On July 25, 1909, the Frenchman Louis Bleriot, in an aircraft he designed and built, became the first to fly across the English Channel. For this great feat he was awarded a prize of 1,000 pounds by the London Daily Mail.
Even though Louis had been deathly sick with an infected foot (the result of a gasoline explosion), he was forced into making the flight when he did. He had been on crutches for a week, but a few days earlier another Frenchman, Hubert Latham, had attempted the flight but had been forced into the channel after seven miles due to a faulty motor. He was rescued by a French naval vessel ordered to follow his course as a safety measure.
Louis knew that Hubert would try again, and soon. Therefore at four o'clock in the morning, Louis Blériotstepped into his monoplane and flew from Les Barrages, France, to Dover, England.
The Blériot XI, Louis's plane, proved to be a superior flying machine and distinguished itself in many events preceding the war. Conquering the Alps was among many of its numerous accomplishments.
Designed by French aviator Henri Farman and based upon similar aircraft produced by the Voisin brothers of France the Farman Biplane received popular acceptance by early aviators. Farman Biplanes went on to be employed in the early stages of WWI by the French military.
The Dufaux 4 was an experimental aircraft built in Switzerland in 1909 and which was originally constructed as an un-named biplane, the third aircraft constructed by the brothers Armand and Henri Dufaux. The aircraft was entirely conventional for the era - a two-bay biplane with unstaggered wings of equal span and a triangular-section fuselage. Construction began in mid-September 1909 and work proceeded rapidly, as the brothers hoped to claim a CHF 1,000 prize put up by the Automobile Club de Suisse for the first Swiss-built aircraft to fly a 1 km closed-circuit.
Once the aeroplane made its debut with the Morane-Saulnier and the Blériot XI, flying schools began popping up all over Western Europe where young pilots-to-be could learn to fly these new machines. One of the most popular shools was the French School.
At the French School, the pilot-in-training would sit down in his plane and start the engine while the instructor quickly pointed out all of the instuments and some hints and tips, yelling over the roar of the engine. The instuctor would leap off the plane and the student would open up the throttle a little and taxi around the field trying to get a feel for the controls. At a signal from his intructor, the student would open the throttle a little more and go bounding through the grass, and some of the more daring students would even leave the ground for a few seconds, though this was supposed to be saved for the second day.
Gradually the student would progress, staying airborn for longer and longer amounts of time and going higher and higher into the atmoshpere. As the pilot flew higher into the sky above the clouds, strange happenings occured. The early flyers had no comprehension of air currents. Air pockets caused by changes in temperature in the atmoshpere (strong winds) could sieze the plane suddenly and carry it, and the pilot could do nothing with the ailerons or the engine.
In the middle of the Salisbury Plain training area there was a narrow, wooded cleft several miles from the Upavon Aerodrome known as the valley of death. Between 1909 and 1913 seven planes plummeted to their deaths their, seized on fine summer evenings by the wood's strange spiralling air currents and smashed to pices in the treetops. The place can still be visited today, unchanged since those times and curiously redolent of its victims' aura.
The following passage was written by an American student of the French School regarding the first day's training:
“When a student was first learning to crow-hop up and down a field, he'd take off, rise about ten or twenty feet and then bring the ship down almost flat, hardly peaking at all, by blipping the motor on and off. About four or five feet off the ground, the amateur eagle just let her drop ker-wham. The sound was the general effect of an earthquake in a hardware store, but the miracle was that the ship seemed to suffer no particular ill effects. A tire here or a couple of wires there would go, or perhaps a shock-absorber cord, but nothing happened to render the ship unfit for further use.”
The Type D was a two-bay biplane of conventional configuration, with equal-span, unstaggered wings. The fuselage was triangular in cross-section, and lateral control was provided by wing warping. The first of seven aircraft flew at Brooklands on 1 April 1911.
The Type Ds were used in a variety of roles by the Avro, mostly concerned with exploring the limits of what an aeroplane could do. In its first few weeks of existence, the prototype was used to make a number of attempts on aerial endurance records, as well as demonstrations for the Parliamentary Aerial Defence Committee.
One Type D was purchased by the Royal Navy and fitted with floats for trials from HMS Hermione. This aircraft became the first British seaplane when it took off on 18 November 1911. Type Ds were also used for air racing, the prototype participating in one such event very early in its career. Another example was specially built and modified to compete in the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain Race, but crashed before the event. Other Type Ds remained in service until 1914.
The Type D is notable in two respects. First, the prototype was at one point fitted with floats to make the first British take-off from water on November 18, 1911. Secondly, it was a biplane rather than A.V. Roe's previous triplane wing designs. It is believed that six examples of the Type D, with its triangular shape fuselage, were manufactured. They were all different, including one example with a 60hp engine that was intended to compete in the Daily Mail Air Race, but suffered a prior accident. The Avro Type D was the company's first successful and semi-production standard design.
The Avro Type E, Type 500, and Type 502 made up a family of early British military aircraft, regarded by Alliott Verdon Roe as his firm's first truly successful design.
The Type E biplane was designed in response to a War Office specification for a two-seat aircraft capable (amongst other things) of carrying a 350 lb (160 kg) payload with a total endurance of 4.5 hours. The Avro submission was based on the Avro Duigan design and was originally named "Military Biplane 1". It was a two-bay biplane with equal-span, unstaggered wings, and a boxy, rectangular-section fuselage. Lateral control was by wing warping.
During initial trials, it soon became apparent that while top speed and rate-of-climb were below the War Office specification, the aircraft excelled in every other way. The second prototype, however, first flew on 3 May 1912 and sufficiently impressed the War Office for them to buy the prototype and place an order for two more examples, which Roe now renamed the 500. The type proved an immediate success, and orders for another four machines plus five single-seat derivatives (designated 502 by Avro) soon followed. Other examples produced included six for the British Admiralty's Air Department, one presented to the government of Portugal (paid for by public subscription), one kept by Avro as a company demonstrator, and one bought by a private individual, J. Laurence Hall (commandeered by the War Office at the outbreak of World War I). The first prototype was destroyed in a crash on 29 June 1913 that killed its student pilot.
Avro 500s were flown by the British armed forces during the first years of the war, mostly as trainers. In service, most were fitted with ailerons and a revised rudder.
The Avro Type H, Type 501, and Type 503 were a family of early British military seaplanes. They were a development of the Avro 500 design and were originally conceived of as amphibious; the prototype being fitted with a single large main float (equipped with wheels) under the fuselage, and two outrigger floats under the wings. Tests were conducted on Lake Windermere in January 1913. It was later converted to twin-float configuration and bought by the British Admiralty. It now, however, proved too heavy and was converted again - this time to a landplane.
An improved version, designated the 503 was demonstrated for the Inspector of Naval Aircraft, who placed an order for three machines. The prototype itself was demonstrated for the German Navy in its seaplane trials in June 1913 and was purchased by the government of Imperial Germany for evaluation purposes. This machine subsequently became the first aircraft to fly across the North Sea, from Wilhelmshaven to Heligoland, in September 1913. Gotha purchased a licence from Avro and produced the type as the WD.1 (Wasser Doppeldecker - "Water Biplane"). Unlicenced copies were also built by Albatros, AGO, Friedrichshafen. Some WD.1s were provided to the Ottoman Empire following their withdrawal from German Navy service.
The Avro Type F was an early single seat British aircraft from Avro and the first aircraft in the world to feature a completely enclosed cabin.
It was a wire-braced mid-wing monoplane of conventional configuration with a tailskid undercarriage. The fuselage itself was teardrop-shaped with flat sides and "glazed" with celluloid windows around the cabin. Two circular windows at the pilot's head level could be opened for the pilot's head to protrude when flying under poor visibility. Ingress and egress was via a trapdoor in the fuselage top. The cabin was quite cramped - at its widest point only 2 ft (60 cm) across.
The Type F made a few test flights in mid 1912 until damaged beyond repair in a hard landing on 13 September after which it was not repaired. Its Viale 35 hp engine is on display at the Science Museum in London.
The Breguet Types III, IV, and V were a family of early biplanes built by Louis Breguet in France from 1910-1912.
They built on the basic pattern established in the design of the Type II, unorthodox biplanes with conical fuselages (that earned them the nickname "coffee pots" in France and "tin whistles" in England), cruciform tails, and tricycle undercarriage, but were somewhat larger and sturdier. A Type IV achieved fame in August 1910 as being the first aircraft to lift six people. This family also included the first machines that Breguet was able to sell to the French military, after arranging a series of demonstrations for the Army. In 1911, a Type III named Breguet du Maroc became the first heavier-than-air aircraft to fly in the French colonies, with Henri Brégi making a flight from Casablanca to Fes.
The Morane-Saulnier H was a sport aircraft produced in France in the years before the First World War, a single-seat derivative of the successful Morane-Saulnier G with a slightly reduced wingspan Like the Type G, it was a successful sporting type in its day.
During the second international aero meet, held at Wiener Neustadt in June 1913, Roland Garros won the precision landing prize in a Type H.
The French Army ordered a batch of 26 aircraft, and the British Royal Flying Corps also acquired a small number, these latter machines purchased from Grahame-White, who was manufacturing the type in the UK under licence. The French machines saw limited service in the opening stages of World War I, with pilots engaging in aerial combat using revolvers and carbines.
The type was also produced under licence in Germany by Pfalz Flugzeugwerke, who built it as the E.I, E.II, E.IV, E.V, and E.VI, with increasingly powerful engines. These were armed with a single, synchronised LMG 08/15 machine gun.
The S.E.1 (Santos Experimental) was an experimental aircraft built at the Army Balloon Factory at Farnborough (later the Royal Aircraft Factory) in 1911. Its place in aviation history is mainly that it was the first in the series of Royal Aircraft Factory designs - several of which played an important role in World War I.
In 1911 the Army Balloon Factory was not actually authorised to construct aircraft, but only to repair them. When the remains of a crashed Blériot XI monoplane belonging to the army were sent from Larkhill to Farnborough for repair, authorisation for a complete reconstruction was sought, and granted.
The result was a completely new design. A tractor monoplane became a pusher biplane with large balanced fore-elevators, similar in basic layout to the Wright Flyer, but with a fully covered fuselage. Ailerons were fitted to the top wing, and twin balanced rudders were mounted behind the propeller, but out of its immediate slipstream. The only obvious component of the Blériot that found its way into the new design was its 60 hp (45 kW) E.N.V. "F" engine.
The S.E.1 made its first flight, a straight mile in the hands of its designer Geoffrey de Havilland on 11 June 1911. Further fight testing revealed control problems and the area of the front wing/elevator was adjusted to try to bring together the center of pressure and the hinge line and make the S.E.1 stable in pitch. By the beginning of August the front surface was fixed and carried a conventional trailing edge elevator. An attempt to improve the turning characteristics was made by stripping the side covering of the nacelle to reduce side area. de Havilland continued to fly the S.E.1 until 16 August. On the 18 August the aircraft was flown by someone else for the first time; the rather inexperienced pilot Lt. Theodore J. Ridge, Assistant Superintendent at the factory (who had only been awarded his Pilot's certificate the day before, and was described as "an absolutely indifferent flyer". The combination of the inexperienced pilot and the marginally controllable aircraft proved fatal - the S.E.1 stalled in a turn and spun in, killing Ridge.
No attempt to rebuild the S.E.1 was made, and the design was apparently abandoned, with no attempt to develop it. The S.E.2 of 1913 was a completely different kind of aeroplane - a development of the B.S.1.
The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.1 was the first tractor biplane to be designed by Geoffrey de Havilland, and was the immediate predecessor of the B.E.2 and its variants, the mainstay of the early R.F.C.
In 1911 the newly renamed His Majesty's Aircraft Factory didn't have permission to design new aircraft. Its supervisor, Mervyn O'Gorman, got around this restriction by disguising new aircraft as repaired versions of older aircraft, first with the S.E.1, which was officially a slightly modified version of a damaged Blériot.
In May 1911 the Duke of Westminster donated an obsolete Voisin pusher to the War Office. This aircraft was soon badly damaged in a crash, and on 11 July was sent to the Aircraft Factory for repairs. On 1 August O'Gorman reported that the wings needed to be replaced and that the controls were unfamiliar. He was given permission to modify the aircraft so that it could be flown by anyone who was familiar with a Farman aircraft (another pusher).
O'Gorman's ruse can't have fooled many people. When the B.E.1 emerged later in the year the only thing it had in common with the original Voisin was its 60hp Wolseley engine. The "slightly modified" B.E.1 was a two-bay tractor biplane, with a fabric covered fuselage, an ear-shaped rudder and a large tailplane. The B.E.1 could carry a pilot and a passenger in its single two-seat cockpit, with the pilot at the rear and the passenger close to the centre of gravity.
The new aircraft had been designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. He was also the Factory's test pilot, and on 4 December 1911 he piloted the B.E.1 on its maiden flight.
At this date the Aircraft Factory gave a new number to each aircraft it produced, so the series of development aircraft that followed the B.E.1 were designated as the B.E.2 to B.E.7, despite being very similar to the original. This system changed when the aircraft was ordered into production, with each new model being distinguished by a suffix, starting with the B.E.2a.
The B.E.1 was the first Factory aircraft to have silencers in the exhaust pipes, and it quickly became known as the 'Silent Army Aeroplane'. The Factory continued to work on it for three months after its maiden flight, making a series of minor adjustments, before on 11 March 1912 it was handed over the Captain Burke of the Air Battalion. Three days later, on 14 March, the B.E.1 was given what is generally acknowledged as the first Certificate of Airworthiness.
The B.E.1 was returned to the Factory for repairs and modifications on a number of occasions. Its Wolseley engine was replaced by a Renault similar to the model used in the B.E.2. Fuselage decking was added ahead and behind the cockpit and it was given a standard B.E.2 tailplane. The aircraft didn't go to France in 1914, and eventually fades from view after a last mention in July 1916, when it had been rebuilt to resemble a B.E.2b and was being used by the Central Flying School (One could argue that this wasn't really the original B.E.1 any more, having had its fuselage, engine and wings replaced at least once).
Vickers received a contract from the Admiralty on November 19, 1912 for an experimental fighting biplane armed with a machine gun. Vickers investigated various configurations before deciding on placing the gunner in the extreme nose of the aircraft, in order to achieve a clear field of fire and avoid the still unsolved problem of firing a machiegun through the propeller's arc. Designated E.F.B. or Experimental Fighting Biplane 1 the aircraft was also known as the "Destroyer". Even though the prototype was unsuccessful; the Vickers E.F.B.1 was, if not the first, then one of the earliest dedicated fighter aircraft ever built.
The design choice required a fuselage nacelle carrying an 80 hp (60 kW) Wolseley Vee-eight-cylinder engine driving a pusher propeller mounted in the rear. The nacelle was built from steel tubing with a duralumin skin. This nacelle was mated with an unequal-span heavily-staggered biplane configuration. Wing warping was employed for lateral control. The airframe of the E.F.B.1 was primarily an all metal construction. The tail surfaces were carried by a pair of vertically disposed booms attached to the upper and lower rear wing spars on each side of the engine. The Vickers E.F.B.1 was armed with a single 7.7mm Maxim machine gun on a mount allowing a 60° range of elevation and lateral traverse.
Prior to its first flight, the E.F.B.1 was displayed at the Aero Show held at Olympia, London, in February 1913. The gun was fitted for the first flight test, made at Joyce Green, but this rendered the aircraft so nose-heavy that it briefly left the ground, then nosed down, struck the ground and turned over.
Following the loss of the E.F.B.1, Vickers undertook major redesign of its gun carrier while retaining the basic configuration to result in the E.F.B.2, again against an Admiralty contract. The E.F.B.2 eliminated the wing stagger of the previous aircraft and increased the span of the lower wing while retaining warping for lateral control. The fuselage nacelle was redesigned and large celluloid windows were inserted in its sides; the angular horizontal tail surfaces gave place to surfaces of elliptical form and a 100hp Gnome Monosoupape nine-cylinder rotary engine was fitted. The 7.7mm machine gun on a ball-and-socket mounting in the forward cockpit was retained, and the E.F.B.2 entered flight test at Bognor in the autumn of 1913, but crashed there during the course of October.
In December 1913, a third Vickers Experimental Fighting Biplane, the E.F.B.3, made its debut. The slight overhang of the top wing was eliminated to result in an equi-span biplane, the fuselage nacelle underwent further redesign, the celluloid windows being eliminated, and, most important, ailerons on both upper and lower wings supplanted the wing-warping control of its predecessors. The 100hp Gnome Monosoupape rotary was retained as was also the 7.7mm Vickers gun. Displayed at the Aero Show held at Olympia in 1914, the E.F.B.3. was the subject of an order from the Admiralty for six aircraft placed in December 1913. This contract was subsequently taken over by the War Office, the six aircraft embodying a number of modifications - at least one was fitted with an eight-cylinder Vee-type 80hp Wolseley engine - and being referred to as the Vickers No (or Type) 30. These were to lead in turn to the E.F.B.5 and F.B.5 Gunbus.