Intricate Airplane Model Built From Paper

I don’t know about you, but I now have clumsy hands.

I’ve had my run as a kid building model kits of spacecraft, cars and airplanes and even didn’t do too badly constructing ancient sailing vessels that needed intricate rigging.

Then, as I got older I gravitated towards painting Dungeons and Dragons figurines, doing some pretty good work. The way I was able to accomplish that was me picking up the 25mm high figuring in my left hand, which would then shake… I would pick up my paintbrush in my right hand, which would then shake… and the only way I could paint was because both hands shook at the same vibrational speed and distance.

Now… maybe because I got physically bigger from working out, and then getting older and fatter, I now lack that delicate touch I had as a kid. Hmm… maybe getting older is legit. It could explain why when my mother dusted my model kits such as my old Phoenician boat, she would wreck them worse than any Tyrian (Tyre) military force could, with rigging being undone by her kindness. I don’t even want to tell you what happened to my old Viking ship.

Which brings me to the following video of a young man, who when he was 16 years old, began building a very intricate model kit from scratch of an Air India Boeing 777 jet of all things.

He used manila folder paper cut to size, and… here’s the best part… he made the model functional… IE, landing gears go up and down, fan blades in the GE Aviation GE90-115B engines move… filled it with seats, cockpit materials… and again… all made from paper.

He still has to complete the wings, however.

Watch the YouTube video of the now 25-year-old Luca Iaconi-Stewart, as he shows off his amazing work of art – nine years (and counting) in the making.

My hands are shaking just watching him manipulate the airplane. This guy is amazing.

Posted in Aviation Art, People | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #72 – M. Hubert Latham

72f 001History Behind The Card: M. Hubert Latham.

Card #72 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue

  • Arthur Charles Hubert Latham, born in Paris, France on January 10, 1883 – June 25, 1912 near Fort Archambault in what is now the Republic of Chad.

The name Hubert Latham has been very prominent within this Pioneers of Aviation blog, mostly as a keen competitor to many other famous aviators whose cards and aeroplanes I have reviewed.

By the way… the card says “M. Hubert Latham” – since he was French, the card politely uses “M” in reference to ‘monsieur/mister’.

Here at card #72, we finally get to the man, himself.

I had previously written about Latham HERE , but only briefly in relationship to another tobacco company’s 1910 The Aviator’s tobacco card put out by Tokio and Mezzin Cigarettes (owned by the United Cigar Stores Co.).

In that review, I noted how the initial pressing of the card called Hubert by the name of “Albert”… when in fact his first name was “Arthur”, but went by the name of Hubert. A later edition corrected the mistake.

What IS interesting, is that The Aviators card was released in 1910, a year ahead of the Wills’s card I am reviewing. Rare, indeed, is the time another company scooped Wills’s.

So… what did I find so very interesting about Mr. Latham? What about his aviation exploits captured my attention the most?

Actually… it was his death. A bit of a mystery, Latham was either murdered or gored during a buffalo attack.

Either way – pretty damn interesting…

Aviation-wise, Latham was initially famous because of failure.

  • He was the first person to attempt to cross the English Channel in an aeroplane – I said ATTEMPT;
  • Due to engine failure during his first of two attempts to cross the Channel, he became the first person to land an aeroplane on a body of water.

There’s actually some good news associated with Latham, however.

72r 001.jpgBorn in Paris, France to wealthy parents in the banking industry, Latham grew up in the lap of luxury. In fact, a great aunt on his mother’s side was the mother of German chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (who took office in 1909).

Latham went to the University of Oxford for the school year of 1903/04, and then joined the French reservist military service for his military obligation.

On February 11-12, 1905, Latham flew in a hot-air balloon with his cousin, Jacques Faure, who was apparently a then-well-known balloonist. I suppose anyone who flew in anything at that time was considered well-known…

Latham and Faure completed a night crossing of the English Channel, traveling from London to Paris.

A couple of months later, Latham took part in a yacht race at the Monaco Regatta in April of 1905… a boat using an Antoinette motor.

Why is that mention of the Antoinette motor interesting?

Well, Latham entered the boat race because his cousin asked him too. His cousin was Jules Gastambide, who along with Léon Levavasseur invented the Antoinette engine, which became one of the mainstays of the early days of aviation.

Lots of namedropping so far.

In 1906 thru 1907, Latham led an expedition (with friends) to Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia) to collect specimens for the Paris Natural History Museum.

In 1908, he traveled to the Far East before returning to France later that year.

Upon his return to Paris, Latham saw Wilbur Wright (of Wright Brothers fame) demonstrating his Wright Flyer in an effort to sell a fleet of the birds to the French Government.

Like damn near everyone on the planet, Latham thought these aeroplanes were cool, and decided he would find an aeroplane company to train him as their pilot.

D’uh… he selected the Antoinette company, a motor design and manufacture company started up in 1906 that provided an excellent power-to-weight ratio that made many an aircraft designer select their power plant.

In 1907, Antoinette decided it wanted to build its own aeroplanes… failing quite often in this regard until 1908 when the Antoinette aircraft was finally a successful flier and lander.

Latham joined the Antoinette company in February of 1909 (a good time, considering the planes were now adept at landing safely) tand learned to fly over several weeks from the company pilots’ Eugène Welféringer and René Demasnet.

Soon, with Antoinette joining forces with the French Army, they established the first military aircraft trials, a flight training school and workshop.

The school was run by Levavasseur’s brother-in-law Charles Wachter. The school’s training apparatus included the flight simulator, the Antoinette Trainer. It was built with a half-barrel mounted on a universal joint, with flight controls, pulleys, and stub-wings (poles) to allow the trainee to maintain balance while instructors applied external forces.


Years later, kids would plop a nickel into a machine for the same experience from the Antoinette Trainer.

As for Latham, once he got the hang of flying, he became the school’s principal instructor.

On August 17, 1909, Latham earned Aviator’s Certificate No. 9 by the Aéro-Club de France, because it’s always easier to earn respect from your students when it looks like you know what you are doing.

Latham pupils were:

  • Marie Marvingt (yes, spelled correctly), the first woman to fly combat missions as a bomber pilot and established air ambulance services throughout the world;
  • Infante Alfonso, Duke of Galliera, cousin of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and the first Spanish military pilot.

Success Through Failure
The thing is, we all fail sometimes, and so it was with Latham. As coach of a baseball team, I see failure with my young charges who are too inexperienced at this time, have dodgy advice given to them, and other things which suck the fun out of the game. While I am not responsible for that, because I’m in charge, I am ultimately responsible for things under me.

Latham didn’t have my troubles. His came from simply not having the best equipment available at that time – and not necessarily because of his skill… which may have been sparse, but he certainly had a lot of daring.

In May of 1909, Latham flew his Antoinette aircraft for 37-1/2 minutes… traveling at a speed of 72.4 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour) and a height of 30 meters (98 feet).

Later that month Latham set the then-European non-stop flight record in an aeroplane flying for one-hours and seven minutes – which was close the what the Wright Brothers had achieved.

But it was what he did during the flight that gave him a first… something noteworthy – I suppose – he took his hands off the steering wheel, took a cigarette out, lit it and smoked it.

To me lighting the damn thing in the wind was the most impressive feat, but I suppose flying without his hands was also impressive… still… he was the first pilot to smoke a smoke while in the air.


While I would have preferred to have found the actual photo that inspired the art on the Wills’s tobacco card, here at least we get to see Latham in his outstanding tweed cap… and a cigarette between his lips.

However… what that did show everyone, was the stability of the Antoinette IV monoplane aircraft.

On June 6, 1909, Latham won the Prix Ambroise Goupy (Prize) for flying a straight-line course of six kilometers (3.73 miles) in four minutes and 13 seconds.

It was these achievements that convinced Antoinette’s Levavasseur that Latham was the company’s best pilot.

Also, because Latham could fly that Antoinette IV for over one hour, the company was convinced he could actually fly across the English Channel – something that had not yet been achieved in a heavier-than-air craft.

The British Daily Mail newspaper had put up a prize of £1,000 (US$5,000 1910) is someone could fly an aircraft across the English Channel.

So, on July 9, 1909 while in France, Latham wired the Daily Mail of his attempt o fly across the channel… except every time he was ready to fly, the weather was uncooperative.

While he waited for clear skies, a French-Russian pilot named Comte Charles de Lambert also told the Daily Mail that he would try and win the prize.

Camped a few miles away from where Latham had set up base near Calais, France, de Lambert prepped his two French-built Wright Flyer‘s (Nos. 2 and 18).

On July 19, Latham took off from Cap Blanc-Nez and flew over the waters of the English Channel… but suffered engine failure after only eight miles (12.88 kilometers).

Forced to ditch in the water, he became the first to land an aeroplane in the sea.

Again, because his undamaged aircraft remained afloat, Latham enjoyed a smoke while he waited for the French torpedo-destroyer Harpon that was following behind to pick him up.

But did the reliable Antoinette engine just conk out by itself? Later, Levavasseur says a bit of non-engine wire found inside had caused the failure…

Because the salvage operation of the Antoinette IV aeroplane caused more damage than the actual water-landing, Latham had another plane shipped from the Antoinette factory in Paris to his camp.

This new plane was the Antoinette VII – a plane so new it had never been officially tested in the air.

While Latham did get to test it once while waiting for more bad weather to relent, aviator Louis Blériot set up camp just under two miles (3.2 kilometers) away from Latham at Les Baraques and announced his intention to go for the prize in his Blériot XI monoplane.

Count de Lesseps,Glenn Hammond Curtiss,Hubert Latham on train platform circa 1910.jpg

(L-R) Count de Lesseps, Glenn Curtiss and Hubert Latham on a train platform,circa 1910.

What about de Lambert? He had damaged one of his Wright Flyers while testing them and decided to pull out of the competition.

Still… both Blériot and Latham had to wait a few more days until the crappy weather let up.

And this is where it sucks to be Latham.

At about 3AM on July 25, 1909, Blériot’s people saw a break in the weather and awoke him, prepped the plane and got him ready for a dawn take-off.

Latham and his team slept.

At dawn – 4:41AM on the dot because the Daily Mail prize rules said the flight had to begin and end during sun-up—Blériot took off…

Levavasseur woke up just in time to see Blériot’s aeroplane leaving the French coast and rushed to awaken Latham and crew, figuring there might be a chance they could catch him… or just in case Blériot himself had mechanical issues.

Ready to fly, the weather had changed to heavy winds and rain… stymieing Latham’s chase.

It didn’t matter… as Blériot was successful in his endeavor to cross the waters becoming the first to pilot a heavier-than-air craft over the English Channel… all while the competition was asleep at the proverbial switch.

Two days later, on July 27, 1909, Latham made a second attempt to cross the Channel… and mere minutes from his goal the Antoinette engine failed again.

Crashing on the waters, this time, he badly damaged the aeroplane and cut his forehead.


Latham atop his downed aeroplane in the English Channel on July 27, 1909.

While Latham wanted to make a third attempt, Antoinette said no… two aeroplanes lost, no chance of a prize or glory for the aeroplane factory… that was enough.

All The World’s A Stage
Besides, Levavasseur wanted to send the company’s aeroplanes and pilots to the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne on August 22–29, 1909 at Reims, France for the world’s first aeroplane (and balloon) competition.

During a speed competition, Latham in an Antoinette IV won second-place traveling the course at a speed of 68.9 kilometers per hour (42.8 miles per hour).

He then won and set a world record in the altitude contest – again in the Antoinette IV – achieving a height of 155 meters (509 feet).

In the Grand Prix event—which was flying the longest distance around a circuit in a single, uninterrupted flight—he flew two different planes, taking second-place in his Antoinette IV, and fifth-place in the Antoinette VII.


A French postcard of the day depicting Latham flying in his Antoinette IV at the Reims aviation meet in 1909.

Blackpool 1909
After becoming the first aviator to fly an aeroplane across the city of Berlin, Germany on September 27, 1909, Latham traveled to England.

At an aerial exhibition at Blackpool, England, on October 22, 1909, Latham set a speed mark… because he was flying in hurricane-like weather.

Although informed that it was too dangerous to fly when the wind was over 15 miles per hour (24.1 kilometers per hour), Latham took off and covered 13 kilometers (eight miles) in 11 minutes (in metric, it is also 11 minutes) in winds ranging between 37-64.4 kilometers per hour (23-40 miles per hour).

When he flew downwind he later estimated that his airspeed reached 160 kilometers (100 miles per hour) during the flight. I doubt he could have lit a cigarette in that wind.

Still, the most amusing thing that occurred during the flight was his backwards flying.

Flying directly into a headwind, a very strong burst of wind actually seemed to blow him backwards… and was reported as the first time people ever saw an aeroplane fly in reverse.

Why would Latham risk all in this manner? It turns out that the previous evening had him dining with a cousin of the Russian Tsar (in metric that’s written as Czar – LOL), and apparently he promised the royal and his wife that he would fly on the morrow.

This, apparently, is when the newspapers of the day first called Latham the “King of the Air“.

The Air Up There
Despite the ups and downs of Latham’s aviation career, he was much beloved by the people and the media.

Besides being a skilled and daring aviator—and coming from a well-to-do family, meaning that despite his youth, he could speak to royalty and talk not only about aviation, but of his global travels—Latham continued to fly and achieve greatness.

On January 7, 1910, in Mourmelon-le-Grand, France (if it appears that I know anything about France, I humbly state that I do not), Latham set another altitude record, flying to 1,100 meters (3,600 feet)… which broke his own world altitude record by more than 610 meters (2,000 feet)… in fact, his altitude achievement was so great that it bested any other CLAIMS of altitude records by others who did so without proper measuring devices.

Actually… does anyone know—recorded fact—of just HOW early aeroplane pilots of pre-1913 vintage measured altitude? People talk about world records, but how was it to be proven? Was it just an aneroid or mercury barometer?

In July of 1910, Latham was at it again… this time at the second Semaine de l’Aviation de la Champagne at Reims, France setting another altitude record of 1,384 meters (4,541 feet).

And, despite his guesstimate while flying downwards during gale-force winds achieving 160 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour), on April 23, 1910 at Nice, France, Latham set the world speed record of 77.548 kilometers per hour (48.186 miles per hour) in an Antoinette VII.

Later in November of 1910, Latham was at the Baltimore (Maryland, USA) Air Show where he also took part in a special demo just for the US government and military—showing off how aeroplanes could be war machines against land and sea targets.

To prove it, exercises were created whereby pilots would simulate bombing runs by dropping bags of flour onto targets… Latham dropped one right down a battleship funnel. Of course, this sort of thing wouldn’t come into vogue for another few years… and it involved pilots dropping one-handed, small bombs and darts down at things such as zeppelins and other military targets.

A month later in December 23 of 1910 in Los Angeles, U.S.A. at a meet, Latham was asked by a rich dude if he wanted to come to his estate and try and shoot some wild ducks from the air.

Not having done that before, Latham was game. That’s a joke there. Ha. Anyhow… Latham did, and was thus the very first person to shoot (two) birds from a moving (in the air) aircraft.

Latham's Duck Hunt.jpg

A clipping from the Los Angeles Herald newspaper of December 24, 1910, of Hubert Latham’s duck hunt from an aeroplane – photo via the U.S. Library of Congress.

Did you know, that if you are flying forwards at 30MPH, and you turn and fire backwards at a target, the bullet moves slower than if you had fired forwards? In fact, if the bullet from the gun shot BACKWARDS was shot at 30 MPH, the bullet would have 0 MPH relative speed…. and if you were able to stand on a cloud, you would see the bullet spin in place until it lost its energy, drop to the ground and kill a duck floating on a pond. You only think I’m joking…. but apparently the physics are correct.

One of the two ducks shot by Latham STILL resides at the Latham family home—still owned by members of the Latham family—a home called Château de Maillebois.

A day after the duck hunt, and still at the LA aeroplane meet, Latham crashed his plane when trying to land after a flight. Wind gusts were stronger than he anticipated, and blew him hard into a hillside. He was shook up, but otherwise unhurt.

But the same could not be said about his next crash in early 1911 when, back in England at the Brooklands field, he was flying and showing off his piloting skills and his plane’s acrobatic capabilities.

Here’s what author Harry Harper in his book Riders of the Sky (p. 56. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.) wrote:

“Latham threw his machine about in the air in a way that made fellow airmen gasp. They had never seen anything like it before. But in making one final manoeuvre he misjudged by a matter of inches his height above a shed. One of his wing-tips just touched the roof. Instantly there came a devastating crash. A huge cloud of dust arose. And then the monoplane could be seen hanging – a mass of wreckage – on the top of the roof. It seemed almost certain that Latham must have been killed. The impact had appeared so tremendous – the crash so complete. But suddenly, amid the drifting dust clouds, a slight, dapper figure could be seen disengaging itself from the battered fuselage, and lowering itself deftly to an undamaged part of the roof. Then out came that inevitable cigarette case, and Latham sat there smoking till someone arrived with a ladder.”

Why had some tobacco company NOT signed this guy up?! “Remaining cool under pressure – Hubert Latham loves his XXX cigarettes.”

Apparently The Sky Has A Limit
Antoinette’s aeroplanes were fine machines—just not as popular as say anything built by Curtiss or Bleriot.

The Antoinette motor was also a fine power plant… but challenges from Gnome and automobile manufacturers were hitting the company hard.

In the Autumn of 1911, Antoinette built the Military monoplane known as the Monobloc or Antoinette blindé  – which translates to the Antoinette ‘armored‘.


Apparently even in the infancy of aviation, the future was now.

Apparently it was designed and built according to what the Ministry of War of France wanted. Very much ahead of its time, by the looks of the image above.

With Latham as the pilot, they entered it in the military trials staged at Reims in October of 1911—competing against 10 other companies and their 10 machines.

Problem #1: Antoinette was running late… finishing the plane just in time for the trials, but without enough time for a test flight.

Problem #2: It had cantilever wings, without any bracing wires, and the aircraft featured spats to enclose the landing gear struts. Metal covered the entire aircraft.

Problem #3: It was powered by a standard Antoinette V-8 water-cooled piston engine pushing out 50 horsepower.

In two attempts at flight during the military trials, the aircraft failed to leave the ground owing to its under-performing 50 horsepower motor…

It would seem as though the Antoinette company spent too much time developing and manufacturing aircraft but not enough time in expanding on the capabilities of what it was first and best known for—its motors.

Failing to garner a military contract was the last straw for Antoinette… it closed its doors for good one month later.

Latham, was out of work, but not for long—only this time it was not as an aviator.

Loyal Order Of The Water Buffaloes
At the end of December 1911, Latham left France to undertake an expedition to travel into the French Congo.

Ahhh colonialism. North, Central and South America are certainly branded by its mark… and the same can be said for the colonialists of Holland, England, Spain, Portugal et al—though I’m quite sure it’s better if you were the ones doing the colonizing.

No one is sure just what Latham’s official role was to be there in the French Congo, but it has been suggested that France wanted several airfields built, and that he was sent to gauge the conditions of the various sites chosen and report on such to the French Colonial Office.

At some point—perhaps June 25, 1912, Latham died.

He was, as mentioned earlier either mauled by a wounded water buffalo (I shall call him henceforth call the murdering cattle, Gord. LOL. What? Too soon?)… which was/is the official cause of death… which is only weird because Latham was an experienced hunter (bagged two ducks while flying an aeroplane, right?

Failing that, Latham was also considered and expert wild game hunter… so… trampled by a wounded water buffalo… it’s possible. Very possible, because a wounded animal is highly unpredictable… but likely? Conspiracy power – activate!


This is a Lake Chad Buffaloa, aka a water buffalo from Chad… it certainly looks like if you didn’t kill it the first time, there would be no second chance. Could Latham’s rifle have jammed? Could he have missed? Could he have hit it and merely wounded it? Or, was there some other nefarious plot afoot.

In 1914, two years after his passing, an anonymously-written newspaper article stated that the adjutant-commandant of a French Colonial Army fort located just outside Fort Archambault—the man who found and brought back Latham’s body—saw a head wound about Latham… and definitely NO corresponding water buffalo marks on him, or signs on the ground that there ever was a charging buffalo.

As well, the article cites without citing that there were conflicting reports from the porters accompanying Latham who were questioned at the time of Latham’s reported death.

The anonymous article writer suggests that maybe Latham wasn’t run down by a buffalo, but was instead murdered by a porter—the article of the day suggest that he was murdered for his rifles…

But where was the proof?

This is always tricky stuff. Who wrote this? Did anyone other then Mr. Anonymous ever ask the adjutant-commandant of A (not THE) French Colonial Army fort if his statement was indeed correct.

Still… there are also the written records left by Latham himself of his final days in Africa.

In his notes, Latham expressed concern over the way his own team of bearers/porters was acting, also mentioning that the whole area was rife with violence.

So… how come the inquiry into Latham’s death did not allow for his own words to play a role in the death dilemma?


  1. we have Latham wondering aloud about the natives getting restless (could also be colonial racism on his part);
  2. a newspaper account mentioning that the guy who found the body saw no evidence of a buffalo bashing (who wrote this account – and did anyone fact-check with him to confirm its validity?)
  3. Murdered for his rifles? Apparently guns don’t kill people, buffalo do.

There’s a way to have checked the veracity of that statement, of course – just dig up the body… and see if there’s any evidence of crushed bones from being run over by a buffalo.

I would assume that a buffalo trampling would leave evidence on the bones (even if the flesh had been eaten away). I’m assuming skin showing a wound would be decomposed, but what do I know of the preservation of human bodies in the hot clime of Chad? It depends, right? That’s why I just feel it would have been more prudent to  examine the skeletal remains… which could still be done today, if they still exist and were not cremated…

The problem is, that someone already dug up the bones.

Originally buried in Fort Lamy (now N’djamena, capital city of Chad), Latham was NOT transported home to France. At least not immediately.

French colonial law of the day, did not allow the remains of the deceased (Latham) to be returned home for ONE full year after the death.

And so, only on January of 1914, nearly one-and-a-half years after his untimely death, Latham’s mom had her son disinterred from Fort Lamy and shipped back to France and into the family plot.

Never having been married, Latham left no direct descendants.

Hubert Latham monument.jpg

Not his grave, but a monument honoring Hubert Latham – seen here in a circa 1940 photo with German troops posing beneath it at its near-Calais, France location… showing that 28 years after his death, even the enemy respected his aviation skills and daring-do.

But… again, if his skeletal remains were simply re-interred in the family crypt or buried in a coffin in the family plot… if the skeleton still exists… might not 2017 forensic examiners be able to determine if Latham was murdered or simply died by misadventure?

I know what I would do…

Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Firsts, Flying Schools, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Myth, Pilots, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Airplane Chair

L'Aviation bergère chair.jpgMy friend Vincent sent me this photo with a line or two accompanying it, practically daring me not to go ahead and write 2,000 words on the subject because he feels I am OCD-like.

To clarify, I write a lot because I feel—when I search for information on the Internet—it should provide enough information so that any question I can come up with on the subject matter should be found there.

Nothing irks me more than to read four inches of copy on-line or in a magazine or newspaper, and realize that basic information was left out.

Having worked in the newspaper industry and currently work in the magazine industry, I understand that sometimes there really is not enough room for every factoid.

But on-line? That’s just lazy reporting or lazy writing.

So I try and find out as much about a topic as I can, knowing that if I can ask a question and find the answer wanting, then so can you. Why would I do that to anyone else? That would just be hypocritical.

So… what we have here is something called L’Aviation bergere.

We can all figure out that it’s the Aviation – something…

But what the heck is a bergere?

It is, according to Wikipedia, a bergere is an enclosed, upholstered French armchair,  featuring an upholstered back and armrests on upholstered frames—but the framing is exposed (wood is showing).

L’Aviation bergère was designed in 1923 by Paul Follot, after a similar design by Robert Bonfils (1886-1972).

It was manufactured Tapisserie des Gobelins in Paris, with a wood frame constructed by L’École Boulle of Paris.

The chair is made of gilt wood, wool and silk upholstery.

On loan from the Mobilier National (Paris), the chair is on loan to the Cooper Hewitt Museum, in Room 206, as part of its The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s.

Photo credit: {{cite web |url= |title=Bergere, L’Aviation, 1922–25 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=11 August 2017 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>

But since the link is messy, let me just directly link you back Cooper Hewitt and the Smithsonian Design Musiem:

What does this have to do with pioneers of aviation? Not much…

I can’t even say that people everywhere were interested in the industry – some were, but most weren’t.

While I wouldn’t find it very comfortable, and am sure I would have thought it garish in 1923, too… I find myself liking it for its upholstery and aviation themed design.

Nyahh. Short. Thanks, though.

Posted in Aviation Art, Heavier-Than-Air | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #71 – The late Mr. John B. Moisant.

71f 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: The late Mr. John B. Moisant.

Card #71 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Black-back issue

  • John Bevins Moisant, in Kankakee, Illinois, United States of America on April 25, 1868 – December 31, 1910 in Harahan, Louisiana, United States of America.

When I purchased this card of John B. Moisant, and realized I wanted to do a blog of some sort on these Wills’s Aviation cards (honestly, originally, I was just going to scan the front and back of each card, post the title and leave it at that), I was extremely curious.

Why would this guy—a guy I’ve never heard of—be granted a posthumous card in the set?

He was obviously famous enough at the time some 105 years ago… but is nowadays a mere footnote in the Wikipedia of time.

71r 001.jpgFull disclosure… of the eight websites at the top of Google with Moisant as the focus, the one thing they could all be sure of, is that not one presented the data in such a way as to there being a consensus on just what John B. Moisant was all about.

While disappointing for myself and you the reader, I wonder how the late John B. Moisant would have thought of it all… probably as such: “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Or maybe not exaggerated enough.

Points to consider:

For a guy who died when anyone who flew an aeroplane was a hero, Moisant was given such grandiose titles as “King of Aviators”. I don’t know who gave him that title… Maybe himself? How did he earn it, and if he was all that, why does no one still consider him to be all that and a bag of chips?

Born in Kankakee, Illinois… I’ve been to Kankakee, Illinois… many times in fact… staying at my buddy’s apartment so we could both attend (as comic book creators) the Wizard World Chicago comic book convention.

Yes… before I entered the legitimate world of blogging about history—always a money maker—I wrote comic books in my spare time—always a money maker.

Let’s face it… if I ever became a writer because I saw it as an opportunity to make money, I have long since changed my mind.

Let’s see… what’s cool about John Moisant?

  • He was the first pilot to fly passengers over a city (Paris)… yawn…
  • First to carry passengers across the English Channel from Paris to London… yeah, yeah…
  • Founded a flying circus… It’s… a big whoop. Monty Python reference in there.
  • Created the world’s first aluminum body airplane – interesting – but it wasn much of a flyer… awwww.
  • Taught his sister Matilde Moisant how to fly, making her the second ever American woman to earn her pilot’s license. Second… even for woman’s rights… meh. That may be 2017-male thinking there. Still… second… and second-American. Not even in the top 10 globally… meh. But there is a bit more to this story.

Matilde Moisant – the second American woman to fly. More below…

Almost all the stories surrounding him seem to end with he and his plane crashing… interesting…

  • Sometimes flew with his pet cat, Mademoiselle Fifi… getting warmer, doc… he seems to be a bit of a character, right? And the cat’s cute. Awwwwwww.

I tawt I taw a puddy tat. John Moisant with Madamoiselle Fifi perched on his shoulder like a pirate’s parrot.

  • He has an international airport essentially named after him? Winner-winner-chicken dinner. That’s cool.
  • Hmm… led two revolutions and a coup in El Salvador… even though his family are transplanted French Canadians to Kankakee, Illinois… Ding-Ding-Ding!!!! We have a superstar winner! French Canadian Americans trying to overthrow the government of El Salvador! Even if you don’t know where El Salvador is on a map, you know you want to know more.

Ha! … an American interfering in international politics? That never happens! LOL! And wanting to use the new fangled invention called the aeroplane to exact revenge on a foreign power – that’s like something out of a spy-thriller.

Let’s see if we can uncover just who this international man of mystery is… no promises.

Wanna know just how confusing things are about Moisant’s life?

The Wikipedia entry says he was born in L’Erable, Illinois, but on the same page and in the little boxes section on the Top Right, it says he was born in Kankakee, Illinois.

So… which is it… Kankakee or L’Erable?

What got me, were the various websites decreeing Moisant was born in Chicago, such as the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum… but that’s a heck of a distance away in 2017… more so in 1868, considering Chicago didn’t have as much urban sprawl as it does now in 2017, and the only way to get there was by horse, horse and buggy, and ox cart.

Since I’ve never heard of L’Erable, and have been to Kankakee, I’m going with the latter.

Hmm… now Wikipedia also states that by 1880, the Mosiant family was living in Manteno, Illionois, which is nowadays a part of Kankakee County, Illinois.

That made me actually look up L’Erable… and lo and behold it is south of Kankakee, and is actually within Kankakee County.

As well, it is documented that a whole lot of French Canadians came to live in the Kankakee Valley area back in 1853.

And lo, the blog is off to an incredible limp.

As mentioned, Moisant’s folks appear to have been French-Canadian immigrants… which is interesting in itself…

But as one of eight Moisant children, John was also the youngest of four brothers.

Wikipedia only notes seven kids (including Moisant)… so… seven kids (Wikipedia) or eight kids (Smithsonian)?

Considering the Smithsonian site says Chicago as Moisant’s birthplace… do we still want to put too much stock in anything else they have to say here about Moisant?

I know… it’s the bloody Smithsonian! But if they were lax on one bit of information… do I trust the rest of the information on the same topic?

No… no I don’t.

While the Smithsonian website has a wonderful photo of Moisant and his cat, NOT ONCE does it make reference to the cat in the accompanying article… in other words there is no context for that photo in the entire article. I’ll leave that alone… except that I’m going to write about that darn cat (©Disney).

So… let’s get on with it.

After Moisant’s parents passed away, the kids got together and in 1896 bought a coffee plantation in El Salvador…. because sure, that’s what I would do… except maybe it would be a cheese-making business in England.

BUT… Wikipedia shows that the Moisant mother passed away in 1901… so… they didn’t wait until the parents died… but may have waited until their father died and left their mother behind, OR, Wikipedia is wrong and the mother may have died at some time of 1896 or earlier.

In Wikipedia’s favor, however is the fact that it cites where it got its information:
“United States Census, 1880,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 29 May 2013), John Moisant in entry for Medore Moisant, 1880. Medore Moisant is the name of the Moisant’s father … born 1839, died who the heck knows when.

You would think that with John Moisant having once been a well-known public aviation figure, someone in the media might actually have sat down with him and interviewed him good and proper.

So…  some confusion as to when the Moisant siblings bought the farm after one or both of the parents bought the farm (died) – we do know that they had a farm in El Salvador.

It was in 1907, however, that John Moisant’s two oldest brothers were arrested in El Salvador on charges that they were plotting to overthrow the country’s new president Fernando Figueroa.


General Fernando Figueroa was president of El Salvador from March 1, 1907 to March 1, 1911.

While I can’t claim to know if that’s true or not, the Smithsonian article says that the charges were “cooked up after the Moisant brothers refused to give bribes to the corrupt regime.”

That article says that while the US government didn’t want to get involved on their behalf, John Moisant got ticked off enough to free them himself.

A rich man, Moisant went to neighboring Nicaragua—apparently always at odds with El Salvador—and hired 300 fighters and a gunboat… and in his first invasion attempt on June 11, 1907, were turned back by El Salvador fighters.

Apparently, the initial attack was going so well that some of the hired hands began to argue amongst themselves about who would run El Salvador next…

Apparently the argument was so fierce that the tide began to change, with Figueroa’s forces gaining the upper hand forcing Moisant to flee on a boat.

Victory in hand, but still incensed, because some dumb American tried to take out Figueroa, El Salvador el presidente put a bounty out on John Moisant, and then scheduled an actual execution date for his two captive brothers.

Executing Americans? Never, suh.

U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt got involved and warned the El Salvador president that there would be trouble if the Moisant brothers were executed. Real trouble.

Not wanting a fight with the U.S., El Salvador released the brothers and stopped harassing the family—except for John, who was told he was not welcome in the country for his part in organizing the failed coup.

While Moisant set up shop in the banking industry in neighboring Guatemala, he was still angry with Figueroa.

After learning about the new invention called an aeroplane, Moisant concocted the brilliant idea that he would get an aeroplane, learn to fly the aeroplane, and then use the aeroplane to kill Figueroa.

That sounds sane.

I have no idea if that means merely using the aeroplane to get to Figueroa, or to drop darts down onto him, or to fire a gun from the flying craft? Whatever… he apparently had a plan.

In a completely different vein, Wikipedia says that Nicaragua president José Santos Zelaya López asked Moisant to go to France to find out all he could about aeroplanes.

Which one is real? I would think that the former is more correct… why would the Nicaraguan president be in communique with Moisant who was living in Guatemala? If there was such an admiration, why would Moisant be living in Nicaragua – he’d be living in Guatemala.

Okay… what we do know is that John Moisant traveled to France and attended the the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne air show in Reims, France in August 1909.

After seeing this grand aviation event—the world’s first aviation meet—Moisant drew up his own aircraft design and had a manufacturer build it for him. Really. Apparently it was just that easy.

Wikipedia says it was built in August of 1909, but really… the Reims aviation event only ended on August 29, 1909. Did someone really build him an aircraft in two days? No.

Can’t I just get a simple history to present?

Whenever it was completed, the first aeroplane was/is known as the Moisant Biplane aka L’Ecrevisse… and built by workers from Clement-Bayard.

Moisant actually didn’t call his aircraft an aeroplane… he called it an aluminoplane.


The L’Ecrevisse—in English it means The Crayfish—was built entirely from aluminum and steel… which makes it the first-ever all-metal aircraft… but can we really call it that considering it didn’t actually fly?

The aircraft used a new (and powerful) 50 horsepower Gnome motor – and still the entire aircraft weighed only 176 pounds (80 kilograms).

Finished in February of 1910, on its inaugural flight Moisant took it up for some 90 feet in altitude…

I want to point out at this time, that Moisant had never taken a flying lesson before.

So, are any of us surprised that he crashed?

Even though the plane flew—80 miles an hour (128.8 kilometers per hour), since he did not make a safe landing, I feel it’s not an official flight.

That speed – that height – Moisant panicked when he was airborne, and cut the motor – which was why it crashed. Moisant was able to walk away from the crash.

Even before that flight, Moisant began construction on the Moisant Monoplane, known as Le Corbeau, which translates in English as The Crow… which is a hell of lot better than the crayfish, which I’m sure has only ever seen air time when people like me fly a forkful of its meat into our mouth.


The Moisant Monoplane – in this instance flown by Harriet Quimby – the first American woman to earn her pilot’s license. After her certification, she joined the Moisant International Aviators, an exhibition team. With the Moisant group she traveled to Mexico and became the first woman to fly over Mexico City.

Le Corbeau monoplane was completed using some of the parts from the wrecked Moisant Biplane, but even still… perhaps channeling its aerodynamics from a real crayfish, The Crow was unable to fly for any length of time.

While Moisant never designed another aircraft himself, he did decide to finally get some professional flying lessons. in the Spring of 1910 from the Blériot School, headed by famed pilot Louis Blériot in France.

Moisant gained his Aéro-Club de France pilot’s license, and then essentially transferring it to the Aero Club of America, gaining the distinction of being the US’s lucky 13th licensed pilot.

After purchasing a Blériot XI aeroplane, on just his third ever flight, on August 9, 1910, Moisant flew from Étampes to Issy-les-Moulineaux over Paris, landing the aircraft at the starting line of the Le Circuit de l’Est aerial time trial circuit.

On the plane with him was his mechanic, which was actually the very first passenger flight over a city—any city—that’s cool! I’m thinking cool for 1910.

However, because it was still only his third ever flight, the Aéro-Club de France stated that he was too inexperienced to be taking part in the Le Circuit de l’Est competition it was holding.

No big deal, to underscore his inexperience, Moisant took off again and flew over the city with Roland Garros as his passenger, making him the second person to ever fly over a city with a passenger in an aeroplane. Yeah – take that Aéro-Club de France.

Continuing to thumb his nose at the Aéro-Club de France, a week later on August 17, 1910—his sixth flight as a pilot—Moisant flew across the English Channel…as the first to do so with a passenger, namely his mechanic Albert Fileux, and with Mademoiselle Fifi… his cat.

But was this actually Madamoiselle Fifi? Yes… Just before his flight with Fileux across the English Channel (do the French call it the French Channel?), an engineer presented Moisant with a cat… a cat that Moisant called Paree-Londres in honor of his attempt.

I’m unsure when it happened, but upopn arrival in France and chatting with the media, Moisant revealed the flight’s furry companion as Mademoiselle Fifi… a much better cat name than Paree-Londres. Perhaps if Moisant had deigned to call the cat Puree-Londres, I would have told him to keep that name.

Here’s a video from YouTube showing Moisant’s Paris to London flight in 1910:

How can you not love a guy who decides to bring his cat on a flight across waters where no one has ever flown an aeroplane successfully before with a passenger?

Now that he’s flown with a cat, how can Moisant top himself?

Tough really…

As an American, the media there picked up on his exploits and mere days after the English Channel crossing begged him to attend an aviation event in Belmont, New York, USA… wanting him to lead the charge of American fliers against the leading French.

So… he agreed to represent America… hmm… do you think that Moisant (pronounced as the French would as Moy-zahn – originally of French Canadian stock, right?) was now being pronounced as Moy-zint in a more American format? I doubt it, but it’s fun to think.

Upon arrival back in the U.S. on October 8, Moisant happily chatted up the media about all things aeronautical, but refused to discuss his role as revenge seeker or usurper in El Salvador.

He discussed that aeroplanes would one day be a key point of war, and that people would one day use aeroplanes the way they currently used automobiles.

While eventually correct on both counts, this ability to engage the press had them following him around waiting for him to say something exciting.

Being excited was not just limited to social media, it also extended to his flying habit… his desire to constantly perform and push the envelope to be at the forefront of the media… well… it may have led to more than a few rash decisions.

For example, on October 22, 1910 at the Belmont Aviation Meet in Belmont, NY, while other aviators feared the wet and windy conditions that plagued the event’s first few days, Moisant braved the elements and earned the media and crowd’s respect by heading up to perform stunts for the gathered faithful.

For most in the crowd, this was their first time to see an aeroiplane fly–and rain or shine, Moisant wasn’t going to disappoint.

This “bravado” rung hollow amongst his more experienced flying compatriots who thought him foolhardy.

Heck, one of the Wright Brother’s top pilots—Walter Brookins—called Moisant’s flight across the English Channel foolish: “He’s lucky he didn’t break his neck… an aviator must acquire a fine judgment of direction, of speed and of distance.”

I have no doubt that Brookins was correct, but to say so after the fact just smacks of jealousy. Moisant was brave enough mostly because he didn’t know what he could and shouldn’t do in an aeroplane. Dumb luck sometimes is enough.

At the Belmont Park aviation meet, when it came to the speed events, Moisant knew that his under-powered 50 horsepower Blériot XI aeroplane couldn’t compete against the 100 horsepower motors on the other French and British aeroplanes in the competition…

Instead… he went for the glory… a $10,000 Statue of Liberty Race—a round-trip flight from Belmont Park to the Statue of Liberty…

While the safe route was to fly over the land and the coastline—a distance of 66 miles, the more direct route was 33 miles, but would take an aviator across the heavily populated area of Brooklyn.

Wilbur Wright would not let any of the Wright Brothers’ pilots to compete in this type of a race over a populated city, saying: “While it is an aviator’s own business whether he decides or not to risk his own neck, he has no right to endanger the lives of others.”

As the first to create a heavier-than-air flying machine, when either of the Wright Brother’s spoke, it carried a lot of weight.

Only three aviators decided to enter the Statue of Liberty challenge: British pilot Claude Graham-White; French rich guy Count Jacques de Lesseps; and our man Moisant.

The popular Graham-White had won the International Aviation Cup the day earlier on October 29, 1910.

I’m unsure if the numbers are higher than a presidential inauguration, but newspapers offer up an approximate one million spectators on hand in the streets to watch the racers pass overhead.

Pilots de Lesseps, Graham-White and Moisant took off in that staggered order, with de Lesseps finishing the route in 41 minutes; Graham-White in 35 minutes; and Moisant in 34 minutes 38 seconds.

U-S-A! U-S-A!

Of those one million spectators in attendance, Moisant’s sister, Matilde, was… er… spectating.

Perhaps because she was hanging around her brother John, another female spectator felt comfortable in coming over to chat—that woman was Harriet Quimby.

The experience must have been fantastic for Quimby, because she and Matilde Moisant decided they wanted to learn how to fly – and were perhaps even encouraged by John Moisant to try.

Women, of that era, were not seen as equals to men, so the notion of a female pilot was, I am sure, more than amusing to other aviators and even pilot training schools who probably would not want the social stigma of being known as the “school that trains female pilots.”

Ridiculous thinking, in my opinion, even for the time… just what is it about flying an airplane is it that a woman could not do as well as a man? If your answer is anything other than “nothing” please do not feel the need to “inform me.”

Taking part in John Moisant’s flying school Quimby learned the ropes of aviation, achieving on August 1, 1911 her Aero Club of America aviator’s certificate.


Harriet Quimby in 1911. That’s a lot of leather…

Not to be outdone—though she was—Matilde Moisant quickly got hers next to become the second certified female pilot.

Anyhow, after the stellar win at the Belmont, NY event, John Moisant and his brother Alfred formed the Moisant International Aviators flying circus and toured across the U.S., Mexico and Cuba. As part of a flying circus – just know its less about silly walks and more about daredevil flying.

That’s all there is to say about the Belmont event… except there was this problem…

It was (much) later ruled that Moisant had started the race after the official time, and so he was disqualified and stripped of the winning.

That meant that the second-fasted pilot and plane Graham-White won the prize. Yay.

But wait. It was then discovered that Graham-White had also committed some egregious foul during the race, and was himself disqualified.

And the ultimate winner of the $10,000 prize… the slowest aviator… French rich guy Count Jacques de Lesseps.

I’m sure the information is out there, but I can not tell you IF Moisant was asked to return the prize money… because I’m assuming it was already invested in the Moisant International Aviators flying circus

On December 30, 1910, in New Orleans, he raced his Blériot XI five miles (eight kilometers) against a Packard automobile, but lost.

I don’t suppose that’s anything like a boxer fighting a bear or a swimmer racing a virtual shark…

On December 31, 1910, Moisant got up early to try and claim the $4,000 prize for the longest flight of the year—the longest flight without landing—and soon took off and performed a few aerial stunts for the crowd… and then… while flying to the Michelin Cup endurance race at City Park in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S…. as he approached the race’s starting point at Harahan, Louisiana… well…

Preparing to land at the Harahan landing site, a gust of wind caught his aeroplane throwing him from his Blériot XI as people watched.

Although he only fell about 25 feet, he landed on his head and broke his neck.

Because he was still alive, he was moved to a nearby railway car to be taken in to the city… where he was pronounced dead. Having watched a beloved cat of mine break her neck, I can only tell you that—without moving her—she lasted about 45 seconds before expiring. It was a long 45 seconds. I can only imagine in Moisant’s case, that if he wasn’t already going to die, moving him without a modern-day stretcher board would probably have killed him.

The official explanation for Moisant’s accident was that the aircraft’s equilibrium was lost in the wind’s gust thanks to an extra load of gasoline placed on the aircraft in anticipation of the long-distance flight attempt.

John Moisant was buried at the Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. His body was later moved to the Portal of Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation, also in Los Angeles.

You’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you?

Tell you what… the next time you fly into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, hoist a glass to the late John Moisant.

You are, after all, in the airport originally named after him.

Yup… they named an airport after a guy who died in an aeroplane crash. It sounds wrong, to be frank…

The area where the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport sits, well, it was originally named Moisant Field in honor of Moisant whose plane crashed in that area of land. Creepy.

What’s really cool, however, is that Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport still has the original airport identifier: MSY… which is supposed to stand for Moisant Stock Yards… also named in honor of Moisant… but located where Moisant’s plane crash actually took place.

I’m guessing that it was Moisant Field, then Moisant Stock Yards and then Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. I’ve read a Wikipedia page on this, and it confuses me.

Anyhow… Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport’s call sign is in honor of a dead aviator who crashed in the area, but is actually in honor of a stock yard where they killed thousands of cattle. MSY.

(By the way) Toronto’s Pearson International Airport… it’s call sign is YYZ… a famous song by Canadian rock group Rush. The frenetic bass line in the song is Morse Code for Y-Y-Z.

I only mention this because ONE of the few international destinations handled by Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport IS Toronto… where I live… even though the airport isn’t IN Toronto. Neither is Tokyo International – that’s in Chiba.

Anyone know any others?

Posted in Air Shows, Airfields, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, People, Pilots, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Airplane Industry Going To The Dogs

pilot-dog_15004882932729.jpgI found the image above… thought it was funny and cute and all that “awwww” stuff.

Back to the hardcore research in the next blog.

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Hobey Baker: Hockey’s Most Famous “Flyer”

Hobey Baker HOF card 1985

  • Hobart Amory Hare “Hobey” Baker: January 15, 1892 in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, United States of America – December 21, 1918 Toul, France.

This one isn’t a tobacco card, but it is about someone I found while surfing down rabbit hole after rabbit hole on the internet.

With apologies to Bob (Bobby) Clarke, Dave The Hammer Shultz, and Kate Smith, the most famous hockey-playing flyer isn’t a Flyer from Philadelphia.

He’s a gentleman from the same State of Pennsylvania, U.S., but one who lived and died long before Philadelphia ever got a National Hockey League franchise… and I’m not even talking about the Flyers in 1967-68 to present, or the Quakers of 1930-31.

That card above comes from the 1985 Hockey Hall Of Fame series… I once showed Montreal Canadiens great Henri Richard his card from the set, asking him to sign it… and he said he had never seen it before. It’s not rare, but I just thought it an amusing story I could tell here.

Because I’m sure you have already read the headline and the birth date information, there’s no need for me to build up the introduction… let’s talk about Hobey Baker.

Considered to be one of the top American ice hockey players during the early part of the 20th century, Baker was also a very good American football player… and a heroic inspiration for one of America’s most beloved authors—F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote among many things The Great Gatsby.

Because I am a huge hockey fan, I certainly have heard of the Hobey Baker Award as an annual distinction given out to the best university hockey player in an American university (the hockey version of football’s Heisman Trophy)… and despite my love of hockey and its history, I admit to not knowing much about Baker, or his role in the early days of aviation.

Not considered a big man by today’s standards, Baker stood 5’-9” (1.75m) and 161 lbs (73 kg) soaking wet.

While his size would still be considered more than acceptable in the National Hockey League up until the mid-1970s, I have no idea how he survived playing football – even though it was more than 100 years ago.

Baker’s family was fairly rich and important within the Philadelphia area. His dad was wealthy upholsterer Alfred Thornton Baker (you can get rich doing that??!!), and his mom a socialite by the name Mary Augusta Pemberton. Oh… she probably had some money.

One of Baker’s ancestors was Francis Rawle, a Quaker who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1688 and became one of its wealthiest citizens. Quakers… and Philadelphia… that ties in nicely with the NHL team.

Baker was named after his uncle, Dr. Hobart Amory Hare, who was the obstetrician at his birth and president of the Jefferson Medical Hospital in Philadelphia. And yet, the folks could have just given Hobey the names Hobart Amory… but Hare, as well?

When Baker was 11, he and his 12-year-old brother Thornton, attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S. of A.

It was at this school that Baker first saw and tried hockey. The coach there was
Malcolm Gordon, one of the first people to help develop hockey in the U.S.

Not hard to miss, Baker was applauded by Gordon and teammates for his lightning quick skating and ability to move with the puck – both of which he honed with extra skating on local frozen ponds late at night.

By the time he was 14, Baker was playing on the school’s varsity (essentially top high school team for older kids)… and his play helped St. Paul’s beat some of the best prep schools and universities in the United States.

Yes… universities.

The kid was on fire. Every sport he touched, he excelled in… whether it was the school’s annual cross-country race which he entered for a lark and ended up winning, playing his first ever round of golf on the school’s nine-hole cross and shooting a low 40s… by the time he was 15, Baker was NAMED the school’s best athlete – playing hockey, football, baseball, tennis, swimming, and track.

Because Baker’s dad lost a lot of money during the so-called Panic of 1907, only one of the Baker boys could be afforded the opportunity to go on to university in 1909.

Older brother Thornton (who could have gone in 1908) told his father that Hobey should be the one to go to university—a sacrifice worthy of a tear-jerker movie.

Still… Baker, an above-average student, stayed an extra year at St. Paul so that his dad could save up more money for his son’s university, graduating from high school in the summer of 1910.

Attending the New Jersey, U.S.-based ivy league Princeton University (I’m sure that Baker COULD have gone to a less prestigious and thus less expensive university… ), he joined the school’s hockey, football, and baseball teams in his freshman year.

The university’s rules stated that students could only play two varsity sports, so Baker played outfield for the freshman baseball team before he gave up that sport to focus on hockey and football.

Baker’s father was a halfback for the Princeton football team in the 1880s… and while I can’t say what Baker’s grandfather did, it is known that he attended Princeton as well. I guess that was why it was important for Baker to also attend.

While football helmets were beginning to come into vogue in the 1910s, it was still a macho sport where most did not use one… and Baker and his flowing blond locks were no exception earning him the moniker of the “the blond Adonis of the gridiron” by Philadelphia sportswriters. See photo below to see why.



Hobey Baker on the Princeton football team.

  • November 18, 1911 – Baker had 13 punt returns (for 63 yards), a total that is still a Princeton record;
  • 1911 season, Baker scored 92 points, a school record that lasted until 1974 – which will tell you that Princeton wasn’t giving out scholarships to draw out the best football players;
  • 1913, he was named captain of the team in his senior year;
  • Three-year football career total of 180 points scored – a school record until 1964.
  • Caught over 900 punts in his career;
  • Averaged 300 yards per season just via punt returns.

Still, he earned five letters for varsity football… which I admit I have no idea how that is done if he’s only in school for three years.

While football is cool, hockey is cooler, with Baker making his mark on ice.

Because Princeton University in New Jersey didn’t have its own hockey rink, the team played its home games at the St. Nicholas Arena in New York City – one of those few places to make artificial ice at that time.



Hobey Baker on the 1911-12 Princeton ice hockey team.

During a game on January 24, 1914 against Harvard University Crimson (of Cambridge, Massachusetts) at the Boston Arena, one of his linemates was hurt and the other suspended. Because the replacements weren’t able to keep up, Baker was called offside time after time again… which… as a hockey fan means not only that Baker was too fast a skater for his line mates, but also he wasn’t quick enough to adjust to the speed of his new line mates. I will state that this was an era when most players did play the entire game of 60 minutes.

Now, unlike football, the hockey keeping statistics were less than stellar. Analytics? Screw that.

Much-later-Baker-biographer Emil Salvini estimates Baker scored 120 goals and 100 assists over his three year collegiate career that also earned him three more varsity letters for a total of eight – the most one could earn at Princeton at the time.

Salvini, based on talking with people and looking at newspaper reports estimates that Baker averaged three goals and three assists a game throughout the hockey career at Princeton.

Okay… school’s over… and Baker graduated from Princeton in early 1914 with majors in history, politics, and economics. Three majors in three years? I know that schools in the US are different from their counterparts in Canada, but no way can that happen nowadays. Double-major sure… but that takes a lot of studying… with Baker having to travel all over the place for hockey and football games, let along HOME hockey games in New York, when the hell did he have time for a triple major?

Well… maybe there was simply less history to study back then… some 100 years less history to study, in fact.

Now What?
Like many people who graduate from university nowadays with anything less than a specialization in a field (like medical school, engineering or business school) or earn a PhD, what the heck do you do with your piece of paper? If you are like me, you go back to school – to college and get a real education.

Maybe because he was Princeton’s most famous athlete, or maybe he was simply a good writer, but Baker toured Europe as a celebrity correspondent for The New York Times, where he wrote about events like the Henley Royal Regatta.

Celebrity correspondent… that’s all you need to know.

Returning home after his tour of Europe, his Princeton buddies helped Baker find a job with Wall Street insurance firm Johnson & Higgins.

Another Princeton graduate gave him a job at J.P. Morgan Bank where on the two-year trainee program he earned $20 a week.

Needless to say, it should be of no surprise to anyone that he soon befriended rich New York socialite Percy R. Pyne II, who had also attended St. Paul’s and Princeton.

Pyne was 10-years older than Baker, but they were friends, with Pyne letting Baker stay at his place.

I’m guessing that was also because of Baker’s Princeton Tigers fame, but who knows?

Pyne introduced him in 1918 to socialite Jeanne Marie Scott known as Mimi (not Shawna? You have to think Ferris Beuller’s Day Off here). Mimi and Baker were briefly engaged.

At the J.P. Morgan Bank, other executives would bring their rich clients to Baker’s office just so they could see the famous athlete… events that embarrassed Baker to no end.

Work a bore, Baker joined various sports teams and activities, with Pyne introducing him to auto racing and polo—both sports that Baker mastered.

Baker then joined the St. Nicholas Club team to play amateur hockey in New York.

How famous was Baker? The marquee banner out front of the arena was often lit up to read: “Hobey Baker Plays Tonight“.

And while that might seem like it was cool, Baker would ask the arena managers to take down such signage.

Baker was named to the post-season all-star team in both years he played for St. Nicholas and was recognized as one of the best players in the American Amateur Hockey League.

How good a player was he? Hobey Baker caught the eye of the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey Association, the forerunner of the National Hockey League.

They offered him a three year deal for $20,000, but he turned them down citing that social conventions prohibited a person of his standing from playing sports for money.

Baker grew tired of hockey, playing his final game on March 24, 1917… citing that the growing professionalism of the sport went against his belief that sports should be played for the love of the game.

So… which is it? Sports should never be played for money, or a person of his standing shouldn’t play sports for money? There’s a bit of a snob in there… and it does rear its head later on in this story.

Thank God It’s War
Okay, I don’t think Baker ever uttered a line similar to the sub-hed above, but I’m sure it was something in the back of his mind.

In 1916 Baker joined a civilian aviation corps led by New York City attorney Phillip A. Carroll that was located on Governors Island, off the coast of Manhattan in New York.

It was a privately-funded program designed to train civilians to help them pass the Reserve Military Aviator flying test and receive commissions in the Signal Officers Reserve Corps.

Flying, though more serious in nature, was just as much fun for Baker as sports had been in his youth.

On November 18, 1916… just before the annual Yale-Princeton football game, Baker in a Curtiss Jenny (JN-4) aeroplane that was piloted by fellow Governors Island student Cord Meyer (of Yale), joined a squadron of New York National Guard Jennies led by Captain Raynal Bolling.

This squadron flew towards Princeton’s Palmer Stadium and performed several aerial maneuvers for the crowd.

When Baker and Meyer landed the plane on the field, and Baker first out onto the ground, he became the first person to reach a football game by air. It’s not an earth-shattering record, but for 1916 this was pretty darn cool.

Despite what the average Joe might believe, the U.S. did not enter the Great War (now known as WWI) until April 6, 1917. For the record, WWI began officially on July 28, 1914.

It ended on November 11, 1918, meaning America was only officially involved in WWI for about one and a half years. But, just like WWII, when the the Americans finally entered the war, they kicked butt. Major butt.

So… when the U.S. joined the battles of WWI, Baker finally found his purpose in life—no, not killing, rather the freedom of flying and not having to do a 9-to-5 job. It also allowed him to make real use of his pilot’s training, so there was that, too.

Among the first Americans to join the war, he arrived in Europe in the summer of 1917… and like everyone who volunteered to join the war, Baker was in a rush to get to the frontlines.

The French, however, said that even though ‘we know you have your American flying skills, you need to be French-certified’… and yeah, the American Wright Brothers may have been the first to fly an aeroplane, but it was the French who took things to a new level.

Of course… how quickly one passed was determined by how quickly the would-be pilots learned the French language… because that was how the instruction was being taught. Sacre Bleu!

Oh those wacky French… even though Baker did all of his courses quickly enough, there weren’t enough actual qualified pilot instructors, so Baker (and others) were sent to a training school in England for more training… and then were sent back to France to teach the new American pilot wanna-be’s what they had learned in England.

Now that’s a flying circus.

Baker didn’t want to teach – he wanted to do… and do it on the frontlines. Then again, there was also a shortage of aircraft on the frontlines, so Baker really was stuck in Paris.

This bummed out Baker to no ends.

While it afforded him time to visit his girlfriend Mimi who had volunteered as a nurse, and was working in a nearby hospital, it really drove home the point that he was bored, bored, bored.

In April of 1916, Baker was assigned to the 103rd Aero Squadron, formed from the former members of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Corps.

As part of the Squadron, Baker helped to bring down an enemy plane for the first time in his career on May 21, 1918….

BUT… thanks to the complicated means of scoring confirmed kills, Baker received zero credit.

In a letter home describing the aerial battle, Baker wrote that it was the “biggest thrill I ever had in my life”, comparing it to the same thrill he used to get from playing sports.

Throughout the spring of 1918, Baker led planes over the frontlines and saw his girlfriend Mimi Scott when off… but came to the realization that he and she couldn’t work out because of their financial disparity. Snob. Come on… it’s not like she went to Yale. Sorry Yale… this is a story about Princeton.

Baker had his first confirmed kill on May 21, 1918, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal from France.

I looked it up… lots of people rec’d this WWI-only medal… some 2,065,0000, so it’s a big deal, but… well, you know what I mean.

(Per Wikipedia) the Croix de Guerre medal of 1914-1918 was attributed to:

  • French and allied soldiers individually cited for a wartime act of gallantry;
  • Civilians and militarized personnel individually cited for a wartime act of gallantry;
  • Automatically to soldiers and civilians not specifically cited for a Croix de Guerre but awarded the Légion d’honneur or Médaille militaire for the highest acts of wartime valor and gazetted in the Official Journal of the French Republic;
  • Collectively, to army units, ships or air squadrons;
  • To cities and villages, martyrs of war, destroyed, ravaged or bombed by the enemy (2952 towns received the Croix de Guerre 1914-1918, in this case, always awarded with palm).

During the summer, Baker was transferred to the 13th Aero Squadron after its commander, Captain Charles Biddle, requested that he join the squadron as a flight commander.

Though reluctant to leave the 103rd, Baker felt that Biddle would not have requested him without confidence in his abilities.

On July 20, the 13th Squadron recorded its first confirmed kill during a flight led by Baker when he and two other men shot down a German plane.

In August, Baker and another pilot were promoted and given command of their own squadron – Baker was given charge of the 141st Aero Squadron, composed of 26 pilots and 180 enlisted men stationed behind the frontline, where they had to wait for equipment to arrive before leaving for the front.

Various delays in the arrival of planes and equipment meant that Baker’s squadron was unable to participate in the final major offensives of the war.

Perhaps bored, in September, Baker became engaged to Scott, asking his buddy Pyne to sell a bond to pay for an engagement ring.

Being the famous Hobey Baker, news of his engagement to Scott was all over the newspapers back home in the U.S.

In early October of 1918, Baker was promoted again and given the rank of captain.

The long-awaited aeroplanes and sundry equipment arrived.

Forever a Princeton Tiger, Baker had his aeroplane painted in the school’s orange and black colors, and even made a tiger the mascot of the 141 Squadron.

He got two more kills on October 28 and November 5, 1918 – for a total of three… so he wasn’t an ace, as one needs five confirmed kills. However, at the time of his death, the media claimed he was a WWI ace.

By the time WWI ended on November 11, 1918, Baker had already broken off his engagement with Scott, and had begun a relationship with Philander Cabler who was working as a diplomat in Paris. It may have been romantic, but no one seems to believe it was serious.

With the excitement of the war over and no fiance, he did not want to have to back to America and find work and do the 9-5.

Scheduled to return to the U.S. in December, Baker tried a last-ditch effort to stay in France, but was refused.

Time to go home, Hobey…

Someone Fire That Mechanic
On December 21, 1918, the order to return home came in… but he decided to take one last flight at his squadron’s field in Toul, France.

He was about to take his own plane – but a mechanic brought one he had just repaired, saying it needed a test flight.

Baker gladly volunteered, much to the consternation of his fellow pilots who didn’t want him to take the unnecessary risk.

But – until he walked away from the field, he was still their commanding officer and got into the aircraft.

There was a heavy rain at that time, but Baker took off anyway… rising up to 600 feet before leveling off.

A mere 1/4 mile into the flight, the motor cut out.

While these old planes weren’t cut out for gliding, it was possible to crash land the sucker… in fact, Baker had done it once before and just broke a few ribs.

Just not this time.

A few hundred yards from the airfield, the plane nosedived into the ground.

Horrified grounds crew got him out of the aircraft quickly and into a nearby ambulance… but he died en route to the hospital, his orders to return home inside his coat’s pocket.

Hobey Baker crashed plane.jpg

Eyewitness report:

“Instead of running straight away to land he started to turn back toward the field. The wing slipped, the machine crashed and he was killed.”
—Eyewitness account of Baker’s death by Cpt. Edwin H. Cooper, 26th Division Photographic Officer, United States Signal Corps via:
George, Albert E.; Cooper, Edwin H. (1920), Pictorial History of the 26th Division United States Army, Boston: Ball Publishing

Baker was buried in a small military cemetery near Toul; in 1921, his mother had his remains moved to her family plot in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.


Hobey Baker’s tombstone. Image from

The inscription on Baker’s tombstone (difficult to read on this image), states:
You who seemed winged, even as a lad,

With that swift look of those who know the sky, 

It was no blundering fate that stooped and bade

You break your wings, and fall to earth and die,

I think some day you may have flown too high,

So that immortals saw you and were glad,

Watching the beauty of your spirits flame,

Until they loved and called you, and you came.

I’m not one to start rumors, but Baker’s death and his desire NOT to return home to face the boring world of 9-5… and I know you are wondering it too… but could it be possible he killed himself?

Could he have shut off his engine and purposely plummeted nose first into the ground?

The eyewitness seems confused that Baker wouldn’t have tried to land immediately, and the feeling I got from his words, was that it wasn’t a smart thing to try and turn a dead-engine aircraft around to try and make the airfield.

Did he really want to try and crashland as close to the field as possible or did he want to die on his airfield?

It seems possible that Baker might have thought such thoughts – given what we know about how the “thrill” was gone from excelling at athletics and from hunting down enemy aircraft.

He wasn’t cut out for a desk job… he needed excitement. He sure as heck wasn’t interested in having a family, 2.5 kids and a house with a picket fence…

Could he handle never having excitement?

IF it was a suicide run, did he plan it? No… I don’t think that was Baker… then again, I’m sure his family and friends would have said the same about suicide.

But I don’t think anyone really knew him and just how much he dreaded being “normal”.

Would I like to have the excitement of my life from 20 years ago? You bet I would. Good times… Who wouldn’t?

Anyhow… there is no evidence Baker wanted to die or that he did made it happen…

There’s also the fact that the great Hobey Baker had a reputation – even in death. I could see how a report of suicide would destroy his fans…

I’ll just leave it there. Like the report says… engine failure, plane went down, Baker died.

At the least, he died doing what he enjoyed doing.

Posted in Commentary, Flying Schools, Heavier-Than-Air, People, Pilots, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #70 – Mr. J. Armstrong Drexel

70F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Mr. J. Armstrong Drexel.

Card #70 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Black-back issue

  • John Armstrong Drexel, born October 24, 1891 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America – died March 4, 1958, in Kent, England, Great Britain.

When one hears the surname Drexel, the first thought that comes to mind might be Drexel University located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and not the aviator J. Armstrong Drexel…

The fact is, our man Drexel, aside from achieving one world aviation record for altitude achieved, didn’t really do a whole lot more as far as pushing forward the aviation industry.

As for Drexel University… that was founded by his grandfather Anthony J. Drexel in 1891 as the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry.

In fact, even at the time of Drexel’s life, aside from achieving a then important aviation record, it seems like his life was overshadowed by his family.

Let’s start with grandpa Anthony Joseph Drexel Sr. (September 13, 1826 – June 30, 1893), who was a very, very rich man as a banker. As Drexel & Co, in 1871 he founded Drexel, Morgan & Co. in New York. Don’t recognize that name? Well, the Morgan in that company was none other than J.P. Morgan (as the junior partner).

That company later became known as J.P. Morgan & Co.

Grandpa Drexel also founded Drexel University in 1891, and was also the first president of the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art), the nation’s first private organization dedicated to integrating public art and urban planning.

J. Armstrong Drexel’s grandfather was a very successful business man.

Grandpa Drexel’s brother was Francis Anthony Drexel, also a banker, but it’s his daughter Catherine Mary Drexel who is key here. She is aviator J. Armstrong Drexel’s aunt.

She was born on November 26, 1858, became a nun, founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, took the name Mother Katharine, and was made a Catholic saint.

She was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II in 2000; her feast day is observed on March 3.

Her canonization took place after the Church recognized her “curing miracle” of a two-year-old girl who had nerve deafness in both ears.

She was the second canonized saint to have been born in the United States and the first to have been born a U.S. citizen

Yes… J. Armstrong Drexel’s aunt is literally a saint.

Let’s look at J. Armstrong Drexel’s father, Anthony Joseph Armstrong Jr.: Hmm, a banker, philanthropist and good buddy of Great Britain’s King Edward VII (son of Queen Victoria).

Yes… J. Armstrong Drexel’s father was a very good friend of a King.

Okay… let’s look at his sister Margaretta Armstrong Drexel (1885-1952), who married Guy Finch-Hatton, 14th Earl of Winchilsea… okay, she just married well… anyhow, hubby’s brother was Denys Finch-Hatton, who was a big-game hunter, but Denys’ daughter married a guy named Air Commodore Whitney Straight who was part of the Whitney Family… you know… that Eli Whitney guy who was key in starting America’s Industrial Revolution after inventing the cotton gin.

So Drexel’s big sis’ in-laws are related to the guy who started the American Industrial revolution.

Okay, what about Drexel’s brother Anthony Joseph Drexel Jr.? Well, his wife was Margorie G. Gould… the eldest daughter of George Jay Gould… a very rich financier who led the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (DRGW), and the Western Pacific Railroad (WP).

But it’s George Jay Gould’s dad, Jay Gould who is the big name in this thread… one of the leading American railroad developers in the U.S., rightly called one of the robber barons of the Gilded Age.

So… Drexel’s sister-in-law is the granddaughter of one of America’s richest men of his era.

Alright… let’s continue with J. Armstrong Drexel’s youngest brother Louis Clapier Norris Drexel, who married Nancy Doreen Harrington Grayson who was the daughter of Sir Henry Grayson, 1st Baronet.

I know, who the hell is that… but still… he was one of the premier owners of an English shipbuilding firm, H&C Grayson Ltd.

So… Drexel’s little sister married into “royalty”…

If that doesn’t give anyone an inferiority complex, I don’t know what could…

Okay… J. Armstrong Drexel did get $1-million from his father’s death, along with other manner of inheritance (which he received from his rich father)… but this was in 1934… which would have been when our man was 43…

I point that out in case one thinks that J. Armstrong Drexel bought himself some aviation glory.

Well… he might have. But he still tried to do things on his own.

In May of 1910… and without a pilot’s license because such things weren’t required at that time, our man J. Armstrong Drexel along with William McArdle opened up the East Boldre Flying School – also known as the New Forest Flying School in England.

For a mere £80, you could learn how to fly a plane. This was the second ever school for pilots in Great Britain and the fifth in the world.

The school started with seven aeroplanes in May, and by September it had 10… which will tell you just how much money McArdle and Drexel had to spread around. Mostly Drexel. Thanks dad.

Okay, to be fair, it is also possible that business was booming with many a person clamoring to learn how to fly an aeroplane. Also, thanks dad.

I believe that all the planes used at the school were Bleriot monoplanes, which will tell you that these guys, McArdle and Drexel, were very forward in their manner of thinking, as the general consensus at that time was that is one wing might be okay, but two was definitely the way to go, which is why we see so many biplanes nowadays… oh, right.


John Armstrong Drexel (left) and William McArdle with a cigarette between his lips.

So waydago McArdle and Drexel.

On June 21, 1910, Drexel received his British Royal Aero Club Aviators Certificate, recognized under the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

Depending on whom you ask, Drexel was either the 10th aviator or the 14th to receive his aviator certificate from the Royal Aero Club… but from what I can figure, Drexel was the 14th.

He also earned his Aero Club of America pilot’s license No. 8, doing so once again in a Bleriot monoplane.

On August 12, 1910, he set the world altitude record of 6,752 feet in a Blériot monoplane – so Drexel had much positive notoriety about himself in the world of aviation.

The positive notoriety, however, turned negative after a situation during the Belmont Airshow held October 22-31 at a horse racetrack on Long Island, in Belmont Park, New York.

With some $75,000 in prize money up for grabs, the event attracted a lot of good pilots, including our man Drexel.

John Armstrong Drexel

John Armstrong Drexel in his Bleriot monoplane in 1910. Don’t you love his portrait complete with cigarette in his mouth? Heck… this is just a promotional postcard, and not an image for the tobacco card collection!

Like most aviation meets of 1910, prizes were being awarded for such competitions for highest altitude attained, fastest speed, distance, most accurate landing and my favorite for that unsung hero, the best mechanic.

We are concerned with the final event of the meet on October 30, 1910 which had pilots flying their aircraft around a set course – to see who could do it the fastest.

Key to our story is that pilots had to be up in the air BEFORE a certain time of day for the flight to be considered official.

The “track” consisted of taking off from Belmont Park Racetrack, over the New York City Harbor, around the Statue of Liberty, and back to Belmont Park.

With some 75,000 spectators over at Belmont park, the race began.

Claude Grahame-White (see my biography on him HERE) was the prettyboy flyer from England – an important fact here.

Graham-White flew his 100-horsepower Bleriot monoplane, completing the course in a scorching 35 minutes and 21 seconds—the fastest time.

However, American pilot John Moisant came out of nowhere at the last second to post a faster time.

So what’s the big deal? Moisant wins, Graham-White loses and what the heck does this have to do with Drexel?

Moisant had earlier wrecked his own plane in a competition.

And, while Graham-White was setting his time, Moisant was trying to purchase a new aeroplane. That’s fine, right?

Anyhow, finally able to purchase a 50-horsepower Bleriot monoplane, Moisant took off to try and beat Graham-White’s time.

Apparently THIS Beleriot monoplane was a newer model, and had a better navigational system which allowed Moisant to take a more direct route to the Statue of Liberty and back. He beat Graham-White’s time by 43 seconds.

So great… Moisant had the better and faster aeroplane, and he won.

But here’s the thing… Moisant started his challenge of Graham-White’s time some 21-minutes AFTER the close of the allowable start time.

That’s like trying to put a bet on a horse race AFTER it has already started. It’s a no-no.

So, since we are talking big money and prestige for all things aviation, Grahame-White protested.

Welcome to America Graham-White. The Belmont race officials decided to side with American Moisant.

Our fairplay John Armstrong Drexel called out the Belmont officials claiming that they were playing favorite with American pilot Moisant over British pilot Graham-White.

To further show his disdain for the raw deal he felt Graham-White got, Drexel held a dinner banquet at the same time as the Aero Club of America Belmont Park awards banquet.

Drexel’s dinner was just as popular as the Aero Club’s, which caused quite the fracture within the Aero Club of America.

The issue was finally resolved when Drexel resigned from the Aero Club of America – but I don’t have a date on when that actually happened.

As for Graham-White, he appealed his case all the way up to the supreme aviation body (at that time), the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

It took until 1912, but the Federation Aeronautique Internationale reversed the Belmont Park decision, granting him the prize money and an extra $500 in interest.

While back in America, it was still felt that Moisant was the winner, regardless of what the Federation Aeronautique Internationale said.

Uh-huh… and what’s to stop a racer from getting in his aeroplane the next day and breaking the record? The die has been cast that take-off times don’t seem to matter.

The rule was put in for a reason, and regardless of how great the Moisant flight was, he still took off too late and should have been disqualified from his attempt even before he took off.

Bravo for Drexel for standing up for Graham-White.

Let’s take a look at what Drexel did at the Scottish International Aviation Meet in Lanark, Scotland – August 6-13, 1910:

Scottish International Aviation Meet in Lanark Program.jpg

Featuring 22 aviators competing in Scotland’s first air meet, an estimated 215,000 spectators attended.

Drexel was one of the competitors flying his 50 horsepower, seven-cylinder Gnome motor powered Bleriot monoplane. And… he did very well for himself.

McArdle also entered the competition in a 50 horsepower, seven-cylinder Gnome motor powered Bleriot monoplane.

All results below are taken from

Results for August 6, 1910:

Long Distance

  • John Armstrong Drexel … 61 miles 1,215 yards (99.28 kilometers) … 1 hour 36 minutes 16.6 seconds, American in a Bleriot monoplane with a Gnome 50 horsepower, 7-cylinder motor;
  • Bartolomeo Cattaneo… 42 miles 407 yards (67.96 kilometers)… 54 minutes 40.2 seconds, Italian in a Bleriot monoplane with a Gnome  50 horsepower, 7-cylinder motor;
  • Gustav Blondeau … 26 miles 550 yards (42.35 kilometers)… 46 minutes 34 seconds, French in a Farman biplane with a Gnome 50 horsepower, 7-cylinder motor;
  • Bertram Dickson … 12 miles 766 yards (20.01 kilometers) … 23 minutes, British in a Farman biplane with a Gnome 50 horsepower, 7-cylinder motor.

Aggregate Long Distance

  • John Armstrong Drexel … 68 miles 126 yards (109.55 kilometers)… 1 hour 48 minutes 45.6 seconds;
  • Bartolomeo Cattaneo … 42 miles 407 yards (67.96 kilometers) … 54 minutes 40.2 seconds;
  • Gustav Blondeau … 26 miles 550 yards (42.35 kilometers) … 46 minutes 34 seconds.
  • Bertram Dickson … 19 miles 1,688 yards (32.12 kilometers) … 37 minutes 36 seconds.

August 8, 1910 results:

Daily Duration Prize

  • Bartolomeo Cattaneo … 3 hours 19 minutes 9.2 seconds;
  • John Armstrong Drexel … 1 hour 27 minutes 13 seconds;
  • Florentine Champel … 54 minutes 2 seconds French in Voisin biplane with an E.N.V. 65 horsepower, 8-cylinder motor;
  • Gustav Blondeau … 31 minutes 42.2seconds;
  • Cecil Grace … 31 minutes 7 seconds, British (not sure which of his two aircraft: Short Bros. biplane with an E.N.V. 65 horsepower, 8-cylinder motor or a Bleriot Monoplane with a Gnome 50 horsepower, 7-cylinder motor;
  • G.B. Cockburn … 11 minutes 20.4 seconds, British in a Farman biplane with a Gnome 50 horsepower, 7-cylinder motor;
  • (First name?) Ogilvie … 10 minutes 31.8 seconds, British in a pair of Wright Bros. biplanes with an E.N.V. 40 horsepower 4-cylinder motor, the other with a Bollee 40 horsepower 4-cylinder motor.

Longest Single Flight to Date

  • Bartolomeo Cattaneo … 89 miles 118 yards (143.34 kilometers);
  • John Armstrong Drexel … 61 miles 1,215 yards 99.28 kilometers);
  • Florentine Champel … 32 miles 1,147 yards (52.55 kilometers);
  • Gustav Blondeau … 26 miles 550 yards (42.35 kilometers);
  • Cecil Grace … 16 miles 1,659 yards (27.27 kilometers);
  • Bertram Dickson … 12 miles 766 yards (20.01 kilometers);
  • G.B. Cockburn … 6 miles 1,563 yards (11.09 kilometers);
  • (First Name ?) Ogilvie … 5 miles 1,414 yards (9.34 kilometers).

August 9, 1910 results:

Speed Competition (5 Laps)

  • James Radley … 10 minutes 6.4 seconds, British in a Bleriot monoplane with a Gnome 50 horsepower 7-cylinder motor;
  • Cattaneo … 10 minutes 40 seconds;
  • Drexel … 13 minutes 41.4 seconds.

Fastest Laps

  • Radley … 1 minute 50.2 seconds;
  • Cattaneo … 1 minute 58 seconds;
  • Drexel … 2 minutes 20 seconds;
  • Grace … 2 minutes 32.8 seconds.

Height Competition

  • Drexel … 4,276 feet (1,303.33 meters) – a new world record;
  • Cattaneo … 3,230 feet (984.5 meters);
  • Grace … 2,480 feet (755.9 meters);
  • Renato Vidart … 1,300 feet (396.24 meters), French in a Hanriot monoplane with a Clerget 40 horsepower 4-cylinder motor.

Slowest Circuit.

  • (First Name ?) Edmond …
  • Grace …, French in one of two aircraft: a British & Colonial biplane with a Gnome 60 horsepower 7-cylinder motor or a British & Colonial biplane with an E.N.V. 65-80 horsepower 8-cylinder motor.

Daily Prizes (5 Laps)

  • Radley … Radley £50
  • Cattaneo … Cattaneo £30
  • Drexel … Drexel £15
  • Fastest Lap: Radley £25
  • Fastest Lap (Monoplane): Radley £25
  • Fastest Lap (Biplane): Grace £25
  • Height: Drexel £20

August 10, 1910 results


  • Cattaneo… 195 miles 846 yards (314.6 kilometers);
  • Drexel … 179 miles 1,440 yards (289.39 kilometers);
  • Champel… 32 miles 1,598 yards (52.96 kilometers).

Speed (5 Laps) …

  • Radley … 58.32 mph (93.86 kph)
  • Cattaneo … 56.27 mph (90.56 kph)
  • Grace … 38.88 mph (62.57 kph)

Fastest Lap

  • Radley … 58.25 mph (93.75 kph)
  • Cattaneo … 56.46 mph (90.86)
  • Gilmour … 42.14 mph (67.82 kph)


  • McArdle … 2,290 feet (698 meters)
  • Drexel … 1,400 feet (426.72 meters)
  • Hanriot … 1,350 feet (411.48 meters)

Daily Prizes

  • Starting … Radley, £20.
  • Long Distance … Cattaneo, £25; Drexel, £10.
  • Speed (5 Laps) … Radley, £50.
  • Speed (Fastest Lap) … Radley, £25.
  • Height … McArdle, £20.

August 11, 1910 results

Speed (5 Laps)

  • Radley … 57.45 mph (92.46 kph)
  • Cattaneo … 55.07 mph (88.63 kph)
  • Drexel … 43.68 mph (70.3 kph)
  • Grace … 38.87 mph (62.56 kph)
  • Ogilvie … 36.16 mph (58.19 kph)
  • Edmond … 31.60 mph (50.86 kph)

Fastest Lap

  • Radley … 58.14 mph (93.57 kph)
  • Cattaneo … 55.55 mph (89.4 kph)
  • Kuller … 45.92 mph (73.9 kph)
  • Drexel … 43.49 mph (70 kph)
  • Grace … 38.79 mph (62.43 kph)
  • Ogilvie … 36.39 mph (58.56 kph)
  • Edmond … 34.50 mph (55.42 kph)


  • Drexel … 6,750 feet (2,057.4 meters)
  • McArdle … 2,730 feet (832.1 meters)

Daily Prizes

  • Speed (5 Laps) … Radley, £50.
  • Speed (1 Lap) … Radley, £25.
  • Cross-Country … Grace, £100 and further special prize of £100; Dickson, £30.
  • Altitude … Drexel, £20.

August 13, 1910 results

Before the close of the meeting several passenger flights were made, with Drexel taking up two ladies on his passenger Bleriot, one of whom was the wife of Captain Taylor, who had charge of the surveying section. On his third flight, however, his engine failed, and he had to alight — with a male passenger this time — on somewhat rough ground, but no damage was done.

At the end of the meet, Drexel was the third-winningest aviator taking home £1,340 and both the Lanark Trophy and the Scots Pictorial Cup.

A little known fact, however, is that when Drexel achieved his altitude world record, he dis so in a Bleriot monoplane he borrowed from fellow aviation Cecil Grace.

The Greatest Altitude Competition was won by Drexel , whereby in order to even qualify for the first prize an altitude of at least 1,000 feet had to be met, with 500 feet needed to qualify for second place… anything greater got the prize.

Drexel ended up with a best flight of 6,750 feet. McArdle came in fourth best with an altitude of 2,290 feet achieved.

In the Speed Competition, McArdle grabbed third best speed, and Drexel fourth:

To qualify, pilots had to be able to fly five consecutive times round the course without alighting made during the entire meeting, the distance being 9 miles 300 yards. The fastest lap took the prize.

  • Radley … Bleriot Monoplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor at 58.32 mph (93.86 kph);
  • Cattaneo … Bleriot Monoplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor at 56.27 mph (90.56 kph);
  • McArdle … Bleriot Monoplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor at 52.63 mph (84.7 kph);
  • Drexel … Bleriot Monoplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor at 43.68 mph (70.3 kph);
  • Grace … Farman Biplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor at 39.55 mph (63.65 kph);
  • Dickson … Farman Biplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor at 37.95 mph (61.01 kph);
  • Edmond … Bristol Biplane with 60 horsepower E.N.V motor at 34.60 mph (55.68 kph).

MacArdle also took home the top prize for the Fastest Single Cross-Country Flight, doing it in 23 minutes 4.2seconds.

Long Distance Competition
This took place on four days of the meeting. The three money prizes were awarded for the longest single flight in point of distance round the oval course mapped out by mark towers and without touching the ground during the meeting.

  • Cattaneo … Bleriot Monoplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor – 141 miles 188 yards (227.09 kilometers):
  • Drexel … Bleriot Monoplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor – 67 miles 1,068 yards (108.8 kilometers);
  • Champel … Voisin Biplane with 60 horsepower E.N.V. motor – 32 miles 1,598 yards (52.96 kilometers);
  • Grace … Farman Biplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor – 31 miles 305 yards (50.17 kilometers);
  • Blondeau … Farman Biplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor – 26 miles 550 yards (42.35 kilometers);
  • Edmond … Bristol Biplane with 60 horsepower E.N.V. motor – 23 miles 264 yards (37.26 kilometers);
  • Ogilvie … Wright Biplane with 27 horsepower Wright motor – 19 miles 658 yards (31.18 kilometers);
  • Dickson … Farman Biplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor – 12 miles 766 yards (20.01 kilometers);
  • Vidart … Hanriot Monoplane with 40 horsepower Clerget motor – 11 miles 858 yards (18.49 kilometers);
  • Cockburn … Farman Biplane with 50 horsepower Gnome motor – 5 miles 1,414 yards (9.34 kilometers).

Signor Cattaneo’s performance is a British record.

Other prizes include: those who spent the greatest time in the air in this competition during the entire meeting. The first prize of £250 under this head was won by Signor Cattaneo with his Bleriot monoplane, and a record of 8 hours 35 minutes 53.6 seconds; the second prize of £100 by Drexel with his Bleriot monoplane with a record of 7 hours 31 minutes 18.8 seconds.

Longest Daily Distance Competition
On each of four days, two cash prizes were offered to the competitors who remained longest in the air in the longest single flight competition. Drexel claimed the daily win twice, coming in second the other two days.

There’s more, but I urge you to go and visit the Graces Guide website at

Let’s see… what else did Drexel do? Well, in November of 1910, he tried to fly across the U.S., but got lost and landed near the Delaware River to figure out where he was. Hmm… he must have had one of those older Bleriot navigation systems like Graham-White had at Belmont Park.

There’s not much else I can add about Drexel between 1911 and 1914… I assume he went back to England and attended his flying school, but also took part in other aviation meets, perhaps taking home a bit of pocket change here and there.

When the Great War (WWI, or the incredibly naive moniker “the war to end all wars”) began in 1914, Drexel, according to Wikipedia, was the chauffeur to Field Marshal Sir John French of the British Army.

I can’t determine if the term “chauffeur” was for air travel or via automobile… but I assume it was for the latter… why the hell would a Field Marshall need to fly around?

After Field Marshal Sir John French was stripped of his position of Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) (personality clashes with others), Drexel flew with the French Lafayette Escadrille from 1916-17.

This squadron was part of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique militaire, during World War I, and was mostly made up volunteer American pilots.

In 1917, Drexel was commissioned Major in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps, and served there as part of the U.S. Army Air Service until the war’s end on November 11 of 1918.

What of Drexel’s brothers at this time?

Well, according to Dan Rottenberg who wrote the book: The Man Who Made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance, George Drexel donated his own yacht to the US government—a generous gesture that eventually made it the very first US armed seacraft to be sunk by a German U-boat torpedo.

Anthony Drexel Jr… he worked as a stretcher-bearer for the British ambulance corps in France. Not bad for a playboy… but it did keep him away from the action. Thanks dad… and you know that’s true.

With the war’s conclusion, information on J. Armstrong Drexel is sparse at best, but we do know that in 1926, Drexel drove the famous Flying Scotsman speed train from London to Edinburgh.

And, in 1934, he was a partner in the securities firm of William P. Bonbright & Co., and served on Bonbright’s board and on the board of the Anglo-South American Bank. I am sure that Drexel’s father—just before he died in December of 1934—may have had a hand in helping him get these positions.

John Armstrong Drexel died in 1958… and for some reason I am having difficulty in determining when exactly and where.

My date of March 4, 1958 is a best guess scenario based on an obituary notice of a J. Armstrong Drexel in Kent, England, but with NO background information such as birthdate or even occupation or claim to fame.

Still, as a best guess option, it’s more information than is available elsewhere on the Internet. Thanks for you help, Vinnie!

So… was John Armstrong Drexel worthy of having his own aviation card – I would say no… but he was apparently the right man at the right time to have achieved such recognition.

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Wills’s Aviation Card #69 – The Morane-Borel Monoplane.

69F.jpgHistory Behind The Card: The Morane-Borel Monoplane.

Card #69 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Green-back issue

  • Léon Morane on April 11, 1885 in Paris, France – October 19, 1918 in Paris, France;
  • Robert Morane on March 10, 1886, Paris France on – August 28, 1968 in Paris, France;
  • Gabriel Borel in 1880 – 1944 (I also saw 1960 as a death date – this seems more common, but I present both because I can’t confirm);
  • Raymond Victor Gabriel Jules Saulnier in Paris, France on September 27, 1881 – March 4, 1964 in Chécy, France;
  • Jules Charles Toussaint Védrines on December 21, 1881 in Saint-Denis, Paris, France – April 21, 1919 in Saint-Rambert-d’Albon, France.

I started this article figuring it would be short and sweet… nope.

Here’s another example where different tobacco companies under Wills’s produced a different card from one another.

Our last post showed Card No. 69 depicting the Morning Post dirigible of 1910, while this entry shows off a more recent 1911 Morane-Borel Monoplane. It’s why people like me collect stuff… okay, I don’t really know why I collect stuff… I just do.


Emile Taddéoli in a Morane monoplane circa 1911-1913. It’s a very nice looking plane that looks like it would fly well in 2017.

According to the reverse of the card, this bird captured second-place in the British Daily Mail newspaper-sponsored Daily Mail Circuit of Britain contest, calling it one of the simplest, yet obviously successful machines around.

69 R 001

Every example of a green backed card from this series that I have found, always has a brown look to it, making me think it was never issued in a solid white background.

I’ve never heard of it, then again – before I started collecting these cards, there were many things I didn’t know about pioneer aviation.

This is one of those cards that is difficult to research, mostly because there is little data on the people involved – and the fact that most of the success achieved came much later than the aeroplane depicted on the Wills’s card.

What to do? I’ll try to be as thorough as possible.

Let’s first take a the people involved.

Leon and Robert Morane


Leon (left) and Robert Morane at the start of the Michelin Grand Prix of 1910 on October 5.

I had mentioned Leon Morane in my blog about John Armstrong Drexel HERE.

As far as fame goes, the Morane brothers on July 19, 1910 became the first to fly a plane in excess of 100 kph (62.5 mph) at Issy-les-Moulineaux, with a peak speed of at 106.5 kph.

According to who plucked the headline: Frenchman Claims World’s Aviation Record – Havre, Aug. 29, 1910 from the Daily Journal and Tribune newspaper of Knoxville, Tennessee, US of A on August 29, 1910 edition:

“In a flight in a monoplane here today, Leon Morane, a Frenchman, ascended to a height of 6,692 feet. At first it was claimed he went up 6,889 feet but on a revision of the figures the judges found that he had reached only 6,692 feet. They claim, however, that this constitutes a world’s record as the flight of J. Armstrong Drexel, the American aviator, of 6,752 feet they assert has never been officially ratified. Mr. Drexel’s flight was made at Lanark, Scotland, August 12. He used a Bleriot monoplane. The contention of the judges that Morane’s flight of 6,692 feet constitutes a world’s record is not borne out by the certificate issued August 20 by Kew observatory, which after testing the barograph carried by Mr. Drexel in his Lanark flight, gave him a record of 6, 752 feet.”

Here’s some more:

According to a newspaper article in The Day newspaper from New London, Connecticut from October 5, 1910:

More Aviators Come To Injury

Leon and Robert Morane Badly Hurt By Fall While Seeking Prize

Boissy, France, Oct. 5.—Leon Morane, who started at 9:48 o’clock this morning for Clermont-Ferrand in an attempt to win the Michelin aviation prize, fell here and sustained a broken leg. His brother Robert, who was a passenger, received a fracture of the skull.

Yup… that was the entire story, with the actual headline in the newspaper taking up more space than the copy.

The fact that the headline screams “More Aviators” begs the newspaper to describe who else had suffered an accident at this aviation event in France. How high an altitude did the Morane brothers fall from? What caused the accident? Eyewitness account?

Sometimes, all the news that’s fit to print ain’t happening. Which is where authors and bloggers like myself come in.

Basically, on October 5, 1910, Léon and Robert Morane flew in the Michelin Grand Prix event in an attempt to to win the Michelin Aviation Prize. To win, competitors had to fly  from Paris to the summit of the Puy de Dôme in less than six hours. The Morane brothers attempt failed, as we saw in the newspaper article above, and both brothers were seriously injured.

There… that’s how you can present a few MORE facts in two inches of newspaper copy.

While Leon always seemed to get top billing, the poor bugger died of the Spanish Flu in 1918.

His brother Robert, along with Raymond Saulnier, formed the Société des Aéroplanes Morane-Saulnier on October 10,1 911 in Paris, with factories in nearby Puteaux.

When WWI ended, Robert Morane continued with aviation, but was more interested in producing aircraft and aircraft equipment for commercial use such as tourism and pilot school: producing a single-seater with sky-high canopy in 1924, the MS230 school aircraft with sales of 1,100 aircrft in 1930, and the Hispano-Suiza engine of 860 horsepower built between 1936-1937.

Even though Robert Morane was a well-known commodity in the aviation industry, there’s not much more information available on him after that date… which only means that when WWII started, their trainers and tourism aircraft weren’t in much demand.

And then there was that whole occupation of France thing by Nazi Germany (I don’t call Germany Germany during WWII… it really was Nazi Germany… and nothing like how the country is nowadays – beautiful country, and I think I have a thing for the women… damn that Girl’s of Munich article I saw in Playboy as a kid)…

What we do know, however, is that after Robert’s long life finally finished at a respectable 82 years of age, he was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery, where brother  Léon Morane is, too.

But, because this blog aims to find as much about everyone as possible, there’s more below.

Jules Védrines

vedrines266x400.jpgJules Védrines was a pilot… and not just any pilot, but a test pilot… and a test pilot in the days when aeroplane’s had less power than some modern-day lawnmowers.

Born in Saint-Denis in Paris on December 21, 1881, he was brought up in what would have to be considered one of the “tough” parts of the city… a place that helped him develop a bit of a rough-and-tumble personality… which would actually help him in later years as a pilot, as being someone the common man could identify with.

He worked at the Gnome engine manufacturing factory before moving to England to work as aviator Robert Loraine’s mechanic in 1910.

Loraine, while primarily a stage actor, does have some claim to fame within the aviation (and video game industry). Flying a Farman biplane, in September of 1910, he achieved a measure of fame for being the first to fly from England to Ireland… except he actually crash landed in  the water about 60 meters (200 feet) from the shore… that’s close enough, right?

Later that same month, Loraine was a pilot of one of two Bristol Boxkites which took part in the British Army maneuvers on Salisbury Plain, during which he sent the first radio signals to be sent from an aeroplane in Britain.

Who was the other guy? Well… that would be Bertram Dickson, who was just featured in Pioneers of AviationHERE.

Loraine, by the way is famous… thanks to his personal diary that is cited in the Oxford English Dictionary for containing the first written example of the word joystick to describe aircraft stick controls.

Back to Védrines. After returning to France, Védrines earned his pilot’s license (No. 312) on December 7, 1910.

Globally, when newspapers couldn’t get enough news on aviation, Védrines was a media darling. That love affair began when in April of 1911 he flew over a Catholic religious procession known as Mi-carême dropping bouquets of violets as the people entered the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Classy… like an angel from up on high…

In May of 1911, Védrines won the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race flying a Morane-Borel monoplane.

On July 22, 1911, he came second in the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race (held annually between 1911-1914) – a circular route with 11 compulsory stops covering a distance of 1,010 miles (1,630 km).

You can see a video on YouTube featuring photo stills and some live motion picture work along with THE aviation song by clicking HERE. It won’t let me embed – even when I type it in character by character.If the link doesn’t work search YouTube by typing in: “Round Britain” air race in 1911

He also came third in the Circuit of Europe race, a race with a total of 990 miles (1,600 kilometers) flying from Paris-Liège France to Spa-Liège in France to Utrecht Netherlands to Brussels Belgium to Calais France to London England.

In 1912, flying a Deperdussin 1912 Racing Monoplane built by the Société de Production des Aéroplanes Deperdussin, he was the first person to fly an aircraft at more than 100 mph (160 kph) and he also won the 1912 Gordon Bennett Trophy race in a Deperdussin Monocoque aircraft.

In January of 1912, Védrines, a politically active fellow, flew a plane over the Chamber of Deputies in Paris, dropping political leaflets demanding they provide more aeroplanes for the French Army.

Later that year, Védrines  ran for and lost a seat on the Chamber of Deputies for the constituency of Limoux. He ran as a Socialist, which wasn’t a bad thing in 1912.

In 1913 he flew from Paris to Cairo in a Blériot monoplane. But upon arriving in Nancy, France, but officials were adamant to let him proceed, because they figured he would fly a short cut over German airspace.

Now I don’t know why a Germany a mere one year away from WWI would not want anyone flying over their country – oh… right – but Védrines felt that up in the sky, there were no boundaries… that aviators should be able to fly anywhere and everywhere – screw international boundaries.

One hundred years later… despite his good intentions… a couple of global wars, more in Asia, and every nation on the planet becoming very protective of itself, airspace is rigidly controlled, and more or less observed unless you are China (in Japan) or Russia (also in Japan).

At that time, however, Védrines took off from Nancy pretending he would not fly over German airspace, but would change course for Prague when out of sight from the airfield. Sounds like a plan…

All well and good, but Védrines seems to have forgotten that he would be visible to the Germans in Germany whose airspace he was flying in.

He was tried in absentia by the Germans and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment… which essentially means he should not go back to Germany. But he did…

Still on the same race, he pleases the Sultan of Constantinople (Istanbul) by dropping a Turkish flag atop the Imperial Palace.

Things went downhill again when in Cairo, Védrines became embroiled in an argument with a Mr. Roux, after Védrines accused him of some unpatriotic French behavior.

Roux asked for a duel… but Védrines wisely said he wasn’t brave enough.

To resolve the dispute, the French Ligue Aerienne president Mr. Quinton told Védrines that the issue could only be resolved by the duel or him leaving Cairo.

So…. Védrines left Cairo, returned to Paris and then challenged Quinton to a duel in place of Roux. I’m guessing he found out that Roux may have been an established veteran at duels (IE he wins), whereas Quinton may have been a paper pusher. Always pick your battles, is the lesson here, I guess.

Védrines wanted to duel with pistols at 10 paces – and was all the rage in the Paris media of the day – but dueling experts quickly determined that Védrines had no right to issue the duel, and it was called off, probably with an apology… but I can not confirm that.

Védrines and his Blériot XXXV Ibis he called La Vache,  August 31, 1914

Jules Védrines’ Last Flight

When WWI broke out -Védrines performed clandestine missions – landing behind enemy (German) lines to drop or pick up agents in his Blériot XXXV Ibis aircraft La Vache (The Cow) – pictured above. He flew some 1,000 hours of reconnaissance missions and was awarded Order of the Day for it in July of 1915.

The aircraft had a picture of a cow on it (not seen in the photo), but it was meant to be an homage to his family’s roots in the Limousin region of France.

With the war over, on January 19, 1919 he landed his Caudron G.3 on the roof of the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris, winning a 25,000 franc prize which had been offered before the war. After his death a stone commemorating the achievement was placed there.

Three months later, on 21 April 1919, he was killed when attempting to fly a Caudron C.23 long-range twin-engine night bomber after flying from Villacoublay, France to Rome, Italy, when the aeroplane’s engine conked out. Both men died on the forced landing near Lyon.

Gabriel Borel

Gabriel Borel.jpgFirst off, there is almost no information available on the internet regarding Gabriel Borel. I cropped the image from a larger one over at

But, there is a PDF of a magazine article from Life in the Great Outdoors published on March 1, 1918. Of course the magazine is actually in French (La Vie au grand air), so I had to not only re-type it out as it appears in French, but feed it into an on-line language translator to get a whisper of what it all means in English.

I’ll give you the gist:

To retrace the history of the Borel aviation house, is it not the history of the airplane itself?
The name of this mark is found indeed in almost all the victories of the heroic period of the debuts of the heaviest air.

(That is heavy-handed kiss-butt writing at its best).

In 1909, with an interest in the new sport of aviation, Gabriel (the article doesn’t mention a brother, but Wikipedia does – unnamed, of course) opened up a pilot training flying school in Mourmelon, France.


According to the article – and this is difficult to figure out – Borel had a team of pilots who participated in various aviation meets which helped bring fame to Borel for the skill their flying skill.

Thanks to the success of these pilots, Borel began to try and construct his own aeroplanes, coming up with the Borel Monoplane via his factory known as the Establishment Borel.

Simplistic in design, in 1911 the Borel Monoplane won the Paris-Pau Cup (800 km = 497 miles), the first and second semi-annual prizes of the Pommery Cup, the Poitiers-Paris race (330 km = 205 miles in 2 1/2 hours) – which for many years constituted the world record of speed in straight line.

Other races include pilot Jules Charles Toussaint Védrines winning the Paris to Madrid race, being the only one to finish; a 1,500 kilometer (932 mile) race from Paris to Rome.

In a large race called the European Circuit (racing from city to city across Europe), Vedrines in a Morel Monoplane won seven out of 10 stages.

In a similar race across England covering 1,609 kilometers (1,000 miles), the Borel Monoplane came in seventh, but possessing decent speed.

The Borel Monoplane would later achieve a world record for altitude when it flew with three passengers… but I am assuming this includes the pilot.

While Borel’s pilots are taking part ion various races with the Borel Monoplane, Borel is also building seaplanes, taking top prize in a seaplane race from Paris to Deauville—piloted by Geo Chemet.

By the time 1912 came around, aviation popularity began to wane. With fewer new people becoming involved in aviation, and even by 1913, country government interests not completely sold on the benefits of aeroplanes, things were tough all over.

With naught else to do, Borel tried to perfect his Borel Monoplane with new versions that he could sell to both France and other countries.

And despite the Wills’s card above, Borel actually became famous for his  – wait for it – Borel Seaplane. Man… he really needed someone to help him with the naming of his aircraft.

But then… war!

When what later became known as WWI broke out in 1914, many of Borel’s workforce went in to the military forcing Borel’s factory to close its doors.

But, by 1915, it became evident that good manufacturers of aeroplanes were actually needed, so Borel opened up the factory again in November of that year, gaining plenty of military orders for his aircraft.

In fact, the orders for aircraft were so heavy that Borel not only had his original factory, but opened up two others in Paris, including a subsidiary facility in Lyons, France.

It not only manufactured its own Borel Monoplanes, but also helped manufacture other aircraft such as the Nieuport, Spad and Caudron aeroplanes of various types.

For itself, Borel kept churning out plenty of his Borel Seaplanes and fighter planes, with the Borel Seaplane able to carry bombs and torpedoes to take out German submarines.

The1918 magazine article continues that thanks to efforts by Borel and his seaplanes, it will hopefully put an end to Germany’s maritime attacks.

The article goes on to say that if, “at the beginning of the hostilities, we had been willing to trust these machines, we could have achieved very brilliant success.”

It takes a further potshot at the French military for not understanding just how important aircraft like the Borel Seaplane could have been in ending the war sooner, rather than still later (it did not end until November of 1918).

The article then goes on about the factory worker: “Let us add, in conclusion, that in Borel’s factories, as in almost all factories of airplanes, a large number of female labor is employed which gives all satisfaction.

“We asked the famous builder what he thought of the post-war period from the point of view of the aviation industry. Mr. Gabriel Borel was very affirmative.”

In Borel’s words: “I have already seen an evolution of aviation, and I believe that, although it does not occupy a position as large as it is today, it will nevertheless have a very real importance.
“Probably less rapid aircraft with an interesting commercial speed will be used, which will make it possible to carry out large-scale transport operations and to provide services in the colonial and postal sectors.
“On the other hand, it is evident that today’s huge factories will find themselves occupied in different domains, but very useful to the country.
“One can also trust industrial sportsmen: since the beginning of the history of sport in France, they have shown enough smart activity so that the Country can count on water when the Pail will flourish again.
“It is true that we are delighted with the precious collaboration of our builders for the post-war period, but only on condition that the state is interested in making a great effort.”

Interesting… Borel was quite correct in his prediction that the aeroplane would have great commercial value once the war was over.

So… from what I have been able to determine, the French aircraft Morane-Borel Monoplane as depicted on the card above was designed by Raymond Saulnier, with the initial aircraft built by the Morane brothers and Gabriel Borel.

But let’s go back a bit.

Les Établissements Borel is a French aviation manufacturing company that was founded in 1909 by Gabriel Borel. That’s fine.

Borel and his brother (can’t figure out what his name was) opened up a flying school soon after in Mourmelon, France.

On October 10, 1911, Gabriel Borel, Raymond Saulnier, Léon and Robert Morane joined forces to create the Société Anonyme des Aeropanes Morane-Borel-Saulnier, in Paris, France.

They build the Morane-Borel Monoplane.

From the July 20, 1912 edition of Flight magazine, we learn quite a bit about out the aircraft’s particulars.

We are able to publish this week two photographs of the aeroplane that the Societe Anonyme des Aeroplanes Borel are entering for the War Office Competitions. The pilot Chambenoit has been engaged to fly it at Salisbury.
In the machine, except that it is slightly larger all round in order to account for the extra weight of and (accommodation for the passenger, there is little evidence of difference from the single-seater model which, with that master pilot Vedrines at the lever, carried
everything before it in the events of 1911. That machine was undoubtedly a very good one, being designed by M. Saulnier. It was then called the Morane monoplane. Some time later its style was changed to the Morane-Borel monoplane. Another period, and a split occurred in the firm, Leon Morane and M. Saulnier branching off, forming their own company and creating the Morane-Saulnier monoplanes. So the name of the monoplane changed again—now it is the Borel monoplane.
But throughout all these changes of administration the design of the machine remained practically unaltered, and so it remains to-day.
To the more or less casual observer, about the only point at which this two-seater Borel differs, except as regards size and passenger accommodation, from Vedrines’ machine in the Circuit of Britain, is in the design of the tail. On this present monoplane, the elevators
are formed by balanced flaps hinged to the rear edge of the stabilizer. But even this is not a totally original point. It has been standard practice with the Borel monoplane for the past few months. In its general outline the monoplane follows the design of the Bleiiot to a very great extent. Its only fundamental points of difference from that monoplane are that its landing gear is of the wheel and skid type, its wings have no dihedral angle, and that they are reversed in shape to the Bleriot.
By this latter statement we mean that the Borel wings possess the same characteristic rounded tips as the Bleriot, but they fly with the bigger curve leading. In flight, the wings are somewhat analogous to a Chauviere propeller-blade, and score on two points—this form of tip reduces to a great extent ” end losses,” and a very powerful correcting warp is obtained.
The present monoplane is equipped with one of the new 12 litre 80-h.p. Gnome engines, protruding from the front of the fuselage without any bearing between crank-case and propeller. The seats are arranged in tandem.


This is the workshop where the Borel Monoplane was built, with examples parked out front. Image is taken from the excellent resource:

Here’s something interesting… according to an April 15, 1911 edition of l’Aérophile, they have specifications for the Morane-Borel Monoplane.

This date implies that it was actually designed and constructed BEFORE the forming of the Société Anonyme des Aeropanes Morane-Borel-Saulnier.

Near as I can tell, the initial aircraft design was the brainchild of Saulnier… and since IT was called a Morane Monoplane, either Morane and his manufacturing facility were the ones to build the first version of the plane discussed here, or they were the ones putting up the money to build it and actually built it.

I have no proof over which way it went down, suffice to say that Morane had his name on the finished product.


Specifications from l’Aérophile, April 15, 1911, p. 170 show:

  • Crew: one;
  • Length: 6.50 meters (21 feet 6 inches);
  • Wingspan: 9.50 meters (31 feet 1 inches);
  • Wing area: 14 square meters (151 square feet);
  • Empty weight: 200 kilograms (441 pounds);
  • Gross weight: 430 kilograms (948 pounds);
  • Motor: 1 × Gnome Omega 7-cylinder air-cooled rotary piston engine, creating 50 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 111 km/h (69 mph).

However… data found at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum website have slightly different numbers… and despite having data from “the day” per l’Aérophile, there’s a real reason why the Canadian data might actually be more correct… you’ll have to go down a bit more to find out why that is.

Specifications (per the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum)

  • Length: 7 meters (23 feet);
  • Wingspan: 9.1 meters (30 feet);
  • Height: 2.7 meters (9 feet);
  • Empty weight: 259 kilograms (550 pounds);
  • Gross weight: 320 kilograms (700 pounds);
  • Motor: 1 × Gnome Omega 7-cylinder air-cooled rotary piston engine, creating 50 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 115 kilometers per hour (70 miles per hour).

What do the differences mean?

Either one source or the other is incorrect – and I’m pretty sure the Canadian museum is correct, OR… the manufacturers simply were making changes to the over all design of the plane as they gained more knowledge.

There is also a much later military version capable of pushing 80 horsepower…

Anyhow, after the initial Morane Monoplane debuted, changes to its design ensued and it became known as the Morane-Borel Monoplane (per the description in the Flight magazine write-up).

A short while later, Borel was out, and a new design was put into affect by Morane and Saulnier who formed their own business for their own Morane-Saulnier Monoplanes.

The former Morane-Borel Monoplane (our card) was now simply renamed the Borel Monoplane.

I know… holy crap, right? That was confusing. But accurate (thanks Flight magazine).

Continuing to clarify re: the French magazine article – which seemed to just present the side that Borel was the only one who had a hand in the Borel Monoplane (which might be correct), let’s take a look at the other guys who were involved with Borel, namely Morane-Saulnier.

I’m pulling THIS from Wikipedia:

“Together, Morane and Saulnier’s first aircraft was the Model A, a development of a monoplane design produced by the Morane company (sometimes called Morane-Borel, from the brothers partnership with Gabriel Borel). Using a wing-warping mechanism for control, this was the type in which Jules Védrines won the Paris-Madrid race on May 26, 1911.”

Okay… so far so good… it’s a real bugger to combine two magazine articles (one in French) with the Wikipedia entry.

“In 1911 a Model A Monoplane was launched propelled by a Gnome engine of 50 hp.”

But… Morane-Saulnier began working on creating a hydroplane version of the Model A Monoplane… a seaplane with a crew of two, achieving its first flight sometime in 1913.

The 50 horsepower Gnome engine was replaced with the more powerful Gnome Lamda rotary motor capable of producing 80 horsepower.

Other changes to the Seaplane version was that the pilot sat forward, slightly shifted to the right, to allow a better view for the second crewman in the back seat.

Borel Seaplane Specifications (from the July 26, 1913 edition of Flight magazine):

  • Crew: one. Later editions: two;
  • Capacity: one passenger;
  • Length: 8.38 meters (27 feet 6 inches);
  • Wingspan: 11.68 meters (38 feet 4 inches);
  • Wing area: 18square meters (190 square feet);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome Lambda seven-cylinder rotary engine, pushing out 80 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed, 2.59 meters (8 feet 6 inches) diameter.

In 1917 the Navy acquired a French Borel aircraft to be used in the School of Naval Aviation. Photos show that this aircraft might be the one produced in 1913.


A 1913 Borel Seaplane shown here in 1919 Brazil.

But we are talking about a four-year gap… so you can be sure that during the war, and the way that it forces manufacturers to come up with bigger and better weapons, the 1913 Borel Seaplane was long obsolete by 1917.

When WWI ended in November 11 of 1918, Borel’s aviation factories suffered a steep decline from 1919 on.

Lastly… I came across a website hosted by the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum… which is supposed to be pretty much up on their history of aviation.

They actually have a Morane-Borel Monoplane on display in its collection…. except they call it the Borel-Morane Monoplane… with the two names reversed.


According to the Canadian museum, the basic design of the monoplane was inspired by the Blériot XI, a French monoplane developed by Louis Blériot and Raymond Saulnier… Saulnier, of course, was part of the Société anonyme des aéroplanes Morane-Borel-Saulnier… so yeah… a Saulnier designed aeroplane.

Saulnier only worked briefly with Blériot, before leaving him to work on his own aeroplane… and then to join his childhood friend Leon Morane and Gilbert Borel to construct the Borel-Morane or Morane-Borel.

You might ask yourself just why this blog writer allows the Canadian museum to call it what it does, when it’s obviously a Morane-Borel Monoplane.

Well… the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum are actually the owner of that aeroplane in the above photo – the only known such Morane-Borel or Borel-Moran Monoplane known to still exist.  That’s why. They own it. They are a museum of world renown… they can call it what they like.

Who knows… maybe they are correct, and everyone else is wrong. I would love some clarification, however.

The Monoplane, according to the Canadian museum describes the single-seat aircraft has having: a simple V-leg landing gear with a small skid beside each wheel, a tall double tail skid, elliptical wingtips and a high rectangular rudder. The tailplane is fitted with tip elevators and the aft fuselage was sometimes left uncovered. The wing is braced with wires attached to a pyramidal pylon and the aircraft was usually powered by a cowled Anzani or Gnome engine of about 50 hp. The number of ribs in the Borel-Morane wings varied with the aircraft version.

That information can be found at

The actual aircraft in the possession of the museum can be traced back to the original owner: imported to the U.S. from France in 1912 by Belgian exhibition pilot Georges Mestach and his manager and mechanic Ernest Mathis.

The museum did the research showing that Mestach and Mathis took the plane across North America to make money stunt flying, with visits including Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Winnipeg (all in Canada, of course).

The aircraft crashed several times, once in Winnipeg, where the harsh prairie winds proved too much for the Borel-Morane. Another crash occurred during an air meet in Chicago, and resulted in North America’s first midair collision fatality. Earl S. Daugherty, an American exhibition pilot, then acquired and flew the aircraft and it remained in his family’s possession until the Museum purchased it in 2002.

It’s also safe to say that when the museum acquired the aeroplane, it was hardly in flyable condition… perhaps during restoration different wing lengths were considered from what we saw per l’Aérophile.

Geez… the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum mentions in its write-up North America’s first mid-air collision but does not state when, where exactly, between whom or even how it happened. I would think that an important omission.

Let me look… hmm… on September 14, 1912 at Cicero Aviation Field in Chicago, Illinois, Pilot Howard W. Gill was killed and pilot Georges Mestach in the Borel-Morane Monoplane was injured when their aircrafts collided in the mid-air during a race.

Wikipedia lists the date as September 20, 1912, but that date is incorrect, I believe… because there was no meet held on September 20… it was over by then. Proof of that as follows…

The following three images are from


chiaur650x420.jpgAs the final event of the day, Howard Gill and Tony Jannus raced biplanes around a course marked by pylons. That race had been completed, but Gill had not yet landed when officials told George Mestach to take-off.

George Mestach 1.jpg

Mestach believed he was to be the only one aloft, racing against the clock, not other aeroplanes, and failed to see Gill’s biplane ahead and below him. The landing gear of Mestach’s Morane-Borel monoplane struck and fractured the tail structure of Howard Gill’s Wright Model EX biplane. Mestach managed to make a safe but hard landing and was badly cut, but Gill perished after his uncontrollable biplane fell 50 feet. to the ground.

According to

A crisis ensued. Heated complaints were openly voiced by aviators that the race should not have been held that late in the day, when the sun was low and visibility was decreased. Before Gill and Jannus started their race, Gill told officials (A.C.I. members, many of whom were not aviators) that it was too dark to race and that an accident would happen if more than one aeroplane went up. Statements were made later that the Meet’s officials had forced the aviators to fly in the deepening darkness, for fear of disappointing the crowd. Mestach stated that he had also protested flying in the darkness, and had been assured that his machine would be the only one flying. Incensed aviators adopted their own rules and conditions under which they would continue to participate in the Meet… one of those conditions was that no contests were to be held under unfavorable weather or lighting conditions. The aviators placed the responsibility for Gill’s death squarely on the shoulders of the Meet’s officials for allowing their poor judgment to endanger the aviators. Aviators, it seems, did not blame Mestach for Gill’s fatal plunge.

Anyhow, that’s about all I can find on the Morane-Borel or Borel-Moran monoplane.

A confusing entry to be sure. I think I spent weeks researching this one… probably longer than it took to build one back in the day from scratch.

As mentioned, I would love it if someone could clarify the actual NAME of the aircraft. I know its semantics, but I believe it’s important… and probably was important to both Morane and Borel… perhaps they had their own private battles as to which name should be placed first.

I’m also looking for confirmation on the death date of Borel (see very top of the article).

This, dear reader, is why I write this stuff out. It doesn’t seem right to me that people who gave so much of their very existence on this planet, have confusing histories. Please help me out, if you can.

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Creation Of The U.S. Air Force – 1912

Origins of the USAFWhile combing through the dust and mites of forgotten lore while surfing the ‘net, I came across a newspaper article from over 105 years ago that details just how the very first United States of America aeroplane air force was proposed to be set up.

Featuring data supplied by United States Brigadier General James Allen, we learn not only the state of America’s air force was at the time of 1912, but how it stacked up against other great nation’s of the day.

Providing a look at what each section of the newly proposed air force for aeroplanes would consist of—from number of men, machines and crew—we can get a real look at the foresight of Brigadier General James Allen in starting up what is one of the world’s best military armadas ever conceived now in 2017.

US Brigadier General James Allen.jpg

So… here we go… all spelling and grammar is the original author’s own and was left that way out of respect.

June 9, 1912 The San Francisco call.

What Our Sky Army Will Be Like
Brigadier-General Allen Discusses His Plan For An Aerial Fighting Fleet.
By John E. Watkins

You may now get your first definite idea as to how our sky army is to be be organized and equipped.
It is ready to pass from the experimental to the practical stage. Hitherto you have regarded the performances of our military aviators as feats spectacular rather than utilitarian, and what pictures you have had of their future functions in actual warfare have been for the most part extravagant phantasies.
The general of our aerial forces today explained to me his plans and ambitions for this new arm of the service. This officer is Brigadier General James Allen, who for a number of years has been chief signal officer of the regular army. He is a practical man. If he dreams dreams, he does not confide them to the hungry journalist. He sees no visions in the empyrean. He will draw you no word pictures of tilts between aerial cruisers and winged torpedo craft, nor will he tell you how many pounds of dynamite flung from the heavens would wipe Greater New York from the face of Mother Earth.
He attacks his problems as would the chief engineer of a railroad or a telegraph company.
He knows all of the sky doings of every great military nation on earth, and while his plans for our future air force combine the chief virtues proven by foreign experts, they also include many original ideas of his own.
In the first place, General Allen will organize his sky soldiers into sections, platoons, companies and squadrons. In the air each section will consist of one aeroplane with two aviators. Two of these sections will compose a platoon; two platoons, a company; two companies, a squadron.
In other words, a squadron will consist of eight aeroplanes, to which 16 aviators will be assigned. All of these aviators will be captains or lieutenants of the regular army.
Each squadron will be in command of a major, who will have on his staff two commissioned officers in addition to the military aviators assigned to the machines.
He will also have under him a force of 48 “aeroplane mechanicians”—mechanics and assistants—all enlisted men. There will be five mechanics assigned to each aeroplane and four extra ones for each company.
To one field army of regular troops there will be three aviation squadrons—one assigned to each of the two divisions and one to the headquarters of the field army’s commander. The squadron assigned to headquarters will be equipped with aeroplanes of extra power for long distance reconnaissance.
And there will also be special machines for the field artillery.
In Addition, there will be 64 machines and 152 aviators distributed among 14 of our continental coast defense stations. So far we have been considering only the regular army of the United States.
In the Philippines General Allen wants two squadrons, or 16 machines; on Panama and Hawaii, each one squadron, with eight machines.

Fleet of 120 Machines
All told, he wants, for the regular army alone, 120 aeroplanes in charge of 285 aviators, and 720 enlisted mechanics. This great establishment would be headed by two colonels, under his command, besides two lieutenant colonels and eleven majors. At present he has only 10 officers for aviation duty, while France already has 800, or three times as many as he asks for—and this despite the fact that our army was the first in the world to develop practical aviation.
France will spend a total of $6,400,000 for its aerial fleet this year. John Bull in the same time will spend 1,610,000 on his aviation school, and Germany will buy $624,000 worth of military aeroplanes before the year is over. Within a month the kaiser will have 350 military aeroplanes, while we now have six.
France in her army alone, has just 100 times as many these machines as have we, and England has more than 13 times as many military aviators as we can boast of.
Our militia, according to General Allen’s program, must be equipped with machines distributed among its mobile troops in proportion to one squadron for each division of men, and the militia aviators will receive diplomas from the regular army’s aviation schools.
Other machines besides aeroplanes will enter into the equipment of each squadron, which group of eight flying machines will be the unit of our sky force just as the regiment is the unit of our land force.
There must be great trucks to carry whole aeroplanes and tractor automobiles to haul these trucks, as well as transport the aeroplane crews in the field.
These heavy automobiles and trucks will carry “aeroplane tents” for temporarily sheltering machines separated from the hangars; also repair tools, spare parts and additional supplies of gasoline.
General Allen says that it will also be necessary to have attached to each of these squadrons of eight aeroplanes a self propelled repair shop, which can be moved to any place in the field where a machine may be in distress. This would always be equipped with reserve supplies and a complete set of spare parts for machines in use.
Distributed over the country are to be five training schools, officially known as “centers of aviation,” from which our sky soldiers will be continually making test and instruction flights. One of these points will be upon the Atlantic coast, one on the Pacific, on on the Great Lakes, on on the Gulf of Mexico and one at some central inland point.
In addition, there will be as many auxiliary centers as it may be possible to organize.
It is the general’s ultimate ambition to have such a school of instruction in each state.

How a “Center” Will Look
You are wondering how these principal aviation schools will appear. The accompanying photograph of the aviation center already established by General Allen at College park near Washington will give you a partial idea.
There will be a wide, level field edged by a line of low lying hangars—or stables for the aerial steeds; sheds, workshops, storerooms and barracks.
At these centers officers not only of the regular army, but of the militia, will be trained as aviators and enlisted men of both forces will be instructed as “aeroplane mechanicians.”
As inventors turn out new aviation devices they will be brought to these points for test.
The officers and mechanics will also be systematically employed in studying weather conditions and other atmospheric phenomena in their relations to flying; in sending wireless telegrams from the clouds; in sketching, map drawing and making reconnaissances from aircraft; in dropping projectiles from the heavens and in accurate firing of rifles and machine guns from aeroplanes.
Hydro-aeroplanes—machines that will alight upon, skim over and fly from water as well as land—are also proposed as part of the army’s equipment. So far these vehicles have been adopted only by the navy.
The five “centers of aviation” described are not to be called schools, because they will be points for the concentration of squadrons as well as for the instruction of officers and mechanicians. No new land and few new buildings will have to be acquired for them.
Our existing army posts will supply all of their needs except those of the eastern center, which will probably occupy the College park field near Washington, already equipped as an aviation school for the army.
This, the first of the series of “aviation centers,” is now being taken possession of by 10 military aviators lately moved north from the temporary winter school at Augusta, Ga.
The school is in command of Captain Charles de F. Chandler, the army’s chief aviator, who has also won honors as a balloonist.
He now has in charge one captain and seven lieutenant colonel of the Ohio national guard. The accompanying photographs show these aviators at work at College park, as well as the most modern machines lately installed there.
The army now has only six aeroplanes in use, but General Allen tells me that he has six more ordered, and hopes to have four others, making a total of 16 by July 1.


The Wright Model F pusher-type (propeller facing rear) aeroplane licensed as a Wright Model F craft by the BUrgess Company seen here in a circa 1914 photo via the National Museum of the US Air Force.

The Wright, Burgess-Wright and Curtiss machines already working were bought at an average cost of $5,100 apiece, but the new machines will be much more powerful and will have an average cost of at least a thousand dollars more each.
The last five contracted for will be known as “weight carrying military aeroplanes.”
They carry two aviators, and before they will be accepted they must prove by trial flights that they can ascent 2,000 feet in 10 minutes while carrying a weight of 450 pounds, in addition to four hours; supply of fuel; that their planes will insure a safe gliding angle in case the engine stops, and that they can alight upon or rise from plowed fields. The speed of these heavy machines, with the weight mentioned, must test up to 45 miles an hour.
More than a mile per minute speed, or 65 miles an hour, must be attained by a class of “light scouting aeroplanes,” for which the general has had specifications drawn. These will carry only one aviator each.
Physical perfection is demanded by the general of men who seek admittance to the College Park aviation school or who will apply for training at the four other schools projected. Only commissioned officers of the army and militia need apply, and before they can be admitted these must undergo a rigorous physical examination, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that their eyesight is normal, without glasses; that they can estimate distances accurately; that the are not color blind for red, green or violet; that their ears are as sharp as their eyes; that their wind is good, their lungs and heart perfectly sound, and that they have no diseases of the nervous system or digestive apparatus.
You will be surprised as well as amused at some of the tests prescribed for these candidates. Here, for example, are some devised to detect diseased conditions of the internal ear:
Have the candidate stand with knees, heels and toes touching. Have the candidate walk forward, “backward and in a circle. Have the candidate hop around the room. All these tests should be made with the eyes open and then closed, on both feet and then on one foot, hopping forward and backwards, the candidate trying to hop or walk in a straight line. Any persistent deviation, either to the left or right, is evidenced of a diseased condition of the inner ear.”
Intestinal disorders tending to produce dizziness are also looked out for very carefully.
And there is an elaborate test for precision of the limb movements.
Having run the gauntlet of the examining surgeons, the wouldbe military aviator must next get used to his Pegasus.
This takes some time and is preparatory to the final series of six tests which determine whether he shall receive his certificate from the secretary of war and see “military aviator” printed after his name in the army register.
Here are six feats which he must perform before he can receive his degree:
He must fly to an altitude of at least 2,500 feet; make a cross country flight of 10 miles going and 10 miles returning; fly five minutes in a 15 mile wind; carry a passenger 500 feet up and land him clear within 150 feet of a mark; execute a volplane from 500 feet up with the engine cut off and land within 300 feet of the mark; make a reconnaissance flight of 20 miles at an average height of 1,500 feet and bring back information concerning features of the landscape passed over.
Having this won his certificate, he will be detailed with one of the aeroplane squadrons and will receive 20-per cent extra pay while engaged in his perilous profession.
And if he cracks his head during such service his widow will be given his full pay for six months after he turns up his toes.
These, at least, are provisions of the bill now before congress, which makes partial provision for General Allen’s general scheme for enlarging our sky army from its present formidable force of 10 aviators.


The advertisement above depicts a Curtiss Hydro-aeroplane – the same aircraft (near as I can figure) featured in an image accompanying the above article.

The writer does say that the five “centers of aviation” described are not to be called schools, but after stating that, does seem to enjoy calling them ’schools’.

A minor complaint to be sure.

Plus, the author is a little too light in his off-the-cuff remarks regarding a pilot’s death in the line of duty, but I suppose we can forgive author John Elfreth Watkins, considering he’s been pushing up daisies for a while, too.

I do love Watkins’ “sarcastic” comment about America’s “formidable force of 10 aviators”… nice.

FYI: College Park is located in Maryland, and is now the College Park Aviation Museum.

FYI: a volplane, as mentioned in the second-last paragraph, is a controlled dive.

FYI: The Burgess-Wright aeroplane mentioned within, is a licensed version of a Wright Model B aeroplane to the Burgess Company… the very first licensed airplane company in the U.S., first occurring on February 1, 1911.  These Wright Model B planes were actually designated (for Burgess) as the Wright Model F.

I also love how the term air force isn’t in use, with Watkins constantly using the term “sky army.” To Watkins’ credit, once, and only once, does he use the term air force.

Prior to the use of aeroplanes, hot air balloons were the aircraft of choice.

The predecessor organizations leading up to today’s U.S. Air Force are:

  • Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps August 1, 1907 – July 18, 1914;
  • Aviation Section, Signal Corps July 18, 1914 – May 20, 1918;
  • Division of Military Aeronautics (May 20, 1918 – May 24, 1918);
  • Air Service, U.S. Army (May 24, 1918 – July 2, 1926);
  • U.S. Army Air Corps (July 2, 1926 – June 20, 1941), and;
  • U.S. Army Air Forces (June 20, 1941 – September 17, 1947)

The Army Air Force then became the U.S. Air Force (USAF).

The newspaper article is a wonderful look back at how the USAF was thoughtfully created.

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Wills’s Aviation Card #69 – “Morning Post” Airship, 1910.


History Behind The Card: “Morning Post” Airship, 1910 (Lebaudy III.)

Card #69 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Black-back issue

  • Marie Paul Jules Lebaudy, July 4, 1858 in Engheim, France – October 17, 1937 in  Rosny-sur-Seine, France;
  • Pierre Joseph Marie Lebaudy, October 6, 1865 in Versailles, France – August 1, 1929, in XXXX;
  • Henri Julliot, 18xx (?) – 19xx (?), (Birthplace?), France

It seems strange to me that airships like dirigibles and zeppelins were still being purchased when the new and exciting technology of aircraft was all the rage, but I keep forgetting that despite the fact that Wills’s put out the 50-, and later extended sets of 75- and 85-cards on aviation—it was really pretty new… and despite moderate success, aeroplanes had not proven their worth yet as of the time of the card set’s printing in 1911.

Aircraft motors simply weren’t powerful enough or the aircraft frames weren’t sturdy enough to haul anything more than two people up in the air at a time… and could only fly for a couple of hours maximum until they had to land and refuel.

But zeppelins, hot-air balloons and dirigibles not only had more carrying capacity, but could stay aloft a far greater length of time, making them much more practical than the hopping and sputtering aeroplane.

It’s probably the reason why French manufacturer Lebaudy Frères (The Lebaudy Brothers) were building their semi-rigid airships.


Lebaudy Brothers

Pierre (left) and Paul Lebaudy are honored on this postage stamp from Cuba in 2000… but I could not find photographic images of these aviation pioneers, and was, after discovering this Cuban stamp surprised there wasn’t one issued by France.

Brothers Paul and Pierre Lebaudy—wealthy French sugar refiners, who seemed to have deep pockets and acted the sugar daddy to the actual chief engineer and designer Henri Julliot, who in the first decade of the 1900s built what eventually became known as the Lebaudy-style of dirigible that was uniquely a semi-rigid aircraft.

While Germany preferred Count Zeppelin’s rigid self-named Zeppelin with its permanent frame within a gas envelope, the Lebaudy craft was a semi-rigid aircraft whereby it is dependent on its framework and the form of its envelope.

Basically, that means that the bottom of the balloon has flat framework with planes attached, and has its car, engine and propeller suspended from it. You can actually get a clear view of that in the Wills’ card above.

The Lebaudy and other semi-rigid craft have a partial framework consisting of a rigid or flexible keel frame along the long axis under the aerodynamic hull envelope.

The Lebaudy or Lebaudy-Julliot dirigibles were built in France between 1902 and 1910.

The Lebaudy dirigibles designed by Julliot were unique. While contemporary craft used propellers at the prow to pull it, and others placed them at the stern to push it, Julliot affixed the propellers on each side of the craft near the center allowing for less air disturbance.

As well, the Lebaudy balloons were not quite round, having the lower area flattened and resting on the frame suspending the car. In fact, the balloons were divided into three sections to stop heavier air from moving into another area when it is tilting during altitude alterations.

All told, there were 12 different dirigibles built by Lebaudy brothers, with the first airship built in 1902.

The dirigible pictured in Card No. 69 above is the Lebaudy Morning Post, then the largest airship built in France. It was the seventh dirigible built by the Lebaudy brothers.

It was actually commissioned by the British newspaper The Morning Post, who created a fund to purchase and present the dirigible to the British Army. Aww… how patriotic.

Designed by Henri Julliot, the Lebaudy Morning Post was similar in design to such dirigibles as the earlier Lebaudy République and Lebaudy Patrie but was both larger and faster.

The Morning Post was built in September 1910 and purchased by a national newspaper subscription service for the London Morning Post.


Despite what the Wills’s card states on the revers of the card, the dimensions are different:


  • Capacity: 20 people;
  • Length: 337 feet 10 inches (102.97 meters);
  • Diameter: 39 feet 4 inches (12 meters);
  • Volume: 353,168 cubic feet (10,000.6 cubic meters);
  • Powerplant: 2 × Panhard & Levassor 4M 4-cylinder in-line water-cooled piston engines, 135 hp each;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed 2x Chauvière Integrale, 16 feet 5 inches (5 meters) in diameter each;
  • Speed: 55 kilometers (34.2 miles) per hour.

The Morning Post always flew well… but parking… yeesh.

The Morning Posts Delivery
To deliver the airship, flew 370 kilometers in five-and-a-half hours between Moisson, France to Aldershot, England.

Leaving on October 26, 1910, it carried right people including pilot Louis Capazza. The passengers included the dirigible designer Henri Julliot; the just-appointed commander of the British Army Balloon Works Major Sir Alexander Bannerman; and a representative of the Morning Post newspaper.

The take-off, flight and landing all went well, but… there’s always a but…

There were strong winds that day and landing was difficult, but after a few comical attempts by the ground crew trying to catch hold of the mooring ropes, they managed to safely secure it.

The passengers disembarked – happy at the successful flight.

The Morning Post dirigible was then towed to a special shed that was built specifically to house the aircraft.

While it seemed to shock them that it was going to be a tight fit – because they swear they measured it… they simply needed to make sure they took care.

You know… like even if my garage didn’t have stuff in it and I tried to park a car there, I would still have to carefully enter and exit the facility because you don’t want to damage the vehicle.

Now… this is what you get for paying someone $0.25 an hour (I’m guessing)…

As the dirigible was being maneuvered into the tight shed—with just 10 more feet (~3 meters) to squeeze in… a large hiss could be heard meaning either the world’s largest snake was somehow in the shed, or the dirigible got caught on an overhead girder.

The balloon quickly lost its gas and buoyancy and collapsed on a men below, but luckily there were no injuries.

Canceling My Subscription To The Morning Post
It took until May 4, 1911, but the Morning Post was finally fixed up and ready to embark on its second voyage.

Up in the air with a crew of seven, and approaching the end of its one-hour test flight, all had gone well…

The crew dropped down the mooring ropes to allow the ground crew (soldiers), to grab hold and steady it.

But again… winds… or maybe just a strong gust… but the grounds crew couldn’t steady her losing control of the mooring ropes… the Morning Post drifted into some nearby trees.

Fortunately, there was no hiss… but there was an explosive ka-pow, as the gas envelope burst.

The dirigible collapsed quickly over the trees and a house, which I’m sure must have amused the homeowners and their home insurance company.

“A what-now landed on your roof? Uh-huh… I’m pretty sure you aren’t covered for falling dirigibles.”

I joke, but the crew aboard the Morning Post were tossed around quite a bit, with one mechanic receiving some pretty bad burns.





Luckily the motors missed landing on the house.

And yeah… that’s it for the Morning Post. Kaput.

Seems to me like what the world needed more of in 1911 were better places to park a dirigible.

Below you’ll see some additional Wills’s Aviation cards from different 1911 series’.

Below is a reverse of the Vice Regal 75-card series, and one from the Vice Regal 85-card series. The fronts are identical to the Capstan version above.


75-card series – Vice Regal black back issue 1911.


85-card series – Vice Regal black back issue 1911.

Per above, you can see how collecting the cards is more than it seems… and I’m not even talking green backs… I don’t have any of this card… or of the Havelock tobacco series.
For more information on all the Lebaudy dirigibles, see my blog HERE.

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