1909 Reims – World’s First Airplane Meet – Part 1

1909 Reims Aviation raceThe above poster advertises the very first international aviation meet, held August 22-29, 1090 at Reims, France, and event called the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de 14 (Great Aviation Week of 1914). The poster also mentions 200,000 French Francs of prizes!

That total prize money equals  509,862,657.40 FRF in 2014 = 77,728,061.05 Euros or $98,660,210.25 USD

Forgive me, but this is one huge event – and I’d rather give it the time and space due to each part of it. This first part will deal with data on the event, including schedule, participants and other sundry information.

Attended by some 500,000 people over the length of the event, it was the true coming out party for heavier-than-air aviation, officially supplanting the dirigible and hot-air balloon in the romance of the air.

It was a big deal, with many of the leading champagne makers sponsoring the event, ensuring that it was a hoi polloi event that even the rich would want to be seen at.

The event was held about five kilometers (three miles) north of Reims, on a parcel of land that would later becoming the Reims – Champagne Air Base.

The Grande Semaine d’Aviation was not an air show… it was a contest.

There were 38 aircraft were entered for the event, but in the end only 23 actually flew–apparently it being 1909, not every plane was air-worthy.

These planes represented nine different types of aircraft, with a total of 87 fights achieved to delight the crowd.

It being France, the most common plane at the event was the Voisin biplane, with seven examples taken to the air.

Six Wright Flyers were there, two flown by Paul Tissandier and the Comte de Lambert – both of whom had learn to fly from Wilbur Wright.

The chart’s data below was taken from http://www.thosemagnificentmen.co.uk HERE. It’s an EXCELLENT website!!!

I have made a few adjustments to the original chart data where I am confident.

The Entrants:

Note: Capitain Ferber, who was a serving army officer, was forced to fly under the pseudonym of “Monsieur de Rue” in order to satisfy his superiors.

Aside from Curtiss and Cockburn, every other pilot was French.

Pilot Airplane Notes
Louis Blériot Blériot XI, XII, and XIII Alfred Leblanc alternative pilot
Louis Bréguet Bréguet biplane  –
Etienne Bunau-Varilla Voisin Novice pilot
George Cockburn Farmann III Great Britain
Glenn Curtiss Curtiss-Herring biplane United States
Léon Delagrange Blériot XI   –
Robert Esnault-Pelterie R.E.P. 2/2bis Maurice Guffroy alternative pilot
Henry Farman Farmann III  –
M. Fernandez Wright Type A  –
André Fournier Voisin Auto racer
Jean Gobron Voisin Novice pilot
Comte de Lambert Wright Type A  –
Henri Rougier Voisin Auto racer
M. de Rue Voisin aka Capitain Ferdinand Ferber
M. Sanchez-Beza Wright Type A  –
L. Schreck Wright Type A  –
Société Antoinette Antoinette IV, VII, and VIII W/pilots Hubert Latham and Henri Demanest
Société Ariel Wright Type A Piloted by Eugène Lefebvre 
Roger Sommer Farmann III  –
Paul Tissandier Wright Type A  –
Gabriel Voisin Voisin Piloted by Louis Paulhan and Armand Zipfel

This is a blurry list of competitors, planes and their characteristics taken from the magazine Air Review.

The EVENTS set out were:

  • Gordon-Bennett Trophy; Aeroplane Country/Team two-lap time-trial;
  • Grand Prix de Champagne et la Ville de Reims: Longest single flight – distance;
  • Grand Prix de la Vitesse: Aeroplane three-lap speed trial;
  • Prix des Passagers: Most passengers carried for one lap;
  • Prix de l’Altitude: Highest altitude achieved;
  • Prix du Tour de Piste: Fastest single lap;
  • Prix des Aeronauts: Dirigible five-lap speed trial.


  • Sunday, August 22: Contest to decide the French team for the Gordon-Bennett Trophy; Prix de la Vitesse, (day 1); Prix du Tour de Piste, (day 1); Prix des Aeronauts, (day 1);
  • Monday, August 23: Grand Prix de la Champagne (day 1); Prix du Tour de Piste (day 2); Prix des Aeronauts (day 2);
  • Tuesday, August 24: Grand Prix de la Vitesse (day 2) ; Prix du Tour de Piste, (day 3); Prix des Aeronauts (day 3);
  • Wednesday, August 25: Grand Prix de la Champagne (day 2); Prix du Tour de Piste, (day 4); Prix des Aeronauts (day 4);
  • Thursday, August 26: Grand Prix de la Champagne (day 3) ; Prix du Tour de Piste, (day 5); Prix des Aeronauts (day 5); Landing competition for spherical balloons;
  • Friday, August 27: Grand Prix de la Champagne (day 4); Prix du Tour de Piste (day 6); Prix des Aeronauts (day 6);
  • Saturday, August 28: Coupe Internationale d’Aviation Gordon-Bennett; Prix des Passagers (day 1); Prix du Tour de Piste (day 7); Prix des Aeronauts (day 7);
  • Sunday, August 29: Prix de la Vitesse (day 3); Prix des Passagers (day 2); Prix de l’Altitude; Prix du Tour de Piste (day 8); Prix des Aeronauts (day 8).

1909 Reims Aviation Meet layout. Taken from http://www.thosemagnificentmen.co.uk/rheims/

A rectangular competition course was set up for the flier: 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), that was marked by four pylons.

A landing and take-off strip (runway) was set up in front of the 5,000-seat grandstands. Opposite that, a time-keepers hut was placed, which had a signalling system to inform the spectators in the grandstand which event was being competed for.

A Red Bull event it wasn’t.

The fliers flew over farmland–the air-borne pilots could see crops growing and haystacks… and with aviation still in its infancy, many an aeroplane did come into contact with a haystack!

Of course, the pilots had been previously promised that the ground would be clear of crop hazard in case a forced landing was necessary…

Keep in mind this: The Wright Bros. aeroplanes did not have wheels – strange for a couple of guys who manufactured bicycles, but it did run on a rail… at least until it got up to speed.

Everyone else – wheels.

Now think of what happens when a dirt and grass surface gets a lot of rain. Right. Mud.

And with those weak horsepower aeroplane engines, it was tough for many to get airborne.

Next up, the results of the most famous Reims event featuring the Gordon Bennett Trophy, a time-trial speed race between countries… sort of.

Race Results coming next.

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
This entry was posted in Air Shows, Airfields, Balloons, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, People, Pilots, Zeppelins & Dirigibles. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 1909 Reims – World’s First Airplane Meet – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Wills’s Aviation Card #38 – “Bleriot XI” Monoplane | Pioneers Of Aviation

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