L.Opdyke French Aeroplanes Before the Great War (Schiffer)
Deleted by request of (c)Schiffer Publishing
Born 8 December 1863 at Mesnil-Auval (Manche), Leon Levavasseur began his engineering career by building electrical equipment. He was not yet interested in aviation when he reorganized the powerplant in Algeria owned by Jules Gastambide, who became his financial partner and signed a contract with him for the construction of an aeroplane in August 1902. In October he began the engine, working for 3 months at 14 hours a day, and finished it with the help of his brother-in-law Charles Wachter and the 4 Welferinger brothers. The 82 hp V8 weighed 100 kg. General Andre, Minister of War, gave him 20,000F from his "secret funds" to develop his first aircraft.
Aeroplane de Villotrans: In March 1903 Levavasseur began construction of his first flying machine in a workshop on the rue du Bas Rogers in Puteaux, and he assembled it after 14 July in the park of Mellon Castle at Villotrans (Oise), with the help of the Welferingers. The huge monoplane had high arched wings which ran back to form a horizontal tail without either rudder or fuselage; the structure was of wood and metal girders, and the airfoil was formed only from the tightened fabric. The 80 hp Antoinette engine between the wings drove 2 4-bladed propellers made of wood and stiffened with wire, each 3.6 m in diameter. The front tractor propeller turned at 800 rpm and the rear pusher at 1000 rpm. The machine was fitted with 25 cm wooden wheels rolling on U-sectioned wooden rails, soon replaced by iron ones. At about 36 kmh some lift was felt, and on 29 September 1903 the machine left its rails and was wrecked, the pilot unharmed: it is possible that the Aeroplane of Villotrans had actually made a short hop. The pilot was Charles Wachter, sitting under the wing and below the engine; it was ironic that Wachter should be the pilot of the first of the Antoinette designs and later lose his life in the crash of one of the last.
(Span: 18 m; length: 15 m; wing/surface area: 108 sqm; 80 hp Antoinette)
After these efforts Levavasseur abandoned the machine, and with Gastambide he concentrated on the engine, then named Antoinette, which was subsequently used successfully in Antoinette automobiles and motor-boats. In 1904 and 1905 he developed V engines of 8, 16, and 32 cylinders (the last only on paper), ranging from 24 to 100 hp.
During this time Levavasseur met Ferdinand Ferber, who ordered a 24 hp engine; together they began-the study of heavier-than-air flying machines. In 1904 Levavasseur built a small wind tunnel, probably the first in France, though it could accommodate only model parts. His future career was inextricably linked to the firm of Antoinette, which he and Ferber founded together.