1909 Reims – World’s First Airplane Meet – Part 2

1909 Reims Aviation raceOkay, it might have been written six months ago, but we’ve looked at the who, what and where of the world’s first international aeroplane contest – the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de 14 (Great Aviation Week of 1914) airplane meet in France (see HERE), so now, let’s look at the events.

First… you will notice different spellings for the locale of the event in France… I’m going with ‘Reims’ when writing as myself.

Aside from the main trophy shown below, I did not find any other images of trophies for the other events, leading me to believe that the rest of the prizes were indeed only cash prizes. If any one has any images of cups or trophies for the other events, I’d love to know.

Here’s a report on the event taken from Flight Magazine, August 21, 1909:
It is to be hoped that fine weather will prevail during next week at Rheims, and in view of the storms which broke over the place on Monday and Tuesday nights, it may be anticipated that there is less to come now. Fortunately all the machines were safely under cover, and so no great damage was done, except to the partly-erected shed for the dirigible “Zodiac III,” which was blown down. During the last few days the official program has been slightly re-arranged as follows:—
Sunday, August 22nd.—Elimination contest for the nomination of the French Aero Club’s champions in the Gordon-Bennett International Aviation Cup Competition; Prix de la Vitesse, first day; Prix du Tour de Piste, first day; Prix des Aeronauts, first day.
Monday, August 23.—Grand Priz de la Champagne et de la Ville de Reims, first day; Prix du Tour de Piste, second day; Prix des Aeronauts, second day.
Tuesday, August 24th.—Prix de la Vitesse, second day; Prix du Tour de Piste, third day; Prix des Aeronauts, third day.
Wednesday, August 25th.—Grand Prix de la Champagne et de la Ville de Reims, second day; Prix du Tour de Piste, fourth day; Prix des Aeronauts, fourth day.
Thursday, August 26th.—Grand Prix de la Champagne et de la Ville de Reims, third day; Prix du Tour de Piste, fifth day; Prix des Aeronauts, fifth day; Landing competition for spherical Balloons.
Friday, August 27th.—Grand Prix de la Champagne et de la Ville de Reims, fourth day; Prix du Tour de Piste, sixth day; Prix des Aeronauts, sixth day.
Saturday, August 28th.—Coupe Internationale d’Aviation Gordon-Bennett; Prix des Passagers, first day; Prix du Tour de Piste, seventh day; Prix des Aeronauts, seventh day.
Sunday, August 29th.—Prix de la Vitesse, third and last day; Prix des Passagers, second and last day; Prix de l’Altitude; Prix du Tour de Piste, eight and last day; Prix des Aeronauts, eighth and last day.
Most of the competitors have been busy practicing during the past few days, some on the Betheny grounds, and others at their old training quarters at Chalons, among the most successful at Betheny being MM. Tissandier and Lefevre on Wright machines, and M. Delagrange on his Bleriot flyer. M. Lefevre has given up the use of the derrick now, and starts by simply running down the rail. Curtiss also made three short flights on Monday, and during a sudden landing slightly damaged his machine, and sprained his right foot rather badly, which may handicap him a little.
Mr. Curtiss has now fitted his flyer with a new 8-cyc. V type motor of 35-h.p., in place of the 4-cyc. motor and he anticipates to get much better results from his machine now.
At Chalons, Latham, having recovered from the accident to his face during his cross-Channel trip, Ruchonnet, Farman, Sommer, and Cockburn have all been doing well, but perhaps the outstanding performance has been that of Henry Fournier, who, on his Itala-engined Voisin machine on Tuesday, on his first attempt at a solo flight, succeeding in circling the parade ground. He then took up M. George Prade, their joint weight being 175 kilogs., and made a fine flight.
The only machines which have been withdrawn, are the Santos Dumont flyer, the Austrian representative, one of the Curtiss type, and Esnault-Pelterie’s monoplane. This latter has been necessary owing to M. Pelterie being injured while boxing. Besides M. Guffroy, M. Laurens will pilot one of the R.E.P. monoplanes. It is uncertain as to whether Farman will be able to compete. His injuries as the result of the accident, to which we refer elsewhere, are progressing so well that it is hoped he will be able to fly next week, but for other reasons he may decide to abstain from actually taking the air. He is at present trying a very small biplane, with which he will probably compete.
The visit of President Fallieres will probably be either on Wednesday or Thursday next.   


First up, the Gordon Bennett prize for whichever team had the best two-lap speed.

The Gordon Bennett Trophy

The Gordon Benett Cup

The Gordon Bennett Cup

This was the most prestigious event of the meeting for aeroplanes, presented here for the first time (last time was 1920).

This was a time-trial competition between national teams, sponsored by Gordon Bennett, the publisher of the New York Herald newspaper.

Fliers had to fly two circuit laps consisting of 10 kilometers (6 miles each) – 20-kilometers in total, with each team allowed three entrants.

Starting on Sunday, August 22, the French team had bad luck with bad weather – rain and mud, with the best pilot being Eugène Lefebvre, who flew a Wright Flyer bi-plane that was built in France. He only just failed to make two complete laps.

The best of the rest, included Louis Blériot and Hubert Latham and his Antoinette monoplane, and he only got in because of how he flew (later that afternoon) during the trials for the Prix de la Vitesse event (see below).

Actually, these three gentlemen were chosen to represent France because they were the only three pilots able to get their plane in the air to cross the STARTING line.

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

Great Britain had American Aviator Glenn Curtiss in his Curtiss No. 2 bi-plane, and the Scottish George Cockburn in a French Farman III bi-plane.

Italy and Austria were supposed to be in the event, but none actually flew.

On Saturday, August 28, 1909, Curtiss made a couple of flights. He first flew for the Circuit Prize – once around, setting the record in 7-minutes and 55.4-seconds (he beat Lefebvre, who did complete one full lap earlier, with a one-lap time of 8-minutes and 45-seconds).

Pleased with the result, Curtiss went out for the Gordon Bennett Trophy for Great Britain, completing the two circuits in 15-minutes and 50.4-seconds.

Cockburn went next for GB, but couldn’t get the Farman III to complete even one lap.

Lefebvre for the French went next completing two laps in 20-minutes and 47.6-seconds.

Latham went next, doing it in 16-minutes and 32-seconds.

Blériot, flying last, managed a first lap time in the same time as Curtiss’ second (faster) lap, but during the second round he was slowed by blowing winds, ending up with a total time of 15-minutes and 56.2-seconds.

Under the rules of the Gordon-Bennett Trophy, Curtiss’ victory meant that the next race would be held in America.

Glenn Curtiss in his Curtiss No. 2 aka the Reims Racer at the 1909 Reims air competition.

Glenn Curtiss in his Curtiss No. 2 aka the Reims Racer at the 1909 Reims air competition. This aeroplane was about 200 lbs lighter than the Wright Flyer, enabling it to fly much faster.

Later in the day Blériot did secure one prize, that for the fastest circuit, with a time of 7-minutes and 47.4 seconds.

Official Results:

  1. Glenn Curtiss 15:50.6 (also saw 15:50.04) – 47.07 mph;
  2. Louis Bleriot 15:56.1  (also saw 15:56.2) – 46.80 mph;
  3. Hubert Latham 17:32.00 (also saw 16:32.00) – 42.54 mph
  4. Eugene Lefebvre 20:47.6 (this was the same) – 35.87 mph

Grand Prix de Champagne et la Ville de Reims
This was a distance prize offering six prizes of 50,000, 25,000, 10,000, 5,000, 5,000, and 5,000 (French Francs). If a trophy was presented – I’m having a devilish of a time finding it. I’m guessing a laurel wreath for the head and the prize money was all there was.

This was a very exciting competition—the world record for distance flying was actually broken three times over the three-day competition!

  1. Henry Farman, 180 (also saw 180.2) kilometers in a Farmann III biplane, with a 50 HP Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine;
  2. Hubert Latham, 154.5 (also saw 154.65) kilometers in an Antoinette, with a 50 HP Antoinette V8 engine;
  3. Louis Paulhan, 131 (also saw 130.0) kilometers in a Voisin, with a 50 HP Gnome Omega 7-cylinder rotary engine;
  4. Comte de Lambert, 116 kilometers in a Wright Flyer, featuring a 20 HP Wright Flat 4 engine;
  5. Glenn Curtiss, 30 kilometers in a Curtiss Herring with a 50 HP Curtiss V8 motor;
  6. Eugène Lefebvre, 21 kilometers in a Wright Type A with a 20 HP Wright Flat 4 motor.

To be fair… I have also seen ( in a book), different race results, with differing positions!!!! The book had Comte De Lambert in both fourth AND second… we’ll assume that was an unfortunate mistake on the part of the author, and that the results above are correct.

The Farman III

The Farman III

How good was Farman? He was still flying when the official competition had ended at 7:30PM, and any time spent flying after that simply did not count… meaning he could have had an even greater long-distance flight record.

When Farman landed, a large crowd carried him to the buffet and there was much celebrating by the French… and the British. His dad was British, so the local band played both the French and British national anthems to celebrate his great achievement.

What is remarkable about Farman’s achievement, however, is the fact that the engine in his plane was largely untested. He had been using a Vivinus engine prior to his attempt, but switched to the Gnome Omega rotary engine.

Here’s the thing… contest rules stated and published, that no changes to one’s aircraft were allowed.

As such, and rightly so, aviators Latham and Léon Levavasseur, the designer of the Antoinette aircraft and engine, were in protest.

Still, Farman’s engine change had actually been officially-approved beforehand, so his victory stood.

Better yet, I have seen French websites that still do not acknowledge Farman as teh winner, listing Latham as Number 1 (see HERE).

The Reims meeting was the public debut of the Gnome engine, and although probably unappreciated by the majority of the spectators, this was one of the most significant events to take place at the Reims meeting. The Gnome, designed and manufactured by the Seguin brothers, was both light in weight and relatively reliable, and was a major advance in aviation technology.

Louis Blériot later saying “it enabled the industry to advance by leaps and bounds”.

Three other aircraft were flown using this engine at Reims, the others being the Farman biplanes belonging to Cockburn and Roger Sommer and the Voisin belonging to Louis Paulhan.

Grand Prix de la Vitesse

Also known as Prix HEIDSIECK Monopole et Louis ROEDERER de la VITESSE, this event offered four prizes of 10,000, 5,000, 3,000 and 2,000 French Francs, for the fastest time over three laps (30-kilometers) of the circuit.

On the first day of the show, spectators were treated to a first – seven planes in the air at the same time.

After the rains stopped on that first day of flying, and the winds lessened, the Comte de Lambert flew three laps in 29-minutes and 2-seconds in his Wright Type A to actually be the first to set the first time in this 30-kilometer speed trial.

The final attempts for this were held on the last day, and after Curtiss’ narrow victory over Blériot spectators were expecting an exciting duel. However, Blériot and his Type XII monoplane had a huge accident. The plane’s propeller cracked and broke, with the vibration then nearly ripping the plane apart.

Blériot then had to cut his speed and land, but the plane caught some rough ground, flipped onto its back and, with the gas tank split open, it caught fire.

Blériot escaped the plane, but was on fire, and had to roll on the ground to put himself out. Not a little fire either… it burned the crap out of his clothes… and yet he wasn’t seriously hurt.

The Type XII was completely destroyed… but the experience seems to have sapped his desire to compete in many other competitions after this.

Blériot and his Type XII monoplane destroyed at Reims in 1909.

Blériot and his Type XII monoplane destroyed at Reims in 1909.

Curtiss and his Rheims Racer (aka Curtiss No. 2)  broke the 50-mph barrier, and set a new speed record of 52.6 mph (84.7 kph) enroute to winning the 30 kilometer, three-lap race.

  1. Glenn Curtiss — 25:29 (also saw 25:49.4 – 43.31 mph);
  2. Hubert Latham — 26:35 (also saw 26:33.2 – 42.12 mph);
  3. Paul Tissandier — 28:59 (also saw 8:59.2 – 38.58 mph);
  4. Eugene Lefebvre 20:00.0 – 38.57 mph;
  5. Comte Lambert 29:02.0 – 38.52 mph;
  6. Hubert Latham 29:11.4 – 38.31 mph;
  7. Louis Paulham 32:49.8 – 34.07 mph;
  8. Etienne Bunau-Varilla 42:25.8 – 26.36 mph;
  9. Roger Sommer 70:33.0 15.85 mph

Prix des Passagers
A single prize of 10,000 French Francs, given to the aviator who carried the greatest number of passengers over one lap of the course: in the event of two contestant carrying the same number of passengers the prize going to the fastest. Won by Farman, the only pilot to carry two passengers.

As you can see from the contestants, excluding Farman and Lefebvre, the engines and aircraft were not strong enough to carry passengers…

We can surmise this because it was a single prize, with no additional prizes for second or third… that means only two pilots and planes were successful.

Blériot had been involved in another accident earlier in the week while practicing for the passenger carrying event, when he had to make an emergency landing due to engine trouble. Unfortunately there was a troop of dragoons in the way: in swerving to avoid them, he collided with the railings separating the spectator area from the flying track. The damage was repaired overnight.

But, perhaps realizing the notoriety of winning a passenger hauling contest (despite the money involved) did not carry the same cache as the Reims speed record, Blériot pulled out of this event, and stripped the fabric from the ends of the wings to reduce drag and increase his speed.

Keep in mind that Blériot was the only aviator in the contest to have a two-seater plane!

  1. Henry Farman: 2 passengers, one lap – 10:39 @17.49 mph
  2. Eugène Lefebvre: 1 passenger, one lap – 9:52.8 @ 18.86 mph
  3. Eugène Lefebvre (Another attempt): 1 passenger, one lap – 11:20.8 @ 16.42 mph
Eugène Lefebvre in his Wright Flyer

Eugène Lefebvre in his Wright Type A at Reims in 1909.

Prix de l’Altitude
(Height Prize) of 10,000 francs. Won by Hubert Latham flying an Antoinette VII with an altitude of 155 meters (509 feet).

Measurements were made with triangulation calculations and a barograph carried on the planes.

On the last day of the event, August 29, 1909, Farman took off in his Farman III, and in three giant spirals reached the ceiling of his plan, determined to 360 feet (110 meters).

As he was coming down, Latham took off in his Antoinette VII, circling upwards… it was so far up that even the spectators knew it was the winning altitude—and it indeed it was at 510 feet (155 meters).

Hubert Latham's Antoinette VII.

Hubert Latham’s Antoinette VII.

Knowing the prize was his—and ever the showman, Hubert Latham powered down to the ground in a steep dive before coming in low to land directly behind the judges hut.

I’m guessing that still, actual altitude measures were a best-guess secret…

  1. Hubert Latham 155 meters (506.53 feet);
  2. Henri Farman 110 m (360.89 feet);
  3. Louis Paulhan 90m (295.27 feet);
  4. Henri Rougier 55m (180.45 feet)

Prix du Tour de Piste
(Circuit Prize) of 7,000 and 3,000 francs for the fastest single lap.

It was won by Louis Blériot, flying his Type XII monoplane, with a speed of 76.95 kph. (47.8 mph), completing it in 7:47.4-seconds (I also saw 7:47.8-seconds).

Louis Blériot, flying his Type XII monoplane - light years ahead...

Louis Blériot, flying his Type XII monoplane – light years ahead…

Call this Blériot’s revenge for Curtiss taking the 30km Grand Prix de la Vitesse race and having the fastest speed.

Glenn Curtiss challenged Louis Blériot again for the fastest lap, but was unable to beat the Frenchman’s time.

  1. Louis Bleriot 7:47.8 – 23.89 mph;
  2. Curtiss 7:48.4 – 23.86 mph;
  3. Hubert Latham (as #29) 8:20.6 – 22.33 mph;
  4. Hubert Latham (as #13) 8:32.6 – 21.81 mph;
  5. Eugene Lefebvre 8:58.8 – 20.75 mph;
  6. Henri Farman 9:06.4 – 20.46 mph;
  7. Paul Tissandier 9:26.2 – 19.74 mph;
  8. Comte De Lambert 9:33.4 – 19.49 mph;
  9. Alfred LeBlanc 9:50.8 – 18.92 mph;
  10. Ferdinand Ferber 9:56.8 – 18.73 mph;
  11. Roger Sommer 10:25.0 – 17.88 mph;
  12. Etienne Bunnau-Varilla 10:42.6 – 17.39;
  13. Louis Paulhan 10:50.0 – 17.20 mph;
  14. Leon Delagrange 11:03.6 – 16.84 mph;
  15. Georges Cockburn 11:23.6 – 16.35 mph

Prix des Aeronauts
This was a speed trial over five laps for dirigibles, which must have been like watching paint dry—especially if one could see the aeroplanes whipping by like angry hornets!

No attempts were made until the last day, when the French Army dirigible Colonel Renard won with a time of 1-hour and 19-minutes (I also saw 1:14:14).

There was only one other challenger in a Zodiac dirigible flown by Count de la Vaulx, performing at one hour and 22 minutes (but I also saw 1:25.1)

Alberto Santos-Dumont was due to appear at Rheims with his Demoiselle, but was unable to attend. I bet he would have won the dirigible challenge…


  1. Etienne Bunau-Varilla – Colonel Renard, 80 kilometers in 1-hour and 19-minutes;
  2. Henri Rougier – Zodiac, 50 kilometers in 1-hour and 22-minutes.


Please note that I have also seen listed differing results, and if you were quick, you spotted it in my write-up… I left it there on purpose.

Alternate Winners results:

  1. H. Kapferer, dirigible Colonel Renard @ 1:14.14 (also saw 1:19.49.5) – 25.11 mph;
  2. Count de la Vaulx, drigible Zodiac @ 1:25.1 – 21.68 mph

Data on Henri Rougier (see first set of dirigible results) has him as a car speed freak and an aeroplane freak – not a dirigible freak.

As well, the gentleman known as Etienne Bunau-Varilla was a winner at this event, but not for anything so blimpy as a dirigible – he won a mechanic’s award.

I would go with the latter results.

Prix de Mechaniciens
This was an acknowledgement to the men who assisted the pilots in preparing and maintaining the aeroplanes – the mechanics. It was NOT originally a part of the whole air show, but was a late addition.

So… how do you decide who is the best mechanic? A race.

To win, it was based on how far a plane could fly in one hop, with prize money hopefully going to mechanic(s).

  1. Etienne Bunau-Varilla (pilot), 100 kilometers (62.1 miles);
  2. Henri Rougier (pilot), 90 kilometers (55.9 miles).

Concours d’Atterrissage pour Ballons Spheriques
This event does not appear to have been held – a spherical balloon landing contest.

Eliminatoires Francaises
Just for being French, at the French airshow, a special prize was presented to whomever could complete the fastest single lap. Basically, it was to try and create a Team France of pilots to vie for domination of the world. Other pilots did the same…

It should be noted that one lap consisted of 10 kilometers, and these results below were different from the results actually achieved during the 1-lap speed Circuit Prize race held later (won by Glenn Curtiss).

Call this the preliminaries:

  1. Eugene Lefebrve, completed 1 lap, 8:55.8 – 20.86 mph;
  2. Louis Bleriot, completed less than 1 lap, but qualified;
  3. Hubert Latham, selected by the committee, despite not able to get int the air to attempt a lap. Mud, I believe.

Closing Notes:
Within a month of the event, two of the participating flyers, Lefebvre and Ferdinand Ferber, were killed in aeroplane accidents.

This event dawned the age of the heavier-than-air craft, with its superiority to the lighter-than-air craft ensured by the conclusion of WWI.

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.
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7 Responses to 1909 Reims – World’s First Airplane Meet – Part 2

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

  2. Great writeup on the Reims event. It was indeed the pivotal moment in aviation of the early 20th century.

    Do you happen to know where one might find information on all the different aviation meets in France and Europe in 1909 and 1910? There is lots of info about the ones in the USA, but hard to find for Europe.



  3. Hi, Andrew:

    Thanks very much for the references. I have seen the antique airfield site but not the Flight magazine site. You’re right – it has a ton of good references to meets. You might also be interested in this site which has a few references: http://cnparm.home.texas.net/Subj/Flight/Flight01.htm

    I collect cinderella stamps and postcards from early pioneer aviation meets and really want to ensure I am looking for the truly important public, sponsored ones (e.g. Reims, Cannes, Los Angeles, Boston, Montreal and Toronto – yes, Canadian ones, etc). Some of the other lesser ones it seems were usually not worthy of the attendance of the well-known aviators.

    Thanks again. Fascinating stuff!!


  4. Pingback: Wills’s Aviation Card #46 – “Herring-Curtiss”. | Pioneers Of Aviation

  5. Pingback: Wills’s Aviation Card #64 – Mr. Claude Grahame-White. | Pioneers Of Aviation

  6. Pingback: Wills’s Aviation Card #67 – M. Louis Bleriot. | Pioneers Of Aviation

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