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Special Collections & Archives

Flying Machines (Part 1)

Henri Farman, 1874-1958

Henri Farman

In January 1908, Henri Farman was awarded the Deutsch-Archdeacon Prize for flying the first officially observed kilometer in a closed circuit at Issy-les-Moulineaux. The flight was widely celebrated, although the Wright brothers had achieved the same feat, without French officials, in 1904. This postcard shows his Farman II biplane, based on the Voisin design.

Louis Blériot, 1872-1936

Henri Farman

Blériot is most famous for the first crossing of the English Channel by airplane in July, 1909. To win, Bleriot had to beat both Latham in an Antoinette, and Count Lambert in his Wright biplane. Bleriot's essential monoplane was his eleventh attempt to design a successful flyer.

Victoria Station, London

Alberto Santos-Dumont, 1873-1932

Alberto Santos-Dumont

In 1906, Santos-Dumont, a wealthy Brazilian engineer and balloonist living in France, made the first official powered flight in Europe. His 1908 Demoiselle aircraft depicted here is considered to be the first ultralight airplane.

Wilbur Wright, 1867-1912

Wilbur Wright

After doubting the accomplishments of the Wright brothers for years, French aeronautical enthusiasts were astonished at the ability of the Wright brothers to fly with complete control as demonstrated by Wilbur in Paris in 1908. Captain Ferber, pioneer French aviator, said of Wilbur, "...without him, I would be nothing." The Wright brothers established the world's first pilot training school at Pau in southern France in 1909. Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in May 1912.

Hubert Latham, 1883-1912

Hubert Latham

Latham was a wildly popular sportsman who took up aviation in early 1909. By July of that year he held the world's endurance record for monoplanes. Latham competed unsuccessfully to fly the English Channel before Bleriot beat him to it. He is dashingly depicted here, together with his elegant Antoinette monoplane. Latham was killed by a buffalo while hunting in Africa. 

Hubert Latham Channel Flight Antoinette flyer rescue Hurbert Latham rescue

Gabriel Voisin, 1880-1973

Gabriel Voisin

One of the greats of French aviation, Gabriel Voisin built his first airplane for Ferber in 1907. It was based on their loose understanding of the Wright brother's design which they had not yet seen. Voisin and Ferber hadn't yet grasped the Wright's innovative system of lateral control through wing warping, hence the vertical "curtains" between the wings, designed to counter roll and give the aircraft the stability of a box kite. The result flew but was next to impossible to turn.

Glenn Curtiss, 1878-1930

Glenn Curtiss

Next to the Wright brothers, Glenn Curtiss is the man most responsible for the development of American aviation before 1914. An early speed demon, Curtiss won the first Gordon Bennett trophy at Rheims, France in 1909. Curtiss was the Wright brothers' biggest rival, fighting them through the courts in one of the century's most bitter patent infringement suits.

Captain Marchal

Captain Marchal

Designed by the French firm Lebaudy, the République was France's answer to the Zeppelin. Its maiden flight took place in June, 1908. In September, 1908, it threw a propeller, which ripped into the gas bag. The sudden loss of lift resulted in the twentieth century's first multiple fatality air accident. French army Captain Marchal, and three crew members were killed.