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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leon Levasseur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Antoinette Gastambide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Of the Latham students in 1909, includes:

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

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

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

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

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

Antoinette V8 aeroplane motor

An Antoinette V8 aeroplane engine designed by Leon Levavasseur.

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

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

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

Let’s start at the beginning.

Gastambide-Mengin I


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

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

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


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

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

Gastambide-Mengin II/Antoinette II


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

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

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


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

Antoinette III

Antoinette III

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

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

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


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

Antoinette IV

Antoinette IV

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

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

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


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

Antoinette V

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

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

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


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

Antoinette VI


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

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

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


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

Antoinette VII

Antoinette VII belonging to Latham

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

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

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

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


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

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

Antoinette VIII

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

Antoinette Military Plane/Antoinette-Latham/Antoinette Monobloc

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

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

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