Voisin-Farman I
The 1907 Voisin biplane was the first successful powered aircraft designed by aeronautical engineer and manufacturer Gabriel Voisin
Gabriel Voisin
Gabriel Voisin was an aviation pioneer and the creator of Europe's first manned, engine-powered, heavier-than-air aircraft capable of a sustained , circular, controlled flight, including take-off and landing. It was flown by Henry Farman on January 13, 1908 near Paris, France...

. It was used by the French aviator Henri FarmanBorn in France to British parents, Henry Farman took French nationality in 1937 to make the first heavier-than-air flight lasting
more than a minute in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, and also to make the first full circle.
His aircraft, designated by Jane
Fred T. Jane
John Fredrick Thomas Jane was the founding editor of reference books on warships and aircraft . He also once kidnapped Victor Grayson MP in a political stunt....

 as Voisin II, 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 make powered heavier-than-air flights. Although the Wright Brothers had first flown in 1903 and by the end of 1905 had flown their Flyer III many times (including a flight of 24 miles (38.6 km) in 39 minutes 23 seconds on 5 October, they had chosen not to make public demonstrations or allow close examination of their aircraft because they feared that this might jepordise 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
Le Mans
Le Mans is a city in France, located on the Sarthe River. Traditionally the capital of the province of Maine, it is now the capital of the Sarthe department and the seat of the Roman Catholic diocese of Le Mans. Le Mans is a part of the Pays de la Loire region.Its inhabitants are called Manceaux...

 in France during August 1908, when their advance in airplane control was obviously apparent

After assisting Ernest Archdeacon
Ernest Archdeacon
Ernest Archdeacon , was a prominent French lawyer of Irish descent who was associated with pioneering aviation in France before the First World War. He made his first balloon flight at the age of 20. He commissioned a copy of the 1902 Wright No. 3 glider but had only limited success...

 with his gliding experiments in 1904 Gabriel Voisin briefly entered a partnership with Louis Blériot
Louis Blériot
Louis Charles Joseph Blériot was a French aviator, inventor and engineer. In 1909 he completed the first flight across a large body of water in a heavier-than-air craft, when he crossed the English Channel. For this achievement, he received a prize of £1,000...

 in 1905. After the failure of their second aircraft, the Bleriot IV, the partnership was dissolved in November 1906.

At this time Alberto Santos-Dumont
Alberto Santos-Dumont
Alberto Santos-Dumont , was a Brazilian early pioneer of aviation. The heir of a wealthy family of coffee producers, Santos Dumont dedicated himself to science studies in Paris, France, where he spent most of his adult life....

 had made Europe's first officially recognised heavier-than-air powered flights using his 14-bis
Santos-Dumont 14-bis
The 14-bis , also known as , was a pioneer-era canard biplane designed and built by Brazilian inventor Alberto Santos-Dumont...

 aircraft, 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 once more on 4 April 1907 before being wrecked.


Gabriel Voisin set up his own aircraft construction company, Les Fréres 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
Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe
Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe was a successful French petroleum businessman and an avid supporter of early aviation...

's nephew. It was completed in March 1907 but never flew. Kapferer had insisted on a Buchet gasoline engine which developed only 20 horsepower, and this proved inadequate to acheive flight.
At the same time the Voisin brothers and their draughtsman Maurice Colliex, were building a similar aircraft, which had been ordered by the artist Léon Delagrange. This was a pusher configuration
Pusher configuration
In a craft with a pusher configuration the propeller are mounted behind their respective engine. According to Bill Gunston, a "pusher propeller" is one mounted behind engine so that drive shaft is in compression...

 two bay biplane with a biplane elevator in front of the wings on the end of a short nacelle
The nacelle is a cover housing that holds engines, fuel, or equipment on an aircraft. In some cases—for instance in the typical "Farman" type "pusher" aircraft, or the World War II-era P-38 Lightning—an aircraft's cockpit may also be housed in a nacelle, which essentially fills the...

 and a boxkite-like empennage
The empennage , also known as the tail or tail assembly, of most aircraft gives stability to the aircraft, in a similar way to the feathers on an arrow...

 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 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 gasoline engine. 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 (656.2 ft) was made by Delagrange on 30 March. A second, identical machine was ordered by Henry Farman
Henry Farman
Henri Farman Henri Farman Henri Farman (26 May 1874 – 17 July 1958 was a French pilot, aviator and aircraft designer and manufacturer with his brother Maurice Farman. His family was British and he took French nationality in 1937.-Biography:...

 in July and first flew on 30 September 1907. The first became known as the Voisin-Delagrange I and the latter as theVoisin-Farman , 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, 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 to well as far as Voisin was concerned.

Farman's early achievements

Henry Farman flew his machine on a series of some 20 short straight flights at Issy-les-Moulineaux
Issy-les-Moulineaux is a commune in the southwestern suburban area of Paris, France. It is located from the centre of Paris. On 1 January 2003, Issy-les-Moulineaux became part of the Communauté d'agglomération Arc de Seine along with the other communes of Chaville, Meudon, Vanves and Ville-d'Avray...

, between 30 September and 23 November 1907. On 13 January 1908 he became famous for becoming he first European aviator to complete a 1 kilometre closed circuit flight, including taking off and landing under its own power, conversely to the Wright Flyer III that lacked a landing gear. More lengthy flights followed in in competition with Delagrange, each attempting to outdo the other. Later on, Voisin and Farman modified the aircraft considerably, changing the biplane elevator for a mononplane arrangement, covering the nacelle, removing the nosewheel and adding a pair of small wheels at the aft end of the booms carrying the empennage
The empennage , also known as the tail or tail assembly, of most aircraft gives stability to the aircraft, in a similar way to the feathers on an arrow...

, and adding the distinctive 'side curtains' that were to become characteristic of subsequent Voisin aircraft. and finally ended the cooperation with Voisin, after an argument over an aircraft they had built to his specifications and then sold to John Moore-Brabazon
John Moore-Brabazon, 1st Baron Brabazon of Tara
John Theodore Cuthbert Moore-Brabazon, 1st Baron Brabazon of Tara, GBE, MC, PC was an English aviation pioneer and Conservative politician...

, who took it to England. Farman decided to build his designs himself, the first of which was the Farman III
Farman III
|-See also:-Bibliography:*Opdycke, Leonard E French Aeroplanes Before the Great War Atglen, PA: Schiffer 1999 ISBN 0 7643 0752 5-External links:**...


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 ), a result of concentrating on attempts to design aircraft that were inherently stable in roll. As such it was not easy to bank the aircraft, making it difficult to carry out controlled turns. 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. (Gabriel Voisin gives a different account, saying that it involved fairly steep banking, and that Farman's experience in bicycle racing around steeply banked velodrome
A velodrome is an arena for track cycling. Modern velodromes feature steeply banked oval tracks, consisting of two 180-degree circular bends connected by two straights...

s 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 onto his 1908 airplane. Consequently, when the world's first air meeting was held at Reims, France, in August 1909, Voisin biplanes were the only participating aircraft that lacked direct roll control thus demanding pilots trained to induced roll (by rudder input).

Farman's had added what he called "aileron
Ailerons are hinged flight control surfaces attached to the trailing edge of the wing of a fixed-wing aircraft. The ailerons are used to control the aircraft in roll, which results in a change in heading due to the tilting of the lift vector...

s" to wings of his biplane by October 1908. On October 30, 1908, he flew his modified aircraft nonstop over 27 km (16.8 mi) in 20 minutes between the towns of Bouy and Reims
Reims , a city in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, lies east-northeast of Paris. Founded by the Gauls, it became a major city during the period of the Roman Empire....

 in eastern France.

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
Louis Paulhan
Isidore Auguste Marie Louis Paulhan, known as Louis Paulhan, was a pioneering French aviator who in 1910 flew "Le Canard", the world's first seaplane, designed by Henri Fabre....


Further reading

  • Gabriel Voisin, Men, Women and 10,00 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, January 1966.

External links

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