History Behind The Card: “Tellier” Monoplane.
Card #63 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – black back issue
- Alphonse Tellier, August 24, 1879 in Paris, France – February 14, 1929 in Grasse, France;
- Émile Dubonnet, October 18, 1883 in Paris, France – October 4, 1950 in Sologne, France.
Nothing is easy, when it comes to doing these historical biographies of the aeroplanes, designers, manufacturers and pilots of the planes represented on the Wills’s Aviation cigarette cards. Nothing.
For example, the Tellier monoplane, represented by Wills’s card No. 63 states on the reverse that it was built by M.M. Tellier and Gerrard.
If I can assume the at least one of those “M’s” means “mister” or “monsieur”, then sure… we know that Tellier and Gerrard built the Tellier monoplane.
Except I can find zero evidence as to just who Mr. Gerrard is in relation to this aeroplane. Nothing.
Perhaps they meant that Tellier designed it, and Gerrard physically built the aircraft…
There is a bit of information on Alphonse Tellier, however, but not as much as one would hope.
What we do know about Tellier, however, is that he liked to build motorboats, and was one of the early pioneers of speed boat design and manufacture.
Alphonse Tellier was the son of Auguste Tellier, who in 1871 in Paris, started up a manufacturing factory for boats and canoes.
Alphonese Tellier’s introduction to aviation came about in 1905 when aeroplane manufacturer Gabriel Voisin and soon-to-be famous pilot Louis Blériot tested and flew a glider (for aviation patron Archdeacon) that was designed and built by Voisin.
After initially testing the glider by having it towed by an automobile on a road, the second test had it towed by a motorboat on the Seine river – with the glider flying some 600 meters (2,000 feet). See HERE for my write-up on Voisin, his gliders and subsequent aeroplane manufacturers.
The speedboat was powered by a 120-horsepowr Antoinette engine, later one of the most popular aeroplane engine manufacturers of the pioneer days.
Anyhow… the pilot of that motorboat called La Rapière? That was Alphonse Tellier.
Inspired by what he saw, Tellier opened up his first aeroplane manufacturing facility (for those who had the designs – he had the carpentry skills) in 1908 at Juvisy-sur-Orge in (what I believe) was the northern part of the outskirts of Paris, then in the town of Melun, before eventually setting it upon the Île de la Jatte in Neuilly-sur-Seine (offices at 340, rue de Chézy) in 1909.
Now… who designed the first Tellier aeroplane? Was it Tellier himself? Maybe. I don’t know.
We can see (below) that the aeroplane bears more than a passing resemblance the Bleriot‘s XI monoplane… but why not? The Bleriot XI was a very successful aircraft.
We do know that Robert Duhamel and a Mr. Houris (no first name found) built the Tellier monoplane, and that a pilot named Emile Dubonnet was the man who either purchased it, or was the paid test pilot on behalf of the Tellier company.
I’m working from French texts, and the information is sparse, at best.
Tellier Monoplane – 1910
We do know that on April 4, 1910, Dubonnet flew the Tellier monoplane from Juvisy to La Ferté-Saint-Aubin in France – traveling some 109 kilometers, and actually landed near Orléans in the midst of the flight to ask for directions! The flight was completed in one hour, 48 minutes and 54 seconds. If my math is good (yeesh), that would be 58.3 kilometers and hour, but it would be faster if we take into account the plane had to land, get directions and take-off again….
For his efforts, Dubonnet won a prize from La Nature science magazine for being the first to pilot an aeroplane a distance over 100 kilometers.
On April 24, 1910, Dubonnet once again flew from his private grounds at Draveil and landed at Bagatelle in France, performing the second flight over Paris (after Charles, Count de Lambert on October 18, 1909), flying at a fairly low altitude ranging from 30 meters to 100 meters – and it was all in the Tellier monoplane.
Why did he pilot the aeroplane at such a low height? Was it to give the people below a great view, or was it simply an under-powered motor? I’m guessing it was Dubonnet doing some showboating.
There is a report that Tellier and Dubonnet took the Tellier 1910 monoplane to the 2nd Great Aviation Week of Champagne (Reims – July 3-10, 1910 ), where one year earlier it hosted the first ever aviation meet (Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne). However… I can not find a single article on-line providing details of the event, unlike what was provided the year before in 1909.
I did find a December 3, 1910 article in Flight magazine that did offer data on the Tellier monoplane:
- Bearing surface: 24 square metres (258.334 square feet);
- Length 11.85 meters (38.9 feet);
- Width: 11.85 meters (38.9 feet);
- Seating capacity: one (though there is evidence Tellier would build a two-seater if desired… more below under Options);
- Powerplant: 35 horsepower Panhard, water-cooled, 4-cyl. vertical. Steel cylinders, copper water-jackets. Bore – 110mm ; stroke – 140 mm., weight, 100 kilograms (220.5 pounds), revolutions – 1,000, Petrol consumption at normal revolutions – 14 litres an hour. Silencer is fitted if required;
- Propeller – Tellier, 1,000 revs.;
- Landing chassis – two wheels, mounted with springs in front, with a small wheel placed in front of the tail. The two front wheels are so arranged that they adapt themselves to any unevenness in the ground on which the machine lands;
- Tail – Fixed non-lifting tail-plane with fixed vertical fin over it. Elevating-plane fixed to the trailing edge of tail-plane. Single rudder fixed centrally above;
- Lateral stability – By flexing the trailing edges of the main planes;
- Weight – Complete with motor, 400 kilograms (881.85 pounds);
- Speed – About 85 kilometers per hour (52.8 miles per hour);
- System of control – By steering-wheel mounted on a column in front of the pilot. A rotary movement of the wheel controls the rudder. A sideway movement of the entire column to the right or left flexes the left or right wing. A forward movement depresses the machine, and a backward movement elevates;
- Price – With 35-h.p. 4-cylinder Panhard engine, 25,000 francs;
- Options: Large two-seat model, known as the “Type Militaire” is available, but uses a 50 horsepower 6-cylinder vertical Panhard engine.
That’s about all I can find about the 1910 Tellier monoplane.
In the Spring of 1911 in Saint-Omer, Tellier and Dubbonet and some other financial moneybags got together to create the Société Alphonse Tellier et Cie (Alphonse Tellier & Co.).
But they weren’t interested in that time in just building aeroplanes, rather they were attempting to build a hydro-aeroplane.
We do know that the first hydro-aeroplane competition was held in Monaco in March of 1912, and featured airplanes using floats from Fabre, Curtiss, Tellier and Farman.
The implication here, is that Tellier’s new hydro-aeroplane was more than likely a physically stronger Tellier monoplane with floats.
However, by 1913, the company had designed and built a Tellier Hydro-Hovercraft… but it doesn’t appear to be a successful endeavor, as I can’t find any record of sales or performance except the following:
Tellier built three hydroplanes (Hydro-hovercraft), essentially aeroplanes that were propelled on the water – not in the air. The aircraft used a propeller to propel it across the water.
In one of these hydroplanes, Dubonnet got it up to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour) – the first time such a vehicle had achieved such speeds.
From then until the midst of the Great War (aka WWI) in 1916, things were quiet until the company unveiled a Tellier Flying Boat featuring a Hispano-Suiza engine built by the automobile factory of the same name. The company is a Spanish company, but it did open a branch in France where I assume it built the powerplants for Tellier’s flying boat.
An order from the French Navy kept the company afloat (ha-ha), providing it with updated versions in 1917 and again 1918, with the latter model having a 350 horsepower Sunbeam motor built by the car company of the same name.
The same 1918 model offered the alternate Panhard-Levassor powerplant providing 350 horsepower… I assume it was simply two separate shops providing very similar motors to help Tellier get the Tellier Flying Boats into the hands of the French Navy on time.
The Navy order was for 315 seaplanes, which were given in 1918, and may also have included:
- combat Tellier seaplane 400/500 horsepower Hispano-Suiza in 1918, and;
- the combat Tellier seaplane with a 1,100 horsepower Lorraine motor in 1919.
Since the war ended in November of 1918, I am unsure if the last aircraft were delivered, or if the contract was still honored and accepted by the French Navy.
We do know that the original order highlighted that the seaplanes needed to be able to carry a payload of 1,632 kilograms (3,598 pounds), and that a total of 35 aeroplanes were delivered before the war concluded.
While the war continued in 1918 – you have to keep trying to develop new product all the time – Tellier conceived of a transatlantic seaplane called the Vonna.
The Vonna was to be able to carry a crew of three men and a radio, weigh nine tons empty and weigh 16 tons full.
It was to be powered by four Sunbeam-Coatalen W18 450 horsepower motors.
The project was staffed with 15 Nieuport engineers, but was eventually abandoned in 1921.
It didn’t matter too much to Tellier, because he sold the Alphonse Tellier Tellier & Co to Nieuport in August of 1918 after becoming ill. The company then continued under the name of Nieuport-Astra.
He did remain with the company’s marine division as a technical director, while engineer Robert Duhamel took over the management of the Issy-les-Moulineaux engineering department and responsibility for Tellier products, which remained in the firm’s catalog until 1923.
Alphonse Tellier died on February 14, 1929 in Grasse, and was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery.
As for pilot Dubonnet?
Born to a French winemaker, one source I found describes Dubonnet as a sportsman, interesting in cycling, skating, soccer, fencing, rower, and vehicle race enthusiast… and all were done before he became interested in aviation, and when he began, it was hot-air balloons that caught his fancy.
A member of the Aero-Club of France, Dubonnet took part in the Gordon Bennett Cup for ballooning in 1908, 1909 and 1911. He won the La Grande Medialle de Aéro-Club de France in 1912.
After the 1909 event, Dubonnet started working as a test pilot for Tellier going up for the first time on April 3, 1910 in the 1910 Tellier Monoplane.
The next day, as mentioned above, he flew the Tellier monoplane from Juvisy to La Ferté-Saint-Aubin in France, flying some 109 kilometers – then a record for distance.
The April 4, 1910 flight was still only Dubonnet’s 10th actual time up in an aeroplane as a pilot.
Still working as a test pilot and pilot for Tellier, Dubonnet used the Tellier monoplane… I assume a rejigged version of the 1910 model when in January of 1912 he traveled from Paris to Russia traveling a distance of 1,954 kilometers.
I also read that Dubonnet in 1912 helped form the first professional baseball league in France, the French Baseball Union.
When WWI started, he was part of France’s balloon aviation corps, flying through the war in 1918, but still finding the time to work alongside Tellier in the construction of his seaplanes.
Dubonnet lived until October 4, 1950.
As for Tellier’s aircraft contributions, I found one source offering:
- Monoplan Tellier (1909);
- Monoplan Tellier (1910);
- Hydro-Hovercraft Tellier (1913);
- Flying boat Tellier 200 HP Hispano-Suiza (1916);
- Flying boat Tellier 200 hp canon (1917);
- Flying boat Tellier 350 hp Sunbeam (1918);
- Tellier Combat Seaplane 400/500 ch Hispano-Suiza (1918);
- Tellier Combat Seaplane 1100 ch Lorraine (1919).