Wills’s Aviation Card #79–”Ponche & Primard” Monoplane.

Wills Aviation 79F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Ponche & Primard” Monoplane.

Card #79 of 85, W.D.& H.O WillsAviation series 1912, Vice Regal – Black-back issue

  • Marie Joseph Louis Charles Ponche, born in Amiens, France, May 23, in 1884 – February 10, 1916, Dugny, France;
  • Maurice Emile Primard, born in XXX, France – XXXX XX, 19XX in XXXX, France.

The Ponche & Primard Monoplane is best known by its French moniker of Tubevion, the first all-metal aircraft ever made, and that actually flew. Tube avion translates to tube airplane – which is, stylistically, what modern passenger jets look like.

That’s not to say that the Tubavion resembles are modern commercial passenger planes – no… it’s just that they look like tubes.

Wills Aviation 79R.jpg

While highly regarded in its era – enough to get its own trading card in the Wills‘s 85-card overseas series of late 1911, the Tubavion is virtually a ghost on the Internet, likewise its two creators, Charles Ponche and Maurice Primard.

It’s on the Internet… but only in French, and I have taken virtually all the information contained here, translated it and re-written it in English, from the website: http://www.long80.com/letubavion.html

I didn’t take everything from this particular site dedicated to the Tubavion, but I took a fair bit. So let’s give credit where credit is due. Cheers to http://www.long80.com/letubavion.html

First off… our two co-creators: Charles Ponche and Maurice Primard… we know a fair bit about Ponche, but next to nothing about the more private Primard. I could not even find a solo photo of him… and can only confirm his presence in a photo below.


An advanced version of the Tubavion monoplane with (from left) the mechanic Mr. Maire, Maurice Primard and Charles Ponche. I think.

Ponche was born to Jean Marie Joseph Emile Ponche and his wife Adèle Augustine Marie Charlotte Denise Leroy who operated Long’s, an iron wire factory.

While he studied at Providence in Amiens, France Ponche remained passionate about aviation. When he came home from school, workers at the factory were amused to see him sometimes climb into a “strange craft” that was pulled by horses… as he was forever trying to construct his own aircraft, even as a kid.

Charles Ponche.jpg

Charles Ponche

It was in 1909, that Ponche came up with his Tubavion design, and built this strange craft from steel at the Long plant.

During the Heliopolis-Cairo aviation meet (the very first such meet in Africa. Heliopolis is a suburb of Cairo, Egypt about 10 kilometers away), held August 6-13, 1910, Ponche met Maurice Primard, who was even then a renowned mechanic who was already considered a specialist in aeroplane engines.

Ponche was just visiting, and if Primard was working for a pilot at the event, I can’t find evidence to confirm that. As such, I have to assume both were there to see the event.

He had joined a Louis Levavasseur company in 1904 that was associated with Gastamibide that founded the firm Antoinette. In fact… Antoinette would later manufacture the Tubavion aeroplane later on.

Primard saw some of the aviation sketches of Ponche at the show, and the two of them hit it off, deciding to work together to improve Ponche’s initial Tubeavion design.

By 1911, working with pilot and engineers Mr. (unidentified first name) Maire, the Tubeavion became more… reliable.


During the summer of 1911, Maire piloted the Tubavion through many test at Paris-Plage, and participated in the air show at the Grand Palais in Paris and was a great success.


In 1912, he made a sensation at the various meetings in which he participates with his new pilot Mr. (who the hell knows his first name) Goffin  – in particular at Issy-les-Moulineaux, Reims.

The Tubavion aeroplane is constructed of steel tubes joined without soldering or welding, assembled by special cast aluminum forged sleeves that are pinned together making any changes to the aircraft a quick and easy process.

The wing consists of two steel tubes (or spars) covered with aluminum sheet. A single steel lever controls the device of the warping of the wings and the rudder.

While steering is performed via old school wing warping, the wing is considered to be innovative for its time, as the canvas usually used as a skin is actually replaced by aluminum sheets.

The team of Ponche and Primard believed that the aluminum sheeting would avoid pockets and would allow the air to better slide on the wings.

The pilot is installed below the front edge of the wings with the passenger next to him just in front of the engine. The aeroplane is a two-seater, with the passenger sitting in tandem (one behind the other), replacing the usual manner (of the day) of sitting beside each other.

The pusher monoplane has, as the name suggests, its Chauviere brand propeller at the rear of the aircraft, along with the Labor engine, which some pilots believed would provide the aviator with a much better eyeline – sight. As well, there’s less disturbing airflow being blown back into the face of the pilot.

But, even by 1912, people who saw the Tubavion were not yet convinced of it being able to achieve a proper stable flight.

Tubeavion 3.jpg
Here’s a write-up from the January 13, 1912 issue of Flight Magazine, from a description at the Paris Aero Show.

Ponche and Primard.
ALL-METAL construction is the chief feature of the interesting monoplane exhibited on Stand No. 10. A single steel tube, about 3 ins. in diameter, extends from the nose to the tail, and forms the backbone of the machine. Coupled to this tube, to form a structure of triangular section by means of shorter steel tubes, are long ash skids, which run from end to end.
These skids as can be seen from the accompanying sketch, extend for a considerable distance in front, thus eliminating any possibility of turning over on landing.
Both pilot and engine are located beneath the wings in a little body, which has all the appearance of a small runabout without wheels.
The wings are essentially novel, being constructed throughout of metal. Both front and rear booms are of steel tubing and on these are struDg formers of 1 mm. steel  aluminium. These are surfaced on the underneath wkh aluminium sheet J-inch thick.
No surfacing has as yet been applied to the top surface for the reason that it is thought that the gain in the efficiency of the wings would not be sufficient to compensate for the extra weight involved. The rear wing booms are assembled in an aluminium casting which pivots about the main longitudinal tube of the fuselage. The propeller, too, revolves about this tube, being driven from the engine at reduced speed by means of chain transmission.
The tail comprises a rectangular lifting plane with two semi-circular elevators hinged to its back edge and a semi-circular unbalanced directional rudder, the whole unit being constructed from aluminium sheeting.


Tubavion Specs

  • Crew: 2;
  • Wingspan:  8.5 meters (27.89 feet);
  • Length: 8.4 meters (27.5 feet);
  • Empty weight: 420 kilograms (926 pounds);
  • Powerplant: a Labour engine with 35 horsepower. There was also a 70 horsepower  version;
  • Propeller: Chauviere capable of 800 rpm (revolutions per minute);
  • Speed: 48 miles per hour (77.25 kilometers per hour);
  • Price: £640.

Tubeavion 6.jpg

The aeroplane looks like it would have suffered from being under-powered, and I believe there is evidence that suggest the engine was replaced by a 70 horsepower version after further trials.

On July 15, 1912 at the rally organized by the city of Amiens, France, despite a strong wind, the pilot Goffin made a series of figure-eights in the Tubavion that left the admirers on the ground amazed.


While development of the Tubavion continued, it never really took off as far as success goes.

Ponche and Primard continued to work on their aeroplane, tweaking things here and there, but the aircraft never really achieved much success… and by that I mean in any attempts to win major money and thus fame at the various aviation meets springing up all over Europe at that time.

Also springing up at that time – 1914 – was The Great War, aka WWI.

The boys tried to get the French military interested in it, but despite the plane having a somewhat favorable review (see immediately below), it failed to catch on. I’ve tidied up the translations a bit.

From the meeting of the Examination Committee
The year 1915, Dec. 23 at 14 h 30 (2:30PM), the Commission of Review of Planes and Engines, composed of MM.:

  • Commander Dorand of the Technical Section of Aero.
  • Squadron Leader Marie, from the School Inspectorate
  • Captain Etévé of the SFA
  • GHQ Shepherd
  • Cottret of the RGA
  • Lieutenant Toussaint of the SFA

Plane Ponche motor The Rhone 110 HP
Reading is given by Lt Toussaint of his report on the tests of the Ponche plane.
The Commission adopts the general content of this report which is attached to this PV
The Commander Dorand draws the attention of the Commission on the big differences of the results obtained with the Plane PONCHE and with the plane NIEUPORT with engines Rhone 110.
With the same load of 300 kgs, The Nieuport Plane rises to 2000 m. in 19’20”, and its speed at 2000 m is 153 km.hr
The Ponche Plane rises to 2000 m in 19’20” and its speed to 2000 m is 113 km.hr
It can be said that the Ponche aircraft has a lower power utilization than the Nieuport aircraft.
This defect is due in part to the provision of the nacelle, but this provision gives however advantages in terms of armament, visibility and landing.
For these reasons it can be proposed that the aircraft is experienced on the front.
After discussion the Commission expresses the following wish:
“Because of the efforts made by Sergeant Ponche and his collaborators over the past several years to develop his aircraft, and quite exceptionally, the Commission believes that it would be appropriate to ask the GHQ for permission to experiment on the front in a squadron of CA Sergeant Ponche’s plane.


As can be seen in these reports, the performance of this airplane now weighing 300 kilograms (661.34 pounds) allowing it to climb to 2,000 meters (6,561.7 feet) altitude in 19 minutes and 20 seconds with a speed of 113 kilometers per hour (70.2 miles per hour) was of interest to the French state.

And a few months later, indeed, the headquarters gave permission to conduct tests on the front in a squadron.

Unfortunately, on February 10, 1916, at 11AM, Sergeant Charles Ponche, 2nd aviation group of the DUGNY general aviation reserve (Seine) and his pilot Sergeant Coffin, while they were carrying out tests on the Dugny field, near Le Bourget, experienced during a flight the failure of the engine and the aircraft crashed that resulted in the death of both men instantly.

They were buried in the Military Square 12 of Pantin (93), and awarded posthumously the Knight of the Legion of Honor – Croix de Guerre.

Below is their patent application for the Tubavion aeroplane, complete with drawings:

Date of application (patent), January 29, 1912

Complete patent description filed July 5, 1912, accepted December 5, 1912


Aircraft and Aircraft Improvements

We, Charles PONCHE and Maurice Emile PRIMARD, builders in Long, (Somme), France, hereby declare that the nature of this invention is as follows:

The invention relates to monoplane type aircraft, its object being to provide an apparatus of this type improved in which the construction of the support structure and the relative facilities of the various elements are simplified and improved; the other features of the invention include improvements to the arrangements of the steering controls and depth of the aircraft during the flight and also measures to prevent damage to the machine at the time of contact with the ground after the descent.

According to this invention, the fuselage which extends normally over the entire length of the aircraft, and on which the wings and the horizontal and vertical rudders are mounted, is removed and replaced by a hollow metal rod which constitutes the main longitudinal element of the frame of the apparatus. The anterior part of the rod is connected to a light metal chassis that supports the engine and its accessories, the pilot’s seat and the control levers for engine operation and flight direction; the so-called rod also serves as support for the wings of the aircraft and its propeller, which is mounted behind the wings; the end of the stem supports the tail and the rudders horizontal and vertical.

To understand the nature of the invention, particularly with regard to its auxiliary features, a model of construction will be illustrated as an example: it comprises a main structure composed of two or more triangular reinforcements made of steel tubes, joined to their bases by a tubular steel frame which forms the aforesaid frame. The different vertices of the triangular reinforcements are fixedly connected to a tubular steel rod whose end extends beyond the front frame and is connected to the frame by wooden pads. The above-mentioned steel rod, which constitutes the main element of the support structure, is fixed to the triangular shoes and frames by an ordinary sleeve (rings, sleeves, sleeves), the aforementioned pads forming a cradle which serves to ensure a landing. secured. The longitudinal section of the main stem has a conical surface which is wider in the anterior part of the structure. The rod may be constituted by a continuous steel tube or manufactured by sections of graduated diameter. The triangular frames, placed a short distance above their bases, serve as a support for a horizontal platform, formed of steel pipes, on which are installed the engine, the pilot’s seat, the levers and other control organs. The wings of the aircraft are rectangular and have rounded or suitably curved outer ends, both wings forming a continuation of the same curved surface of proper arch.

Instead of making the wings with a frame covered with canvas, as we usually do, we prefer to build entirely metal, for example with thin aluminum foil, the wings being provided with transverse ribs also aluminum and suitable cross section. Two parallel support spars are mounted on each wing; they consist of steel tubes which pass through holes in the ribs so that they can rotate, this assembly allowing the quick and easy arrow wing edges. The front longitudinal members of each wing are rigidly connected to the rod by a common base, which carries above and below a vertical mast; the ends of these masts are attached by steel stays, or other suitable material, at several intermediate points or ribs placed along the longitudinal members. The front longitudinal members are then rigidly secured to the main stem of the structure and are supported by the aforementioned stays. The rear spar of each wing is likewise connected to a pivotable common base which is mounted on the main frame rod and supports an identical vertical mast above and below, these spars being connected to the mast at intervals at the same time. using stay cables by the same system pre-illustrated for the front rails. It should be noted that, since the base mounted on the main stem of the aircraft, and to which the rear longitudinal members are connected, is movable, the rear edges of the wings may be warped by its rotation on the main rod to which the rear longitudinal members are related. Only a slight rotation of the base is necessary to achieve the desired control of the aircraft during the flight; this is achieved by means of a pinion mounted on a horizontal shaft, which is installed on the aforesaid platform of the engine, parallel to the main rod, this pinion being adapted to engage in a rack placed at the end of the lower mast which is attached to the base of the rear rails.

To warp the rear longitudinal members, the pinion is rotated by means of a control lever, which is mounted on the same shaft as the pinion; the lever pivots on the shaft and is attached to the operating rudders of the rudder; it is formed by two almost semi-circular aluminum plates that pivot on a horizontal shaft that passes through them and is connected to the main stem of the aircraft. The plates operate using cranks, which are attached to the stays of the control lever in the usual way. A rudder is mounted on a vertical mast which passes through; it is formed of a single plate of the same shape as those of the rudder. It is operated using cranks and stays installed on the chassis of the aircraft in a suitable manner. The tail of the apparatus consists of a rectangle of aluminum foil with ribs or suitable reinforcing elements, and is carried by suitable type of rails which are rigidly attached to the main stem of the frame in a manner similar to the one already illustrated for the wings. The propeller is mounted on a bearing on the main stem and is preferably constructed to be driven by a roller-mounted pinion which is connected by a chain to a pinion of the same type mounted on a horizontal shaft, which extends the shaft. motor shaft fixed to the chassis.

The engine and pilot seat are installed along the center line of the frame and the tank is preferably mounted on the frame rod above the wings and between the upper poles of the wing spars.

The action of the pads, which serve to ensure the safe landing of the aircraft, is assisted by four wheels mounted in pairs on a common transverse axis below the engine; the axis is connected to the frame by solid elastic bands which allow the wheels to give an elastic support to the frame; the wheels may be equipped with standard tires or made of other resilient material.

As the previous illustration shows, the frame of the aircraft is extremely rigid and simple, all elements being supported by the main stem. Note that the depth and the wings of the wings during the flight are controlled by a single control lever, which is mounted on the shaft of the aforementioned pinion, since by operating the lever to the left or right, which will produce the rotation corresponding to the pinion shaft, the rear edges of the wings are warped in one or the other direction, while the movement of the lever forwards or backwards will produce, with the aid of the above-mentioned stays and cranks, a arrow up or down the plates of the rudders of depth (and direction?). The guys used for this purpose will spend a certain length inside the main rod to avoid blocking the propeller.

The pre-illustrated manufacturing features may of course be modified within certain limits but without exceeding the scope of the invention, which should not be limited thereto except with respect to the essential features.

Dated the 29th day of January, 1912


Chartered Patent Agent,

3, London Wall Buildings, London Wall, EC

This invention relates to a mounting system of a rotary engine on an airplane. This rotary engine which bears on its housing the propeller propeller being disposed between the wings of the airplane and the tail. This mounting system that can be adapted to all airplanes with a central rod supporting the wings, tail and rudders is particularly applicable to the aircraft of Mr. PRIMARD, patent of October 6, 1910, issued under the number 421.136.

This mounting system will be understood from the following description with reference to the accompanying drawing in which it is shown in longitudinal section.

The central rod which constitutes the frame of the airplane is in two parts, one anterior A is intended to support the wings and the other posterior B supports the tail and the rudders of direction and depth. These two sections A and B are connected by means of several pairs of tie rods to the frame supporting the control members and seats for the pilot and the passengers.

In the accompanying drawings, two of these tie rods are shown, one “a” integral with a long-reach ring C in which the front section A of the central rod is force-fitted, the other “b” secured to another ring D also force-fitted at the end of the rear section B of this central rod. It is between these two long-range rings C and D that is arranged the rotary motor M carrying the propulsion propeller.

This rotary engine M which is keyed on its housing in “c” the propeller, which is not shown in the drawing, has its crankshaft E which is fixed. The crankshaft E is forced into the hub “d” of a plate “e” screwed into the long-range ring C; a nut “f” ensures its fixation. It is also secured at its front end of a bearing “g” with clamping nut “h”; this range mounted to friction in the front tube A ensures the perfect centering of the crankshaft, extends its fulcrum inside A, and at the same time prevents fatigue.

The fuel supply to the engine M is through the tube “i” attached to a jacket “j” mounted on the tube A and the crankshaft E which is hollow; holes “k” drilled in the tube A and in the liner “j” pass through the air intended to mix with the fuel gas called by the suction.

On a bearing “m” integral with the rotating housing of the motor M is mounted the inner path “n” of a bearing with two rings of balls “o”; the outer path “p” of the bearing is spherical and is forced into the long-range ring D with the interposition of a nut “q”. The rear tube B supporting the tail and the rudders is force-fitted inside the sleeve D; this tube B can thus during work or even at rest take the appropriate arrow without the balls of the bearing are stuck in their outer path because of the spherical conformation of the outer path “p”.

The force fitting, firstly of the fixed crankshaft E of the engine at the end of the front section A of the hollow central rod, and secondly of the rotating end “m” of the housing on the fixed ball bearing in the rear section B of the central rod ensures between the two sections a perfect connection in combination with the tie rods connecting these two sections to the frame supporting the control members and the seats of the pilot and passengers.

Summary :

This invention comprises a system for mounting a rotary engine on a central rod airplane supporting the wings, the tail and the rudders, which has as essential features:

1 The constitution of the hollow central rod in two parts, the one supporting the wings and in which is forced by force the fixed crankshaft of the engine, the other rear supporting the tail and the rudders in which is mounted the end rear of the rotating casing of the engine by means of a ball bearing, this assembly providing a perfect connection between the two sections of the central rod in combination with the tie rods integral with these rods and which are connected to the chassis carrying the organs of control and the seats of the pilot and passengers.

2nd The formation of the ball bearing mounted on the rear end of the housing by two rings of balls rolling on a spherical outer path to allow the rear section of the central rod supporting the tail to undergo the displacements caused by bending, both at rest that during the work, without fearing the jamming of the balls in their said raceway.

3rd The assembly on the outer end of the crankshaft of a bearing engaged with a soft friction inside the anterior section supporting the wings, which ensures a perfect centering of the crankshaft, increases its reach in the front rod and reduces its fatigue .


By proxy Ch.MARDELET.


With the death of Ponche, further development on the Tubavion was halted. As well, prejudice towards monoplanes was further increased during WWI, with countries seemingly finding greater success with the biplane and tri-plane types of aircraft.

As for the Tubavion, I can only find one example ever being built – but assume that the same body was constantly being retrofitted to make it a better plane.

It obviously flew, but the advances performed by it were, relative to other aircraft from other designers and manufacturers simply not enough to keep it in the forefront of aviation.

As such, despite the promise it showed in 1911 when Wills’s thought it had enough potential to warrant its own trading card in the 85-card set, the Tubavion failed to live up to the hype.

As usual, if anyone has more information on this or other aircraft I have written about, please share.

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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2 Responses to Wills’s Aviation Card #79–”Ponche & Primard” Monoplane.

  1. Pingback: Wills’s Aviation Card #82 – French Military Aeroplane. | Pioneers Of Aviation

  2. Pingback: Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1912 – 85-Card Series – updated | Pioneers Of Aviation

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