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A History of Aeronautics by Marsh and Vivian

At the opening of the Juvisy aero aerodrome in May of 1909


Santos-Dumont

produced the famous 'Demoiselle' monoplane early in 1909, a tiny machine in which the pilot had his seat in a sort of miniature cage under the main plane. It was a very fast, light little machine but was difficult to fly, and owing to its small wingspread was unable to glide at a reasonably safe angle. There has probably never been a cheaper flying machine to build than the 'Demoiselle,' which could be so upset as to seem completely wrecked, and then repaired ready for further flight by a couple of hours' work. Santos-Dumont retained no patent in the design, but gave it out freely to any one who chose to build 'Demoiselles'; the vogue of the pattern was brief, owing to the difficulty of piloting the machine.

These were the years of records, broken almost as soon as made. There was Farman's mile, there was the flight of the Comte de Lambert over the Eiffel Tower, Latham's flight at Blackpool in a high wind, the Rheims records, and then Henry Farman's flight of four hours later in 1909, Orville Wright's height record of 1,640 feet, and Delagrange's speed record of 49.9 miles per hour. The coming to fame of the Gnome rotary engine helped in the making of these records to a very great extent, for in this engine was a prime mover which gave the reliability that aeroplane builders and pilots had been searching for, but vainly. The Wrights and Glenn Curtiss, of course, had their own designs of engine, but the Gnome, in spite of its lack of economy in

fuel and oil, and its high cost, soon came to be regarded as the best power plant for flight.

Delagrange, one of the very good pilots of the early days, provided a curious insight to the way in which flying was regarded, at the opening of the Juvisy aero aerodrome in May of 1909. A huge crowd had gathered for the first day's flying, and nine machines were announced to appear, but only three were brought out. Delagrange made what was considered an indifferent little flight, and another pilot, one De Bischoff, attempted to rise, but could not get his machine off the ground. Thereupon the crowd of 30,000 people lost their tempers, broke down the barriers surrounding the flying course, and hissed the officials, who were quite unable to maintain order. Delagrange, however, saved the situation by making a circuit of the course at a height of thirty feet from the ground, which won him rounds of cheering and restored the crowd to good humour. Possibly the smash achieved by Rougier, the famous racing motorist, who crashed his Voisin biplane after Delagrange had made his circuit, completed the enjoyment of the spectators. Delagrange, flying at Argentan in June of 1909, made a flight of four kilometres at a height of sixty feet; for those days this was a noteworthy performance. Contemporary with this was Hubert Latham's flight of an hour and seven minutes on an Antoinette monoplane; this won the adjective 'magnificent' from contemporary recorders of aviation.

Viewing the work of the little group of French experimenters, it is, at this length of time from their exploits, difficult to see why they carried the art as far as they did. There was in it little of satisfaction, a certain measure of fame, and practically no profit--the giants of those days got very little for their pains. Delagrange's experience at the opening of the Juvisy ground was symptomatic of the way in which flight was regarded by the great mass of people--it was a sport, and nothing more, but a sport without the dividends attaching to professional football or horse-racing. For a brief period, after the Rheims meeting, there was a golden harvest to be reaped by the best of the pilots. Henry Farman asked L2,000 for a week's exhibition flying in England, and Paulhan asked half that sum, but a rapid increase in the number of capable pilots, together with the fact that most flying meetings were financial failures, owing to great expense in organisation and the doubtful factor of the weather, killed this goose before many golden eggs had been gathered in by the star aviators. Besides, as height and distance records were broken one after another, it became less and less necessary to pay for entrance to an aerodrome in order to see a flight--the thing grew too big for a mere sports ground.


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