History Behind The Card: New “Voisin” Biplane, 1911.
Card #58 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut issue
- Gabriel Voisin, February 5, 1880 in Belleville-sur-Saône, France – December 25, 1973 in Ozenay, France;
- Charles Voisin, July 12, 1882 in Lyon, France – September 26, 1912 in Corcelles-en-Beaujolais, France.
The Voisin Brothers were at the forefront of pioneer aviation in Europe. Period.
While Henri Farman got the glory for being the first man in Europe to fly an engine-powered heavier-than-air aeroplane to make a sustained one kilometer, circular flight on January 13, 1908 near Paris, France, he did so in an aeroplane designed and built for him by Gabriel Voisin.
As for baby brother Charles Voisin, on March 15, 1907, he made the first powered flight on an aeroplane using a combustion engine – an Antoinette V8 – in an aeroplane the Voisin Brothers built on behalf of pilot Léon Levavasseur who also designed it.
Family strife occurred early for the Voisin boys when their father left… but fear not… mom Amélie simply took the boys to live with her dad… a guy who was rich, owned a successful factory, and paid for all the education they needed and wanted.
The Voisin brothers seemed to have their grandfather’s flair for engineering, so even after the old man died, money was put aside for them to go to Lyon and Paris to study industrial design. Before the end of the 19th century, they boys had designed and built their own rifle, steamboat and automobile… that newfangled invention that was the latest global sensation.
Gabriel Voisin, at the age of 20, had finished his schooling and was working for an architect company in Paris… and it was there that he stopped by the months long Paris International Exposition of 1900 (held April 12-November 14)… seeing the Avion III aeroplane designed and built by Frenchman Clement Adler.
This is 1900… so no one had yet flown a heavier-than-air craft (and aeroplane)… so seeing this plane… well… Gabriel Voisin saw the possibilities.
That Avion III (aka Aquilon or the Éole III), was a steam-powered craft that looked like a bat, built by Adler between 1892-97.
While trials in front of the French Government on October 14, 1897 were unsuccessful – it crashed without leaving the ground – Adler said (many years later), that on that same date, he had actually achieved flight on another attempt with two witnesses seeing the flight of 100 meters (328-feet).
In my thinking, if he had a successful flight, he needed to prove it, and should have done so immediately… and not just come up with a statement years later… it’s too convenient…
As mentioned… seeing the aircraft and hearing of its story inspired Gabriel Voisin enough to at least thinking about flying aircraft.
In 1904, Gabriel listened to Captain Ferdinand Ferber (the first European to actually hear about the Wright Brother’s success with a flight back in 1903 via letter) talk about aviation. Ferber who had built various unsuccessful gliders, had offered to purchase a glider built by the Wright Brothers… who wrote back and said sorry, but did inform him of their aeroplane success story. So… it appears as though Ferber had a good inkling of what was to come.
At the conclusion of Ferber’s speech, Gabriel Vosiin talked with Ferber, who in turn introduced him to Ernest Archdeacon, who had founded in 1898 the Aéro-Club de France, the oldest aviation club in the world. Archdeacon, however, was also France’s biggest promoter and sponsor of early aviation, offering prizes for various successes, organizing tests and aviation-related events. A good man to know if you are looking for an in…
… and it worked. Archdeacon hired Gabriel Voisin to be a test pilot on a copy of the 1902 Wright No. 3 glider he had built.
The tests took place at Berck-sur-Mer, France in April of 1904, and while the success was limited with s a few short glides of about 20 meters (66 feet), Archdeacon was convinced enough to have Gabriel Voisin build another glider.
This one was similar to the earlier glider, but had a fixed horizontal stabilizer behind the wings along and to its front-mounted elevator.
Tested at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France on March 26, 1905 by towing it into the air using Archdeacon’s automobile. Using ballast of 50 kg (110 lb) (Man these guys must have been a lot smaller 100+ years ago) instead of a human pilot, structural failure ensued… crash… never rebuilt.
Voisin then designed and built a glider equipped with floats for Archdeacon. This aircraft marks the first use of Hargrave cells, used both for the tail and the wings.
Hargrave cells are what they call the joining of several box kites together to provide lift. It was the brainchild of Lawrence Hargrave, who in 1893 invented the box kite.
While he had been working on that glider, Louis Blériot visited and asked Voisin to build him a similar machine, later known as the Blériot II – and it was a glider. The chief difference is that the Blériot glider had a smaller lower wingspan.
Gabriel Voisin flew the Archdeacon glider on June 8, 1905… this time towed into the air by a motorboat on the Seine river (because water is softer than dirt – is it?)… but it was successful, flying about 600 meters (2,000 feet).
On July 18, 1905… and because getting permission to do wacky experiments on the Seine river was difficult, despite heavy crosswinds, Gabriel Voisin made another Archdeacon glider flight attempt… a short successful one…
Then he decided to fly the Blériot glider… it lifted up quickly… the winds made it difficult to control… crashed into the river… with Gabriel Voisin nearly drowning within the aircraft… Louis Blériot’s film footage of this experiment survives in the Smithsonian‘s National Air and Space Museum.
Still, there’s nothing like the specter of death helping influence one’s future life decisions… and so, after the initial flight, Blériot and Voisin partnered up as Voisin dissolved his partnership with Archdeacon…. even though it was the Blériot glider that nearly killed Voisin… oh you cool, wacky French guys.
It turned out to be a most fortuitous decision for both Voisin and Blériot… eventually.
In 1906, Voisin built Blériot a tandem biplane known as the Blériot III, an aircraft with an Antoinette engine moving two tractor propellers, and the wings formed into a closed ellipse as seen from the front.
This aircraft was unsuccessful, and the same for the Blériot IV, which had the forward wing replaced with regular biplane arrangement and a second engine added.
Experiments were made first with floats and then with a wheeled undercarriage, and the aircraft was wrecked in a taxiing accident at Bagatelle on November 12, 1906.
That same day, and also at Bagatelle, Alberto Santos-Dumont flew his 14-bis Canard (duck) biplane (see HERE for my write-up) of around 100 meters (328 feet). Note that although the Wright Brothers achieved their first flight in 1903, few in Europe believed them until Wilbur came Le Mans France and flew the Wright Flyer there in August of 1908 – a year after Santos-Dumont and others (see below) had already achieved flight in France.
Crushed by the failure of the Blériot IV, Voisin and Blériot dissolved their partnership.
Gabriel Voisin and his younger brother Charles then formed their own company to design and build aeroplanes, the Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin (Aviation Devices Brothers Voisin).
As a business, Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin was the world’s first commercial airplane factory.
With the Wright Brothers and Santos-Dumont proving heavier-than-air flight was truly real and possible, others wanted to fly, hoping to be the first from their country to do so… so having an aircraft factory that built aeroplanes… well – genius.
The only problem with Santos-Dumont’s 14-bis aircraft, was that it could only fly in a straight line… and copying that design was not what would-be pilots wanted.
So, the Voisin Brothers created a pair of pusher biplanes (motor mounted at the back), with 50 horsepower V8 Antoinette engines.
The first was built for Leon Delagrange (a sculptor artist) in March 1907 – let’s call this the the Voisin-Delagrange I (though it eventually became known simply as the Delagrange I).
The second was built in October of 1907 for Delagrange’s friend (and rival) Henry Farman – let’s call this the Voisin-Farman I (later known as Farman I).
In truth, these planes – thanks to their success – were known collectively as the Voisin 1907 biplane.
The name game… the Voisin brothers initially believed that the plane’s name should feature the owner’s – an important selling point – while the company name of Voisin Frères (placed on the tail) would appear in smaller letters.
It was felt that the ego of the pilot was more important than the ego of the manufacturer… something that irked Gabriel Voisin as time passed.
Testing the first aeroplane that was built for Delagrange, Charles Voisin on March 15, 1907 in Bagatelle made the first powered flight in an aeroplane using a combustion engine – the Antoinette V8. Delagrange took the controls the next day on March 16, 1907 in a public flight.
His first public flight was made on March 16, 1907 at Bagatelle in France where he flew a biplane.
Farman’s aeroplane… it became more famous, as he used it to win the Archdeacon’s Grand Prix d’Aviation of 50,00 French Francs) for the first ever one-kilometer closed-circuit flight on January 13, 1908, and later on March 21, 1908, Farman successfully flew two kilometers.
Depending on who you believe, Farman might have flown the first ever passenger, Leon Delagrange, on March 29, 1908… but others say it was actually Wilbur Wright flying Charles Furnas on May 14, 1908. I wasn’t at either event, so who knows if anyone was telling the truth, or if anyone was lying.
Still, on October 30, 1908, Farman used his Voisin biplane to perform the first cross-country flight in Europe, flying from Châlons to Reims – both in France – a total distance of 27 kilometers (16.78 miles) in approximately 20 minutes.
Thanks to the successes of pilots Delagrange and Farman, the Voisin aeroplane company gained much renown as Europe’s first successful aircraft factory producing the most successful European aeroplane.
In 1909, Gabriel Voisin was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, and along with Blériot was awarded the Prix Osiris, awarded by the Institut de France.
Gabriel also married Adrienne-Lola Bernet in 1909, eventually having their one and only child, the daughter Janine.
But… 1909 wasn’t all roses… while Farman had modified the Voisin pusher biplanes considerably all by himself, he and the Voisin’s ended their alliance.
So it’s said, Gabriel Voisin sold an aeroplane built to Farman’s own specifications to J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon…
So Farman went off on his own and designed and constructed the Farman III – a very successful aircraft.
The Voisin Brothers continued to design and build their biplanes… which brings us to the image of this Wills’s Card #58 – The Voisin Canard – aka The Voisin Duck.
As you will recall, the Santos-Dumont 14-bis that became the first plane in Europe to fly (beating Gabriel Voisin’s aircraft built for Blériot – the Blériot IV back in 1906) was also named “Duck/Canard“.
The Voisin Canard was built by both Voisin brothers in 1910, but was not flown until February of 1911.
The video below is NOT the initial flight, but it is still early:
It sure looks like a duck! Then again… it sure looks like Santos-Dumont’s 14-bis Canard from five years earlier of 1906!
It also looks like it is flying backwards! Beautiful film!
The Voisin Canard was originally flown as a landplane (which is what we see in the Wills’s card) for the French and Russian armies, but later on the Voisin’s added floats to make it one of the first seaplanes and used by the French Navy.. though I did see in another source saying that it was actually designed for the Italian Navy. Believe the French Navy information, please.
I also note that the very first Voisin Canard seaplane was actually flown by a Romanian, but as a private citizen…
As a landplane, the first Voisin Canard was flown at Issy-les-Moulineaux by Maurice Colliex, a Voisin test pilot and designer.
Construction of the Voisin Canard involved an open fuselage of wire-braced wood, featuring a 50 horsepower Russel-Peugeot rotary engine at the rear OR a Gnome 7-cylinder air-cooled 70 horsepower OR 130 horsepower motor Or even a 75 horsepower Renault motor.
It’s almost like Voisin wasn’t sure himself… but the standard seems to have been the Gnome 70 horsepower motor. Then again… I might be mixing up land versus water versions.
Its front-mounted control surfaces had an all-moving elevator with half on one side of the fuselage, and the other half on the other side.
It had a rectangular rudder above the elevator and two horizontal surfaces with a high- angle of attack behind and below the elevators. Side curtains were on the outermost pair of interplane struts.
Trailing edge ailerons on the upper and lower wings provided roll/turn control.
There are variations of the Voisin Canard… as noted with the engine variations, but also with the number of side curtains used… some had two, others three.
- Crew: 1
- Capacity: 2
- Length: 8 meters (26 feet);
- Wingspan: 12 meters (40 feet);
- Wing area: 43.9 square meters (473 square feet);
- Gross weight: 549 kilograms (1,210 pounds);
- Powerplant: 1 × Gnome, 7-cylinder air-cooled radial, 70 horsepower motor;
- Maximum speed: 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour).
On the seaplane version, Voisin used floats designed by Henri Fabre, the guy who designed and built the first successful seaplane – the Fabre Hydravion – which first flew on March 28, 1910.
The first Voisin Canard seaplane variant was built to order by Prince Bibesco of Romania who was interested enough in aviation to want to fly across the Black Sea. This plane was successfully flown with a water start on April 25, 1911.
Another seaplane variant was purchased by the French Navy in March of 1912 for the La Foudre, the very first seaplane carrier ever. The Navy bought a second one (delivered) in December of 1913.
Despite the success of the Voisin brothers aeroplane manufacturing company, Gabriel suffered a devastating loss when younger brother Charles died on September 26, 1912 … when the car he was in crashed.
Gabriel Voisin continued in his aviation work, but changed the name of the company to Société Anonyme des Aéroplanes G. Voisin.
From 1912 on, the company concentrated its efforts on creating aeroplanes for the French military… and developed the 1912 Voisin Type L (also known as the Voisin Type I – I, as in one), with about 70 created for France, and a few more for Russia.
When The Great War (aka WWI) broke out on July 28, 1914, Gabriel was quick to volunteer with the French Air Corp.
At that time, the company had developed the 1914 Type LA (aka Voisin Type III), a two-seater pusher biplane featuring a Salmson 120 horsepower radial engine, an aeroplane used for both observation missions and bombing runs during the war.
They made and sold about 1,000 of the Voisin Type III aircraft to the French and other allies during the war between 1914-1916.
The Voisin Type VIII were heavier but otherwise identical to the Voisin Type III and featured a Peugeot engine capable of a longer flight range and twice the bombload, with about 1,000 delivered in 1917. An original Voisin Type VIII bomber aircraft is preserved in excellent condition at the Smithsonian‘s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and is the oldest preserved bomber aircraft in the world.
The Voisin Type X was delivered in 1918 and was identical to the Type VIII, except it had a Renault engine.
Here’s a list of the planes built by Voisin, with supplementary information as found on Wikipedia:
1) 1907 Voisin biplane – General characteristics:
- Crew: 1
- Length: 13.45 meters (44 feet 2 inches)
- Wingspan: 10.8 meters (35 feet 5 inches)
- Wing area: 42square meters (450 square feet)
- Empty weight: 320 kilograms (705-pounds)
- Gross weight: 550 kilograms (1,213-pounds)
- Powerplant: 1 × Antoinette V8 water-cooled 50 horsepower motor
- Propellers: 2-bladed Voisin
2) 1909 Voisin Tractor – (see photo below) one built, with the motor at the front of the aeroplane.
3) 1910 Voisin Type de Course – General characteristics:
- Crew: 1
- Capacity: 1 passenger
- Length: 9 meters (29 feet 6 inches)
- Wingspan: 9 meters (29 feet 6 inches)
- Wing area: 33 square meters (360 sq feet)
- Gross weight: 350 kilograms (772-pounds)
- Powerplant: 1 × E.N.V. Type A, V8 water-cooled 50 horsepower piston engine
- Propellers: 2-bladed Voisin, 2.50 meters (8 feet 2 inches) diameter
4) 1910 Voisin Type Militaire – a two-seater, with one pilot, and the other the gunner of large gun mounted on the aircraft. Not a seller
5) 1910 Voisin Type Bordeaux – General characteristics:
- Crew: 1
- Length: 10 meters (32 feet 10 inches)
- Wingspan: 11 meters (36 feet 1 inch)
- Empty weight: 400 kilograms (882-pounds)
- Gross weight: 680 kilograms (1,499-pounds)
- Powerplant: 1 × Gnome Omega 7 cylinder, 50 horsepower rotary engine
- Propellers: 2-bladed Voisin, 2.50 meters (8 feet 2 inches) diameter
- Maximum speed: 85 km/h (53 mph) (estimated)
6) 1911 Voisin Canard (see above for description, but image below);
7) 1911 Voisin Type Tourism – can not find an image
8) 1912 Voisin Type Monaco – smaller version of the Canard floatplane. Two were built to take part in the 1912 Monaco Aero Meet – photo below of one of them.
9) 1912 Voisin Icare Aero-Yacht – Flying boat built for Henry Deutsch de la Meurthe – General characteristics:
- Crew: 1
- Capacity: 6
- Length: 12.5 meters (41 feet)
- Wingspan: 22.5 meters (73 feet 10 inches)
- Wing area: 62.5 square meters (673 square feet)
- Gross weight: 2,050 kilograms (4,519-pounds)
- Powerplant: 1 × Clerget, 200 horsepower motor
- Propellers: 4-bladed;
- Maximum speed: 110 km/h (68 mph)
10) 1912 Voisin Type L or Voisin Type I (see image below)
11) 1914 Type LA or Voisin Type III
12) 1916 Voisin Type V:
13) 1917 Voisin Type VIII:
14) 1918 Voisin Type X:
Thanks to WWI, and all those sales, you would think that Gabriel Voisin would be happy, but no… once the war was over in 1919, he decided to stop building aeroplanes because he felt guilt about how it was used to kill so many people… instead… he switched to automobile construction, under the Avions Voisin brand.
These cars were real beauts… considered t be some of the finest luxury cars in the world, winning many design competitions.
But welcome to the 1930s and the Great Depression, and then the June 1940 invasion of France by Germany – the market for a luxury car was NOT in high demand.
At the conclusion of WWII in 1945, Voisin began building a minimalist car for the masses known as the Biscooter – with 1000s produced in Spain during the 1950s.
Voisin also designed and built the ‘Motor-Fly‘ bicycle with a small auxiliary 2-stroke engine added to the back wheel.
He also produced pre-fabricated houses that could be built in three days, with an available floor area of 37, 75 or 105 square meters – some of which still exist… but zip in original condition. The houses carry the logo ‘Avion Voisin Issy‘, just like the other products from the factory.
In 1960, Gabriel Vosin moved to a country house at Le Villars, France.
Gabriel Vosin lived until December 25, 1973 at the age of 93 in Ozenay, Saône-et-Loire at the age of 93, and was buried in Le Villars, France.