History Behind The Card: The “R.E.P. Monoplane.
Card #42 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910
- Robert Albert Charles Esnault-Pelterie, November 8, 1881 in Paris, France – December 6, 1957 in Geneva, Switzerland.
At the time of publication (1910) for this Wills’s aviation card, it is safe to say that when it came to success in the air, Robert Esnault-Pelterie was the “Great White Hope” for the British… IE, lots of hope, but no delivery.
Wills’s really tried hard to pump him up with the addition of Esnault-Pelterie and his R.E.P. Monoplane.
The R.E.P. Monoplane of this time period was a failure.
Have a read at the reverse of the Wills’s card:
But… it wasn’t all bad for Esnault-Pelterie… even this aeroplane design was ahead of darn near everyone else on the planet.
He created joystick control.
Born in in Paris to a textile industrialist, Esnault-Pelterie was educated at the Faculté des Sciences, studying engineering at the Sorbonne.
His first experiments in aviation were based on the Wright brothers 1902 glider, but his earliest design failed owing to him not quite understanding just what the Wright Brothers were doing with their glider.
He tried wing-warping as the Wright’s did to provide steering, but Esnault-Pelterie thought it was a dangerous way to control an aircraft and decided to create an alternative… such as the aileron concept by placing a pair of mid-gap control surfaces in front of the wings.
Later glider test flights became extremely successful now that the aileron-like devices had been installed.
Next up… designing and building an aeroplane.
In 1906 he began his first experiments in towed flight like a glider. On September 19, 1906 he flew 500 meters (1,600 feet) with what essentially his Pelterie 1 (also known as the R.E.P. 1).
On October 10 (or 19 – I saw conflicting dates given), Esnault-Pelterie dropped the towline and made his first powered flight with the same plane traveling 100 meters (330 feet) in distance.
This was driven by a seven-cylinder, 30 hp air-cooled engine of his own design.
The R.E.P. 1 was a single-seat tractor configuration monoplane (see image above) that utilized a 30 horsepower, seven-cylinder, two-row, semi-radial motor that powered a four-blade aluminum propeller that was attached via rivets to steel tubes.
As for the body… well… if you look at the photo above and the Wills’s card at the top, you’ll notice that the plane’s body is covered, so that the air doesn’t go through the craft, but rather over and alongside it like a modern aeroplane.
The steel tubing of the plane’s frame was covered in varnished silk, while the wings of the monoplane were made of wood.
A fixed horizontal stabilizer was placed on the rear of the plane with a rectangular elevator fixed onto the trailing edge.
The craft had a fixed fin and rudder placed UNDER the aeroplane’s frame.
While Esnault-Pelterie went back to using wing warping to provide left-right movement, he still continued to work on creating a better aileron for the plane.
Another interesting feature of the plane that the Wright Brothers lacked despite having once been bicycle builders, was wheels.
There was a large central wheel under the fuselage, a smaller one attached to the rudder, and outrigger wheels attached to the tip of the wings. The right wheel would be down when the plane was grounded, but when taxiing, it would just use the left wheel down, with the right wheel up off the ground.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 6.85 meters (22 feet 6 inches)
- Wingspan: 9.60 meters (31 feet 6 inches)
- Wing area: 18 square meters (194 square feet)
- Empty weight: 230 kilograms ( 507 pounds)
- Gross weight: 507 kilograms (1,117.7 lb)
- Motor: 1 × R.E.P.-designed 7-cylinder two-row semi-radial piston engine providing 30 horsepower.
- Maximum speed: 60 kilometers per hour (37 miles per hour)
Data from l’Aérophile, October 1907, pp. 290-1
The R.E.P. 1 can be seen at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.
The R.E.P. 2 differed from the R.E.P. 1 in having a slightly different undercarriage (of the same general arrangement) in addition to a large ventral balanced rudder.
Tests with the R.E.P. 2 commenced in June 1908, and on 8 June a flight of 1,200 m (3,900 ft) was made, reaching an altitude of 30 m (100 ft), setting a height and distance record for monoplanes.
If we are to pay attention to the Wills’s card description of the R.E.P. 2 (I assume they meant No.2), the aeroplane would taxi along the ground with the left wheel (on the left wing) rolling until flight was achieved.
We can assume then that at rest, the plane leaned onto the right wing wheel.
The aircraft was then modified by the addition of a trapezoidal dorsal fin, to create the R.E.P. bis. This plane – piloted by Monsieur Châteaux, won the third Ae.C.F. prize for a flight of over 200 meters on November 21, 1908, with an officially observed flight of 316 meters (1,037 ft). It was a goodly distance for the era, Wright Brothers notwithstanding, but improving on it proved difficult for Esnault-Pelterie.
It was then exhibited at the Paris Aero Salon in December 1908 and at the Aero Show in London in 1909. It was entered for the Grande Semaine d’Aviation in Reims in August 1909, but Esnault-Pelterie didn’t actually compete because he had previously hurt his hand… though I am unsure how that came to be.
It was at this time, that Esnault-Pelterie stopped personally flying aeroplanes and began to work on the design, development and manufacture of planes.
The Vickers R.E.P. Type Monoplane was based upon his designs, and marked the beginning of aircraft production at the later Vickers Limited production facility.
Now… Esnault-Pelterie’s family had invested a lo tof money into his aeroplane designs… which meant that that all of them were close to financial ruin…
The only good thing was that Esnault-Pelterie owned a patent on the joystick flight controller…
The bad thing was that there was a major court case going on as to who actually owned it.
During WWI, many of the aeroplanes in the war used the joystick control, and when the courts finally decided in his favor, a lot of those companies owned him a lot of money in royalties, which made Esnault-Pelterie and his family wealthy again.
Not merely satisfied with aeroplanes, Esnault-Pelterie began working on theories for rocketry, calculating how much energy would be required to reach our moon Luna and other nearby planets. It was wrong, but what the heck…
He did propose using atomic energy – some 400 kilograms of radium – to blast off into outer space.
On June 8, 1927, Esnault-Pelterie gave a symposium for the French Astronautics Society titled L’exploration par fusées de la très haute atmosphère et la possibilité des voyages interplanétaires, concerning the exploration of outer space using rocket propulsion. Jean-Jacques Barre attended this lecture, and developed a correspondence with Esnault-Pelterie on the topic of rockets.
In 1929, Esnault-Pelterie came up with the idea of the ballistic missile, eventually convincing the French war department (with Barre’s aid) to fund a study in 1930.
By 1931, the two of them began to actually experiment with rocket propulsion, including liquid propellants, eventually demonstrating a rocket-powered engine using gasoline and liquid oxygen.
However, a later experiment with tetra-nitromethane cost him three fingers on his right hand when it exploded.
Was he successful with his rocketry experiments? Obviously not, or they might have thrown something heavier than a baguette at the Nazi invaders during WWII.
Esnault-Pelterie filed close to 120 patents for inventions in metallurgy, aviation, rocketry and car suspensions, inventing joystick control, radial engines and a type of fuel pump, and came up with the concept of moving a rocket via vector thrust.
How important was Esnault-Pelterie? Well, the 1910 Wills’s writers need not have worried… there’s a crater on the Moon named after him: Esnault-Pelterie.
Oblique view of Esnault-Pelterie (upper right) and Schlesinger (lower left), from Lunar Orbiter 5.
Not a bad way to leave this mortal coil.