Wills’s Aviation Card #60 – “Dunne V.” Biplane.

60F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Dunne V.” Biplane.

Card #60 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – black back issue

  • Captain John William Dunne, XXXX, XX, 1875 in Curragh Camp, County Kildare, Leinster, Republic of Ireland – August 24, 1949, Banbury, England, Great Britain.

I have a number of versions of this card, opting  – merely for optics – to show off a green back card, from the Vice Regal Mixture 75-card series… with the primary difference in the cards being the use of green ink on the back, rather than black. Oh… and maybe a different and smaller font for the card’s reverse description.

Never heard of Captain John William Dunne? We all should have… he’s the guy who created the first successful flying wing aeroplane – as you can see from the card graphic above.

First things first… the Wills’s card shows a Dunne V biplane… did they mean V as in vee-shaped wings… or V, as in the Roman numeral V = 5… as the Dunne D.5 was the fifth in a series of aircraft designs that achieved its historic success on March 11, 1910… the right date for our aviation card series. And… as you will see below, I think I’m correct.

Born in Ireland in 1875 (I hate it when I can’t find a birth date for a guy who lived until 1949… someone knows! Just not the Internet!), as the oldest son of British General John Hart Dunne and Julia Elizabeth Dunne – rich an considered to be aristocrats.

General daddy Dunne was famous enough for a long obit column to appear in The Times newspaper on April 21, 1924. We also know that the General (and father) of John William Dunne was born on December 11, 1835.

So… we know the birthdate of the father… but not the son. Obviously a British General trumps an aviation pioneer… at least according to this historical examination.

If anyone can pass along the birthdate of John William Dunne, I would greatly appreciate it. Not knowing stuff like this is my OCD. I searched for hours and hours…


General John Hart Dunne, Knight Commander of the Order of Bath… oh yeah… and father of some aviator guy.

The obituary had this to say:

At a lecture in 1913, a son of Sir John was spoken of as one of the most distinguished aeroplane designers of the day. He was at that time designing an aeroplane for the War Office authorities.

That’s where the obituary ends… “a son”  – see… I’m trying to find a proper birth date for that “son of a gun-toting general.”

“A son”…

As part of an aristocratic family, we can be quite sure that Dunne’s birth date would be well-documented… to be fair, I just don’t wish to spend €10 for a one-day pass to look up the records in an Irish database.

Dunne was an aviation pioneer, a guy interested in fly fishing and apparently philosophy – all three of which he achieved a measure of great global success in. It’s why I will explore all three aspects  – the latter of which I find fascinating, because he writes books about something I actually understand… and wondered about… sort of how personal dreams can be about the future…

So… Dunne… as a young boy, he read Jules Verne books, one of which caused him to have a dream about flying machine that did not need to be steered.

When you have a father who’s a British lifer in the military… and was a General… you, as a son, pretty much had to follow in dad’s military footsteps.



John William Dunne – a true pioneer of aviation.


He joined the military and fought in the second Boer War in South Africa as a trooper… but contracted typhoid in 1900 and was sent home.

60R 001.jpg

While off… he examined aeronautics… studying bird flight… but thought that the best way to achieve longer flight was to have aerodynamic stability.

So… thanks to encouragement from H.G. Wells – the famed science-fiction author he had befriended – Dunne tried to build several small aircraft models, eventually settling on a tailless swept-wing design.

Feeling better, on August 28, 1901, he was made a 2nd Lieutenant, and was sent back to South Africa in March of 1902… was diagnosed with “heart disease” and returned home in 1903. I placed quote marks around heart disease, because I don’t know what type of heart disease he had.

While on sick leave, he again spent his time on aeronautical engineering… now ready to construct gliders to perfect that aerodynamic stability for a full-fledged aeroplane.

Still sick, and still in the army, Dunne was transferred to the British Army Balloon Factory at South Farnborough in June 1906 and would remain there until 1909.



Dunne D.1 Glider

It was here that he began to construct and test aircraft, all of which had a vee-shape, constructing his glider the D.1. If successful, Dunne planned on adding engines and propellers to it.

While the glider did gain a short hop in July of 1907 lasting all of eight (8) seconds when flown by Balloon Factory commander Colonel J.E. Capper, and it did crash leaving Capper slightly injured, Dunne did discover that the design of the craft was essentially stable.

So Dunne and company fixed the D.1 again… added a motor… and tested it in October of 1907… bu it slipped sideways off the launching ramp and was severely damaged.

(This craft was later rebuilt as the D.4. – more below.)

So… with that failure, the D.2 glider was designed during the winter of 1907-1908, but it wasn’t actually built. So let’s move on.

Dunne-Huntington Triplane
Why wasn’t the D.2 glider built? Because Dunne and S.K. Huntington were also in the midst of constructing the full-scale Dunne-Huntington Triplane, which would eventually achieve successful flight in 1910 (yup, two years later!).

Actually, the plane was built by renowned aircraft builders the Short Brothers, delivering the finished aircraft on December 23, 1909.

Look at the photo immediately below… this was the first plane by Dunne that did not have his Vee designed wings. I would assume that Dunne acquiesced to Huntington during the design stage.

Dunne-Huntington Triplane.jpg

The Dunne-Huntington Triplane had three levels of wings, but not atop each other like a standard triplane.

The main feature of the design was a set of three wings, each of 10 feet (3 meters) wide, placed at the front, middle and rear of the craft. The front wing was not as long in span as the others.

The middle wing was raised above the other two… and each wing was placed at a different angle to give longitudinal stability – or so it was hoped.

Wikipedia states:

The outer sections of the rear wing were given a sharp downward angle. Triangular outboard control surfaces were hinged on the diagonal to these sections and provided all the functions normally produced by separate elevator, aileron and rudder controls. When operated together they acted as elevators, while when operating differentially they acted as combined ailerons and rudders to bank the aircraft into a controlled turn.

The front and rear wings were fixed to a long, uncovered fuselage frame, with the front wing gently tapered. The top wing was strut-braced to the structure below. Side curtains between the two full-span wings were initially fitted.

The pilot was seated above the front wing, with the engine immediately behind. Power was initially provided by a single Wolesley water-cooled engine chain-driving twin propellers. These were mounted in the space beneath the upper wing and their axles doubled as twin cylindrical booms connecting the fore and aft structures.

The Dunne-Huntington Triplane was first flown during the early part of 1910, with its body mounted on an undercarriage with two large wheels, a large tail wheel and twi skids under the nose. The photo gives a good representation of that. 

General characteristics

  • Crew: One;
  • Length: 50 feet (15 meters);
  • Wingspan: 59 feet (18 meters);
  • Engine: 1  Gnome Rotary, 70 horsepower;
  • Propellers: Two-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 43 miles per hour (69 kilometers per hour) .

D.3 and D.4
In 1908, Dunne built the D.3 glider capable of carrying a pilot, and the powered D.4, previously mentioned as the reincarnated former D.1 aeroplane (it used the D.1‘s wings).

While the D.3 flew well when piloted by Lieutenant Launcelot Gibbs, the D.4‘s tests suffered, as it was under-powered causing it to hop more than fly.

Dunne D4.jpg

Dunne D.4

After a British inquiry into the validity of military aeronatutics showed it to not be a currently viable venture, the British War Office decided to stop funding for powered flight during the spring of 1909… which had Dunne leaving the Factory… even though the War Office decision also meant it still found positives for dirigibles and balloons.

Dunne, with the help of a few friends providing financial backing, formed the Blair Atholl Aeroplane Syndicate, a small company that allowed further refinement of the flying vee aeroplanes.

Soon enough, the tailless and vee-winged D.5 was designed and constructed in 1910, featuring sharply swept back wings and a rear mounted engine (pusher-type) to power twin propellers. Again, the Short Brothers were hired to build the plane… and this time, it was successful… it was the first Dunne tailless Vee-wing to fly, in fact.

After a crash, it was later modified into the first Dunne D.8 – see below for more.

I should point out that originally Dunne wanted to build a monoplane, but Clapper convinced him to go with the biplane design, because that was what the Army thought might be a successful aeroplane.

Dunne D.5 biplane.jpg

The Dunne D.5 biplane

D.5 Specifications
  • Crew: One pilot;
  • Length: 20 feet 5 inches (6.21 meters);
  • Wingspan: 46 feet (14.02 meters);
  • Height: 11 feet 6 inches (3.51 meters);
  • Wing area: 527 square feet  (49 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 1,550 pounds (703 kilograms);
  • Engine: 1 Green Engine Company motor capable of 60 horsepower. The engines were actually manufactured by Aster Engineering Company based on the Green design;
  • Maximum speed: 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour).

Dunne D.5 schematic

The D.5 was quite the success, and on December 20, 1910 at the British Aero Club‘s grounds, Dunne showed off the aeroplane’s flying abilities to an audience that included Orville Wright and Griffith Brewer.

From Wikipedia: Griffith Brewer (1867–1948) was a pioneer English balloonist and aviator, who made his first balloon flight in 1891. Brewer met Wilbur Wright in Pau, France in 1908 and was the first Englishman to fly as a passenger with Wright. He got his pilot’s license in 1914.

Brewer arranged that the British government should get use of the Wright’s patents for £15,000 in 1914 which meant that British aircraft manufacturers were free of the threat of litigation.

What was so cool about the controls of the D.5? Well, Dunne could fly it by using the throttle to climb or dive, and could even fly hands-free so as to make notes on paper.

I mention this only because a few days after the demonstration, the D.5 crashed and was badly damaged. I’m unsure why the plane crashed, but let’s hope flying without using one’s hands wasn’t the cause.

Again, Dunne had wanted to construct a monoplane, but again the British Army expected biplanes, so Colonel Capper had Dunne build accordingly.

Despite what the Army wanted, Dunne’s next plane was the D.6 Monoplane.

D.6, D.7 and D.7bis


Dunne D.6

Dunne’s next design, free of British Army influence, was a monoplane, the D.6 monoplane. This and its derivatives, the D.7 and D.7 bis (a two-seater version), flew throughout 1911-1913.


Dunne D.7

It was a successful aeroplane(s). The D.6 was a single-seat pusher type. Only one was built, however.

From Wikipedia: … major parts of which were built by Short Brothers, used a similar wing with a very different structure supporting it, the engine, pilot and undercarriage. The wing was straight edged, tapering from a central chord of 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) to 5 ft 0 in (1.52 m) at the tips. The leading edge was swept at 35°. The A-frames with kingposts on the centreline were replaced with a pair of rectangular frames which extended above and below the wings, linked at the bottom by two transverse members. These frames served as double kingposts from which each wing was wire braced above and below. A substantial undercarriage structure was mounted at the bottom of the frames, comprising a long pair of skids which extended from the pusher propeller line well forward beyond the nacelle and curving strongly upwards. Each skid was multiply braced to its frame and inwards to the nacelle; the pair were joined by a cross strut near the forward tip. Both carried a pair of wheels and, at the rear, an articulated and sprung extension to absorb landing shocks.

The nacelle that carried the pilot’s seat and the engine behind him was no more than an open wooden framework. The same Green engine was used as before, driving a two bladed, 7 ft 3 in (2.21 m) diameter propeller. A tall, rectangular radiator was placed longitudinally above the wing, positioned to raise the centre of gravity as high as possible. A pair of levers, one for each hand, controlled the craft.

D.6 Specifications

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 21 feet (6.40 meters);
  • Wingspan: 36 feet (10.97 meters);
  • Height: 11 feet (3.35 meters);
  • Wing area: 248 square feet (23 square meters) including elevons;
  • Engine: 1 × Green water cooled inline with 60 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed, 7 feet 3 inches (2.21 meters) diameter.

During 1912, the D.6 was modified into a two-seater, the Dunne D.7 bis, with a 70 horsepower Gnome engine.

The Dunne D.7 or D.7 Auto Safety, was similar to the D.6, but with a shorter wingspan (less 1-foot (305 mm), and used a 7-cylinder Gnome rotary engine capable of 50 horsepower.

The D.7 made an appearance at the Olympia Aero Show of March 1911, but did not have its first test flights until June of that year – and was a success. In January 1912 Dunne demonstrated the D.7 to members of the Royal Aeronautical Society, writing a note whilst flying hands off at 60 miles per hour (100 kilometers and hour).



Dunne D.8

By now the Dunne D.8 had been developed from the D.5, one of which was flown across the English Channel to France. A total of five were built.

The D.8 had a single-pusher propeller engine, differing from the D.5‘s double, chain-driven propellers. Fuselage and undercarriage were also different.

dunne_8_2vc_350.jpgProduction was licensed to both Nieuport in France and Burgess in America.

From Wikipedia: The D.8 was a tailless four bay unstaggered biplane with its wings swept at 32°. Its constant chord wings were built up around two spruce spars, the forward one forming the leading edge. To help achieve stability the incidence and interplane gap decreased outboard, the former becoming negative. This washout on tips well behind the centre of gravity provided longitudinal stability in the same way as a conventional tailplane, set at lower incidence than the wings. Camber increased outwards. Simple, near parallel, pairs of interplane struts joined the spars. The outer interplane struts were enclosed with fabric, forming fixed side curtains that provided directional (yaw) stability. Wing tip elevons were used for control, operated by a pair of levers, one either side of the pilot. The D.8 initially used just a pair of these, mounted on the upper wing, a rectangular cutout in the side curtains allowing for their movement as on the D.5. Large parts of the aircraft were built by the Short Brothers.

The D.8’s water-cooled 4-cylinder, 60 hp Green engine directly drove a four-bladed pusher propeller, saving weight compared with the D.5’s chain drive. Though it is not certain when the propeller was changed, most photographs show the Green engine driving a two-bladed airscrew. As a consequence of the propeller position the fuselage was shortened at the rear; it was also extended in the nose. This first D.8 seems to have been a single-seater like its D.5 predecessor, the pilot sitting at mid chord.

After tests, the first D.8 had its motor replaced with an 80 horsepower Gnome engine… with the second plane receiving the same… though this one was a two-seater.

Several pilots did indeed receive their pilot’s license flying one of these craft.

D.8 Specifications

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 25 feet 9 inches (7.85 meters);
  • Wingspan: 46 (14.02 meters);
  • Wing area: 545 square feet (50.6 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms;
  • Gross weight: 1,900 pounds (862 kilograms);
  • Engine: 1 × Gnome 7-cylinder rotary with 80 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 56 miles per hour (90 kilometers per hour);
  • Rate of climb: 500 feet/minute (2.5 meters/second).


Burgess D.9.jpg

Dunne D.9 biplane

Dunne D.9 was an odd-looking biplane, with a suspected five examples thought to be under construction through 1912–1913. If the photo is to believed, at least one flew.

I can’t find any other information on it, which is why I am also dubious about just what version of plane is being shown in the image above.


The two-seater Dunne D.10 was shorter wing span version of his D.8 (45 feet; 14 meters).  It used a Gnome motor… but since it had orders for multiple D.8‘s, this one D.10 was converted back into a D.8.

Through 1913 and 1914 Dunne’s continuing ill health was making it difficult for him to remain active in aeronautics. Production of the War Office machines for Farnborough ran into difficulties and only one was ever delivered. The Blair Atholl Syndicate was eventually liquidated and Dunne moved on to other areas.

Throughout World War I, mainstream aircraft design proceeded along an entirely different path. Although the principle of inherent stability was proven and slowly gaining acceptance, Dunne’s designs were now obsolete. But still he tried…



Burgess-Dunne tailless Vee

Still, he tried once more with the Burgess-Dunne between 1913-1916, with many variants of his D.8 aircraft, including land and sea versions.

Burgess-Dunne Hydroplane.jpg

Burgess-Dunne Hydroplane version.

Since we just saw a Burgess-Dunne Hydroplane, let’s leave aviation for a moment and check out Dunne and his fishing book.

Great Highs With Fly-Fishing

Later years

Dunne published his first book, on dry-fly fishing: Sunshine and the Dry Fly in 1924, discussing a new method of making realistic artificial flies. I’m not much of a fisherman, so let’s just leave this part of his life alone.

Dare To Dream
Meanwhile, he was studying precognitive dreams which he believed he and others had experienced.

Way back in 1898, he dreamed about the time on his watch… then he woke up and found that the current time matched his “dream” time.

He went on to postulate that the human mind does NOT need to stay in the present, and via dreams and hypnagogic state (where one is in the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep), one could catch glimpses of the past and the future.

By 1927 he had evolved the theory of serial time for which he would become famous and published an account of it: An Experiment with Time. Pretty trippy… but as weird as it sounds, I’ve had multiple dreams as a kid about the near future, and things came to pass… such as seeing a weird copper penny on the asphalt in front of my high school… and two weeks later – there it was… a thing and weak-struck penny.

I’ve also had reoccurring dreams since I was three, of my death at 87… which is a decent enough age to not worry about… except in my dreams, I am warning some kids to get off the ice because it’s too thin, and while doing so, I fall through… see the shadows atop, as I beat on the underside with my fists-once… twice… and then I wake up gasping.

It’s cool because I’m trying to save some kids… but sucks because you’d think that when I was 86 I would have moved somewhere where the only ice around is in my Coke.

I state all of this with some fear of ridicule. But… all I can say is that I had a dream. I still have the penny, though.

I’m unsure about Dunne’s theories… my stuff was all independent of what I learned while researching this particular article. But who the heck knows anything about anything.

He continued his theory in: The Serial Universe (1934), The New Immortality (1938), Nothing Dies (1940) and Intrusions? (published posthumously in 1955).

In 1928 he married Cicely, daughter of Geoffrey Cecil Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 18th Baron Saye and Sele and they lived for a good deal of time after that at the family seat of Broughton Castle.


Dunne died in Banbury, England on August 24, 1949, at age 74. I’m guessing Dunne didn’t see that coming or he would have finished his last book earlier.



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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5 Responses to Wills’s Aviation Card #60 – “Dunne V.” Biplane.

  1. Guy Inchbald says:

    You would be unlikely to find J. W. Dunne’s date of birth in an Irish database, but look instead to the British. His father was a career soldier, temporarily stationed at the British Army’s Curragh Camp and this was the location of his oldest son’s birth on 2 December 1875.
    Dunne resigned as Trooper with the Imperial Yeomanry and gained his commission with his father’s old regiment, which had become the Wiltshires. Back in South Africa he came down with typhoid fever, which cause an “enlarged heart”, whatever that is.
    I am afraid there are many inaccuracies in your account of his aeroplanes. NEVER believe a history book about Dunne before checking the primary sources! Just to add a few missing bits:
    The Dunne-Huntington used an older triplane design of Dunne’s because the V wing was still top secret and the Army would not let him use it for a civilian machine.
    The D.5 was crashed by D.W.A. Barton, an inexperienced pilot, who touched a wing to the ground during a sudden sharp turn on his landing approach.
    Your “D.9” image is nothing whatever to do with Dunne, wherever did you get the idea from? Do you have a url?
    He did know that he was dying (his doctor told him), just not the exact day. He struggled hard against failing health to get the book as far down the line as he could.
    You can find out more about him at http://www.steelpillow.com/blocki/dunne/Dunne.html


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