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
Henri Fabre was born in 1882 to a family of wealthy ship-owners, and through his observation of birds and a small helicopter toy was early attracted to the idea of mechanical flight. His father had objected to his studies, which seemed at the time a waste of effort and money, but after the boy had graduated from school he was free to do as he liked. He modified a small steamboat; and then, thinking a crash would be safer on water than land, planned and built a seaplane which he tested on the calm waters of the Etang de Berre, near Marseille, to measure wind speeds and the behavior of towed Hargrave-type kites. His boat was named L'Essor (soaring).
While in Paris Fabre had met Archdeacon, who in turn introduced him to other pioneers, including Gabriel Voisin. Fabre became the first customer of the new Bleriot-Voisin firm, ordering further kites and a 15 sqm glider. Some of these he tested, mounting them on the mast of L'Essor, measuring lift and drag. He designed at this time his famous wooden truss girders, light and strong with very little drag, but complicated to build. In 1907 he tested a biplane-bladed propeller fitted at the top of a tall truss girder attached to his 14 hp Renault; the propeller had variable pitch and was driven by the car motor; it drove the car at 50 kmh. The top speed of the car with its standard drive was only 60 kmh.
Subsequent testing was done on floats, 2 long thin forms with foils, as on Forlanini's high-speed boats. Fabre planned a monoplane with these floats with a center nacelle for the pilot and engine. The drawings show that he planned to use the wing structure he was to use later, a single truss girder with trailing flat ribs and fabric attached with lacing.
The light Buchet V2 was not powerful enough, and Fabre designed a second machine and built it. This one had 3 flat floats, one at the tail and 2 in front. The fuselage was a rectangular frame with a triangular elevator and rudder at the rear and a pair of wings with marked dihedral in front. Above the front girder the pilot sat inside a tall triangular frame in a pin-jointed faired section; 3-12 hp Anzanis were mounted side-by-side driving through belts a single large tractor propeller. (The first trimotor?) Tested behind L'Essor, the machine was underpowered at 600 kg; it was abandoned after about 5 months' testing in the summer of 1909. The later Paulhan-Fabre used the frame from the second Fabre seaplane: a restored model of the trimotor, originally built by Fabre himself, is now owned by the Musee de l'Hydroaviation in Biscosse, north of Bordeaux on the coast.
Augustin and Laurent Seguin, inventors of the Gnome engines, were distant relatives of the Fabre family, and Henri was eventually offered the use of the 50 hp Gnome Omega No 2. In his memoirs, J'Ai Vu Naitre l'Aviation, Fabre wrote that Augustin had once given him a small toy aeroplane, a little 40 cm monoplane designed by Lacoin, which flew and was perfectly stable; he was much inspired by it.
Fabre's third aeroplane was a small canard glider built for the Seguins and copied from this toy, with a covered fuselage, laced-up wing and elevator, and no rudder.
His fourth was a model for his next design; it was powered by one of the 12 hp Anzanis and a Chauviere propeller, built "to learn light construction." Evidently the lesson was not learned, for it was underpowered and failed even to skim, and it sank on 24 December 1909.
Fabre's 5th aeroplane was the famous canard seaplane, which he named Goeland (gull); the truss girders and ribs of taped hollow wood were fabricated by Espinosa, and the rectangular fuselage frame was built of ash by a mechanic named Burdin and 4 workmen at an autobody shop in Marseille owned by a man named Montel. The new floats weighed 30 kg each, with curved fabric-covered tops and flat plywood-covered bottoms. The wing fabric was coated with glue for waterproofing; the warping was controlled with pedals. Forward on the top of the top fuselage longeron, were mounted in a wooden frame a pair of rudders and a pair of horizontal surfaces; the whole frame together with the front float pivoted on the vertical support member. Only the top horizontal surface worked as an elevator. The Gnome was mounted above the trailing edge of the wing, driving the pusher propeller aft of a large rectangular fin.
After careful taxiing on the lake at Berre, Fabre managed to lift from the water on 28 March 1910 at the harbor of La Mede, near Martigues. This was the first powered water take-off: the first by Glenn Curtiss took place on 26 January 1911. The Fabre machine was described variously as "aerhydroplane," "hydroaeroplane," or "hydroplane" - the final French term "hydravion" coming later after the term "avion" was commonly accepted. The original No 5 was destroyed, but 2 more were shown at the 1910 Exposition.
(Span: 14 m; length: 8.5 m; wing area: 17 sqm; gross weight: 200 kg; 50 hp Gnome Omega - the 2d engine built)
The design was improved at the suggestion of Maurice Becue, Fabre's pilot, in particular the control system. But in Fabre's 1911 model other changes appeared: the rudders were moved back under the wing, probably coordinated with the wing-warping, and were controlled by the pedals. The wings could fold. A single control lever now controlled the top forward surface. 2 small water rudders appeared at the back of the main float; the front float was fixed, with a smaller angle of attack. The machine was destroyed at Monaco on 11 April 1911.
Six Goeland types were begun, though only the first 3 were finished, and only one was sold. Fabre went on to build his floats at 100 francs each for Gabriel Voisin's canard seaplane; he also built Paulhan's "machines a voler." In 1914 he demonstrated his hydro-glisseur, a 3-float seaplane without wings.
In the course of the War he built 24 Tellier flyingboats. Shortly after the Armistice, Fabre went blind, but partially regained his sight when he was quite old: he died at 102.
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.