History Behind The Card: French Military Aeroplane.
Card #82 of 85, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1912, Capstan Navy Cut – Black-back issue
- Pierre Jean Pascal Morel, February 8, 1886, Nogent, France — August 27, 1914, in Reims, France.
I finally was able to get this card, and others, from the collection of Peter Robert Fulton who sadly passed away October 31, 2018, via his brother and my new friend, Barry, down-under in Australia. Thank-you both.
This card is a shout-out by the British tobacco company, Wills’s, toward the French military and their foresight in creating an air force… though that was certainly not the term used by the French… more of an Armée de l’Air Française (French army of the air).
It can’t have been easy for Wills’s, having to praise the efforts of French government, but praise them it did.
Here’s what the reverse of the card says, in case you can’t read it.
“French Military Aeroplane.
The rapid progress which France has made in the science of aviation, is due to a great extent to the encouragement given by the French War office, The substantial prizes offered by the Government and by such firms as Michelin Ltd., has led to the invention of such new types of machines as that illustrated, the framework of this biplane is of aluminium, which is stronger than wood, and at the same time light in weight.”
Look at that… 76 words squeezed in, not including the headline. In this case, succinct and to the point.
Except… just what the heck is that plane the card mentions? It’s just called a French Military Aeroplane, of which France had plenty. Sometimes there’s too succinct.
Great… another mystery to solve. I say that with both a sigh and with excitement. Getting to the bottom of these 118-year-old cards is rarely a simple task. But I love a challenge.
First. This card series has always purported to be a 1911 Overseas series, implying overseas from Great Britain. The fact that these cards seem to have found a home in Australia, supports that. My research shows that it is a late 1911 issue.
Since there is not a lot of information on this aeroplane, we can correctly assume that it was not purchased by the French military, nor was it ever put into service. So the card’s title of French Military Aeroplane is not quite true.
What we have here, is Wills’s hearing about this aircraft as something new and exciting, and trying to jump aboard with it… and the fact that it is NOT listed in Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft 1913 edition is proof that it was not manufactured beyond a prototype.
I found a postcard online of what looks exactly like the aeroplane drawing in the Wills’s card. It’s also the only photo I found of the plane’s designer, and pilot, Captain Morel.
According to that postcard (found HERE, on Flicker), with a write up by Kees Kort, the all-aluminum biplane is a canard (an aeronautical arrangement wherein a small forewing or foreplane is placed forward of the main wing of a fixed-wing aircraft). At least that’s what designer Captain Morel describes it as. What it is, is an aeroplane that flies “backwards”… more of that below… but if you can’t wait, look at where the pilot is, and the steering wheel, and then look at the propeller.
And Captain Morel… who the heck is he? Kees Kort, above, says there was no first name given – obvious per the postcard.
He does state that Morel was a captain in France’s Infanterie Colonial.
The www.theaerodrome.com website lists within its discussion boards, the name Pierre Morel, but calls him a Lieutenant. They note that within the awesome Flight magazine (of the 1912 era), Morel is listed three times as Lieutenant, and once as Captain. [www.flightglobal.com]
A Captain is certainly one step up from a Lieutenant, so we can assume that at some point in his career, he was promoted.
Here’s what we know about his aviation history, if this Lt. Pierre Morel is the same as our Captain Morel…
The key, is noting that Pierre Morel received his pilots license (brevet) via the Aero Club de France – certificate No. 262 on Oct. 19, 1910 flying a Sommer biplane.
I saw it noted on the Aerodrome website that it was certificate #62, but that is just a typo. #262 is correct.
We can assume that after gaining his pilot’s license, Morel flew and flew, and flew some more. I can not find any record of him having entered any competition, but that may have had more to his being in the military at that time.
While other military men have flown in aeroplane competitions of the day, Morel does not appear in any of the records.
Now… since the Wills’s card is published in late 1911 or 1912 (I suggest 1912 for reasons explained shortly), we can also assume that if Kees Kort’s data is correct, Morel designed the aircraft pictured, and may have had a hand in the manufacture of it, providing thoughts to the manufacturers during the build.
According to L’Aerophile (a French aviation magazine published from 1893 to 1947), the aircraft was entered in the 1911 Grand Concours Militaire de Reims – it was listed as such in the Official List of Competitors of the Military Contest January 1, 1911 (translated from Liste officielle des concurrents du concours militaire 1er janvier 1911).
The aeroplane was listed as the Pons / Morel Canard.
Pierre Pons was an aeroplane manufacturer who had formed SAFA (Société Anonyme Français d’Aviation).
But, since no further records exist of the Pons / Morel Canard, one can only assume it was not built in time for the event.
However, the Pons / Morel Canard did get a look-see by the French military in 1912. So we know that the aeroplane was built. That and the postcard are proof of that.
It was mentioned via one source (sorry, no longer sure where I saw it), that by the end of 1911, the Pons / Morel Canard biplane was just being called the Morel biplane.
In a report dated March 2, 1912 entitled “Un aéroplane militaire en aluminium’ – les avantages d’un aéroplane entièrement mètallique construit d’après les plans du capitaine Morel de l’infanterie coloniale” [source: abstract in Engineering abstracts: journal of the international institute of Technical Bibliography, Volume 3 (1912) page 142].
Translated, the report’s title is: “An Aluminum Military Airplane – The Advantages of a All-Metal Airplane Built to the Plans of Captain Morel of the Colonial Infantry“.
Here he is a Captain. Of the Colonial Infantry.
And… his plane is still, at least up until March 2, 1912, considered to be a possible French Military Aeroplane – per the Wills’s card.
Consider, if you will, that the artwork on the Wills’s card is pretty damn close to exact as the photo in the postcard. Why is that important? Well, we have no record of the aircraft flying in 1911. This implies that work was being done on it through 1911 and into 1912.
Also… since the artwork essentially matched the photo, we must assume that the artist drew the aeroplane (whimsically in flight) as complete… which MIGHT have happened at the end of 1911, but is more likely to have occurred in 1912, closer to the test flights in front of the military.
BUT… when did the testing in front of the French military actually take place. I assume it was March of 1912… but that was the report on the plane… surely it must have taken weeks if not months for the information to have been compiled and written… ahhhh, there’s the rub.
Anyhow, we know the Morel biplane was never built en masse – so it was never a French Military Aeroplane. Sorry Wills’s… nice try.
According to the 1999 book by Leonard E. Opdycke: “French Aeroplanes Before The Great War” page 209, the aircraft did fly in April of 1912 at Issy-les-Moulineux, southwest Paris, France.
Heck… I haven’t even talked about the aircraft yet!
You can get a feeling of the plane’s height, if you use the man standing behind the plane near the tail as a reference point.
According to the Morel postcard’s French information, the all-metal biplane featuring aluminum, is a canard (an aeronautical arrangement wherein a small forewing or foreplane is placed forward of the main wing of a fixed-wing aircraft).
Yes, this is a tail-first aircraft, in which the motor and propeller are at the rear of the plane, with the pilot and controls facing the tail.
The cigarette card drawing implies a standard front-face flying machine—the real photography used in the postcard shows that the fuselage isn’t as exaggerated… isn’t as long as it appears on the Wills’s card.
As such, when you look at the postcard, you can see that the wheel placement beneath the fuselage actually looks stable.
Aluminum is, of course, very lightweight, and some might wonder why all aircraft didn’t simply use it more often in the 1900s up. Truth is, the process to create aluminum foil wasn’t an inexpensive process, as such, it cost too much money.
The Morel biplane was built using steel tubing, with the wings and fuselage covered by sheets of aluminum.
While this aeroplane was not picked up by the French military as an aircraft, and was subsequently ignore, France did manufacture the first successful all-metal aircraft the Tubavion monoplane – see HERE for my article on it – built by Ponche and Maurice Primard.
The postcard—not sure of its exact printing debut, though it must have been prior to March of 1912 when the military report quelled thoughts of the Morel biplane becoming a military plane of France—does list the particulars of the aircraft:
Morel Canard Biplane Specs:
- Length: Seven meters (23 feet);
- Wingspan: Nine meters (29.5 feet);
- Surface area = 22 square meters (236.8 square feet);
- Weight: 380 kilograms (837.8 pounds);
- Powerplant: Anzani 60 horsepower, six-cylinder radial motor;
- Crew: One pilot and two passengers.
We can assume that Morel gave up his work on the metal aircraft, as a Flight magazine dated April 6, 1912 describes him flying a Sommer Monoplane.
Hour and a Half on a Sommer Monoplane.
At the Sommer military school at Mourmelon, on Saturday, Lieut. Morel was flying a monoplane for the first time, and made a flight of an hour and a half at a height of 300 metres.
As for the man himself, I visited this website: http://memorial14-18.paris.fr/memorial/jsp/site/Portal.jsp?page=memorial&page_index=690 to see a list of French people who died during WWI.
Originally, the data I saw on Morel said he died in September of 1914, and did not provide a date or a place of death.
Provided I have found the correct Morel (and added his middle names to the top of the article), he died on August 27, 1914 (a few days shy of September), and died at Reims, France. There is no notification of how he died. Again… if this Pierre Jean Pascal Morel is the same Captain Morel I have just written about.
Of all the other Morel’s listed on that website ( believe there are 84 total Morel surnames listed), there was only one other who had the name Pierre (any where in the name), and his death was listed as 1915. Supposing the 1914 death date given is correct, Pierre Jean Pascal Morel appears to be our man.
Anyhow… a lot of guesswork by myself, using single sources as verifiable data. It doesn’t surprise me re: the sources, as who would write up a lot of information about an aeroplane that never made it into production? Besides myself, of course.