Wills’s Aviation Card #51 – “Bristol” Military Biplane.

card-51History Behind The Card: “Bristol” Military Biplane.
Card #51 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture issue

  • Sir George White, 1st Baronet, March 28, 1854 in Kingsdown, Bristol, Great Britain – November 22, 1916 in Stoke Bishop, England, Great Britain.
  • George Henry Challenger, June 3, 1881 in Neath, Wales, Great Britain – December 22(?), 1947 in Taunton, England, Great Britain.

This card shows the Bristol Biplane (official name), though the Wills’s card calls it the Bristol Military Biplane, and the world seems to refer to it as the Bristol Boxkite.

It was designed and manufactured by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, which was known much later as the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

This pusher aeroplane (the motor and propeller are located behind the pilot) certainly looks like a boxkite, owing its good looks to the company copying the Farman III biplane, but then adjusting it enough to avoid copyright theft, much to the chagrin of Henri Farman.

However, even that in itself is an interesting story.

First, the particulars of the two main individuals I have listed above:

  • Sir George White, 1st Baronet was an English businessman and stockbroker based in Bristol. He, along with his brother Samuel, were the key individuals involved in the formation of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. He was also a pioneer in the construction of electric tramways in England.

    Sir George White

    Bristol tramways were operated from 1875, when the Bristol Tramways Company was formed by Sir George White, until 1941 when a Luftwaffe bomb destroyed the main power supply cables. Those early trams were horse-drawn, but White helped introduce electric trams in 1895, with Bristol becoming the first city to do so in Great Britain. At its peak there were 17 routes and 237 tramcars in use.

    In 1887 the Bristol Tramways Company merged with the Bristol Cab Company to form the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company. The new company developed a fleet of omnibuses to serve the rest of the city and country areas. In 1912 it bought the Clifton Rocks Railway. In 1929 the White family sold its controlling interest in the company to the Great Western Railway, but by 1932 control had passed to the Thomas Tilling Group. William Verdon Smith (nephew of Sir George White) remained as chairman but was replaced in 1935 by J.F. Heaton of Thomas Tilling, so he could concentrate on the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

    In 1937 control of Bristol’s tramways passed to a joint committee of the Bristol Tramways company and Bristol Corporation, though it began to abandon the tramways in 1938 even before the German airforce took out the city of Bristol during WWII.

    The Bristol Tramways company continued as a bus operator, but the name was not changed to Bristol Omnibus Company until 1957. It was one of the oldest bus companies in the U.K., and the dominant bus operator in Bristol, but it ceased operation in 1987.

  • George Henry Challenger (no photo found!) was a British aviator and aero-engineer, originally with the Bristol Aeroplane Company and later with Vickers. He designed a number of aircraft and held a number of aviation-related patents.

I do know that on February 14, 1911, George Henry Challenger received Royal Aero Club of United Kingdom certificate #58.

He was:

  1. elected an “Associate Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society” in 1913;
  2. chief designer and engineer in the aviation department of Vickers;
  3. formerly chief engineer at the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company;
  4. and previously employed as an engineer by the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Co.;
  5. Challenger was the author and co-author of numerous patents, including those for a ring mounting and the Vickers-Challenger interrupter gear, both for machine-guns.

I could not find an exact date of death for Challenger… even the reliable Flight magazine wasn’t reliable enough – published January 15, 1948 :


At least we know he was a religious person…

I did find a December 23, 1947 notice in the Western Daily Press of Bristol, England noting a funeral for Challenger… but since it cost money to do the research – IE actually go in and get a close look at the article, I couldn’t find the exact date of death. I’m not rich. I couldn’t find a “Free” newspaper database for British newspapers… understandable, but ultimately quite sad.

Back to the card.


The Bristol Boxkite was the first plane to be built in mass quantity, with four purchased by the British War Office in 1911, and others sold to Russia and Australia.

Originally, White wanted to build licensed copies of the Zodiac biplane designed by Gabriel Voisin, after one was bought by White to show at the 1910 London Aero Meet. The idea was to garner interest…

The thing is… White, nor any of his pilots, had actually flown the machine to see how well it handled.

They should have.

Voisin flying his Zodiac.jpg

Voisin flying his Zodiac aeroplane – he could make it fly!

After taking the Zodiac to Brooklands airfield for tests, no one could get the plane of the ground—perhaps due to an under-powered engine to plane weight ratio, and the shallow camber of the wing section—a fact  commented on by the pioneering aviation magazine, Flight.

Flight, by the way, has its inventory available as a PDF to download, which is brilliant – so you can see original copies of 1909 write-ups of aeroplane, companies – whatever…

To compensate for the wing problem, White and company added a different set… but still… a weak motor is a weak motor.

On May 28, 1910, pilot Maurice Edmond was able to achieve a short flight, but on June 10, 1910, an accident that damaged its undercarriage had the frustrated crew give up on the Zodiac… even with five other such copies being built by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company at its headquarters at Filton.

Plane-less, which is a bad thing for an aeroplane manufacturing company, White was advised to take a look at the Farman III plane, designed by Henri Farman.


An example of the Farman III aeroplane

You could hardly go wrong with anything Farman created… but White was unable to grab the rights to build the Farman III biplane because George Holt Thomas—founder of the Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited (Airco) had a head start in doing the same thing with Farman.

Holt Thomas had gone through the Farman brothers to use French pilot Louis Paulhan to vie for a £10,000 prize offered by family friend Lord Northcliffe of the Daily Mail… a prize first offered in 1906 for a successful flight from London to Manchester… a prize that was not claimed until Paulhan did so in April of 1910.

So… able to use a crappy Voisin Zodiac, and unable to grab the rights to the Farman Brother’s Farman III, White and the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company were up the proverbial creek.


Drawings of the Bristol Boxkite – not the ones in Flight magazine.

Enter George Challenger, the company’s chief engineer at Filton.

After seeing detailed drawings of the Farman III in Flight magazine, Challenger was pretty sure he could build a copy of the plane.

White told Challenger to go ahead.

A few weeks later, the first copy was constructed, using materials from the partially built Zodiac aeroplanes.

The Bristol Boxkite was first flown on July 30, 1910 by Maurice Edmond at the company’s flying school on Salisbury Plain.

Farman, not surprisingly, sued the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company for patent infringement.

However, White was able to show Farman that they had made significant alterations to Farman’s design to improve it… so Farman dropped the suit.

So yes… the Bristol Boxkite was certainly based on the Farman III biplane, but Challenger and his staff made significant achievements to have their plane be its own design.

This plane was simply called the No. 7. Best guess is that the initial Zodiac was No. 1, with the five partially-constructed Zodiac‘s taking the numbering up to No. 6.

The Boxkite was considered to be a two-bay pusher biplane (the span of a wing between two sets of interplane or cabane struts is called a bay).

Bristol Boxkite.jpg

Bristol Boxkite

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

“… biplane with an elevator carried on booms in front of the wings and an empennage consisting of a pair of fixed horizontal stabilisers, the upper bearing an elevator, and a pair of rudders carried on booms behind the wing. There were no fixed vertical surfaces. Lateral control was effected by ailerons on both upper and lower wings. These were single-acting, the control cables arranged to pull them down only, relying on the airflow to return them to the neutral position. The wings and fixed rear horizontal surfaces were covered by a single layer of fabric: the other surfaces were covered on both sides.”

The first Boxkite, No. 7, used fitted with a Grégoire 50 horsepower motor, but even before its first test flight, they swapped it out for a same output Gnome motor. Maybe it was lighter?

For later trials, they put the Grégoire back in.

Boxkite No. 8 used an E.N.V. 50 horsepower motor.

Still, for almost all other aeroplanes, the company supplied the aeroplanes with the 50 horsepower Gnome rotary engine.

Each motor was was set just above the lower wing upon sturdy wooden beams, which, also held up the pilot and passenger seats up front.

Under the plane, as you can see from the images above, a pair of long skids—each holding a pair of wheels to provide balance to the plane upon the ground.

Although early Boxkite examples built had equal upper and lower wingspans, later ones had a longer upper wing.

Boxkite aircraft with the longer upper wing are known as the Military version, which is what the Wills’s card depicts.

Bristol Boxkite Military version specifications:

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2;
  • Length: 11.73 meters (38 feet 6 inches);
  • Wingspan: 14.17 meters (46 feet 6 inches);
  • Height: 3.61 meters (11 feet 0 inches);
  • Wing area: 48.03 square meters (517.0 square feet);
  • Empty weight: 408 kilograms (900 pounds);
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 522 kilograms (1150 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome Omega rotary piston engine, 50 horsepower (37 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 64 kilometers per hour (40 miles per hour);
  • Wing loading: 10.9 kilograms per square meters (2.22 pounds per square foot);
  • Power/mass: 70.9 watts per kilogram (0.043 horsepower per pound).

By the time production of the Boxkite ceased in 1914, the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company had constructed 78 Bristol Boxkite aeroplanes in total, of which 60 were the so-called Military version, one (no. 44) was a Racer version, and one, No. 69, was a an unsuccessful Voisin variant.

Bristol Boxkite‘s No. 73-78 were built at Brislington by the Tramway Company, with all those before it manufactured at the Filton facility.

The No. 9, flown by pilot Robert Loraine in late September of 1910, was the first aeroplane to send a radio signal down to the ground, in Great Britain.

Loraine, by the way, has his diary noted by the Oxford English Dictionary, as the first written example of the word “joystick” to describe aircraft stick controls.

On March 14, 1911, the British War Office ordered four Bristol Boxkites for its planned Air Battalion Royal Engineers—becoming the first production contract for military aircraft for Britain’s armed forces.

A second order of four was made later that year, with them all pretty much being used as trainers for would-be pilots.

When WWI broke out, four more were ordered by the British War Office, the last of which was written off in February of 1915, as obsolete.

These aeroplanes were used as trainers at the Bristol flying schools at Brooklands and Larkhill, both of which were responsible for giving nearly 50 percent of British pilots their license before WWI.

Sadly, no original Bristol Boxkite aircraft are around today, but you could use those Flight magazine drawings to recreate a Farman III. Or maybe you could check out the three replica aircraft built for the movie Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines

One is at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, another at the Shuttleworth Collection at Bedfordshire, and the third is at the Museum of Australian Army Flying in Australia.

I’m sure other replicas exist.

Anyhow, the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company did continue to produce other aircraft through 1959, as well as helicopters, cars and had an aerospace division between 1957-1966).

In 1956 its major operations were split into Bristol Aircraft and Bristol Aero Engines. In 1959, Bristol Aircraft merged with several major British aircraft companies to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Bristol Aero Engines merged with Armstrong Siddeley to form Bristol Siddeley.

BAC went on to become a founding component of the nationalized British Aerospace, now BAE Systems. Bristol Siddeley was purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1966, who continued to develop and market Bristol-designed engines.

And it all began because they decided to copy aeroplane drawings found in a magazine.

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

Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1910 – 50 Cards

checklistChecklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1910  – 50 Cards

  1. “Flying Ship” of Francesco de Lana.
  2. Montgolfier, 1783.
  3. First Balloon Flight in England, 1784.
  4. First Successful Crossing the Channel, 1785.
  5. First Parachute Display, 1837.
  6. First “dirigible,” 1852.
  7. First Successful Dirigible, 1883.
  8. Rounding the Eiffel Tower, Santos Dumont.
  9. First British War Balloon, “Nulli Secondus,” 1905.
  10. United States Military Dirigible No. 1.
  11. The Wellman Airship “America,” 1907.
  12. French Dirigibles Lebaudy Type.
  13. Modern British Army Dirigible “Baby.”
  14. “Ville de Paris” (French.)
  15. German Parseval Type.
  16. Italian Dirigible “Italia.”
  17. Spanish “Torres Quevedo.”
  18. German Military Dirigibles Gross Type.
  19. French Zodiac type.
  20. Italian Military Dirigible No. 1.
  21. German Dirigible “Clouth.”
  22. French Military Dirigible “Colonel Renard.”
  23. German Zeppelin Type.
  24. French Dirigible “Capazza.”
  25. British Dirigible “Clement Bayard.”
  26. An Early Idea of Aviation.
  27. Besnier.
  28. Henson’s Idea.
  29. Lilenthal Gliding Machine.
  30. Maxim, 1890.
  31. The “Ader” Flying Machine.
  32. Chanute, 1895.
  33. Santos Dumont’s First Monoplane.
  34. “Gastamabide & Mengin” Monoplane, 1908.
  35. Wright Bros.’ Biplane.
  36. Professor Langley’s Aerodrome.
  37. “Voisin” Type Biplane.
  38. “Bleriot XI.”
  39. The “Antoniette” Monoplane, 1909.
  40. The “Windham” Monoplane.
  41. “Farman” Biplane.
  42. The R.E.P. Monoplane.
  43. “Silver Dart.”
  44. “Cody” Biplane.
  45. Santos Dumont’s Monoplane, No. XIX.
  46. “Herring-Curtiss.”
  47. “Jerme” Biplane.
  48. “Kimball.”
  49. “Rickman” Helicopter.
  50. The First Lady Aviator.
Posted in Aviation Art, Balloons, Concepts, Failures, Firsts, Gliders, Heavier-Than-Air, Helicopters, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Parachute, People, Pilots, Tobacco Card, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #50 – The First Lady Aviator.

card-50History Behind The Card: The First Lady Aviator.

Card #50 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Elise Raymonde Deroche, aka Raymonde de Laroche,  August 22, 1882, in Paris, France – July 18, 1919 in Le Crotoy, France.

What can we say about the short life of Elise Deroche who used her stage name when flying as Raymonde de Laroche?


de Laroche is the first woman (in the world) to earn and receive an airplane (aeroplane) pilot’s license.


The official Pilot’s license No. 36 of the Aero Club of France issued to Raymonde de Laroche – the first accredited female pilot – on March 8, 1910. Since the name on the license is actually her stage name, I wonder if it was legally changed, or if not, if the license is ‘valid’. LOL.

Although the Wills’s card #50 indicates that she is a “Baroness”, it is actually a nickname… and one pronounced upon her by the very early aviation periodical “Flight” magazine.

The daughter of a plumber, she had a bit of a wild tomboy side, or… maybe that’s not fair. Like most people of that era, she was fascinated with the new inventions: motorcycles, automobiles and eventually aviation.

She was also an actress, which is where the name Raymonde de Laroche came from.

When she saw Wilbur Wright demonstrate his Wright Flyer in 1908 Paris, de Laroche, who was also friends with aviator Léon Delagrange (supposedly the father of her child, André), got the urge to want to fly, too.

So, in October of 1909, she asked famed aviator Charles Voisin to teach her how to fly. On October 22, she traveled to Chalons, about 140 kilometers (90 miles) east of Paris where the brothers Voisin had their base of operations.

The main problem with learning how to fly with a Voisin biplane, is that it is a single-seat aircraft. As such, Voisin stayed on the ground to instruct, while de Laroche operated the controls herself.


That same day, de Laroche learned how to taxi the biplane across the airfield, and then lifted the plane off the ground and flew a distance of 270 meters (900 feet), becoming the first woman to ever fly a heavier-than-air vehicle.

She certainly wasn’t the first woman in the air, as there were numerous who had been in hot-air balloons, and dirigibles – even piloting such craft.

As for aeroplanes, two other women had beaten her to the aeroplane by being passengers:  P. Van Pottelsberghe and Thérèse Peltier, flying in 1908 with Henri Farman and Delagrange, respectively.


Raymonde de Laroche in her Voisin biplane, 1909. She seems to like turtleneck sweaters – but who could blame her… it’s cold in the air up there.

As for  de Laroche, she had also been aboard an aeroplane just once before her celebrated piloting accomplishment.

The thing is… Voisin had told her NOT to do anything but taxi… to just get the hang of the controls. Naughty, naughty.

Brother Gabriel Voisin wrote later that Charles: “my brother [was] entirely under her thumb”.

One week after the successful flight, Flight magazine wrote: “For some time the Baroness has been taking lessons from M. Chateau, the Voisin instructor, at Chalons, and on Friday of last week she was able to take the wheel for the first time. This initial voyage into the air was only a very short one, and terra firma was regained after 300 yards (270 m).”

The magazine also notes that on the following day of October 23, 1909, she was up in the air again and circled the airfield twice: “the turnings being made with consummate ease. During this flight of about four miles (6 km) there was a strong gusty wind blowing, but after the first two turnings the Baroness said that it did not bother her, as she had the machine completely under control.”

Again.. it was Flight magazine who like to call her the “Baroness”. Having a cool nickname light certainly added even more flair to de Laroche’s accomplishments.

As the first woman to receive her pilot’s license on March 8, 1910 (see photo of it above), de Laroche was a keen attraction at various aviation meets across Europe: at Heliopolis, Egypt; St. Petersburg, Russia; Budapest, Hungary; and Rouen, France.

At the Russian air meet, she had an audience with Tsar Nicholas II, and was introduced to him as the “Baroness.”

Preparing for the second Reims air meet in France (July 3-10, 1910), de Laroche crashed her plane on July 8, 1910 causing injuries severe enough that she did not fly again for two more years.



A cool photograph of de Laroche with a wrecked 1910 aircraft – not sure if it’s the same as the one in the above photo – but this one has a personally signed message and autograph!

Again on September 26, 1912, she crashed again… this time it was an automobile accident where she was severely injured but with aviator Charles Voisin dying.

On November 25, 1913, de Laroche won the Femina Cup with a non-stop distance flight of over four hours.

The Coupe Femina (en Francais), as a trophy and FF2,000 award established first in 1910 by France’s Femina women’s magazine publisher Pierre Lafitte – an award meant to promote and honor women pilots.

It was a French-only challenge open to female pilots. The idea behind it was to award the trophy and money to the one woman who, by sunset of December 31 of the year had flown the longest flight in time and distance, without landing.

Thanks to the onset of WWI (aka The Great War) in 1914, de Laroche was the last person to win the award in 1913.

Despite her achievements, women were not allowed to be pilots during WWI… too dangerous, apparently. Instead, she was a military driver, driving officer from the front lines to the safer rear zones.

With the war ending in 1918, de Laroche was back up in the air in 1919  setting flying records for women: 4,800 meters (15,700 feet) and a distance record of 323 kilometers (201 miles).

But it all came to a crashing halt. On July 18, 1919, de Laroche went to Le Crotoy as part of her plan to become an aeroplane test pilot.

According to one source, she co-piloted an experimental aircraft (no one is sure of she was the pilot or passenger), and when it was coming in for a landing, the aeroplane went into a dive and crashed into the ground, killing de Laroche and the other flier.

Except… Flight magazine has the real scoop:

From the July 24, 1919 edition of Flight magazine:

Baroness de la Roche Killed

It appears almost ironical that the Baroness de la Roche who was the first woman pilot should have been killed while flying as a passenger. What happened is not very clear, but it would seem that the machine in which she was flying overturned during a trial flight. Baroness de la Roche was killed instantly and the pilot, Barrault, died very shortly afterwards. Baroness de la Roche, secured her pilot’s certificate in France on March 8, 1910, having qualified on a Voisin biplane, and in the following November she won a Femina Cup with a flight of 200 miles. During the War, she tried without success to join the French Air Service, A few weeks ago she took a machine up to a height of 4,900 meters (16,170 ft,) but the French Club refused to recognize “women’s records”, a decision which has caused some discussion across the Channel.

So… she was the passenger (they spelled her name as de la Roche, however, rather than de Laroche). Barrault (couldn’t find a first name) was the pilot.

A French newspaper source of the day found HERE  (and poorly translated to English by Google) says:

The tragedy occurred while the two airmen were aboard an experimental apparatus of the firm Caudron, Barrault having taken the controls to realize a flight that will turn badly: indeed, while he makes a descent in spin , Barrault failed to straighten out the airplane in time to avoid the crash.

So… the second source also says she was the passenger, and provides more detail on the actual crash.

This, folks, is why you have to find multiple sources to arrive at the truth when it comes to providing a true history.

Gone, but not forgotten completely, the week that includes March 8  – when de Laroche received her pilot’s license – a Women of Aviation week is held globally. The week also includes International Women’s Day… and is is meant to bring attention to the world of aviation as an inspiration for women.

This concludes the W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910 of 50 cards.

I will continue by examining the next 25 to 35 cards that appeared in the 75 and 85-card series issued in Australia and New Zealand in 1911, continuing the series.

Some of the cards in the multiple 75 card issues (depending on the various tobacco brands), were not the same: for example, card #74 might have had two different aircraft issued with different tobacco backs.

I’ll be back writing more in January. Until then: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Seasons Greetings, Happy Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate – and happy Festivus for the rest of us. Happy new year, too. Stay safe and healthy.

Posted in Aviation Art, Heavier-Than-Air, Pilots, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wills’s Aviation Card #49 – “Rickman” Helicopter.

card-49History Behind The Card: “Rickman” Helicopter.
Card #49 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Rickman, – called Mr. Rickman… no data re: first name, date of birth or date of death. BUT… wait till you get to the bottom of this blog… we have a breakthrough!

The reverse of this Card #49, says that as of the time of this card – December 1909 – well… at least we have a proper date for the Rickman helicopter – no great results have occurred.

The card’s descriptive is quite exaggerated, calling the Rickman Helicopter one of the strangest flying machines ever built in America, which is saying a lot. Yet they still believed it to have promise.


What we can determine, is that Wills’s believed there might actually be some hope for success for this flying machine… or they thought it sucked and were running out of time and needed to fill the space for Card #49 in the aviation series.

It’s quite obvious that the last few cards in this series have been lacking in true success stories, but are at least for the 1910 smoker/aviation card collector, a look at fairly recently-designed aviation machines.

It was 1910… who the heck knew in advance what could fly? Bleriot, Farman, Curtiss and the Wright Brothers… so five men on the planet knew how to properly design airplanes that could fly. I know that’s not a true number, but the point is few people really had a proper idea of what it took aerodynamically to sustain a heavier-than-air craft.

Since we don’t know who Rickman is… and we don’t have a photograph of him… except there’s this:

According to those in the know, the above is a real photograph of the Rickman Helicopter.

So… if that’s true, we could assume that one of the three dapper men behind the tandem bicycle is “Rickman”… but which man? Considering that the tandem bicycle requires two pedal pushers… and the two men in center and left are wearing matching bowties… we could assume they are the power, while the man on the right in the necktie is the designer and manufacturer… Mr. Rickman.

You’ll note that the man on the right does not have a matching hat either, and has his shirt sleeves down – where the other two have them rolled and clipped at the elbow.

I’m extrapolating… and might be full of hot air, but it’s a possibility.

So… with very little information on just who Rickman is, I turned to the library… or in my case, a librarian, who directed me to: my new friends over at the American Helicopter Society (AHS) International Helicopter History Facebook site: @HeloHistory, who have come through in a huge way. See their website at www.vtol.org.

They contacted the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum via the AHS History Committee, who dug up a newspaper article from the Saturday, October 4, 1930 newspaper The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of Brooklyn, New York.


Rickman Newspaper artticle.jpg

Newspaper article found at www.newspapers.com.

We have the only known on-line description of Franklin E. Rickman!

We now also know that as of 1930 – 22 years after the original Rickman Helicopter concept – that he hadn’t given up on a pedal-powered helicopter. Thing is… as of 2016, we know that conceptually it works. See below…

Feeling happy and armed with a full name, I probed deeper via on-line entries… and found a U.S. patent filed by Franklin E. Rickman in 1898. How many Franklin E. Rickman’s could there be from New York? A few, to be sure… so I present the following with the caveat that the patent might not be related to our Franklin E. Rickman, but considering that our Franklin E. Rickman did build a helicopter out of a tandem bicycle… I’m thinking it’s more than a mere coincidence!

So… my librarian buddy—used www.Ancestry.com to find out more information based on the newspaper article above.

Franklin E. Rickman was born in Tennessee on March 22, 1867. He married Anna Elise Braun on March 14, 1909 in Hoboken, New Jersey  – though another record gives February 14, 1909 as the date.

My librarian says that the latest record he could find of Franklin E. Rickman alive was via the 1940 U.S. Census… alive and well and living in Queens, NY.

He says that the 1950 U.S. Census records are still sealed until 2022, as individual records are sealed for 72 years. The United States does a full census every 10 years.

We could not find a death date in the records.

  • Franklin E. Rickman, March 22, 1867, XXX, Tennessee – date of death: sometime after 1940…

Franklin E. Rickman… I just like typing out his name now… Franklin E. Rickman.

Do you have any idea how incredible ‘discovery’ makes one feel… knowing that you, dear reader are now amongst a handful of people who know a bit of history that was ‘misplaced’?

Wow.  Thanks, Smithsonian! Thanks, http://www.newspapers.com! Thanks,  AHS Helicopter History Facebook site: @HeloHistory !!! And… thanks Vinnie for being the best librarian I’ve ever known!

There are two dates of origin for the Rickman Helicopter – 1908 and 1909.

We could assume that Rickman designed the helicopter in 1908 and getting funds to build his creation then, but didn’t complete it until 1909.

The Rickman Helicopter was essentially a tandem tricycle (two wheels on the rear perhaps to lend the machine more balance), that when pedaled by two riders, the pedal power was transmitted via bevel gear and shaft to an overhead multi-bladed rotor.

The umbrella-like covering measured approximately 4.5 meters (14.76 feet) in diameter, and actually revolved—as opposed to being pushed up and down like an umbrella opening and closing.

Rickman and his two cyclists with big thighs and calves, we hope, demonstrated the machine over at the Belmont Park racetrack in Long Island… or was it the old Morris Park race course in New York… I would say the latter, thanks to newspaper evidence.

Since there a dearth of information on Rickman, we can correctly assume that the “helicopter” never left the ground.

So… what happened next? Well… according to a newspaper article from the December 5, 1909 issue, page 29 of the The Sunday News from Charleston, South Carolina:

“… at the old Morris Park race course, New York… A Mr. Rickman built a helicopter with thirty-two propellers, forming a sunflower shaped parachute. It’s skeleton hangs in the loft of the workshop.”

As for the Wills’s card’s hope that the Rickman Helicopter might be the shape of things to come in the future… probably not.

However, back in 2012, Formula 1 engineer David Barford, 42 at the time, built a pedal-powered airplane in his garage for £8,000 (US $10,000).

With a 20 meter (65.62 feet) wingspan, the “Betterfly” human-powered aircraft flew for 18 seconds at an altitude of two meters (6.56 feet) at a speed of 27.36 kilometers per hour (17 miles per hour)…

It’s a plane, not a helicopter… but if we want an example of a human powered helicopter like the Rickman Helicopter, we could look at the Barney-copter:

Or, you could see the real live version when you read my article HERE.

Also (thanks to Mike Hirschberg at www.vtol.org) there was AeroVelo, Inc. who won  its Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition (HPH) for the first time since the Society established it 33 years ago. See HERE.

My version is right HERE, too.

And… since I am trying to present as much information as possible on Franklin E. Rickman… I found a U.S. patent dated March 28, 1899 (No.621,849) for pneumatic tires.

You can even see an autograph (signature) of Franklin E. Rickman in the drawing accompanying the patent below!

See the patent below:

Franklin E. Rickman Patent #1.jpg

Franklin E. Rickman Patent #1 Page 2.jpg

Franklin E. Rickman Patent #1 Page 3.jpg

Franklin E. Rickman Patent #1 page 4.jpgBecause we now know that as of 1930 he was an employee of the New York City Water Department, I figured what the heck… I contacted the New York Government offices seeking a death date for Franklin E. Rickman… if they choose to help, they might have a record as to WHEN they stopped his pension payments owing to his passing.

I do have a ‘confirmation’ of request number from them… but, as of December 8, 2016, I have not yet heard back from the New York Government.

Worth a shot, right?  We already know more about Rickman than at anytime since he was alive… or at least 1930. 

New York Tribune .jpg

And then… there’s the June 14, 1909 newspaper clipping from the New York Tribune newspaper – above. I found this a few days after I discovered all the other data.

If you give it a read, you’ll notice that the Rickman helicopter is mentioned…. they even offer his first name… Charles Rickman.

WTF? Charles?!

Considering that the 1930 newspaper article that mentioned his name was Franklin E. Rickman, provided his place of business and home address, and mentioned his current helicopter was a continuation of work he did previously in 1908/09… I’m going assume that the other article I just found has incorrect data.

Of course… if one newspaper article could get something as simple as a first name incorrect, whose to say that another such article couldn’t have incorrect data, too?

Being an ex-newspaper guy myself, I want to believe that journalist mistakes are far and few between.

We can agree that the New York Tribune was correct in Rickman having a helicopter at an event in 1909, but that the reporter may not have received the correct information because they didn’t talk to the direct source.   

If anyone has more information to share on the life and times of Franklin E. Rickman, please contact me at mreman@rogers.com. Cheers.


Posted in Aviation Art, Concepts, Failures, Heavier-Than-Air, Helicopters, People, Research, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SolarStratos solar plane unveiled

002-copyright-zeppelin-solarstratos-web-1024x684.jpgPayerne, Switzerland—On December 7, 2016, Raphael Domjan’s stratospheric solar plane was unveiled in Payerne, Switzerland, to 300 guests, including ambassadors, partners, government representatives and the world’s media.

SolarStratos is the first commercial two-seater solar plane in history and plans to be the first manned solar plane to penetrate the stratosphere.

The unique 8.5-meter-long aircraft has a wingspan of 24.8 meters, weighs 450 kilograms and is covered with 22m2 of solar panels. Calin Gologan (Elektra-Solar GmbH – technical partner SolarStratos) is the designer.

“This is a great day for the SolarStratos team,” says Raphael Domjan, creator of PlanetSolar, the first solar-powered boat to do a circumnavigation in 2012 and the initiator and pilot of the SolarStratos project.

“Our goal is to demonstrate that current technology offers us the possibility to achieve above and beyond what fossil fuels offer. Electric and solar vehicles are amongst the major challenges of the 21st century. Our aircraft can fly at an altitude of 25,000 meters and this opens the door to the possibility of electric and solar commercial aviation, close to space,” he continues.

Reaching the stratosphere over the past century has required large quantities of energy or helium. Today, the SolarStratos aircraft offers clean solar and electric aviation for the equivalent environmental footprint of an electric car.

“We are extremely pleased with the positive feedback and encouragement that we have received,” says Roland Loos, chief executive officer of SolarXplorers S.A., the organization in charge of the development and future applications of this endeavor. “Our project brings hope and makes both children and adults dream. It also opens the door to new scientific knowledge – at an affordable price, exploration and the peaceful use of our stratosphere.”

SolarStratos Specifications

  • Length: 8.5 meters (27.89 feet);
  • Wingspan: 24.8 meters (81.37 feet);
  • Weight: 450 kg (992.08 pounds) ;
  • Autonomy more than 24 hours;
  • Propulsion: propeller, 2.2 m (7.22 feet), three blades;
  • Engine: electrical, max. 32 kW / 2200 rpm;
  • Engine efficiency: 90%;
  • Seating: Two-seater in tandem;
  • Energy: solar;
  • Solar cells: 22 square meters (236.806 square feet) ;
  • Cells efficiency: 22-24%;
  • Battery: Lithium-ion, 20 kWh

Actually – this data might be a little wonky… I did notice that (on the SolarStratos website)  says there are four blades on the propellers, but the photo shows only three… I adjusted accordingly… but who knows if the specifications above are from a working model and design and NOT the final product.   

Check out the website at www.solarstratos.com.

Images courtesy of SolarStatos.

Posted in Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, News, Pilots | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #48 – “Kimball”.

card-48History Behind The Card: “Kimball”.
Card #48 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Wilbur Ravel Kimball, January 28, 1863 in Woburn, Massachusetts, United States of America – July 30, 1940, Manhattan, New York, United States of America

Kimball… that’s what the front of the card says… and after a perusal of the reverse of the card, I came away knowing very little about what the Kimball was, let alone who built the formidable aeroplane with eight motors.

It was a guess that the name of the aircraft would also be the name of its designer—and it was…

… the thing is… there’s a much more famous Kimball in aviation history… the guy who helped design the Super Gee, my favorite buzz bomb speed racing aircraft of the 1930s. But apparently not the same guy.

The Kimball of Card #48 is a bit more elusive an individual, as perhaps these last few cards created for the 50-card Wills’s Aviation series, were late additions… and as such, not as much historical data had been compiled by the people putting the set together.

Try typing in Kimball airplane into Google and not much relating to this card appears – except for images depicting this card. That would imply the plane never flew… but let’s find out for sure.

Still, the card is correct on the reverse… the aeroplane is not called “Kimball” but rather “New York“.


Anyhow, from what I can determine, Wilbur Kimball is actually better known for his building of the very first helicopter in the United States.

According to a newspaper article published at the time of his death, Kimball was more into electrical components than aviation—or at least was more successful with electrical.

He was an aide to Alexander Graham Bell, the creator of the telephone.

He was a helper to Thomas Edison who devised the phonograph amongst his hundreds of inventions.

He devised a system for underground transmission of power.

However, he was also an early pioneer of aviation, particularly with helicopter design, and was a member of the Aeronautic Society in New York.


Wilbur Kimball in 1911… standing in front of some sort of aviation device…

Born to Maria and Wilbur F. Kimball, Wilbur Kimball married Elizabeth Norton Gurney of Brockton, Massachusetts.

As mentioned, the Kimball Helicopter of 1908 was his first big attempt at aviation. With it, we can first see his penchant for having lots of propellers with his machines.


Kimball Helicopter 1908.

The helicopter’s vertical thrust came from the 24 small four-bladed propellers that were all driven by a single, central engine.

He decided to test it out in the public’s eye in Belmont Park in New York, but it failed to fly.

Next, Kimball decided to create a non-powered glider… his first aerodynamic testing to achieve flight with a more conventional aeroplane design.

Here’s what the New York Times newspaper dated March 30, 1909 had to say about this:

Aeronaut had a bad fall.
Kimball’s New glider turned turtle when the wind caught it.
Wilbur R. Kimball, one of the leading members of the Aeronautic Society, received the congratulations of his friends yesterday over his narrow escape last Saturday at Morris Park from serious injury. Mr. Kimball who had just completed a large aeroplane on novel lines, made his first venture in his new gliding machine, which he built for experimental flights before making an effort to get his aeroplane in the air.
He used the catapult at Morris Park which shoots the glider along a mono rail, the force coming from a heavy weight dropped from a perpendicular. A strong wind was blowing, and in his second trial, when about thirty feet in the air, the wind hurled the glider back, tipping it completely over. It fell with great force on the rail. The glider was smashed, and Mr. Kimball was badly bruised about the back and head. He said yesterday that he did not know when he would renew his aerial experiments.

When I read the description of the catapult to launch the glider, it made me think of the Wright Brother’s and their wheeless Wright Flyer that – along with the motor – propelled the aircraft into the air.

Hey, at least Kimball got the glider into the air…but why the heck does the newspaper article state that Kimball has already built an aeroplane, and that he’s doing this glider test to make sure his plane can fly?

Shouldn’t you do the test first, and then construct an aircraft dependent of those results?

This could explain a lot.

Then came the eight-propeller driven aeroplane – another very public event with a movie star present, as well as the press.

But… in a news article of the day, it mentioned that this aeroplane was Kimball’s second.

The first never got off the ground – but it was publicized… so I assume that Kimball No. 1 was more than likely the airplane Kimball had built just before his glider incident.

According to another New York Times article of 1909 (not sure of the month):

“A previous model, with six propellers, never got off the ground at its much-publicized unveiling at Morris Park.”

But, ever the showman, Kimball decided to unveil his latest aircraft with much media fanfare and a famous New York actress of the day.

Building up to the event months in advance, the New York Times of March 12, 1909 wrote:
Anna Held to name an airship.
Anna Held, it was announced yesterday, will name Wilbur R. Kimball’s big aeroplane “New York No.1” at Morris Park. The machine was built at Morris Park under the direction of the American Aeronautic Society, and several short flights have been made in it by officers of the society. After naming the aeroplane, Miss Held will take a trip in it with Mr. Kimball.

By the way… Morris Park, as you can see from the photo a few paragraphs below, was a horse race track in the Bronx, New York.

It was named after John Albert Morris (July 1836 – May 25, 1895), an American businessman widely known as the “Lottery King” and a prominent figure in the sport of thoroughbred horse racing. He built the Morris Park Racecourse, which existed from 1889 until 1910… so just one more year after the event above took place.

In 1890 the Morris Park Racecourse hosted both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes,  the latter continued to be run there until 1905.

The track was later used for auto racing and was the site of the first public air show – which is what is going on with Kimball and his plane.

After a 1910 fire, the property was divided into lots for the current neighborhood. Several streets in the Morris Park area including Cruger, Holland, Radcliffe, Colden, Paulding, and Hone Avenues, are named after 18th and 19th century mayors of New York City.

Back to Kimball… from what I understand, Anna Held was a pretty and famous actress who was part of the Ziegfield Follies. Va-va-voom. There’s a photo of her way down this article.



Actress Anna Held christening Wilbur Kimball’s aeroplane The New York, on May 18, 1909 at Morris Park in New York City.

As for the biplane, let’s call it Kimball No.2/New York No. 1, here’s a description of it from the New York Times:

Among the many aeroplanes which are being built in the United States, a very interesting one is the Kimball biplane. The two main planes are of 37 ft. spread, have a depth of. 6i ft., and are placed 4 ft. 2 ins. apart. There is a biplane elevator in front, but no rear rudder, although at the ends of the two main planes are controllable extensions measuring 4 ft. by 4 ft. At each end the rear edges of the main planes are connected by a shutter of the Venetian blind type, which can be manipulated by the aviator for steering purposes. The aeroplane is to be propelled by eight large propellers placed between the planes and driven by an endless steel cable, the power being furnished by a 40-h.p. two-cycle engine.


I believe this is a close-up of Kimball No. 2 – but it seems to have been taken at the same time as the headshot above (same hat, same windy tie/cravat… and same man to the right wearing the same clothes) … and THAT photograph claims to have been 1911… meaning this is another aeroplane he was working on, or he was still attempting to get his Kimball No. 2 up in the air to impress the very pressable actress Anna Held.

Okay… the way I read that, is that all of the propellers are connected to the motor by one really long piece of steel cable.

Steel is pretty heavy… but even if it could work, if that steel cable should break from stress or friction, every single propeller on that plane would all at once fail to receive power from the one motor.

All I can say is: Ms. Held… don’t go on a aeroplane journey in this plane!

Those moveable things on the wing tips seem similar to an aileron for side to side control, but I’m unsure how effective it would actually be.

So… what happened to Kimball No.2/New York No.1?

Here’s what the May 19, 1909 edition of the New York Times newspaper had to say about Kimball’s flight attempt on May 18, 1909.

Wilbur R. Kimball’s new eight-propeller aeroplane gave evidence of being a real bird of flight yesterday … [ ] … something went wrong with the steering gear, and instead of keeping in the middle of the roadway the aeroplane skidded over the two or three foot bank bordering the track, finally stopping in a damaged condition.

Thank goodness the then 38-year-old Held wasn’t part of this debacle.


Anna Held… holy crap! What a wasp body!

Want to know about Anna Held – the common-law wife of Mr. Ziegfield himself? Click HERE.

Later notes from the New York Times suggest that for whatever reason, not all of the propellers were working at the time of the Kimball No.2/New York No.1 crash… implying something happened to that steel cable to prevent power from the small motor to move all of the propellers… or… maybe the motor was too weak to turn all the propellers…

Here’s what we know about that infamous steel cable:
Transmission is effected by means of a small steel endless cable. This cable, which is only one-eighth of an inch in diameter is composed of 114 fine wire threads twisted in six strands of nineteen wires each, and is as flexible as a silken cord. Its tensile strength is 2,000 pounds. Tests have shown that a pull of only 80 to 90 pounds is sufficient to turn the propellers.

Hmm… so it should have worked. Then again… it depends on the aeroplane’s sturdiness of construction, its power to weight ratio, its center of gravity, aerodynamics, and so much more.

Anyhow… if there’s more information out there on Wilbur Kimball, it’s probably in books or other newspapers that I currently do not have access too… and because I’m writing a blog, not a novel. He doesn’t appear to have gotten his aeroplanes off the ground – despite the drawing on our Wills’s aviation card.

Kimball died at a good old age on July 30, 1940 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan, and is buried in Woodbrook Cemetery in Woburn, Massachusetts.

Posted in Failures, Heavier-Than-Air, Helicopters, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Various Balloon Fantasies

batson-aero-yachtI don’t know Daniel Berek, but he has compiled a grouping of images depicting fantasy aircraft before the Wright Brothers… of men and women who thought of things just a bit differently.

Such as the Batson Aero Yacht… a flying boat that cost  US$50,000 in 1913… it weighted 5,000 pounds… and while it floated well enough, no one really had built an aeroplane motor(s) strong enough to make this beast fly.

Check out his “Dreams Of Crossing Oceans” visual Flicker blog HERE


Posted in Aviation Art, Balloons, Concepts, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #47 – “Jerme” Biplane.

card-47History Behind The Card: “Jerme” Biplane.
Card #47 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Charles-Marie-Joseph Germe, in France

This one was a challenge to find out all the information I wanted to discover.

I couldn’t even find out the designer’s birth or death information… but I did come across a very important factor about this Card #47 – namely that the name of the plane, and its creator, is spelled incorrectly.

It is Germe with a “G”, not a “J”.


Germe: The man, the myth, the semi-legend. Still – there was a postcard made of himself and his aeroplane!

Charles-Marie-Joseph Germe does not appear to have been more than a minor footnote in the history of aviation, despite his immortality in this card series.

From what I can fathom, Germe only ever built two aircraft—biplanes that were inspired by the Wright Flyer.


According to the back of the Wills’s card, the Germe plane(s) were based on the Wright Flyer aeroplane built by the Wright Brothers, as well as those built under the Herring-Curtiss Company banner.

I would assume that most successful biplane from that era would be based on something the Wright Brothers or Curtiss had built. It would have to be.

Here’s a crappy English translation of the patent Germe received for his aircraft (noting that I have shortened it for brevity), that was given out on May 10, 1911.

French Republic, National Office of Industrial Property
Marine and navigation, Ballooning, aviation

Improvements on airplanes

“The present invention relates to improvements  to the various parts of airplanes. These improvements include:

  • The displacement of the propeller around one of its points, and in his plan;
  • The shift variable of the rear part of the wings, and;
  • The augmentation of braking of the landing pad by adding a pad articulates.”

Okay – I was going to provide an entire English translation of the patent, but Google Translate – combined with my failure to type out the French words with the appropriate accents gave me a moderate translation but still with enough things to make me go “Huh” as I tilt my head in confusion. So… no… the gist above will suffice.

I do know that the patent cost a whopping 1 French Franc.

Germe No. I, for lack of a better term… this is MY naming of the aircraft,  was actually entered to fly during the 1909 City of Douai North Aviation Competition held Monday June 28 – through Sunday July 18th,  1909 at the town of Douai in France.


Ville de Douhai Nord Concourse d’Aviation/City of Douai North Aviation Competition 1909 aviation meet poster. On the wings of an angel…

Top prizes offered by the village of Douai was:

  • FF (French Francs)  3,000 francs for a speed competition over two kilometers  (the Prix du Nord, sponsored by the railway company Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Nord, the regional council of the Nord department and the town of Douai);
  • 1,000 francs for a one kilometer speed competition (the Prix Mahieu, named after its sponsor)
  • 10,000 francs closed-course distance competition (the Grand Prix de Douai, sponsored by the town);
  • A cross-country distance competition to be contested over the flat fields between Douai and Arras, 25 kilometers to the west.

There were, of course other races and prizes offered throughout the meet, with a total prize amount of FF26,000 offered.

Twelve airplanes and 11 pilots were entered into the event:

  1. Louis Blériot (Blériot monoplane);
  2. Louis Breguet (with two Breguet biplanes);
  3. Pierre de Caters (Voisin biplane);
  4. Charles-Marie-Joseph Germe (Germe biplane);
  5. Jean Gobron (Voisin biplane);
  6. Lasternas (Lasternas biplane);
  7. Hubert Latham (Antoinette monoplane);
  8. Louis Paulhan (Voisin biplane);
  9. Henri Rougier (Voisin biplane);
  10. “F. de Rue”/Ferdinand Ferber (Voisin biplane);
  11. Paul Tissandier (Wright biplane)

But… because the Germe No. I biplane only first flew on August 11, 1909 over Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, the air meet was long over.

The engine on the Germe No. I has two screw propellers each with two blades mounted one behind each other (so it looks like a single propeller).


Germe No. I biplane in 1909.

Specifications Germe No. I:

  • Wingspan: 12 meters (39.37 feet);
  • Weight: 400 kilograms (881.85 pounds);
  • Motor: Anzani three-cylinder engine putting out five horsepower.

A second plane was built and tested throughout 1910, but its first test flight was in February of 1911 – and it crashed.

I have no idea if the second Germe aircraft was different from the first, but I’m guessing it was – perhaps with a stronger engine, or a different wing length… something…

Perhaps the crash of Germe No. II was straw that broke the camels back, as either Germe lost his private funding, he, himself was now broke, or lost his nerve.

Regardless, no further aircraft were built with Germe involvement, despite having a very picturesque Wills’s Aviation card.

Posted in Air Shows, Aviation Art, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Orville Wright’s Gag Check

orville-wright-gag-checkAbove is a gag check created by one Mr. Orville Wright.

One might believe that with all the secrecy he and his brother Wilbur exhibited to protect their aeroplane from 1903-1908, and with subsequent lawsuits for patent infringement, that the boys wouldn’t have much of a sense of a humor.

Well… here’s proof that Orville did.

Up for sale at a current Christie’s auction – a cheque/check  dated December 25, 1932 and signed by Orville Wright.

It was sent to his longtime correspondent and defender Earl Findley for “all the mud he has slung at me.”

According to the Christie’s description:  Wright alters a partly-printed check, crossing out the local bank name and replacing it with “(Left) Bank of the Potomac” and crossing out the Dayton dateline with “Washington, D.C.” ordering to Earl B. Fridley [sic]” to “Pay back… $00000000” or, as spelled out: “All the mud he has slung at me————“ while adding along the left margin “c/Shoes Fan Belt Gardner Aldrin.”

Winning bidder of the check/cheque will receive a typed letter from Mabel Beck (I believe she may have been Findley’s secretary noting that the check settles “in full his account with you.”

Expected bid to be from US$2,000 to $3,000.

Click HERE for a direct link to the upcoming Christie’s Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts (including Americana) auction to be held in New York on December 14, 2016. Happy Bidding on this and many other aviation articles.

Posted in Heavier-Than-Air, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Wills’s Aviation Card #46 – “Herring-Curtiss”.

card-46History Behind The Card: “Herring-Curtiss” Biplane.

Card #46 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910

  • Glenn Hammond Curtiss, in Hammondsport, New York, United States of America, May 21, 1878 – July 23, 1930, Buffalo, New York, United States of America.
  • Augustus Moore Herring, in Covington, Georgia, United States of America, August 3, 1867 – July 17, 1926, New York City, New York, United States of America.

This is an interesting card. The title on the front does not exactly match the title given on the back.

The card is called the “Herring-Curtiss Biplane” on the front of the card, but the reverse omits the word biplane.

But that in itself is not what is a red herring… it’s the information provided on the reverse of the card.


It purports that the Herring-Curtiss aircraft pictured on the card is the result of the American half of the famed Aerial Experiment Association (AEA)—a group of some of the finest engineering minds alive, who created Canada’s first aeroplane – the Silver Dart. See Card #43.

Card #46, however, says that the AEA was half-American and half-Canadian, and that the American half created the Herring-Curtiss.

Uh… no.

There were two Americans in the AEA: Glenn Curtiss, and Lt. Thomas Selfridge… with the latter dying after a Wright Flyer crashed with him aboard, becoming the very first airplane casualty, ever, on September 17, 1908.

That makes it three Canadians and one American remaining in the AEA at the time of their greatest successes… unless you want to include Alexander Graham Bell’s wife Mabel, who was an American and paid the AEA expenses… then again, while Bell himself had become a Canadian and created the telephone there, he was actually born in Scotland.

Anyhow… little things.

Card #46 also makes one think that the Herring-Curtiss aircraft was truly born from the AEA, but no… it was born from Curtiss himself, who was a key component of the AEA.


Glenn Curtiss doing what he does best – flying a plane he designed.

The card says that it was after the AEA split up, that the Canadian contingent came up with the Silver Dart aircraft. Nope. It was while they were still a group, less the now-deceased Selfridge that the Silver Dart became THE plane.

The card correctly states that the Herring-Curtiss was not part of the AEA’s design or focus.

So… who the heck is Herring and why was there no information about him/her on the back of this card… also, why was the Herring-Curtiss even given consideration to appear in this 50-card aviation series? Let’s find out. As I write this, I have no idea.

First off, Curtiss was one of early aviation pioneers… a true genius. Period.

Herring… he was more of a glider man…  Card #32.


Augustus Moore Herring

Born to a wealthy cotton broker, Herring studied in Switzerland and Germany, with his family settling in New York in 1884.

He studied at the Stevens Institute of Technology in 1885 and 1886, and was already constructing models of flying aircraft. Herring… he gave in a thesis paper entitled “The Flying Machine as an Engineering Problem”, but it was rejected by the school, and he left it, not graduating.

In 1893, Herring built his own glider, crashing it pretty much as he tried to leave the ground. This caused him to begin studying the glider work of Otto Lilenthal (see Card #29), and in 1894 he constructed a Type 11 monoplane glider based on the same originally constructed by Lilenthal.

Perhaps impressed by his ingenuity, Herring was hired by famed glider expert Octave Chanute (see Card #32), where he helped construct and test flying models created by both Chanute and himself.

In 1895, Samuel Pierpont Langley hired Herring to help him with his experiments. For more on Langley and his testing of aircraft that nearly beat the Wright Brothers, see Card #36.

Hmmm… lots of cross pollination of tobacco cards in this write-up!

Notice how Herring doesn’t sit still for very long? Was it a personality thing, or was he ADHD, or was it because he was interested in so many different aspects of aviation, or was he simply just that knowledgeable and his services were in great demand?

I can’t answer that. No one can truly answer that without first-hand knowledge of the person.

So, with the dawning of January 1896, Herring was off again, this time rejoining Chanute and his gliders, but also continuing his own work on the side.

In December 1896, he applied for a patent of a man-supporting, heavier-than-air “flying machine” that was motor-powered and controllable, but the patent application was rejected.

Apparently, the patent was NOT rejected based upon the fact that Herring had copied the glider work of Lilenthal, when applying for a patent on a biplane with a wheeled chassis, horizontal and vertical rudder featuring flexible controls, and a special curvature of the wings. Please note that there was no aileron or anything resembling them, in the patent drawings.

No, it was rejected—and this is even with 20 new claims in the patent request—because: “… no power driven aeroplane has yet been raised into the air with the aeronaut or kept its course wholly detached from the earth for such considerable time as to constitute proof of practical usefulness.”

Owtch. Patent rejected for a heavier-than-air flying machine because no has proven one can actually exist.

I suppose it must have been in the way Herring worded his application.

Despite all of this, Herring kept himself front and center in the pre-aviation industry by writing many scientific articles and pieces for the newspapers and magazines, so much so that he was considered to be quite knowledgeable on the subject of aviation, and was elected as one of the earliest members of the Aero Club of America, which Herring reveled in, being a frequent visitor to their New York headquarters.

A man of great self-promotion, I assume, it was on October 10, 1898, that Herring telegraphed Chanute to come and watch him fly a powered aeroplane of his own design, based on the Chanute-type biplane structure, using a compressed air engine at Silver Beach Amusement Park in St. Joseph, Michigan.

Needless to say, Herring couldn’t get it up. Yes, I said it.

The point of contention, however, is that on October 22, 1898, Herring says he made a sustained flight… and that there were two witnesses. Whomever they were.

The aircraft was powered by a two-cylinder, three horsepower compressed air engine, that reportedly would only have enough oomph to work for 30 seconds at a time.

Think about this – a very modest modern gas-powered lawnmower has 10 horsepower, and it’s in no danger of taking off mostly because it is under-powered… and the Wright Brothers’ Flyer aeroplane… it had a 12 horsepower engine.

How the heck was a three horsepower engines supposed to lift a person up into the air? Well… a three horsepower engine could lift up a small modern hovercraft… but I simply don’t see it being able to actively lift a person and flying wing up into the air. Especially when we are talking about a motor from 1898.

According to Herring, the aircraft was difficult to steer. But for those who saw the craft, it looked to be a traditional hang-glider with an engine…

but what about the two witnesses? Exactly.

There does not appear to be any documented evidence like the Wright Bros. had in 1903, and as such, Herring’s 1898 claims for having been the first heavier-than-air successful flight have been almost universally rejected. The State of Michigan likes to think it was a success but, no one else does.

The big problem appears to be the fact that there’s little information on what Herring did after 1898 through 1909 when he popped up as a partner to famed aviator Glen Curtiss.

Seriously… if you claim you had constructed a successful aeroplane back in 1898… and even if it got wrecked, wouldn’t you build another one in the ensuing 11 years? Several of them? So where’s the proof?

Maybe there’s a book or books all about Herring and those elusive 11 years, but it’s like what happened to Jesus in all those years from when he was a young kid to when it was time to be crucified. We can speculate all we want – that he was traveling and learning about different religions in different lands, but like Herring, we just don’t know.

I’m not comparing Herring to Jesus in any manner except that I don’t know much about what happened to each during a missing period of years, but I do know that after his attempts to motorize the glider, Herring suffered a double whammy: his shop burned down and his financier died.

As a result, Herring went back to work with Chanute, testing Chanute’s “oscillating wing” glider at the same place at Kitty Hawk where the Wright’s were working.

Chanute’s glider was a bomb. However, in 1902 Herring did get to see the Wright Brothers test a glider, seeing how it handled pitch, roll and yaw.

Maybe this is why Herring’s name isn’t such a huge deal in aviation anymore. He was a jerk.

After seeing what he saw of the Wright Brother’s glider work, he went to Washington to tell Professor Samuel Langley (see Card #36) what he had seen. Langley, to his credit, wanted nothing to do with the sneaky Herring.

Then, nine days after the Wright Brother’s achieved the first heavier-than-air flight in 1903, Herring wrote to the Wright Brothers and boldly offered them a partnership (three-way), claiming their plane was based on the Chanute-Herring glider, and that he (Herring) was the actually inventor of that glider.

The Wright Brother’s chose to ignore his claims and his “partnership offer”.

To retaliate – maybe – Herring bid against the Wright Brother in 1908 for the U.S. Army contract to construct an aeroplane for them.

At least the Wright Brothers had an aeroplane. Herring had none… still, because his bid was $5,000 less than the Wright Brother’s they ALSO offered Herring a contract.

Herring showed up on judgement day at Fort Meyer, Virginia with two suitcases and something he called his “innovation trunk” that he said fulfilled the Army’s contract. Riiiiight.

Then, when Orville Wright piloted and crashed his Flyer aeroplane and needed time to recover and was granted a contract extension, Herring suddenly decided to withdraw from the competition, claiming he had better offers, which he might have.

Herring went to Curtiss, who was already quite famous for his work on the Silver Dart and June Bug aeroplanes and someone who was already on the Wright Brother’s radar as someone to sue.

The Wright Brothers held the patent on the lateral control method of wing-warping.

However, Curtiss (and the AEA) had created an alternate method for lateral control – the aileron, which controlled roll in flight – and, of course, revolutionized aviation as we know it today.

Herring told Curtiss he had patents for an aeroplane that pre-dated the Wright Brothers aircraft.

So, on March 20, 1909, Herring joined Glenn Curtiss to create the Herring-Curtiss Company.

This ticked off the Wright Brothers, who promptly sued the Herring-Curtiss Company.

We’ll come back to the lawsuit after we take a look at the planes built under the Herring-Curtiss partnership… though it is actually doubtful that Herring had anything to do with the actual design, seeing as Herring had never really achieved the construction of an aircraft capable of heavier-than-air flight.

Herring-Curtiss biplane flown by Curtiss.jpg

The Curtiss-Herring No.1 aka “The Golden Flier” was built in 1909… later stripped down by Curtiss and used to fly and win the Michelin Cup in Europe as the Rheims Flier.

Say what you will, but Curtiss had a real knack for making things fly.

Drawings of the Herring-Curtiss 1909-10 biplane.jpg

The Curtiss Model D biplane with the ailerons placed on the rear wing struts. Taken from the 1912 published Hayward instructions that allowed anyone to construct their own plane.

The first plane constructed (finished) under the new Herring-Curtiss Company was the Curtiss Model D biplane… a slightly different precursor to the Curtiss Model D Headless biplane that would become the most popular American aeroplane in the pioneer age of aviation.

Key differences are where the ailerons were placed on the two planes.

On the Herring-Curtiss biplane, also known as the Curtiss Golden Flier or Curtiss Gold Bug, or even more specifically as the Curtiss No. 1—the one pictured, but not named as such on the Wills’s tobacco card – the ailerons were placed on the front wing struts. On the later Curtiss Model D biplane, the ailerons were placed on the rear wing struts.

Now… there’s a bit of conflict here. Some sources say that Curtiss crashed his Curtisss No. 1, and built a new plane – the Curtiss No. 2, while others say he merely modified the Curtiss No. 1 to make it into more of a racer.

I am more inclined to believe that the No.1 crashed, and then building a completely new plane, he based it on the original design, but modified it. This is Curtiss No.2. also known as the Reims Racer.

The name came about because—while still under the Herring-Curtiss Company banner, Curtiss took the Curtiss No. 2 and entered it in the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de 14 (Great Aviation Week of 1914)  event—the very first international aviation meet held August 22-29, 1909 at Reims, France to try and win the Gordon Bennett Cup race. You can read all about that race HERE and HEREAGAIN.

From Wikipedia: “The Reims Flier was an open-framework biplane with two-bay unstaggered wings of equal span. It had a monoplane tail that controlled the rudder but the elevators were carried forward of the pilot as a biplane canard unit. The landing gear was wheeled and tricycle in configuration, with each unit carrying a single wheel. Large ailerons were carried in the interplane gap. Curtiss modified the Golden Flyer into the Reims Racer by adding a covered stabilizer unit at the canard, increasing the wing size, modifying the interplane elevators and replacing the four cylinder inline Curtiss OX engine with that of a Curtiss OX V8 that had been stripped down and specially lightened for the race. A new, lighter fuel tank was exchanged for the older, heavier one.”

The plan was to make the plane more maneuverable while sacrificing speed, as Curtiss (pilot) planned to make quicker turns over the race, which was two circuits of 10 kilometers each.

His first run took him 15-minutes and 50.4 seconds. Louis Belriot did the course in 15-minutes, 56.2 seconds, meaning Curtiss won by 5.8 seconds, claiming the prize of  FF25,000.

The Reims Racer/Curtiss No. 2‘s average speed was 75.48 kilometers per hour (47.06 miles per hour) which gave Curtiss a new speed record over the 20 kilometer distance.

More from Wikipedia: “After Reims, Curtiss took the aircraft to Italy, where he won events at a competition at the Air Show in Brescia in September. There, he won the overall grand prize by flying the required five 10 km circuits in 49 minutes 24 seconds. He also won the quick starting prize, starting his engine in 8.2 seconds, and took second place to Henri Rougier in the altitude prize, climbing to 165 ft (51 m). While at Brescia, Curtiss gave Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio a short joyride, but declined a similar request by Princess Laetitia on the grounds that the seat would be unsuitable. Returning to the United States, Curtiss flew the Reims Racer in the country’s first air meet at Los Angeles  in October, setting a new airspeed record of 88 kilometers per hour (55 miles per hour).”


The Curtiss Reims racer.

General characteristics Reims Racer/Curtiss No. 2

  • Crew: One pilot
  • Capacity: 1 passenger
  • Length: 30 ft 4 in (9.25 m)
  • Wingspan: 34 ft 0 in (10.37 m)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Curtiss V-8, 63 hp (47 kW)

You will notice, however, that the aeroplane does NOT have Herring’s name in the description, even though by this time, Curtiss and Herring had a partnership and company together.

I can only assume it was because Curtiss designed and built this aircraft himself, with little to no input from Herring.

Back to the Wright Brother’s lawsuit against the Herring-Curtiss Company.

When Curtiss confronted Herring and asked him to produce his patents that showed he had designed an aeroplane BEFORE The Wright Brothers, rather than show Curtiss the rejected patent (perhaps unfairly rejected patent), Herring didn’t show up to the official meeting, and skipped town.

Curtiss then decided to completely rid himself of Curtiss by declaring bankruptcy and dissolving the company… though it did magically reappear soon afterwards as the Curtiss Aeroplane Company – still in 1910.

So – after WWI, thanks to Curtiss’ success in selling his aircraft to the U.S. Army, he was a rich man. Guess who came a-calling?

Yup – Herring. Suing Curtiss, Herring claimed that the Herring-Curtiss Company was never legally dissolved, even though Curtiss had declared bankruptcy, and so was entitled to monies Curtiss earned afterwards when Curtiss reformed as the Curtiss Aeroplane Company.

Herring says that he was cheated out of property and ideas by Curtiss… even though his proof would have been that rejected patent… still… could one partner declare bankruptcy in a company—Herring-Curtiss—without proper remuneration to the surviving partner?

We’ll come back to the lawsuit shortly.

The next year, Herring left Curtiss and joined W. Starling Burgess in Marblehead, Massachusetts to design and build aeroplanes – which he actually did with the newly formed Herring-Burgess Company.

The first aeronautical product of the Herring-Burgess collaboration, the Herring-Burgess Model A, made its inaugural flight on February 28, 1910, traveling 110 meters (360 feet), reaching an altitude of nine meters (30 feet).


The Herring-Burgess Company Flying Fish – note the cool-looking fins on the top wing.

A revised version of the Model A3  known as the Flying Fish was test-flown by Herring on April 17, 1910, flying over Plum Island as the second-ever heavier-than-air flight in New England.

Here’s a cool drawing of a Model C aeroplane – drawn in 1911, but after the Herring-Burgess partnership had dissolved, noting that it is based on a Curtiss design:


Shortly thereafter he terminated his association with Burgess because of a disagreement with another Burgess partner, one Greely S. Curtis. I guess Herring couldn’t get along with people named Curtis(sic). Anyhow, Burgess then formed another partnership with Greely Curtis called the Herring-Curtis Company, I think.

That Herring-Burgess Flying Fish airplane was sold to Joseph C. Shoemaker sometime in 1910 or early 1911, who, along with Fred C. Chanonhouse, modified it yet again. By August, the airplane was capable of executing basic flight maneuvers, including circles and figure eights. After a crash on September 2, 1911, which resulted in only slight damage, the airplane does not appear to have been flown again.

So what happened to Herring from 1912-1926? I don’t know.

Herring did some aviation design work for the United States Army during World War I, he later was partially paralyzed by a series of strokes.

I assume he was bitter. Then there was that lawsuit was Glenn Curtiss…

Herring died in 1926, but the lawsuit continued, with his wife eventually receiving around US $500,000 in damages.

Despite being correct in his partnership not being dissolved upon Curtiss’s bankruptcy, Herring’s behavior throughout most of his partnerships appears to have been pure acrimony at best.

As for the Wills’s Herring-Curtiss aeroplane so proudly shown on the tobacco card… it seems to have been an all-Curtiss production, with Herring simply around to provide assistance – even monies, perhaps…

Still… Curtiss is the name everyone recalls when discussing service to aviation beginnings, while the name of Herring is a difficult one to trace.

As for aeroplanes created by Herring-Curtiss… that one-year period was pretty much it.

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