CHAPTER XXIX. Henri Farman and the Voisin Biplane

The coming of the motor engine made events move rapidly in the world of aviation. About the year 1906 people's attention was drawn to France, where Santos Dumont was carrying out the wonderful experiments which we have already described. Then came Henri Farman, who piloted the famous biplane built by the Voisin brothers in 1907; an aeroplane destined to bring world-wide renown to its clever constructors and its equally clever and daring pilot.

There were notable points of distinction between the Voisin biplane and that built by the Wrights. The latter, as we have seen, had two propellers; the former only one. The launching skids of the Wright biplane gave place to wheels on Farman's machine. One great advantage, however, possessed by the early Wright biplane over its French rivals, was in its greater general efficiency. The power of the engine was only about one-half of the power required in certain of the French designs. This was chiefly due to the use of the launching rail, for it needed much greater motor power to make a machine rise from the ground by its own motor engine than when it received a starting lift from a falling weight. Even in our modern aeroplanes less engine power is required to drive the craft through the air than to start from the ground.

Farman achieved great fame through his early flights, and, on 13th January, 1908, at the flying ground at Issy, in France, he won the prize of L2000, offered by MM. Deutsch and Archdeacon to the first aviator who flew a circular kilometre. In July of the same year he won another substantial prize given by a French engineer, M. Armengaud, to the first pilot who remained aloft for a quarter of an hour.

Probably an even greater performance was the cross-country flight made by Farman about three months later. In the flight he passed over hills, valleys, rivers, villages, and woods on his journey from Chalons to Rheims, which he accomplished in twenty minutes.

In the early models of the Voisin machine there were fitted between the two main planes a number of vertical planes, as shown clearly in the illustration facing p. 160. It was thought that these planes would increase the stability of the machine, independent of the skill of the operator, and in calm weather they were highly effective. Their great drawback, however, was that when a strong side wind caught them the machine was blown out of its course.

Subsequently Farman considerably modified the early-type Voisin biplane, as shown by the illustration facing p. 160. The vertical planes were dispensed with, and thus the idea of automatic stability was abandoned.

But an even greater distinction between the Farman biplane and that designed by the Wrights was in the adoption of a system of small movable planes, called AILERONS, fixed at extremities of the main planes, instead of the warping controls which we have already described. The ailerons, which are adapted to many of our modern aeroplanes, are really balancing flaps, actuated by a control lever at the right side of the pilot's seat, and the principle on which they are worked is very similar to that employed in the warp system of lateral stability.