Select a link below or click on the image map
[Ernest Archdeacon] [Louis Blériot] [Samuel Cody] [Jean Conneau] [Robert Esnault-Pelterie] [Henry Farman]
[Roland Garros] [Claude Grahame-White] [Gustav Hamel] [Harry Hawker] [B.C.Hucks] [Rosamonde de Laroche]
[Hubert Latham] [Léon Levavasseur] [Frank McClean] [John Moore-Brabazon] [Lord Northcliffe] [Louis Paulhan]
[Adolphe Pégoud] [Howard Pixton] [A.V.Roe] [Charles Rolls] [Alberto Santos-Dumont] [Tom Sopwith]
[Comte de La Vaulx] [Jules Védrines] [Gabriel Voisin] [Graf von Zeppelin]
Archdeacon (1863-1957). Archdeacon (pronounced 'Arshdec') was a successful
lawyer, balloonist, sportsman and founder member of the Aéro-Club
de France. In 1903 he attended a lecture given by Octave Chanute on
the Wright brothers' progress in gliding flight. Galvanised by a fear that
an American and not a Frenchman would be the first to fly a practical aeroplane,
in May 1903 Archdeacon set up the Aviation Committee of the Aéro-Club.
In 1904 he experimented with a number of Wright-inspired gliders in collaboration
with Gabriel Voisin, but all proved unsuccessful.
Archdeacon also used his wealth to fund a number of prizes, all offered
in October 1904. The Coupe Ernest Archdeacon for the first flight
over 25 m (82 ft), and a cash prize of 1,500 francs for the first flight
over 100 m (328 ft) were both won by Santos-Dumont in
1906. The greatest prize was the Grand Prix d'Aviation Deutsch-Archdeacon
of 50,000 francs, jointly sponsored by Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe, for
the first circular flight over a kilometre (1,094 yards). This prize was
claimed in 1908 by Henry Farman, and on 29 May 1908
Archdeacon became the first aeroplane passenger in Europe when he made
a brief hop in his company. Archdeacon, a great patriot, was also, along
with Esnault-Pelterie and Voisin,
a leading sceptic of the Wrights' achievements in the period 1903-08.
Blériot (1872-1936). Blériot trained as an engineer,
and developed a successful automobile headlamp business, which provided
the means to finance his passion for aviation.
1900 and 1909 he built (and crashed) aeroplanes of widely varying configurations
with undiminished enthusiasm - in the process gaining Pilot's Certificate
No.1 from the Aéro-Club and the respect of his fellow aviators
for personally test-flying his creations. Brief collaborations with Gabriel
Voisin and Louis Peyret produced nothing that was capable of flight.
However, in susequent years Blériot developed a workable tractor
monoplane layout, and a successful cross-country flight of 28 km (17 miles)
was made on 31 October 1908 in his Type VIII. A further collaboration with
Raymond Saulnier produced the promising Type
XI. By 1909, however, Blériot's financial position was becoming
difficult, which in part prompted him to attempt the London Daily Mail's
£1,000 prize for the first crossing of the
English Channel by aeroplane. Success on 25 July 1909 instantly restored
Blériot's finances and earned him undying fame. In August 1909 he
took part in the Rheims Meeting before retiring
from active flying to concentrate on manufacturing his designs. The Blériot
Company had a good eye for publicity and employed the brilliant stunt flier
Pégoud as its first demonstration pilot. The control system
adopted by Blériot (of a joystick controlling both pitch
and roll and a rudder bar for yaw)
has subsequently become the norm for all modern aircraft.
Samuel F. Cody (1861-1913). In an era when the British Army was supposedly
at its most conservative, its employment of Samuel Cody as an aeronautical
designer is hard to explain. In cowboy clothes and a stetson hat, with
shoulder length hair and an extragavant moustache, the big Texan cut an
outlandish figure. It was not hard to believe he had at one time been a
performer in a travelling wild west show called 'The Klondyke Nugget' (as
he had in the 1890s). However, it was this same man whose man-lifting kite
design was accepted by the Army in 1904. Cody was subsequently retained
at Aldershot to experiment with aeroplanes. On 16 October 1908, he rewarded
his employer's faith by achieving the first flight in Britain, at Farnborough
a few miles away. His machine was a massive Wright-based biplane nick-named
Cathedral. Cody's outgoing personality endeared him to the public
and in 1909 he became a British citizen. In 1911, he entered the Circuit
of Britain and gallantly completed the course despite having no chance
of winning. Cody was killed in 1913 when a machine he was testing for that
year's Circuit of Britain broke up in mid-air.
Conneau (1880-1937). A lieutenant in the French Navy, Conneau was the
most brilliant racing pilot of the pre-war period. He was the victor of
three major races in 1911: the Paris-Rome race in May, the Circuit of Europe
in June, and the Circuit of Britain in July.
Because sport flying was considered unduly frivolous by the Navy he usually
flew under the pseudonym "André Beaumont", which deceived
no one! His real name and rank where even given in the newspapers. He usually
raced the Blériot XI.
His approach to flying was very different from that of his great rival,
Védrines. Conneau was careful and precise in everything he did.
This was demonstrated by his application of naval skills to navigate in
fog or cloud by compass and watch ('dead reckoning'). In 1912, he was involved
in test flying the revolutionary Donnet-Léveque
- a machine which would prove the model for all subsequent hulled aeroplanes.
Esnault-Pelterie (1881-1957). Esnault-Pelterie trained as an engineer,
and his scientific background enabled him to design aeronautical devices
still in use today. However, his aeroplanes themselves were never that
successful, generally having inadequate control surfaces. Before Wilbur's
in 1908, Esnault-Pelterie was one of the leading sceptics of the Wright
brothers' achievements. However, in 1904 he built a glider designed to
support his theories which made practical use of ailerons
for the first time. In 1907, he built a monoplane which lacked a fin or
and was consequently almost uncontrolable. Nevertheless, the radial engine
he designed to power it was sound and proved to be the prototype for all
future radial designs. His monoplane
concept was refined, with the 1909 model flying at the Rheims
Meeting, but again it was the minor details that proved to be important.
Hydraulic brakes, seat belts, steel tube construction and stress testing
are all innovations credited to Esnault-Pelterie. In 1910, a more conventional
REP monoplane was produced under licence by Vickers and in 1911 one finished
fifth in the Circuit of Europe.
Farman (1874-1958). Farman was born to English parents living in Paris
and lived almost all his life in his adopted country. He would often spell
his name 'Henri' and he spoke more French than English. At an early age
he became involved with cycle racing, and then graduated to automobiles.
He was a successful motor racer, but he gave up the sport after a bad crash
and turned to aviation, as it was 'safer.' In 1907 he bought one of the
first Voisins to be produced and taught himself to fly. He discovered he
had an aptitude for piloting and in January 1908 he won the Grand Prix
d'Aviation by making the first kilometre circuit
in Europe. He went on to set numerous altitude and endurance records and
make Europe's first cross country
flight. After falling out with the Voisin brothers, he designed his own
aeroplane, the Farman III,
which was one of the most popular early types and was widely imitated.
He participated at the Rheims Meet in 1909 where
he won the distance prize, but he then gave up active flying to
concentrate on manufacturing with his brothers Maurice and Richard.
Garros (1888-1918). Garros had been studying to become a concert pianist
when he attended the Rheims Meeting in 1909. The
result was to change his career path dramatically. He learnt to fly on
a Santos-Dumont Demoiselle
and quickly emerged as one of the leading sport pilots of the period. In
1911 he came second in both the Paris-Rome and Circuit of Europe races.
In 1913 he made an epic flight from France to Tunisia, thus making the
first aeroplane crossing of the Mediterranean
- a distance of some 453 miles. In 1914 he maintained his connection with
the sea by winning the main event at that year's Monaco seaplane meeting.
When the First World War broke out Garros became a fighter pilot, but he
was shot down and taken prisoner while testing an experimental aircraft
at the front. He escaped in 1918, only to be shot down again, this time
fatally. Roland Garros was a keen tennis player and the Paris sports club
that he belonged to named the stadium which now hosts the annual French
Open in his honour.
Grahame-White (1879-1959). Grahame-White came from a wealthy English
family and studied engineering at university. Inspired by Blériot's
crossing, he attended the Rheims Meeting in 1909
and learnt to fly, gaining British pilots certificate No.6. Grahame-White
had an infectious enthusiasm for flying and a talent for self-publicity,
which saw him become one of the most popular British pilots of the period.
In April 1910 he was the gallant loser in the Daily Mail's London-Manchester
competition, and six months later he won the Gordon Bennett Trophy for
Britain at Long Island, USA. Grahame-White established a very successful
flying school at Hendon, in north London, and produced several aeroplanes
of his own design. In 1912, he campaigned to raise awareness of aviation
in the UK by touring the country in a Farman boxkite with light bulbs spelling
out "Wake up, England!" attached to the wings. Before the First World War
he produced a 'charabanc' aeroplane, which could carry four passengers
as well as a pilot, and experimented with fitting machine guns to military
Hamel (1889-1914). Hamel was the son of a fashionable German doctor
practising in London society. After coming down from Cambridge, he learnt
to fly in 1910 and soon became one of the most popular British pilots.
Flying a Blériot XI,
he entered the 1911 Circuit of Britain, but,
like most competitors, failed to finish. In the same year, he acted as
a pilot for Claude Grahame-White when he organised the
first air mail in Britain between Hendon and Windsor, in honour of King
George V's coronation. Hamel earned a 'dashing' reputation for often flying
with lady passengers, notably Miss Trehawke-Davies with whom he flew to
Paris on 2 April 1912. In 1913, Hamel was the third British pilot to perform
the loop (Hucks being the first), and took part in
various aerobatic displays.
He was planning an ambitious transatlantic attempt in 1914 when he disappeared
during another flight over the English Channel. With war looming, it was
popularly rumoured that he had flown back to Germany to lead bombing raids
on England. In fact a body was recovered from the sea some weeks later
which was almost certainly Hamel's.
Hawker (1889-1921). Australian Hawker came to Britain specifically
to seek a career in the infant aviation industry. In 1912, his wish was
answered and he was employed by Tommy Sopwith. Hawker
saved his wages to afford flying lessons and gained his licence in September
1912. The following month he won the British Michelin Cup with a grueling
endurance flight of 8 hr, 23 min. Sopwith recognised talent when he saw
it and Hawker was promoted to chief test pilot. In 1913, Hawker broke the
British altitude record in a Sopwith Tabloid and won the Mortimer
Singer Prize flying the amphibious Sopwith Bat Boat. He may also
have been one of the first pilots to recover from an intentional spin,
at Brooklands in June 1914. During the First World War, Hawker continued
to test Sopwith machines, and in 1919 made an unsuccessful transatlantic
attempt - being rescued by a passing steamer. He was killed in 1921 while
practising for that year's 'Aerial Derby' (round London race).
Charles Hucks (1884-1918). Apparently named after his birthplace of
Bentfield, Essex, Hucks was generally known as "B.C." Originally a keen
motorist, he came to aviation after being banned from driving for three
years for a speeding offence. He was taught to fly by his friend Claude
Grahame-White in 1910, and accompanied him to the USA in that year.
On his return, Hucks was engaged by the Blackburn Company to test their
new monoplane. He subsequently flew the type in the Circuit
of Britain in July 1911. In August, he made one of the first air-ground
wireless experiments in the UK at Swansea. Hucks was the first British
pilot to loop the loop (at Buc on 15 November 1913) and he subsequently
gave many aerobatic displays.
On the outbreak of war, Hucks joined the Royal Flying Corps and became
the chief test pilot for the Airco firm. In 1917 he invented the 'Hucks
Starter', a mobile device for starting aero engines. He died of pneumonia
a week before the Armistace.
Raymonde de Laroche (1885-1919). Born plain Elise Roche, de Laroche
adopted her more aristocratic stage name in order to aid her career as
an actress. However, she soon turned her back on the theatre, becoming
first an experienced balloonist and then, in October 1909, perhaps the
first woman to pilot an aeroplane anywhere in the world. Her instructor
was Charles Voisin. On 8 March 1910, de Laroche qualified
for the first pilot's certificate to be awarded to a woman (No.36 of France).
In July of that year, she competed in the Prix des Dames at the
1910 Rheims Week, but was seriously injured in a bad crash. However, she
recovered to win the French Aero Club's Coupe Femina twice for long-distance
flights in 1912 and 1913. In 1919, this Magnificent Woman held both
the female altitude (4800 m/15,750 ft) and distance (323 km/200 mi.) records,
before being tragically killed in July while co-piloting an experimental
Latham (1883-1912). With something of the reputation of an international
playboy, Latham was briefly one of the most colourful characters in early
aviation. He was French, although with English grandparents on his father's
side, and he studied at Oxford before making his home in France. In 1908
he witnessed Wilbur Wright's flight at Le Mans
and asked his friend, Leon Levavasseur, to teach him to fly. Subsequently,
he became Levavasseur's chief pilot and flew his Antoinette
monoplanes to good effect during the breakthrough year of 1909. In that
year he was unlucky to lose out to Louis Blériot
in the race to cross the English Channel, but
he performed well at the Rheims Meeting - winning
over 40,000 francs in prize money. He is generally thought to have been
gored to death by a buffalo in 1912 while big game hunting in the Congo,
but there is also evidence of foul play... [Read
more about Latham's death]
Léon Levavasseur (1863-1922). Levavasseur's early training was as a painter but he quickly turned to engineering instead, much to European aviation's benefit. In 1903 he designed an unsuccessful biplane, but in the same year he produced an innovative light engine. The 24 hp and 50 hp versions of the Antoinette featured evaporative cooling and fuel injection, and were designed specifically with aviation in mind. The motors powered both Santos-Dumont and Gabriel Voisin's early designs and so formed the bedrock of European success. In 1907, Levavasseur was the designer behind the Gastambide-Mengin monoplane, and it was this design which formed the basis of his successful and elegant Antoinette IV of 1909. In that year, Levavasseur's friend Hubert Latham almost snatched glory from Blériot by crossing the Channel first in an early IV. The type subsequently enjoyed widespread popularity. In 1911, Levavasseur submitted his futuristic Monobloc Antoinette for military trials, but the excellent concept was marred by insufficient engine power. It failed to fly and the Antoinette Company's fortunes declined, with bankruptcy following. But Léon Levavasseur's place in history was already assured.
Wrights at Leysdown 1909
McClean (1876-1955). Having trained as a civil engineer, and served
briefly in the Indian Civil Service, McClean had his first experience of
flight in 1907. He assisted Mr Griffith Brewer in that year's Gordon-Bennett
balloon race from Berlin and in the next year's race he was a pilot. In
December 1908 he took a flight with Wilbur Wright,
who was visiting France. In 1909 he purchased Stonepitts Farm at Eastchurch,
on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary, and leased it to the Aero
Club of Great Britain (of which he was by then a member) to use as a flying
ground at a rent of just 1 shilling. In October he took delivery of Short
Brothers' first aeroplane, based on a sketch by Horace Short of the Wright
A, and flew it successfully from the 'Shellbeach' aerodrome as
it became known. (Shorts subsequently concluded a licence agreement with
the Wright Brothers to build 6 Type A's for the British market -
see picture link left.) Among the other pioneers who flew from Eastchurch
in 1910 were Charles Rolls and John
Moore-Brabazon. McClean was a keen astronomer and when in 1911 he joined
a Royal Navy expedition to the Fiji Islands to observe an eclipse of the
sun, he donated his machines to the Government for the training of Naval
pilots. Another member of the Aero Club, George Cockburn, acted as instructor
without payment. This then laid the foundations for the Naval Wing of the
Royal Flying Corps, which was formed the following year. On his return
McClean test flew the first British twin-engined design (the Short Triple
Twin), although it was not a success. On 10 August 1912, he piloted
a Short S.33 fitted with floats from Eastchurch to London, flying
through the spans of Tower Bridge and then under every other bridge
to Westminster. In early 1914 he set his sights higher, flying
up the River Nile from Alexandria to Khartoum in a special Short S.70
sea plane. The journey took more than 3 months. On the outbreak of war
McClean joined the Royal Naval Air Service and became chief instructor
at the Eastchurch station. He was knighted in 1926, to become Sir Francis.
· If you have a better picture of Frank McClean please email email@example.com
Moore-Brabazon (1884-1964). Moore-Brabazon learnt to fly in France
in late 1908 on the machine which Henry Farman had
intended to buy from the Voisin brothers. He was therefore indirectly responsible
for prompting Farman to build his own designs. In 1909 he brought another
called The Bird of Passage to Britain, where in April he made what
was considered the first flight by a British subject in the country - although
this is also claimed for A.V. Roe. (Samuel
Cody, an American, made the first flight.) On 30 October 1909, flying
a Short, he won the Daily Mail £1,000 prize for the
first circular mile (1.6 km) in Britain on an all-British machine. The
next year, he flew his Short with a piglet as passenger to show
that "pigs can fly". He gained British pilot's certificate No.1. Moore-Brabazon
remained involved in aviation all his life and received a peerage for his
services in 1942, becoming Lord Brabazon of Tara.
Northcliffe (1865-1922). Alfred Harmsworth began his career in journalism
as a freelance writer. But a shrewd realisation that the British market
was ready for American-style popular journalism saw him emerge as a successful
newspaper proprietor. In 1896 he founded his own paper, the Daily Mail,
and within a few years had brought its daily circulation up to one million.
In 1904 he was created a peer, to become (literally) a 'press baron'. An
important element in the Mail's success was its extensive coverage
of aviation; and Northcliffe was not averse to creating the news himself.
In 1907 Roe won the paper's model flying machine competition,
and in 1909 Blériot won £1,000 (first
offered in 1906) for crossing the Channel. The
next year, Paulhan won £10,000 for his flight
from London to Manchester, and in 1911 the
paper sponsored the Circuit of Britain, won by
A seaplane Circuit of Britain followed in 1913. Of course, the Daily
Mail and other Northcliffe papers carried exclusive reports of all
these events. Although Northcliffe's motive was mainly just to sell newspapers,
it cannot be denied that his prizes acted as a spur to aeronautical development
and produced some of the most remarkable episodes of the first decade of
Paulhan (1883-1963). Paulhan began his involvement with aviation by
working for the French military balloon factory at the turn of the century.
His interest was turned towards heavier-than-air flight by Santos-Dumont's
hops in 1907, and in 1908 he won an Aéro-Club de France model
aeroplane competition. His prize was a full-size Voisin
biplane! Teaching himself to fly, he soon emerged as an excellent pilot
and participated in several meetings and competitions, including the Rheims
Meet and the Los Angeles Aviation Week. His most notable victory was
winning the epic Daily Mail London-Manchester
competition in April 1910. Earlier that year he had taken some of the first
aerial photographs. After 1910, he became involved with designing sea planes
and produced an innovative prototype.
Pégoud (1889-1915). A brilliant aerobatic pilot, Pégoud
began his career in aviation as a mechanic for the infant French Army Air
Service. He then transfered his services to the Blériot Company,
learnt to fly and caught Louis Blériot's
eye when on 20 August 1913 he made the world's first
jump from an aeroplane. The aeroplane, being a single-seater, crash
landed alongside the intrepid jumper! Pégoud was quickly employed
as the Company's demonstration pilot, and on 1 September he showed off
the Blériot XI's
docility in unusual attitudes by flying inverted for several seconds. He
topped all of this by looping the loop, again
on a Blériot XI, on 21 September. This was only the second
time the manoeuvre had ever been executed. On the outbreak of the First
World War Pégoud rejoined the military and became the first pilot
to be called an 'Ace' before he was shot down and killed, with 6 victories
to his credit, in the summer of 1915.
Howard Pixton (?-1972). Pixton was taught to fly in 1910 by his friend
V. Roe and quickly became the Avro Company's test pilot. He also assisted
in setting up the Avro Flying School. In 1911, he joined the rival Bristol
Aeroplane Co. to instruct military pilots at Larkhill. In July, he flew
a Bristol Boxkite in
the Circuit of Britain, but crashed near Harrogate
in Yorkshire during stage two. He subsequently travelled for the company,
demonstrating Bristol aircraft in Spain, Italy, Germany and Romania. In
1914, Pixton again changed employers and became the Sopwith
Company's pilot in the Schneider Trophy competition of that year. Flying
the Sopwith Tabloid seaplane, powered by a 100 hp Gnôme, Pixton
won the Trophy for Britain. After the First World War, he rejoined Avro
and went on to have a lengthy involvement in aviation.
Verdon Roe (1877-1958). After taking a degree in marine engineering
at London University, Roe worked at sea between 1899-1902 before becoming
interested in the problem of powered flight. In 1907 he won a £75
prize offered by the Daily Mail for model aeroplanes. With the prize
money he erected a hangar at Brooklands and set about building a full size
machine. The Roe I made a brief hop on 8 June 1908 but it was not
recognised as the first flight in Britain - that honour going to J.
Moore-Brabazon the following year. In 1909, Roe built a triplane, weighing
only 399 lb. (181 kg) including himself, and powered by a tiny 9 hp J.A.P.
motor. The surfaces were covered in thick paper rather than fabric because
Roe was so short of money. In 1910, however, Roe successfully developed
his design into a practical triplane and formed A. V. Roe & Company
(known as "Avro"). Before the First World War, the firm created several
advanced machines, including the Type F (a cabin biplane), the first
British sea plane, and the Type 504 of 1913, which remained in service
into the 1930s. Roe was knighted in 1929.
Hon. Charles Rolls (1877-1910). The son of a peer, Rolls gained a degree
in engineering from Cambridge and was a keen cyclist, motor racer and balloonist.
In 1901 he helped found the Aero Club of Great Britain (which became the
Royal Aero Club in 1910). In 1904 he was involved in the sale of motor
cars when he met Frederick Royce, a manufacturer. Although they were from
very different backgrounds, they became friends, and founded the firm of
Rolls-Royce to sell and manufacture high-quality vehicles. In 1910 he bought
an Ariel-Wright biplane and obtained British pilot's certificate
No.2 (his friend J. Moore-Brabazon having gained No.1).
On 2 June of that year Rolls made the first double crossing of the English
Channel, flying from Kent to the French coast and back without landing.
Sadly, he became Britain's first aviation fatality when he was killed on
12 July in a crash at the Bournemouth Air Meeting. He had fitted an auxilary
elevator to his Wright Type A,
which failed in mid-air preventing recovery from a dive.
Santos-Dumont (1873-1932). Santos-Dumont was the son of a wealthy Brazilian
coffee planter who made Paris his home in order to study the problems of
aeronautics. He began by experimenting with free balloons, and then from
1898 to 1906 he built a number of small dirigibles with considerable success.
In 1901 he won the Deutsch Prize of 100,000 francs by rounding the
Tower. After reading reports of the Wrights' achievements, he turned
to heavier-than-air aviation and built his own machine - a 'tail first'
design, the 14-bis. In
the Autumn of 1906, Santos-Dumont made the first flight
in Europe in this machine. At the time he was credited with having made
the first flights anywhere in the world, since the Wright brothers' flights
were not yet widely recognised. He went on to design light-weight Demoiselle
monoplanes, which he hoped would help popularise flying, before returning
home to Brazil in 1910 and retiring from aviation. Historians have never
agreed on Santos-Dumont's place in aviation history. To some he was just
an inspired amateur, to others a major figure in the development of the
airship and aeroplane.
Sopwith's first solo - 1910
Sopwith (1888-1989). 'Tommy' Sopwith's interest in motor racing, and
friendship with Charles Rolls, led him to buy a 40
hp Howard Wright monoplane in 1910 and teach himself to fly. After
one crash he succeeded and gained his licence in November at Brooklands.
Just a few weeks later he won the £4,000 Baron de Forest Prize for
the longest flight that year from England to the Continent. He flew 169
miles (272 km) on 18 December from Eastchurch to Beaumont in Belgium. Sopwith
spent 1911 flying in the USA, and returned in 1912 to win the first 'Aerial
Derby' (round London race) in a 70 hp Blériot
XI, beating Gustav Hamel by 15 minutes. Following
this success, Sopwith turned to manufacturing and in 1913 unveiled the
revolutionary Sopwith Tabloid, a fast, compact and manoeuvrable
biplane. With Harry Hawker as pilot she took the
British altitude record on 16 June 1913 to 13,000 ft (4000 m). Piloted
by Howard Pixton, the seaplane version won the 1914
Schneider Trophy for Britain at Monaco. In the First World War, Sopwith's
firm produced some of the best Allied fighters, including the legendary
He was knighted in later life and lived to be 101.
Comte de La Vaulx (1870-1930). De La Vaulx was a wealthy businessman
of noble ancestry, who took to the sport of ballooning in his late twenties.
Along with Ernest Archdeacon and Henri Deutsch
de la Meurth, he founded the Aéro-Club de France in 1898,
but unlike Archdeacon only briefly became interested in heavier-than-air
aviation. An accomplished balloonist, de La Vaulx captured the long-distance
record in 1900 with a flight
of 1,195 miles (2020 km) from Paris to Kiev. The next year he and three
companions made the first balloon crossing of the Mediterranean. In 1905
he formed the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale
to oversee all future aerial record-breaking attempts, a function which
the FAI holds to this day. Between 1909-10,
de La Vaulx flew small Zodiac airships and took part in a memorable
air race at Rheims against the military
dirigible Colonel Renard. He continued to champion the cause of
sport flying until his death in an air crash in 1930.
Védrines (1881-1919). Védrines' career in flying began
as a mechanic for Henry Farman but his talents as
a natural pilot soon stood out. He was one of the most successful racing
pilots of the period and pitted his skills many times against fellow Frenchman
Conneau. In 1911 he managed to snatch the Paris-Madrid race from Conneau,
but came second in the Circuit of Britain. In
1912 he was the first man to break the '100 mph barrier' by setting a new
speed record of 104 mph (176 kph). In the following year he was the first
pilot to succeed in flying from Europe to Egypt.
Typically for this emotional and headstrong aviator, he became embroiled
in an unseemly row with a rival team soon after arriving. In the First
World War he became a fighter 'ace' and, unlike many of his contemporaries,
survived to see Armistice Day. He did not outlive them by long, however,
as he was killed attempting a forced landing on a Paris-Rome flight in
Voisin (1880-1973). In 1904, Voisin assisted Ernest
Archdeacon with his glider experiments acting first as pilot and then
as designer. In 1905, he built a glider on floats for Louis
Blériot which was towed above the River Seine. Blériot
briefly went into partnership with Voisin, but with no significant results.
In 1906, Voisin built the 14-bis
for Alberto Santos-Dumont and subsequently set up a
small factory with his brother Charles Voisin (1888-1912) to manufacture
his own designs. Gabriel always remained the dominant partner. Early Voisins
were flown by Henry Farman and Léon Delagrange,
with the so-called 'Standard Voisin'
becoming the mainstay of European aviation in 1908-09. Gabriel Voisin outlived
all his contemporaries and caused much needless confusion among historians
by willfully exagerating his role in the history of flight. He remained
until his death a firm sceptic of the Wrights' claim to have flown first.
Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917). Von Zeppelin was born into
an aristocratic Württemberg family and went into the army. In the
1860s he was attached to Unionist forces in the American Civil War as an
observer. In addition to meeting President Lincoln, he was impressed by
the use of captive balloons for reconnaisance purposes. His belief in the
importance of aviation in military affairs was strengthened during the
Franco-Prussian War when French forces used balloons to communicate with
the besieged city of Paris. Leaving the army with the rank of General,
he decided to use his retirement to develop a practical dirigible for Germany,
and in 1900 the first Zeppelin flew.
Over the next 15 years he developed the concept (with government assistance)
into a passanger-carrying craft, and a weapon of war. In 1915 he parted
company with the military authorities over policy differences and ceased
involvement in his brainchild. He died, at the age of 79, before he had
to witness the total defeat of Germany in the Great War.
· Airships · Zeppelins
· Santos-Dumont · Farman
· Wrights in France · The
Channel · Rheims · London