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Voisin 1907 biplane


Voisin 1907 biplane

Voisin 1907 biplane
Voisin-Farman I in the air (1-13-1908)
Role Experimental aircraft
National origin France
Manufacturer Frères Voisin
Designer Gabriel Voisin
First flight March 1907[1]
Introduction 1907
Number built ~60[2]

The 1907 Voisin biplane was the first successful powered aircraft designed by aeronautical engineer and manufacturer Gabriel Voisin. It was used by the French aviator Henri Farman[note 1] to make the first heavier-than-air flight lasting more than a minute in Europe, and also to make the first full circle.[3] His aircraft, designated by Jane as Voisin II,[4] became known as the Farman I or Voisin-Farman No. 1, and modifications made to it were incorporated into later production aircraft built by Voisin. The type enjoyed widespread success, and around sixty were built.


Between 1904 and 1908 there was fierce competition between European aviation experimenters in their attempts to achieve powered heavier-than-air flight. Although the Wright Brothers had first flown a powered aircraft in 1903, and by the end of 1905 had flown their Flyer III many times (including a flight of 24 miles (39 km) in 39 minutes 23 seconds on 5 October,[5] they had chosen not to make public demonstrations or allow close examination of their aircraft because they feared that this might jeopardize their prospects of commercially exploiting their discoveries. As a result many people did not believe the claims of the Wright Brothers until Wilbur Wright's demonstrations at Le Mans in France during August 1908, when their advance in airplane control was obviously apparent[6]

After assisting Ernest Archdeacon with his gliding experiments in 1904 Gabriel Voisin briefly entered a partnership with Louis Blériot in 1905.[7] After the failure of their second aircraft, the Bleriot IV, the partnership was dissolved in November 1906.

At this time Alberto Santos-Dumont had made Europe's first officially recognised heavier-than-air powered flights using his 14-bis aircraft,[8] witnessed by officials from the Aero Club de France. Despite this success, the 14-bis design had no potential for development, and was only flown on 12 November 1906, in a second trial, and on 4 April 1907 before being wrecked.[8]


After parting from Blériot, Gabriel Voisin set up his own aircraft construction company, Les Frères Voisin, in partnership with his brother Charles. The first powered aircraft of their own design was built for Henry Kapferer, Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe's nephew. It was completed in March 1907 but never flew.[3] Kapferer had insisted on a Buchet gasoline engine which developed only 20 horsepower, and this proved inadequate to achieve flight.[9]

At the same time, the Voisin brothers and their draughtsman Maurice Colliex[10] were building a similar aircraft, which had been ordered by the artist Léon Delagrange. This was a pusher configuration two-bay biplane with a biplane elevator in front of the wings on the end of a short nacelle and a boxkite-like empennage with three vertical surfaces each carrying a trailing-edge rudder carried on booms behind the wings. There was no provision for lateral control: instead, the wings were rigged with a slight dihedral[11] in order to achieve a degree of inherent lateral stability. The undercarriage consisted of a pair of wheels on v-struts under the trailing edge of the wings and a single nosewheel mounted under the front of the nacelle. It was powered by a 50 hp V8 Antoinette[8] gasoline engine.[12]

An attempt to fly this aircraft was made by Gabriel Voisin on 20 February 1907, but it suffered a structural failure on lifting off. After repairs a second attempt was made on 16 March: this ended in a crash caused by the engine torque driving the left-hand wing onto the ground. This was overcome by adding 2 kg (4.4 lb) ballast to the right wing. Thus modified, a successful flight of 200 m (660 ft) was made by Delagrange on 30 March.[13] A second machine, identical apart from slight changes to he undercarriage was ordered by Henry Farman in July and first flew on 30 September 1907.[8][14] The first became known as the Voisin-Delagrange I and the latter as the Voisin-Farman,[3] since the Voisin brothers had decided that the aircraft they built would bear the name of their owner prominently placed on the tail surfaces, "Voisin Freres" appearing underneath in much smaller lettering. This practise is a source of confusion to historians and was also to lead to considerable resentment on Gabriel Voisin's part,[15] since the focus of attention was often on the pilots rather than those who were responsible for the design of the aircraft. The idea behind doing this had been that people would be more ready to buy aircraft if the glory of flying them went to the customer rather than the constructor: the device succeeded only too well as far as Voisin was concerned.

Farman's early achievements

Henry Farman made a series of about 20 short straight flights at Issy-les-Moulineaux between 30 September and 23 November 1907, and on 13 January 1908 he became famous for winning the Deutsch de la Meurthe-Archdeacon Grand Prix de l'Aviation for being the first European aviator to complete an officially observed 1 kilometre closed circuit flight, including taking off and landing under the aircraft's own power. More lengthy flights followed in competition with Delagrange, each attempting to outdo the other.[16] During its history the aircraft was modified considerably: the biplane elevator was replaced by a monoplane arrangement, the nacelle was covered, the nosewheel was removed and a pair of small wheels added at the aft end of the booms carrying the empennage, the distinctive 'side curtains' that were to become characteristic of subsequent Voisin aircraft were added and the gap between the wings increased. At some stage in this process the aircraft came to be known as the Farman I-bis Farman's last modification was to fit a third, shorter wing, in which form it is referred to as the Henry Farman Triplane.[8]

Farman finally ended his collaboration with Voisin Freres after an argument over an aircraft they had built to his specifications and then sold to John Moore-Brabazon, who took it to England. Farman decided to build aircraft himself,[8] the first of which was the Farman III.[17]

Roll control

Prior to Wilbur Wright's August 1908 flying demonstrations in France, the Voisins and most other European experimenters had produced airplanes with only elevator and rudder and no direct roll control[8] ), a result of concentrating on attempts to design aircraft that were inherently stable in roll.[8][10] As such it was not easy to bank the aircraft, making it difficult to carry out controlled turns.[8] When Farman made his full-circle flight in January 1908 he had only rudder control, and made long, flat turns with the wings remaining nearly parallel to the ground.[18][19] Gabriel Voisin who was present gives a different account, in Revue Aeronautique Trimestrielle des Vieilles Tiges, reporting that it involved fairly steep banking [20] and that it was Farman's experience in bicycle racing around steeply banked velodromes that gave him the courage to do the same in his aircraft.

In August 1908 Wilbur Wright demonstrated the importance of coordinated use of yaw (rudder) and roll (wing twisting) control for making non-slipped turns during his first flights in France at Le Mans. Voisin choose not to follow this path and did not add direct roll control[note 2] onto his 1908 airplane. Consequently, when the world's first air meeting was held at Reims in August 1909, the Voisin biplanes were the only participating aircraft that lacked direct roll control[21] thus demanding pilots trained to induced roll (by rudder input). Although the best-represented type at the event, the Voisin biplanes achieved little success at the meeting, where the most successful aviator was Henri Farman, who had added "ailerons" to the wings of his biplane by October 1908. Subsequent Voisin designs, such as the Voisin Type de Course of 1910 and the Voisin Canard incorporated ailerons.

Production aircraft

The final form of Farman's aircraft, but without ailerons, was the basis of production aircraft built by Voisin Freres starting in late 1908, and around sixty were eventually built. A variety of engines could be fitted according to the wishes of the buyer. Among these were the aircraft in which Captain Ferber was killed, J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon's "Bird of Passage" and the Gnome-engined example flown by Louis Paulhan


Data from Opdycke 1999, p.264

General characteristics
  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 13.45 m (44 ft 2 in)
  • Wingspan: [convert: invalid number]
  • Wing area: 42 m2 (450 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 320 kg (705 lb)
  • Gross weight: 550 kg (1,213 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Antoinette V8 water-cooled, 37 kW (50 hp)





  • Gibbs-Smith, C.H. The Rebirth of European Aviation London: HMSO, 1974 ISBN 0-11-290180-8
  • Hallion, Richard P. Taking Flight. New York: O.U.P, 2003 ISBN 0-19-516035-5
  • Opdycke, L. French Aeroplanes Before the Great War Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 1999. ISBN 0-7643-0752-5
  • Sharpe, Michael Biplanes, Triplanes, and Seaplanes London: Friedman/Fairfax Books 2000 ISBN 1-58663-300-7
  • Taylor M.J.H. Jane's Encyclopedia of Aviation London: Studio Editions, 1989 p. 884
  • Vivian, E.C. and Lockwood, W.L. History of Aeronautics London: Collins, 1921 p. 313–14

Further reading

  • Gabriel Voisin, Men, Women and 10,000 Kites, London: Putnam, 1963. Originally, Mes 10.000 Cerfs-volants, 1960, Editions de la Table Ronde, Paris.
  • Gabriel Voisin, "Henry Farman" in "Pionniers", Revue Aeronautique des Vieilles Tiges, No 7, page 13, January 1966.

External links

  • Footage of aircraft labeled "Henri Farman No. 1", at Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, in 1908.

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