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 construction.
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 Delagrange.
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 prizes.
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 feet.
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 started.
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.