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A History of Aeronautics
by E. Charles Vivian

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Table of Contents


There is so much overlapping in the crowded story of the first
years of successful power-driven flight that at this point it is
advisable to make a concise chronological survey of the chief
events of the period of early development, although much of this
is of necessity recapitulation.  The story begins, of course,
with Orville Wright's first flight of 852 feet at Kitty Hawk on
December 19th, 1903.  The next event of note was Wright's flight
of 11.12 miles in 18 minutes 9 seconds at Dayton, Ohio, on
September 26th, 1905, this being the first officially recorded
flight.  On October 4th of the same year, Wright flew 20.75 miles
in 33 minutes 17 seconds, this being the first flight of over 20
miles ever made.  Then on September 14th 1906, Alberto
Santos-Dumont made a flight of eight seconds on the second
heavier-than-air machine he had constructed.  It was a big
box-kite-like machine; this was the second power-driven aeroplane
in Europe to fly, for although Santos-Dumont's first machine
produced in 1905 was reckoned an unsuccessful design, it had
actually got off the ground for brief periods.  Louis Bleriot
came into the ring on April 5th, 1907, with a first flight of 6
seconds on a Bleriot monoplane, his eighth but first successful

Henry Farman made his first appearance in the history of aviation
with a flight of 935 feet on a Voisin biplane on October 15th
1907.  On October 25th, in a flight of 2,530 feet, he made the
first recorded turn in the air, and on March 29th, 1908, carrying
Leon Delagrange on a Voisin biplane, he made the first passenger
flight.  On April 10th of this year, Delagrange, in flying 1 1/2
miles, made the first flight in Europe exceeding a mile in
distance.  He improved on this by flying 10 1/2 miles at Milan on
June 22nd, while on July 8th, at Turin, he took up Madame
Peltier, the first woman to make an aeroplane flight.

Wilbur Wright, coming over to Europe, made his first appearance
on the Continent with a flight of 1 3/4 minutes at Hunaudieres,
France, on August 8th, 1908.  On September 6th, at Chalons, he
flew for 1 hour 4 minutes 26 seconds with a passenger, this
being the first flight in which an hour in the air was exceeded
with a passenger on board.

on September 12th 1908, Orville Wright, flying at Fort Meyer,
U.S.A., with Lieut. Selfridge as passenger, crashed his
machine, suffering severe injuries, while Selfridge was killed.
This was the first aeroplane fatality.  On October 30th, 1908,
Farman made the first cross-country flight, covering the
distance of 17 miles between Bouy and Rheims.  The next day,
Louis Bleriot, in flying from Toury to Artenay, made two
landings en route, this being the first cross-country flight
with landings.  On the last day of the year, Wilbur Wright won
the Michelin Cup at Auvours with a flight of 90 miles, which,
lasting 2 hours 20 minutes 23 seconds, exceeded 2 hours in the
air for the first time.

On January 2nd, 1909, S. F. Cody opened the New Year by making
the first observed flight at Farnborough on a British Army
aeroplane.  It was not until July 18th of 1909 that the first
European height record deserving of mention was put up by
Paulhan, who achieved a height of 450 feet on a Voisin
biplane.  This preceded Latham's first attempt to fly the
Channel by two days, and five days later, on the 25th of the
month, Bleriot made the first Channel crossing.  The Rheims
Meeting followed on August 22nd, and it was a great day for
aviation when nine machines were seen in the air at once.  It
was here that Farman, with a 118 mile flight, first exceeded
the hundred miles, and Latham raised the height record
officially to 500 feet, though actually he claimed to have
reached 1,200 feet.  On September 8th, Cody, flying from
Aldershot, made a 40 mile journey, setting up a new
cross-country record.  On October 19th the Comte de Lambert
flew from Juvisy to Paris, rounded the Eiffel Tower and flew
back.  J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon made the first circular mile
flight by a British aviator on an all-British machine in Great
Britain, on October 30th, flying a Short biplane with a Green
engine.  Paulhan, flying at Brooklands on November 2nd,
accomplished 96 miles in 2 hours 48 minutes, creating a British
distance record; on the following day, Henry Farman made a
flight of 150 miles in 4 hours 22 minutes at Mourmelon, and on
the 5th of the month, Paulhan, flying a Farman biplane, made a
world's height record of 977 feet.  This, however, was not to
stand long, for Latham got up to 1,560 feet on an Antoinette at
Mourmelon on December 1st.  December 31st witnessed the first
flight in Ireland, made by H. Ferguson on a monoplane which he
himself had constructed at Downshire Park, Lisburn.

These, thus briefly summarised, are the principal events up to
the end of 1909.  1910 opened with tragedy, for on January 4th
Leon Delagrange, one of the greatest pilots of his time, was
killed while flying at Pau.  The machine was the Bleriot XI which
Delagrange had used at the Doncaster meeting, and to which
Delagrange had fitted a 50 horse-power Gnome engine, increasing
the speed of the machine from its original 30 to 45 miles per
hour.  With the Rotary Gnome engine there was of necessity a
certain gyroscopic effect, the strain of which proved too much
for the machine.  Delagrange had come to assist in the
inauguration of the Croix d'Hins aerodrome, and had twice lapped
the course at a height of about 60 feet.  At the beginning of
the third lap, the strain of the Gnome engine became too great
for the machine; one wing collapsed as if the stay wires had
broken, and the whole machine turned over and fell, killing

On January 7th Latham, flying at Mourmelon, first made the
vertical kilometre and dedicated the record to Delagrange, this
being the day of his friend's funeral.  The record was
thoroughly authenticated by a large registering barometer which
Latham carried, certified by the officials of the French Aero
Club.  Three days later Paulhan, who was at Los Angeles,
California, raised the height record to 4,146 feet.

On January 25th the Brussels Exhibition opened, when the
Antoinette monoplane, the Gaffaux and Hanriot monoplanes,
together with the d'Hespel aeroplane, were shown; there were
also the dirigible Belgica and a number of interesting aero
engines, including a German airship engine and a four-cylinder
50 horse-power Miesse, this last air-cooled by means of 22
fans driving a current of air through air jackets surrounding
fluted cylinders.

On April 2nd Hubert Le Blon, flying a Bleriot with an Anzani
engine, was killed while flying over the water.  His machine was
flying quite steadily, when it suddenly heeled over and came
down sideways into the sea; the motor continued running for some
seconds and the whole machine was drawn under water.  When boats
reached the spot, Le Blon was found lying back in the driving
seat floating just below the surface.  He had done good flying
at Doncaster, and at Heliopolis had broken the world's speed
records for 5 and 10 kilometres.  The accident was attributed
to fracture of one of the wing stay wires when running into a
gust of wind.

The next notable event was Paulhan's London-Manchester flight,
of which full details have already been given.  In May Captain
Bertram Dickson, flying at the Tours meeting, beat all the
Continental fliers whom he encountered, including Chavez, the
Peruvian, who later made the first crossing of the Alps.
Dickson was the first British winner of international aviation

C. S. Rolls, of whom full details have already been given, was
killed at Bournemouth on July 12th, being the first British
aviator of note to be killed in an aeroplane accident.  His
return trip across the Channel had taken place on June 2nd.
Chavez, who was rapidly leaping into fame, as a pilot, raised
the British height record to 5,750 feet while flying at
Blackpool on August 3rd.  On the 11th of that month, Armstrong
Drexel, flying a Bleriot, made a world's height record of 6,745

It was in 1910 that the British War office first began fully to
realise that there might be military possibilities in
heavier-than-air flying.  C. S. Rolls had placed a Wright
biplane at the disposal of the military authorities, and Cody,
as already recorded, had been experimenting with a biplane type
of his own for some long period.  Such development as was
achieved was mainly due to the enterprise and energy of Colonel
J. E. Capper, C.B., appointed to the superintendency of the
Balloon Factory and Balloon School at Farnborough in 1906.
Colonel Capper's retirement in 1910 brought (then) Mr Mervyn
O'Gorman to command, and by that time the series of successes of
the Cody biplane, together with the proved efficiency of the
aeroplane in various civilian meetings, had convinced the
British military authorities that the mastery of the air did not
lie altogether with dirigible airships, and it may be said that
in 1910 the British War office first began seriously to consider
the possibilities of the aeroplane, though two years more were
to elapse before the formation of the Royal Flying Corps marked
full realisation of its value.

A triumph and a tragedy were combined in September of 1910.  On
the 23rd of the month, Georges Chavez set out to fly across the
Alps on a Bleriot monoplane.  Prizes had been offered by the
Milan Aviation Committee for a flight from Brigue in Switzerland
over the Simplon Pass to Milan, a distance of 94 miles with a
minimum height of 6,600 feet above sea level.  Chavez started at
1.30 p.m.  On the 23rd, and 41 minutes later he reached
Domodossola, 25 miles distant.  Here he descended, numbed with
the cold of the journey; it was said that the wings of his
machine collapsed when about 30 feet from the ground, but
however this may have been, he smashed the machine on landing,
and broke both legs, in addition to sustaining other serious
injuries.  He lay in hospital until the 27th September, when he
died, having given his life to the conquest of the Alps.  His
death in the moment of success was as great a tragedy as were
those of Pilcher and Lilienthal.

The day after Chavez's death, Maurice Tabuteau flew across the
Pyrenees, landing in the square at Biarritz.  On December 30th,
Tabuteau made a flight of 365 miles in 7 hours 48 minutes.
Farman, on December 18th, had flown for over 8 hours, but his
total distance was only 282 miles.  The autumn of this year was
also noteworthy for the fact that aeroplanes were first
successfully used in the French Military Manoeuvres.  The
British War Office, by the end of the year, had bought two
machines, a military type Farman and a Paulhan, ignoring British
experimenters and aeroplane builders of proved reliability.
These machines, added to an old Bleriot two-seater, appear to
have constituted the British aeroplane fleet of the period.

There were by this time three main centres of aviation in
England, apart from Cody, alone on Laffan's Plain. These three
were Brooklands, Hendon, and the Isle of Sheppey, and of the
three Brooklands was chief.  Here such men as Graham Gilmour,
Rippen, Leake, Wickham, and Thomas persistently experimented.
Hendon had its own little group, and Shellbeach, Isle of
Sheppey, held such giants of those days as C. S. Rolls and
Moore Brabazon, together with Cecil Grace and Rawlinson.  One or
other, and sometimes all of these were deserted on the occasion
of some meeting or other, but they were the points where the
spade work was done, Brooklands taking chief place.  'If you want
the early history of flying in England, it is there,' one of the
early school remarked, pointing over toward Brooklands course.

1911 inaugurated a new series of records of varying character.
On the 17th January, E. B. Ely, an American, flew from the shore
of San Francisco to the U.S. cruiser Pennsylvania, landing on the
cruiser, and then flew back to the shore.  The British military
designing of aeroplanes had been taken up at Farnborough by G. H.
de Havilland, who by the end of January was flying a machine of
his own design, when he narrowly escaped becoming a casualty
through collision with an obstacle on the ground, which swept the
undercarriage from his machine.

A list of certified pilots of the countries of the world was
issued early in 1911, showing certificates granted up to the
end of 1910.  France led the way easily with 353 pilots; England
came next with 57, and Germany next with 46; Italy owned 32,
Belgium 27, America 26, and Austria 19; Holland and Switzerland
had 6 aviators apiece, while Denmark followed with 3, Spain with
2, and Sweden with 1.  The first certificate in England was that
of J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon, while Louis Bleriot was first on
the French list and Glenn Curtiss, first holder of an American
certificate, also held the second French brevet.

On the 7th March, Eugene Renaux won the Michelin Grand Prize by
flying from the French Aero Club ground at St Cloud and landing
on the Puy de Dome.  The landing, which was one of the
conditions of the prize, was one of the most dangerous
conditions ever attached to a competition; it involved dropping
on to a little plateau 150 yards square, with a possibility of
either smashing the machine against the face of the mountain, or
diving over the edge of the plateau into the gulf beneath.  The
length of the journey was slightly over 200 miles and the height
of the landing point 1,465 metres, or roughly 4,500 feet above
sea-level.  Renaux carried a passenger, Doctor Senoucque, a
member of Charcot's South Polar Expedition.

The 1911 Aero Exhibition held at Olympia bore witness to the
enormous strides made in construction, more especially by
British designers, between 1908 and the opening of the Show.
The Bristol Firm showed three machines, including a military
biplane, and the first British built biplane with tractor screw.
The Cody biplane, with its enormous size rendering it a
prominent feature of the show, was exhibited.  Its designer
anticipated later engines by expressing his desire for a motor
of 150 horse-power, which in his opinion was necessary to get
the best results from the machine.  The then famous Dunne
monoplane was exhibited at this show, its planes being V-shaped
in plan, with apex leading.  It embodied the results of very
lengthy experiments carried out both with gliders and
power-driven machines by Colonel Capper, Lieut. Gibbs, and
Lieut. Dunne, and constituted the longest step so far taken in
the direction of inherent stability.

Such forerunners of the notable planes of the war period as the
Martin Handasyde, the Nieuport, Sopwith, Bristol, and Farman
machines, were features of the show; the Handley-Page monoplane,
with a span of 32 feet over all, a length of 22 feet, and a
weight of 422 lbs., bore no relation at all to the twin-engined
giant which later made this firm famous.  In the matter of
engines, the principal survivals to the present day, of which
this show held specimens, were the Gnome, Green, Renault
air-cooled, Mercedes four-cylinder dirigible engine of 115
horse-power, and 120 horsepower Wolseley of eight cylinders for
use with dirigibles.

On April 12th, of 1911, Paprier, instructor at the Bleriot
school at Hendon, made the first non-stop flight between London
and Paris.  He left the aerodrome at 1.37 p.m., and arrived at
Issy-les-Moulineaux at 5.33 p.m., thus travelling 250 miles in a
little under 4 hours.  He followed the railway route practically
throughout, crossing from Dover to nearly opposite Calais,
keeping along the coast to Boulogne, and then following the Nord
Railway to Amiens, Beauvais, and finally Paris.

In May, the Paris-Madrid race took place; Vedrines, flying a
Morane biplane, carried off the prize by first completing the
distance of 732 miles.  The Paris-Rome race of 916 miles was won
in the same month by Beaumont, flying a Bleriot monoplane.  In
July, Koenig won the German National Circuit race of 1,168 miles
on an Albatross biplane.  This was practically simultaneous with
the Circuit of Britain won by Beaumont, who covered 1,010 miles
on a Bleriot monoplane, having already won the
Paris-Brussels-London-Paris Circuit of 1,080 miles, this also on
a Bleriot.  It was in August that a new world's height record of
11,152 feet was set up by Captain Felix at Etampes, while
on the 7th of the month Renaux flew nearly 600 miles on a
Maurice Farman machine in 12 hours.  Cody and Valentine were
keeping interest alive in the Circuit of Britain race, although
this had long been won, by determinedly plodding on at finishing
the course.

On September 9th, the first aerial post was tried between Hendon
and Windsor, as an experiment in sending mails by aeroplane.
Gustave Hamel flew from Hendon to Windsor and back in a strong
wind.  A few days later, Hamel went on strike, refusing to carry
further mails unless the promoters of the Aerial Postal Service
agreed to pay compensation to Hubert, who fractured both his legs
on the 11th of the month while engaged in aero postal work.  The
strike ended on September 25th, when Hamel resumed mail-carrying
in consequence of the capitulation of the Postmaster-General, who
agreed to set aside L500 as compensation to Hubert.

September also witnessed the completion in America of a flight
across the Continent, a distance of 2,600 miles. The only
competitor who completed the full distance was C. P. Rogers,
who was disqualified through failing to comply with the time
limit.  Rogers needed so many replacements to his machine on the
journey that, expressing it in American fashion, he arrived with
practically a dfferent aeroplane from that with which he

With regard to the aerial postal service, analysis of the matter
carried and the cost of the service seemed to show that with a
special charge of one shilling for letters and sixpence for post
cards, the revenue just balanced the expenditure.  It was not
possible to keep to the time-table as, although the trials were
made in the most favourable season of the year, aviation was not
sufficiently advanced to admit of facing all weathers and
complying with time-table regulations.

French military aeroplane trials took place at Rheims in
October, the noteworthy machines being Antoinette, Farman,
Nieuport, and Deperdussin.  The tests showed the Nieuport
monoplane with Gnome motor as first in position; the Breguet
biplane was second, and the Deperdussin monoplanes third.  The
first five machines in order of merit were all engined with the
Gnome motor.

The records quoted for 1911 form the best evidence that can
be given of advance in design and performance during the year.
It will be seen that the days of the giants were over; design
was becoming more and more standardised and aviation not so much
a matter of individual courage and even daring, as of the
reliability of the machine and its engine.  This was the first
year in which the twin-engined aeroplane made its appearance,
and it was the year, too, in which flying may be said to have
grown so common that the 'meetings' which began with Rheims were
hardly worth holding, owing to the fact that increase in height
and distance flown rendered it no longer necessary for a
would-be spectator of a flight to pay half a crown and enter an
enclosure.  Henceforth, flying as a spectacle was very little to
be considered; its commercial aspects were talked of, and to a
very slight degree exploited, but, more and more, the fact that
the aeroplane was primarily an engine of war, and the growing
German menace against the peace of the world combined to point
the way of speediest development, and the arrangements for the
British Military Trials to be held in August, 1912, showed that
even the British War office was waking up to the potentialities
of this new engine of war.

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