H.King Aeromarine Origins (Putnam)
Gabriel Voisin provides yet another link in this chapter through his friendship with Henri Fabre, the first man to leave the water in a powered 'seaplane' (a term coined by Winston Churchill).
'Fabre,' Gabriel recollected, 'who was living in Marseilles, was our friend. He often came to Paris and our discussions were always about flying machines. He was building a hydro-aeroplane - a seaplane, as the type was later called close to the Berre lake. It can be seen in the French Musee de l'Air at Chalais-Meudon. It is an admirable machine, designed with the greatest care and made like a masterpiece.'
Another distinction for a predecessor of this astonishing machine is that it appears to have been, or to have been intended as, the world's first four-engined heavier-than-air craft. An October 1909 report (which also alludes to two floats) bears witness:
'M. Henri Fabre has completed at Marseilles, and hopes to try shortly, a new combination hydro-aeroplane. The machine is of the tandem monoplane type, and mounted on two air chambers, so that it can start from and, if necessary, skim along the surface of the water. It is fitted with four 12-h.p. two-cylinder Anzani motors.'
Having, it seems, tried hydrofoils and abandoned them because they picked up weeds and other floating debris, Fabre invented a type of float - flat-bottomed, and having a curved upper surface - with which his name was thereafter to be associated. He arranged three of these under a tail-first apparatus, one at the forward end and two aft, under the wing. The same disposition of planing surfaces had been tank-tested by Britain's great naval architect William Froude during the early 1870s.
A contemporary description of the Fabre floats ran as follows:
'These particular floats are so designed that when the machine is moving either through the air or on the surface of the water, or with the floats completely submerged, there is always a vertical lift on them due to the speed. When a hydroplane is travelling over a rough sea, if its speed is sufficiently high and the waves large enough, there will come a moment when the forward part will be submerged in a wave into which at that moment the main body is just entering; that is to say, in spite of the vertical lifting effect due to the buoyancy of the float, there is also a contrary vertical force acting on its upper surface, which tends to cause such portion to dip, and the whole of the hull to pass under water. When this vertical downward thrust is greater than the upward thrust, a wreck would almost inevitably result, and the aim of the present invention is to prevent this.' .
It will have been gathered that Fabre's approach to the problem of getting clear of the water was as much marine as otherwise, and it was said of his machine that it was 'more hydroplane than aeroplane'. It might even be suggested, in our aeromarine context, that it was as much a sailing craft as a hydroplane, for the wings were covered with 'simili-silk', such as was used for light boats, and when the craft was on the water this covering could be clewed up to prevent damage by sudden gusts. The general effect was that of a boat under bare poles. And yet the airframe appeared so heavy, and the floats so small, that it seemed remarkable that it would float - far less fly.
Mr E. Holt-Thomas sagaciously expressed himself in June 1912:
'It has always seemed to me that too little attention has been paid to the flying part of the hydro-aeroplane machine, i.e., to the planes of the waterplane. What I mean is this; no matter how good the floats may be, an efficient waterplane can only be evolved by using an efficient aeroplane. The floats should be regarded as a landing chassis and a landing chassis only... I have known Monsieur Fabre for a very long time, and we have often discussed his early experiments at Marseilles ... he was quite convinced that he must evolve an extraordinary machine to get over the holding power of the water; whilst I was convinced, and I think events prove me right, that if he had taken a very efficient biplane and attached floats to it, he would have flown successfully two years ago.'
'Successfully,' of course, was a relative word; but, while paying due attention to the views of Mr Holt-Thomas, I nevertheless affirm that Monsieur Fabre had indeed flown successfully two years earlier - that the world's first flight by a powered aircraft from water was, in fact, made by him at Martigues on March 28, 1910, and that he was airborne at a height of about six feet for a distance of some five hundred yards. This historic take-off was Monsieur Fabre's first aerial experience of any kind.
Even during the following year, 1911, the Fabre machine continued to be regarded as a phenomenon. I quote from The Yachting World:
April I2 - 'There was an alarming incident at Monaco this morning, M. Fabre, the owner of the aero-hydroplane Goeland, nearly losing his life. Goeland is a novel kind of machine.... It is driven by a Gnome engine, and the inventor's idea is that, after skimming for a certain distance on the surface of the water, the plane should gradually rise up into the air. It has caused one of the competitors to remark that he thought of carrying a punt-gun mounted vertically on his craft in case the long-legged monstrosity looked like hopping over him and securing the prize. [Previously it had been suggested that the craft would compete as a motor boat, rigged so that it could not fly.]
'Since the weather conditions seemed perfect and the sea was quite smooth, M. Fabre determined on a trial run. The machine crossed the harbour in perfect style, skimming along the surface; nearing the harbour mouth, it rose up into the air to a height of about 30 yards, and soared along beautifully, greatly admired by thousands of spectators. As soon as it cleared the harbour, however, and encountered the full force of the wind outside, the machine became unmanageable and to the horror of the onlookers was swept along at a terrific pace towards the rocks and stone walls below the terraces. Fortunately, M. Fabre, with great presence of mind, managed to throw himself clear of the machine into the sea, and was promptly picked up, none the worse for his startling experience.'
There is now evidence that the pilot on this occasion was Jean Becue.
L.Opdyke French Aeroplanes Before the Great War (Schiffer)
Deleted by request of (c)Schiffer Publishing
Flight, June 4, 1910
ON the 19th ult., M. Fabre conducted some experiments with his hydro-aeroplane over Mede Bay, close to Martigues, and they were watched by M. Louis Paulhan. After attaining a speed of 55 kiloms. an hour, the machine rose from the water to a height of 2 metres, and continued flying for about 500 metres. It then suddenly dived at a sharp angle, and the sudden shock of landing on the top of the water damaged one of the wings and one of the floats.
Flight, August 13, 1910
Fabre Hydro-aeroplane Out.
THREE trials were made with the Fabre hydro-aeroplane, illustrated in these pages a few weeks ago, on Tuesday week. Two of them were successful, but the third was brought to a premature conclusion through one of the floats breaking. This brought the propeller in contact with the water and the shock caused the aviator to be thrown from his seat to the water, and several parts of the machine gave way. However, the damage was not very extensive and will be quickly repaired.
Flight, September 24, 1910
Fabre Hydro-Aeroplane Flies.
LAST Saturday the Fabre hydro-aeroplane was given another trial at Martignie, and, piloted by Marius Burdin, it rose in the air to a height of between 5 and 6 metres and traversed a distance of a little more than 3 kiloms.
Flight, January 18, 1913.
By V. E. JOHNSON, M.A.
Later on, in France in 1905, Archdeacon and Bleriot made, with Gabriel Voisin, experiments with hydro-aeroplanes, towed by a rapid motor boat. One of the earliest motored aeroplanes constructed by Bleriot was mounted on floats, and experiments were made with it on Lake Enghien; he was not, however, able to rise from the water, this method of launching requiring too much motive power. It was Henri Fabre who constructed the first successful machine (see Fig. 3), and it rose from the water for the first time on May 21st, 1910, in the Bay of Martigues, near Marseilles, when it made a flight of 500 metres at a height of about two metres above the water. The machine used was a type of Canard monoplane, with wings carried on a specially constructed girder and the surfacing was so arranged that it could be "clewed up" in order that less surface should be offered to the wind when floating on the water.