Riding in a New-Fangled Flying Machine

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Just 100 and a few years ago, a ride in one of the new-fangled flying machines was a rare experience. Lanark is a town in south central Scotland and was the site of the first “Aviation Meeting” in Scotland in August, 1910. At the meet the planes were accurately timed over a straight, 1.6 km (about 1 mile) course, the first time such measurements had been attempted.

Attending the meet was a reporter from the London Times who “was invited by Mr. Grace (Cecil Stanley Grace, 1880–1910, who disappeared on a flight from Calais across the English Channel to Dover), to share his ascent in a Farman biplane.” The un-named reporter wrote the following account of such a ride that was published in the December 1910 issue of Gas Power magazine:

“The first wind register showed the velocity to be from 25 to 30 MPH, but toward 1:30 it dropped to 18 to 22. The competition for this period was weight-carrying, each machine to carry 350 pounds. By virtue of my weight of 14 stone (196 pounds) I was invited by Mr. Grace to share his adventure in a wind that warned off all other competitors.

“The worst part of such a journey for the novice is the waiting to start. But once the propeller starts to whirl behind you all other thoughts beyond exhilaration of rapid motion vanish. You have gripped the struts thinking that you will have to hold on like grim death, but you soon find this is not necessary.  The machine moves along the ground at as extraordinary pace, and I only knew that it was actually flying when I saw the elevating plane change from the horizontal.

“Of the motion of flight it is difficult to speak clearly. Even in the high wind that Mr. Grace was now climbing, it was not more than the sensation of a beautifully balanced motor-car. The earth seemed to be racing away from under us, and in a flash we were level with the first pylon and the judge’s box.

“The machine was now up to 150 feet and I became engrossed in Mr. Grace’s method in flying. His attention was glued to his elevating plane, with just momentary glances out of his eye to judge the distance by which he had to shun each pylon in its turn. We were crossing fields and water. I could observe the gates, the wire fences, and a man bathing in the water. Then we went round into the wind and our pace immediately slackened, while Mr. Grace was working to keep his machine in the air. As we crossed a road we were going so slowly that I could observe the direction of the hoof marks of a horse that had recently passed. Here all observation ceased as Mr. Grace was now battling with the wind. We had only 500 yards to traverse to cross the winning line, but the dead weight against the wind was bringing the machine down. Then here came a gust heavier than them all that lifted the machine just up the amount required to cross the line and we came gently to earth.

“It had been only a four minutes’ ride, but it was certainly the most delightful ride that I had ever experienced. The only way that I can describe the general sensation is that of exquisite motion.”

I had not heard of a Farman airplane so I did some research. Henry Farman was born in 1874 in Paris to an English father and French mother. His family had money and he was able to indulge his fascination with bicycle and auto racing, and then airplanes. Farman bought his first plane, a Voison, in 1907 and modified it extensively. Soon, Voison was building aircraft to Farman’s specifications, but they had a disagreement in 1909 and Farman, with two of his brothers, started their own aircraft factory.

Farman built both civilian and military aircraft until 1944, when the firm was absorbed by another French plane maker. The Farman Brothers also began building luxury automobiles after World War I and their cars were praised by the motoring press, although the high cost put them out of the reach of all but very wealthy buyers. The Great Depression put an end to the car venture in 1931, after only about 120 Farman vehicles had been built from 1919 until then.

– Sam Moore

French aviator, Louis Paulhan, in 1910 in a Farman III aircraft. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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