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Click on a pilot to view his description
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
[ ]

Ernest ArchdeaconErnest 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.
 
 

Louis BleriotLouis 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. Between 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 Adolphe 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 Cody'Colonel' 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 The 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.
 
 

Jean Conneau (avec son polo!)Jean 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, Jules 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 flying boat - a machine which would prove the model for all subsequent hulled aeroplanes.
 
 

Robert Esnault PelterieRobert 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 flights 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 rudder 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.
 
 

Henry FarmanHenry 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.
 
 

Roland GarrosRoland 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. 
 
 

Claude Graham WhiteClaude Grahame-White (1879-1959). Grahame-White came from a wealthy English family and studied engineering at university. Inspired by Blériot's Channel 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 planes.
 
 

Gustav HamelGustav 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. 
 
 

Harry HawkerHarry 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).
 
 

B C HucksBentfield 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.
[Purchase Hucks memorabilia: http://www.johnridyard.fsnet.co.uk/facsimiles.htm]
 
 

Raymonde de Laroche'Baronne' 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 aircraft.
 
 

Hubert LathamHubert 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]
 
 

Leon LevavasseurLéon 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.

 

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Wrights at Leysdown 1909
Frank McCleanFrank 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 Type 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 webmaster@thosemagnificentmen.co.uk
 
John Moore-BrabazonJohn 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 Voisin, 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. 
 
 

Lord NorthcliffeLord 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 Conneau. 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 flight.
 
 

Louis PaulhanLouis 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.
 
 

Adolphe PegoudAdolphe 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 parachute 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 PixtonC. Howard Pixton (?-1972). Pixton was taught to fly in 1910 by his friend A. 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.
 
 

A V RoeAlliot 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. 
 
 

Charles RollsThe 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.
 
 

Alberto Santos DumontAlberto 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 Eiffel Tower. After reading reports of the Wrights' achievements, he turned to heavier-than-air aviation and built his own machine - a 'tail first' canard 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.
 

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Sopwith's first solo - 1910
Tom SopwithThomas 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 Camel. He was knighted in later life and lived to be 101.
 
Comte de La VaulxHenri 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.
 
 

Jules VedrinesJules 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 Jean 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 1919.
 
 

Gabriel VoisinGabriel 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 von Zeppelin 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.
 
 
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