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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wills's 41R 001 (2)

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

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

Henri Farman.jpg

Henri Farman

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

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

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

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

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

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


Henri Farman (left) and Gabriel Voisin

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

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

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

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

Farman III Specifications:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farman III

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

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

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

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

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

Maurice and Henri Farman retired at this time.

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

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

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

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

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

Henry Farman's gravestone

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

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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