Deperdussin coming third.

The Taube II was damaged during a landing at Codicote near Hatfield after suffering radiator problems.

That sucked… however, the Taube II was well-respected, at least in the media, because, as the reverse of the Wills’s card states, it carried a passenger… and was the only aircraft in the competition to do so, with Lt. Bier flying fellow officer Lt. C. Banfield.

The Wills’s card is also correct in calling the aeroplane powerful. It probably should have stated why.

The motor used on the Taube II was a 120 horsepower Beardmore, manufactured by William Beardmore, who had first designed and built it for then-Austrian car manufacturer Austro-Daimler. Chief engineer there was Ferdinand Porsche (yes, later founder of the Porsche automobile company), who also had a hand in fine tuning the 120 Beardmore motor.

From what I understand, after Lt. Bier crashed his Taube II in the race, the engine was kept and re-sold to Samuel Franklin Cody, who would use the engine to help him set a speed record in 1914.


A Taube II version from 1913.

By the way, these Taube II Dove aeroplanes were used by Germany and Austro-Hungary during WWI as an observation vehicle, and for training purposes. They had been used as fighters early on,  but their lack of speed relative to the enemy’s planes caused them to be merely training aircraft, with most all German pilots during the war receiving their initial training on a Taube/Dove.

However, back in 1911, the Taube was the first aeroplane used to drop bombs, doing so over the Balkans… and was the first in WWI over Paris in 1914.

Don’t get all excited, there was no bomb release door… the pilot or passenger would physically hold a bomb in their hands, lean over the side and bomb’s away.

According to Flying Wings blog, the Taube II Specifications are:

  • Width (wings): 46 feet 8 inches;
  • Length: 32 feet 4 inches;
  • Take-off Weight: 1,759 pounds;
  • Engine: 100/120 horsepower Mercedes water-cooled six-cylinder in-line (original); later a 200 horsepower Ranger water-cooled six-cylinder upright conversion (representation);
  • Maximum speed:  60 mph.

I can neither confirm nor deny these specs. My data shows the Taube used a 120 Beardmore engine from Austro-Daimler… Daimler was involved with Mercedes, who later partnered with Benz. That company is equally as convoluted when it comes to history.


A 1914 version of the Taube II.


In 1913, Etrich moved to Germany, and founded Brandenburgische Flugzeugwerke aeroplane manufacturing. In 1914, he sold the business to fellow Austrian banker and stock-market player Camillo Castiglioni, who moved the factory from Liebau (now Poland, but prior to WWI a part of teh German Republic) to Brandenburg an der Havel (Brandenburg, Germany), and took chief designer Ernst Heinkel with him.

Known commonly as Hansa-Brandenburg, by August of 1915, the company became Germany’s largest manufacturer of military aircraft, adding two more factories and employing over 1,000 people.

I can’t figure out just what Etrich was doing during WWI… but I can confirm that after it, he was working as the owner of a textile manufacturing plant and worked on developing a flax processing machine in Trautenau (now Trutnov), then of the newly-formed Czechoslovakia.

After WWI, Germans and Austrians, in particular, were forbidden from creating aviation in any format – part of their punishment for their role in the war.

Bitten by the aviation bug once again, Etrich thought, so it is claimed, that he would try to build and sell a low-cost aeroplane that could be used for low-cost transportation purposes.


The Etrich Sport-Taube was a very small plane, as you can see.

So he built the one-seater, closed cockpit Sport-Taube aircraft inside his textile factory, flying for the first time in 1929.

It used a small 40 horsepower engine, but it seemed to be more maneuverable and faster than any other aircraft the Czechoslovakian military had at that time.


Working with the military, the authorities said that Etrich had built the Sport-Taube as a means to perform smuggling operations and took the aircraft away from him.

Utterly fed up, Etrich never again designed or built another aeroplane again, concentrating instead on his textile business.

After WWII, his textile business expropriated, he moved back to northern Bohemia in October of 1946, settling in Niederbayern.

In and around 1955 he developed a high-speed stretch for fiber tapes used in the worsted yarn industry, that made him successful again.

I’m not sure when the first marriage occurred, but in 1950 he moved with his second wife to nearby Freilassing, though the textile plant remained. He moved to Salzburg, Austria in 1961, and was named honorary president of the Salzburg Aero Club.

Other awards include the Knights Cross of the Franz Joseph Order in 1911, the Federal Cross in 1955 and the Dr. Karl Renner Prize in 1959.

He died an old man of 87-years-old in Salzburg.

The Etrich II can be seen at the Technisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. The Sport-Taube can be seen at the Technischen Museum Prague in the Czech Republic.

Here’s a list of aircraft built by Igo Etrich:

  • 1909  Etrich “Nurflügel” (Only Wings) tractor monoplane;
  • 1909  Etrich Taube (Dove) tractor monoplane;
  • 1909  Etrich-Wels “Praterspatz” (Prater sparrow) tractor monoplane;
  • 1910  Etrich II “Taube” (Dove) 2-seater tractor monoplane;
  • 1910  Etrich II modified “Taube” (Dove) tractor monoplane;
  • 1910  Etrich III “Möve” (Seagull) tractor monoplane;
  • 1910  Etrich IV “Taube” (Dove) tractor monoplane;
  • 1910  Etrich V “Taube” (Dove) tractor monoplane;
  • 1910  Etrich VI “Taube” (Dove) tractor monoplane;
  • 1911  Etrich “Etrichapparat” monoplane;
  • 1911  Etrich IV “Manövertaube” (Military Dove) Type B military 2-seater monoplane;
  • 1911  Etrich VII “Renntaube” (Racing Dove) 3-seater racing monoplane;
  • 1912  Etrich VIII “Luft-Limousine” (“Air Limousine”) 4-seater high wing monoplane;
  • 1912  Etrich IX “Schwalbe” (“Swallow”) monoplane;
  • 1912  Etrich X —-no evidence it was built, but numbering begins later with XII;
  • 1912  Etrich XI —no evidence it was built, but numbering begins later with XII;
  • 1912  EFW Etrich XII “Rennapparat” (“Racing Machine”) 2-seater bomber monoplane;
  • 1912  Etrich “Manövertaube” (“Military Dove”) Fype F 2-seater military monoplane;
  • 1913  EFW Etrich Taube Type 1913 2-seater bomber monoplane;
  • 1914  Type A-1 & A-2 were military airplanes;
  • 1929 Sport-Taube monoplane.



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Wills’s Aviation Card #64 – Mr. Claude Grahame-White.

Claude Grahame-White F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Mr. Claude Grahame-White.

Card #64 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – black back issue

  • Claude Grahame-White, August 21, 1879 in Bursledon, Hampshire, England, Great Britain – August 19, 1959 in Nice, France.

Claude Grahame-White was the type of aviator that ticked off the Wright Brothers.

With this card – No. 64, Wills’s Aviation card series of 1911 began to include biographical cards of some of the more famous aviators. Claude Grahame-White was the first.

Along with his fame as an aviator – he was the first to make a night flight – he also formed his own aviation company, and helped promote the aviation field with penned articles and books.

A handsome man, Grahame-White was not tremendously educated, but after learning how to drive a car in 1895–a big deal at the time–he apprenticed as an engineer and soon started his own motor building company.


What I love about the photo of Claude Grahame-White above, is the fact that he is wearing the same chapeau as depicted on the Wills’s card – and quite possibly the same bow tie, complete with white polka dots. The same type of collar on the shirt is also evident, but the Card depicts him wearing an aviator-style overcoat.

It was his swagger, his lifestyle and his love of self-publicity more than anything, a public darling.

Let’s face it, if no one has seen you or heard you talk, you tend to fade from public view… Grahame-White didn’t… at least until he stopped his self-promoting.

The Wright Brothers—despite being pioneers of heavier than air flight, they preferred keeping their innovation a secret for years… and when they did speak about aviation they weren’t exactly thought of as exciting.

Think about this… who invented television? Right. But we all know who shot JR, the plot of every Seinfeld episode, or just when Happy Days jumped the shark.

It was professor Farnsworth – immortalized in Futurama by name only, by the way.

While the Wright Brothers viewed Grahame-White as a huckster… a snake-oil salesman of self-promotion, he thought that while they were fantastic for being the first in the air with an aeroplane, he thought they were greedy SOBs for their penchant for suing everyone and every company that dared build their own version of an aeroplane.

I agree with Grahame-White in this case. There’s a reason why the Wright Brothers are rightly praised for being the first… but they hardly propelled aviation further as the years went on.

I mean come on! Even though these guys were bicycle builders, they never thought of putting wheels on their aeroplanes until 1910-19143 Model B, their seventh aeroplane design.

Anyhow… Grahame-White did meet Wilbur Wright when the latter visited France in 1908. He described Wilbur Wright as an “ascetic, gaunt American with watchful, hawklike eyes.”

Big whoop, except that the implication is that Wilbur was someone very careful of his invention.

Still, after seeing Wilbur Wright actually fly, he decided to focus his drive on aviation.

He had used fast cars and fast boats to capture the attention of fast women, and correctly guessed that aviation would be a great way to get into the mile-high club then known as the 500-meter club.

However, after pilot Louis Blériot first crossed the English Channel in 1909 (see my story HERE), he became intrigued by aviation – so much so that he traveled to France for an opportunity to see the 1909 Reims aviation meet (see HERE and HERE), the first aviation meet, where he met Blériot and decided to enroll in his flying school.

Or did he?

I also found a story that makes a lot of sense… that he after ordering an aeroplane from Louis Blériot’s factory in France, he taught himself to fly all by his lonesome.

Apparently Grahame-White was impressed by the power of the press who wrote about him and gave hims such much sought after fame for his solo-teaching method.

So he hired a pres agent in 1910 and told him to tell everyone in Great Britain and the foreign press every time he was to fly.

So which story is correct?

Well, the guy is a shameless self-promoter!

I would say he visited Reims, met Blériot and learned how to fly in France.

He may have said that he never took a flying lesson in England, and the press may have assumed then that he was self-taught, probably reasoning that no one would ever find out the truth, and by then – who cares?

We do know that he was awarded Royal Aero Club certificate No. 6 in April of 1910 making him the sixth qualified pilot in England.

Later in April, Grahame-White became the local celebrity in England as he and French aviator Louis Paulham challenged to be the first to pilot an aeroplane from London to Manchester, England – with a £10,000 prize offered by the British Daily Mail newspaper.

Consider that Blériot only won a £1,000 from the Daily Mail for being the first to pilot an aeroplane across the English Channel in 1909, this £10,000 prize shows just how much money the newspaper figured to make on the promotion of the new and very popular aviation industry.

The rules of that first flight between London and Manchester was simply to do so within 24 hours – allowing for fuel refills, expected aircraft break-downs and more.

While Paulham won the prize, Grahame-White’s efforts were lauded by the British press and natives who were starving for local homegrown success.

Claude Grahame-White R.jpg

A few months later on July 2, 1910, Grahame-White won £1,000 as the first prize for Aggregate Duration in Flight while at the Midlands Aviation Meeting at Wolverhampton, England.

Grahame-White flew his Farman III biplane for a total of one hour-and 23-minutes and 20-seconds.

Grahame-White’s exploits didn’t go unnoticed in the U.S.

J.V. Martin of the Harvard Aeronautical Society traveled to Europe in the summer of 1910 to entice aviators to come and fly in the Boston-Harvard Meet.

Guess who was top of his European list? To get Grahame-White, he promised him a US$50,000 retainer and all expenses paid.

Arriving in Bohstan on September 1, 1910 amidst a phallanx of reporters and fans, a female journalist wrote to Boston’s men to be careful if they took their women to the airshow: “For before you know it these hearts may be fluttering along at the tail of an airplane wherein sits a daring and spectacular young man who has won the title of the matinee idol of the aviation field–Claude Grahame-White.”

Perhaps egged on by the media report, women at the Meet were “fighting” to try and get a ride in the sky with the dashing Grahame-White.

Proving that he cared more for money than women—and that’s saying something—Grahame-White charged all comers US$500 for a flight lasting five minutes.


And I’m too sexy for my hat, what do you think about that? $500, please… now get out! Next!

But Grahame-White wasn’t in America just to pick up women and make money, he also wanted to make more money by winning events at the event – probably so he could pick up more women.

He won the so-called blue ribbon event at the Boston-Harvard Meet that involved flying 33-miles from the airfield to Boston Light (in Boston Harbor), which netted him US$10,000.

The amount of money that Grahame-White made on this Boston jaunt staggers my 2017 brain, as I struggle from paycheck to paycheck hoping the gas station won’t get out its hired goons, Leaded and Unleaded, to get their money.

U.S. president William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States of America (1909–1913), attended the event, but deigned not to put his too heavy 250lb body into the aeroplane when Grahame-White offered to take him up for free.

Another free invite was offered to Boston Mayor John Fitzgerald—he was John F. Kennedy’s grandfather (JFK wasn’t born until May 29, 1917)—who did agree to go up, and had a grand time. Days later, Fitzy (c’mon, you know he was called that) gave Grahame-White a silver trophy inscribed with: “From Boston Friends, in admiration of your skill and sportsmanship as an aviator.”

From Boston, next up, was the Gordon Bennett Aviation Cup. Beginning in 1906, the event was one just for balloonists.


By 1909, an event just for aeroplanes was started alongside the balloon event. Now Grahame-White did not enter that first aeroplane event, but he did enter the second one in 1910, held at the Belmont Park racetrack in New York.

The last event of the week-long aeroplane meet was the flying of 20 laps around a five-kilometer circuit. It wasn’t a race, per se, rather it was a time trial.

The event allowed for a pilot to take-off at any time during a seven-hour period on the day of the race.

Claude Grahame-White was first to take off at 8:42AM in his Blériot XI that used a 100 horsepower Gnome Double Omega motor made by Société des Moteurs Gnome. The standard Gnome Omega offered 50 horsepower, but this version provided double the horsepower, but did add additional weight to the flying craft.

Grahame-White completed his first lap in 3-minutes 15-seconds.

How fast was he? Well, next up in the air was Alec Ogilvie flying a Wright Model R at 9:08 and Alfred Leblanc at 9:20 for the first lap.

Leblanc, was the chief pilot for the Blériot company, and flew the same plane as Grahame-White, but slightly modified with a different propeller and a reduced wingspan.

Leblanc’s aircraft was clearly faster: after four laps his time was 1 minute 20 seconds better than Grahame-White’s and he completed his 19th lap after 52 minutes 49.6 seconds in the air.

Grahame-White, having started first, finished his 20th and final lap in a total time of 1-hour, 1-minute and 4.47-seconds.

So…to win, all Leblanc had to do was finish the last five kilometer circuit in around nine-and-a-half minutes… which aside from his opening lap was very easy to do.

But that’s why they make you finish the entire race. Half-way round the last lap Leblanc’s engine stopped, either through fuel shortage or the breakage of a fuel line, and he had to make a forced landing. He actually collided with a telegraph pole some distance away, but wasn’t too badly hurt.

Ogilvie had only been able to do 13 laps before engine problems forced him to land… but it took him 54 minutes to fix the problem before he took to the air again. He eventually finished the race in a total time of 2-hours, 26-minutes and 36.6 seconds.

Proving that nice guys DO finish last, Walter Brooks in his Wright Baby Grand was about to take off in his attempt when Leblanc crashed, and decided to fly to the scene of the accident to see if he could help.

While en route, a connecting rod broke and his aircraft was wrecked in the subsequent forced landing. He was unhurt.

Hubert Latham in his Antoinette aeroplane took off at 10:59AM, but his attempt was plagued by engine failures, and he spent about four hours on the ground making repairs, eventually completing the course in 5-hours, 48-minutes and 53 seconds.

Shortly before the latest permitted takeoff time John Drexel and John Moisant, both flying Blériot IXs, started their attempts.

While Drexel only managed seven laps, Moisant did the 20-lap course but having to land a few times to correct his engine issues, he finished in a time of 1-hour, 57-minutes and 44.8-seconds – good enough for second place.

Grahame-White won. Huzzah!

Grahame-White was a real spokesman for the very young aviation industry, drumming up business with his flying stills and daredevil antics, such as on October 14, 1910 when he flew his Farman III over Washington, DC and landing on West Executive Avenue near the White House.

It’s cool – he knows the president.


Claude Grahame-White in his Farman III biplane about to land on West Executive Avenue in Washington, DC.

In November of 1910, Grahame-White was hanging out in the U.S. courting American actress Pauline Chase (Courting? That’s media political correctness. This guy didn’t have to court anyone. “I wanna woo!”).

Unfortunately, a different type of courting was in Grahame-White’s cards.

Near the end of the month, just days before his scheduled departure back to Great Britain (courting – hah!), those evil Wright Brothers filed a suit against Grahame-White claiming he had infringed on their patent—pick one—summoning him to appear before a judge.

The Wright Brothers wanted a full accounting of Grahame-White’s earnings in America—all $82,000.

Needless to say, Grahame-White thumbed his nose at America’s judicial system and the Wright Brothers, and skipped out of the country on an earlier ship.

When he arrived back in England, the brave Grahame-White laughed to reporters that “the Wrights are frightened. I’ve scared them so bloody well that they are terrified. I’m their most formidable competitor and they know it.”

On December 18, 1910, Grahame-White was hurt after crashing his aeroplane trying to win a $20,000 prize for the longest non-stop flight from England to the European mainland… and while in the hospital, he continued to hear about other pilots dying, which made him ponder his own mortality.

Not buying into that live fast-die young crap, Grahame-White quit competitive flying and put his money into his own company: the Grahame-White Aviation Company founded in 1911, as well as creating London’s first aerodrome at Hendon.

Aircraft built by the Grahame-White Aviation Company included (and taken from Wikipedia):

In 1911 he established a flying school at Hendon Aerodrome. In 1912 Grahame-White gave famed author H.G. Wells his first flight. Some of the books Wells has written that I have read include: The Time Machine; The Invisible Man; The War of the Worlds; The Island of Doctor Moreau; and The First Men in the Moon. If you haven’t read them, I recommend you do. Doctor Moreau is especially thrilling.

It was also around this time, that Grahame-White worked to promote the application of the aeroplane within the military with a campaign called “Wake Up Britain”. He was also involved with experimenting with fitting various weapons and bombs to aircraft.

During the war (then known as The Great War), he flew the first night patrol mission against an expected German raid on September 5, 1914.
The Aerodrome was lent to the British Admiralty in 1916, and eventually taken over by the British Royal Air Force in 1919.
In 1919, Grahame-White co-founded Aerofilms and Surveys Limited, which was Britain’s first commercial aerial photography company. It was founded with Francis Lewis Wills and Herbert William Matthews.
In 1925, Grahame-White sold the Hendon Aerodrome to the RAF (to the British Government, actually) for $1-million in 1925. Yes… that much money.
The truth of this sale, however is that Grahame-White had only lent the Aerodrome to the RAF, and with the war over wanted it back for himself. The RAF, however, didn’t want to give it back, and instead, after a lengthy legal battle forced him to sell it to them.
It was around the tine that he sold the Hendon Aerodrome that Grahame-White began to tire of aviation, soured on it because of how poorly he felt the RAF and the British Government had treated him by forcing the sale.
Still…. $1-million.
He moved to Nice, France but continued to be involved in property development in the U.S. and U.K., making a considerable fortune for himself.
He died in 1959 in France, but is interned at Golders Green Crematorium in the Barnet borough in London, England.


As for his former Hendon Aerodrome… well, it was renamed RAF Hendron and was used until the 1960s. After that, the land was sold and redeveloped into a housing development called Grahame Park… obviously an homage to Grahame-White.

An original World War I Grahame-White aircraft factory hangar was relocated a few years ago to the RAF Museum, where it houses the museum’s World War I collection and is named the Grahame White Factory.
While most of Grahame-White’s exploits at the beginning of the aviation age might nowadays be considered pretty minor, it is important to note that his flamboyant good looks and brashness and willingness to thumb his nose at the stodgy Wright Brothers was great news for the media.
His ability to create headlines for the aviation segment while the Wright’s preferred to keep things “dignified” worked out extremely well for Grahame-White.
Sure the Wright Brothers are better know today than Grahame-White, but I doubt they had as much fun as Grahame-White did, and would be curious to learn who actually made more money between 1910-1925.
While the Wright’s were the first to fly a heavier-than-air machine, and plenty of other pilots pushed development of the aircraft, it was Grahame-White who got the adulation from the average person.
He made it sexy and fun. Not a bad way to have lived one’s life.


Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Airfields, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Museums, People, Photography, Pilots, Tobacco Card, Weapons, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #63 – “Tellier” Monoplane.

63F .jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Tellier” Monoplane.

Card #63 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – black back issue

  • Alphonse Tellier, August 24, 1879 in Paris, France – February 14, 1929 in Grasse, France;
  • Émile Dubonnet, October 18, 1883 in Paris, France – October 4, 1950 in Sologne, France.

Nothing is easy, when it comes to doing these historical biographies of the aeroplanes, designers, manufacturers and pilots of the planes represented on the Wills’s Aviation cigarette cards. Nothing.

For example, the Tellier monoplane, represented by Wills’s card No. 63 states on the reverse that it was built by M.M. Tellier and Gerrard.

If I can assume the at least one of those “M’s” means “mister” or “monsieur”, then sure… we know that Tellier and Gerrard built the Tellier monoplane.

Except I can find zero evidence as to just who Mr. Gerrard is in relation to this aeroplane. Nothing.

Perhaps they meant that Tellier designed it, and Gerrard physically built the aircraft…

There is a bit of information on Alphonse Tellier, however, but not as much as one would hope.


What we do know about Tellier, however, is that he liked to build motorboats, and was one of the early pioneers of speed boat design and manufacture.

Alphonse Tellier was the son of Auguste Tellier, who in 1871 in Paris, started up a manufacturing factory for boats and canoes.

Alphonese Tellier’s introduction to aviation came about in 1905 when aeroplane manufacturer Gabriel Voisin and soon-to-be famous pilot Louis Blériot tested and flew a glider (for aviation patron Archdeacon) that was designed and built by Voisin.

After initially testing the glider by having it towed by an automobile on a road, the second test had it towed by a motorboat on the Seine river – with the glider flying some 600 meters (2,000 feet). See HERE for my write-up on Voisin, his gliders and subsequent aeroplane manufacturers.

The speedboat was powered by a 120-horsepowr Antoinette engine, later one of the most popular aeroplane engine manufacturers of the pioneer days.

Anyhow… the pilot of that motorboat called La Rapière? That was Alphonse Tellier.


Alphonse Tellier during the 2nd Great Aviation Week of Champagne in 1910. Image from July of 1910. Source: Bibliotheque nationale de France

Inspired by what he saw, Tellier opened up his first aeroplane manufacturing facility (for those who had the designs – he had the carpentry skills) in 1908 at Juvisy-sur-Orge in (what I believe) was the northern part of  the outskirts of Paris, then in the town of  Melun, before eventually setting it upon the Île de la Jatte in Neuilly-sur-Seine (offices at 340, rue de Chézy) in 1909.

Now… who designed the first Tellier aeroplane? Was it Tellier himself? Maybe. I don’t know.

We can see (below) that the aeroplane bears more than a passing resemblance the Bleriot‘s XI monoplane… but why not? The Bleriot XI was a very successful aircraft.

We do know that Robert Duhamel and a Mr. Houris (no first name found) built the Tellier monoplane, and that a pilot named Emile Dubonnet was the man who either purchased it, or was the paid test pilot on behalf of the Tellier company.

I’m working from French texts, and the information is sparse, at best.

Tellier Monoplane – 1910

Tellier Monoplane.jpg

We do know that on April 4, 1910, Dubonnet flew the Tellier monoplane from Juvisy to La Ferté-Saint-Aubin in France – traveling some 109 kilometers, and actually landed near Orléans in the midst of the flight to ask for directions! The flight was completed in one hour, 48 minutes and 54 seconds. If my math is good (yeesh), that would be 58.3 kilometers and hour, but it would be faster if we take into account the plane had to land, get directions and take-off again….

For his efforts, Dubonnet won a prize from La Nature science magazine for being the first to pilot an aeroplane a distance over 100 kilometers.

On April 24, 1910, Dubonnet once again flew from his private grounds at Draveil and landed at Bagatelle in France, performing the second flight over Paris (after Charles, Count de Lambert on October 18, 1909), flying at a fairly low altitude ranging from 30 meters to 100 meters – and it was all in the Tellier monoplane.

Why did he pilot the aeroplane at such a low height? Was it to give the people below a great view, or was it simply an under-powered motor? I’m guessing it was Dubonnet doing some showboating.

There is a report that Tellier and Dubonnet took the Tellier 1910 monoplane to the 2nd Great Aviation Week of Champagne (Reims – July 3-10, 1910 ), where one year earlier it hosted the first ever aviation meet (Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne). However… I can not find a single article on-line providing details of the event, unlike what was provided the year before in 1909.

I did find a December 3, 1910 article in Flight magazine that did offer data on the Tellier monoplane:

General Specifications:
  • Bearing surface: 24 square metres (258.334 square feet);
  • Length 11.85 meters (38.9 feet);
  • Width: 11.85 meters (38.9 feet);
  • Seating capacity: one (though there is evidence Tellier would build a two-seater if desired… more below under Options);
  • Powerplant: 35 horsepower Panhard, water-cooled, 4-cyl. vertical. Steel cylinders, copper water-jackets. Bore – 110mm ; stroke – 140 mm., weight, 100 kilograms (220.5 pounds), revolutions – 1,000, Petrol consumption at normal revolutions – 14 litres an hour. Silencer is fitted if required;
  • Propeller – Tellier, 1,000 revs.;
  • Landing chassis – two wheels, mounted with springs in front, with a small wheel placed in front of the tail. The two front wheels are so arranged that they adapt themselves to any unevenness in the ground on which the machine lands;
  • Tail – Fixed non-lifting tail-plane with fixed vertical fin over it. Elevating-plane fixed to the trailing edge of tail-plane. Single rudder fixed centrally above;
  • Lateral stability – By flexing the trailing edges of the main planes;
  • Weight – Complete with motor, 400 kilograms (881.85 pounds);
  • Speed – About 85 kilometers per hour (52.8 miles per hour);
  • System of control – By steering-wheel mounted on a column in front of the pilot. A rotary movement of the wheel controls the rudder. A sideway movement of the entire column to the right or left flexes the left or right wing. A forward movement depresses the machine, and a backward movement elevates;
  • Price – With 35-h.p. 4-cylinder Panhard engine, 25,000 francs;
  • Options: Large two-seat model, known as the “Type Militaire” is available, but uses a 50 horsepower 6-cylinder vertical Panhard engine.

That’s about all I can find about the 1910 Tellier monoplane.

In the Spring of 1911 in Saint-Omer, Tellier and Dubbonet and some other financial moneybags got together to create the Société Alphonse Tellier et Cie (Alphonse Tellier & Co.).

But they weren’t interested in that time in just building aeroplanes, rather they were attempting to build a hydro-aeroplane.

We do know that the first hydro-aeroplane competition was held in Monaco in March of 1912, and featured airplanes using floats from Fabre, Curtiss, Tellier and Farman.

The implication here, is that Tellier’s new hydro-aeroplane was more than likely a physically stronger Tellier monoplane with floats.

However, by 1913, the company had designed and built a Tellier Hydro-Hovercraft… but it doesn’t appear to be a successful endeavor, as I can’t find any record of sales or performance except the following:

Tellier built three hydroplanes (Hydro-hovercraft), essentially aeroplanes that were propelled on the water – not in the air. The aircraft used a propeller to propel it across the water.

In one of these hydroplanes, Dubonnet got it up to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) – the first time such a vehicle had achieved such speeds.

From then until the midst of the Great War (aka WWI)  in 1916, things were quiet until the company unveiled a Tellier Flying Boat featuring a Hispano-Suiza engine built by the automobile factory of the same name. The company is a Spanish company, but it did open a branch in France where I assume it built the powerplants for Tellier’s flying boat.


This appears to be a 1917 version of the Tellier Flying Boat.

An order from the French Navy kept the company afloat (ha-ha), providing it with updated versions in 1917 and again 1918, with the latter model having a 350 horsepower Sunbeam motor built by the car company of the same name.

The same 1918 model offered the alternate Panhard-Levassor powerplant providing 350 horsepower… I assume it was simply two separate shops providing very similar motors to help Tellier get the Tellier Flying Boats into the hands of the French Navy on time.

The Navy order was for 315 seaplanes, which were given in 1918, and may also have included:

  • combat Tellier seaplane 400/500 horsepower Hispano-Suiza in 1918, and;
  • the combat Tellier seaplane with a 1,100 horsepower Lorraine motor in 1919.

Since the war ended in November of 1918, I am unsure if the last aircraft were delivered, or if the contract was still honored and accepted by the French Navy.

We do know that the original order highlighted that the seaplanes needed to be able to carry a payload of 1,632 kilograms (3,598 pounds), and that a total of 35 aeroplanes were delivered before the war concluded.

While the war continued in 1918 – you have to keep trying to develop new product all the time – Tellier conceived of a transatlantic seaplane called the Vonna.

The Vonna was to be able to carry a crew of three men and a radio, weigh nine tons empty and weigh 16 tons full.

It was to be powered by four Sunbeam-Coatalen W18 450 horsepower motors.

The project was staffed with 15 Nieuport engineers, but was eventually abandoned in 1921.

It didn’t matter too much to Tellier, because he sold the Alphonse Tellier Tellier & Co to Nieuport in August of 1918 after becoming ill. The company then continued under the name of Nieuport-Astra.

He did remain with the company’s marine division as a technical director, while engineer Robert Duhamel took over the management of the Issy-les-Moulineaux engineering department and responsibility for Tellier products, which remained in the firm’s catalog until 1923.

Alphonse Tellier died on February 14, 1929 in Grasse, and was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery.

As for pilot Dubonnet?

Born to a French winemaker, one source I found describes Dubonnet as a sportsman, interesting in cycling, skating, soccer, fencing, rower, and vehicle race enthusiast… and all were done before he became interested in aviation, and when he began, it was hot-air balloons that caught his fancy.

A member of the Aero-Club of France, Dubonnet took part in the Gordon Bennett Cup for ballooning in 1908, 1909 and 1911. He won the La Grande Medialle de Aéro-Club de France in 1912.

After the 1909 event, Dubonnet started working as a test pilot for Tellier going up for the first time on April 3, 1910 in the 1910 Tellier Monoplane.

The next day, as mentioned above, he flew the Tellier monoplane from Juvisy to La Ferté-Saint-Aubin in France, flying some 109 kilometers – then a record for distance.

The April 4, 1910 flight was still only Dubonnet’s 10th actual time up in an aeroplane as a pilot.

Still working as a test pilot and pilot for Tellier, Dubonnet used the Tellier monoplane… I assume a rejigged version of the 1910 model when in January of 1912 he traveled from Paris to Russia traveling a distance of 1,954 kilometers.

I also read that Dubonnet in 1912 helped form the first professional baseball league in France, the French Baseball Union.

When WWI started, he was part of France’s balloon aviation corps, flying through the war in 1918, but still finding the time to work alongside Tellier in the construction of his seaplanes.

Dubonnet lived until October 4, 1950.


Émile Dubonnet. Image from the George Grantham Bain collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.

As for Tellier’s aircraft contributions, I found one source offering:

  • Monoplan Tellier (1909);
  • Monoplan Tellier (1910);
  • Hydro-Hovercraft Tellier (1913);
  • Flying boat Tellier 200 HP Hispano-Suiza (1916);
  • Flying boat Tellier 200 hp canon (1917);
  • Flying boat Tellier 350 hp Sunbeam (1918);
  • Tellier Combat Seaplane 400/500 ch Hispano-Suiza (1918);
  • Tellier Combat Seaplane 1100 ch Lorraine (1919).


Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Airfields, Aviation Art, Balloons, Concepts, Failures, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Pilots, Seaplanes, Tobacco Card, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historical Look At Japan’s First Dirigibles

I was finally catching up on my reading the other day, when an article from the New Zealand newspaper, Clutha Leader dated September 26, 1911 – page 2, I discovered some information on Japan’s attempt to build the world’s then-largest dirigible…

It’s 1911… and aeroplanes have been flying across Europe for a few years, with the first successful crossing of the English Channel in 1909… so, why would you want to construct a dirigible?

All one can assume, is that Japan saw more pluses from dirigibles than with the new technology of aeroplanes/airplanes.

The first airplane had been flown over Tokyo in December of 1910… so Japan certainly did know of the technology.

I’m not saying that dirigibles were already yesterday’s news in 1911… we all know that they were long in use through WWI (Okay you, me and about 47 other people on the planet), and that they were used to ferry around Indiana Jones and his father in the 1930s. In fact, dirigibles were a viable transportation option for those that had the time and enjoyed the luxury… right up until May 6, 1937.

That was the date of the Hindenburg disaster… the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg that caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock at Naval Air Station Lakehurst in Manchester Township, New Jersey, U.S.

There were 97 people on board: 36 passengers and 61 crewmen. I suppose it was lucky… the Hindenburg’s full passenger capacity was 70 people.

There were 35 fatalities: 13 passengers and 22 crewmen, and one poor unfortunate ground worker who died, for a total of 36 dead.

But we’re talking about 1911.

Here’s what that New Zealand newspaper wrote – please note that I have adjusted the formatting and added in metric conversions:

 A wonderful new dirigible airship, a record for the world, is reported to be now in course of secret construction in Japan.
Among its points are the following:
Speed—70 miles an hour (), enough to carry it through a hurricane at five miles an hour;
Staying Power—Can remain a week in the air, as 20 tons (18,143.7 kilograms) of benzine can be carried as fuel;
Lifting Power—12 tons (10,886 kilograms), double that of the British naval airship Mayfly, now in hiding at Barrow;
Driving Power—720 horsepower, divided by six motors, providing it with twice the power of the Mayfly;
Length—600 feet (182.88 meters), 90 feet (27.43 meters) longer than the Mayfly;
Diameter—50 feet (15.24 meters);
Crew—10 men;
Armament—Pneumatic cylinder bombs.

Most of the material that is being used is of Japanese manufacturer, but one English firm—a well-known sewing machine house—has received orders from the Japanese Government for a number of specially durable machines for use in sewing together the sections.

The airship is the result of sending out of a band of official experts who travelled through the great countries of the world during June, July and August of 1910 investigating the developments of aviation.

This is Japan’s second dirigible, the first, known as the Yabada Isaburo dirigible, having been finished about four months ago. That one was 400 feet (121.92 meters) long—half as long as the liner Olympic.

The new dirigible is expected to be attached to the Japanese navy at Yokosuka—the Japanese Portsmouth.  

So… this 1911 newspaper article from New Zealand mentions that the huge, secret dirigible Japan is building is actually the SECOND dirigible it built.

While the article says that the first dirigible was designed and built by Yabada Isaburo (surname first), that’s a newspaper error, as it was actually built by Yamada Isaburo (surname first).

These are the perils of trying to compile a historic database… people make mistakes.

For proper data, I found a website (http://www.j-aircraft.com/research/jas_jottings/japanese_airships.htm) that discusses Japan’s early aviation… but I’m just going to borrow from it – not relate it word-for-word…

What we know about Yamada, is that he owned a lifeboat manufacturing company, and he was the person who earned the right on behalf of the Japanese Army to fabricate the envelope (the balloon), as well as the gondola.

The first Japanese dirigible is known as the Yamada-shiki No. 1, a non-rigid type (a blimp, essentially, that lacks an internal structure – frame work).

Here’s an image of the burning wreckage of the Hindenburg, a rigid dirigible… you can see the frame work. Zeppelins are called semi-rigid airships, while blimps are pressure airships.

Yamada-shiki No. 1
Crew: 1, helm control was in the center of the gondola;
Length: 60 feet (18.3 meters);
Capacity: 56,500 cubic feet (1,600 cubic meters);
Gas type: Hydrogen;
Powerplant: 12 horsepower engine, with a pusher propeller (at rear of airship)

The gonodola was an open concept made of tubes in a triangular cross-section, and was almost as long as the balloon envelope itself. It hung below the envelope. The engine was in the middle of the gondola.

Steering was controlled by a single rudder at the rear, just behind the rear of the gondola. The flat, square of a rudder was festooned with the hinomaru (Japan’s sun flag).

Flight control—such that it was—was afforded by a small elevator between the gondola platform and the bow.

The Yamada-shiki No. 1.

On the first flight of the Yamada-shiki No. 1, it lifted off from Osaka (see image above). That’s also it in the top image depicting a Japanese postage stamp.

(By the way, you’ll notice that the style of dress invoked by the Japanese here in 1909 was the same as what any European would have worn, including straw hats.)

Soon after it lifted off, it began to lose large volumes of hydrogen gas, causing it to land, be refilled, and flown back to Osaka.

While no one seems to know what happened to the Yamada-shiki No. 1, it does not appear to have flown again.

This may be why Japan, when in the process of constructing its Yamada-shiki No. 2 dirigible as mentioned in the New Zealand newspaper article, it sought out sewing machine equipment from England to help it create a better seal when constructing the balloon envelope that would hold the gas.

Okay… so Japan got its hands on some British sewing machines.

But did it construct the Yamada-shiki No. 2 dirigible in accordance to the giant dimensions mentioned in the newspaper article?

No. Not even close.

While the Yamada-shiki No. 2 dirigible was larger than Yamada-shiki No. 1, it wasn’t close to the proposed 600 feet mentioned in the article.

Yamada-shiki No. 2
Length: 108 feet (32.9 meters);
Capacity: 53,000 cubic feet (1,500 cubic meters);
Gas type: Hydrogen;
Powerplant: 50 horsepower, four-cylinder water-cooled engine, with a pusher propeller (at rear of airship).

The gondola was similar in design to the Yamada-shiki No. 1, with an open concept made of tubes in a triangular cross-section, but it was wider, and not as long as the previous, about half the length of No. 1. It hung below the envelope. The larger engine was again positioned in the middle of the gondola.

Steering was controlled by a single larger rudder at the rear, just behind the rear of the gondola. The flat, square of a rudder was again decorated with the hinomaru (Japan’s rising sun flag – red circle on white background).

Flight control—such that it was—was afforded by a slightly larger elevator between the gondola platform and the bow.

So… what happened to it?

It depends. There are three options:

  1. Strong winds may have blown it away and badly damaged it without recovery in early February of 1911 during mooring tests.
  2. A ground explosion may have destroyed it (gas leak and flame – ka-boom!) on March 23, 1911 – before it’s second flight… implying there was a first flight.\
  3. It made its first flight in early May 1911, but it was badly damaged during an emergency landing near Osaka due to engine failure in February of 1912.

Uh… yeah…

As stupid as it sounds, dirigibles, and aeroplanes were constantly being damaged by high winds while on the ground…

A ground explosion? This would have been big news… and we would have seen mention of it somewhere, right?

Emergency landing? Sure… motors were still the weak link in all aviation craft at that time… especially since they weren’t using the stronger V8’s other aeroplanes were already using.

So… if you think that the conflicting reports of the demise of the Yamada-shiki No. 2 are bizarre… wait’ll we briefly discuss Yamada-shiki No. 3 and Yamada-shiki No. 4.

No one is sure if Yamada-shiki No. 3 was a different dirigible from No. 2… or if it was just a rebuilt No. 2 that was renamed.

Yamada-shiki No. 3 first flew in early June of 1911… able to make a round trip in the middle of September of 1911 between Osaka and Tokyo and return.

So… if it was a success, what did Japan do with it? This is where it gets silly. Reports say that it was sold to China.

Really? China… well… I suppose it’s possible, as it was to experience its Xinhai Revolution starting in October 10 of 1911… a revolution that overthrew the imperial dynasty (Qing Dynasty), replacing it the Republic of China when it ended on February 12, 1912.

This was NOT when China became communist… this was essentially the time—from 1912 to 1949, that China was in the midst of its own civil war… taken advantage of by Japan in the 1930s, eventually leading to the victorious Communist Party that continues to rule.

So… did a Japanese dirigible play any part in the overthrow of the ruling Qing dynasty, or was it purchased by the Qing Dynasty to help it against the usurpers?

I don’t know…

And then there’s Yamada-shiki No. 4 – again not a heck of a lot of details… which I suppose is fair, because we are talking about Japanese Army military operations.

Did it exist? Maybe. If this wasn’t the Yamada-shiki No. 2 that may may or may not have been sold as Yamada-shiki No. 3 to China, and it is a completely new dirigible (or one retrofitted with a new motor), we do know that the dirigible known as Yamada-shiki No. 4 had a 75 horsepower motor.

No data is available re: speed, dimensions… gas capacity… I’m thinking that Yamada-shiki No. 2 was retrofitted to become Yamada-shiki No. 3, and again retrofitted with a different motor to become Yamada-shiki No. 4

Do I believe that the dirigibles may have been purchased by China? No. Germany had far superior dirigibles, and China could have purchased one from them rather than some experimental one built by Japan.

So what happened to the supposed Yamada-shiki No. 4?

Who knows… again there’s a rumor that it was sold to China in 1913… making it the first dirigible to fly in China in August of 1913. It was then destroyed by a windstorm (see?!) while in its hangar.

Again… China in 1913? Right after the fall of the Qing Dynasty? Is the new ruling power of the Republic of China going to want a new dirigible from Japan? I suppose it’s possible… again… Germany.

It is documented that China did purchase 12 military aeroplanes from France in March of 1913…

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

Wills’s Aviation Card #62 – “Goupy III.” Biplane.

44F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Goupy III” Biplane.

Card #62 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – black back issue

  • Ambroise Goupy, November 5, 1885 in Paris, France – January 25, 1951, Paris, France.
  • Mario Calderara, October 10, 1879 in Verona, Italy – March 18, 1944 in XXX, Italy.

When I saw the name of the aeroplane as “Goupy III” I knew I had to find out more. I didn’t know what a Goupy was… turns out it’s a guy’s surname.

44R 001.jpg

The Wills’s card’s reverse says the Goupy II and hence III aeroplanes were built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot ( July 1, 1872 in Cambrai, France – August 1, 1936, Paris, France)… well… yes, they were… but…

… the Goupy biplanes were only constructed at the Blériot aeroplane factory at Buc, France.

The plane(s) were designed by Ambroise Goupy and Mario Calderara… which is good, because I thought Blériot was only a manufacturer of monoplanes – and he was!

The Goupy II and Goupy III are a series of biplanes, while the Goupy I was an experimental triplane – but a successful one at that.

Ambroise Goupy card.jpg

From a series of French aviation postcard inserts (series of 25) from 1909, printed in Lille, France for the French company Chocolat Felix Potin, showing the Goupy I triplane and an image (the only one I could find!) of Ambroise Goupy himself.  

So… who was Ambroise Goupy?

I can’t find much information on him… Wikipedia says he was a  member of the Aéro – Club de France, and he was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1914, then an officer in 1937.

We do know that he offered up some prize money to the first pilot to fly his aeroplane in a straight line, six kilometer course… won by Hubert Latham on June 6, 1909. But… I am unsure if this was for an aviation meet or just a general prize.

That’s it.

And what of Mario Calderara? All I know is that he helped Goupy with a bit of aeroplane design. Sigh.

An Italian Wikipedia site, however says that Calderara was the actual designer of the Goupy aeroplanes, and that Goupy was just the financial backer!

Why should we believe that?

Well… Italy actually produced a postage stamp of Calderara with the Goupy II aeroplane in the background!

That, plus the fact that very little is known about Goupy suggests that Calderara really was the brains – IE the designer of the actual aircraft – not Goupy!


Italian stamp issued on September 12, 2003 depicting Goupy II designer Mario Calderara.

So… Mario – what was his claim to fame? Well, he was the first Italian to hold a patent for an aeroplane in 1909 with the Goupy II, he was the first member of the Aero Club of Italy, earning pilot’s License No. 1, and was the first Italian to build a seaplane in 1911 with the Goupy Hydroplane.

Building a seaplane (hydroplane) was probably something monumental for Calderara, as he had been attracted to the sea since he was a child.

The eldest son Italian General Marco Caderara and Eleanor Tantini, Calderara entered the Italian Naval Academy in Livorno in 1898, achieving a promotion to the rank of Ensign in 1901.

As most people were of the day, he heard of the exploits of glider-specialist Otto Lilienthal and the later success of the Wright Brothers aeroplane, the Wright Flyer.

After hearing of their success in 1905 (their first flight took place in secret in December of 1903), Calderara took up correspondence with the Wright Brothers to pick their collective brain on how to construct his own aeroplane.

Surprisingly, in my opinion, his technical details were answered, and he maintained a strong relationship with the Wright’s.


Mario Calderera

Calderara then received permission from the Italian Navy to perform glider experiments towed by a motorboat, beginning in 1907.

Flying a biplane glider similar in design to the Wright concept, in the Gulf of La Spezia off northwest Italy, he placed the glider on floats, and tired it with ropes to a motorboat to control lift. Successful, he decided to fly it (unmanned) off the deck of the Italian destroyer Lanciere in an effort to get more altitude and more speed.

Taking off, the glider achieved a height of 15 meters-plus, but when the destroyer made a sharp left turn, the glider plummeted quickly and dove into the water—which we’ve all had happen when flying a kite…. happy time, happy time… OMG it crashed!

Unfortunately for Calderara, as the glider dove under the waves, he was pulled off balance and was dragged underwater by the glider’s steel wires – dragged under water at a depth of about three meters.

Rescued, but half-drowned, the Italian Navy forbade him from performing anymore such experiments.

In 1908 Calderara met pilot Léon Delagrange and aeroplane manufacturer Gabriel Voisin in Rome, who were there to perform some aeroplane demonstrations. Calderara asked Voisin is he could come and work for him, and so, in July of 1908, he moved to Issy-Ies-Moulineaux in France to work for Voisin designing aircraft for about one year’s time.

Calderara had to ask for a leave of absence from the Italian Navy, and received it—without pay.

At the Voisin factory, Calderara came in contact with Ambroise Goupy… a money-man who liked what he saw in Calderara’s aircraft designs, getting the go-ahead to construct the Goupy II biplane.

Goupy had already worked with the Voisin Brothers to construct the prototype Goupy I triplane, built apparently on Goupy’s own design… but I don’t see how a money-man would have done that, as I see no evidence he had any engineering background – but I don’t know so I can’t confirm or deny Goupy’s actual design credit for the Goupy I triplane.

Now… we do know that Calderara was the designer of the Goupy II… in fact, one Italian website I saw calls the Goupy II the “Calderara Goupy” aircraft.

While in France, Calderara  met up with Wilbur Wright in France, who n demonstrations, Wilbur Wright showed his plane to be able to stay aloft for up to 60 minutes—far, far longer than anything then-achieved by planes built by Voisin, Blériot, or Henry Farman.

It was in March of 1909, by the way, that the Goupy II biplane first flew (see below for more on the aircraft particulars).

Calderara, along with the Aero Club of Italy, then invited Wilbur Wright in 1909 to bring his Flyer over to  Rome, Italy, where in April of that year, Wright gave some flying lessons to Calderara (and later to Italian Army lieutenant Umberto Savoja) at the field now known as Military Airport Francesco Baracca Centocelle, but was then known as Centocelle Airport.

When Wilbur Wright returned to the U.S, in May of 1909, he opined that Calderara could fly by himself, and even that he could provide further lessons to Lr. Savoja.

Calderara, by the way, had purchased a Wright Flyer biplane.

Calderara made plenty of flights—even many of sustained duration‚—but on May 6, 1909, he crashed the aeroplane in windy conditions. After a brief hospital stay—a reputed concussion—Calderara, assisted by Savoja, repaired the Flyer, resuming flights at Centocelle in July of 1909.

The Aero Club of Italy had arranged for an international air meet in Brescia, Italy—similar in scope to what Reims, France had held in July of 1909… and Calderara was entered.

Three weeks before the scheduled meet, a tornado blew through the area where the aeroplanes had been stored, damaging some of the aircraft, including his Wright Flyer.

Calderara and Savoja, however, did rebuild it in a mere nine days, but used sub-par wood and canvas—whatever they could find, just to have a chance in the rally.

Instead of the Wright motor, Calderara used an Italian-made Rebus motor.

Basta fazool! It must have been one heck of a repair job, because Calderara ended up winning five of the eight prizes being offered.

All the other Italian pilots could not get their aircraft off the ground—except for Alessandro Anzani (later one of the better aeroplane motor manufacturers), who was using a French-made aircraft… but he ended up crashing and destroying his aeroplane.

Other pilots at the event—the successful pilots—included American Glenn Curtiss and Frenchman Henry Rougier.

The Brescia rally was a triumph for Calderara who, thanks to being the only Italian who could fly, became a national hero. As such, he was awarded Flying License No. 1 by the Aero Club of Italy.


Mario Calderara’s actual No.1 pilot’s license from the Aero Club of Italy. Image found at www.aerostoria.blogspot.ca.

Now… as you might realize, Calderara’s popularity wasn’t always such a great thing for the Italian Navy… in fact a Major Moris had an intense dislike for Calderara who reveled in his fame by chatting with the ins and outs of aviation with the newspapers. Moris, obviously felt that such matters should not be discussed.

Moris, by the way, was Caledrara’s direct superior.

Still, Moris did use Calderara’s new Goupy II (Caldera Goupy) biplane, after purchasing a motor (he purchased his sans power), providing it as a trainer plane for new pilots. Calderara being the teacher.

For whatever reason, the aircraft was removed from its usual Centocelle hangar to a non-covered outside spot in the Fall of 1910 and was subjected to all sorts of bad weather.

The adverse weather damaged the plane so badly that it had to be put down – destroyed…

It was just after this, that Calderara was assigned to the Italian Ministry of the Navy, and it was now that he asked if he could construct a new type of aeroplane—one that could take off from and land in water.

There was one other such aircraft—the Fabre Hydravion designed by Henri Fabre—but it flew a few times before crashing and not being rebuilt.

No… Calderara wanted to take his seaplane to the next level.

Calderara designed and built his seaplane—initially called the Calderara Seaplane aka the Calderara Navy-hydro monoplane aka the Hydrovol.

—the largest flying machine in the world, in 1911, and flew it very successfully in the spring of 1912, carrying three passengers plus the pilot in flight.

Later that year, Calderara was invited to London, England, and showed the above film (less the Italian voice-over) to select people there, including the Honorable Winston Churchill, who was then the First Lord of the Admirality.

As WWI approached, and needing his help, the Italian Navy imposed on Calderara to return to his naval duties… and, during the conflict, he was placed on several warships, ultimately in charge of a torpedo ship in the Adriatic sea.

But, between 1917-19, Calderara was given command of a new school for training seaplane pilots for the US Navy, along with the rank of Corvette Captain… the U.S. thought highly of his work, and was awarded the American Navy Cross.
Calderara worked in the Italian embassy in Washington, DC, U.S. between 1923-25, eventually leaving the Italian Navy with the rank of Frigate Captain.

He moved to Paris, and began working in the French aviation sector, representing U.S. businesses manufacturing airplane components.

Sensing something was up in France, Calderara left Paris and returned to Italy in 1939, simply leaving behind all of his holdings and home… which financially distressed himself and his family.

Calderara died after a short illness on march 18, 1944. He is still considered one of Italy’s greatest aviation personalities… hence the cool postage stamp.

Let’s take a look at what Goupy paid for and Calderara designed:

Goupy I Triplane/Goupy I bis

The Goupy I triplane is also known as the Goupy I bis… with the word bis meaning “encore”… so perhaps an homage to Voisin – see just below.

It is said that the Goupy I triplane was the first such plane to fly, back in September 5, 1908—but other sources say it was the first French triplane to fly.

The Goupy I was designed by Goupy alone, and was built by Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin (Flying Machines of Voisin Brothers), owned by brothers Gabriel and Charles Voisin.

The company was the first aircraft manufacturing company, and one of the world’s first.

They designed and built Europe’s first manned, heavier-than-air powered aircraft capable of making a sustained one kilometer, circular, controlled flight, including take-off and landing—the Voisin-Farman I.

While Voisin aircraft had always been pusher (engine at back) biplanes with a front elevator, Goupy’s design showed the Goupy I as a tractor (engine in front) triplane.

The kicker, however, is that the Goupy I has the ends of the wings connected by Voisin’s characteristic “side curtains” – implying that either Goupy was inspired by Voisin, or the Voisin brothers suggested Goupy use the design feature.

The only unorthodox aspects of the design were its triplane tail unit, which was used by A. V. Roe in triplanes I, II and III in 1909 (see HERE), and the way that the interplane struts of both the wings and empennage were covered with fabric to create box kite-like cells.

The tailplane was a Hargrave cell (a box kite-like design created by Australian Lawrence Hargrave), which is what Voisin preferred. However, Goupy did add a pair of small moving elevators mounted on the leading edge of the outer surfaces and a central rudder.

As originally constructed, the middle wing was mounted in a mid-wing position on the fuselage, with the top and bottom wings clear of the fuselage, and power was provided by a 50 horsepower Antoinette engine.

There was a single central wheel in the middle of the fuselage, with a smaller one at the tail.

The Goupy I‘s design was later revised so that the bottom wing was mounted at the base of the fuselage, the middle wing to the top of the fuselage, and top wings clear of it.

At the same time, the engine was changed to a 50 horsepower Anzani of similar power and the wings extended outboard of the side curtains. I assume the Anzani was either lighter or simply performed better than the Antoinette engine.

And, the central wheel was replaced by a pair of wheels at the front of the aeroplane below the engine to provide better support, keeping the rear wheel at the back end of the fuselage.

The image above is a French postcard from the era. It’s translated (English) parts say, for the most part:

  • 3 superimposed planes of 7.5 meters of span on 1.6 meters of depth and 44 square meters of total surface;
  • Distance from shots, 0.95 meters.
  • At the rear inside a cell of 4 meters x 1.6 meters, a balancer 3 meters x 0.75 meters, then the vertical rudder 1.25 meters x 0.7 meters;
  • Fuselage: length 9.8 meters, mounted on swivel chassis not supported; two wheels in front and one wheel in the back;
  • Propeller: 2 bladed at the front. Diameter of 2.3 meters x 1.4 meters;
  • Expected speed, 54 kilometers per hour (15 meters a second);
  • Total weight 476 kilograms;
  • Engine Anzani 50 horsepower

Most of that is self-explanatory… and I freely admit that some of it isn’t – at least to me. If anyone is fluent in French and can provide a better definition – I would greatly appreciate it.

Wikipedia says, and matches the postcard data:

General characteristics

  • Crew: One pilot;
  • Length: 9.8 meters (32 feet-2 inches);
  • Wingspan: 7.5 meters (24 feet-7 inches);
  • Wing area: 44-square meters (474-square feet);
  • Gross weight: 476 kilograms (1,050 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Anzani steam-cooled, direct-injected V-8 engine providing 50 horsepower at 1,100 RPM;
  • Propeller: two-bladed, single propeller;
  • Maximum speed: 54 kilometers an hour (33 miles per hour).

Goupy II biplane

Goupy 2.jpgThe Goupy II biplane was designed by Mario Calderara, and paid for by Ambroise Goupy, and constructed at the Blériot workshop in Buc, France in 1909 (see above for why here), first achieving flight in March of 1909.

The Goupy II had two innovative features that were influential in aircraft design. It was the first tractor biplane to fly, and was also the first staggered wing biplane.

Considered unusual for the era, the tractor (engine at front) and staggered wings soon became an industry standard

The only features that would not be typical of aircraft in the years to come would be its biplane tail unit, and the whole-chord wingtip ailerons fitted to both upper and lower wings. The uncovered wood box-girder fuselage, typical of early aircraft, was later covered.

The first flight of this biplane was made in March 1909. It was taken to and shown at the Paris Air Show at the Grand Palais in October of 1909.

Goupy also took the Goupy II to Reims, France for the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne, the first public air show in the world an aviation meet held near Reims in France in August 1909.He also took it to air meets at Burton and Doncaster, England, using pilot Emile Ladougne to fly it at the later shows.

The Goupy II also flew in the Paris-Madrid race in May of 1911, but used Pierre Divétain as pilot.


The remains of Louis Emile Train’s monoplane after his crash into spectators at the Paris-Madrid air-race of 1911.

The race began with auspicious start on May 21, 19911… pilot Louis Emile Train crashed his aeroplane into a stand of officials killing France minister of war Maurice Berteaux, seriously injuring council president Ernest Monis, and hurting Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe (a French petroleum magnate and aviation supporter).

The race was restarted two days later, but only one aircraft managed to finish the race – pilot Jules Védrines flying a Morane-Borel monoplane, winning the race in 14 hours and 55 minutes after a trouble-free flight.

Anyhow… the Goupy II did not fare well in the race, failing to perform well enough to even complete the first stage of the race.

General characteristics

  • Crew: One pilot;
  • Length: 7 meters (23 feet);
  • Wingspan: 6 meters (19 feet 8 inches);
  • Wing area: 26-square-meters (280-square-feet);
  • Empty weight: 209 kilograms (460 pounds);
  • Gross weight: 290 kilograms (640 pouns);
  • Powerplant: 1 × R.E.P., seven-cylinder, semi-radial air-cooled engine providing 29 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 97 kilometers per hour (61 miles per hour) – hmm, I doubt that the 29-horsepower motor could have given the aeroplane THESE speeds.

This plane was offered up for sale to the general public.

As you can see from the image below, the Goupy aircraft is offered with a different engine – a Gnome 50-horsepower engine – which seems like it would be far better than the 29 horsepower offered up earlier.

It also states that the maximum speed to be from 70-85 kilometers an hour (43.5-52.8 miles per hour).

The price for a Goupy II aeroplane was FF12,000 without the motor or propeller; and FF25,000 with a Gnome motor and any type of propeller of the customer’s choice.

Goupy III biplane

Goupy III postcard.jpg

Man… there’s not a lot of information on the Goupy III… which is too bad, because that was the subject chosen for this Wills’s card.

Translated from the French on the postcard directly above, we have a few of the specifics:

General Specifications

  • Crew: 1;
  • Wingspan: 6 meters (19.69 feet) wide x 1.6 meters (5.25 feet) deep;
  • Fuselage length: 7 meters (22.97 feet);
  • Propeller: 1, with four blades at the nose;
  • Powerplant: 1 x reciprocating REP motor capable of putting out 25 horsepower;
  • Weight: 290 kilograms (639.34 pounds).

Goupy Hydroaeroplane

The Goupy 3-place biplane on the fifth (1913) Paris aviation exhibition [Paris, 1913]

No matter what you may see elsewhere, make no mistake about it, the Goupy Hydroaeroplane was essentially a Goupy III biplane with pontoon floats added and the wheels removed.

While the Goupy III was the brainchild of Mario Calderara paid for by Ambroise Goupy, the Goupy Hydroaeroplane was also from the mind of Calderara.

The two pontoon floats, however, were designed by Alphonse Tellier. Tellier eventually designed seaplanes himself, but his first successful flight was not until June of 1916 in his Tellier T.2 biplane.

The Goupy Hydroaeroplane was displayed–as seen in the postcard directly above–at the 1912 Paris Aero Salon.

Other than this demo model, there is no evidence of any others being built nor of it ever having taken flight from the water.

Goupy Hydroaeroplane.jpgIn fact, a newspaper reviewing next year’s December 5-25, 1913 Paris Aero Salon commented negatively on any further advancements of Goupy aeroplane designs, noting also that there was no seaplane on display.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 pilot;
  • Capacity: 2 passengers;
  • Length: 10 meters (32.8 feet);
  • Wingspan: 12.70 m ( 41.67 feet);
  • Empty weight: 450 kilograms (992.1 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 x 9-cylinder 100 horsepower Gnome rotary engine or a Gnome 80 HP motor per 1913 Jane’s;
  • Maximum speed: 120 km/h (74.6 miles per hour).
  • Number built: 1

Of course, speed and capacity were optimistic guesses… and the motor… it never flew. My guess is that Mario Calderara left the firm, so the Goupy seaplane concept died with this prototype.

But now we have the seaplane that Calderara designed and built…

Calderara Navy-hydro monoplane/Hydrovol

Calderara Hydrovol 2.jpgBuilt in 1911 and flown in 1912, the Hydrovol (according to JANE’S ALL THE WORLD’S AIRCRAFT 1913) was the first successful seaplane flown, but it was also one of the largest monoplanes (period) ever built and flown, with a wing surface of 770 square feet.

The frame of the aeroplane is formed of three skins of wood, with sail-cloth between each.

The fuselage sits only 4’6” (1.34 meters) above the water line, with three pontoons – the outer two of which were separated by 21 feet (6.4 meters).

In the case of an emergency, the Hydrovol was designed by Calderara so that the occupants could leave the aeroplane’s fuselage and take refuge on the under structure which serves as a raft, with even the possibility of a sail being rigged.

Calderara even made it possible for the wings to be cut loose.

Calderara Hydrovol.jpg

The Calderara Hydrovol was the first true seaplane to actually fly. Hopefully you all saw the video above.

Okay – that’s it for now.


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Wills’s Aviation Card #61 – “Roe II.” Triplane.

61F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Roe II” Triplane.

Card #61 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – black back issue

  • Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe, April 26, 1877 in Patricroft, Eccles, England, Great Britain – January 4, 1958, Portsmouth, England, Great Britain.

To be honest, the image in the card above looks like Roe I Triplane, owing to its rear wings, and the fact that they are completely open. The Roe II has closed vertical stabilizers holding the rear wings erect on the outer edge.

If you’ll examine further below, you can see what is purported to be the Roe II – but three versions of it.

If you aren’t sure you recognize the name of the man at the top… Mr. Roe, perhaps you might better recognize his aviation company A.V.Roe Aircraft Company… also known as Avro… one of the top designers and manufacturers of aircraft during WWI (The Great War), through WWII, and into the Cold War era.

Believe it or not, even though I had not yet been born by the time the company went out of business, I have six degrees of separation connection with Sir Roe… sort of… which, I’ll reveal later on in this article.

What do we know about A.V. Roe the man? Well, he was the first Englishman to make a powered flight in 1908, and he was the first Englishman to fly an all-British manufactured aircraft in 1909. He was also one of the more famous aeroplane designers and manufacturers during WWI…

Despite the great success and history of Avro and A.V. Roe, there’s not much good to say about the success of the Roe II Triplane that this card is all about.

Oh well… let’s start with a history of Sir Roe and work our way up to through his childhood, aviation successes, a country’s shame, his death and my sorta link. Yes… a country’s shame… something I feel deeply about – my home of Canada.

The tricky part of this whole story, is that AV Roe the person is only involved in Avro until sometime in 1928. While the company lived on, he went and formed the Saunders-Roe aircraft company.

So… to give a full story, I’m going to mention planes built with Roe as pat of Avro… what the Avro company built after he left, what another company did using the Avro Canada namesake, and what the Saunders-Roe company did.

Man… it’s never easy giving a historically accurate background!

AV Roe.jpg

A.V. Roe

Roe was born in Lancashire, England in 1877, leaving home when he was 14 to go to British Columbia, Canada to work as a surveyor… except the silver market had played out, so he had to do odd jobs… including working as an assistant working on drawings for a flying machine… keeping in mind that this would be around 1891…

He returned to England and apprenticed for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway before leaving to try and study marine engineering at King’s College London. He did not get in because, although he passed the technical and math portions, he failed the general subjects.

He ended up as 5th engineer of the SS Jebba ship of the British & South African Royal Mail Company, as well as serving on other ships, eventually ending up as a 3rd engineer.

While at sea, Roe looked at the soaring flight of some albatross birds and turned his thoughts to possibly building his own aircraft.

In 1906, without any experience, he applied for the job of Secretary of the Royal Aero Club (founded in 1901 as the Aero Club of Great Britain, changing its name in 1910 to Royal Aero Club in 1910).

His enthusiasm for aviation caught the eye of one Charles Rolls (one half with Henry Royce, he co-founded the Rolls-Royce car manufacturing firm. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display on July 12, 1910)… getting the job.

He quit to work as a draftsman for G.L.O. Davidson, who had devised a twin-rotored aircraft that was being built in Denver, Colorado, U.S. But, there were disagreements about the design of the machine and problems with his salary, so Roe went back to England to get a design patent, decided to resign instead.

Let’s take a look at the aeroplanes Roe supposedly designed and built.

Please keep in mind that I am taking the next two images from Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft of 1913… from the British section of HISTORICAL AIRCRAFT.

Bored… and now having some skill in the design of aeroplanes, Row tried his hand at building models, winning a Daily Mail newspaper competition of £75 for a design in 1907.

With the prize money and the loan of stables at his brother’s house in Putney, he built a full-sized aeroplane based on his design… what would be known as the Roe I Biplane (aka Avroplane).

Roe I Biplane 1908

Avro biplane.jpg

I can only assume that this plane made hops, per the cutline on the Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft 1913 book.

Roe flew the Roe I biplane at Brooklands in 1907-1908, achieving flight on June 8, 1908, flying 100-feet distance… but it wasn’t flight so much as hopping. Is this a legitimate claim of flight then? By the way, some sources claim the flight was achieved in 1907… but I suspect the plane was only built in that year.

So… a legitimate flight?

I would say no… but people seemed to really have this awe and respect for A.V. Roe that the minor achievement is recognized as a success to heaped upon him.

Although Roe wanted to use a 24 horsepower Antoinette motor, he couldn’t afford it and instead utilized a nine horsepower JAP (JA Prestwich Industries) built V-twin motor.

Knowing that the plane was now lacking in strength, to compensate Roe lightweighted it by using brown paper to cover the wings.

Again, the Roe I Biplane was the first British-designed aeroplane – but it only hopped, and did not achieve actual flight.

Roe I Triplane 1907

Avro Roe I Triplane 1907.jpg

Roe I Triplane/Avroplane/Bullseye 1907, continued

AV Roe I Triplane.jpg

This Roe I Triplane differs from the one above in that it has a skin covering the fuselage, and no longer has a rear wheel. The propellers look similar, but can not be confirmed.

The Avroplane/Roe I Triplane is still around for those of you who are interested, over at the London Science Museum.

For a nickname, the Avroplane was known as the Bullseye by Roe, after a brand of braces manufactured by his brother Humphrey.


To confirm that this is the Roe I aeroplane, you can see this 1952 replica aircraft sitting in the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England – complete with “Bullseye” annotation on the fuselage… and you can see the open concept of the vertical stabilizers on the rear triplane wings. Image is from the German Wikipedia site, with annotation for the photo belonging to Paul Hermans. Of importance, however, is that the replica above shows a different set of propeller shape from the image at the top of this section. One would assume a museum would get things correct, right?


Roe I Triplane.jpg

You can clearly see the “Bullseye” on the fuselage here… and the covered vertical stabilizers on the rear triplane wings…. so WTF?! Also… these two images showing Bullseye have a rear wheel, but not on the image at the top. Merely variations of a theme.

Should you not be interested in reading the photo cutlines of the three images above, let me point out that it appears as though the images show three different versions of the Roe I Triplane!

The topmost image in this section looks just like the middle image… in that the rear triplane wings match, with an open concept vertical stabilizer separating the wings.

The middle image of a museum replica of the Roe I, shows the aircraft’s name as “Bullseye“.

The third image (at the bottom), shows what purports to be the Roe I Triplane from the era, and also shows the appropriate name of “Bullseye“.

However, The bottom image shows a different design on the rear triplane wings, showing a covered vertical stabilizer between the wings.

Images 2 and 3 show the aircraft with a single rear wheel.

Image 1 shows it without a wheel, perhaps with a single ski providing support.

Also, Take a look at Images 1 and 2… with the identical rear wings, but different rear wheel/ski… the propellers are of a different shape.

Image 2 – the replica also has a #14 on the rear, which I assume was because it was based on a version in an air meet…

But are all of these different versions of the same plane? Is one of these the Roe II? The Roe II that was nicknamed Mercury? No… these are, I believe, just variations of the same Roe I Triplane.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 23 feet (7 meters);
  • Wingspan: 20 feet (6.1 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet (2.7 meters);
  • Wing area: 320 square feet (30 square meters);
  • Wing area – I spotted other data suggesting: 217.5 square feet (20.2 square meters) – I am unsure which is correct;
  • Empty weight: 300-pounds (136-kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 450-pounds (204-kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × JAP V-twin configuration air-cooled proving 9 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 4-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour);
  • Range: 0.3 miles (0.48 kilometers).

Feeling as though he was on the right path, Roe and his brother Humphrey Verdon Roe founded the A.V. Roe Aircraft Co. on January 1, 1910, at Brownsfield Mill, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester, England.

Humphrey was the money man, acting as the firm’s managing director until he joined the RFC in 1917.

61R 001.jpg

Roe II/Mercury Triplane

Roe II Triplane Mercury

Roe II Triplane at the 1909 Olympia Aero Show in London, England. Cost to purchase was £550, a nominal fee that also included tuition on how to fly it. You can see the aircraft’s “Mercury” imprinted on the fuselage. Hmm… no wheels… just skids. The image on the Wills’s card shows wheels. Image from www.verdon-roe.co.uk/pictures-videos-of-avro-aircraft1909-1914.

The Wills’s card in question, No. 61, describes the Roe II Triplane, sometimes known as the Mercury – though I wonder if that was a name given to the plane by its only purchaser.

As the first aeroplane of the A.V. Roe and Company, the Roe II Triplane was designed by  Roe – except that this time, he decided he didn’t need to lightweight it with paper all over the wings, seeing as how this time Roe had the money to get a stronger engine placed on board.

The 35 horsepower Green powerplant was designed by Gustavus Green and built by the Green Engine Company and Aster Engineering Company.

Only two examples of this type were built – one for display  – a visual aid, if you will for the company, and the other sold to a Captain W. G. Windham – and admittedly, I can’t find any information on him, except that along with Henri Pequet, the two began an airmail service between Allahabad and Naini Junction in India, to coincide with the Universal Postal Exhibition in Allahabad. This airmail service occurred between December of 1910 and into January of 1911.

I am sure, however, that the aircraft used in India by Windham was NOT the Roe II Triplane, but rather a Farman biplane.

The initial test flight of the Roe II took place sometime in April of 1910 in Brooklands. The plane rolled on take-off.

On a second attempt, it rolled again.

Sensing there was a design flaw (d’uh), Roe changed the planes design to avoid wing warping and instead use a control column that improved the plane’s overall performance.

Its longest flight being a mere 600 feet (180 meters). It is also why I doubt it was improved upon enough in eight months to have become the airmail aircraft of choice in India, as mentioned above.

Still, it was enough of a flight that Roe felt it should be sent along with the Roe III Triplane (see below) to the Blackpool Flying Meeting, October 18 – 23, 1909 in Blackpool, England. See below to find out what happened en route to the event.


The Green C-4 aircraft engine at the Royal Air Force Museum in London, England.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one;
  • Length: 23 feet (7 meters);
  • Wingspan: 26 feet (7.9 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet (2.7 meters);
  • Wing area: 280 square feet (26 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 550-pounds (249-kilograms);
  • Powerplant: × Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour).

With its longest flight achieved being a mere 600 meters, it makes one wonder WHY the Roe II Triplane was deemed worthy enough to get its own tobacco card. I suppose there was initially some hope when an artist was asked to create the image, and then it was too late to change to the Roe III and Roe IV mentioned on the card’s reverse.

Roe III Triplane

Roe_III_Triplane.jpgThe Roe III Triplane was similar in looks to the Roe II Triplane, except it was supposed to be a two-seater – room for a passenger.

A prototype of the Roe III Triplane used a JAP motor, but the other three (but it could be as much as four) machines built utilized a Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower, as was used on the Roe II.

Although the prototype had ailerons fitted to the upper wing, the other three Roe III Triplanes had the ailerons fitted to the middle wing.

The aircraft first achieved flight on June 24, 1910.

Roe seldom exceeded 20 minutes in the air in the prototype Roe III because the JAP engine easily overheated… then spraying the pilot and passenger with oil. Carburetor fires also happened often enough.

By July 9, 1910, with Roe piloting the prototype, it stayed aloft for 25 minutes and was able to maneuver well enough in steep turns.

Roe practiced figure-eight turns, achieving Aviator’s Certificate No. 18 from the Royal Aero Club on July 20, 1910.

Soon after, however, Roe appears to have given up flying and instead concentrated on designing aircraft for his company.

We do know that the prototype Roe III Triplane with the JAP motor was put up for sale in May of 1911 as a second-hand aircraft for £250, but I can’t find anything else about what happened to it.

We do know that aside from the prototype, a Roe III Triplane was sold to:

  • the Harvard Aeronautical Society in Massachusetts, U.S.;
  • one was exported to the U.S.;
  • one (along with the Roe II Mercury Triplane) caught fire from sparks from a train that was transporting them to the 1910 Blackpool Aviation Meet. Roe was able to quickly replace them with new aircraft built from spare parts.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one;
  • Passenger: one;
  • Length: 23 feet (7 meters);
  • Wingspan: 31 feet (9 meters);
  • Wing area: 287 square feet (26.7 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 750-pounds (340-kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower.

Roe IV Triplane

Roe only manufactured one such Roe IV Triplane, fist achieving flight in September of 1910 and retired 12 months later in August of 1911.

Despite its relatively short shelf life, the Roe IV was flown often by a lot of people.

Because only one was made, however, allow me to force-feed you another Wikipedia entry:

The Roe IV Triplane resembled Roe’s Type III, being a tractor configuration triplane with the lower wing of smaller span than the upper two and a triangular section wire-braced fuselage, which was uncovered behind the pilot’s seat. The middle wing was mounted directly above the upper longerons, and there was a gap between the single lower longeron and the lower wing. The wings were connected by four unequally-spaced pairs of interplane struts on either side, the innermost pair on each side being just outboard of the upper longerons and the outer pair connecting only the upper pair of wings due to the shorter span of the lower wing. Although the ailerons fitted to the previous design had been satisfactory, Roe returned to wing warping for lateral control. The lifting triplane tailplanes of the earlier design were replaced by a non-lifting single triangular tailplane with a divided elevator and a small unbalanced rudder. The undercarriage consisted of a pair of skids extending forward of the propeller, with a pair of wheels mounted on each skid, and a sprung tailskid. It was powered by a 35 horsepower Green water-cooled four-cylinder inline engine, with the radiator mounted above the fuselage between the front inner interplane struts.

As mentioned, the Roe IV got a lot of use. It was used as a training aeroplane for the Avro Flying School at Brooklands.

However, along with the many pilots who learned to fly in it, many also failed, crashing it many times—including twice, that we know of, into the nearby sewage farm.

Suspecting that the length of the craft might have something to do with the numerous crashes, the Roe IV was rebuilt in February of 1911 with an extended fuselage, lengthened by 1.2 meters (4-feet).

Did it work? Maybe. Would-be pilots still manage to fly safely or crash (no known fatalities, by the way).

Why this aeroplane, and not something better – well… a full-scale flying replica was built for the excellent 1965 film Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and was afterwards donated to the Shuttleworth Collection.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one
  • Length: 30 feet (9 meters)
  • Wingspan: 32 feet (10 meters)
  • Height: 9 feet (3 meters)
  • Wing area: 294 square feet (27.3 square meters)
  • Loaded weight: 650-pounds (295-kilograms);
  • Maximum speed: 25 miles per hour (40.2 kilometers per hour);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower.

After a few more aircraft designs: Roe Type D (only seven manufactured), Avro Curtiss type (also known as the Lakes Water Bird – only 1 manufactured), and the Avro Duigan (only one manufactured), things began to pick up for the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company with the manufacture of the Avro 500 also known as the Avro E.

Avro 500/Avro E


First flown in March 1912, a total of 19 Avro 500/Avro E aircraft were built by the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company, of which 18 were built for the newly-formed RFC (Royal Flying Corp., the air arm of the British Army before and during WWI until merging with the Royal Naval Air Service on April 1, 1918, when it formed the new Great Britain Royal Air Force).

First flying on March 3, 1912, the two-seat Avro 500 (along with the later Avro 502 – a single-seat version of the Avro 500), was considered to be the fledgling company’s most successful bird.

Because nothing is easy, the two-seater Avro Duigan biplane was manufactured first for Australian aviation John Robertson Duigan in 1911. It used a 40 horsepower two-cylinder horizontally opposed Alvaston engine, but was soon replaced with a 35 horsepower E.N.V. V-8 motor. Both were water-cooled engines, with pairs of large coiled tube radiators positioned parallel to the fuselage on either side of the front cockpit.

Once that order was completed, Roe built another two-seater known as the Avro Type E biplane. It was bigger than the Duigan model and had a 60 horsepower motor, water-cooled E.N.V. engine.

From Wikipedia: Both were two-bay tractor biplanes with unstaggered parallel-chord wings with rounded tips, a deep rectangular section fuselage bearing rectangular steel-framed stabilisers, elevators and rudder with no fixed fin, and an undercarriage with a pair of wheels on a transverse leaf-spring and a long central skid projecting forward of the propeller. This aircraft layout dominated aircraft design for twenty years: the Avro 500 and the contemporary B.E.1 are among the first truly practical examples built.

The Avro 500 was built after manufacture of the Avro Type E.

The Avro 500, as initially built, was a success in the air, but Row was not happy with its top speed and rate of climb when tested on March 3, 1912.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2;
  • Wingspan: 34 feet (10.36 meters);
  • Motor: 1 × E.N.V. type D, 35 horsepower.

So, when he built a second model, he used a 50 horsepower Gnome air-cooled rotary motor, that was not only more powerful than the E.N.V. powerplant, but was lighter!

Using the new motor, the Avro 500 took off on May 8, 1912 reaching an altitude of 2000-feet (610 meters) in just five minutes.

On May 9, 1912, it flew 17 miles (28 kilometers) in 20 minutes. It also impressed the British military, ordering two examples for the aircraft now officially named the Avro 500.

Other intriguing developments by the company include building the world’s first aircraft with enclosed crew accommodation in 1912 with the monoplane Type F and biplane Avro Type G  – but despite that advance, neither plane advanced beyond the prototype stage.

As for the Avro 500… Roe further developed it into the Avro 504.

Avro 504

Avro 504K.jpg

The Avro 504K variant… notice the classic 504 skid just under the lower propeller blade.

What’s so special about the Avro 504? Well… during WWI, the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company built a total of 8,970 of the aeroplanes – the largest number of war craft produced.

Also, production of the Avro 504 continued on until 1932 building well over 10,000 of the aircraft.

First flown on September 18, 1913, the Avro 504 used an 80 horsepower Gnome Lambda seven-cylinder rotary engine. It was a two-bay, all-wood biplane with a square-ish fuselage.

What else is so special? Well, during WWI, it was the first ever British aeroplane to be shot down by the Germans. Okay… not so special. The incident occurred on August 22, 1914, with RFC pilot 2nd Lt. Vincent Waterfall and navigator Lt. Charles George Gordon Bayly – both of the 5th RFC squadron.

It was also the first British aeroplane to strafe troops on the ground; the first British aircraft to make a bombing raid over Germany; and the first Allied aeroplane to be downed by enemy anti-aircraft fire.

The Avro 504 was nicknamed the “Tooth pick” by the pilots because of the single skid between the wheels.

Considering the plane was being manufactured from 1913 – 1932, it should be expected that variations existed – and they do – too many to list, suffice to say the included engine variants, seat variants, differences in fuselage, and more.

One would think that if the fuselage was altered and a new engine used, it would no longer be the same aircraft, but I think the company believed the Avro 504 designation was kept because it was a such a good plane originally – why confuse the buying public?

Initially used as a fighter, scout and bomber during the early phase of WWI, as more agile and faster craft came into being, the Avro 504 was used more and more to train the would be war pilots, in fact becoming better know for its teaching capabilities.


Drawing here is likely mentioning the engines used in the 504E, 504F and 504G versions.

Variations of the 504 are:

  • 504original model;
  • 504A modified with smaller ailerons and broader struts. Use an 80 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504Bfor the RNAS with larger fin. With an 80 horsepower Gnome or Le Rhône engine.
  • 504C – single-seat anti-zeppelin aircraft for the RNAS. The 504C was fitted with an extra fuel tank, in place of the observer.
  • 504D – single-seat anti-zeppelin aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps. Six built.
  • 504E100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape engine – 10 built.
  • 504F75 horsepower Rolls-Royce Hawk engine. One built
  • 504G80 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504Hused for catapult trials. Used an 80 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504JUsed as a trainer. 100 horsepower Gnome or 80 horsepower Le Rhône engine.
  • 504K – Two-seat training aircraft. The 504K had a universal mount to take different engines. Single-seat fighter conversion used for anti-zeppelin work. Several were assembled in Australia by Australian Aircraft & Engineering. It used a: 130 horsepower Clerget 9, or a 100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape or a 110 horsepower Le Rhône 9J engines.
  • 504K Mk.II – Hybrid trainer based on 504K fuselage with 504N undercarriage and wings and powered by rotary engine. Built under license in Mexico as Avro Anahuac.
  • 504L– Floatplane version with engine variants of a 150 horsepower Bentley BR1, a 130 horsepower Clerget or a 110 horsepower Le Rhône engine.
  • 504M – Three-seat cabin biplane. Only one was ever built, using a 100 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504N – Two-seat training aircraft, redesigned postwar trainer for RAF with 160 horsepower Armstrong Siddeley Lynx engine. A total of 598 built.
  • 504OFloatplane version of 504N. First aircraft to fly above the Arctic Circle in 1923 Oxford Expedition.
  • 504PUnbuilt version of the 504N with side-by-side seating.
  • 504QThree-seat cabin biplane. The 504Q was built for the Oxford University Arctic Expedition. Only one was ever built, powered by an Armstrong Siddeley Lynx engine.
  • 504R GosportReworked trainer with revised, lightweight structure. Five prototypes flown 1926 to 1927 with various engines: the 100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape; 100 horsepower Avro Alpha; 140 horsepower Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major; and the 150 horsepower Armstrong Siddeley Mongoose. The Mongoose version was chosen as the production type, with 10 sold to Argentina, with 100 more built by FMA (Fábrica Militar de Aviones) under license in Argentina. At least six were exported to Estonia, remaining in service until 1940, and an unknown number to Peru.
  • 504STwo-seat training aircraft. Built under license in Japan by Nakajima Aircraft Company.
  • Yokosuka K2Y1Japanese version of the Avro 504N, given the long designation Yokosuka Navy Type 3 Primary Trainer, it used a 130 horsepower Mitsubishi-built Armstrong Siddeley Mongoose radial piston engine. A total of 104 built.
  • Yokosuka K2Y2Improved version of the K2Y1, powered by a 160 horsepower Gasuden Jimpu 2 radial piston engine. A total of 360 built of both the K2Y1 and K2Y2. The Watanabe-built aircraft were given the long designation Watanabe Navy Type 3-2 Land-based Primary Trainer.
  • U-1 (Uchebnyi – 1) Avrushka was a Russian copy of the 504K, with over 700 built.
  • MU-1 (Morskoy Uchebnyi – 1) – a Russian seaplane version.

Generally speaking (because there were so many variations of the Avro 504), here are the:

General characteristics of the Avro 504K

  • Crew: two;
  • Length: 29 feet 5 inches (8.97 meters);
  • Wingspan: 36 feet (10.97 meters);
  • Height: 10 feet 5 in (3.18 meters);
  • Wing area: 330 square feet (30.7 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,231 pounds (558 kilograms);
  • Useful load: 180 lb (82 kg);
  • Max. takeoff weight: 1,829 lb (830 kg);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône 9J Rotary, 110 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour);
  • Cruise speed: 75 miles per hour (121 kilometers an hour);
  • Range: 250 miles (402 kilometers);
  • Service ceiling: 16,000 feet (4,876 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 700 feet/minute (3.6 meters/second);
  • Climb rate:  to 3,500 ft (1,065 m) in five min;
  • Armament: One (1) fixed .303 Lewis atop upper wing (single-seat night fighter variants)


Other aircraft designed and manufactured by the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company are the:

When WWI concluded, the lack of demand for aircraft hit all aeroplane manufacturers, causing Roe to sell 68.5% of his company to high-quality automobile manufacturer Crossley Motors in August of 1920.

In 1928, Crossley Motors sold the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company to Armstrong Siddeley Holdings Ltd.

At this time, Roe sold his shares and resigned from the company he had founded and bought S. E. Saunders Co., to form the new Saunders-Roe Limited.

Before I get to Saunders-Roe Limited, the following are aircraft built using the Avro name under A.V. Roe Aircraft Company  but not with A.V. Roe involved (all are live linked):

The Avro Lancaster

Maintaining their skills in designing trainer aircraft, the company built a more robust biplane called the Avro Tutor in the 1930s which the Royal Air Force (RAF) also bought in quantity. A twin piston-engined airliner called the Anson followed but as tensions rose again in Europe the firm’s emphasis returned to combat aircraft. The Avro Manchester, Lancaster and Lincoln were particularly famous Avro designs. More than 7,000 Lancasters were built and their bombing capabilities led to their use in the famous Dam Busters raid. The Avro Lancaster carried the heaviest bomb loads of the war, including the Grand Slam, a 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) earthquake bomb. I know… you HAVE to look it up now don’t you? 

Saunders-Roe Limited aka Roe, Roe, Roe Your Flying Boat

Okay – so now let’s get back to the real A.V. Roe and what he did next after he left the company he founded, A.V. Roe Aircraft Company… well, like the sub-head says, he formed the Saunders-Roe Limited company in 1929.

Roe and partner John Lord bought a majority share of boat-building firm S.E. Saunders, and decided to produce flying boats under the new company name of Saunders-Roe Limited.

In typical Roe fashion, few of the craft were manufactured in volume, with the largest fleet belonging to its Saunders Roe A.27 London, of which 31 were made, beginning in 1936, flying until 1941, flying primarily for the Royal Air Force (Great Britain) and the Royal Canadian Air Force.


Saunders-Roe A.27 London flying boat

Everybody Wants A Piece
In late 1930, Whitehall Securities Corporation Limited purchased a large share of Saunders-Roe.

Since Whitehall Securities already owned a large share of the Southampton, England airplane manufacturer Spartan Aircraft Ltd., they merged Spartan into Saunders-Roe Limited.

In 1938 Saunders-Roe Limited transferred its marine section—the shipyard and boat building business—to a newly formed company it owned called Saunders Shipyard Ltd. with all of its shares owned by Saunders-Roe Limited.

In 1947, Saunders-Roe tested its SR.A/1 fighter prototype, one of the world’s first jet-powered flying boats.

In 1952, they first flew their prototype Princess airliner, but the age of the flying-boat was over and the two further Princess examples to be completed were never flown. No further new seaplanes were produced here.

In 1951 Saunders-Roe took over the interests of the Cierva Autogiro Company at Eastleigh, England including the Skeeter helicopter project.

I’m just going to copy from Wikipedia here because the convoluted history doesn’t need me convoluting it any farther.

In September 1952 the company was comprised of:

  • Saunders-Roe Ltd. with a Head Office in Osborne, East Cowes, Isle of Wight (I.O.W.) with works at Columbine I.O.W. and Southampton Airport;
  • Saunders-Roe (Anglesey) Ltd, Friars Works, Beaumaris, North Wales;
  • Saro Laminated Wood Products Ltd., Folly Works, Whippingham, I.O.W.;
  • Princess Air Transport Co. Ltd of Osborne I.O.W. with an office in London at 45 Parliament St. SW1.

In 1959 it demonstrated the first practical hovercraft —the SR.N1.

In the same year Saro’s (Saunders-Roe) helicopter and hovercraft interests were taken over by Westland Aircraft which continued the Skeeter family with the Scout and Wasp. In 1964 all the hovercraft businesses under Westland were merged with Vickers-Armstrongs to form the British Hovercraft Corporation. This, in turn, was taken over by Westland and was renamed Westland Aerospace in 1985, and hovercraft production was reduced to nearly nothing until the advent of the AP1-88. The company produced sub-contract work for Britten-Norman, produced composites and component parts for the aircraft industry, especially engine nacelles for many aircraft including the De Havilland Canada Dash 8, the Lockheed Hercules, the British Aerospace Jetstream and parts for the McDonnell-Douglas MD-11. By the mid-1990s, over 60% of the world’s production of turboprop nacelles took place in the East Cowes works.

Wait… it’s gets more confusing…

In the late 1960s/early 1970s the Saunders-Roe Folly Works, by then owned by Hawker Siddeley was merged with the Gloster Aorcraft Company to form Gloster-Saro utilizing both companies’ expertise in aluminum forming to produce fire fighting appliances and tankers. In 1984, Gloster-Saro acquired the fire engine business of the Chubb group with the company merging in 1987 with Simon Engineering to form Simon Gloster Saro.

In 1994 Westland was taken over by GKN, later selling the Westland shares to form the helicopter-design business Agusta-Westland S.p.A, it retained the East Cowes works, where it continues aircraft component design and production.

There’s other stuff, but it doesn’t relate to aviation.

Roe  – Aeroplane Designer, Facist?!
So… what of A.V. Roe himself?

We know that he was knighted in 1929, changed his surname to Verdon-Roe in 1933 to honor his mother. Awww.

He was a fascist.


Yup… Roe was a member if the British Union of Fascists. The group changed its name in 1936 to the “British Union of Fascists and National Socialists”  – National Socialists?! Nazi’s?! The group even adopted the anti-semitism of the German Nazi party in the later years.

He joined the group because he liked their ticket on monetary reform, as he believed it wrong that banks should be able to create money by “book entry” and charge interest on it when they lent it out. The concept of fake money…

During WWII, two of his sons were killed while serving with the Royal Air Force: Squadron Leader Eric Alliott Verdon-Roe (26) in 1941; and Squadron Leader Lighton Verdon-Roe (DFC – Distinguished Flying Cross), aged 22 in 1943.

Roe died on January 4, 1958 in Portsmouth, and is buried at St. Andrew’s church in Hamble.

Stuff completely unrelated to A.V. Roe:

1) Avro regional jets

The Avro name would subsequently be resurrected by British Aerospace when this aircraft manufacturer renamed its BAe 146 family of regional jetliners as Avro regional jets (Avro RJ). Three differently sized versions of the four engine jetliner were produced: the Avro RJ70, the Avro RJ85 the Avro RJ100. The largest example of the family being the Avro RJ 115.

2) Avro Canada

In 1945, Hawker Siddeley Group purchased the former Victory Aircraft firm in Malton, Ontario, and renamed the operation A.V. Roe Canada Limited. Commonly known as Avro Canada, it was actually a subsidiary of the Hawker Siddeley Group and used the Avro name for trading purposes.

Okay… here’s that Six-degrees of Kevin Bacon stuff…  – whom, by the way, I can connect to within three degrees… four if you are supposed to count yourself.

During the early 1970s, my family loved in Malton, Ontario… a small town that later became absorbed as part of Mississauga, Ont. where the Toronto airport–Pearson International Airport–resides.

Okay… not only did I go to a Catholic school called Our Lady Of The Airways because of its proximity to the Avro Canada base, but I lived on Victory Crescent named, obviously after the former Victory Aircraft…. my house was part of a new subdivision in Malton built, I believe in 1970… and I can recall visiting the site BEFORE our semi-detached house was built.

Our Lady Of The Airways 1978.jpg

Our Lady Of The Airways elementary Catholic School in Malton (now part of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada) circa 1978, now closed. Too bad, there was a lot of green field behind it for the kids to play on, and lots of fair-sized classrooms. I have good memories of the place.

Okay… it’s not really me touching Kevin Bacon, but the connection is there… even though it was only an Avro facility in name only, it was named in homage to A.V. Roe probably because it was still a famous enough name to make money off of.

So… what did Avro Canada build?

I urge you check out the link to the very brief outline on the Arrow by reading the Arrow blueprints’ story  HERE. It really is a touchy subject among Canada’s aviation community. We know what it could have meant for Canada – should have meant for Canada… and it hurts.

And… for kicks, I also urge you to check out the Avrocar story… I’m sure you’ve seen video of it and wondered what the hell it was.

Okay… that’s enough of Roe…

Despite a lot of great planes designed and built under the AVRO nameplate, most had nothing to do with the man himself. I didn’t know that until I did this blog… actually beleiving that my school had something to do with the great aviation pioneer… and now am bitterly disappointed to find out I’m not separated by six degrees of Kevin Bacon to A.V. Roe.


Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Fighters, Gliders, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Pilots, Tobacco Card, WWI, WWII | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #60 – “Dunne V.” Biplane.

60F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Dunne V.” Biplane.

Card #60 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – black back issue

  • Captain John William Dunne, XXXX, XX, 1875 in Curragh Camp, County Kildare, Leinster, Republic of Ireland – August 24, 1949, Banbury, England, Great Britain.

I have a number of versions of this card, opting  – merely for optics – to show off a green back card, from the Vice Regal Mixture 75-card series… with the primary difference in the cards being the use of green ink on the back, rather than black. Oh… and maybe a different and smaller font for the card’s reverse description.

Never heard of Captain John William Dunne? We all should have… he’s the guy who created the first successful flying wing aeroplane – as you can see from the card graphic above.

First things first… the Wills’s card shows a Dunne V biplane… did they mean V as in vee-shaped wings… or V, as in the Roman numeral V = 5… as the Dunne D.5 was the fifth in a series of aircraft designs that achieved its historic success on March 11, 1910… the right date for our aviation card series. And… as you will see below, I think I’m correct.

Born in Ireland in 1875 (I hate it when I can’t find a birth date for a guy who lived until 1949… someone knows! Just not the Internet!), as the oldest son of British General John Hart Dunne and Julia Elizabeth Dunne – rich an considered to be aristocrats.

General daddy Dunne was famous enough for a long obit column to appear in The Times newspaper on April 21, 1924. We also know that the General (and father) of John William Dunne was born on December 11, 1835.

So… we know the birthdate of the father… but not the son. Obviously a British General trumps an aviation pioneer… at least according to this historical examination.

If anyone can pass along the birthdate of John William Dunne, I would greatly appreciate it. Not knowing stuff like this is my OCD. I searched for hours and hours…


General John Hart Dunne, Knight Commander of the Order of Bath… oh yeah… and father of some aviator guy.

The obituary had this to say:

At a lecture in 1913, a son of Sir John was spoken of as one of the most distinguished aeroplane designers of the day. He was at that time designing an aeroplane for the War Office authorities.

That’s where the obituary ends… “a son”  – see… I’m trying to find a proper birth date for that “son of a gun-toting general.”

“A son”…

As part of an aristocratic family, we can be quite sure that Dunne’s birth date would be well-documented… to be fair, I just don’t wish to spend €10 for a one-day pass to look up the records in an Irish database.

Dunne was an aviation pioneer, a guy interested in fly fishing and apparently philosophy – all three of which he achieved a measure of great global success in. It’s why I will explore all three aspects  – the latter of which I find fascinating, because he writes books about something I actually understand… and wondered about… sort of how personal dreams can be about the future…

So… Dunne… as a young boy, he read Jules Verne books, one of which caused him to have a dream about flying machine that did not need to be steered.

When you have a father who’s a British lifer in the military… and was a General… you, as a son, pretty much had to follow in dad’s military footsteps.



John William Dunne – a true pioneer of aviation.


He joined the military and fought in the second Boer War in South Africa as a trooper… but contracted typhoid in 1900 and was sent home.

60R 001.jpg

While off… he examined aeronautics… studying bird flight… but thought that the best way to achieve longer flight was to have aerodynamic stability.

So… thanks to encouragement from H.G. Wells – the famed science-fiction author he had befriended – Dunne tried to build several small aircraft models, eventually settling on a tailless swept-wing design.

Feeling better, on August 28, 1901, he was made a 2nd Lieutenant, and was sent back to South Africa in March of 1902… was diagnosed with “heart disease” and returned home in 1903. I placed quote marks around heart disease, because I don’t know what type of heart disease he had.

While on sick leave, he again spent his time on aeronautical engineering… now ready to construct gliders to perfect that aerodynamic stability for a full-fledged aeroplane.

Still sick, and still in the army, Dunne was transferred to the British Army Balloon Factory at South Farnborough in June 1906 and would remain there until 1909.



Dunne D.1 Glider

It was here that he began to construct and test aircraft, all of which had a vee-shape, constructing his glider the D.1. If successful, Dunne planned on adding engines and propellers to it.

While the glider did gain a short hop in July of 1907 lasting all of eight (8) seconds when flown by Balloon Factory commander Colonel J.E. Capper, and it did crash leaving Capper slightly injured, Dunne did discover that the design of the craft was essentially stable.

So Dunne and company fixed the D.1 again… added a motor… and tested it in October of 1907… bu it slipped sideways off the launching ramp and was severely damaged.

(This craft was later rebuilt as the D.4. – more below.)

So… with that failure, the D.2 glider was designed during the winter of 1907-1908, but it wasn’t actually built. So let’s move on.

Dunne-Huntington Triplane
Why wasn’t the D.2 glider built? Because Dunne and S.K. Huntington were also in the midst of constructing the full-scale Dunne-Huntington Triplane, which would eventually achieve successful flight in 1910 (yup, two years later!).

Actually, the plane was built by renowned aircraft builders the Short Brothers, delivering the finished aircraft on December 23, 1909.

Look at the photo immediately below… this was the first plane by Dunne that did not have his Vee designed wings. I would assume that Dunne acquiesced to Huntington during the design stage.

Dunne-Huntington Triplane.jpg

The Dunne-Huntington Triplane had three levels of wings, but not atop each other like a standard triplane.

The main feature of the design was a set of three wings, each of 10 feet (3 meters) wide, placed at the front, middle and rear of the craft. The front wing was not as long in span as the others.

The middle wing was raised above the other two… and each wing was placed at a different angle to give longitudinal stability – or so it was hoped.

Wikipedia states:

The outer sections of the rear wing were given a sharp downward angle. Triangular outboard control surfaces were hinged on the diagonal to these sections and provided all the functions normally produced by separate elevator, aileron and rudder controls. When operated together they acted as elevators, while when operating differentially they acted as combined ailerons and rudders to bank the aircraft into a controlled turn.

The front and rear wings were fixed to a long, uncovered fuselage frame, with the front wing gently tapered. The top wing was strut-braced to the structure below. Side curtains between the two full-span wings were initially fitted.

The pilot was seated above the front wing, with the engine immediately behind. Power was initially provided by a single Wolesley water-cooled engine chain-driving twin propellers. These were mounted in the space beneath the upper wing and their axles doubled as twin cylindrical booms connecting the fore and aft structures.

The Dunne-Huntington Triplane was first flown during the early part of 1910, with its body mounted on an undercarriage with two large wheels, a large tail wheel and twi skids under the nose. The photo gives a good representation of that. 

General characteristics

  • Crew: One;
  • Length: 50 feet (15 meters);
  • Wingspan: 59 feet (18 meters);
  • Engine: 1  Gnome Rotary, 70 horsepower;
  • Propellers: Two-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 43 miles per hour (69 kilometers per hour) .

D.3 and D.4
In 1908, Dunne built the D.3 glider capable of carrying a pilot, and the powered D.4, previously mentioned as the reincarnated former D.1 aeroplane (it used the D.1‘s wings).

While the D.3 flew well when piloted by Lieutenant Launcelot Gibbs, the D.4‘s tests suffered, as it was under-powered causing it to hop more than fly.

Dunne D4.jpg

Dunne D.4

After a British inquiry into the validity of military aeronatutics showed it to not be a currently viable venture, the British War Office decided to stop funding for powered flight during the spring of 1909… which had Dunne leaving the Factory… even though the War Office decision also meant it still found positives for dirigibles and balloons.

Dunne, with the help of a few friends providing financial backing, formed the Blair Atholl Aeroplane Syndicate, a small company that allowed further refinement of the flying vee aeroplanes.

Soon enough, the tailless and vee-winged D.5 was designed and constructed in 1910, featuring sharply swept back wings and a rear mounted engine (pusher-type) to power twin propellers. Again, the Short Brothers were hired to build the plane… and this time, it was successful… it was the first Dunne tailless Vee-wing to fly, in fact.

After a crash, it was later modified into the first Dunne D.8 – see below for more.

I should point out that originally Dunne wanted to build a monoplane, but Clapper convinced him to go with the biplane design, because that was what the Army thought might be a successful aeroplane.

Dunne D.5 biplane.jpg

The Dunne D.5 biplane

D.5 Specifications
  • Crew: One pilot;
  • Length: 20 feet 5 inches (6.21 meters);
  • Wingspan: 46 feet (14.02 meters);
  • Height: 11 feet 6 inches (3.51 meters);
  • Wing area: 527 square feet  (49 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 1,550 pounds (703 kilograms);
  • Engine: 1 Green Engine Company motor capable of 60 horsepower. The engines were actually manufactured by Aster Engineering Company based on the Green design;
  • Maximum speed: 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour).

Dunne D.5 schematic

The D.5 was quite the success, and on December 20, 1910 at the British Aero Club‘s grounds, Dunne showed off the aeroplane’s flying abilities to an audience that included Orville Wright and Griffith Brewer.

From Wikipedia: Griffith Brewer (1867–1948) was a pioneer English balloonist and aviator, who made his first balloon flight in 1891. Brewer met Wilbur Wright in Pau, France in 1908 and was the first Englishman to fly as a passenger with Wright. He got his pilot’s license in 1914.

Brewer arranged that the British government should get use of the Wright’s patents for £15,000 in 1914 which meant that British aircraft manufacturers were free of the threat of litigation.

What was so cool about the controls of the D.5? Well, Dunne could fly it by using the throttle to climb or dive, and could even fly hands-free so as to make notes on paper.

I mention this only because a few days after the demonstration, the D.5 crashed and was badly damaged. I’m unsure why the plane crashed, but let’s hope flying without using one’s hands wasn’t the cause.

Again, Dunne had wanted to construct a monoplane, but again the British Army expected biplanes, so Colonel Capper had Dunne build accordingly.

Despite what the Army wanted, Dunne’s next plane was the D.6 Monoplane.

D.6, D.7 and D.7bis


Dunne D.6

Dunne’s next design, free of British Army influence, was a monoplane, the D.6 monoplane. This and its derivatives, the D.7 and D.7 bis (a two-seater version), flew throughout 1911-1913.


Dunne D.7

It was a successful aeroplane(s). The D.6 was a single-seat pusher type. Only one was built, however.

From Wikipedia: … major parts of which were built by Short Brothers, used a similar wing with a very different structure supporting it, the engine, pilot and undercarriage. The wing was straight edged, tapering from a central chord of 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) to 5 ft 0 in (1.52 m) at the tips. The leading edge was swept at 35°. The A-frames with kingposts on the centreline were replaced with a pair of rectangular frames which extended above and below the wings, linked at the bottom by two transverse members. These frames served as double kingposts from which each wing was wire braced above and below. A substantial undercarriage structure was mounted at the bottom of the frames, comprising a long pair of skids which extended from the pusher propeller line well forward beyond the nacelle and curving strongly upwards. Each skid was multiply braced to its frame and inwards to the nacelle; the pair were joined by a cross strut near the forward tip. Both carried a pair of wheels and, at the rear, an articulated and sprung extension to absorb landing shocks.

The nacelle that carried the pilot’s seat and the engine behind him was no more than an open wooden framework. The same Green engine was used as before, driving a two bladed, 7 ft 3 in (2.21 m) diameter propeller. A tall, rectangular radiator was placed longitudinally above the wing, positioned to raise the centre of gravity as high as possible. A pair of levers, one for each hand, controlled the craft.

D.6 Specifications

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 21 feet (6.40 meters);
  • Wingspan: 36 feet (10.97 meters);
  • Height: 11 feet (3.35 meters);
  • Wing area: 248 square feet (23 square meters) including elevons;
  • Engine: 1 × Green water cooled inline with 60 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed, 7 feet 3 inches (2.21 meters) diameter.

During 1912, the D.6 was modified into a two-seater, the Dunne D.7 bis, with a 70 horsepower Gnome engine.

The Dunne D.7 or D.7 Auto Safety, was similar to the D.6, but with a shorter wingspan (less 1-foot (305 mm), and used a 7-cylinder Gnome rotary engine capable of 50 horsepower.

The D.7 made an appearance at the Olympia Aero Show of March 1911, but did not have its first test flights until June of that year – and was a success. In January 1912 Dunne demonstrated the D.7 to members of the Royal Aeronautical Society, writing a note whilst flying hands off at 60 miles per hour (100 kilometers and hour).



Dunne D.8

By now the Dunne D.8 had been developed from the D.5, one of which was flown across the English Channel to France. A total of five were built.

The D.8 had a single-pusher propeller engine, differing from the D.5‘s double, chain-driven propellers. Fuselage and undercarriage were also different.

dunne_8_2vc_350.jpgProduction was licensed to both Nieuport in France and Burgess in America.

From Wikipedia: The D.8 was a tailless four bay unstaggered biplane with its wings swept at 32°. Its constant chord wings were built up around two spruce spars, the forward one forming the leading edge. To help achieve stability the incidence and interplane gap decreased outboard, the former becoming negative. This washout on tips well behind the centre of gravity provided longitudinal stability in the same way as a conventional tailplane, set at lower incidence than the wings. Camber increased outwards. Simple, near parallel, pairs of interplane struts joined the spars. The outer interplane struts were enclosed with fabric, forming fixed side curtains that provided directional (yaw) stability. Wing tip elevons were used for control, operated by a pair of levers, one either side of the pilot. The D.8 initially used just a pair of these, mounted on the upper wing, a rectangular cutout in the side curtains allowing for their movement as on the D.5. Large parts of the aircraft were built by the Short Brothers.

The D.8’s water-cooled 4-cylinder, 60 hp Green engine directly drove a four-bladed pusher propeller, saving weight compared with the D.5’s chain drive. Though it is not certain when the propeller was changed, most photographs show the Green engine driving a two-bladed airscrew. As a consequence of the propeller position the fuselage was shortened at the rear; it was also extended in the nose. This first D.8 seems to have been a single-seater like its D.5 predecessor, the pilot sitting at mid chord.

After tests, the first D.8 had its motor replaced with an 80 horsepower Gnome engine… with the second plane receiving the same… though this one was a two-seater.

Several pilots did indeed receive their pilot’s license flying one of these craft.

D.8 Specifications

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 25 feet 9 inches (7.85 meters);
  • Wingspan: 46 (14.02 meters);
  • Wing area: 545 square feet (50.6 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms;
  • Gross weight: 1,900 pounds (862 kilograms);
  • Engine: 1 × Gnome 7-cylinder rotary with 80 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 56 miles per hour (90 kilometers per hour);
  • Rate of climb: 500 feet/minute (2.5 meters/second).


Burgess D.9.jpg

Dunne D.9 biplane

Dunne D.9 was an odd-looking biplane, with a suspected five examples thought to be under construction through 1912–1913. If the photo is to believed, at least one flew.

I can’t find any other information on it, which is why I am also dubious about just what version of plane is being shown in the image above.


The two-seater Dunne D.10 was shorter wing span version of his D.8 (45 feet; 14 meters).  It used a Gnome motor… but since it had orders for multiple D.8‘s, this one D.10 was converted back into a D.8.

Through 1913 and 1914 Dunne’s continuing ill health was making it difficult for him to remain active in aeronautics. Production of the War Office machines for Farnborough ran into difficulties and only one was ever delivered. The Blair Atholl Syndicate was eventually liquidated and Dunne moved on to other areas.

Throughout World War I, mainstream aircraft design proceeded along an entirely different path. Although the principle of inherent stability was proven and slowly gaining acceptance, Dunne’s designs were now obsolete. But still he tried…



Burgess-Dunne tailless Vee

Still, he tried once more with the Burgess-Dunne between 1913-1916, with many variants of his D.8 aircraft, including land and sea versions.

Burgess-Dunne Hydroplane.jpg

Burgess-Dunne Hydroplane version.

Since we just saw a Burgess-Dunne Hydroplane, let’s leave aviation for a moment and check out Dunne and his fishing book.

Great Highs With Fly-Fishing

Later years

Dunne published his first book, on dry-fly fishing: Sunshine and the Dry Fly in 1924, discussing a new method of making realistic artificial flies. I’m not much of a fisherman, so let’s just leave this part of his life alone.

Dare To Dream
Meanwhile, he was studying precognitive dreams which he believed he and others had experienced.

Way back in 1898, he dreamed about the time on his watch… then he woke up and found that the current time matched his “dream” time.

He went on to postulate that the human mind does NOT need to stay in the present, and via dreams and hypnagogic state (where one is in the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep), one could catch glimpses of the past and the future.

By 1927 he had evolved the theory of serial time for which he would become famous and published an account of it: An Experiment with Time. Pretty trippy… but as weird as it sounds, I’ve had multiple dreams as a kid about the near future, and things came to pass… such as seeing a weird copper penny on the asphalt in front of my high school… and two weeks later – there it was… a thing and weak-struck penny.

I’ve also had reoccurring dreams since I was three, of my death at 87… which is a decent enough age to not worry about… except in my dreams, I am warning some kids to get off the ice because it’s too thin, and while doing so, I fall through… see the shadows atop, as I beat on the underside with my fists-once… twice… and then I wake up gasping.

It’s cool because I’m trying to save some kids… but sucks because you’d think that when I was 86 I would have moved somewhere where the only ice around is in my Coke.

I state all of this with some fear of ridicule. But… all I can say is that I had a dream. I still have the penny, though.

I’m unsure about Dunne’s theories… my stuff was all independent of what I learned while researching this particular article. But who the heck knows anything about anything.

He continued his theory in: The Serial Universe (1934), The New Immortality (1938), Nothing Dies (1940) and Intrusions? (published posthumously in 1955).

In 1928 he married Cicely, daughter of Geoffrey Cecil Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 18th Baron Saye and Sele and they lived for a good deal of time after that at the family seat of Broughton Castle.


Dunne died in Banbury, England on August 24, 1949, at age 74. I’m guessing Dunne didn’t see that coming or he would have finished his last book earlier.



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Wills’s Aviation Card #59 – “Vanniman” Triplane.

Card #59.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Vanniman” Triplane.

Card #59 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut issue

  • Chester Melvin Vaniman aka Vanniman, December 30, 1866 in Virden, Illinois, United States of America – July 2, 1912 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States of America.
  • Walter E. Wellman, November 3, 1858 in Mentor, Ohio, United States of America – January 31, 1934 in New York City, New York, United States of America.

Never heard of Melvin Vaniman… apparently Wills’s didn’t either, as they spelled his name as “Vanniman”.

Actually, that’s not true… Vaniman was one of the best-known aviators of the pioneer era, and while he was successful in many of his endeavors, he is nowadays forgotten simply because many of his endeavors revolved around dirigibles… something people of today know very little about unless it involves the Hindenburg and WKRP In Cincinnati or Led Zeppelin, the best pure rock and roll group ever. The Beatles were pop and rock.

Vaniman… despite the glaring misspelling by Wills’s is an interesting character, though he himself may have been overshadowed by a cat.


Kiddo the cat and Melvin Vaniman – one a stray, the other a now forgotten aviation pioneer. Forever memorialized here in this blog until an EMP comes along.

Vaniman was a pioneer of aviation, but he got into the trade thanks to his skills as a photographer… perhaps because he’s the guy who created panoramic photography… or at the very least was the man who made it famous.

Vaniman was a photographer who like to get as high as possible to get the best photograph, which earned him the nickname the “Acrobatic Photographer”.

Not very catchy… … but this is also the guy who named a cat “Kiddo”. At least I think he named him. Whatever… a stupid point by my self.

Born in Virden, Illinois to parents George and Luisa, Vaniman was the oldest of four sons.The short fiery red-head and his siblings were raised within a Christian sect called the Dunkards (via the German Baptist church)… a sect that disagreed with the concepts of modernization and even sad no to instrumental music in the agricultural community they lived in…

Having said that, they lived on a farm… and things needed to be repaired when they broke… and Vaniman was the kid who learned how to fix all kinds of machinery – even engines on the farm.

Like many kids, Melvin Vaniman wanted to escape the small town and seek his fortune elsewhere… turning his back on farming to study music, initially at Mt. Morris College run by the German Baptist Bretheren, before gaining further study at Valparaiso University in Indiana and later at Dexter College in Iowa, where he stayed on to become a music teacher – guitar and singing – before joining a touring opera company in Louisiana in 1887,  which traveled through the U.S.

While not a new invention, photography captured Vaniman’s eye, and he began to take photographs of the towns his musical troupe visited.

In 1900, while in Honolulu, the musical company was affected by a plague scare, that scared them into breaking up.

Broke and stranded in Honolulu (which all things considered doesn’t sounds like a horrible place to be stranded), Vaniman cabled his hometown sweetheart Ida Loud to come to Hawaii, and when she did, they got married.

Needing money, Vaniman attempted to make a career as a photographer in Honolulu… and he must have done something right because his work attracted the attention of the Oceanic Steamship Company who hired him to take photos of rich passengers at various ports.

It was at this time, that he developed panorama photo process by using film greater than six feet long, that required an exposure of anywhere between two to four hours.

The Oceanic Steamship Company traveled through New Zealand and Australia, with Vaniman and his wife first arriving in  Auckland, New Zealand in 1902, where Vaniman took photos of New Zealand cities.

They then traveled in February of 1903 to Australia, where he took panoramic photos of Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and Perth, and the New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australian countrysides… an estimated 100 in total, though only 83 are thought to have survived.


A Vaniman panorama taken in 1904 – a platinum photograph looking East from Darling Harbour to Pyrmont Bridge and Sydney, Australia.

Along with the longer film, Vaniman believed that he needed to be high up to get the proper panorama effect, often climbing buildings, ship’s masts and even going aboard a hot-air balloon.

Vaniman’s 1904 panoramic shots of Sydney are considered to be famous, and for which he made a lot of money… enough for him to turn his hand towards aviation development… something that may have been inspired by his balloon ride.

So he traveled through Europe, settling in Paris in 1905… which was considered to be the center of aviation… mostly because the Wright Brothers were still in secret mode after their initial 1903 flight.

And, despite an education in music, skilled in photography, Vaniman built his own aeroplane in 1906… a triplane, in fact… the first ever triplane…


Now… there seems to be some discrepancy over whether or not his triplane actually flew.

There are images of it in the air… but some people feel that it has been doctored.

1908 Triplane.jpg

Here’s what the above postcard says in English:

Made of three arched planes, supported by a frame of steel tubes, each measuring 11 meters (36-feet) in length and 2 meters 20 cm (7.2-feet) in breadth. Total surface area: 72 (square) meters (775-square-feet). 70/80 HP Antoinette engine with 8 cylinders driving a propeller with two arms placed to the rear. In front, two elevators (or rudders): one horizontal and placed in the lower part, serves to control the altitude; the second, vertical, placed about 2/3 of the height of the machine, controls the direction and the turning, whether one tilts to the right or the left. The function of warping the wings is made by means of an arrangement placed on the shoulders of the aviator, and the direction to the right or the left by means of two pedals. Total weight: 500 kilograms (1,102.3-pounds).

You’ll notice that at no time does the postcard note when the triplane first achieved flight.

Check out the image below… no plane in those days was going to be able to safely take-off with a runway like that…


The only addition to this photo, is that we now know the Vaniman triplane is six meters (19.7 feet) long…

But did it fly?

In 1907… Vaniman appears to have given up on aeroplanes saying: “I once had great faith in aeroplanes… I am firmly set in my belief that the aeroplane will never be a cargo carrier.”

Well… he certainly wasn’t a prognosticator.

But why give up on a triplane that apparently flew… unless it didn’t.

Despite what I read in another on-line blog, Vaniman did not participate in the 1909 Reims air show… because he was already heavily at work on his dirigible, and therefore, there is no way anyone anywhere saw him fly at Reims some 150 meters (492 feet).

The 1911-series of 75 Aviation cards from Wills’s shows the Vaniman triplane in flight… and despite the date, it actually shows the earlier machine… perhaps more for what they hoped it actually represented… a triplane…

Here’s the back of the card… but a quick read will note that they believe it to have made multiple successful triplane flights.

Card #59R.jpg

I love the “side tips”, aka ailerons, proving it had not yet made it into the common aviation vernacular.

So… that’s pretty much it for the Wills’s card, but you know me…. I have to give you the full story.

We’re going to look farther into Vaniman’s life story… and attempts by others, and him to reach the North Pole first… with Vanimann eventually being part of a team that tried to do so by dirigible.

Everyone should know that US Navy engineer Robert Peary, Matthew Henson and four Inuit men, Ootah, Seeglo, Egingwah, and Ooqueah reached the North Pole first on April 6, 1909… except maybe they didn’t, as no one except Peary knew how to navigate and no one else could verify the navigational work by Peary… and, then there’s the fact that after his last support party turned back, Peary and company apparently achieved distances and speeds that were three times what had been achieved to that point.

So… let’s just say that some things are still kind of shady…

The first verified and scientifically-convincing trek to the North Pole was on May 12, 1926 by Roald Amundsen (Norwegian), and his U.S. sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth from the airship Norge – Norwegian-owned, but designed and piloted by Umberto Nobile of Italy.

Nobile, with several scientists and crew from the Norge flight flew over the North Pole again on May 24, 1928 in the dirigible Italia… an aircraft that crashed during its return flight killing half the crew.

North Pole Or Burst
To be fair, you can always just read my old blog for all the information you’ll need to know about Wellman’s attempt to reach the North Pole by dirigible, including later attempts with Vaniman – all courtesy of Wills’s Aviation Card #11.

1906 America dirigible.jpg

The dirigible America  – 1906, Spitzbergen.

The America dirigible was built by Mutin Godard in France in 1906 for the journalist Walter Wellman who wanted to use it reach the North Pole by air.

Wellman… this guy back in 1892, thought he had figured out the initial landing spot of Christopher Columbus, and placed a monument on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. Two years later Wellman led a polar expedition to latitude 81° N., and another in 1989-99 gaining latitude 82° N.

In 1905, he decided he would try and reach the North Pole by air, having the America dirigible built for him by Mutin Godard.

After the dirigible was built in France, it was dismantled and shipped to Spitsburgen, Norway in 1906. There, Wellman and crew attempted to rebuild it, but the engines fell apart… effectively scuttling the planned expedition. The America was dismantled and shipped back to France.

Take Two (Definitely #1 with Vaniman)

Redesigned and rebuilt, the new America dirigible lifted off from Spitsburgen on September 2, 1907 with Wellman, new mechanic Melvin Vaniman, and navigator Felix Riesenberg in an attempt to reach the North Pole. We can rest assured that during the build, the engines did not fall down and break…

But… bad weather arose, forcing the dirigible to be deflated to avoid a crash landing… and was dismantled and shipped back to France.


Walter Wellman  – December 31, 1909.

America Three – Vaniman Two
Wellman lured Vaniman to make a go of a second North Pole attempt aboard a repaired America dirigible. Lifting from Spitzbergen on August 15, 1909, and the North Pole about 700 miles away, the dirigible crew consisted of Wellman, Vaniman, Russian balloonist Nicolas Popov and Vaniman’s brother-in-law Albert Louis Loud.

The America flew for two hours and 40 miles (64 kilometers) without an issue until it lost ballast after a device that Wellman called an “equilibrator” failed – a long, leather tube filled with ballast that was intended to help gauge and maintain a fixed altitude over the ice.

Without this, the America flew up high to 5,000 feet, but finally after a lot of struggling and Vaniman fiddling with the gas valves to vent the hydrogen gas, the dirigible was able to get low enough so the crew could be rescued by the Norweigian steamship Fram.

It is reported that the sailors on the ship were amazed at Vaniman, watching him coolly light a cigar, and just as coolly launch the America’s lifeboat while under 250,000 cubic feet of explosive hydrogen.

But Wellman and Vaniman would not give-up… except the weren’t going to go north anymore.

Why? Because it seems as though reports abounded of others reaching the North Pole – as such, Vaniman and Wellman thought they should try and cross the Atlantic Ocean… to be the first to do that.. as no aerocraft had yet to even make an uninterrupted flight of more than 500 miles.

America 4 – Vaniman 3


The America dirigible, seen from the Trent prior to rescue.

For this flight – the one across the Atlantic, the America left  Atlantic City, New Jersey on October 15, 1910, which a crew of six men and one Kiddo the cat.


America dirigible drawing from Scientific American magazine, October 1, 1910.

Kiddo was a good-looking stray cat a crewman found in the dirigible’s hangar, and for whatever reason, thought it a good idea to bring the cat onboard. For good luck he thought… trying to start a new tradition of gaining good by bringing cats onto aircraft.

Do we still do that now? Didn’t think so.

Anyhow… Kiddo was pretty freaked out on the dirigible… which made the crew nervous.

Twenty minutes into the flight, navigator F. Murray Simon wrote in his log: “I am chiefly worried by our cat, which is rushing around the airship like a squirrel in a cage.”

Ha! Wait’ll Kiddo freaks out and tries to claw the dirigible balloon.

While others wanted to get rid of the cat, Simon said “We must keep the cat at all costs; we can never have luck without a cat aboard.”

I’m pretty sure that Simon was referring to the nautical tactic of  having a cat on board a sailing vessel because cats would catch mice and rats…

But a tiny dirigible with no flying mice or rats aboard was a dumb place to have a cat – even a cute one like Kiddo.


I am unsure who the gentleman is – obviously one of the crew  – I don’t think it’s Vaniman… perhaps navigator F. Murray Simon –  but you can see that that is a real nice-looking kitty cat.

After a while, the crew voted to get rid of the cat… and somehow got Kiddo into a sack (someone was probably really badly cut-up!)  and lowered him down to a motorboat used by journalists following the dirigible.

I’m assuming it was a larger boat than a simple motor boat, and was instead a motorized boat… seeing as it was carrying a number of journalists and was crossing the bloody Atlantic Ocean.

Anyhow… because the weather was bouncing the boat too much, the America was unable to safely place the cat down into the boat… so they hauled Kiddo up again into the dirigible.

Simon notes in his log that Kiddo behaved himself after that… perhaps realizing that if he didn’t behave on the dirigible, the alternative was being thrown into a canvas bag and lowered down into the ocean.

While Simon thought Kiddo was the cat’s meow, the rest of the crew still wasn’t that enthralled with Kiddo…

Along with a good-luck cat, the America also carried along one of the earliest radio sets ever carried on an aircraft.

The flight across the Atlantic Ocean from the U.S. to Europe was anticipated to be a five-hour trip.

However, water condensing on the airship’s skin added excess weight, and it was difficult to gain height. A passing storm also made forward navigation difficult, and after 38 hours, the motors failed (beach sand might have been the culprit)  and the airship drifted south.

The crew jettisoned all excess weight, including one of the defunct engines. But apparently not the cat… though I bet most of the crew really wanted to.

After another 33 hours, and having now traveled a total distance of 1,370 miles (2,200 kilometers) from its starting point, the America spotted the British Royal Mail steamship Trent west of Bermuda.

The used Morse code via signal lamp to attract the Trent, the America made what is considered to be the first ever aerial distress call made by radio (I assume some folks stuck in a hot air balloon may have shouted for help at some point in time previously).

After opening the gas valves, and with the Trent nearby, the crew of the America—and Kiddo—got into the dirigible’s lifeboat and abandoned ship.

After dropping the lifeboat down into the waters, they watched the America float away… never to be seen again. We can assume that with the gas vents open, it either filled the dirigible’s balloon until it burst, or it lifted high into the sky until it froze – either way, it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Trent rescued the cat and crew and took them all to New York city.

For Wellman, the trip was a total disaster and he never took to the air again.

Still that flight set a record for distance traveled by air at 1,008 miles (1,622.22 kilometers), and time aloft 71-1/2 hours.

It Wasn’t A Very Good Year – The Akron

Akron blimp - 1912.jpg

The Akron dirigible was designed by Vaniman, and was Goodyear’s first so-called “blimp”, seen here in 1912.

With Wellman out  of the aviation business, Vaniman wanted another shot at crossing the Atlantic, and in order to raise funds, he exhibited Kiddo the cat  – now renamed Trent in honor of the steamship that rescued him and the humans – in a gilded cage at various New York department stores.

He also found a financial backer in Frank A. Seiberling, who happened to be the co-founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

It’s 19111… and over at the Goodyear factory in Akron, Ohio. USA, and Vaniman was helping over see the construction of the new dirigible.

Legend has it that Vaniman—during the tests—thought that using a rubberized “cloth of web-like steel piano wire as the woof and cotton as the warp” would help stop gas from escaping in the dirigible.

Does that sound familiar?

Vaniman asked Goodyear to experiment with rubber and silk weaved through vanadium steel… like a steel-belted tire, perhaps?

Regardless… Goodyear didn’t bring out a steel-belted radial tire for five more decades…

The dirigible—named the Akron—was a 258-foot (78.64 meter) long dirigible with a balloon capacity of 11 300 cubic meters of hydrogen gas.

Looking more like a dirigible made by Europeans, the Akron had two decks, cabins above, a dining room, saloon, kitchen and a below deck promenade.

On July 2, 1912, after a few trials, the Akron lifted off from Atlantic City, New Jersey to try and cross the Atlantic (again) to Europe.

The event was called the Vaniman-Seiberling Transatlantic Expedition.

Lifting off from its hangar, the Akron reached 750 in altitude after 15 minutes, traveling two kilometers (eight kilometers and hour).

But that’s also when the dirigible exploded, killing Vaniman and his crew of four.

So what the heck happened?

Either the balloon had ruptured thanks to a rapid expansion of gas… or maybe the nacelle’s suspension ropes had snapped… or maybe one really shouldn’t be smoking cigars in a hydrogen-filled blimp that leaks gas… or maybe it was something else.

To this day, Vaniman’s body remains lost… somewhere in the waters off Atlantic City… a watery grave for a man who wanted to soar.

What happened to his cat Kiddo? Was he on the Akron?

No… Kiddo, aka Trent, had retired after the exploits aboard America… and had gone to live with Walter Wellman’s daughter Edith – avoiding Vaniman’s unlucky fate.

Here’s what the New-York Tribune newspaper had to say about Vaniman in its July 3, 1912 edition, front page, no less:

Five Killed When Dirigible Bursts

Melvin Vaniman and Brother Victims of Explosion Which Wrecks Akron 500 Feet Above the Sea.

Thousands See Accident

Airship, Soon to Start for Europe, on Trial Cruise Off Atlantic City-Mrs Vaniman Foresaw Fatal Mishap.

(Editor’s Note: Although the article essentially begins with four separate headlines, the article is then interrupted to note the number of dirigible accidents, and aeroplane fatalities as of July 1, 1912 – in the case of the later, it’s 159. I’m not re-typing it all out here, at this time.)

Atlantic City, July 2 (Special).-While thousands of people, horrified beyond utterance, looked on from the boardwalk and beach, the dirigible Akron, built by Melvin Vaniman to attempt the over-Atlantic passage, burst into flame and plunged into the sea this morning, killing its crew of five men.

The dead are Vaniman himself, his younger brother Calvin Vaniman; Walter Guest, Frederick Elmer and George Bourillion.

The big airship was blown to pieces by an explosion, probably produced by a too rapid expansion of gas.

The body of Calvin Vaniman fell from the Akron as the understructure was dropping through the air, and was recovered not long after the accident, but the other men were carried down into the sandy bottom, caged in the wire framework of the craft.

It is probable that they were killed by the explosion. Bourillion’s body, when taken out by a diver, was crushed and torn and most of the clothing had been ripped away.

The Akron mounted easily and gracefully into the air early to-day for a trial cruise. The sands were black with persons who watched her as she floated upward under splendid control and sailed out over the seas until she was five hundred feet above Absecon Inlet, half a mile from the shore and a quarter of a mile south of Brigantine Beach, which is across the inlet from this city.

When she went up the soft wind that blew across the inlet had not dispelled the haze, and the sun was only a bronze ball in the misty sky. But the clouds dispelled and soon the sunshine shimmered on her great yellow envelope that stood out so dashingly against the blue of the sky.

(Editor’s Note: Holy crap…  I guess the newspaper editor demanded a certain word count, and the writer could only write about the topic for 50 words before realizing he had to describe the sky. Yeesh.)

Shoots Upward Suddenly.
It must have been that the temperature rose suddenly when this happened, for the Akron, which had been drifting lazily along in the air lanes, shot upward quickly, and then a tony flash of light appeared atop the balloon. This spread like an electric spark, and a great burst of flame and smoke followed.

The bag split at the top. A deep rumble came across to the watchers, terrifying them into stillness. Yellow-gray smoke completely hid the Akron, billowing up around her, and then rolled in turgid clouds above her in the wind. The understructure ripped from its meshing and in the forward [art of the big gas bag up-ended, described a slow ark and then jumped in the air as the car tore free and fell into the ocean, never once turning in its dive.

Half way down the body of a man flew out of the car and rocketed to the ocean, striking the water before the understructure splashed a great wave fifty feet to the west of the man, who was Calvin Vaniman.

The gas bag had wavered for a time, fluttering like a live thing, and then, crumpling into the semblance of a wrinkled, dead apple, tumbled down in a spiral, with smoke curling from it, and fell into the ocean a hundred feet from where the car had struck.

Women Faint at Sight of It.
It was almost a minute before the crowd could comprehend what had happened, even though what was left of the Akron lay floating on the waves.

But while women fainted and were carried to the Iblet pavilion to be revived, men put out in motor boats. One of these was Councilman Harry Cook, a member of the America Exhibition Company, which had helped finance the unsuccessful flight of Walter Wellman in 1910, a voyage in which Vaniman, the practical …

(Editor’s Note: Okay… it goes from there, so… I’m cutting it here.)

Anyhow… Vaniman died, his body lost at sea… his brother Calvin and crewman Bourillion were found… but no mention was made – at the time of finding anyone else.

In June of 2012… the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is donating an important piece of U.S. aeronautical heritage to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum: the historic lifeboat used on two early attempted crossings of the Atlantic by airships.

Posted in Airfields, Failures, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Photography, Tobacco Card, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #58 – New “Voisin” Biplane, 1911.

Card #58.jpgHistory Behind The Card:  New “Voisin” Biplane, 1911.

Card #58 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut issue

  • Gabriel Voisin, February 5, 1880 in Belleville-sur-Saône, France – December 25, 1973 in Ozenay, France;
  • Charles Voisin, July 12, 1882 in Lyon, France – September 26, 1912 in Corcelles-en-Beaujolais, France.

The Voisin Brothers were at the forefront of pioneer aviation in Europe. Period.

While Henri Farman got the glory for being the first man in Europe to fly an engine-powered heavier-than-air aeroplane to make a sustained one kilometer, circular flight on January 13, 1908 near Paris, France, he did so in an aeroplane designed and built for him by Gabriel Voisin.

As for baby brother  Charles Voisin, on March 15, 1907, he made the first powered flight on an aeroplane using a combustion engine – an Antoinette V8 – in an aeroplane the Voisin Brothers built on behalf of pilot Léon Levavasseur who also designed it.


From left: Gabriel and Charles Voisin, circa 1906.

Family strife occurred early for the Voisin boys when their father left… but fear not… mom Amélie simply took the boys to live with her dad… a guy who was rich, owned a successful factory, and paid for all the education they needed and wanted.

The Voisin brothers seemed to have their grandfather’s flair for engineering, so even after the old man died, money was put aside for them to go to Lyon and Paris to study industrial design. Before the end of the 19th century, they boys had designed and built their own rifle, steamboat and automobile… that newfangled invention that was the latest global sensation.

Gabriel Voisin, at the age of 20, had finished his schooling and was working for an architect company in Paris… and it was there that he stopped by the months long Paris International Exposition of 1900 (held April 12-November 14)… seeing the Avion III aeroplane designed and built by Frenchman Clement Adler.

This is 1900… so no one had yet flown a heavier-than-air craft (and aeroplane)… so seeing this plane… well… Gabriel Voisin saw the possibilities.

That Avion III (aka Aquilon or the Éole III), was a steam-powered craft that looked like a bat, built by Adler between 1892-97.

While trials in front of the French Government on October 14, 1897 were unsuccessful – it crashed without leaving the ground – Adler said (many years later), that on that same date, he had actually achieved flight on another attempt with two witnesses seeing the flight of 100 meters (328-feet).

In my thinking, if he had a successful flight, he needed to prove it, and should have done so immediately… and not just come up with a statement years later… it’s too convenient…

As mentioned… seeing the aircraft and hearing of its story inspired Gabriel Voisin enough to at least thinking about flying aircraft.

In 1904, Gabriel listened to Captain Ferdinand Ferber (the first European to actually hear about the Wright Brother’s success with a flight back in 1903 via letter) talk about aviation. Ferber who had built various unsuccessful gliders, had offered to purchase a glider built by the Wright Brothers… who wrote back and said sorry, but did inform him of their aeroplane success story.  So… it appears as though Ferber had a good inkling of what was to come.

At the conclusion of Ferber’s speech, Gabriel Vosiin talked with Ferber, who in turn introduced him to Ernest Archdeacon, who had founded in 1898 the Aéro-Club de France, the oldest aviation club in the world. Archdeacon, however, was also France’s biggest promoter and sponsor of early aviation, offering prizes for various successes, organizing tests and aviation-related events. A good man to know if you are looking for an in…

… and it worked. Archdeacon hired Gabriel Voisin to be a test pilot on a copy of the 1902 Wright No. 3 glider he had built.

The tests took place at Berck-sur-Mer, France in April of 1904, and while the success was limited with s a few short glides of about 20 meters (66 feet), Archdeacon was convinced enough to have Gabriel Voisin build another glider.

This one was similar to the earlier glider, but had a fixed horizontal stabilizer behind the wings along and to its front-mounted elevator.

Tested at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France on March 26, 1905 by towing it into the air using Archdeacon’s automobile. Using ballast of 50 kg (110 lb) (Man these guys must have been a lot smaller 100+ years ago) instead of a human pilot, structural failure ensued… crash… never rebuilt.

Voisin then designed and built a glider equipped with floats for Archdeacon. This aircraft marks the first use of Hargrave cells, used both for the tail and the wings.

Hargrave cells are what they call the joining of several box kites together to provide lift. It was the brainchild of Lawrence Hargrave, who in 1893 invented the box kite.

While he had been working on that glider, Louis Blériot visited and asked Voisin to build him a similar machine, later known as the Blériot II – and it was a glider. The chief difference is that the Blériot glider had a smaller lower wingspan.


Bleriot II

Gabriel Voisin flew the Archdeacon glider on June 8, 1905… this time towed into the air by a motorboat on the Seine river (because water is softer than dirt – is it?)… but it was successful, flying about 600 meters (2,000 feet).

On July 18, 1905… and because getting permission to do wacky experiments on the Seine river was difficult, despite heavy crosswinds, Gabriel Voisin made another Archdeacon glider flight attempt… a short successful one…

Then he decided to fly the Blériot glider… it lifted up quickly… the winds made it difficult to control… crashed into the river… with Gabriel Voisin nearly drowning within the aircraft… Louis Blériot’s film footage of this experiment survives in the Smithsonian‘s National Air and Space Museum.

Still, there’s nothing like the specter of death helping influence one’s future life decisions… and so, after the initial flight, Blériot and Voisin partnered up as Voisin dissolved his partnership with Archdeacon…. even though it was the Blériot glider that nearly killed Voisin… oh you cool, wacky French guys.

It turned out to be a most fortuitous decision for both Voisin and Blériot… eventually.

In 1906, Voisin built Blériot a tandem biplane known as the Blériot III, an aircraft with an Antoinette engine moving two tractor propellers, and the wings formed into a closed ellipse as seen from the front.


The Bleriot III – a cool looking plane, but a failure, nonetheless.

This aircraft was unsuccessful, and the same for the Blériot IV, which had the forward wing replaced with regular biplane arrangement and a second engine added.

Experiments were made first with floats and then with a wheeled undercarriage, and the aircraft was wrecked in a taxiing accident at Bagatelle on November 12, 1906.

That same day, and also at Bagatelle, Alberto Santos-Dumont flew his 14-bis Canard (duck) biplane (see HERE for my write-up) of around 100 meters (328 feet). Note that although the Wright Brothers achieved their first flight in 1903, few in Europe believed them until Wilbur came Le Mans France and flew the Wright Flyer there in August of 1908 – a year after Santos-Dumont and others (see below) had already achieved flight in France.

Bleriot IV.jpg

Bleriot IV

Crushed by the failure of the Blériot IV, Voisin and Blériot dissolved their partnership.

Gabriel Voisin and his younger brother Charles then formed their own company to design and build aeroplanes, the Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin (Aviation Devices Brothers Voisin).

As a business, Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin was the world’s first commercial airplane factory.

With the Wright Brothers and Santos-Dumont proving heavier-than-air flight was truly real and possible, others wanted to fly, hoping to be the first from their country to do so… so having an aircraft factory that built aeroplanes… well – genius.

The only problem with Santos-Dumont’s 14-bis aircraft, was that it could only fly in a straight line… and copying that design was not what would-be pilots wanted.

So, the Voisin Brothers created a pair of pusher biplanes (motor mounted at the back), with 50 horsepower V8 Antoinette engines.

The first was built for Leon Delagrange (a sculptor artist) in March 1907 – let’s call this the the Voisin-Delagrange I (though it eventually became known simply as the Delagrange I).


Leon Delagrange flying his Delagrange I aka Voisin-Delagrange biplane in 1908.

The second was built in October of 1907 for Delagrange’s friend (and rival) Henry Farman – let’s call this the Voisin-Farman I (later known as Farman I).

In truth, these planes – thanks to their success – were known collectively as the Voisin 1907 biplane.

The name game… the Voisin brothers initially believed that the plane’s name should feature the owner’s – an important selling point – while the company name of Voisin Frères (placed on the tail) would appear in smaller letters.

It was felt that the ego of the pilot was more important than the ego of the manufacturer… something that irked Gabriel Voisin as time passed.

Testing the first aeroplane that was built for Delagrange, Charles Voisin on March 15, 1907 in Bagatelle made the first powered flight in an aeroplane using a combustion engine – the Antoinette V8. Delagrange took the controls the next day on March 16, 1907 in a public flight.

His first public flight was made on March 16, 1907 at Bagatelle in France where he flew a biplane.

Farman’s aeroplane… it became more famous, as he used it to win the Archdeacon’s Grand Prix d’Aviation of 50,00 French Francs) for the first ever one-kilometer closed-circuit flight on January 13, 1908, and later on March 21, 1908, Farman successfully flew two kilometers.

Farman I.jpg

This photo taken on January 13, 1908 shoes Henri Farman in his Voisin Farman I winning the Grand Prix d’Aviation prize for completing the first ever circular flight of more than 1-kilometer (0.6 miles).

Depending on who you believe, Farman might have flown the first ever passenger, Leon Delagrange, on March 29, 1908… but others say it was actually Wilbur Wright flying Charles Furnas on May 14, 1908. I wasn’t at either event, so who knows if anyone was telling the truth, or if anyone was lying.

Still, on October 30, 1908, Farman used his Voisin biplane to perform the first cross-country flight in Europe, flying from Châlons to Reims – both in France – a total distance of 27 kilometers (16.78 miles) in approximately 20 minutes.

Thanks to the successes of pilots Delagrange and Farman, the Voisin aeroplane company gained much renown as Europe’s first successful aircraft factory producing the most successful European aeroplane.

In 1909, Gabriel Voisin was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, and along with Blériot was awarded the Prix Osiris, awarded by the Institut de France.

Gabriel also married Adrienne-Lola Bernet in 1909, eventually having their one and only child, the daughter Janine.

But… 1909 wasn’t all roses… while Farman had modified the Voisin pusher biplanes considerably all by himself, he and the Voisin’s ended their alliance.

So it’s said, Gabriel Voisin sold an aeroplane built to Farman’s own specifications to J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon…

So Farman went off on his own and designed and constructed the Farman III – a very successful aircraft.

The Voisin Brothers continued to design and build their biplanes… which brings us to the image of this Wills’s Card #58 – The Voisin Canard – aka The Voisin Duck.

As you will recall, the Santos-Dumont 14-bis that became the first plane in Europe to fly (beating Gabriel Voisin’s aircraft built for Blériot  – the Blériot IV back in 1906) was also named “Duck/Canard“.

Card #58R.jpg

The Voisin Canard was built by both Voisin brothers in 1910, but was not flown until February of 1911.

The video below is NOT the initial flight, but it is still early:

It sure looks like a duck! Then again… it sure looks like Santos-Dumont’s 14-bis Canard from five years earlier of 1906!

It also looks like it is flying backwards! Beautiful film!

The Voisin Canard was originally flown as a landplane (which is what we see in the Wills’s card) for the French and Russian armies, but later on the Voisin’s added floats to make it one of the first seaplanes and used by the French Navy.. though I did see in another source saying that it was actually designed for the Italian Navy. Believe the French Navy information, please.

I also note that the very first Voisin Canard seaplane was actually flown by a Romanian, but as a private citizen…

As a landplane, the first Voisin Canard was flown at Issy-les-Moulineaux by Maurice Colliex, a Voisin test pilot and designer.


Maurice Colliex at the controls of a Voisin biplane.

Construction of the Voisin Canard involved an open fuselage of wire-braced wood, featuring a 50 horsepower Russel-Peugeot rotary engine at the rear OR a Gnome 7-cylinder air-cooled 70 horsepower OR 130 horsepower motor Or even a 75 horsepower Renault motor.

It’s almost like Voisin wasn’t sure himself… but the standard seems to have been the Gnome 70 horsepower motor. Then again… I might be mixing up land versus water versions.

Its front-mounted control surfaces had an all-moving elevator with half on one side of the fuselage, and the other half on the other side.

It had a rectangular rudder above the elevator and two horizontal surfaces with a high- angle of attack behind and below the elevators. Side curtains were on the outermost pair of interplane struts.

Trailing edge ailerons on the upper and lower wings provided roll/turn control.

There are variations of the Voisin Canard… as noted with the engine variations, but also with the number of side curtains used… some had two, others three.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 2
  • Length: 8 meters (26 feet);
  • Wingspan: 12 meters  (40 feet);
  • Wing area: 43.9 square meters (473 square feet);
  • Gross weight: 549 kilograms (1,210 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome, 7-cylinder air-cooled radial, 70 horsepower motor;
  • Maximum speed: 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour).

On the seaplane version, Voisin used floats designed by Henri Fabre, the guy who designed and built the first successful seaplane – the Fabre Hydravion – which first flew on March 28, 1910.

The first Voisin Canard seaplane variant was built to order by Prince Bibesco of Romania who was interested enough in aviation to want to fly across the Black Sea. This plane was successfully flown with a water start on April 25, 1911.

Another seaplane variant was purchased by the French Navy in March of 1912 for the La Foudre, the very first seaplane carrier ever. The Navy bought a second one (delivered) in December of 1913.

Despite the success of the Voisin brothers aeroplane manufacturing company, Gabriel suffered a devastating loss when younger brother Charles died on September 26, 1912 … when the car he was in crashed.

Gabriel Voisin continued in his aviation work, but changed the name of the company to Société Anonyme des Aéroplanes G. Voisin.

From 1912 on, the company concentrated its efforts on creating aeroplanes for the French military… and developed the 1912 Voisin Type L (also known as the Voisin Type I  – I, as in one), with about 70 created for France, and a few more for Russia.

When The Great War (aka WWI) broke out on July 28, 1914, Gabriel was quick to volunteer with the French Air Corp.

At that time, the company had developed the 1914 Type LA (aka Voisin Type III), a two-seater pusher biplane featuring a Salmson 120 horsepower radial engine, an aeroplane used for both observation missions and bombing runs during the war.

They made and sold about 1,000 of the Voisin Type III aircraft to the French and other allies during the war between 1914-1916.

The Voisin Type VIII were heavier but otherwise identical to the Voisin Type III and featured a Peugeot engine capable of a longer flight range and twice the bombload, with about 1,000 delivered in 1917.  An original Voisin Type VIII bomber aircraft is preserved in excellent condition at the Smithsonian‘s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and is the oldest preserved bomber aircraft in the world.

The Voisin Type X was delivered in 1918 and was identical to the Type VIII, except it had a Renault engine.

Here’s a list of the planes built by Voisin, with supplementary information as found on Wikipedia:

1) 1907 Voisin biplaneGeneral characteristics:

1907 Voisin-Delagrange  biplane.jpg

Voisin-Delagrange I pusher biplane.

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 13.45 meters (44 feet 2 inches)
  • Wingspan: 10.8 meters (35 feet 5 inches)
  • Wing area: 42square meters (450 square feet)
  • Empty weight: 320 kilograms (705-pounds)
  • Gross weight: 550 kilograms (1,213-pounds)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Antoinette V8 water-cooled 50 horsepower motor
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Voisin

2) 1909 Voisin Tractor – (see photo below) one built, with the motor at the front of the aeroplane.

Voisin Tractor biplane 1909.jpg

1909 Voisin Tractor biplane.

3) 1910 Voisin Type de CourseGeneral characteristics:

Voisin Type de Course biplane 1910.jpg

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 1 passenger
  • Length: 9 meters (29 feet 6 inches)
  • Wingspan: 9 meters (29 feet 6 inches)
  • Wing area: 33 square meters (360 sq feet)
  • Gross weight: 350 kilograms (772-pounds)
  • Powerplant: 1 × E.N.V. Type A, V8 water-cooled 50 horsepower piston engine
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Voisin, 2.50 meters (8 feet 2 inches) diameter

4) 1910 Voisin Type Militaire – a two-seater, with one pilot, and the other the gunner of large gun mounted on the aircraft. Not a seller

1910 Voisin Type Militaire.jpg

5) 1910 Voisin Type BordeauxGeneral characteristics:

Voisin 1910 Type Bordeaux.jpg

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 10 meters (32 feet 10 inches)
  • Wingspan: 11 meters (36 feet 1 inch)
  • Empty weight: 400 kilograms (882-pounds)
  • Gross weight: 680 kilograms (1,499-pounds)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome Omega 7 cylinder, 50 horsepower rotary engine
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Voisin, 2.50 meters (8 feet 2 inches) diameter
  • Maximum speed: 85 km/h (53 mph) (estimated)

6) 1911 Voisin Canard (see above for description, but image below);


1911 Voisin Canard – land version

1911 Voisin Canard Seaplane.jpg

1911 Voisin Canard – seaplane version, replica

7) 1911 Voisin Type Tourism – can not find an image

8) 1912 Voisin Type Monaco – smaller version of the Canard floatplane. Two were built to take part in the 1912 Monaco Aero Meet – photo below of one of them.

1912 Voisin Type Monaco.jpg

9) 1912 Voisin Icare Aero-Yacht – Flying boat built for Henry Deutsch de la Meurthe – General characteristics:


  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 6
  • Length: 12.5 meters (41 feet)
  • Wingspan: 22.5 meters (73 feet 10 inches)
  • Wing area: 62.5 square meters (673 square feet)
  • Gross weight: 2,050 kilograms (4,519-pounds)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget, 200 horsepower motor
  • Propellers: 4-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 110 km/h (68 mph)

10) 1912 Voisin Type L or Voisin Type I (see image below)

1912 Voisin Type L or Voisin Type I.jpg

The first ever aeroplane to shoot down another aeroplane on October 5, 1914, even though it would be mostly used as a bomber during WWI.

11) 1914 Type LA or Voisin Type III

1914 Type LA or Voisin Type III.jpg

12) 1916 Voisin Type V:


13) 1917 Voisin Type VIII:

1917 Voisin Type VIII.jpg

14) 1918 Voisin Type X:


Thanks to WWI, and all those sales, you would think that Gabriel Voisin would be happy, but no… once the war was over in 1919, he decided to stop building aeroplanes because he felt guilt about how it was used to kill so many people… instead… he switched to automobile construction, under the Avions Voisin brand.

These cars were real beauts… considered t be some of the finest luxury cars in the world, winning many design competitions.

But welcome to the 1930s and the Great Depression, and then the June 1940 invasion of France by Germany – the market for a luxury car was NOT in high demand.

At the conclusion of WWII in 1945, Voisin began building a minimalist car for the masses known as the Biscooter – with 1000s produced in Spain during the 1950s.

Voisin also designed and built the ‘Motor-Fly‘ bicycle with a small auxiliary 2-stroke engine added to the back wheel.

He also produced pre-fabricated houses that could be built in three days, with an available floor area of 37, 75 or 105 square meters – some of which still exist… but zip in original condition.  The houses carry the logo ‘Avion Voisin Issy‘, just like the other products from the factory.

In 1960, Gabriel Vosin moved to a country house at Le Villars, France.

Gabriel Vosin lived until December 25, 1973 at the age of 93 in Ozenay, Saône-et-Loire at the age of 93, and was buried in Le Villars, France.

Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Bombers, Failures, Firsts, Gliders, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card, WWII | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #57 – “Givaudin II.” Triplane.

card-57History Behind The Card: “Givaudin II.” Triplane.

Card #57 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut issue

  • Claude Givaudan, September 16, 1872 in Caluire-et-Cuire, a suburb of Lyon, France – October 30, 1945 in France.

It’s been a few cards, but we finally have another tractor motor aeroplane… that’s a plane with the motor in front, rather than the rear-mounted motor that is called the pusher-type.

Of course, this being a blog that looks at pioneers of aviation and their sophisticated inventions from 106 years ago, and counting, there is a lot of miss information, as well as a lot of missing information. Card #57 continues that fine tradition of me gathering the facts – playing history sleuth – to provide the most correct place to find out information.

Yeah… I’m tooting my own horn. Sorry.

Card #57R.jpg

According to the reverse of Card #57, the Givaudin II triplane was manufactured by Vermorel Cie (the Vermorel Company) of Villefranche, France.

Unfortunately, most of the information surrounding this company seems to be about its automobile business, with Wikipedia ONLY providing information for the Établissements V. Vermorel, as a French engineering business that existed between 1850 and 1965.

Since Wikipedia‘s entry did not mention the aeroplane business, it led me to wonder if I had the right company… until I noticed that the Vermorel Cie company in 1908 had great success with their first production-made automobile, and that it was due to a new and intelligent engineer named Claude Givaudan… of whom I can only suppose played a large hand in the creation of the Givaudin aeroplanes. But… Wikipedia spells his surname as Givaudan… “an”… not “in”.

Could Wills’s have made an error spelling the French surname? Yes… see the postcard two images below. So… let’s assume the postcard is correct, which also makes the Wikipedia notation of Claude Guvadan’s name correct.

Further references will call the man and the aeroplanes Givaudan.

First, Card #57 shows what is called the Givaudan II triplane, which I’m sure you sharp-eyed people would realize that it must also mean that there was a Givaudan I aeroplane before it.

And there was. For brevity’s sake, let’s simply call it the Givaudan I from April of 1909.

Givaudan I.jpg

The Givaudan I tandem-drum aeroplane. No, I don’t see wings, either.

The first attempt at creating a flying machine, as seen above, does not appear to include wings… just a tandem of drums at either end of the aircraft frame, with what looks like a two-bladed propeller at the nose of the aeroplane.

The pilot sits in the middle of the aircraft’s fuselage, with the entire contraption perched atop four wheels.

Check out the postcard below depicting the Givaudan I:


A postcard from 1909 depicting the Givaudan I aeroplane… note the spelling of Givaudan.

Givaudan, as mentioned, worked for the automobile manufacturer Vermorel, which also constructed motorcycles. Since he was also interested in the new industry of aviation, he used engines from the motorcycle as the base powerplant for his aeroplane designs.

What I can tell from the French translation above, is that the front drum and wheels could swivel, while the rear wheels and drum did not. Also, each drum was 2.4 meters (7.87 feet) wide.

Givaudan tandem drum.jpg

A great view of the forward tandem drum and the V8 motor designed and built by Givaudan seen here on the Givaudan I aeroplane.

Anyhow… what’s missing from his aeroplane – the Givaudan I – are wings. I used the absence of a shadow from the wings in both above images to prove to myself that the missing wings was not an optical illusion… so yes… no wings.

Except that the tandem drums were meant to play the same role as wings to keep the aircraft aloft.

The Givaudan I did not fly.

So… before we even get to Card #57 – the Givaudan II triplane… which I will admit to not being able to find any information on, let’s take a look at what I have found on the designer, Claude Givaudan.

As an engineer, Givaudan’s interest were all over the spectrum, having registered patents from aviation to chemistry.

In 1903, he worked as a manufacturer of car motors on behalf Claude Rochet and the Francisca brothers in Lyon, France.

There, Givaudan not only built engines that his bosses supplied to other manufacturers, but he also designed and built motorcycle motors specifically with his own Givaudan brand name on them.

At the 1903 Paris Motor Show, Givaudan displayed a few of his two- and three-horsepower motors, as well as a few of his own motorcycles.

I can only assume he continued to work at that company building motors and designing his own stuff on the side until about 1906, when he went to work for Vermorel Co.

Now… since the world knew that man could fly a heavier-than-air craft thanks to Alberto Santos-Dumont and his 14-bis aeroplane flying on October 23, 1906 (the Wright Brother’s had kept their fantastic first a closely guarded secret since December of 1903), Givaudan, being a man engineering science was of course fascinated with seeing if he could create a way to fly, as well.

Rather than merely copy what others had done before him, Givaudan went a different way with his tandem drum designs for flight.

By April of 1909, Givaudan constructed a few prototypes using the tandem drum design- (see patent No. 398943, January 29, 1909). But none actually flew.

Here’s what the June 5, 1909 edition of Scientific American wrote about Givaudan’s strange aeroplane, the Givaudan I:

The peculiar aeroplane illustrated on this page is that of M. Givaudan. It has recently been constructed at Vermorel. It is of the multicellular type, and consists of two concentric drums mounted near the ends of a body framework that passes through the center of each, and carries at its forward end a tractor screw. These drums are united by small planes spaced uniformly apart, thus forming a cellular structure. The front cell thus formed is movable in every direction while the rear one is stationary. The carrying surfaces of this machine are so formed, that the machine will have the same amount of supporting surface whatever its lateral inclination may be, so that when it tips to one side in making a turn, or from any other cause the weight carried per square foot of surface chains the same; while, on the other hand, the center of gravity being situated below the center of pressure, the machine will return automatically to its normal position and be in equilibrium. The two cells are laced sufficiently far enough apart, so that the front one will not interfere seriously with the one at the rear. There are no rudders, the movement of the front cell both sideways and up and down being used in place of these to direct the machine both laterally and in a vertical plane.

The Givaudan circular aeroplane ­ a new French machine of novel design.
The radiating planes of the drums act as carrying and stabilizing surfaces. Only the projecting surface of these radiating planes is counted upon as useful carrying surface. Within both the front and rear drums there is a horizontal cross shaft supported upon the main frame. The front cell rests on the main frame by a bearing, which makes it possible for this cell to oscillate about a vertical axis, while the horizontal shaft just mentioned can oscillate upon a horizontal axis.

Inclination of the front cell in a vertical direction varies the angle of incidence, and causes the machine to rise or descend; it thus takes the place of the horizontal rudder. Inclination of the cell in the horizontal direction fulfills the role of the vertical rudder. This double movement of the cell is obtained by means of a rod connecting two levers of sufficient length to make the operation of the cell possible without too great fatigue. The levers have a band-brake arrangement to hold the cell in the position in which it is set.

The machine rests on four wheels, the front pair of which can be turned in order to steer the machine. The wheels are fitted with suitable springs to absorb the shock when landing. The propeller is 2.4 meters (7.87 feet) in diameter, and is driven from the motor through reduction gears. The motor is a special eight cylinder V engine of the air-cooled type. The bore and stroke are 90 and 120 millimeters (3.6 and 4.8 inches) respectively. The motor develops 40 horse-power and weighs 80 kilogrammes (176 pounds) including the fly-wheel, two carburetors, and magneto. All the valves are mechanically operated from a single camshaft. This motor, notwithstanding its light weight and the feet that it is air-cooled, has been run several hours consecutively. M. Givaudan is one of the first men to construct a motor of the V type and place it upon the market.

This new aeroplane is very interesting, but it is doubtful whether a freakish machine of this kind can be made to operate satisfactorily. If any successful trials are made, we shall be glad to apprise our readers of the fact.

The air-cooled V-8 used in Givaudan’s aeroplanes were designed and built by himself. He was working for Victor Vermorel who hoped he could change the way cars were being manufactured at the time to create a small assembly line.

Anyhow, we also know that the Givaudan I was 5.8 meters long.

As for Wills’s Card #57… the Givaudin II Triplane of 1910… it must have been another of his prototypes that never flew, despite the tobacco company feeling (in December of 1910) it had some merit.

I found a photo of it! It had wings! It still didn’t fly, however. It is a beautiful-looking aircraft, though.


The Givaudin II Triplane of 1910.

It is my belief that he gave up trying to create a heavier-than-air aeroplane, and tried his hand at ballooning, because we do know that he earned his balloon pilot license – No. 111 in 1911 from the Aero Club of Rhone and South East (still going on today – see HERE or HERE in its original French).

Givaudan Balloon Pilot License.jpg

What’s interesting to note about this license, is that it only calls him “Monsieur” – Mister Givaudan… and notice the spelling. So I guess I was right.

In 1898, Givaudan, the Boulade brothers and a Mister Augis founded the Aero Club of Rhone & the South East, headquartered in Monplaisir, France.

As well, from 1904 until his death in 1945, Givaudan was the secretary and vice-president of the Aero Club of the Rhone & South East.

At the club’s Bron site, the French Army set up a military aviation center in 1912. A second squadron was set up during WWI.

In 1925, he (Givaudan) started up a military school for aircraft mechanics in Lyon, which was the first of its kind in the world, naming himself Director.

Despite being heavily involved in aviation, Givaudan was not able to fly any of his own aeroplane creations.

Although I can not prove it, I would bet, however, that Givaudan did achieve his pilot’s license for airplanes at some point.

Posted in Aviation Art, Balloons, Concepts, Failures, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment