A “Look” Inside A 1909 Aeroplane Factory

The Voisin Aeroplane Factory in Paris from. L'ILLUSTRAZIONE ITALIANA (THE ITALIAN ILLUSTRATION) an Italian weekly magazine of June 27 1909.

The Voisin Aeroplane Factory in Paris from. L’ILLUSTRAZIONE ITALIANA (THE ITALIAN ILLUSTRATION) an Italian weekly magazine of June 27 1909.

The headline describes the journey…

Published in the April 25, 1909 edition of The Daily Picayune of New Orleans, Louisiana – page 43 – found via READEX, a Division of Newsbank… my source for early American newspaper resources. www.iw.newsbank.com.

I have kept the spelling and punctuation as presented by the newspaper.

Visit to an Aeroplane Factory.
(Paris Edition, London Mail)

The builders of aeroplanes in Paris and its neighbourhood could be counted on the fingers of one hand six months ago. To-day, there are fifteen “factories” in full operation. Scores of inventors are constructing their own machines. There is an aerodrome where pupils are taught to fly. Three new papers devoted to aviation have been founded win the past six months. There are three societies in France for the encouragement of aviation, and over £80,000 in prizes will be open to competition in the course of the year. These few facts show very clearly the extraordinary rate at which the new industry is growing in France.
There are two reasons for this rapid development. One is the novelty of aeroplaning, and the second is the ease with which a flying machine can be built. Compared with an automobile, it requires very little in the way of capital and plant. There is perhaps no industry in which the idea counts for so much and the execution for so little. With good plans and plenty of room, and good carpenter could turn out an aeroplane.
This simplicity is very evident to any one who pays a visit to the works managed by the Brothers Voisin, who were among the first to perceive the commercial possibilities of the aeroplane. Their establishment, which may be taken as a typical one, is situated on the right bank of the Seine at Villancourt, about a mile outside the boundary of Paris. On the left of the entrance are the offices and a large room for draughtmen. Further on, at the extremity of a large enclosure, are the workshops, which, with a wide gallery running around the inside, suggest a concert hall in the rough. Nearly all the floor space is occupied by aeroplanes complete or in parts. Here is the machine Mr. Henry Farman used for his earlier flights. Close at hand is an incomplete tail piece, looking rather like the skeleton of some immense prehistoric animal. Near the door is the triplane with which Prince Volotoff hopes to win the Daily Mail prize for the first cross-Channel flight. It is an assemblage of uprights, cross-pieces and struts which in its present state might be mistaken for the framework of a cottage, but for the steel shell in the center destined to hold the 100-horsepower motor.
At the further end of the workshop is a table about 70 feet long, on which workmen are cutting out the wooden ribs of machine and fitting them together. The shape of every piece is drawn to its exact size on a great sheet of brown paper, so that the workman has merely to trim the wood to fit the pencil marks. The bars forming the front and rear edges of each plane are always in one piece, of course varying with the design of the machine, and being seldom less than thirty feet in length and about two and a half inches thick. Well-seasoned ash and poplar are the most suitable woods. Galvanized iron sockets, with eyelets for the diagonal wore stays are screwed on to the bars, the uprights connecting, the upper and lower planes are fitted into them, and when the stays are tautened the canvas forming the sides of the cells is added and the framework is complete. A light steel shell to hold the motor is fitted in the center, the tail piece and rudder are connected with the main planes, the motor, propeller and levers are placed in position, and the aeroplane is ready. Given a full supply of labor and materials and a motor in good working order, it ought to be quite possible for any well-equipped establishment to turn out an aeroplane in a week.
Almost any disused factory or other large building can be utilized as an aviation factory, so long as there is enough room and a good light from the top. The only real obstacle lies in the design; but here the customer usually saves the builder most of the mental strain by putting his own ideas on paper, and if the client does not happen to be an inventor there are plenty of types to copy and calculations, by Captain Ferber and other disinterested searchers, to utilize.
The great difficulty lies in the calculations as to weight, supporting surface and engine power. Everyone knows that the ordinary type of flying machine consists of parallel horizontal surfaces or planes, which, by means of pressure they exercise on the air immediately below them, support the whole structure while the propulsive power is in operation and act as parachutes to check the fall when the propeller ceases to revolve. Much depends on the size of these planes. According to Sir Hiram Maxim, their length, or entering edge, should measure one foot for every four pounds in weight to be lifted, but in our present state of knowledge, this can hardly, in the opinion of French makers, be considered as a final and definite formula. The power and weight of the engine, the position and dimensions of the propeller and a dozen other factors all have their influence on the problem. Then there are what may be called subsidiary contrivances, such as the vanes recently patented by the Wright Brothers—small upright surfaces, moving on pivots, placed near the extremities of the planes and brought into play when the machine is steered to the right or left, to prevent too rapid movement on the inside of the curve and consequent tendency to capsize.
In reality the aeroplane that flies is the result of an even balance of varying forces. Theoretically, the machine having three planes and consequently more supporting surface ought, with a proportionate increase in engine power, to give better results; but here the elements of sped and stability counteract each other and provide a new problem, and the monoplane, though fast, has too much tendency to overturn. At present the majority of French experimenters prefer the biplane, but there is always the possibility of some discovery which will turn the balance in favor of another type, and the complexity of the problem with its infinite possibilities no doubt accounts for the charm it exercise on so many minds.
At present the price of a biplane delivered in Paris may be taken as about £800. A triplane would cost considerably more on account of the increased power of the engine as well as the extra materials and labor for the aeroplane itself. Even allowing for the profit of the engineer who supplies the motor, there ought to be a considerable margin left for the builder of aeroplanes so long as prices remain at their present level. The tendency seems to be towards large establishments, in which not only are the wings and planes put together, but the motors are also manufactured. In this respect the way has been led by the Antoinette firm, which began by making specially light motors for aviation purposes, and has since added an aeroplane department.
The industry has not yet reached the stage in which the finished article is exposed for sale, but this will not be long in coming. The Company headed by Captain Andrew Fletcher, of Saltoun, which has contracted for the Voisin output, has secured premises in the Champs-Elysees, and will commence business in about a month. It will then be possible for an intending purchaser to inspect a flying machine in all its bearings and give him order, just as in the case of a motor car.


The Voisin Aeroplane factory circa 1908.

The Voisin Aeroplane factory circa 1908.

Interesting use of spelling. I noted that “Center” was used, while “Neighbourhood” was preferred.

The former is currently recognized as an American spelling. Canadians and Europeans would use “centre”.

The use of “u” in neighbourhood is Canadian and European, as Americans would omit it and spell the word as “neighborhood”… like they would with color, humor, etc. And yet… labor was spelled without the “u”.

To me, this implies that the English language was in a key transitional stage in 1909. Or it was directly copied from a European newspaper for publication in the U.S. Whatever… the story is great, isn’t it… a look inside a real aeroplane factory/workshop in the earliest days of heavier-than-air aviation!

I love the assumption as fact that it is easier to build an airplane than a car! Sure… but an airplane that can actually fly? Difficult. One that can actually fly and return you safely to the ground? Extremely difficult in 1909!

While an excellent visual walk-through a large aeroplane factory of 1909, I think the reporter may have received an overly optimistic view of the pioneer aviation industry from the Voisin Brothers.

I do like the cavalier notion that one can simply use the designs of anyone out there, regardless of copyright or patents.

I have no idea to whom the author is referring to re: Captain Andrew Fletcher and his un-named “Company”… a name that appears to have fallen through the cracks of the Internet. There is a mention of him in Flight magazine, but only as Andrew Fletcher.

We do know that Fletcher was going to act as a salesperson for the Voisin aircraft in Great Britain… selling the Zodiac and/or future Voisin aircraft.

And yet… check out the previous article about the perils of the Zodiac and the development of the Bristol Boxkite.



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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