Wills’s Aviation Card #62 – “Goupy III.” Biplane.

44F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Goupy III” Biplane.

Card #62 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – black back issue

  • Ambroise Goupy, November 5, 1885 in Paris, France – January 25, 1951, Paris, France.
  • Mario Calderara, October 10, 1879 in Verona, Italy – March 18, 1944 in XXX, Italy.

When I saw the name of the aeroplane as “Goupy III” I knew I had to find out more. I didn’t know what a Goupy was… turns out it’s a guy’s surname.

44R 001.jpg

The Wills’s card’s reverse says the Goupy II and hence III aeroplanes were built by Louis Charles Joseph Blériot ( July 1, 1872 in Cambrai, France – August 1, 1936, Paris, France)… well… yes, they were… but…

… the Goupy biplanes were only constructed at the Blériot aeroplane factory at Buc, France.

The plane(s) were designed by Ambroise Goupy and Mario Calderara… which is good, because I thought Blériot was only a manufacturer of monoplanes – and he was!

The Goupy II and Goupy III are a series of biplanes, while the Goupy I was an experimental triplane – but a successful one at that.

Ambroise Goupy card.jpg

From a series of French aviation postcard inserts (series of 25) from 1909, printed in Lille, France for the French company Chocolat Felix Potin, showing the Goupy I triplane and an image (the only one I could find!) of Ambroise Goupy himself.  

So… who was Ambroise Goupy?

I can’t find much information on him… Wikipedia says he was a  member of the Aéro – Club de France, and he was named a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1914, then an officer in 1937.

We do know that he offered up some prize money to the first pilot to fly his aeroplane in a straight line, six kilometer course… won by Hubert Latham on June 6, 1909. But… I am unsure if this was for an aviation meet or just a general prize.

That’s it.

And what of Mario Calderara? All I know is that he helped Goupy with a bit of aeroplane design. Sigh.

An Italian Wikipedia site, however says that Calderara was the actual designer of the Goupy aeroplanes, and that Goupy was just the financial backer!

Why should we believe that?

Well… Italy actually produced a postage stamp of Calderara with the Goupy II aeroplane in the background!

That, plus the fact that very little is known about Goupy suggests that Calderara really was the brains – IE the designer of the actual aircraft – not Goupy!


Italian stamp issued on September 12, 2003 depicting Goupy II designer Mario Calderara.

So… Mario – what was his claim to fame? Well, he was the first Italian to hold a patent for an aeroplane in 1909 with the Goupy II, he was the first member of the Aero Club of Italy, earning pilot’s License No. 1, and was the first Italian to build a seaplane in 1911 with the Goupy Hydroplane.

Building a seaplane (hydroplane) was probably something monumental for Calderara, as he had been attracted to the sea since he was a child.

The eldest son Italian General Marco Caderara and Eleanor Tantini, Calderara entered the Italian Naval Academy in Livorno in 1898, achieving a promotion to the rank of Ensign in 1901.

As most people were of the day, he heard of the exploits of glider-specialist Otto Lilienthal and the later success of the Wright Brothers aeroplane, the Wright Flyer.

After hearing of their success in 1905 (their first flight took place in secret in December of 1903), Calderara took up correspondence with the Wright Brothers to pick their collective brain on how to construct his own aeroplane.

Surprisingly, in my opinion, his technical details were answered, and he maintained a strong relationship with the Wright’s.


Mario Calderera

Calderara then received permission from the Italian Navy to perform glider experiments towed by a motorboat, beginning in 1907.

Flying a biplane glider similar in design to the Wright concept, in the Gulf of La Spezia off northwest Italy, he placed the glider on floats, and tired it with ropes to a motorboat to control lift. Successful, he decided to fly it (unmanned) off the deck of the Italian destroyer Lanciere in an effort to get more altitude and more speed.

Taking off, the glider achieved a height of 15 meters-plus, but when the destroyer made a sharp left turn, the glider plummeted quickly and dove into the water—which we’ve all had happen when flying a kite…. happy time, happy time… OMG it crashed!

Unfortunately for Calderara, as the glider dove under the waves, he was pulled off balance and was dragged underwater by the glider’s steel wires – dragged under water at a depth of about three meters.

Rescued, but half-drowned, the Italian Navy forbade him from performing anymore such experiments.

In 1908 Calderara met pilot Léon Delagrange and aeroplane manufacturer Gabriel Voisin in Rome, who were there to perform some aeroplane demonstrations. Calderara asked Voisin is he could come and work for him, and so, in July of 1908, he moved to Issy-Ies-Moulineaux in France to work for Voisin designing aircraft for about one year’s time.

Calderara had to ask for a leave of absence from the Italian Navy, and received it—without pay.

At the Voisin factory, Calderara came in contact with Ambroise Goupy… a money-man who liked what he saw in Calderara’s aircraft designs, getting the go-ahead to construct the Goupy II biplane.

Goupy had already worked with the Voisin Brothers to construct the prototype Goupy I triplane, built apparently on Goupy’s own design… but I don’t see how a money-man would have done that, as I see no evidence he had any engineering background – but I don’t know so I can’t confirm or deny Goupy’s actual design credit for the Goupy I triplane.

Now… we do know that Calderara was the designer of the Goupy II… in fact, one Italian website I saw calls the Goupy II the “Calderara Goupy” aircraft.

While in France, Calderara  met up with Wilbur Wright in France, who n demonstrations, Wilbur Wright showed his plane to be able to stay aloft for up to 60 minutes—far, far longer than anything then-achieved by planes built by Voisin, Blériot, or Henry Farman.

It was in March of 1909, by the way, that the Goupy II biplane first flew (see below for more on the aircraft particulars).

Calderara, along with the Aero Club of Italy, then invited Wilbur Wright in 1909 to bring his Flyer over to  Rome, Italy, where in April of that year, Wright gave some flying lessons to Calderara (and later to Italian Army lieutenant Umberto Savoja) at the field now known as Military Airport Francesco Baracca Centocelle, but was then known as Centocelle Airport.

When Wilbur Wright returned to the U.S, in May of 1909, he opined that Calderara could fly by himself, and even that he could provide further lessons to Lr. Savoja.

Calderara, by the way, had purchased a Wright Flyer biplane.

Calderara made plenty of flights—even many of sustained duration‚—but on May 6, 1909, he crashed the aeroplane in windy conditions. After a brief hospital stay—a reputed concussion—Calderara, assisted by Savoja, repaired the Flyer, resuming flights at Centocelle in July of 1909.

The Aero Club of Italy had arranged for an international air meet in Brescia, Italy—similar in scope to what Reims, France had held in July of 1909… and Calderara was entered.

Three weeks before the scheduled meet, a tornado blew through the area where the aeroplanes had been stored, damaging some of the aircraft, including his Wright Flyer.

Calderara and Savoja, however, did rebuild it in a mere nine days, but used sub-par wood and canvas—whatever they could find, just to have a chance in the rally.

Instead of the Wright motor, Calderara used an Italian-made Rebus motor.

Basta fazool! It must have been one heck of a repair job, because Calderara ended up winning five of the eight prizes being offered.

All the other Italian pilots could not get their aircraft off the ground—except for Alessandro Anzani (later one of the better aeroplane motor manufacturers), who was using a French-made aircraft… but he ended up crashing and destroying his aeroplane.

Other pilots at the event—the successful pilots—included American Glenn Curtiss and Frenchman Henry Rougier.

The Brescia rally was a triumph for Calderara who, thanks to being the only Italian who could fly, became a national hero. As such, he was awarded Flying License No. 1 by the Aero Club of Italy.


Mario Calderara’s actual No.1 pilot’s license from the Aero Club of Italy. Image found at www.aerostoria.blogspot.ca.

Now… as you might realize, Calderara’s popularity wasn’t always such a great thing for the Italian Navy… in fact a Major Moris had an intense dislike for Calderara who reveled in his fame by chatting with the ins and outs of aviation with the newspapers. Moris, obviously felt that such matters should not be discussed.

Moris, by the way, was Caledrara’s direct superior.

Still, Moris did use Calderara’s new Goupy II (Caldera Goupy) biplane, after purchasing a motor (he purchased his sans power), providing it as a trainer plane for new pilots. Calderara being the teacher.

For whatever reason, the aircraft was removed from its usual Centocelle hangar to a non-covered outside spot in the Fall of 1910 and was subjected to all sorts of bad weather.

The adverse weather damaged the plane so badly that it had to be put down – destroyed…

It was just after this, that Calderara was assigned to the Italian Ministry of the Navy, and it was now that he asked if he could construct a new type of aeroplane—one that could take off from and land in water.

There was one other such aircraft—the Fabre Hydravion designed by Henri Fabre—but it flew a few times before crashing and not being rebuilt.

No… Calderara wanted to take his seaplane to the next level.

Calderara designed and built his seaplane—initially called the Calderara Seaplane aka the Calderara Navy-hydro monoplane aka the Hydrovol.

—the largest flying machine in the world, in 1911, and flew it very successfully in the spring of 1912, carrying three passengers plus the pilot in flight.

Later that year, Calderara was invited to London, England, and showed the above film (less the Italian voice-over) to select people there, including the Honorable Winston Churchill, who was then the First Lord of the Admirality.

As WWI approached, and needing his help, the Italian Navy imposed on Calderara to return to his naval duties… and, during the conflict, he was placed on several warships, ultimately in charge of a torpedo ship in the Adriatic sea.

But, between 1917-19, Calderara was given command of a new school for training seaplane pilots for the US Navy, along with the rank of Corvette Captain… the U.S. thought highly of his work, and was awarded the American Navy Cross.
Calderara worked in the Italian embassy in Washington, DC, U.S. between 1923-25, eventually leaving the Italian Navy with the rank of Frigate Captain.

He moved to Paris, and began working in the French aviation sector, representing U.S. businesses manufacturing airplane components.

Sensing something was up in France, Calderara left Paris and returned to Italy in 1939, simply leaving behind all of his holdings and home… which financially distressed himself and his family.

Calderara died after a short illness on march 18, 1944. He is still considered one of Italy’s greatest aviation personalities… hence the cool postage stamp.

Let’s take a look at what Goupy paid for and Calderara designed:

Goupy I Triplane/Goupy I bis

The Goupy I triplane is also known as the Goupy I bis… with the word bis meaning “encore”… so perhaps an homage to Voisin – see just below.

It is said that the Goupy I triplane was the first such plane to fly, back in September 5, 1908—but other sources say it was the first French triplane to fly.

The Goupy I was designed by Goupy alone, and was built by Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin (Flying Machines of Voisin Brothers), owned by brothers Gabriel and Charles Voisin.

The company was the first aircraft manufacturing company, and one of the world’s first.

They designed and built Europe’s first manned, heavier-than-air powered aircraft capable of making a sustained one kilometer, circular, controlled flight, including take-off and landing—the Voisin-Farman I.

While Voisin aircraft had always been pusher (engine at back) biplanes with a front elevator, Goupy’s design showed the Goupy I as a tractor (engine in front) triplane.

The kicker, however, is that the Goupy I has the ends of the wings connected by Voisin’s characteristic “side curtains” – implying that either Goupy was inspired by Voisin, or the Voisin brothers suggested Goupy use the design feature.

The only unorthodox aspects of the design were its triplane tail unit, which was used by A. V. Roe in triplanes I, II and III in 1909 (see HERE), and the way that the interplane struts of both the wings and empennage were covered with fabric to create box kite-like cells.

The tailplane was a Hargrave cell (a box kite-like design created by Australian Lawrence Hargrave), which is what Voisin preferred. However, Goupy did add a pair of small moving elevators mounted on the leading edge of the outer surfaces and a central rudder.

As originally constructed, the middle wing was mounted in a mid-wing position on the fuselage, with the top and bottom wings clear of the fuselage, and power was provided by a 50 horsepower Antoinette engine.

There was a single central wheel in the middle of the fuselage, with a smaller one at the tail.

The Goupy I‘s design was later revised so that the bottom wing was mounted at the base of the fuselage, the middle wing to the top of the fuselage, and top wings clear of it.

At the same time, the engine was changed to a 50 horsepower Anzani of similar power and the wings extended outboard of the side curtains. I assume the Anzani was either lighter or simply performed better than the Antoinette engine.

And, the central wheel was replaced by a pair of wheels at the front of the aeroplane below the engine to provide better support, keeping the rear wheel at the back end of the fuselage.

The image above is a French postcard from the era. It’s translated (English) parts say, for the most part:

  • 3 superimposed planes of 7.5 meters of span on 1.6 meters of depth and 44 square meters of total surface;
  • Distance from shots, 0.95 meters.
  • At the rear inside a cell of 4 meters x 1.6 meters, a balancer 3 meters x 0.75 meters, then the vertical rudder 1.25 meters x 0.7 meters;
  • Fuselage: length 9.8 meters, mounted on swivel chassis not supported; two wheels in front and one wheel in the back;
  • Propeller: 2 bladed at the front. Diameter of 2.3 meters x 1.4 meters;
  • Expected speed, 54 kilometers per hour (15 meters a second);
  • Total weight 476 kilograms;
  • Engine Anzani 50 horsepower

Most of that is self-explanatory… and I freely admit that some of it isn’t – at least to me. If anyone is fluent in French and can provide a better definition – I would greatly appreciate it.

Wikipedia says, and matches the postcard data:

General characteristics

  • Crew: One pilot;
  • Length: 9.8 meters (32 feet-2 inches);
  • Wingspan: 7.5 meters (24 feet-7 inches);
  • Wing area: 44-square meters (474-square feet);
  • Gross weight: 476 kilograms (1,050 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Anzani steam-cooled, direct-injected V-8 engine providing 50 horsepower at 1,100 RPM;
  • Propeller: two-bladed, single propeller;
  • Maximum speed: 54 kilometers an hour (33 miles per hour).

Goupy II biplane

Goupy 2.jpgThe Goupy II biplane was designed by Mario Calderara, and paid for by Ambroise Goupy, and constructed at the Blériot workshop in Buc, France in 1909 (see above for why here), first achieving flight in March of 1909.

The Goupy II had two innovative features that were influential in aircraft design. It was the first tractor biplane to fly, and was also the first staggered wing biplane.

Considered unusual for the era, the tractor (engine at front) and staggered wings soon became an industry standard

The only features that would not be typical of aircraft in the years to come would be its biplane tail unit, and the whole-chord wingtip ailerons fitted to both upper and lower wings. The uncovered wood box-girder fuselage, typical of early aircraft, was later covered.

The first flight of this biplane was made in March 1909. It was taken to and shown at the Paris Air Show at the Grand Palais in October of 1909.

Goupy also took the Goupy II to Reims, France for the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne, the first public air show in the world an aviation meet held near Reims in France in August 1909.He also took it to air meets at Burton and Doncaster, England, using pilot Emile Ladougne to fly it at the later shows.

The Goupy II also flew in the Paris-Madrid race in May of 1911, but used Pierre Divétain as pilot.


The remains of Louis Emile Train’s monoplane after his crash into spectators at the Paris-Madrid air-race of 1911.

The race began with auspicious start on May 21, 19911… pilot Louis Emile Train crashed his aeroplane into a stand of officials killing France minister of war Maurice Berteaux, seriously injuring council president Ernest Monis, and hurting Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe (a French petroleum magnate and aviation supporter).

The race was restarted two days later, but only one aircraft managed to finish the race – pilot Jules Védrines flying a Morane-Borel monoplane, winning the race in 14 hours and 55 minutes after a trouble-free flight.

Anyhow… the Goupy II did not fare well in the race, failing to perform well enough to even complete the first stage of the race.

General characteristics

  • Crew: One pilot;
  • Length: 7 meters (23 feet);
  • Wingspan: 6 meters (19 feet 8 inches);
  • Wing area: 26-square-meters (280-square-feet);
  • Empty weight: 209 kilograms (460 pounds);
  • Gross weight: 290 kilograms (640 pouns);
  • Powerplant: 1 × R.E.P., seven-cylinder, semi-radial air-cooled engine providing 29 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 97 kilometers per hour (61 miles per hour) – hmm, I doubt that the 29-horsepower motor could have given the aeroplane THESE speeds.

This plane was offered up for sale to the general public.

As you can see from the image below, the Goupy aircraft is offered with a different engine – a Gnome 50-horsepower engine – which seems like it would be far better than the 29 horsepower offered up earlier.

It also states that the maximum speed to be from 70-85 kilometers an hour (43.5-52.8 miles per hour).

The price for a Goupy II aeroplane was FF12,000 without the motor or propeller; and FF25,000 with a Gnome motor and any type of propeller of the customer’s choice.

Goupy III biplane

Goupy III postcard.jpg

Man… there’s not a lot of information on the Goupy III… which is too bad, because that was the subject chosen for this Wills’s card.

Translated from the French on the postcard directly above, we have a few of the specifics:

General Specifications

  • Crew: 1;
  • Wingspan: 6 meters (19.69 feet) wide x 1.6 meters (5.25 feet) deep;
  • Fuselage length: 7 meters (22.97 feet);
  • Propeller: 1, with four blades at the nose;
  • Powerplant: 1 x reciprocating REP motor capable of putting out 25 horsepower;
  • Weight: 290 kilograms (639.34 pounds).

Goupy Hydroaeroplane

The Goupy 3-place biplane on the fifth (1913) Paris aviation exhibition [Paris, 1913]

No matter what you may see elsewhere, make no mistake about it, the Goupy Hydroaeroplane was essentially a Goupy III biplane with pontoon floats added and the wheels removed.

While the Goupy III was the brainchild of Mario Calderara paid for by Ambroise Goupy, the Goupy Hydroaeroplane was also from the mind of Calderara.

The two pontoon floats, however, were designed by Alphonse Tellier. Tellier eventually designed seaplanes himself, but his first successful flight was not until June of 1916 in his Tellier T.2 biplane.

The Goupy Hydroaeroplane was displayed–as seen in the postcard directly above–at the 1912 Paris Aero Salon.

Other than this demo model, there is no evidence of any others being built nor of it ever having taken flight from the water.

Goupy Hydroaeroplane.jpgIn fact, a newspaper reviewing next year’s December 5-25, 1913 Paris Aero Salon commented negatively on any further advancements of Goupy aeroplane designs, noting also that there was no seaplane on display.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 pilot;
  • Capacity: 2 passengers;
  • Length: 10 meters (32.8 feet);
  • Wingspan: 12.70 m ( 41.67 feet);
  • Empty weight: 450 kilograms (992.1 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 x 9-cylinder 100 horsepower Gnome rotary engine or a Gnome 80 HP motor per 1913 Jane’s;
  • Maximum speed: 120 km/h (74.6 miles per hour).
  • Number built: 1

Of course, speed and capacity were optimistic guesses… and the motor… it never flew. My guess is that Mario Calderara left the firm, so the Goupy seaplane concept died with this prototype.

But now we have the seaplane that Calderara designed and built…

Calderara Navy-hydro monoplane/Hydrovol

Calderara Hydrovol 2.jpgBuilt in 1911 and flown in 1912, the Hydrovol (according to JANE’S ALL THE WORLD’S AIRCRAFT 1913) was the first successful seaplane flown, but it was also one of the largest monoplanes (period) ever built and flown, with a wing surface of 770 square feet.

The frame of the aeroplane is formed of three skins of wood, with sail-cloth between each.

The fuselage sits only 4’6” (1.34 meters) above the water line, with three pontoons – the outer two of which were separated by 21 feet (6.4 meters).

In the case of an emergency, the Hydrovol was designed by Calderara so that the occupants could leave the aeroplane’s fuselage and take refuge on the under structure which serves as a raft, with even the possibility of a sail being rigged.

Calderara even made it possible for the wings to be cut loose.

Calderara Hydrovol.jpg

The Calderara Hydrovol was the first true seaplane to actually fly. Hopefully you all saw the video above.

Okay – that’s it for now.


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Wills’s Aviation Card #61 – “Roe II.” Triplane.

61F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Roe II” Triplane.

Card #61 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – black back issue

  • Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe, April 26, 1877 in Patricroft, Eccles, England, Great Britain – January 4, 1958, Portsmouth, England, Great Britain.

To be honest, the image in the card above looks like Roe I Triplane, owing to its rear wings, and the fact that they are completely open. The Roe II has closed vertical stabilizers holding the rear wings erect on the outer edge.

If you’ll examine further below, you can see what is purported to be the Roe II – but three versions of it.

If you aren’t sure you recognize the name of the man at the top… Mr. Roe, perhaps you might better recognize his aviation company A.V.Roe Aircraft Company… also known as Avro… one of the top designers and manufacturers of aircraft during WWI (The Great War), through WWII, and into the Cold War era.

Believe it or not, even though I had not yet been born by the time the company went out of business, I have six degrees of separation connection with Sir Roe… sort of… which, I’ll reveal later on in this article.

What do we know about A.V. Roe the man? Well, he was the first Englishman to make a powered flight in 1908, and he was the first Englishman to fly an all-British manufactured aircraft in 1909. He was also one of the more famous aeroplane designers and manufacturers during WWI…

Despite the great success and history of Avro and A.V. Roe, there’s not much good to say about the success of the Roe II Triplane that this card is all about.

Oh well… let’s start with a history of Sir Roe and work our way up to through his childhood, aviation successes, a country’s shame, his death and my sorta link. Yes… a country’s shame… something I feel deeply about – my home of Canada.

The tricky part of this whole story, is that AV Roe the person is only involved in Avro until sometime in 1928. While the company lived on, he went and formed the Saunders-Roe aircraft company.

So… to give a full story, I’m going to mention planes built with Roe as pat of Avro… what the Avro company built after he left, what another company did using the Avro Canada namesake, and what the Saunders-Roe company did.

Man… it’s never easy giving a historically accurate background!

AV Roe.jpg

A.V. Roe

Roe was born in Lancashire, England in 1877, leaving home when he was 14 to go to British Columbia, Canada to work as a surveyor… except the silver market had played out, so he had to do odd jobs… including working as an assistant working on drawings for a flying machine… keeping in mind that this would be around 1891…

He returned to England and apprenticed for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway before leaving to try and study marine engineering at King’s College London. He did not get in because, although he passed the technical and math portions, he failed the general subjects.

He ended up as 5th engineer of the SS Jebba ship of the British & South African Royal Mail Company, as well as serving on other ships, eventually ending up as a 3rd engineer.

While at sea, Roe looked at the soaring flight of some albatross birds and turned his thoughts to possibly building his own aircraft.

In 1906, without any experience, he applied for the job of Secretary of the Royal Aero Club (founded in 1901 as the Aero Club of Great Britain, changing its name in 1910 to Royal Aero Club in 1910).

His enthusiasm for aviation caught the eye of one Charles Rolls (one half with Henry Royce, he co-founded the Rolls-Royce car manufacturing firm. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display on July 12, 1910)… getting the job.

He quit to work as a draftsman for G.L.O. Davidson, who had devised a twin-rotored aircraft that was being built in Denver, Colorado, U.S. But, there were disagreements about the design of the machine and problems with his salary, so Roe went back to England to get a design patent, decided to resign instead.

Let’s take a look at the aeroplanes Roe supposedly designed and built.

Please keep in mind that I am taking the next two images from Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft of 1913… from the British section of HISTORICAL AIRCRAFT.

Bored… and now having some skill in the design of aeroplanes, Row tried his hand at building models, winning a Daily Mail newspaper competition of £75 for a design in 1907.

With the prize money and the loan of stables at his brother’s house in Putney, he built a full-sized aeroplane based on his design… what would be known as the Roe I Biplane (aka Avroplane).

Roe I Biplane 1908

Avro biplane.jpg

I can only assume that this plane made hops, per the cutline on the Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft 1913 book.

Roe flew the Roe I biplane at Brooklands in 1907-1908, achieving flight on June 8, 1908, flying 100-feet distance… but it wasn’t flight so much as hopping. Is this a legitimate claim of flight then? By the way, some sources claim the flight was achieved in 1907… but I suspect the plane was only built in that year.

So… a legitimate flight?

I would say no… but people seemed to really have this awe and respect for A.V. Roe that the minor achievement is recognized as a success to heaped upon him.

Although Roe wanted to use a 24 horsepower Antoinette motor, he couldn’t afford it and instead utilized a nine horsepower JAP (JA Prestwich Industries) built V-twin motor.

Knowing that the plane was now lacking in strength, to compensate Roe lightweighted it by using brown paper to cover the wings.

Again, the Roe I Biplane was the first British-designed aeroplane – but it only hopped, and did not achieve actual flight.

Roe I Triplane 1907

Avro Roe I Triplane 1907.jpg

Roe I Triplane/Avroplane/Bullseye 1907, continued

AV Roe I Triplane.jpg

This Roe I Triplane differs from the one above in that it has a skin covering the fuselage, and no longer has a rear wheel. The propellers look similar, but can not be confirmed.

The Avroplane/Roe I Triplane is still around for those of you who are interested, over at the London Science Museum.

For a nickname, the Avroplane was known as the Bullseye by Roe, after a brand of braces manufactured by his brother Humphrey.


To confirm that this is the Roe I aeroplane, you can see this 1952 replica aircraft sitting in the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England – complete with “Bullseye” annotation on the fuselage… and you can see the open concept of the vertical stabilizers on the rear triplane wings. Image is from the German Wikipedia site, with annotation for the photo belonging to Paul Hermans. Of importance, however, is that the replica above shows a different set of propeller shape from the image at the top of this section. One would assume a museum would get things correct, right?


Roe I Triplane.jpg

You can clearly see the “Bullseye” on the fuselage here… and the covered vertical stabilizers on the rear triplane wings…. so WTF?! Also… these two images showing Bullseye have a rear wheel, but not on the image at the top. Merely variations of a theme.

Should you not be interested in reading the photo cutlines of the three images above, let me point out that it appears as though the images show three different versions of the Roe I Triplane!

The topmost image in this section looks just like the middle image… in that the rear triplane wings match, with an open concept vertical stabilizer separating the wings.

The middle image of a museum replica of the Roe I, shows the aircraft’s name as “Bullseye“.

The third image (at the bottom), shows what purports to be the Roe I Triplane from the era, and also shows the appropriate name of “Bullseye“.

However, The bottom image shows a different design on the rear triplane wings, showing a covered vertical stabilizer between the wings.

Images 2 and 3 show the aircraft with a single rear wheel.

Image 1 shows it without a wheel, perhaps with a single ski providing support.

Also, Take a look at Images 1 and 2… with the identical rear wings, but different rear wheel/ski… the propellers are of a different shape.

Image 2 – the replica also has a #14 on the rear, which I assume was because it was based on a version in an air meet…

But are all of these different versions of the same plane? Is one of these the Roe II? The Roe II that was nicknamed Mercury? No… these are, I believe, just variations of the same Roe I Triplane.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 23 feet (7 meters);
  • Wingspan: 20 feet (6.1 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet (2.7 meters);
  • Wing area: 320 square feet (30 square meters);
  • Wing area – I spotted other data suggesting: 217.5 square feet (20.2 square meters) – I am unsure which is correct;
  • Empty weight: 300-pounds (136-kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 450-pounds (204-kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × JAP V-twin configuration air-cooled proving 9 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 4-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour);
  • Range: 0.3 miles (0.48 kilometers).

Feeling as though he was on the right path, Roe and his brother Humphrey Verdon Roe founded the A.V. Roe Aircraft Co. on January 1, 1910, at Brownsfield Mill, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester, England.

Humphrey was the money man, acting as the firm’s managing director until he joined the RFC in 1917.

61R 001.jpg

Roe II/Mercury Triplane

Roe II Triplane Mercury

Roe II Triplane at the 1909 Olympia Aero Show in London, England. Cost to purchase was £550, a nominal fee that also included tuition on how to fly it. You can see the aircraft’s “Mercury” imprinted on the fuselage. Hmm… no wheels… just skids. The image on the Wills’s card shows wheels. Image from www.verdon-roe.co.uk/pictures-videos-of-avro-aircraft1909-1914.

The Wills’s card in question, No. 61, describes the Roe II Triplane, sometimes known as the Mercury – though I wonder if that was a name given to the plane by its only purchaser.

As the first aeroplane of the A.V. Roe and Company, the Roe II Triplane was designed by  Roe – except that this time, he decided he didn’t need to lightweight it with paper all over the wings, seeing as how this time Roe had the money to get a stronger engine placed on board.

The 35 horsepower Green powerplant was designed by Gustavus Green and built by the Green Engine Company and Aster Engineering Company.

Only two examples of this type were built – one for display  – a visual aid, if you will for the company, and the other sold to a Captain W. G. Windham – and admittedly, I can’t find any information on him, except that along with Henri Pequet, the two began an airmail service between Allahabad and Naini Junction in India, to coincide with the Universal Postal Exhibition in Allahabad. This airmail service occurred between December of 1910 and into January of 1911.

I am sure, however, that the aircraft used in India by Windham was NOT the Roe II Triplane, but rather a Farman biplane.

The initial test flight of the Roe II took place sometime in April of 1910 in Brooklands. The plane rolled on take-off.

On a second attempt, it rolled again.

Sensing there was a design flaw (d’uh), Roe changed the planes design to avoid wing warping and instead use a control column that improved the plane’s overall performance.

Its longest flight being a mere 600 feet (180 meters). It is also why I doubt it was improved upon enough in eight months to have become the airmail aircraft of choice in India, as mentioned above.

Still, it was enough of a flight that Roe felt it should be sent along with the Roe III Triplane (see below) to the Blackpool Flying Meeting, October 18 – 23, 1909 in Blackpool, England. See below to find out what happened en route to the event.


The Green C-4 aircraft engine at the Royal Air Force Museum in London, England.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one;
  • Length: 23 feet (7 meters);
  • Wingspan: 26 feet (7.9 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet (2.7 meters);
  • Wing area: 280 square feet (26 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 550-pounds (249-kilograms);
  • Powerplant: × Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour).

With its longest flight achieved being a mere 600 meters, it makes one wonder WHY the Roe II Triplane was deemed worthy enough to get its own tobacco card. I suppose there was initially some hope when an artist was asked to create the image, and then it was too late to change to the Roe III and Roe IV mentioned on the card’s reverse.

Roe III Triplane

Roe_III_Triplane.jpgThe Roe III Triplane was similar in looks to the Roe II Triplane, except it was supposed to be a two-seater – room for a passenger.

A prototype of the Roe III Triplane used a JAP motor, but the other three (but it could be as much as four) machines built utilized a Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower, as was used on the Roe II.

Although the prototype had ailerons fitted to the upper wing, the other three Roe III Triplanes had the ailerons fitted to the middle wing.

The aircraft first achieved flight on June 24, 1910.

Roe seldom exceeded 20 minutes in the air in the prototype Roe III because the JAP engine easily overheated… then spraying the pilot and passenger with oil. Carburetor fires also happened often enough.

By July 9, 1910, with Roe piloting the prototype, it stayed aloft for 25 minutes and was able to maneuver well enough in steep turns.

Roe practiced figure-eight turns, achieving Aviator’s Certificate No. 18 from the Royal Aero Club on July 20, 1910.

Soon after, however, Roe appears to have given up flying and instead concentrated on designing aircraft for his company.

We do know that the prototype Roe III Triplane with the JAP motor was put up for sale in May of 1911 as a second-hand aircraft for £250, but I can’t find anything else about what happened to it.

We do know that aside from the prototype, a Roe III Triplane was sold to:

  • the Harvard Aeronautical Society in Massachusetts, U.S.;
  • one was exported to the U.S.;
  • one (along with the Roe II Mercury Triplane) caught fire from sparks from a train that was transporting them to the 1910 Blackpool Aviation Meet. Roe was able to quickly replace them with new aircraft built from spare parts.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one;
  • Passenger: one;
  • Length: 23 feet (7 meters);
  • Wingspan: 31 feet (9 meters);
  • Wing area: 287 square feet (26.7 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 750-pounds (340-kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower.

Roe IV Triplane

Roe only manufactured one such Roe IV Triplane, fist achieving flight in September of 1910 and retired 12 months later in August of 1911.

Despite its relatively short shelf life, the Roe IV was flown often by a lot of people.

Because only one was made, however, allow me to force-feed you another Wikipedia entry:

The Roe IV Triplane resembled Roe’s Type III, being a tractor configuration triplane with the lower wing of smaller span than the upper two and a triangular section wire-braced fuselage, which was uncovered behind the pilot’s seat. The middle wing was mounted directly above the upper longerons, and there was a gap between the single lower longeron and the lower wing. The wings were connected by four unequally-spaced pairs of interplane struts on either side, the innermost pair on each side being just outboard of the upper longerons and the outer pair connecting only the upper pair of wings due to the shorter span of the lower wing. Although the ailerons fitted to the previous design had been satisfactory, Roe returned to wing warping for lateral control. The lifting triplane tailplanes of the earlier design were replaced by a non-lifting single triangular tailplane with a divided elevator and a small unbalanced rudder. The undercarriage consisted of a pair of skids extending forward of the propeller, with a pair of wheels mounted on each skid, and a sprung tailskid. It was powered by a 35 horsepower Green water-cooled four-cylinder inline engine, with the radiator mounted above the fuselage between the front inner interplane struts.

As mentioned, the Roe IV got a lot of use. It was used as a training aeroplane for the Avro Flying School at Brooklands.

However, along with the many pilots who learned to fly in it, many also failed, crashing it many times—including twice, that we know of, into the nearby sewage farm.

Suspecting that the length of the craft might have something to do with the numerous crashes, the Roe IV was rebuilt in February of 1911 with an extended fuselage, lengthened by 1.2 meters (4-feet).

Did it work? Maybe. Would-be pilots still manage to fly safely or crash (no known fatalities, by the way).

Why this aeroplane, and not something better – well… a full-scale flying replica was built for the excellent 1965 film Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and was afterwards donated to the Shuttleworth Collection.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one
  • Length: 30 feet (9 meters)
  • Wingspan: 32 feet (10 meters)
  • Height: 9 feet (3 meters)
  • Wing area: 294 square feet (27.3 square meters)
  • Loaded weight: 650-pounds (295-kilograms);
  • Maximum speed: 25 miles per hour (40.2 kilometers per hour);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower.

After a few more aircraft designs: Roe Type D (only seven manufactured), Avro Curtiss type (also known as the Lakes Water Bird – only 1 manufactured), and the Avro Duigan (only one manufactured), things began to pick up for the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company with the manufacture of the Avro 500 also known as the Avro E.

Avro 500/Avro E


First flown in March 1912, a total of 19 Avro 500/Avro E aircraft were built by the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company, of which 18 were built for the newly-formed RFC (Royal Flying Corp., the air arm of the British Army before and during WWI until merging with the Royal Naval Air Service on April 1, 1918, when it formed the new Great Britain Royal Air Force).

First flying on March 3, 1912, the two-seat Avro 500 (along with the later Avro 502 – a single-seat version of the Avro 500), was considered to be the fledgling company’s most successful bird.

Because nothing is easy, the two-seater Avro Duigan biplane was manufactured first for Australian aviation John Robertson Duigan in 1911. It used a 40 horsepower two-cylinder horizontally opposed Alvaston engine, but was soon replaced with a 35 horsepower E.N.V. V-8 motor. Both were water-cooled engines, with pairs of large coiled tube radiators positioned parallel to the fuselage on either side of the front cockpit.

Once that order was completed, Roe built another two-seater known as the Avro Type E biplane. It was bigger than the Duigan model and had a 60 horsepower motor, water-cooled E.N.V. engine.

From Wikipedia: Both were two-bay tractor biplanes with unstaggered parallel-chord wings with rounded tips, a deep rectangular section fuselage bearing rectangular steel-framed stabilisers, elevators and rudder with no fixed fin, and an undercarriage with a pair of wheels on a transverse leaf-spring and a long central skid projecting forward of the propeller. This aircraft layout dominated aircraft design for twenty years: the Avro 500 and the contemporary B.E.1 are among the first truly practical examples built.

The Avro 500 was built after manufacture of the Avro Type E.

The Avro 500, as initially built, was a success in the air, but Row was not happy with its top speed and rate of climb when tested on March 3, 1912.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2;
  • Wingspan: 34 feet (10.36 meters);
  • Motor: 1 × E.N.V. type D, 35 horsepower.

So, when he built a second model, he used a 50 horsepower Gnome air-cooled rotary motor, that was not only more powerful than the E.N.V. powerplant, but was lighter!

Using the new motor, the Avro 500 took off on May 8, 1912 reaching an altitude of 2000-feet (610 meters) in just five minutes.

On May 9, 1912, it flew 17 miles (28 kilometers) in 20 minutes. It also impressed the British military, ordering two examples for the aircraft now officially named the Avro 500.

Other intriguing developments by the company include building the world’s first aircraft with enclosed crew accommodation in 1912 with the monoplane Type F and biplane Avro Type G  – but despite that advance, neither plane advanced beyond the prototype stage.

As for the Avro 500… Roe further developed it into the Avro 504.

Avro 504

Avro 504K.jpg

The Avro 504K variant… notice the classic 504 skid just under the lower propeller blade.

What’s so special about the Avro 504? Well… during WWI, the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company built a total of 8,970 of the aeroplanes – the largest number of war craft produced.

Also, production of the Avro 504 continued on until 1932 building well over 10,000 of the aircraft.

First flown on September 18, 1913, the Avro 504 used an 80 horsepower Gnome Lambda seven-cylinder rotary engine. It was a two-bay, all-wood biplane with a square-ish fuselage.

What else is so special? Well, during WWI, it was the first ever British aeroplane to be shot down by the Germans. Okay… not so special. The incident occurred on August 22, 1914, with RFC pilot 2nd Lt. Vincent Waterfall and navigator Lt. Charles George Gordon Bayly – both of the 5th RFC squadron.

It was also the first British aeroplane to strafe troops on the ground; the first British aircraft to make a bombing raid over Germany; and the first Allied aeroplane to be downed by enemy anti-aircraft fire.

The Avro 504 was nicknamed the “Tooth pick” by the pilots because of the single skid between the wheels.

Considering the plane was being manufactured from 1913 – 1932, it should be expected that variations existed – and they do – too many to list, suffice to say the included engine variants, seat variants, differences in fuselage, and more.

One would think that if the fuselage was altered and a new engine used, it would no longer be the same aircraft, but I think the company believed the Avro 504 designation was kept because it was a such a good plane originally – why confuse the buying public?

Initially used as a fighter, scout and bomber during the early phase of WWI, as more agile and faster craft came into being, the Avro 504 was used more and more to train the would be war pilots, in fact becoming better know for its teaching capabilities.


Drawing here is likely mentioning the engines used in the 504E, 504F and 504G versions.

Variations of the 504 are:

  • 504original model;
  • 504A modified with smaller ailerons and broader struts. Use an 80 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504Bfor the RNAS with larger fin. With an 80 horsepower Gnome or Le Rhône engine.
  • 504C – single-seat anti-zeppelin aircraft for the RNAS. The 504C was fitted with an extra fuel tank, in place of the observer.
  • 504D – single-seat anti-zeppelin aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps. Six built.
  • 504E100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape engine – 10 built.
  • 504F75 horsepower Rolls-Royce Hawk engine. One built
  • 504G80 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504Hused for catapult trials. Used an 80 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504JUsed as a trainer. 100 horsepower Gnome or 80 horsepower Le Rhône engine.
  • 504K – Two-seat training aircraft. The 504K had a universal mount to take different engines. Single-seat fighter conversion used for anti-zeppelin work. Several were assembled in Australia by Australian Aircraft & Engineering. It used a: 130 horsepower Clerget 9, or a 100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape or a 110 horsepower Le Rhône 9J engines.
  • 504K Mk.II – Hybrid trainer based on 504K fuselage with 504N undercarriage and wings and powered by rotary engine. Built under license in Mexico as Avro Anahuac.
  • 504L– Floatplane version with engine variants of a 150 horsepower Bentley BR1, a 130 horsepower Clerget or a 110 horsepower Le Rhône engine.
  • 504M – Three-seat cabin biplane. Only one was ever built, using a 100 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504N – Two-seat training aircraft, redesigned postwar trainer for RAF with 160 horsepower Armstrong Siddeley Lynx engine. A total of 598 built.
  • 504OFloatplane version of 504N. First aircraft to fly above the Arctic Circle in 1923 Oxford Expedition.
  • 504PUnbuilt version of the 504N with side-by-side seating.
  • 504QThree-seat cabin biplane. The 504Q was built for the Oxford University Arctic Expedition. Only one was ever built, powered by an Armstrong Siddeley Lynx engine.
  • 504R GosportReworked trainer with revised, lightweight structure. Five prototypes flown 1926 to 1927 with various engines: the 100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape; 100 horsepower Avro Alpha; 140 horsepower Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major; and the 150 horsepower Armstrong Siddeley Mongoose. The Mongoose version was chosen as the production type, with 10 sold to Argentina, with 100 more built by FMA (Fábrica Militar de Aviones) under license in Argentina. At least six were exported to Estonia, remaining in service until 1940, and an unknown number to Peru.
  • 504STwo-seat training aircraft. Built under license in Japan by Nakajima Aircraft Company.
  • Yokosuka K2Y1Japanese version of the Avro 504N, given the long designation Yokosuka Navy Type 3 Primary Trainer, it used a 130 horsepower Mitsubishi-built Armstrong Siddeley Mongoose radial piston engine. A total of 104 built.
  • Yokosuka K2Y2Improved version of the K2Y1, powered by a 160 horsepower Gasuden Jimpu 2 radial piston engine. A total of 360 built of both the K2Y1 and K2Y2. The Watanabe-built aircraft were given the long designation Watanabe Navy Type 3-2 Land-based Primary Trainer.
  • U-1 (Uchebnyi – 1) Avrushka was a Russian copy of the 504K, with over 700 built.
  • MU-1 (Morskoy Uchebnyi – 1) – a Russian seaplane version.

Generally speaking (because there were so many variations of the Avro 504), here are the:

General characteristics of the Avro 504K

  • Crew: two;
  • Length: 29 feet 5 inches (8.97 meters);
  • Wingspan: 36 feet (10.97 meters);
  • Height: 10 feet 5 in (3.18 meters);
  • Wing area: 330 square feet (30.7 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,231 pounds (558 kilograms);
  • Useful load: 180 lb (82 kg);
  • Max. takeoff weight: 1,829 lb (830 kg);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône 9J Rotary, 110 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour);
  • Cruise speed: 75 miles per hour (121 kilometers an hour);
  • Range: 250 miles (402 kilometers);
  • Service ceiling: 16,000 feet (4,876 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 700 feet/minute (3.6 meters/second);
  • Climb rate:  to 3,500 ft (1,065 m) in five min;
  • Armament: One (1) fixed .303 Lewis atop upper wing (single-seat night fighter variants)


Other aircraft designed and manufactured by the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company are the:

When WWI concluded, the lack of demand for aircraft hit all aeroplane manufacturers, causing Roe to sell 68.5% of his company to high-quality automobile manufacturer Crossley Motors in August of 1920.

In 1928, Crossley Motors sold the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company to Armstrong Siddeley Holdings Ltd.

At this time, Roe sold his shares and resigned from the company he had founded and bought S. E. Saunders Co., to form the new Saunders-Roe Limited.

Before I get to Saunders-Roe Limited, the following are aircraft built using the Avro name under A.V. Roe Aircraft Company  but not with A.V. Roe involved (all are live linked):

The Avro Lancaster

Maintaining their skills in designing trainer aircraft, the company built a more robust biplane called the Avro Tutor in the 1930s which the Royal Air Force (RAF) also bought in quantity. A twin piston-engined airliner called the Anson followed but as tensions rose again in Europe the firm’s emphasis returned to combat aircraft. The Avro Manchester, Lancaster and Lincoln were particularly famous Avro designs. More than 7,000 Lancasters were built and their bombing capabilities led to their use in the famous Dam Busters raid. The Avro Lancaster carried the heaviest bomb loads of the war, including the Grand Slam, a 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) earthquake bomb. I know… you HAVE to look it up now don’t you? 

Saunders-Roe Limited aka Roe, Roe, Roe Your Flying Boat

Okay – so now let’s get back to the real A.V. Roe and what he did next after he left the company he founded, A.V. Roe Aircraft Company… well, like the sub-head says, he formed the Saunders-Roe Limited company in 1929.

Roe and partner John Lord bought a majority share of boat-building firm S.E. Saunders, and decided to produce flying boats under the new company name of Saunders-Roe Limited.

In typical Roe fashion, few of the craft were manufactured in volume, with the largest fleet belonging to its Saunders Roe A.27 London, of which 31 were made, beginning in 1936, flying until 1941, flying primarily for the Royal Air Force (Great Britain) and the Royal Canadian Air Force.


Saunders-Roe A.27 London flying boat

Everybody Wants A Piece
In late 1930, Whitehall Securities Corporation Limited purchased a large share of Saunders-Roe.

Since Whitehall Securities already owned a large share of the Southampton, England airplane manufacturer Spartan Aircraft Ltd., they merged Spartan into Saunders-Roe Limited.

In 1938 Saunders-Roe Limited transferred its marine section—the shipyard and boat building business—to a newly formed company it owned called Saunders Shipyard Ltd. with all of its shares owned by Saunders-Roe Limited.

In 1947, Saunders-Roe tested its SR.A/1 fighter prototype, one of the world’s first jet-powered flying boats.

In 1952, they first flew their prototype Princess airliner, but the age of the flying-boat was over and the two further Princess examples to be completed were never flown. No further new seaplanes were produced here.

In 1951 Saunders-Roe took over the interests of the Cierva Autogiro Company at Eastleigh, England including the Skeeter helicopter project.

I’m just going to copy from Wikipedia here because the convoluted history doesn’t need me convoluting it any farther.

In September 1952 the company was comprised of:

  • Saunders-Roe Ltd. with a Head Office in Osborne, East Cowes, Isle of Wight (I.O.W.) with works at Columbine I.O.W. and Southampton Airport;
  • Saunders-Roe (Anglesey) Ltd, Friars Works, Beaumaris, North Wales;
  • Saro Laminated Wood Products Ltd., Folly Works, Whippingham, I.O.W.;
  • Princess Air Transport Co. Ltd of Osborne I.O.W. with an office in London at 45 Parliament St. SW1.

In 1959 it demonstrated the first practical hovercraft —the SR.N1.

In the same year Saro’s (Saunders-Roe) helicopter and hovercraft interests were taken over by Westland Aircraft which continued the Skeeter family with the Scout and Wasp. In 1964 all the hovercraft businesses under Westland were merged with Vickers-Armstrongs to form the British Hovercraft Corporation. This, in turn, was taken over by Westland and was renamed Westland Aerospace in 1985, and hovercraft production was reduced to nearly nothing until the advent of the AP1-88. The company produced sub-contract work for Britten-Norman, produced composites and component parts for the aircraft industry, especially engine nacelles for many aircraft including the De Havilland Canada Dash 8, the Lockheed Hercules, the British Aerospace Jetstream and parts for the McDonnell-Douglas MD-11. By the mid-1990s, over 60% of the world’s production of turboprop nacelles took place in the East Cowes works.

Wait… it’s gets more confusing…

In the late 1960s/early 1970s the Saunders-Roe Folly Works, by then owned by Hawker Siddeley was merged with the Gloster Aorcraft Company to form Gloster-Saro utilizing both companies’ expertise in aluminum forming to produce fire fighting appliances and tankers. In 1984, Gloster-Saro acquired the fire engine business of the Chubb group with the company merging in 1987 with Simon Engineering to form Simon Gloster Saro.

In 1994 Westland was taken over by GKN, later selling the Westland shares to form the helicopter-design business Agusta-Westland S.p.A, it retained the East Cowes works, where it continues aircraft component design and production.

There’s other stuff, but it doesn’t relate to aviation.

Roe  – Aeroplane Designer, Facist?!
So… what of A.V. Roe himself?

We know that he was knighted in 1929, changed his surname to Verdon-Roe in 1933 to honor his mother. Awww.

He was a fascist.


Yup… Roe was a member if the British Union of Fascists. The group changed its name in 1936 to the “British Union of Fascists and National Socialists”  – National Socialists?! Nazi’s?! The group even adopted the anti-semitism of the German Nazi party in the later years.

He joined the group because he liked their ticket on monetary reform, as he believed it wrong that banks should be able to create money by “book entry” and charge interest on it when they lent it out. The concept of fake money…

During WWII, two of his sons were killed while serving with the Royal Air Force: Squadron Leader Eric Alliott Verdon-Roe (26) in 1941; and Squadron Leader Lighton Verdon-Roe (DFC – Distinguished Flying Cross), aged 22 in 1943.

Roe died on January 4, 1958 in Portsmouth, and is buried at St. Andrew’s church in Hamble.

Stuff completely unrelated to A.V. Roe:

1) Avro regional jets

The Avro name would subsequently be resurrected by British Aerospace when this aircraft manufacturer renamed its BAe 146 family of regional jetliners as Avro regional jets (Avro RJ). Three differently sized versions of the four engine jetliner were produced: the Avro RJ70, the Avro RJ85 the Avro RJ100. The largest example of the family being the Avro RJ 115.

2) Avro Canada

In 1945, Hawker Siddeley Group purchased the former Victory Aircraft firm in Malton, Ontario, and renamed the operation A.V. Roe Canada Limited. Commonly known as Avro Canada, it was actually a subsidiary of the Hawker Siddeley Group and used the Avro name for trading purposes.

Okay… here’s that Six-degrees of Kevin Bacon stuff…  – whom, by the way, I can connect to within three degrees… four if you are supposed to count yourself.

During the early 1970s, my family loved in Malton, Ontario… a small town that later became absorbed as part of Mississauga, Ont. where the Toronto airport–Pearson International Airport–resides.

Okay… not only did I go to a Catholic school called Our Lady Of The Airways because of its proximity to the Avro Canada base, but I lived on Victory Crescent named, obviously after the former Victory Aircraft…. my house was part of a new subdivision in Malton built, I believe in 1970… and I can recall visiting the site BEFORE our semi-detached house was built.

Our Lady Of The Airways 1978.jpg

Our Lady Of The Airways elementary Catholic School in Malton (now part of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada) circa 1978, now closed. Too bad, there was a lot of green field behind it for the kids to play on, and lots of fair-sized classrooms. I have good memories of the place.

Okay… it’s not really me touching Kevin Bacon, but the connection is there… even though it was only an Avro facility in name only, it was named in homage to A.V. Roe probably because it was still a famous enough name to make money off of.

So… what did Avro Canada build?

I urge you check out the link to the very brief outline on the Arrow by reading the Arrow blueprints’ story  HERE. It really is a touchy subject among Canada’s aviation community. We know what it could have meant for Canada – should have meant for Canada… and it hurts.

And… for kicks, I also urge you to check out the Avrocar story… I’m sure you’ve seen video of it and wondered what the hell it was.

Okay… that’s enough of Roe…

Despite a lot of great planes designed and built under the AVRO nameplate, most had nothing to do with the man himself. I didn’t know that until I did this blog… actually beleiving that my school had something to do with the great aviation pioneer… and now am bitterly disappointed to find out I’m not separated by six degrees of Kevin Bacon to A.V. Roe.


Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Fighters, Gliders, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Pilots, Tobacco Card, WWI, WWII | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #60 – “Dunne V.” Biplane.

60F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Dunne V.” Biplane.

Card #60 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – black back issue

  • Captain John William Dunne, XXXX, XX, 1875 in Curragh Camp, County Kildare, Leinster, Republic of Ireland – August 24, 1949, Banbury, England, Great Britain.

I have a number of versions of this card, opting  – merely for optics – to show off a green back card, from the Vice Regal Mixture 75-card series… with the primary difference in the cards being the use of green ink on the back, rather than black. Oh… and maybe a different and smaller font for the card’s reverse description.

Never heard of Captain John William Dunne? We all should have… he’s the guy who created the first successful flying wing aeroplane – as you can see from the card graphic above.

First things first… the Wills’s card shows a Dunne V biplane… did they mean V as in vee-shaped wings… or V, as in the Roman numeral V = 5… as the Dunne D.5 was the fifth in a series of aircraft designs that achieved its historic success on March 11, 1910… the right date for our aviation card series. And… as you will see below, I think I’m correct.

Born in Ireland in 1875 (I hate it when I can’t find a birth date for a guy who lived until 1949… someone knows! Just not the Internet!), as the oldest son of British General John Hart Dunne and Julia Elizabeth Dunne – rich an considered to be aristocrats.

General daddy Dunne was famous enough for a long obit column to appear in The Times newspaper on April 21, 1924. We also know that the General (and father) of John William Dunne was born on December 11, 1835.

So… we know the birthdate of the father… but not the son. Obviously a British General trumps an aviation pioneer… at least according to this historical examination.

If anyone can pass along the birthdate of John William Dunne, I would greatly appreciate it. Not knowing stuff like this is my OCD. I searched for hours and hours…


General John Hart Dunne, Knight Commander of the Order of Bath… oh yeah… and father of some aviator guy.

The obituary had this to say:

At a lecture in 1913, a son of Sir John was spoken of as one of the most distinguished aeroplane designers of the day. He was at that time designing an aeroplane for the War Office authorities.

That’s where the obituary ends… “a son”  – see… I’m trying to find a proper birth date for that “son of a gun-toting general.”

“A son”…

As part of an aristocratic family, we can be quite sure that Dunne’s birth date would be well-documented… to be fair, I just don’t wish to spend €10 for a one-day pass to look up the records in an Irish database.

Dunne was an aviation pioneer, a guy interested in fly fishing and apparently philosophy – all three of which he achieved a measure of great global success in. It’s why I will explore all three aspects  – the latter of which I find fascinating, because he writes books about something I actually understand… and wondered about… sort of how personal dreams can be about the future…

So… Dunne… as a young boy, he read Jules Verne books, one of which caused him to have a dream about flying machine that did not need to be steered.

When you have a father who’s a British lifer in the military… and was a General… you, as a son, pretty much had to follow in dad’s military footsteps.



John William Dunne – a true pioneer of aviation.


He joined the military and fought in the second Boer War in South Africa as a trooper… but contracted typhoid in 1900 and was sent home.

60R 001.jpg

While off… he examined aeronautics… studying bird flight… but thought that the best way to achieve longer flight was to have aerodynamic stability.

So… thanks to encouragement from H.G. Wells – the famed science-fiction author he had befriended – Dunne tried to build several small aircraft models, eventually settling on a tailless swept-wing design.

Feeling better, on August 28, 1901, he was made a 2nd Lieutenant, and was sent back to South Africa in March of 1902… was diagnosed with “heart disease” and returned home in 1903. I placed quote marks around heart disease, because I don’t know what type of heart disease he had.

While on sick leave, he again spent his time on aeronautical engineering… now ready to construct gliders to perfect that aerodynamic stability for a full-fledged aeroplane.

Still sick, and still in the army, Dunne was transferred to the British Army Balloon Factory at South Farnborough in June 1906 and would remain there until 1909.



Dunne D.1 Glider

It was here that he began to construct and test aircraft, all of which had a vee-shape, constructing his glider the D.1. If successful, Dunne planned on adding engines and propellers to it.

While the glider did gain a short hop in July of 1907 lasting all of eight (8) seconds when flown by Balloon Factory commander Colonel J.E. Capper, and it did crash leaving Capper slightly injured, Dunne did discover that the design of the craft was essentially stable.

So Dunne and company fixed the D.1 again… added a motor… and tested it in October of 1907… bu it slipped sideways off the launching ramp and was severely damaged.

(This craft was later rebuilt as the D.4. – more below.)

So… with that failure, the D.2 glider was designed during the winter of 1907-1908, but it wasn’t actually built. So let’s move on.

Dunne-Huntington Triplane
Why wasn’t the D.2 glider built? Because Dunne and S.K. Huntington were also in the midst of constructing the full-scale Dunne-Huntington Triplane, which would eventually achieve successful flight in 1910 (yup, two years later!).

Actually, the plane was built by renowned aircraft builders the Short Brothers, delivering the finished aircraft on December 23, 1909.

Look at the photo immediately below… this was the first plane by Dunne that did not have his Vee designed wings. I would assume that Dunne acquiesced to Huntington during the design stage.

Dunne-Huntington Triplane.jpg

The Dunne-Huntington Triplane had three levels of wings, but not atop each other like a standard triplane.

The main feature of the design was a set of three wings, each of 10 feet (3 meters) wide, placed at the front, middle and rear of the craft. The front wing was not as long in span as the others.

The middle wing was raised above the other two… and each wing was placed at a different angle to give longitudinal stability – or so it was hoped.

Wikipedia states:

The outer sections of the rear wing were given a sharp downward angle. Triangular outboard control surfaces were hinged on the diagonal to these sections and provided all the functions normally produced by separate elevator, aileron and rudder controls. When operated together they acted as elevators, while when operating differentially they acted as combined ailerons and rudders to bank the aircraft into a controlled turn.

The front and rear wings were fixed to a long, uncovered fuselage frame, with the front wing gently tapered. The top wing was strut-braced to the structure below. Side curtains between the two full-span wings were initially fitted.

The pilot was seated above the front wing, with the engine immediately behind. Power was initially provided by a single Wolesley water-cooled engine chain-driving twin propellers. These were mounted in the space beneath the upper wing and their axles doubled as twin cylindrical booms connecting the fore and aft structures.

The Dunne-Huntington Triplane was first flown during the early part of 1910, with its body mounted on an undercarriage with two large wheels, a large tail wheel and twi skids under the nose. The photo gives a good representation of that. 

General characteristics

  • Crew: One;
  • Length: 50 feet (15 meters);
  • Wingspan: 59 feet (18 meters);
  • Engine: 1  Gnome Rotary, 70 horsepower;
  • Propellers: Two-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 43 miles per hour (69 kilometers per hour) .

D.3 and D.4
In 1908, Dunne built the D.3 glider capable of carrying a pilot, and the powered D.4, previously mentioned as the reincarnated former D.1 aeroplane (it used the D.1‘s wings).

While the D.3 flew well when piloted by Lieutenant Launcelot Gibbs, the D.4‘s tests suffered, as it was under-powered causing it to hop more than fly.

Dunne D4.jpg

Dunne D.4

After a British inquiry into the validity of military aeronatutics showed it to not be a currently viable venture, the British War Office decided to stop funding for powered flight during the spring of 1909… which had Dunne leaving the Factory… even though the War Office decision also meant it still found positives for dirigibles and balloons.

Dunne, with the help of a few friends providing financial backing, formed the Blair Atholl Aeroplane Syndicate, a small company that allowed further refinement of the flying vee aeroplanes.

Soon enough, the tailless and vee-winged D.5 was designed and constructed in 1910, featuring sharply swept back wings and a rear mounted engine (pusher-type) to power twin propellers. Again, the Short Brothers were hired to build the plane… and this time, it was successful… it was the first Dunne tailless Vee-wing to fly, in fact.

After a crash, it was later modified into the first Dunne D.8 – see below for more.

I should point out that originally Dunne wanted to build a monoplane, but Clapper convinced him to go with the biplane design, because that was what the Army thought might be a successful aeroplane.

Dunne D.5 biplane.jpg

The Dunne D.5 biplane

D.5 Specifications
  • Crew: One pilot;
  • Length: 20 feet 5 inches (6.21 meters);
  • Wingspan: 46 feet (14.02 meters);
  • Height: 11 feet 6 inches (3.51 meters);
  • Wing area: 527 square feet  (49 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 1,550 pounds (703 kilograms);
  • Engine: 1 Green Engine Company motor capable of 60 horsepower. The engines were actually manufactured by Aster Engineering Company based on the Green design;
  • Maximum speed: 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour).

Dunne D.5 schematic

The D.5 was quite the success, and on December 20, 1910 at the British Aero Club‘s grounds, Dunne showed off the aeroplane’s flying abilities to an audience that included Orville Wright and Griffith Brewer.

From Wikipedia: Griffith Brewer (1867–1948) was a pioneer English balloonist and aviator, who made his first balloon flight in 1891. Brewer met Wilbur Wright in Pau, France in 1908 and was the first Englishman to fly as a passenger with Wright. He got his pilot’s license in 1914.

Brewer arranged that the British government should get use of the Wright’s patents for £15,000 in 1914 which meant that British aircraft manufacturers were free of the threat of litigation.

What was so cool about the controls of the D.5? Well, Dunne could fly it by using the throttle to climb or dive, and could even fly hands-free so as to make notes on paper.

I mention this only because a few days after the demonstration, the D.5 crashed and was badly damaged. I’m unsure why the plane crashed, but let’s hope flying without using one’s hands wasn’t the cause.

Again, Dunne had wanted to construct a monoplane, but again the British Army expected biplanes, so Colonel Capper had Dunne build accordingly.

Despite what the Army wanted, Dunne’s next plane was the D.6 Monoplane.

D.6, D.7 and D.7bis


Dunne D.6

Dunne’s next design, free of British Army influence, was a monoplane, the D.6 monoplane. This and its derivatives, the D.7 and D.7 bis (a two-seater version), flew throughout 1911-1913.


Dunne D.7

It was a successful aeroplane(s). The D.6 was a single-seat pusher type. Only one was built, however.

From Wikipedia: … major parts of which were built by Short Brothers, used a similar wing with a very different structure supporting it, the engine, pilot and undercarriage. The wing was straight edged, tapering from a central chord of 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) to 5 ft 0 in (1.52 m) at the tips. The leading edge was swept at 35°. The A-frames with kingposts on the centreline were replaced with a pair of rectangular frames which extended above and below the wings, linked at the bottom by two transverse members. These frames served as double kingposts from which each wing was wire braced above and below. A substantial undercarriage structure was mounted at the bottom of the frames, comprising a long pair of skids which extended from the pusher propeller line well forward beyond the nacelle and curving strongly upwards. Each skid was multiply braced to its frame and inwards to the nacelle; the pair were joined by a cross strut near the forward tip. Both carried a pair of wheels and, at the rear, an articulated and sprung extension to absorb landing shocks.

The nacelle that carried the pilot’s seat and the engine behind him was no more than an open wooden framework. The same Green engine was used as before, driving a two bladed, 7 ft 3 in (2.21 m) diameter propeller. A tall, rectangular radiator was placed longitudinally above the wing, positioned to raise the centre of gravity as high as possible. A pair of levers, one for each hand, controlled the craft.

D.6 Specifications

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 21 feet (6.40 meters);
  • Wingspan: 36 feet (10.97 meters);
  • Height: 11 feet (3.35 meters);
  • Wing area: 248 square feet (23 square meters) including elevons;
  • Engine: 1 × Green water cooled inline with 60 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed, 7 feet 3 inches (2.21 meters) diameter.

During 1912, the D.6 was modified into a two-seater, the Dunne D.7 bis, with a 70 horsepower Gnome engine.

The Dunne D.7 or D.7 Auto Safety, was similar to the D.6, but with a shorter wingspan (less 1-foot (305 mm), and used a 7-cylinder Gnome rotary engine capable of 50 horsepower.

The D.7 made an appearance at the Olympia Aero Show of March 1911, but did not have its first test flights until June of that year – and was a success. In January 1912 Dunne demonstrated the D.7 to members of the Royal Aeronautical Society, writing a note whilst flying hands off at 60 miles per hour (100 kilometers and hour).



Dunne D.8

By now the Dunne D.8 had been developed from the D.5, one of which was flown across the English Channel to France. A total of five were built.

The D.8 had a single-pusher propeller engine, differing from the D.5‘s double, chain-driven propellers. Fuselage and undercarriage were also different.

dunne_8_2vc_350.jpgProduction was licensed to both Nieuport in France and Burgess in America.

From Wikipedia: The D.8 was a tailless four bay unstaggered biplane with its wings swept at 32°. Its constant chord wings were built up around two spruce spars, the forward one forming the leading edge. To help achieve stability the incidence and interplane gap decreased outboard, the former becoming negative. This washout on tips well behind the centre of gravity provided longitudinal stability in the same way as a conventional tailplane, set at lower incidence than the wings. Camber increased outwards. Simple, near parallel, pairs of interplane struts joined the spars. The outer interplane struts were enclosed with fabric, forming fixed side curtains that provided directional (yaw) stability. Wing tip elevons were used for control, operated by a pair of levers, one either side of the pilot. The D.8 initially used just a pair of these, mounted on the upper wing, a rectangular cutout in the side curtains allowing for their movement as on the D.5. Large parts of the aircraft were built by the Short Brothers.

The D.8’s water-cooled 4-cylinder, 60 hp Green engine directly drove a four-bladed pusher propeller, saving weight compared with the D.5’s chain drive. Though it is not certain when the propeller was changed, most photographs show the Green engine driving a two-bladed airscrew. As a consequence of the propeller position the fuselage was shortened at the rear; it was also extended in the nose. This first D.8 seems to have been a single-seater like its D.5 predecessor, the pilot sitting at mid chord.

After tests, the first D.8 had its motor replaced with an 80 horsepower Gnome engine… with the second plane receiving the same… though this one was a two-seater.

Several pilots did indeed receive their pilot’s license flying one of these craft.

D.8 Specifications

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 25 feet 9 inches (7.85 meters);
  • Wingspan: 46 (14.02 meters);
  • Wing area: 545 square feet (50.6 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms;
  • Gross weight: 1,900 pounds (862 kilograms);
  • Engine: 1 × Gnome 7-cylinder rotary with 80 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 56 miles per hour (90 kilometers per hour);
  • Rate of climb: 500 feet/minute (2.5 meters/second).


Burgess D.9.jpg

Dunne D.9 biplane

Dunne D.9 was an odd-looking biplane, with a suspected five examples thought to be under construction through 1912–1913. If the photo is to believed, at least one flew.

I can’t find any other information on it, which is why I am also dubious about just what version of plane is being shown in the image above.


The two-seater Dunne D.10 was shorter wing span version of his D.8 (45 feet; 14 meters).  It used a Gnome motor… but since it had orders for multiple D.8‘s, this one D.10 was converted back into a D.8.

Through 1913 and 1914 Dunne’s continuing ill health was making it difficult for him to remain active in aeronautics. Production of the War Office machines for Farnborough ran into difficulties and only one was ever delivered. The Blair Atholl Syndicate was eventually liquidated and Dunne moved on to other areas.

Throughout World War I, mainstream aircraft design proceeded along an entirely different path. Although the principle of inherent stability was proven and slowly gaining acceptance, Dunne’s designs were now obsolete. But still he tried…



Burgess-Dunne tailless Vee

Still, he tried once more with the Burgess-Dunne between 1913-1916, with many variants of his D.8 aircraft, including land and sea versions.

Burgess-Dunne Hydroplane.jpg

Burgess-Dunne Hydroplane version.

Since we just saw a Burgess-Dunne Hydroplane, let’s leave aviation for a moment and check out Dunne and his fishing book.

Great Highs With Fly-Fishing

Later years

Dunne published his first book, on dry-fly fishing: Sunshine and the Dry Fly in 1924, discussing a new method of making realistic artificial flies. I’m not much of a fisherman, so let’s just leave this part of his life alone.

Dare To Dream
Meanwhile, he was studying precognitive dreams which he believed he and others had experienced.

Way back in 1898, he dreamed about the time on his watch… then he woke up and found that the current time matched his “dream” time.

He went on to postulate that the human mind does NOT need to stay in the present, and via dreams and hypnagogic state (where one is in the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep), one could catch glimpses of the past and the future.

By 1927 he had evolved the theory of serial time for which he would become famous and published an account of it: An Experiment with Time. Pretty trippy… but as weird as it sounds, I’ve had multiple dreams as a kid about the near future, and things came to pass… such as seeing a weird copper penny on the asphalt in front of my high school… and two weeks later – there it was… a thing and weak-struck penny.

I’ve also had reoccurring dreams since I was three, of my death at 87… which is a decent enough age to not worry about… except in my dreams, I am warning some kids to get off the ice because it’s too thin, and while doing so, I fall through… see the shadows atop, as I beat on the underside with my fists-once… twice… and then I wake up gasping.

It’s cool because I’m trying to save some kids… but sucks because you’d think that when I was 86 I would have moved somewhere where the only ice around is in my Coke.

I state all of this with some fear of ridicule. But… all I can say is that I had a dream. I still have the penny, though.

I’m unsure about Dunne’s theories… my stuff was all independent of what I learned while researching this particular article. But who the heck knows anything about anything.

He continued his theory in: The Serial Universe (1934), The New Immortality (1938), Nothing Dies (1940) and Intrusions? (published posthumously in 1955).

In 1928 he married Cicely, daughter of Geoffrey Cecil Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, 18th Baron Saye and Sele and they lived for a good deal of time after that at the family seat of Broughton Castle.


Dunne died in Banbury, England on August 24, 1949, at age 74. I’m guessing Dunne didn’t see that coming or he would have finished his last book earlier.



Posted in Concepts, Failures, Gliders, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #59 – “Vanniman” Triplane.

Card #59.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Vanniman” Triplane.

Card #59 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut issue

  • Chester Melvin Vaniman aka Vanniman, December 30, 1866 in Virden, Illinois, United States of America – July 2, 1912 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States of America.
  • Walter E. Wellman, November 3, 1858 in Mentor, Ohio, United States of America – January 31, 1934 in New York City, New York, United States of America.

Never heard of Melvin Vaniman… apparently Wills’s didn’t either, as they spelled his name as “Vanniman”.

Actually, that’s not true… Vaniman was one of the best-known aviators of the pioneer era, and while he was successful in many of his endeavors, he is nowadays forgotten simply because many of his endeavors revolved around dirigibles… something people of today know very little about unless it involves the Hindenburg and WKRP In Cincinnati or Led Zeppelin, the best pure rock and roll group ever. The Beatles were pop and rock.

Vaniman… despite the glaring misspelling by Wills’s is an interesting character, though he himself may have been overshadowed by a cat.


Kiddo the cat and Melvin Vaniman – one a stray, the other a now forgotten aviation pioneer. Forever memorialized here in this blog until an EMP comes along.

Vaniman was a pioneer of aviation, but he got into the trade thanks to his skills as a photographer… perhaps because he’s the guy who created panoramic photography… or at the very least was the man who made it famous.

Vaniman was a photographer who like to get as high as possible to get the best photograph, which earned him the nickname the “Acrobatic Photographer”.

Not very catchy… … but this is also the guy who named a cat “Kiddo”. At least I think he named him. Whatever… a stupid point by my self.

Born in Virden, Illinois to parents George and Luisa, Vaniman was the oldest of four sons.The short fiery red-head and his siblings were raised within a Christian sect called the Dunkards (via the German Baptist church)… a sect that disagreed with the concepts of modernization and even sad no to instrumental music in the agricultural community they lived in…

Having said that, they lived on a farm… and things needed to be repaired when they broke… and Vaniman was the kid who learned how to fix all kinds of machinery – even engines on the farm.

Like many kids, Melvin Vaniman wanted to escape the small town and seek his fortune elsewhere… turning his back on farming to study music, initially at Mt. Morris College run by the German Baptist Bretheren, before gaining further study at Valparaiso University in Indiana and later at Dexter College in Iowa, where he stayed on to become a music teacher – guitar and singing – before joining a touring opera company in Louisiana in 1887,  which traveled through the U.S.

While not a new invention, photography captured Vaniman’s eye, and he began to take photographs of the towns his musical troupe visited.

In 1900, while in Honolulu, the musical company was affected by a plague scare, that scared them into breaking up.

Broke and stranded in Honolulu (which all things considered doesn’t sounds like a horrible place to be stranded), Vaniman cabled his hometown sweetheart Ida Loud to come to Hawaii, and when she did, they got married.

Needing money, Vaniman attempted to make a career as a photographer in Honolulu… and he must have done something right because his work attracted the attention of the Oceanic Steamship Company who hired him to take photos of rich passengers at various ports.

It was at this time, that he developed panorama photo process by using film greater than six feet long, that required an exposure of anywhere between two to four hours.

The Oceanic Steamship Company traveled through New Zealand and Australia, with Vaniman and his wife first arriving in  Auckland, New Zealand in 1902, where Vaniman took photos of New Zealand cities.

They then traveled in February of 1903 to Australia, where he took panoramic photos of Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and Perth, and the New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australian countrysides… an estimated 100 in total, though only 83 are thought to have survived.


A Vaniman panorama taken in 1904 – a platinum photograph looking East from Darling Harbour to Pyrmont Bridge and Sydney, Australia.

Along with the longer film, Vaniman believed that he needed to be high up to get the proper panorama effect, often climbing buildings, ship’s masts and even going aboard a hot-air balloon.

Vaniman’s 1904 panoramic shots of Sydney are considered to be famous, and for which he made a lot of money… enough for him to turn his hand towards aviation development… something that may have been inspired by his balloon ride.

So he traveled through Europe, settling in Paris in 1905… which was considered to be the center of aviation… mostly because the Wright Brothers were still in secret mode after their initial 1903 flight.

And, despite an education in music, skilled in photography, Vaniman built his own aeroplane in 1906… a triplane, in fact… the first ever triplane…


Now… there seems to be some discrepancy over whether or not his triplane actually flew.

There are images of it in the air… but some people feel that it has been doctored.

1908 Triplane.jpg

Here’s what the above postcard says in English:

Made of three arched planes, supported by a frame of steel tubes, each measuring 11 meters (36-feet) in length and 2 meters 20 cm (7.2-feet) in breadth. Total surface area: 72 (square) meters (775-square-feet). 70/80 HP Antoinette engine with 8 cylinders driving a propeller with two arms placed to the rear. In front, two elevators (or rudders): one horizontal and placed in the lower part, serves to control the altitude; the second, vertical, placed about 2/3 of the height of the machine, controls the direction and the turning, whether one tilts to the right or the left. The function of warping the wings is made by means of an arrangement placed on the shoulders of the aviator, and the direction to the right or the left by means of two pedals. Total weight: 500 kilograms (1,102.3-pounds).

You’ll notice that at no time does the postcard note when the triplane first achieved flight.

Check out the image below… no plane in those days was going to be able to safely take-off with a runway like that…


The only addition to this photo, is that we now know the Vaniman triplane is six meters (19.7 feet) long…

But did it fly?

In 1907… Vaniman appears to have given up on aeroplanes saying: “I once had great faith in aeroplanes… I am firmly set in my belief that the aeroplane will never be a cargo carrier.”

Well… he certainly wasn’t a prognosticator.

But why give up on a triplane that apparently flew… unless it didn’t.

Despite what I read in another on-line blog, Vaniman did not participate in the 1909 Reims air show… because he was already heavily at work on his dirigible, and therefore, there is no way anyone anywhere saw him fly at Reims some 150 meters (492 feet).

The 1911-series of 75 Aviation cards from Wills’s shows the Vaniman triplane in flight… and despite the date, it actually shows the earlier machine… perhaps more for what they hoped it actually represented… a triplane…

Here’s the back of the card… but a quick read will note that they believe it to have made multiple successful triplane flights.

Card #59R.jpg

I love the “side tips”, aka ailerons, proving it had not yet made it into the common aviation vernacular.

So… that’s pretty much it for the Wills’s card, but you know me…. I have to give you the full story.

We’re going to look farther into Vaniman’s life story… and attempts by others, and him to reach the North Pole first… with Vanimann eventually being part of a team that tried to do so by dirigible.

Everyone should know that US Navy engineer Robert Peary, Matthew Henson and four Inuit men, Ootah, Seeglo, Egingwah, and Ooqueah reached the North Pole first on April 6, 1909… except maybe they didn’t, as no one except Peary knew how to navigate and no one else could verify the navigational work by Peary… and, then there’s the fact that after his last support party turned back, Peary and company apparently achieved distances and speeds that were three times what had been achieved to that point.

So… let’s just say that some things are still kind of shady…

The first verified and scientifically-convincing trek to the North Pole was on May 12, 1926 by Roald Amundsen (Norwegian), and his U.S. sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth from the airship Norge – Norwegian-owned, but designed and piloted by Umberto Nobile of Italy.

Nobile, with several scientists and crew from the Norge flight flew over the North Pole again on May 24, 1928 in the dirigible Italia… an aircraft that crashed during its return flight killing half the crew.

North Pole Or Burst
To be fair, you can always just read my old blog for all the information you’ll need to know about Wellman’s attempt to reach the North Pole by dirigible, including later attempts with Vaniman – all courtesy of Wills’s Aviation Card #11.

1906 America dirigible.jpg

The dirigible America  – 1906, Spitzbergen.

The America dirigible was built by Mutin Godard in France in 1906 for the journalist Walter Wellman who wanted to use it reach the North Pole by air.

Wellman… this guy back in 1892, thought he had figured out the initial landing spot of Christopher Columbus, and placed a monument on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. Two years later Wellman led a polar expedition to latitude 81° N., and another in 1989-99 gaining latitude 82° N.

In 1905, he decided he would try and reach the North Pole by air, having the America dirigible built for him by Mutin Godard.

After the dirigible was built in France, it was dismantled and shipped to Spitsburgen, Norway in 1906. There, Wellman and crew attempted to rebuild it, but the engines fell apart… effectively scuttling the planned expedition. The America was dismantled and shipped back to France.

Take Two (Definitely #1 with Vaniman)

Redesigned and rebuilt, the new America dirigible lifted off from Spitsburgen on September 2, 1907 with Wellman, new mechanic Melvin Vaniman, and navigator Felix Riesenberg in an attempt to reach the North Pole. We can rest assured that during the build, the engines did not fall down and break…

But… bad weather arose, forcing the dirigible to be deflated to avoid a crash landing… and was dismantled and shipped back to France.


Walter Wellman  – December 31, 1909.

America Three – Vaniman Two
Wellman lured Vaniman to make a go of a second North Pole attempt aboard a repaired America dirigible. Lifting from Spitzbergen on August 15, 1909, and the North Pole about 700 miles away, the dirigible crew consisted of Wellman, Vaniman, Russian balloonist Nicolas Popov and Vaniman’s brother-in-law Albert Louis Loud.

The America flew for two hours and 40 miles (64 kilometers) without an issue until it lost ballast after a device that Wellman called an “equilibrator” failed – a long, leather tube filled with ballast that was intended to help gauge and maintain a fixed altitude over the ice.

Without this, the America flew up high to 5,000 feet, but finally after a lot of struggling and Vaniman fiddling with the gas valves to vent the hydrogen gas, the dirigible was able to get low enough so the crew could be rescued by the Norweigian steamship Fram.

It is reported that the sailors on the ship were amazed at Vaniman, watching him coolly light a cigar, and just as coolly launch the America’s lifeboat while under 250,000 cubic feet of explosive hydrogen.

But Wellman and Vaniman would not give-up… except the weren’t going to go north anymore.

Why? Because it seems as though reports abounded of others reaching the North Pole – as such, Vaniman and Wellman thought they should try and cross the Atlantic Ocean… to be the first to do that.. as no aerocraft had yet to even make an uninterrupted flight of more than 500 miles.

America 4 – Vaniman 3


The America dirigible, seen from the Trent prior to rescue.

For this flight – the one across the Atlantic, the America left  Atlantic City, New Jersey on October 15, 1910, which a crew of six men and one Kiddo the cat.


America dirigible drawing from Scientific American magazine, October 1, 1910.

Kiddo was a good-looking stray cat a crewman found in the dirigible’s hangar, and for whatever reason, thought it a good idea to bring the cat onboard. For good luck he thought… trying to start a new tradition of gaining good by bringing cats onto aircraft.

Do we still do that now? Didn’t think so.

Anyhow… Kiddo was pretty freaked out on the dirigible… which made the crew nervous.

Twenty minutes into the flight, navigator F. Murray Simon wrote in his log: “I am chiefly worried by our cat, which is rushing around the airship like a squirrel in a cage.”

Ha! Wait’ll Kiddo freaks out and tries to claw the dirigible balloon.

While others wanted to get rid of the cat, Simon said “We must keep the cat at all costs; we can never have luck without a cat aboard.”

I’m pretty sure that Simon was referring to the nautical tactic of  having a cat on board a sailing vessel because cats would catch mice and rats…

But a tiny dirigible with no flying mice or rats aboard was a dumb place to have a cat – even a cute one like Kiddo.


I am unsure who the gentleman is – obviously one of the crew  – I don’t think it’s Vaniman… perhaps navigator F. Murray Simon –  but you can see that that is a real nice-looking kitty cat.

After a while, the crew voted to get rid of the cat… and somehow got Kiddo into a sack (someone was probably really badly cut-up!)  and lowered him down to a motorboat used by journalists following the dirigible.

I’m assuming it was a larger boat than a simple motor boat, and was instead a motorized boat… seeing as it was carrying a number of journalists and was crossing the bloody Atlantic Ocean.

Anyhow… because the weather was bouncing the boat too much, the America was unable to safely place the cat down into the boat… so they hauled Kiddo up again into the dirigible.

Simon notes in his log that Kiddo behaved himself after that… perhaps realizing that if he didn’t behave on the dirigible, the alternative was being thrown into a canvas bag and lowered down into the ocean.

While Simon thought Kiddo was the cat’s meow, the rest of the crew still wasn’t that enthralled with Kiddo…

Along with a good-luck cat, the America also carried along one of the earliest radio sets ever carried on an aircraft.

The flight across the Atlantic Ocean from the U.S. to Europe was anticipated to be a five-hour trip.

However, water condensing on the airship’s skin added excess weight, and it was difficult to gain height. A passing storm also made forward navigation difficult, and after 38 hours, the motors failed (beach sand might have been the culprit)  and the airship drifted south.

The crew jettisoned all excess weight, including one of the defunct engines. But apparently not the cat… though I bet most of the crew really wanted to.

After another 33 hours, and having now traveled a total distance of 1,370 miles (2,200 kilometers) from its starting point, the America spotted the British Royal Mail steamship Trent west of Bermuda.

The used Morse code via signal lamp to attract the Trent, the America made what is considered to be the first ever aerial distress call made by radio (I assume some folks stuck in a hot air balloon may have shouted for help at some point in time previously).

After opening the gas valves, and with the Trent nearby, the crew of the America—and Kiddo—got into the dirigible’s lifeboat and abandoned ship.

After dropping the lifeboat down into the waters, they watched the America float away… never to be seen again. We can assume that with the gas vents open, it either filled the dirigible’s balloon until it burst, or it lifted high into the sky until it froze – either way, it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

The Trent rescued the cat and crew and took them all to New York city.

For Wellman, the trip was a total disaster and he never took to the air again.

Still that flight set a record for distance traveled by air at 1,008 miles (1,622.22 kilometers), and time aloft 71-1/2 hours.

It Wasn’t A Very Good Year – The Akron

Akron blimp - 1912.jpg

The Akron dirigible was designed by Vaniman, and was Goodyear’s first so-called “blimp”, seen here in 1912.

With Wellman out  of the aviation business, Vaniman wanted another shot at crossing the Atlantic, and in order to raise funds, he exhibited Kiddo the cat  – now renamed Trent in honor of the steamship that rescued him and the humans – in a gilded cage at various New York department stores.

He also found a financial backer in Frank A. Seiberling, who happened to be the co-founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

It’s 19111… and over at the Goodyear factory in Akron, Ohio. USA, and Vaniman was helping over see the construction of the new dirigible.

Legend has it that Vaniman—during the tests—thought that using a rubberized “cloth of web-like steel piano wire as the woof and cotton as the warp” would help stop gas from escaping in the dirigible.

Does that sound familiar?

Vaniman asked Goodyear to experiment with rubber and silk weaved through vanadium steel… like a steel-belted tire, perhaps?

Regardless… Goodyear didn’t bring out a steel-belted radial tire for five more decades…

The dirigible—named the Akron—was a 258-foot (78.64 meter) long dirigible with a balloon capacity of 11 300 cubic meters of hydrogen gas.

Looking more like a dirigible made by Europeans, the Akron had two decks, cabins above, a dining room, saloon, kitchen and a below deck promenade.

On July 2, 1912, after a few trials, the Akron lifted off from Atlantic City, New Jersey to try and cross the Atlantic (again) to Europe.

The event was called the Vaniman-Seiberling Transatlantic Expedition.

Lifting off from its hangar, the Akron reached 750 in altitude after 15 minutes, traveling two kilometers (eight kilometers and hour).

But that’s also when the dirigible exploded, killing Vaniman and his crew of four.

So what the heck happened?

Either the balloon had ruptured thanks to a rapid expansion of gas… or maybe the nacelle’s suspension ropes had snapped… or maybe one really shouldn’t be smoking cigars in a hydrogen-filled blimp that leaks gas… or maybe it was something else.

To this day, Vaniman’s body remains lost… somewhere in the waters off Atlantic City… a watery grave for a man who wanted to soar.

What happened to his cat Kiddo? Was he on the Akron?

No… Kiddo, aka Trent, had retired after the exploits aboard America… and had gone to live with Walter Wellman’s daughter Edith – avoiding Vaniman’s unlucky fate.

Here’s what the New-York Tribune newspaper had to say about Vaniman in its July 3, 1912 edition, front page, no less:

Five Killed When Dirigible Bursts

Melvin Vaniman and Brother Victims of Explosion Which Wrecks Akron 500 Feet Above the Sea.

Thousands See Accident

Airship, Soon to Start for Europe, on Trial Cruise Off Atlantic City-Mrs Vaniman Foresaw Fatal Mishap.

(Editor’s Note: Although the article essentially begins with four separate headlines, the article is then interrupted to note the number of dirigible accidents, and aeroplane fatalities as of July 1, 1912 – in the case of the later, it’s 159. I’m not re-typing it all out here, at this time.)

Atlantic City, July 2 (Special).-While thousands of people, horrified beyond utterance, looked on from the boardwalk and beach, the dirigible Akron, built by Melvin Vaniman to attempt the over-Atlantic passage, burst into flame and plunged into the sea this morning, killing its crew of five men.

The dead are Vaniman himself, his younger brother Calvin Vaniman; Walter Guest, Frederick Elmer and George Bourillion.

The big airship was blown to pieces by an explosion, probably produced by a too rapid expansion of gas.

The body of Calvin Vaniman fell from the Akron as the understructure was dropping through the air, and was recovered not long after the accident, but the other men were carried down into the sandy bottom, caged in the wire framework of the craft.

It is probable that they were killed by the explosion. Bourillion’s body, when taken out by a diver, was crushed and torn and most of the clothing had been ripped away.

The Akron mounted easily and gracefully into the air early to-day for a trial cruise. The sands were black with persons who watched her as she floated upward under splendid control and sailed out over the seas until she was five hundred feet above Absecon Inlet, half a mile from the shore and a quarter of a mile south of Brigantine Beach, which is across the inlet from this city.

When she went up the soft wind that blew across the inlet had not dispelled the haze, and the sun was only a bronze ball in the misty sky. But the clouds dispelled and soon the sunshine shimmered on her great yellow envelope that stood out so dashingly against the blue of the sky.

(Editor’s Note: Holy crap…  I guess the newspaper editor demanded a certain word count, and the writer could only write about the topic for 50 words before realizing he had to describe the sky. Yeesh.)

Shoots Upward Suddenly.
It must have been that the temperature rose suddenly when this happened, for the Akron, which had been drifting lazily along in the air lanes, shot upward quickly, and then a tony flash of light appeared atop the balloon. This spread like an electric spark, and a great burst of flame and smoke followed.

The bag split at the top. A deep rumble came across to the watchers, terrifying them into stillness. Yellow-gray smoke completely hid the Akron, billowing up around her, and then rolled in turgid clouds above her in the wind. The understructure ripped from its meshing and in the forward [art of the big gas bag up-ended, described a slow ark and then jumped in the air as the car tore free and fell into the ocean, never once turning in its dive.

Half way down the body of a man flew out of the car and rocketed to the ocean, striking the water before the understructure splashed a great wave fifty feet to the west of the man, who was Calvin Vaniman.

The gas bag had wavered for a time, fluttering like a live thing, and then, crumpling into the semblance of a wrinkled, dead apple, tumbled down in a spiral, with smoke curling from it, and fell into the ocean a hundred feet from where the car had struck.

Women Faint at Sight of It.
It was almost a minute before the crowd could comprehend what had happened, even though what was left of the Akron lay floating on the waves.

But while women fainted and were carried to the Iblet pavilion to be revived, men put out in motor boats. One of these was Councilman Harry Cook, a member of the America Exhibition Company, which had helped finance the unsuccessful flight of Walter Wellman in 1910, a voyage in which Vaniman, the practical …

(Editor’s Note: Okay… it goes from there, so… I’m cutting it here.)

Anyhow… Vaniman died, his body lost at sea… his brother Calvin and crewman Bourillion were found… but no mention was made – at the time of finding anyone else.

In June of 2012… the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is donating an important piece of U.S. aeronautical heritage to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum: the historic lifeboat used on two early attempted crossings of the Atlantic by airships.

Posted in Airfields, Failures, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Photography, Tobacco Card, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #58 – New “Voisin” Biplane, 1911.

Card #58.jpgHistory Behind The Card:  New “Voisin” Biplane, 1911.

Card #58 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut issue

  • Gabriel Voisin, February 5, 1880 in Belleville-sur-Saône, France – December 25, 1973 in Ozenay, France;
  • Charles Voisin, July 12, 1882 in Lyon, France – September 26, 1912 in Corcelles-en-Beaujolais, France.

The Voisin Brothers were at the forefront of pioneer aviation in Europe. Period.

While Henri Farman got the glory for being the first man in Europe to fly an engine-powered heavier-than-air aeroplane to make a sustained one kilometer, circular flight on January 13, 1908 near Paris, France, he did so in an aeroplane designed and built for him by Gabriel Voisin.

As for baby brother  Charles Voisin, on March 15, 1907, he made the first powered flight on an aeroplane using a combustion engine – an Antoinette V8 – in an aeroplane the Voisin Brothers built on behalf of pilot Léon Levavasseur who also designed it.


From left: Gabriel and Charles Voisin, circa 1906.

Family strife occurred early for the Voisin boys when their father left… but fear not… mom Amélie simply took the boys to live with her dad… a guy who was rich, owned a successful factory, and paid for all the education they needed and wanted.

The Voisin brothers seemed to have their grandfather’s flair for engineering, so even after the old man died, money was put aside for them to go to Lyon and Paris to study industrial design. Before the end of the 19th century, they boys had designed and built their own rifle, steamboat and automobile… that newfangled invention that was the latest global sensation.

Gabriel Voisin, at the age of 20, had finished his schooling and was working for an architect company in Paris… and it was there that he stopped by the months long Paris International Exposition of 1900 (held April 12-November 14)… seeing the Avion III aeroplane designed and built by Frenchman Clement Adler.

This is 1900… so no one had yet flown a heavier-than-air craft (and aeroplane)… so seeing this plane… well… Gabriel Voisin saw the possibilities.

That Avion III (aka Aquilon or the Éole III), was a steam-powered craft that looked like a bat, built by Adler between 1892-97.

While trials in front of the French Government on October 14, 1897 were unsuccessful – it crashed without leaving the ground – Adler said (many years later), that on that same date, he had actually achieved flight on another attempt with two witnesses seeing the flight of 100 meters (328-feet).

In my thinking, if he had a successful flight, he needed to prove it, and should have done so immediately… and not just come up with a statement years later… it’s too convenient…

As mentioned… seeing the aircraft and hearing of its story inspired Gabriel Voisin enough to at least thinking about flying aircraft.

In 1904, Gabriel listened to Captain Ferdinand Ferber (the first European to actually hear about the Wright Brother’s success with a flight back in 1903 via letter) talk about aviation. Ferber who had built various unsuccessful gliders, had offered to purchase a glider built by the Wright Brothers… who wrote back and said sorry, but did inform him of their aeroplane success story.  So… it appears as though Ferber had a good inkling of what was to come.

At the conclusion of Ferber’s speech, Gabriel Vosiin talked with Ferber, who in turn introduced him to Ernest Archdeacon, who had founded in 1898 the Aéro-Club de France, the oldest aviation club in the world. Archdeacon, however, was also France’s biggest promoter and sponsor of early aviation, offering prizes for various successes, organizing tests and aviation-related events. A good man to know if you are looking for an in…

… and it worked. Archdeacon hired Gabriel Voisin to be a test pilot on a copy of the 1902 Wright No. 3 glider he had built.

The tests took place at Berck-sur-Mer, France in April of 1904, and while the success was limited with s a few short glides of about 20 meters (66 feet), Archdeacon was convinced enough to have Gabriel Voisin build another glider.

This one was similar to the earlier glider, but had a fixed horizontal stabilizer behind the wings along and to its front-mounted elevator.

Tested at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France on March 26, 1905 by towing it into the air using Archdeacon’s automobile. Using ballast of 50 kg (110 lb) (Man these guys must have been a lot smaller 100+ years ago) instead of a human pilot, structural failure ensued… crash… never rebuilt.

Voisin then designed and built a glider equipped with floats for Archdeacon. This aircraft marks the first use of Hargrave cells, used both for the tail and the wings.

Hargrave cells are what they call the joining of several box kites together to provide lift. It was the brainchild of Lawrence Hargrave, who in 1893 invented the box kite.

While he had been working on that glider, Louis Blériot visited and asked Voisin to build him a similar machine, later known as the Blériot II – and it was a glider. The chief difference is that the Blériot glider had a smaller lower wingspan.


Bleriot II

Gabriel Voisin flew the Archdeacon glider on June 8, 1905… this time towed into the air by a motorboat on the Seine river (because water is softer than dirt – is it?)… but it was successful, flying about 600 meters (2,000 feet).

On July 18, 1905… and because getting permission to do wacky experiments on the Seine river was difficult, despite heavy crosswinds, Gabriel Voisin made another Archdeacon glider flight attempt… a short successful one…

Then he decided to fly the Blériot glider… it lifted up quickly… the winds made it difficult to control… crashed into the river… with Gabriel Voisin nearly drowning within the aircraft… Louis Blériot’s film footage of this experiment survives in the Smithsonian‘s National Air and Space Museum.

Still, there’s nothing like the specter of death helping influence one’s future life decisions… and so, after the initial flight, Blériot and Voisin partnered up as Voisin dissolved his partnership with Archdeacon…. even though it was the Blériot glider that nearly killed Voisin… oh you cool, wacky French guys.

It turned out to be a most fortuitous decision for both Voisin and Blériot… eventually.

In 1906, Voisin built Blériot a tandem biplane known as the Blériot III, an aircraft with an Antoinette engine moving two tractor propellers, and the wings formed into a closed ellipse as seen from the front.


The Bleriot III – a cool looking plane, but a failure, nonetheless.

This aircraft was unsuccessful, and the same for the Blériot IV, which had the forward wing replaced with regular biplane arrangement and a second engine added.

Experiments were made first with floats and then with a wheeled undercarriage, and the aircraft was wrecked in a taxiing accident at Bagatelle on November 12, 1906.

That same day, and also at Bagatelle, Alberto Santos-Dumont flew his 14-bis Canard (duck) biplane (see HERE for my write-up) of around 100 meters (328 feet). Note that although the Wright Brothers achieved their first flight in 1903, few in Europe believed them until Wilbur came Le Mans France and flew the Wright Flyer there in August of 1908 – a year after Santos-Dumont and others (see below) had already achieved flight in France.

Bleriot IV.jpg

Bleriot IV

Crushed by the failure of the Blériot IV, Voisin and Blériot dissolved their partnership.

Gabriel Voisin and his younger brother Charles then formed their own company to design and build aeroplanes, the Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin (Aviation Devices Brothers Voisin).

As a business, Appareils d’Aviation Les Frères Voisin was the world’s first commercial airplane factory.

With the Wright Brothers and Santos-Dumont proving heavier-than-air flight was truly real and possible, others wanted to fly, hoping to be the first from their country to do so… so having an aircraft factory that built aeroplanes… well – genius.

The only problem with Santos-Dumont’s 14-bis aircraft, was that it could only fly in a straight line… and copying that design was not what would-be pilots wanted.

So, the Voisin Brothers created a pair of pusher biplanes (motor mounted at the back), with 50 horsepower V8 Antoinette engines.

The first was built for Leon Delagrange (a sculptor artist) in March 1907 – let’s call this the the Voisin-Delagrange I (though it eventually became known simply as the Delagrange I).


Leon Delagrange flying his Delagrange I aka Voisin-Delagrange biplane in 1908.

The second was built in October of 1907 for Delagrange’s friend (and rival) Henry Farman – let’s call this the Voisin-Farman I (later known as Farman I).

In truth, these planes – thanks to their success – were known collectively as the Voisin 1907 biplane.

The name game… the Voisin brothers initially believed that the plane’s name should feature the owner’s – an important selling point – while the company name of Voisin Frères (placed on the tail) would appear in smaller letters.

It was felt that the ego of the pilot was more important than the ego of the manufacturer… something that irked Gabriel Voisin as time passed.

Testing the first aeroplane that was built for Delagrange, Charles Voisin on March 15, 1907 in Bagatelle made the first powered flight in an aeroplane using a combustion engine – the Antoinette V8. Delagrange took the controls the next day on March 16, 1907 in a public flight.

His first public flight was made on March 16, 1907 at Bagatelle in France where he flew a biplane.

Farman’s aeroplane… it became more famous, as he used it to win the Archdeacon’s Grand Prix d’Aviation of 50,00 French Francs) for the first ever one-kilometer closed-circuit flight on January 13, 1908, and later on March 21, 1908, Farman successfully flew two kilometers.

Farman I.jpg

This photo taken on January 13, 1908 shoes Henri Farman in his Voisin Farman I winning the Grand Prix d’Aviation prize for completing the first ever circular flight of more than 1-kilometer (0.6 miles).

Depending on who you believe, Farman might have flown the first ever passenger, Leon Delagrange, on March 29, 1908… but others say it was actually Wilbur Wright flying Charles Furnas on May 14, 1908. I wasn’t at either event, so who knows if anyone was telling the truth, or if anyone was lying.

Still, on October 30, 1908, Farman used his Voisin biplane to perform the first cross-country flight in Europe, flying from Châlons to Reims – both in France – a total distance of 27 kilometers (16.78 miles) in approximately 20 minutes.

Thanks to the successes of pilots Delagrange and Farman, the Voisin aeroplane company gained much renown as Europe’s first successful aircraft factory producing the most successful European aeroplane.

In 1909, Gabriel Voisin was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, and along with Blériot was awarded the Prix Osiris, awarded by the Institut de France.

Gabriel also married Adrienne-Lola Bernet in 1909, eventually having their one and only child, the daughter Janine.

But… 1909 wasn’t all roses… while Farman had modified the Voisin pusher biplanes considerably all by himself, he and the Voisin’s ended their alliance.

So it’s said, Gabriel Voisin sold an aeroplane built to Farman’s own specifications to J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon…

So Farman went off on his own and designed and constructed the Farman III – a very successful aircraft.

The Voisin Brothers continued to design and build their biplanes… which brings us to the image of this Wills’s Card #58 – The Voisin Canard – aka The Voisin Duck.

As you will recall, the Santos-Dumont 14-bis that became the first plane in Europe to fly (beating Gabriel Voisin’s aircraft built for Blériot  – the Blériot IV back in 1906) was also named “Duck/Canard“.

Card #58R.jpg

The Voisin Canard was built by both Voisin brothers in 1910, but was not flown until February of 1911.

The video below is NOT the initial flight, but it is still early:

It sure looks like a duck! Then again… it sure looks like Santos-Dumont’s 14-bis Canard from five years earlier of 1906!

It also looks like it is flying backwards! Beautiful film!

The Voisin Canard was originally flown as a landplane (which is what we see in the Wills’s card) for the French and Russian armies, but later on the Voisin’s added floats to make it one of the first seaplanes and used by the French Navy.. though I did see in another source saying that it was actually designed for the Italian Navy. Believe the French Navy information, please.

I also note that the very first Voisin Canard seaplane was actually flown by a Romanian, but as a private citizen…

As a landplane, the first Voisin Canard was flown at Issy-les-Moulineaux by Maurice Colliex, a Voisin test pilot and designer.


Maurice Colliex at the controls of a Voisin biplane.

Construction of the Voisin Canard involved an open fuselage of wire-braced wood, featuring a 50 horsepower Russel-Peugeot rotary engine at the rear OR a Gnome 7-cylinder air-cooled 70 horsepower OR 130 horsepower motor Or even a 75 horsepower Renault motor.

It’s almost like Voisin wasn’t sure himself… but the standard seems to have been the Gnome 70 horsepower motor. Then again… I might be mixing up land versus water versions.

Its front-mounted control surfaces had an all-moving elevator with half on one side of the fuselage, and the other half on the other side.

It had a rectangular rudder above the elevator and two horizontal surfaces with a high- angle of attack behind and below the elevators. Side curtains were on the outermost pair of interplane struts.

Trailing edge ailerons on the upper and lower wings provided roll/turn control.

There are variations of the Voisin Canard… as noted with the engine variations, but also with the number of side curtains used… some had two, others three.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 2
  • Length: 8 meters (26 feet);
  • Wingspan: 12 meters  (40 feet);
  • Wing area: 43.9 square meters (473 square feet);
  • Gross weight: 549 kilograms (1,210 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome, 7-cylinder air-cooled radial, 70 horsepower motor;
  • Maximum speed: 90 kilometers per hour (56 miles per hour).

On the seaplane version, Voisin used floats designed by Henri Fabre, the guy who designed and built the first successful seaplane – the Fabre Hydravion – which first flew on March 28, 1910.

The first Voisin Canard seaplane variant was built to order by Prince Bibesco of Romania who was interested enough in aviation to want to fly across the Black Sea. This plane was successfully flown with a water start on April 25, 1911.

Another seaplane variant was purchased by the French Navy in March of 1912 for the La Foudre, the very first seaplane carrier ever. The Navy bought a second one (delivered) in December of 1913.

Despite the success of the Voisin brothers aeroplane manufacturing company, Gabriel suffered a devastating loss when younger brother Charles died on September 26, 1912 … when the car he was in crashed.

Gabriel Voisin continued in his aviation work, but changed the name of the company to Société Anonyme des Aéroplanes G. Voisin.

From 1912 on, the company concentrated its efforts on creating aeroplanes for the French military… and developed the 1912 Voisin Type L (also known as the Voisin Type I  – I, as in one), with about 70 created for France, and a few more for Russia.

When The Great War (aka WWI) broke out on July 28, 1914, Gabriel was quick to volunteer with the French Air Corp.

At that time, the company had developed the 1914 Type LA (aka Voisin Type III), a two-seater pusher biplane featuring a Salmson 120 horsepower radial engine, an aeroplane used for both observation missions and bombing runs during the war.

They made and sold about 1,000 of the Voisin Type III aircraft to the French and other allies during the war between 1914-1916.

The Voisin Type VIII were heavier but otherwise identical to the Voisin Type III and featured a Peugeot engine capable of a longer flight range and twice the bombload, with about 1,000 delivered in 1917.  An original Voisin Type VIII bomber aircraft is preserved in excellent condition at the Smithsonian‘s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and is the oldest preserved bomber aircraft in the world.

The Voisin Type X was delivered in 1918 and was identical to the Type VIII, except it had a Renault engine.

Here’s a list of the planes built by Voisin, with supplementary information as found on Wikipedia:

1) 1907 Voisin biplaneGeneral characteristics:

1907 Voisin-Delagrange  biplane.jpg

Voisin-Delagrange I pusher biplane.

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 13.45 meters (44 feet 2 inches)
  • Wingspan: 10.8 meters (35 feet 5 inches)
  • Wing area: 42square meters (450 square feet)
  • Empty weight: 320 kilograms (705-pounds)
  • Gross weight: 550 kilograms (1,213-pounds)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Antoinette V8 water-cooled 50 horsepower motor
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Voisin

2) 1909 Voisin Tractor – (see photo below) one built, with the motor at the front of the aeroplane.

Voisin Tractor biplane 1909.jpg

1909 Voisin Tractor biplane.

3) 1910 Voisin Type de CourseGeneral characteristics:

Voisin Type de Course biplane 1910.jpg

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 1 passenger
  • Length: 9 meters (29 feet 6 inches)
  • Wingspan: 9 meters (29 feet 6 inches)
  • Wing area: 33 square meters (360 sq feet)
  • Gross weight: 350 kilograms (772-pounds)
  • Powerplant: 1 × E.N.V. Type A, V8 water-cooled 50 horsepower piston engine
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Voisin, 2.50 meters (8 feet 2 inches) diameter

4) 1910 Voisin Type Militaire – a two-seater, with one pilot, and the other the gunner of large gun mounted on the aircraft. Not a seller

1910 Voisin Type Militaire.jpg

5) 1910 Voisin Type BordeauxGeneral characteristics:

Voisin 1910 Type Bordeaux.jpg

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 10 meters (32 feet 10 inches)
  • Wingspan: 11 meters (36 feet 1 inch)
  • Empty weight: 400 kilograms (882-pounds)
  • Gross weight: 680 kilograms (1,499-pounds)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome Omega 7 cylinder, 50 horsepower rotary engine
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Voisin, 2.50 meters (8 feet 2 inches) diameter
  • Maximum speed: 85 km/h (53 mph) (estimated)

6) 1911 Voisin Canard (see above for description, but image below);


1911 Voisin Canard – land version

1911 Voisin Canard Seaplane.jpg

1911 Voisin Canard – seaplane version, replica

7) 1911 Voisin Type Tourism – can not find an image

8) 1912 Voisin Type Monaco – smaller version of the Canard floatplane. Two were built to take part in the 1912 Monaco Aero Meet – photo below of one of them.

1912 Voisin Type Monaco.jpg

9) 1912 Voisin Icare Aero-Yacht – Flying boat built for Henry Deutsch de la Meurthe – General characteristics:


  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 6
  • Length: 12.5 meters (41 feet)
  • Wingspan: 22.5 meters (73 feet 10 inches)
  • Wing area: 62.5 square meters (673 square feet)
  • Gross weight: 2,050 kilograms (4,519-pounds)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget, 200 horsepower motor
  • Propellers: 4-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 110 km/h (68 mph)

10) 1912 Voisin Type L or Voisin Type I (see image below)

1912 Voisin Type L or Voisin Type I.jpg

The first ever aeroplane to shoot down another aeroplane on October 5, 1914, even though it would be mostly used as a bomber during WWI.

11) 1914 Type LA or Voisin Type III

1914 Type LA or Voisin Type III.jpg

12) 1916 Voisin Type V:


13) 1917 Voisin Type VIII:

1917 Voisin Type VIII.jpg

14) 1918 Voisin Type X:


Thanks to WWI, and all those sales, you would think that Gabriel Voisin would be happy, but no… once the war was over in 1919, he decided to stop building aeroplanes because he felt guilt about how it was used to kill so many people… instead… he switched to automobile construction, under the Avions Voisin brand.

These cars were real beauts… considered t be some of the finest luxury cars in the world, winning many design competitions.

But welcome to the 1930s and the Great Depression, and then the June 1940 invasion of France by Germany – the market for a luxury car was NOT in high demand.

At the conclusion of WWII in 1945, Voisin began building a minimalist car for the masses known as the Biscooter – with 1000s produced in Spain during the 1950s.

Voisin also designed and built the ‘Motor-Fly‘ bicycle with a small auxiliary 2-stroke engine added to the back wheel.

He also produced pre-fabricated houses that could be built in three days, with an available floor area of 37, 75 or 105 square meters – some of which still exist… but zip in original condition.  The houses carry the logo ‘Avion Voisin Issy‘, just like the other products from the factory.

In 1960, Gabriel Vosin moved to a country house at Le Villars, France.

Gabriel Vosin lived until December 25, 1973 at the age of 93 in Ozenay, Saône-et-Loire at the age of 93, and was buried in Le Villars, France.

Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Bombers, Failures, Firsts, Gliders, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card, WWII | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #57 – “Givaudin II.” Triplane.

card-57History Behind The Card: “Givaudin II.” Triplane.

Card #57 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut issue

  • Claude Givaudan, September 16, 1872 in Caluire-et-Cuire, a suburb of Lyon, France – October 30, 1945 in France.

It’s been a few cards, but we finally have another tractor motor aeroplane… that’s a plane with the motor in front, rather than the rear-mounted motor that is called the pusher-type.

Of course, this being a blog that looks at pioneers of aviation and their sophisticated inventions from 106 years ago, and counting, there is a lot of miss information, as well as a lot of missing information. Card #57 continues that fine tradition of me gathering the facts – playing history sleuth – to provide the most correct place to find out information.

Yeah… I’m tooting my own horn. Sorry.

Card #57R.jpg

According to the reverse of Card #57, the Givaudin II triplane was manufactured by Vermorel Cie (the Vermorel Company) of Villefranche, France.

Unfortunately, most of the information surrounding this company seems to be about its automobile business, with Wikipedia ONLY providing information for the Établissements V. Vermorel, as a French engineering business that existed between 1850 and 1965.

Since Wikipedia‘s entry did not mention the aeroplane business, it led me to wonder if I had the right company… until I noticed that the Vermorel Cie company in 1908 had great success with their first production-made automobile, and that it was due to a new and intelligent engineer named Claude Givaudan… of whom I can only suppose played a large hand in the creation of the Givaudin aeroplanes. But… Wikipedia spells his surname as Givaudan… “an”… not “in”.

Could Wills’s have made an error spelling the French surname? Yes… see the postcard two images below. So… let’s assume the postcard is correct, which also makes the Wikipedia notation of Claude Guvadan’s name correct.

Further references will call the man and the aeroplanes Givaudan.

First, Card #57 shows what is called the Givaudan II triplane, which I’m sure you sharp-eyed people would realize that it must also mean that there was a Givaudan I aeroplane before it.

And there was. For brevity’s sake, let’s simply call it the Givaudan I from April of 1909.

Givaudan I.jpg

The Givaudan I tandem-drum aeroplane. No, I don’t see wings, either.

The first attempt at creating a flying machine, as seen above, does not appear to include wings… just a tandem of drums at either end of the aircraft frame, with what looks like a two-bladed propeller at the nose of the aeroplane.

The pilot sits in the middle of the aircraft’s fuselage, with the entire contraption perched atop four wheels.

Check out the postcard below depicting the Givaudan I:


A postcard from 1909 depicting the Givaudan I aeroplane… note the spelling of Givaudan.

Givaudan, as mentioned, worked for the automobile manufacturer Vermorel, which also constructed motorcycles. Since he was also interested in the new industry of aviation, he used engines from the motorcycle as the base powerplant for his aeroplane designs.

What I can tell from the French translation above, is that the front drum and wheels could swivel, while the rear wheels and drum did not. Also, each drum was 2.4 meters (7.87 feet) wide.

Givaudan tandem drum.jpg

A great view of the forward tandem drum and the V8 motor designed and built by Givaudan seen here on the Givaudan I aeroplane.

Anyhow… what’s missing from his aeroplane – the Givaudan I – are wings. I used the absence of a shadow from the wings in both above images to prove to myself that the missing wings was not an optical illusion… so yes… no wings.

Except that the tandem drums were meant to play the same role as wings to keep the aircraft aloft.

The Givaudan I did not fly.

So… before we even get to Card #57 – the Givaudan II triplane… which I will admit to not being able to find any information on, let’s take a look at what I have found on the designer, Claude Givaudan.

As an engineer, Givaudan’s interest were all over the spectrum, having registered patents from aviation to chemistry.

In 1903, he worked as a manufacturer of car motors on behalf Claude Rochet and the Francisca brothers in Lyon, France.

There, Givaudan not only built engines that his bosses supplied to other manufacturers, but he also designed and built motorcycle motors specifically with his own Givaudan brand name on them.

At the 1903 Paris Motor Show, Givaudan displayed a few of his two- and three-horsepower motors, as well as a few of his own motorcycles.

I can only assume he continued to work at that company building motors and designing his own stuff on the side until about 1906, when he went to work for Vermorel Co.

Now… since the world knew that man could fly a heavier-than-air craft thanks to Alberto Santos-Dumont and his 14-bis aeroplane flying on October 23, 1906 (the Wright Brother’s had kept their fantastic first a closely guarded secret since December of 1903), Givaudan, being a man engineering science was of course fascinated with seeing if he could create a way to fly, as well.

Rather than merely copy what others had done before him, Givaudan went a different way with his tandem drum designs for flight.

By April of 1909, Givaudan constructed a few prototypes using the tandem drum design- (see patent No. 398943, January 29, 1909). But none actually flew.

Here’s what the June 5, 1909 edition of Scientific American wrote about Givaudan’s strange aeroplane, the Givaudan I:

The peculiar aeroplane illustrated on this page is that of M. Givaudan. It has recently been constructed at Vermorel. It is of the multicellular type, and consists of two concentric drums mounted near the ends of a body framework that passes through the center of each, and carries at its forward end a tractor screw. These drums are united by small planes spaced uniformly apart, thus forming a cellular structure. The front cell thus formed is movable in every direction while the rear one is stationary. The carrying surfaces of this machine are so formed, that the machine will have the same amount of supporting surface whatever its lateral inclination may be, so that when it tips to one side in making a turn, or from any other cause the weight carried per square foot of surface chains the same; while, on the other hand, the center of gravity being situated below the center of pressure, the machine will return automatically to its normal position and be in equilibrium. The two cells are laced sufficiently far enough apart, so that the front one will not interfere seriously with the one at the rear. There are no rudders, the movement of the front cell both sideways and up and down being used in place of these to direct the machine both laterally and in a vertical plane.

The Givaudan circular aeroplane ­ a new French machine of novel design.
The radiating planes of the drums act as carrying and stabilizing surfaces. Only the projecting surface of these radiating planes is counted upon as useful carrying surface. Within both the front and rear drums there is a horizontal cross shaft supported upon the main frame. The front cell rests on the main frame by a bearing, which makes it possible for this cell to oscillate about a vertical axis, while the horizontal shaft just mentioned can oscillate upon a horizontal axis.

Inclination of the front cell in a vertical direction varies the angle of incidence, and causes the machine to rise or descend; it thus takes the place of the horizontal rudder. Inclination of the cell in the horizontal direction fulfills the role of the vertical rudder. This double movement of the cell is obtained by means of a rod connecting two levers of sufficient length to make the operation of the cell possible without too great fatigue. The levers have a band-brake arrangement to hold the cell in the position in which it is set.

The machine rests on four wheels, the front pair of which can be turned in order to steer the machine. The wheels are fitted with suitable springs to absorb the shock when landing. The propeller is 2.4 meters (7.87 feet) in diameter, and is driven from the motor through reduction gears. The motor is a special eight cylinder V engine of the air-cooled type. The bore and stroke are 90 and 120 millimeters (3.6 and 4.8 inches) respectively. The motor develops 40 horse-power and weighs 80 kilogrammes (176 pounds) including the fly-wheel, two carburetors, and magneto. All the valves are mechanically operated from a single camshaft. This motor, notwithstanding its light weight and the feet that it is air-cooled, has been run several hours consecutively. M. Givaudan is one of the first men to construct a motor of the V type and place it upon the market.

This new aeroplane is very interesting, but it is doubtful whether a freakish machine of this kind can be made to operate satisfactorily. If any successful trials are made, we shall be glad to apprise our readers of the fact.

The air-cooled V-8 used in Givaudan’s aeroplanes were designed and built by himself. He was working for Victor Vermorel who hoped he could change the way cars were being manufactured at the time to create a small assembly line.

Anyhow, we also know that the Givaudan I was 5.8 meters long.

As for Wills’s Card #57… the Givaudin II Triplane of 1910… it must have been another of his prototypes that never flew, despite the tobacco company feeling (in December of 1910) it had some merit.

I found a photo of it! It had wings! It still didn’t fly, however. It is a beautiful-looking aircraft, though.


The Givaudin II Triplane of 1910.

It is my belief that he gave up trying to create a heavier-than-air aeroplane, and tried his hand at ballooning, because we do know that he earned his balloon pilot license – No. 111 in 1911 from the Aero Club of Rhone and South East (still going on today – see HERE or HERE in its original French).

Givaudan Balloon Pilot License.jpg

What’s interesting to note about this license, is that it only calls him “Monsieur” – Mister Givaudan… and notice the spelling. So I guess I was right.

In 1898, Givaudan, the Boulade brothers and a Mister Augis founded the Aero Club of Rhone & the South East, headquartered in Monplaisir, France.

As well, from 1904 until his death in 1945, Givaudan was the secretary and vice-president of the Aero Club of the Rhone & South East.

At the club’s Bron site, the French Army set up a military aviation center in 1912. A second squadron was set up during WWI.

In 1925, he (Givaudan) started up a military school for aircraft mechanics in Lyon, which was the first of its kind in the world, naming himself Director.

Despite being heavily involved in aviation, Givaudan was not able to fly any of his own aeroplane creations.

Although I can not prove it, I would bet, however, that Givaudan did achieve his pilot’s license for airplanes at some point.

Posted in Aviation Art, Balloons, Concepts, Failures, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #56 – “Howard-Wright” Biplane.

Card #56.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Howard-Wright” Biplane.
Card #56 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series Capstan Navy Cut black back 1911 issue

  • Howard Theophilus Wright, circa 1867 in Dudley, England, Great Britain –  died circa 1945;
  • Thomas Octave Murdoch, January 18, 1888 in Kensington, England, Great Britain – January 27, 1989 in Hampshire, England, Great Britain. Yes – 101 years old!;
  • William Oke Manning, October 20, 1879 in Staines, Middlesex, England, Great Britain – March 2, 1958 in Farnham, Surrey, England, Great Britain;
  • Joseph Warwick Wright, circa 1876 in Dudley, England, Great Britain – died circa 1945;
  • Fredrico Capone, February 16, 1849 in Altavilla Irpina, Campania, Italy – June 14, 1918 in Torre of the Greek, Naples, Italy.
  • Horatio Claude Barber, circa 1875 in London, England, Great Britain – circa 1964 in Jersey, Channel Islands.

Man…. I don’t even know where to begin.This article is a biography and a half on multiple people… and since this may be the one and only time we ever come across these people… I’m going to give it the works.

There was so much contradictory information out there on the Internet about dates and what people flew and when… I have to admit that what I am presenting here is my best guess at wading through the mess and putting together a historical synopsis that makes the most sense.

The problems begin with the Wills’s tobacco card itself… which had, until this card, been pretty good at keeping errors to a minimum for the past cards.

Card 56R.jpg

Card #56 is from the 1911 issue… and yet, rather than show a Howard Wright 1910 Biplane, it instead shows the Howard Wright 1909 Biplane.

My guess is that this artwork was scheduled to be included in the original 50-card Wills’s series of 1910, but for whatever reason, wasn’t used.

When the 1911 series was expanded for the Australian overseas market to offer a 75-card series that included the first 50 cards from Wills’s, they received THIS artwork, thinking it was the most up-to-date model for Howard Wright.

The next error… the card calls the plane the Howard-Wright Biplane. By placing a hyphen between Howard and Wright, they make it seem as though there are two designers involved… but no… there is only Howard Wright. Technically. At least for the 1909 biplane. For the 1910 biplane, Howard Wright built it, but it was designed by W.O. Manning.

So, as usual… more research is required.

Howard Wright.jpg

Howard Wright

Not much is known about Howard Wright, except that he and his younger brother Joseph Warwick Wright were the other Wright Brothers involved in aviation, and were NOT related to the more famous American brothers, Orville and Wilbur.

Seriously… I can’t even get proper birth information on these two – or even death dates!

While Howard may have been the more famous of the two as far as aviation goes, his little brother Warwick was more famous for his role in the automobile industry.

Still… for the time period we are looking at—1908-1912—these two did work together. They also had another brother, Walter, who was an engineer and I think the middle brother.

Their father, Joseph Wright, was an engineer like his father before him, and was involved in the construction of India’s first railway. Returning to England in 1856, Joseph joined Thomas Howard Head to found the Teesdale Iron Works in Stockton, which at the time was called Head and Wright.

Joseph left that partnership in 1860 and set up the Neptune Foundry with partner Thomas Tinsely. Joseph married Tinsely’s cousin, Grace Tinsley, in 1859. She was the daughter of Theophilus Tinsley, mayor of Dudley. Now you know where Howard Wright got that middle name.

At the Neptune Foundry, they manufactured cast iron chains and anchors for ships, eventually doing a side business of building pre-heaters for steam engines (this will relate to Howard Wright later). Developing cancer, Joseph sold his interest in the foundry, but kept the steam technology business, eventually constructing large feed-water heaters and water softeners.

After the business moved to London,  and dad Joseph died in 1893, all the Warwick brothers then become involved in the company.

Between 1894-1898, Howard had five patents; and Warwick two patents. Still, the company went bankrupt. Howard and Walter and mother Grace were all affected by the bankruptcy’s drain—but not Warwick for some reason.

Warwick Wright.jpg

Warwick Wright

Enter Sir Hiram Maxim. See Card #30 and Card #52, and the first article I wrote on him HERE.


Sir Hiram Maxim

Maxim, who was looking to build a steam-powered aeroplane, began to work with Howard Wright as a works manager for the Maxim Electrical Engineering and Export Company, while also using him to work on his aviation experiments.

Warrick Wright was hired by The Vickers Maxim Company. In 1901, Vickers founded the Wolseley Motors Limited automobile company (in conjunction with Herbert Austin – but not the same Austin affiliated with the Austin Mini et al). It may have been Warwick’s introduction to the business of automobiles.

In 1903, after C.S. Rolls started the first automobile dealership in London importing Belgian Minerva luxury cars, Warwick opened up a Minerva dealership and also dealt with France’s Darracq cars made by A.Darracq & Company Limited.

When the Maxim Electrical Engineering and Export Company closed in 1904, Warwick and Howard partnered up in 1905 through 1912. Though a partnership, they were also free to establish partnerships with other businesses independently.

At first, Howard worked with machines to generate electricity such as gas and hot air turbines. Then he patented a type of carburetor. But in 1907 he joined forces with Italian Federico Capone who was interested in aviation.

Frederico Capone.jpg

Federico Capone

Back in 1905 Capone had constructed a pilotless helicopter. See below.


It looks like a tea trolley with wings. Despite some websites claiming it is, I am unsure if this IS the pilotless helicopter, because I don’t see a rotor system – and I see a guy sitting in the machine.

Howard Wright and Capone decided to build on that, and construct a piloted helicopter in 1908 in England… tested it… and then shipped it to Italy later that year for further trials in Naples in 1909.

Let’s talk helicopters for a moment.

Taken from Wikipedia (actually, I can’t recall and can’t find (again) where I got this from  – sorry. If anyone else can figure it out, let me know and I’ll provide proper credit.):

In 1907, Capone moved to Arpaise in the province of Benevento and there designed a second helicopter based on his earlier experiments. Unlike the first its construction was undertaken by Howard Wright. Detailed drawings for the helicopter were completed at Howard’s office at Belgravia Chambers during the winter of 1907-08 and shortly afterwards the aircraft took shape at the Marylebone workshops of Warwick Wright Ltd and subsequently at those at Battersea. The helicopter was built of thin-walled steel tubing, supplied by Accles & Pollock Ltd of Birmingham, welded together without the aid of sockets, to form a central box-shaped structure carrying two cantilever frameworks. The upper surface of the framework was extended in area by the addition of a steel tube lattice with balloon-cord leading and trailing edges, and the whole covered with fabric to provide flight surfaces. The rotors, their axes inclined outwards from the vertical, were mounted at the cantilevers’ extremities and driven through a system of shafts and spur and bevel gears by a single 50 hp Antoinette water-cooled engine, mounted transversely within the central structure. Two paddle-shaped blades were fitted to each rotor, the pitch of which was varied by means of a cam such that the blades had incidence only when travelling rearwards. The main undercarriage comprised four rubber-tyred wheels, whilst six smaller wheels were used to prevent the helicopter toppling over on landing. The rear starboard main undercarriage wheel was driven by a chain from the rotor drive shaft to enable the helicopter to be taxied. Directional control and stability of the machine were achieved with a system of movable surfaces: a large tailplane hinged at the trailing edge of the main surface; two triangular rudders, built on wooden frames, hinged at the corners of the tailplane and two triangular surfaces beneath the rotors, which provided roll control and propped the aircraft on the ground. The control surfaces were cable-operated from three small winches placed within easy reach of the pilot who sat cradled within the central structure aft of the engine. Another somewhat curious control device was fitted: it consisted of two large rectangular surfaces, mounted adjacent to the main framework, driven by the engine through a gear train, an eccentric and a slide. The resultant flapping motion, according to Capone, created ‘billowy-like air currents beneath the body of the apparatus to increase its stability.’
The flight of the helicopter, as envisaged by Capone, would have provided an interesting, if not alarming, spectacle. The rotors were to lift the aircraft to a reasonable height at which altitude the speed of the rotors would be reduced, and, because the machine’s centre of gravity was well ahead of its centre of lift, the aircraft would glide forward. The extent of the flight surfaces was such that at 20 mph the helicopter was expected to support its own weight. After a certain interval and before the machine had reached the ground, the rotor speed would be increased to lift it once more into the air. By intermittently increasing and decreasing the speed, the aircraft would proceed in a series of curves or billows.
In March 1908, the completed helicopter was conveyed to the privacy of a large tent, erected at one corner of Norbury Golf Links, which were situated southwest of London on the road to Croydon. On Friday, 7 March, Howard Wright and his assistants wheeled the machine from its hangar and proceeded to test it in secrecy. The initial trials, which involved taxi-ing and tethered hovering manoeuvres, revealed a number of defects. Contemporary reports of these tests and the accompanying descriptions of the helicopter fail to mention two small-diameter, four-blade tractor propellers geared to the rotor drive-shaft. The propellers are clearly visible in photographs (unsuitable for publication), of the helicopter at Norbury, and were shown on the drawing accompanying British patent 7,129 granted to Capone in 1908. Possibly, propellers were added in the intervening days before the helicopter’s second series of tests in an attempt to provide forward movement. However, all of the tests proved unsuccessful, inasmuch as the machine failed to lift its pilot and only when its all-up weight of 1,250 lb had been reduced to 650 lb did it rise readily to two feet clear of the ground, a restriction imposed on the helicopter by its tethers. Clearly, the power of the engine and the size of the rotors were inadequate, although the rotors were considered to be particularly efficient, giving a lift of 33 lb/hp at the rotor axis, with the blades set at a maximum incidence of 37 degrees and rotating at approximately 100 rpm.
To achieve success, Capone was faced with several solutions by which he could improve the helicopter’s performance: the main ones of which were to reduce substantially the all-up weight; increase the motive power or to improve the efficiency of the rotors. Capone took the last course of action by designing rotors of larger diameter, but also decided to design a new machine. Again, Howard Wright was asked to undertake its construction. Meanwhile, the helicopter at Norbury was dismantled for delivery to Capone in Italy.
In the course of designing the third helicopter a considerable weight saving was achieved and the need to install a more powerful engine, if one had been available, was less acute. The redesigned helicopter, according to the short-lived magazine The Airship, was fitted with a single 30 hp REP, seven-cylinder air-cooled semi-radial engine, and the weight of the aircraft, including the pilot, was 600 lb. The magazine continued: ‘The fans are each 26 ft in diameter and run at 90 to 100 rev/min. The soaring speed is only about fifteen miles per hour, and as the old fans lifted 650 lb there should be plenty of power with the fans of the new machine, which are 6 ft larger in diameter. The motor is cooled by a large fan, which acts as a propeller. It weighs 130 lb complete in running order, with magneto, carburettor, pipes, oil and all fittings. The framework of the aeroplane is entirely of steel tubes welded together without sockets. It weighs but 120 lb, which is decidedly light in view of the fact that the main plane is 30 ft wide, 22 ft deep. The reduction gear, which transmits 30 hp and gives a reduction of 10 to 1, weighs 12 1/2 lb. The 30 hp clutch weighs but 15 lb. Perhaps, however, the fans are most remarkable in this respect. Each of them only weighing 40 lb, including the hub. The blades are 6 ft 6 in long and 3 ft wide. The main plane is mounted on three strong motor-cycle wheels, with spring forks on the two in front, which are 20 ft apart.’ In all other respects the third helicopter was similar to the second.
The fact that The Airship was able to give a detailed specification in November 1908, when the article was published, indicates that the design or construction of the third helicopter was very advanced and must have been started soon after the trials of its predecessor. On 9 January, 1909, Flight recorded: ‘Howard Wright helicopter now completed and sent to Italy, tests in England were eminently satisfactory.’ Much later, on 30 October. 1909, with Howard Wright in attendance, the helicopter was tested on the military parade ground at Naples. Of the trials La Stampa reported them successful and a French source stated: ‘The inventor not having risked sitting in the machine to pilot it, the launch was made simply on the inclined plane which had been prepared to this end.’
Nothing further was heard of the helicopters but they were not to be Capone’s last efforts in the field of moving wing aircraft, for it has been recorded that Howard Wright built for him an ornithopter and another helicopter. Details of the former remain unknown. Work on the fourth helicopter was started in June 1909 and was completed that year.

Howard Wright Fredrico Capone 1908 helicopter.jpg

Helicopter No.2

  • Span across tips of rotors 48 feet 2-inches (14.68 meters);
  • Overall length with rotors fore and aft were 27 feet (8.23 meters);
  • Rotor centers and wing span 28 feet 10 inches (8.79 meters);
  • Rotor diameter 19 feet 4 inches (5.89 meters);
  • Rotor blade length 6 ft 4 inches (1.93 meters);
  • Rotor blade maximum chord 2 feet 4 inches (0.71 meters);
  • Wing root chord 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 meters);
  • Tailplane span 13 feet 2 inches (4.01 meters);
  • Tailplane chord 8 feet 2 inches (2.51 meters);
  • Propeller diameter 4 feet 8 inches (1.42 meters);
  • Propeller centers 10 feet (3.05 meters);
  • Undercarriage wheel base 6 feet (1.83 meters);
  • Undercarriage wheel track 4 feet (1.22 meters);
  • Wing area 160 square feet (14.8645 square meters);
  • Tailplane area including rudders 81 square feet (7.52515 square meters);
  • Weight loaded 1,250 pounds (567 kilograms);
  • Gliding speed 20 miles per hour (12.5 kilometers per hour).

Helicopter No.3

  • Span across tips of rotors 56 feet (17.07 meters);
  • Rotor centers and wing span 30 feet (9.14 meters);
  • Rotor diameter 26 feet (7.93 meters);
  • Rotor blade length 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 meters);
  • Rotor blade maximum chord 3 feet (0.91 meters);
  • Undercarriage wheel track 20 feet (6.10 meters);
  • Weight 600 pounds (272.16 kilograms);
  • Gliding speed 15 miles per hour (24.14 kilometers per hour).

By 1906, Warwick Wright had surrounded himself with famous, rich people such as Ross and John Brabazon (later Lord Brabazon) who were all in the Aero Club of Britain.

The three of them ordered the construction of a balloon from the Short Brothers manufacturers, that they called “Venus” and delivered in May 1906.

Still, Warwick Wright was interested in speed… speed from automobiles, entering various car races and police courts for excessive speeding.

Still working with his brother Howard, Warwick traveled to Chalons, France (with buddy Brabazon) to learn how to fly a Voisin biplane.

Howard… he “coincidentally” began working on the construction of a Voisin-type biplane, with his own modifications, and purchased a building next to the Short Brothers. The Short brothers were building balloons, but after the American Wright Brother’s success, decided that they should get a license to construct Wright Flyers from Orville and Wilbur.

William Oke Manning and Horatio Barber (in 1911, Barber flew the world’s first cargo flight when in Britain, he transported electric Osram light bulbs from Shoreham to Hove. He donated his L100 prize money towards a prize for his fellow pilots. He was also the first person in Great Britain to gain an aeronautical degree. He was also a pilot trainer during WWI) worked alongside Howard Wright at the new business known as the Scottish Aeroplane Syndicate. Barber designed a successful monoplane that was known as the Valkrie – and constructed by Howard Wright.

Howard Wright 1909 Biplane

The Scottish Aeroplane Syndicate received its first order for a biplane from Malcolm Seton Karr in December of 1908 at a cost of £1,200.

This was Howard Wright’s 1909 biplane, and is the aeroplane shown in the Wills’s card at the very top.


The Howard Wright 1909 Biplane. The one-and-only.

Wright’s design was of similar layout to the contemporary Voisin aircraft, being a pusher biplane with a front-mounted elevator and a rear-mounted box-like biplane tail with elongated fixed end-surfaces and a single central rudder. Wright’s aircraft differed in some details from Voisin’s designs, most obviously in having biplane front elevators and an undercarriage consisting of a single wheel carried by a pyramid of struts in front of the wings, with supplementary wheels on either wingtip and a tailwheel. This arrangement resembled that of the REP monoplane which had been displayed along with examples of Voisin aircraft at the Paris Aero Salon that December, and was intended to provide a degree of experience in lateral control of the aircraft without actually lifting off.

The fuselage was a tapered box-girder fabricated from welded steel tubes, the pilot’s seat being under the wings leading edge with the engine behind him.

From the March 27, 1909 edition of Flight magazine comes the following (w)right up on the Howard Wright Biplane of 1909.

I should note right here, that Flight magazine HYPHENATES the aircraft as Howard-Wright… which, if that was Wright’s intent, he was wrong. In this case, I am going out on a limb and suggest that Flight magazine was incorrect in adding a hyphen, and that Wills’s picked it up and used it. Wright couldn’t have hyphenated his own name when naming the aircraft – could he? Could it have been done to differentiate between himself and his aeroplane? Darn. Now I’m not sure. Flight magazine was pretty darn good at getting the facts correct.

The biplane designed by Mr. Howard T. Wright and built at his factory has several features, of which perhaps the most important is the entire use of steel tubes in the construction of the framework. These tubes are of special steel, and are specially drawn to different sections, those forming the main longitudinal members being tubular, while those which form the struts between the two decks have a pear-shaped section in accordance with the accepted theories of air-resistance. Other tubes again are oval in section, so that in the whole construction no trouble and expense has been spared to combine strength with lightness. Throughout, the joints are rigid, and in most cases have been formed by the oxy-acetylene welding process, which has even been used for securing the stapes to which the tie-wires are attached. In other places, flanged joints are used, but everywhere the work has been executed with the same care, so that the machine has a particularly neat, not to say delicate appearance, the latter effect being given to it by the small section of the steel tubing of the main framework.

In its general lines, the Howard-Wright biplane belongs to the Voisin type, inasmuch as it has a box-kite tail. This member encloses a vertical rudder, and there is also a biplane elevator in front. The mounting of the machine is unusual, for there is but one wheel for it to run on beneath the central chassis and another under the tail. On the extremeties of the lower deck there are, however, two small wheels of the bicycle type. The idea involved is that the embryo aviator will be able to learn something of the control of the machine without leaving terra firma by driving it about over the ground on two wheels only; in this way it is anticipated that he will learn to steer and balance the machine. Inset into the rear edges of the main planes at both ends and on both decks are small righting planes, which are used for restoring lateral stability.

The motive power is derived from a 50-h.p. Metallurgique aero-motor, and a special feature of the system of propulsion is the use of a pair of compensated two-bladed propellers mounted in tandem. At first sight it appears as if there is but one four-bladed propeller in position, but, as a matter of fact, each pair of blades are separate, and revolve in opposite directions. They are interconnected by means of a differential-gear—similar to that used on a motor car—one member of which is driven direct by the engine. The propeller nearest the motor has much larger blades than that behind it, and absorbs two-thirds of the power, but the speeds of the propellers are equal: each runs at one-third the engine speed. Mr. Howard Wright’s object in arranging his propellers so that they revolve in opposite directions is to neutralise their gyroscopic effect; the torque of the engine is not balanced by this system, as might at first appear, to be the case. The surfaces of the flyer are made of linen, coated with a specially smooth glossy varnish. The car or chassis of the machine is also entirely covered with fabric, and the pilot sits almost immediately over the front edge of the lower deck.

Aeroplanes built used the Metallurgique motor built by Warwick Wright, as well as the British-made ENV motor that was supplied by Warwick Wright.

The motor worked the aircraft’s most innovative design feature… two contra-rotating propellers featuring two blades per propellers, that used a patented 3:1 reduction gearbox.

The wings had ash spars and spruce ribs, with Voisin-style “side-curtains” between the ends of the wings. Lateral control was by means of four small ailerons fitted to the trailing edges of both wings, a feature not found on Voisin’s aircraft. The fabric-covered wood tail assembly was carried on steel booms. Steel tube was also used for the interplane struts, these being of a special streamlined section.

The aircraft was finished in time to be displayed at the 1909 Olympia Aero Exhibition, after which it was taken to the “flying field” established by Noel Pemberton Billing at Fambridge in Essex, England. After a journey in which the aircraft suffered damage first when the wagon carrying it was driven into a railway bridge and again when manhandling it across a ditch surrounding the airfield, further damage occurred when Wright’s shed was demolished by a storm. The aircraft had been repaired by May, and trials began supervised by William Oke Manning, who may also have contributed to the aircraft’s design. On testing the engine inexplicably over-revved, shearing the propeller shaft and causing the propeller to disintegrate spectacularly, sending fragments through the iron roof of the shed and damaging the tail booms. Repairs were complete by June, when Seaton Kerr began ground trials. Some satisfactory flights were achieved, but the ground at Fambridge was too rough, and the aircraft was taken to Camber Sands where the aircraft was flown successfully.

Howard Wright 1909 Biplane Specifications

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 43 feet (13 meters);
  • Wingspan: 40 feet (12 meters);
  • Wing area: 620 square feet (58 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 1,600 pounds (726 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Metallurgique 50 horsepower motor driving contra-rotating two-bladed propellers;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed, 8 feet (2.4 meters) diameter.

Howard Wright Avis Monoplane 1909

Howard Wright Avis Monoplane.jpg

Howard Wright Avis Monoplane

The Avis monoplane was designed by Howard Wright and Willam Manning. It was a single seat tractor (motor at front) plane with an open wire-braced wooden fuselage that utilized wing-warping to affect turns. The wings were braced by wires attached to two pairs of cabane struts coming down to form two A-frames that carried skids with wheels (two) attached via shock cords.

The Avis monoplane had a moving cruciform tail built as a single unit but moved via universal joint. There was a tailwheel at the base.

It used foot pedals for lateral control (side-to-side) which caused the wing warping. It had a stick with a steering wheel to control the rudder and elevator, respectively.

A prototype known as the Golden Plover (I believe a plover is a type of bird) used a Anzani 30 horsepower motor, but after trials in December of 1909, it was swapped out for a 35 horsepower Anzani. It powered a Howard Wright constructed wooden kauri pine propeller based on the Chauviere-style of propeller. This prototype flew successfully in March of 1901 by Alan Boyle – who was the de facto leader of the Scottish Aeroplane Syndicate. The prototype was sold to a Mr. Maconie.

Now that they knew the prototype monoplane could really fly, the Syndicate built a second monoplane – the Avis. Some called it the Avis II, because it was the second such monoplane built by the company, but really… this is the first Avis… but let’s call it Avis II for reasons below.

The Avis II had a more powerful motor than the Golden Plover prototype, using a 40 horsepower J.A.P. motor. It was exhibited by the Syndicate at Olympia in January of 1910… and it was purchased by R.F. Wickman, flying it at Brooklands until an engine failure caused the plane to come down hard, damaging it too much to be rebuilt. For the record, he was flying over a sewage farm at Brooklands when the accident occurred. Ewww.

The actual Avis I was built and used by Boyle for personal use. It used a 40 horsepower E.N.V. motor. He crashed the plane (wrecked) at the Bournemouth Air Show in July of 1910, just weeks after he became the 13th person to gain certification with the British Aero Club. The Avis I actually had a #3 placed on its tail, as Boyle considered this to be the third Syndicate-built aeroplane, including the Golden Plover – and its two incarnations based on the two engines. That’s daft.

Avis III was the same as the Avis II, and was purchased by J.H. Spottiswode, a race car driver, who later sold it to Cambell Gray, a photographer.

The Avis IV was built to replace Boyle’s destroyed Avis I monoplane, but when the Scottish Aeroplane Syndicate dissolved at the end of 1910, it was sold for £50 to Eustace Gray, the Brooklands airfield press steward.

Howard Wright Avis Monoplane 1909 specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 27 feet (8.2 meters);
  • Wingspan: 28 feet (8.5 meters)
  • Wing area: 160 square feet (15 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 430 pounds (195 kilograms);
  • Weigh without engine: 280 pounds (127 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 630 pounds (286 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × J.A.P. 8-cylinder, 40 horsepower (30 kW);
  • Propellers: 2-bladed;
  • Price: £370-£490;
  • Cruising Speed: 35 miles per hour (56.3 kilometers per hour);
  • Maximum Speed: 40 miles per hour (64.4 kilometers per hour).

The Lascelles Ornis Monoplane – 1909

Tom Sopwith, one of the most famous men during WWI thanks to his Sopwith Camel (more on Tom Sopwith later on, as he also has a card in this Wills’s aviation card series), rode on that Venus balloon owned by Warwick Wright and friends, but also had Howard Wright build him a variation of the Howard Wright Avis monoplane in 1909 called the Lascelles Ornis.

Howard Wright Ornis.jpg

Howard Wright Lascelles Ornis monoplane.

The aircraft arrived there from Battersea, on October 21, 1909, and Sopwith spent little time taxi-ing it before attempting a straight flight. After covering some 300 yards in a more or less steady state, he stalled the monoplane on landing and in doing so broke the undercarriage and propeller.

After repairs, his next attempts, made with more caution, on Friday, November 4, 1909, were rewarded with several straight flights and circuits. Five days later, flights ended with a burst cylinder-head, but on the following Monday, although the weather was bad, Sopwith went up again.

A week later, Sopwith gained his licence at Brooklands in the Howard Wright 1909 Lascelles Ornis monoplane.

Sopwith used it on December 18, 1909 to win the £4,000 Baron de Forest Prize for the longest flight that year from England to the Continent, flying 169 miles (272 km) from Eastchurch, England to Beaumont in Belgium.

But, as mentioned, Sopwith gave up the monoplane for a Howard Wright 1910 Biplane

The Lascelles Ornis was built by the Scotish Aroplane Syndicate for the Lascelles company who built the aeroplane’s powerplant. The aeroplane was exhibited within their space at the 1910 Aero Show at Olympia in London, England, differed in having a two foot (0.6 meter) longer fuselage, a rectangular balanced rudder, and different control arrangements. It was fitted with a propeller made by José Weiss.

After the Olympia show the Lascelles Ornis was bought by A.G. Power, who flew it at Brooklands during 1910.

Howard Wright Lascelles Ornis Monoplane 1909 Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 30 feet (9.1 meters);
  • Wingspan: 28 feet (8.5 meters);
  • Wing area: 154 square feet (14.3 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 600 pounds (272 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Lascelles 5-cylinder air-cooled semi-radial, 35 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 35 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hour).

Okay… let’s get away from monoplanes for now, and see about the Howard Wright 1909 Biplane, which is pictured in the Wills’s card.

From what I can determine… only one 1909 Wright Howard biplane was ever built… with every other biplane built by him considered to be a 1910 version.

Howard Wright 1910 Biplane

Let’s now look at the Howard Wright 1910 Biplane.

Originally powered by a 50 hp Gnome air-cooled radial engine, the Howard Wright prototype was later fitted with a 60 horsepower E.N.V. water-cooled engine in order to qualify for the £4,000 Baron de Forest prize for the longest all-British flight to a destination on the Continent made before the end of 1910.

The first 1910 Biplane first flew at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain in August 1910 piloted by E.M Maitland. Following a crash and a repair, it was lent to Lieutenant L.E. Watkins who later entered it for the Baron de Forest prize.

The biplane was fitted with wireless equipment so it could be tracked as it crossed the English Channel. The aircraft crashed in Kent before it could compete for the prize and was later sold to the British War Office for £625, where it would be used by the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers at Larkhill.


Thomas Sopwith at the controls of his 1910 Howard Wright Biplane.

The third ENV-engine aircraft was bought by Thomas Sopwith, who after brief ground trials of his new machine on November 21, 1910, gained his Royal Aero Club (of Great Britain) flying certificate (Number 31) the same day.

On NOvember 26, 1910, Sopwith flew 107 miles (172 kilometers) in three hours and 12 minutes setting a new British endurance and distance record.

On December 18, 1910, Sopwith made a flight of 169 miles (272 kilometers) from the Royal Aero Club’s Eastchurch flying field to Beaumont in Belgium. This was not bettered before the end of the year, so Sopwith won the Baron de Forest prize. This feat was considered remarkable enough for Sopwith to be invited to meet Great Britain’s King George V, flying to Windsor Castle on February 1, 1911 to do so.

He then took the machine to the United States, where he made a number of exhibition flights, eventually damaging the poor plane beyond repair.


1910 Howard Wright Biplane, the Manurewa about to take-off from Glenora Park, Papakura, Auckland, New Zealand.

The fourth ENV-powered biplane was shipped to New Zealand in 1910 for use by the Walsh brothers (Leo and Vivian) who assembled the aircraft when it arrived. Vivian Walsh then taught himself to fly it. The biplane was then flown by Vivian Walsh in the first public powered flight in New Zealand on February 5, 1911 at Papakura near Auckland. See photo above.

A Gnome-powered example was used by the Graham White flying school at Hendon, used there in 1912. Another Gnome-powered example was entered by Lewis Turner in the 1912 Aerial Derby, but only took part in the speed trials.

Another aircraft powered by a 40 horsepower (30 kW) Green motor was used by the Graham White school in 1911. This was bought by W. C. England, who exported it to Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar) where he flew it in 1912.

Howard Wright 1910 Biplane Specifications:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Capacity: 1;
  • Length: 36 feet 6 inches (11.13 meters);
  • Wingspan: 36 feet (11 meters);
  • Wing area: 415 square feet (38.6 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × E.N.V. V-8 water-cooled, 60 horsepower (45 kW);
  • Maximum speed: 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 5 hours.

So… Howard Wright… at this time, Howard Wright was considered to be one of the most respected aeroplane manufacturers in England… so what happened?

The main thing is that Howard and Warwick Wright – for whatever reason – decided to end their business partnership in late 1911.

Howard Wright’s business interests were bought out by Coventry Ordnance Works as a means for their entry into the aviation business. Howard Wright and Manning both worked for the company for a while and even designed a biplane for the British War Office competition of 1912.

While the plane seemed decent enough-they used Tom Sopwith as their test pilot, Howard Wright left the company. The Coventry Ordnance Works was not a successful business, but it did become part of English Electric Aviation, which was part of The English Electric Company Limited – a manufacturer formed after the armistice of World War I at the end of 1918. It was created to make one of Britain’s three principal electrical manufacturing concerns by amalgamating five businesses which, during the war, had been making munitions, armaments and aeroplanes.

The English Electric Aviation aspect of the company in 1960 merged with Vickers and Bristol to form the British Aircraft Corporation.

After learning to fly an aeroplane with Tom Sopwith as his teacher, Howard Wright got into the seaplane design and construction business in November of 1912, with a company called J. Samuel White & Company (Wight Aircraft) on the Isle of Wight. Howard Wright became the head of the company.

The company built and exhibited hydro biplane at Olympia in London in 1913, and then built a naval seaplane later that year.

The German Navy liked the latter seaplane and ordered them, but thanks to the outbreak of WWI with Germany as the enemy, the sea planes were never delivered.

Just before WWI erupted, the French requested an example of a twin engine “land” bomber from the Samuel White company… so Howard Wright designed one… and the company manufactured it – it was called the Wight Twin (Landplane).

The Wight Twin (Landplane) was a biplane with five-bay folding wings. Its crew of three sat in a small central nacelle between the twin booms sitting atop the lower wing.

It was powered by two Salmson (Emile Salmson & Cie of France) water-cooled radial engines providing 200 horsepower each. The engines were placed at the front of the fuselage booms – one each.



The Wight Twin Landplane – land version.

Completed in July of 1915 and tested – it flew! But, in September of 1915 when it was being tested by a French pilot prior to acceptance of the plane… it crashed, and the contract was kaput.

Down, but not yet out, the British Navy came calling, asking the company if they could design and construct a long range aeroplane that could carry 18-inch torpedoes (not a typo) to sink warships.

Howard Wright designed the Wight Twin Seaplane… which was based on the Landplane… except that the central nacelle was removed with the cockpits (plural) for the two crewmen placed within the two fuselages behind the wings.

While there was a delay in completing the first aeroplane owing to a shortage of motors, it was completed in 1916… but tests proved it under-powered, unable to carry a full load of fuel and a torpedo.

Two more aeroplanes were built – modified with longer float struts and new tail surfaces… but the planes were still under-powered… but the British bought them and used them during the war.

Called the Wight Elephants by those in the aviation industry… the Wight Twin aircraft designs were not followed up with again.

By the way… I can not find any images of the Wight Twin Seaplane… anyone?

Specifications of the Wight Twin Sealplane:

  • Crew: Two;
  • Length: 43 feet 9 inches (13.33 meters);
  • Wingspan: 84 feet (25.6 meters);
  • Powerplant: 2 × Salmson water-cooled radial engine, 200 horsepower each;
  • Maximum speed: 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 5 hours;
  • Armament: 1x .303 in Lewis gun; and one 18 inch (45.7 centimeter) torpedo or two 500 pound (227 kilogram) bombs.

The Wight Twin aeroplanes had been nicknamed the Wight Elephants for their large size and for their ability to lose money (white elephant).

Fortunately, the company was also constructing other seaplanes.

Wight Navyplane(s)

The first big success for the company was its Pusher Seaplane or Navyplane, an unequal-span pusher biplane with five-bay wings mounted on two long floats. It was powered by a single 200 horsepower Salmson Canton Unné water-cooled radial engine.

It was exhibited at the 1914 Olympia Air Show in March that year, and was first flown on April 8, 1914.

Because it could fly with good take-off, climb performance and endurance both the British Royal Naval Air Service and German Navy placed orders…  and again, with WWI happening, the Germans never got their aeroplane… but the British decided they would take their order and the Germans.

Orders for another seven aeroplane called the Improved Navyplane Type A.I followed, these having a stronger airframe, folding wings and an 8 foot (2.4 meter) greater wingspan, but retaining the Salmson engine.

Four more aeroplanes were built, called the Improved Navyplane Type A.II, and were identical to the Type A.I, except the new ones used a 225 horsepower Sunbeam engine manufactured by the Sunbeam Motor Car Company.

The initial Wight Navyplanes were used by the British Royal Naval Air Service to provide reconnaissance missions over the North Sea.

The Improved Navyplane Type A.I were sent to the Dardanelles (the waters off Turkey) to serve in the Gallipoli Campaign of WWI between April 15, 1915 and January 9, 1916.

The four Improved Navyplane Type A.II aeroplanes saw limited usage during WWI owing to the unreliability of the Sunbeam motor.


Specifications Of The Wight Navyplane

  • Crew: 2;
  • Wingspan: 63 fee (19.2 meters);
  • Wing area: 735 square feet (68.3 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 5,732 pounds (2,600 kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Salmson 2M7 14-cylinder, two-row, water-cooled radial piston engine, 199.9 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 72 miles per hour (116 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 6 hours;
  • Service ceiling: 9,600 feet (2,926 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 400 feet/minute (2 meters per second).

Wight Seaplane (aka Admiralty Type 840)

Next, was the Wight Seaplane – building 54 of the aircraft that the British Royal Naval Air Service called the Admiralty Type 840.

The Wight Seaplane was a smaller version of the Navyplane.

It was a two-float aeroplane with tandem open cockpits, and instead of the pusher motor, used a tractor motor placed on the aircraft’s nose – a Sunbeam 225 horsepower motor.

A total of 52 Wight Seaplanes were built – with 20 more extra – constructed for Wight by both Portholme Aviation and William Beardmore & Co., Ltd.


The Wight Seaplane served with the Royal Navy Air Service at Dundee Felixstowe (seaplane Experimental Station), Scapa Flow (a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland) and Gibraltar – at the latter two sites, it was used for anti-submarine patrols between 1915 and 1917.

General characteristics of the Wight Seaplane

  • Length: 41 feet (12.50 meters);
  • Wingspan: 61 feet (18.59 meters);
  • Height: (?);
  • Wing area: 568 square feet (52.8 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 3,408 pounds (1,549 kilograms);
  • Max. takeoff weight: 4,810 pounds (2,186 kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Sunbeam, 225 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 81 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour);
  • Armament: One 810 pound (370 kilogram) 14-inch (355.6 millimeter) torpedo or equivalent weight in bombs.

Wight Quadruplane (Wight Type 4)

During WWI – 1915… when the Sopwith Airplane company began to construct successful triplanes (they did so before the Fokker triplane – like the one flown by the Red Baron), the Wight Company asked itself: WWHWD (what would Howard Wright do)?

The answer: design a quadruplane… a four-winged fighter aeroplane.

The Wight Quadruplane – known as the Wight Type 4 (I like that they didn’t use Roman numerals) was supposed a single seat aeroplane to be used by the British during WWI.

But it sucked.


Wight Quadruplane – version 1

Inspired by the Sopwith Triplane, it had an unusual arrangement in which the fuselage was placed between the middle two wings with upper and lower wings attached by struts.

As well, its wings weren’t as ong as the plane’s length, and altogether, the wings were not a good fit for this aeroplane.

The plane used a 110 horsepower Clerget9Z nine-cylinder air-cooled rotary engine, and came equipped with two 7.7mm Vickers machine guns.

The wing problem was discovered during tests in 1916 when the aeroplane had difficulty in lifting off.

In February 1917 the second version was ready for testing.


The single thick struts were replaced with more conventional parallel wire braced struts and the landing gear was lengthened.Look at the struts in the above two photos of Version 1 and 2… there’s the most obvious visual difference.

The new wings were of varying chord and the overall diameter of the fuselage was increased. Most importantly, a larger dorsal fin and rudder were installed.

But again, the plane was considered a failure, and more redesigns were in the works.

The final version had new wings of decreasing span from top to bottom and ailerons only on the upper two wings.

But again… tests in 1917 showed the Quadruplane to bea failure, with the final nail in the coffin occurring during a test in February of 1918 when it crashed into a cemetery.You can’t make this stuff up!

Final version with decreasing span wings July 1917


General characteristics

  • Crew: One
  • Length: 21 ft 6 in (6.55 m)
  • Wingspan: 19 ft 0 in (5.79 m)
  • Height: 10 ft 6 in (3.20 m)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Clerget 9Z nine-cylinder rotary engine, 110 hp (82 kW)
  • Armament: 2 fixed forward-firing synchronized 0.303 in (7.70 mm) Vickers machine guns

The Wight Quadruplane was the last aircraft built by the Samuel Wight Company.

Howard Wright left the company, and when WWI concluded in 1919, the company closed up shop for good.

During WWI, we know that Howard Wright had 3 patents in this period, for the “Dual-profile aerofoil”, a “Folding Wing”, and for “Engine valves”. And his work on seaplane float design was influential. He was also on the Committee of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors.

He then became something of a Management Guru. He had begun to write before WWI had ended his “Some Thoughts on Organisation” paper with the background that “organisation is a subject in which we as a nation do not excel” – but the Germans do.

Howard Wright then devoted his energies to the ‘scientific’ study of
engineering management, writing a notable book, finally published in 1922.
He never returned to aircraft design and construction, but he remained an
influential figure through the 1920s – on committees, and in the organization of
aviation events. And he also seems to have become interested in the oil
refining industry, patents granted.
However… when he died exactly – I have no clue…
Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Airfields, Balloons, Failures, Heavier-Than-Air, Helicopters, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #55 – Paulhan’s New Aeroplane.

Card #55.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Paulhan’s New Aeroplane.

Card #55 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut issue

  • Louis Paulhan aka Isidore Auguste Marie Louis Paulhan, July 19, 1883 in Pézenas, Hérault, France – February 10, 1963 in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France.
  • William Edward Boeing – October 1, 1881 in Detroit, Michigan, United States of America – September 28, 1956 in Seattle, Washington, United States of America.

Paulhan is perhaps best known as being the pilot who won the first Daily Mail newspaper aviation prize awarding anyone who could fly from London and Manchester.

However, although he was successful in doing that in 1910, he is also known as the guy who didn’t provide an aeroplane ride to a guy named William Boeing… you know… the guy who would go on to found The Boeing Company.

Known primarily as a pilot, rather than as an aeroplane designer and manufacturer, Paulhan got his start making model aeroplanes while he was a balloon pilot.

In 1905 he actually won a design competition for aircraft (recall that though the Wright Brother’s first flew in 1903, no one else knew of it… even when Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont made a public flight in Paris with his 14-bis, also known as Oiseau de proie (French for “bird of prey”) on September 13, 1906. It was a Thursday.)


Louis Paulhan in 1909 looking pretty happy.

He briefly went to sea in his youth, before joining the army and serving in a balloon battalion under Ferdinand Ferber. After his military service in 1905 he worked on airships under the airship pioneer Surcouf.

He built flying model airplanes, some motorized, in his spare time and entered competitions. In June 1908 this paid off in a big way when he won a competition organized by the Aero Club of France. The top prize was a full-scale build of that aeroplane design.

However, Paulhan’s design ended up being sooooo complex to build, that the Aero Club of France instead eventually offered him a real Voisin airframe – sans (without) the engine.

With help from family and friends, Paulhan managed to purchase an engine for his Voisin plane, and taught himself to fly, achieving his pilot’s license on August 17, 1909 – the 10th ever issued by the Aero-Club de France. Maybe that’s why he’s so happy in the above photo.

Card #55R.jpg

After his successes on the Voisin during the 1909 meetings, he became a Farman pilot. He flew successfully in aviation meets in several countries, setting a world altitude record in Los Angeles of 1,209 meters (~3,967 feet) and winning the Daily Mail London-Manchester prize after an epic flight, beating Claude Grahame-White. He was also a seaplane pioneer, being one of the first to fly the Fabre seaplane.

Paulhan performed at various aeroplane meets:

  • Douai 1909 -in a Voisin setting an altitude record of 150 meters (~492 feet), and a duration record of one hour and seven minutes flying 47 kilometers (29.2 miles) Tissandier and Paulhan raced each other in their Wright Flyer and Voisin aeroplanes, respectively.
  • vichy-air-meet-1909Vichy 1909 – in a Voisin on July 22, 19019, and unable to make a test flight on the uneven field thanks to two days of high winds, he could not properly adjust his aeroplane’s tail which had come out of trim during transport to the event. At around 7PM he took off while Tissandier was already in the air to compete for the “Grand Prix de Vichy” –  a FF16,000 francs prize “Prix de la Ville de Vichy”, consisting of a 20-kilometer (12.43 mile) race over 12 laps of the 1.666 km (1.036 miles) lap course. For three minutes and nearly three laps, the two planes raced each other… and while Paulhan was ahead by about 300-400 meters at the start of the actual race, he was eventually caught by Tissandier in his faster Wright Flyer aeroplane. Paulhan was soon forced to land. Paulhan made another flight later that day, ending up with the completion of nine laps. Tissandier later had mechanical issues and sat out the rest of the air meet. The next day while vying for the “Prix de la Traversée de l’Allier”, a four-kilometer race outside the airfield crossing the river twice, Paulhan had mechanical problems and was forced to land on a small island in the river. Both pilot and the plane were rescued by boat and Paulhan was back in the air soon afterwards.On July 24, Paulhan won the event in exactly five minutes. On July 25, disaster struck the event in the form of Mother Nature. The main grandstand was blown over completely and a couple of the hangars collapsed. Tissandier’s plane was wrecked when the roof and doors of the hangar fell over it and the mechanics working on it. Paulhan’s Voisin had its left wing broken. “De Rue”‘s hangar was completely lifted from the ground and moved one and a half meter. The left wing and the tail of the plane were crushed. Those who fled the hangars ended up in even bigger danger, since corrugated roofing panels were flying everywhere. The total damages were estimated to 50,000 francs. The rest of the meeting was cancelled and the results were based on the flights that had taken place so far. This meant that Tissandier and Paulhan split the prize money, with Tissandier winning everything except the cross-country race over the Allier.
Voisin .jpg

Voisin biplane

  • Reims 1909
  • Spa 1909
  • Port-Aviation October 1909
  • Blackpool 1909
  • Los Angeles 1910
  • Lyon 1910, flying a Farman III, Paulhan broke the speed record, traveling 20 kilometers in 19 minutes, and weight record by carrying a 73-kilogram (161 lb) passenger.
  • Budapest 1910.

After a crash flight at Reims, he was invited to perform at the 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet, bringing with him two Bleriot Monoplanes and two Farman III biplanes to use.


At the Los Angeles Air Meet, Paulhan set a new altitude 1,269 meters (4,164 feet) and a new endurance record (1 hour 49 minutes and 40 seconds). Paulhan received $14,000 in prize money for his record setting performances at the event.

At this meet, Paulhan was responsible for taking famed American newspaper man William Randolph Hearst on his first aeroplane ride.

Paulhan also piloted U.S. Army Lt. Paul Beck, who essentially performed the first bomb tests by dropping weights at markers located on the ground during the flight.

William Boeing was in attendance at that Los Angeles Air Meet in 1910.


William Boeing circa 1910.

In 1909, while president of the Greenwood Timber Company, Boeing, who had experimented with boat design, traveled to Seattle and visited the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Seeing a manned aeroplane for the first time, he became very much intrigued by the flying machines.

Traveling to the Los Angeles Air Meet in 1910, Boeing approached several of the aviators to beg for a ride in one of their aeroplanes – everyone said no… except for Paulhan.

Paulhan told him he would give him a ride, but asked him to be patient because of his participation in the races at the event. But after four days of waiting, Paulhan left forgetting his promise to William Boeing.

Undaunted, Boeing decided to take lessons at the Glenn L. Martin Flying School in Los Angeles, purchasing one of Martin’s planes. Glenn L. Martin would form the Glenn L. Martin Company in 1912 to build aeroplanes… it eventually merging with American-Marietta Corporation in 1961, which later merged into Lockheed Martin Corporation in 1995.

So… Paulhan…. he really missed out. We could have been seeing the Lockheed Paulhan Corporation.

Afterwards, Martin Flying School pilot James Floyd Smith traveled to Seattle to assemble Boeing’s new Martin TA hydroaeroplane and continue to teach its owner to fly. When Boeing’s test pilot Herb Munter damaged the plane and was told by Martin that it would be months before replacement parts could be sent, Boeing told his friend United States Navy Commander George Conrad Westervelt: “We could build a better plane ourselves and build it faster.”

When Westervelt agreed, together they built and flew the B & W Seaplane, an amphibian biplane that had outstanding performance.


B&W Seaplane aka Boeing Model I

Westervelt and Boeing started up the Pacific Aero Products Co. in 1912 in an old boat works factory on the Duwamish River near Seattle. When Westervelt left the company in 1916, Boeing changed the company name to the Boeing Airplane Company in 1917.

Back to Paulhan.

In February of 1910, the lawsuit that the Wright Brothers had against Paulhan for patent infringement re: aeilerons, came due, with Paulhan being told he had to pay US$25,000 for every paid display of his Farman aeroplanes… which naturally ticked Paulhan off causing him to cancel his own tour of the U.S. and to fly to New York to challenge the Wright Brothers by offering flights for free.

During the Los Angeles Air Meet of 1910 between January 10-20, Paulhan had heard rumblings of the Wright Brothers and their lawsuit… which is thought to be the main reason why Paulhan left the meet so quickly at its closure… which why he stiffed Mr. Boeing and his offer of an aeroplane ride.

In March of 1910, another agreement was reached allowing Paulhan to fly exhibitions in his Farman III biplane if he paid a then $6,000 a week bond, pending the outcome of the case.

Paulhan eventually had enough of the U.S. and left for France.

In April of 1910, Paulhan won the £10,000 prize offered for flying from London to Manchester, England, in less than 24 hours.


He also received £5,000 for the greatest number of flights taken in 1910.

Paulhan continued to perform in air meets throughout Europe, started a flight school in France, was involved in designing triplanes for the French military.

Still in 1910, Paul flew the seaplane Hydravion designed by Henri Fabre.

It was at this time, that he also began to design his own aircraft, creating the Paulhan Biplane in association with Fabre, and a triplane that was flown at the 1911 French military aircraft trials competition, and the Aéro-Torpille in association with Victor Tatin.

In February 1912, he opened a seaplane flying school in Villefranche-sur-Mer before moving to Arcachon, France.

But what of the Wills’s card showing the weird biplane? This was the Paulhan Biplane mentioned two paragraphs earlier.

Paulhan Experimental Biplane 1910.jpg

This 1910 Paulhan Biplane was constructed of wood and covered with fabric. It used a Gnome engine, an first flew at Saint-Cyr-l’Ecole, near Paris, on November 5, 1910, piloted by Albert Caillé, and apparently flew quite well.

The British Army ordered an example and in early January of 1911, Caillé successfully put it through a series of tests at Buc, near Paris.

The British Army said that if they were to pay for it, the aeroplane needed to:

  • be able to fly for  two hours with a pilot and passenger;
  • carry 441 pounds (200 kilograms) of ballast, in a 25 miles per hour (40 kilometer per hour wind;
  • make a gliding flight with the engine stopped from a height of 626 feet (200 meters).

Holy crap – it did as it was required… and the British Army accepted it on January 11, 1911.

A similar-looking 1910 Paulhan Triplane was also built by Paulhan in 1910—a wooden frame covered in fabric.

Image result for Paulhan 1910 triplane


Paulhan-Tatin Aéro-Torpille No.1

Paulhan-Tatin Aéro-Torpille No.1.jpg

The Aero-Torpille No. 1 (above) was designed and built by Paulhan and Victor Tatin, a scientist who had experimented with various types of flying models and in 1879 had made the first model aircraft to take off under its own power.

From Wikipedia:

The aircraft had a streamlined circular section fuselage which entirely enclosed the 50 hp (37 kW) Gnome rotary engine, which drove a pusher configuration propeller mounted at the back of the fuselage, connected to the engine by a long driveshaft. The structure of the fuselage was a conventional square-section wire-braced wood structure, outside which were circular formers bearing a series of stringers to support the fabric covering. Initially a universal joint was fitted at the engine end of the driveshaft, but in tests the girder construction of the fuselage proved rigid enough for this not to be necessary, and the long tube forming the driveshaft was simply held by six ballraces attached to the structure by wires, to eliminate whip. The section of the fuselage containing the engine was covered by louvred aluminium panels, removable for maintenance of the engine. The wings had curved leading and trailing edges, were tapered in planform and were curved upwards at the wing tips. Flight loads were transmitted to the bottom of the fuselage by a pair of steel ribbons on either side. The rearmost of these also operated the wing warping for lateral control. The pilot sat immediately in front of the leading edge of the wing. Even the undercarriage was of novel design, consisting of a pair of semi-circular lengths of hickory, hinged at the front and attached to the fuselage by bungee cords and bearing a pair of wheels whose spokes were covered. Tail surfaces consisted of a fixed tailplane with trailing-edge elevators and a small rectangular balanced rudder.

Specifications of the Aero-Torpille No. 1:

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 9 meter (28 feet);
  • Wingspan: 9 meter (28 feet);
  • Wing area: 13 meters2 (140 square feet);
  • Empty weight: 363 kilograms (800 pounds);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Gnome 7 Omega 7-cylinder air-cooled rotary piston engine, 37 kW (50 horsepower);
  • Propellers: Two-bladed Régy Frères, 2.4 meter (8 foot) diameter.

The aircraft was flown during October 1911 and in February achieved a measured speed of 150 km/h (93 mph). In March it was sold to the Italian aviator Signor Bosse.

In the autumn of 1910 Paulhan became a builder and designer before building Curtiss seaplanes under license. When his businesses failed in 1913 he was employed by the Serbian government to develop aviation in that country.

During WWI, he was drafted as a lieutenant and flew combat missions in Serbia and worked as a test pilot. After the war he continued designing seaplanes. He also worked in the surface-treatment industry and with the Dewoitine company.

In 1927, Paulhan was a co-founder of the company Société Continentale Parker in France together with Robert Deté, Enea Bossi and Pierre Prier. The purpose was to transfer surface treatment technologies for the growing aerospace industry to Europe. They started with a license from Parker Rust-Proof of Detroit (Parkerizing or phosphating) and in a later step with the distribution rights of Udylite Corp. for specialty chemicals in electroplating. The company’s successor organizations, Chemetall GmbH and Coventya GmbH, later became the European market leaders in surface treatment.

He retired from aviation in 1937, when his son, a test pilot, was killed in an accident.

In 1960, at the age of 77, Paulhan was invited by Air France to be one of the passengers on its inaugural nonstop flight from Paris to Los Angeles.


Photo from Louis Paulhan Wikipedia entry of his grave. Photo by Emeraude.

He died on February 10th, 1963 in St-Jean-de-Luz in south-western France and is buried in Pézenas.

Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Heavier-Than-Air, People, Pilots, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #54 – “Piquerez” Biplane.

Card #54.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Piquerez” Biplane.

Card #54 of 85, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut black reverse

  • Paul Jules Jean-Jacques Koechlin, in Mulhouse (Haut-Rhin), France, May 7, 1881 – August 17, 1916,  Étinehem, France.
  • Alfred Ritter von Pischoff, aka  Alfred de Pischof (one F) aka Alfred de Pischoff (two F’s), in May 17, 1882 in Vienna, Austria – August 12, 1922, in Villacoublay, France.

At first glimpse, this tobacco card seems pretty straight forward… but is it?

What the heck is a Piquerez… is it a style of plane… or named after someone, and if so, why?

The reverse of the card indicates that the aeroplane was actually manufactured for a Monsieur Piquerez by the aeroplane manufacturing firm of Pischoff-Koechlin of Billancourt, France.

Card #54R.jpg

That seems pretty straightforward.

But… finding out more information on Mr. Piquerez was a non-starter, so it can be assumed that he did not design the Piquerez Biplane and have the Pischoff-Koechlin company build the plane for him. He was just a guy who wanted to impress the women as a pilot – hey… I’m sure it would have worked, so he was just a guy who bought himself an aeroplane.

I can also assume that he did not use the plane to achieve any notable aviation events… or that the plane did anything spectacular.

Why do I assume that? Well, if he had designed this successful bird, we would know more about him… and there would have been more aircraft bearing his name.

As it is… the firm of Pischoff-Koechlin came on with a flash and then petered out. Proof of that can be found in the fact that aeroplane manufacturer Pischoff seems to have his name spelled three different ways.

“What’s your name, kid?”
Maybe you have a new friend after you get out of the hospital.

To hear about the changes in spellings, a current relative of Pischoff says when a great-grandmother went to register for a birth certificate decades ago, the town hall employee filling out the paperwork added an extra “f”.

So… Pischoff… I am unable to find any birth or date data aside from the year of each (at least before I started writing this)… but that may be simply because I am sadly very limited in my knowledge of the French language. Whatever…

After starting off fiddling with the aerodynamics of gliders, Pischoff felt it was time he began designing a biplane: the de Pischoff 1907 biplane.

The biplane was built by Lucien Chauvière, who would later gain fame for his laminated wood propellers.

This tractor biplane (engine at the front to pull like a tractor) is one of the earliest examples of a tractor aircraft… people say it is the FIRST, but, since this aircraft wasn’t really successfully flown, I can’t see how it IS a first.

Wikipedia says: “(the Pischoff 1907 biplane) was an unequal-span, single bay biplane powered by a 25 hp (18 kW) Anzani engine mounted in the middle of the gap between the wings. Booms carried the aft-mounted elongated triangular fin and horizontal stabiliser, with rectangular rudder and elevator. It was mounted on a tricycle undercarriage with two front wheels below the wings’ leading edge and a third aft of the trailing edge.”

Here’s what the Pischoff 1907 Biplane looked like:


This aircraft actually looks quite legit. And the motor is at the front!

  • Crew: 1;
  • Wingspan: 10 meters (32 feet 10 inches);
  • Wing area: 25 square meters (270 square feet)
  • Powerplant: One Anzani 3-cylinder, air cooled, fan-configuration, 19 kW (25 horsepower);
  • Propellers: 2-bladed Chauvière.

The plane was first tested in November of 1907, but it wasn’t successful… however:

  • December 5-6, 1907, the biplane flew a few meters, but I would assume that was more than likely just the plane hopping;
  • December 12, 1907, the aeroplane performed with flights of 50 meters (164 feet) and 100 meters (328 feet) at Issy – which again sounds like the plane was under-powered;
  • On January 15, 1908, flights of 30 meters (98.4 feet), 40 meters (131.2 feet) and 80 meters (262.5 feet) were ‘achieved’… hops and not enough power to lift off.

The aircraft was damaged at some point in January of 1908, and work on it was abandoned.

Later in 1908, Pischoff partnered with Koechlin, and together they built a tractor monoplane with three pairs of wings in tandem, stepped up toward the front to a closed fuselage. It was powered by a Dutheil-Chalmers 20 horsepower engine.


Pischoff and Koechlin monoplane of 1908.

Interesting that they stepped down in horsepower from the 1907 biplane attempt… perhaps the Dutheil-Chalmers motor was very much lighter in weight.

On October 29, 1908,  Pischoff and Koechlin began testing this new monoplane at Villacoublay, France, with the best result achieving enough lift to travel 500 meters (1,640.4 feet).

But that appears to be the height of their success.

The machine never became prominent – and if you continue reading below, you’ll see what may have been the final straw to break the camel’s back.


Alfred de Pischoff

Let’s take a closer look at Alfred de Pischoff  – two “f’s, because that’s what the French government used.

Starting at the end, we know that he died after falling out of his aeroplane after forgetting to attach himself securely to the aircraft.

As soon as you know that, you realize that nothing else good could possibly have happened before that.

So… with that 1908 flight, and Pischoff and Koechlin having flown it some 500 meters (1,640.4 feet) on a flight, the two must have hoped that with further refinements they would be able to have their tractor biplane up into the wild blue yonder.

Early in 1909  Captain Walter George Windham (see Card #40) commissioned Pischoff & Koechlin to manufacture a  biplane for him—the Pischoff Flyer. It was exhibited at the first aeroplane event at Olympia in Great Britain from March 19-27, 1909.

Pischoff Flyer

Specs of the Windham Pischoff Flyer:

  • Length: 35 feet (10.67 meters);
  • Wing Area: 495 feet (150.88 meters);
  • Weight: 390 pounds (176.9 kilograms)
  • 2 cylinder Dutheil-Chalmers motor (plans for a 4 cylinder never occurred)

There was a guarantee from the manufacturer that the plane would fly 300-400 meters (1,000 – 1,300 feet), but there are no reports it ever successfully flew. No sales.

Next, they began working on a monoplane – a tractor monoplane powered by the same Dutheil-Chalmers 20 horsepower motor, and entered themselves and their new creation in to the world’s first aviation meet/race: Prix de Lagatinerie, May 23rd, 1909 — which was meant to open the Port-Aviation airfield  at Juvisy, France.

Organized by two barons, the brothers Charles and Bernard de Lagatinerie, the main event was for FF5,000 (the Prix de Lagatinerie) given to the pilot who could fly his aeroplane around a 10-lap 1.2 kilometer (0.75 mile) course in the shortest time. The 2016 equivalent of FF5,000 of 1909  = FF12,750,017.03 of 2016… which we must then convert the obsolete French Franc to 2016 US$2,050,318.

That’s seems like an expensive prize… especially when the FF100 entrance fee works out to US$41,000.

In the event no one was able to do that, it was agreed upon beforehand that the prize would go to whomever flew the longest distance over that course.

The course was marked by two pylons, 600 meters (1,968.5 feet) apart.

Stops were allowed for refueling and fixes, but time spent on the ground would be added to the time spent in the air.

Start time was 2PM on May 23, 1909, with nine pilots having entered, with each paying a FF100 entrance fee prior to May 17.

Despite the entrance fee, only four pilots made it to the event.

  • Léon Delagrange and his Voisin Delagrange No. 3 – an older Voisin model;
  • Henri Rougier in a Voisin – a newer Vosin model;
  • F. de Rue (a pseudonym for Capitaine Ferdinand Ferber) in a Voisin – a newer Vosin model;
  • Alfred de Pischoff in a Pischoff and Koechlin monoplane.

The three Voisin aircraft were all pusher biplanes (motor at the back), and all were powered by 50 horsepower Antoinette water-cooled V8 engine. Power, baby!

The Pischoff and Koechlin aeroplane was a tractor monoplane (motor in the front), and was “powered” by that 20 horsepower horizontally opposed air-cooled, two-cylinder Dutheil and Chalmers engine. A difference of 30 horsepower. That’s huge!

At the race’s scheduled start time, there was a crosswind blowing of three to four meters/second (seven – nine miles per hour)… the runway was a freshly mowed field. Anyhow, the race was delayed until 5:45PM.

Prior to the first start time, our boy Alfred de Pischoff decided he might withdraw… but with the later start time, he figured he might be able to make the aeroplane fly like a Vosin aircraft.

After starting his engine and barreling down the grassy runway for a couple of hundred meters, de Pischoff was unable to get the monoplane into the air, and bowed out of the competition.

Undaunted, de Pischoff went back to the drawing board with Koechlin, but without him… if you know what I mean, and by himself designed the Pischof-Autoplan.

Pischoff Autoplan 1910.jpg

The Pischoff-Autoplan made its first flight in March of 1910, flying a distance of 400 meters (1,312.3 feet). It was actually the very first aeroplane to fly within the Austro-Hungarian Empire… which itself would soon see its last days.

On April 24, 1910, Pischoff earned his pilot’s certificate – I assume from the Aero Club of France. I would guess it was in the Pischoff-Autoplan.

It was actually a large plane—it looks like a car—with a large-looking motor, but probably under-powered for the weight it was carrying – hence the 400 meter flight plan that I discussed earlier.

Hmm… maybe Paul Koechlin had better luck.


Paul Koechlin, May 30, 1908. He looks like a shady limo driver.

Paul Koechlin was born in 1881 in a French industrial family.

I have no idea why Koechlin became interested in aviation suffice to say most of the world did too at that time. I have no idea what in his educational background made him think it possible, but he certainly wanted to, at the very least, design aeroplanes.

Beginning in 1908 through 1912, Koechlin gave it the old college try… whatever that means, from his company Aéroplanes P. Koechlin at 27 rue de Vanves Billancourt in France. The company not only built aeroplane parts for others, but also built components for other types of inventors… IE… he did not put all of his oeufs (eggs) in one basket.

The first aeroplane – a monoplane –  was powered by a 70 horsepower GIP engine, and had a fuselage constructed of varnished mahogany – the first of its kind.The propellers he carved himself from a walnut tree trunk.

Other aircraft built by Koechlin are:

  • 1908 – Koechlin No. 1, a biplane powered by a Dutheil & Chalmers 17 horsepower motor.

Koechlin No. 1 biplane 1908.

  • 1908 – Koechlin & Pischoff, monoplane flying over 500 meters (1,640.4 feet) on October 29, 1908 at Villacoublay, France.

Specs of the Pischoff and Koechlin monoplane of 1908

  • Wingspan: 6.3 meters (20.7 feet) and 5.3 meters (17.4 feet);
  • Wing area: 25 square meters (269 square feet);
  • Powerplant: Dutheil & Chalmers two-cylinder engine of 20 hp.

There’s an image of it much further above.

  • There’s also a 1909 biplane – or at least that’s what the data accompanying the photo suggests… which looks a heck of a lot like the Wills’s card this blog is based upon… but guesses say this airplane is from 1908… could Wills’s have created a 1911 card based on an old three-year-old design?

Translated to English, it reads: The Aeroplane Lejeune, in profile (built in the Ateliers de Pischoff and Koechlin). Wingspan 6.5 meters Length 6.25 meters Surface 25 meters, carries total weight 175 kilograms. Engine Buchet 3 cylinders 10/12 horsepower, 2 helices places in the back as in the “Wright”.

  • 1909 Koechlin Type A monoplane had a wingspan of 8.51 meters (27 feet 11 inches) (8.51 meters), and a gross weight of 258.55 kilograms (570 pounds), and capable of flying at a speed of 70.8 kilometers per hour (44 miles per hour).
Koechlin Type C monoplane.jpg

You can see that this 1909 Type A monoplane from Koechlin has ailerons.

In 1909, he opened a flying school in Port-Aviation in Viry-Châtillon in France using aeroplanes built by Pischoff-Koechlin.

In April 1910 he moved to and opened a pilot training school at Mourmelon, a suburb to the west of Paris. For FF2000 the student pilots could obtain their license but, it was well understood that breaks (of the wood of the airplane) would be at their expense.


Marthe Niel

On December 19, 1910 , Marthe Niel (1880-1928) becomes the second woman after Raymonde de Laroche (see Card #50)  to successfully earn a pilot’s license (#226) by flying in a Koechlin C monoplane. She was born Marie-Ange Denieul in Paimpon, France… and when Koechlin sold his aviation interests to Vinet in 1911, it seems as though Niel (coincidentally?) also stopped flying.

Now… despite having a flying school (with Pischof), it does not appear as though Koechlin actually flew himself.

Proof of this appears to be with the onset of WWI when he was not placed in the French Air Force, but rather served in a supply regiment on the ground.

He was gravely injured at the Battle of Somme, dying in an ambulance on August 17, 1916.

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

Wills’s Aviation Card #53 – Vedovelli Multiplane.

Wills's Aviation 1910 Series tobacco card

History Behind The Card: Vedovelli Multiplane.

Card #53 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut issue

  • Édouard Vedovelli, month-day-year in France  – month-day-year death in parts unknown. I always wanted to write that… to say it out loud actually.

But… maybe I did find something about his birth and death date. See below!

This Wills’s aviation Card #53 is yet another tough one to research… even Flight magazine’s famed archives contain zero mention of Édouard Vedovelli from 1909 through 1920… same with Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft 1913… zippo.

And a photo of  Édouard Vedovelli? I’m sure one exists – but who knows.

card-53rWhat can we take from that? Well… just look at the aircraft! How the heck was that supposed to provide sustained heavier-than-air flight?

From the Aerodrome (http://www.theaerodrome.com)- a very good resource site for any historical aviation look-see, some of the commentators have provided all of the information of the multiplane/seroplane’s designer, and the aircraft itself.

An electrical appliance manufacturer, Édouard Vedovelli is purported to have been born in France, with the assumption that the family name is of Italian origin.

According to the folks in the Aerodrome, there are two French-language patents in his name:
409.920 Machine volante – March 2, 1911 – flying machine
440.629 Hélice aérienne – July 16, 1912 – type of aviation propeller

Thing is… I found 30 patents.

  1. March 20, 1905: A system for electrically connecting the rails of the railways and trams;
  2. March 20, 1905: Color photographic process;
  3. April 18, 1905: Process and apparatus for desiccating fruits, vegetables, plants, tubers, etc.;
  4. December 18, 1909: Flying machine;
  5. May 6, 1910: Flying machine;
  6. December 7, 1910: Protector for pneumatic tires;
  7. January 27, 1911: Aeroplane;
  8. March 2, 1911: Flying machine;
  9. September 5, 1911: Flying machine;
  10. September 5, 1911: Aeroplane;
  11. September 5, 1911: Aeroplane;
  12. September 23, 1911: Aeroplane;
  13. December 1, 1911: Aircraft engine;
  14. December 18, 1911: Combustion engine;
  15. December 30, 1911: Aeroplane;
  16. December 30, 1911: Aircraft engine;
  17. December 30, 1911: Flying machine;
  18. January 1, 1912: Aeroplane;
  19. July 16, 1912: Aerial propeller;
  20. July 18, 1912: Aeroplane;
  21. July 18, 1912: Aeroplane;
  22. January 31, 1913: Aeroplane;
  23. August 22, 1913: Cement post;
  24. August 22, 1913: Cement post;
  25. August 22, 1913: Cement post;
  26. December 6, 1913: Cement post;
  27. April 26, 1915: Device for drawing, on a reduced scale, the map of the path traveled by a vehicle and giving all indications, speeds, accelerations and others relating to the movement of this vehicle;
  28. June 17, 1926: A device for obtaining decorative and scenic effects with water jets;
  29. March 11, 1927: Circuit breaker with movable array;
  30. August 27, 1927: Circuit breaker with movable array.

Well… plenty of information there… we know that since all of these patents are written in French, he must indeed have at the very least lived in France.

As well… he was alive at some point in 1927… it’s an estimation that the patent office must have examined his patent request at the very latest on August 27, 1927, assuming that they looked at Vedovelli’s submission the same year it was submitted.

Also… it appears as though after receiving the patent for an aeroplane on January 31, 1913… he gave up trying to create a heavier-than-air aircraft, and even gave up trying to further aviation technology, concentrating his energies on cement posts.

I haven’t examined those patents, but perhaps they were for means of encasing electrical wires in cement…. like the light poles we have along highways et al.

Vedovelli’s initial patent involved electric trams, and his final patents involved electrical circuit breakers.

I wonder if he tried to use electronics as a means of transmitting power along his many designs of aircraft?

Apparently his work as an electrical engineer – I assume he owned a company – allowed him a fair bit of financial riches, allowing him to partake in his love of aviation.

Well… he did own a company.

From what I have been able to glean, the Vedoveilli & Priestly electrical company provided electrical equipment and lighting of the Electricity Palace at the 1900 World Expo.

Above is a catalogue of materials produced by Vedovelli & Priestly published in 1899 for such items as electric circuits, circuit breakers, switchboards, panelboards and batteries.

Vedovelli & Priestly Co. had their electrical company at 169 rue Saint-Charles, Paris.

At around the same time, Vedovelli & Priestly built a hybrid electric car that ran on an electric battery and gasoline that was apparently capable of reaching 80 kilometers an hour.


It had a 1.75 horsepower Dion-Bouton gas engine that was coupled to a dynamo to generate an electric current of 10 Amps under 100 Volts… apparently the entire “motor” set-up weighed a mere 140 kilograms (308.65 pounds).

So… we can assume that Vedovelli was at least 20 years old in 1899 when the car was built… ergo he was born in 1879 or earlier and lived to 1927 or later according to the patent filing dates.

But… nope… I just found a French 1896 newspaper mentioning Vedovelli as an electrical engineer… again assuming a minimum age of 20, he was born in 1876 or earlier.

Hey… it’s a start. I’m going to keep digging…

Okay… I found (at http://gallica.bnf.fr) a France Ministry of Justice bulletin that (translated via Google Translate) declares the birth of :

Vedovelli (Edouard), on November 9, 1870, of Italian father, in Paris, dwelling there, 9, rue de Navarin.

So… his birth date is November 9, 1870, Paris, France!

Holy crap, that’s exciting! He also had a sister named Catherine born on November 16, 1872!

Let’s look at his patents now: What is interesting in the listing of patents issued to Vedovelli (found HERE) is that some of them are named as “Aéroplane” and “Machine volante” = Aeroplane/airplane and Flying machine.

I suppose the flying machine was Vedovelli’s way of stating that his Multiplane was a whole new animal, or perhaps the patents were for a different type of aircraft like a helicopter or glider… but that is just me guessing.

I am unable to actually get in and look at the patents (can’t figure out how, and I’m afraid I would have to pay to do so… and I’m cheap), so everything is just guess work at this time. Perhaps if one of you knows how to find out more information, you could share either “how” you got it, or just what that information entails.

Vedovelli had:

  • 9 patents for aeroplanes;
  • 5 patents for flying machines;
  • 1 patent for propellers;
  • 3 patents for engines, two definitely for aircraft.

That’s 18 (perhaps 17) patents in total for aviation.

The Wills’s card denotes Vedovelli’s Multiplane.

Not a particularly strong drawing—it doesn’t show where the propeller is located—but it does, however, offer us a comical take on an aircraft that because of a lack of data on the Internet, must have been a complete failure.

In fact, all of Vedovelli’s aircraft appear to have been failures.


Still… the more I look at it, the Multiplane has some good ideas… a bow at the front of the fuselage to break the wind around it. The front splitter wing at the lower level to help air get under the plane to provide lift… the enclosed cockpit… it’s too bad it was so under-powered.

Oh well. Let’s take a look at the Vedovelli Multiplane, based on writings found within Aerodrome.

I am curious to know where the information was gathered from – perhaps a book somewhere?

The Vedovelli Multiplane in January of 1911. The front of the plane is facing left, in case you were wondering.

The Vedovelli Multiplane. The front of the plane is facing left, in case you were wondering. Does anyone else like the bay windows for the pilot to see in an almost panoramic view… except directly in front of him. Hmmm, two wheels.

Short fuselage with a fully-enclosed cockpit – a rarity for the era.

Motor was a 4-cylinder water-cooled engine place directly behind the pilot.

At the side of the fuselage are large radiators to cool the engine.

In the first version of the Vedovelli Multiplane, the engine drove a single pusher propeller (it means it is placed behind the pilot). It had very high tailbooms.

Vedovelli attempted to fly the Multiplane in 1911 at the Issy les Moulineux flying field. Here was the result:


After the ill-fated attempt to fly in January of 1911. If you look closely, you can see one of the propeller blades between the two large wings – thrust out from the “safety” of the rear of the fuselage.

The reason given for the failure was that the propeller was almost entirely enclosed.

A rear view of the Vedovelli Multiplane attempting to take off. The propeller is contained within the large open rear cabin space.

A rear view of the Vedovelli Multiplane attempting to take off. The propeller is contained within the large open rear cabin space. Hmmm… three wheels. Perhaps a later model?

In the ensuing years until 1912, Vedovelli continued to tweak his design… so perhaps each tweak is represented by a new patent? Hmm… probably. In the photo directly above you can see that the Multiplane has three wheels, whereas the first black and white photo above depicts it with two wheels. Which came first?

Since the Wills’s card only depicts two wheels – and it’s a 1911 card… and data suggests that tweaks occurred through 1912, perhaps we can assume it was two wheels first, and then a third front wheel added for additional balance and distribution of weight,

Known design changes included several modifications to the wings, rudder and propeller.

Apparently one version had two propellers on additional skeletal tailbooms… but still driven by that same single 4-cylinder motor.

The Multiplane weight was estimated to be around 750 kilograms (1,653 pounds).

Lastly… I did find a death notice in a French newspaper database housing Le Petit journal dated August 14, 1926, which I have translated via Google Translate, so it may not be perfect because I didn’t type in the original accents:

We learn of the death of Mr. Edouard Vedovelli, engineer, officer of the Legion of Houneur, who is specialized in electric works. He organized the feast lighting of the Decorative Arts Exhibition. The obsequies will take place tomorrow at 10 hours. We will meet at the mortuary, 4 rue de Naples.
A member of the French Legion of Honour? Cool!

So, for the first time ever, allow me to present the birth and death details of Edouard Vedovelli :

Born: November 9, 1870, Paris, France
Died: August 13, 1926, Paris, France.

Of course… I am guessing at the actual death date… because it depends on just WHEN the newspaper picked up on that detail. But hey… 55 years-old at the time of his death.

If anyone has any further data on the life of Édouard Vedovelli,and/or detailed information on his patents and of the Multiplane – please share with me. Cheers.

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