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A History of Aeronautics by Marsh and Vivian

The public loved most Lefebvre


and caused it to catch fire. Bleriot himself was badly burned, since the petrol tank burst and, in the end, only the metal parts of the machine were left. Glenn Curtis tried to beat Bleriot's time for a lap of the course, but failed. In the evening, Farman and Latham went out and up in great circles, Farman cleaving his way upward in what at the time counted for a huge machine, on circles of about a mile diameter. His first round took him level with the top of the stands, and, in his second, he circled the captive balloon anchored in the middle of the grounds. After another circle, he came down on a long glide, when Latham's lean Antoinette monoplane went up in circles more graceful than those of Farman. 'Swiftly it rose and swept round close to the balloon, veered round to the hangars, and out over to the Rheims road. Back it came high over the stands, the people craning their necks as the shrill cry of the engine drew nearer and nearer behind the stands. Then of a sudden, the little form appeared away up in the deep twilight blue vault of the sky, heading straight as an arrow for the anchored balloon. Over it, and high, high above it went the Antoinette, seemingly higher by many feet than the Farman machine. Then, wheeling in a long sweep to the left, Latham steered his machine round past the stands, where the people, their nerve-tension released on seeing the machine descending from its perilous height of 500 feet, shouted their frenzied acclamations to the hero of the meeting.

'For certainly "Le Tham," as the French call him, was the popular hero. He always flew high, he always flew well, and his machine was a joy to the eye, either afar off or at close quarters. The public feeling for Bleriot is different. Bleriot, in the popular estimation, is the man who fights against odds, who meets the adverse fates calmly and with good courage, and to whom good luck comes once in a while as a reward for much labour and anguish, bodily and mental. Latham is the darling of the Gods, to whom Fate has only been unkind in the matter of the Channel flight, and only then because the honour belonged to Bleriot.

'Next to these two, the public loved most Lefebvre, the joyous, the gymnastic. Lefebvre was the comedian of the meeting. When things began to flag, the gay little Lefebvre would trot out to his starting rail, out at the back of the judge's enclosure opposite the stands, and after a little twisting of propellers his Wright machine would bounce off the end of its starting rail and proceed to do the most marvellous tricks for the benefit of the crowd, wheeling to right and left, darting up and down, now flying over a troop of the cavalry who kept the plain clear of people and sending their horses into hysterics, anon making straight for an unfortunate photographer who would throw himself and his precious camera flat on the ground to escape annihilation as Lefebvre swept over him 6 or 7 feet off the ground. Lefebvre was great fun, and when he had once found that his machine was not fast enough to compete for speed with the Bleriots, Antoinettes, and Curtiss, he kept to his metier of amusing people. The promoters of the meeting owe Lefebvre a debt of gratitude, for he provided just the necessary comic relief.'--(The Aero, September 7th, 1909.)

It may be noted, in connection with the fact that Cockburn was the only English competitor at the meeting, that the Rheims Meeting did more than anything which had preceded it to waken British interest in aviation. Previously, heavier-than-air flight in England had been regarded as a freak business by the great majority, and the very few pioneers who persevered toward winning England a share in the conquest of the air came in for as much derision as acclamation. Rheims altered this; it taught the world in general, and England in particular, that a serious rival to the dirigible balloon had come to being, and it awakened the thinking portion of the British public to the fact that the aeroplane had a future.


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