Henry Farman

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and the First Cross-Country
Henry Farman
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With 50,000 francs in his pocket, Henry Farman could afford to make further modifications to his aeroplane in preparation for a new flying season. In March 1908 he had the machine re-covered in rubberized fabric and re-engined with a 50hp Renault. The Voisin-Farman 1-bis thus became the Henri Farman 1-bis. The new engine did not last long and he reverted to the Antoinette, but Farman's constant tinkering with his plane show how confidently he had grasped the essentials of aeronautics. During the summer he added 'side-curtains' to the wings, to make them true boxkites, and importantly put in ailerons of his own design so that the machine could be banked.

On 29 May 1908, Farman took the first passenger in Europe into the air. Appropriately enough it was Ernest Archdeacon, the man who had done so much to encourage aviation in France since 1903. 

Leon DelagrangeThe only other prominent aviator during this period was Léon Delagrange who, like Farman, had purchased a standard Voisin in 1907. However he was less technically-minded than Henry and had made only a few modifications to the basic design. Gabriel Voisin remarked that in contrast to Farman, Delagrange "was not the sporting type" and knew nothing about running an engine. Nevertheless a sporting rivalry seems to have developed between the two fliers. In the summer of 1908, Delagrange went south to Italy to demonstrate the art of flying while Farman went north to Belgium. On 23 June, Delagrange set an endurance record of 18 minutes, 30 seconds at Milan: Farman retaliated with 20 minutes, 20 seconds at Ghent, on 6 July. On 6 September Delagrange flew for 25km (15 miles) at Issy: Farman bested that with 40km (25 miles) at Champ de Chalons on 2 October.

Finally, Farman made the logical next step of flying between two places, rather than simply making measured circuits over the safety of an aerodrome. On 30 October 1908 he flew the 27km from his camp at Bouy to the cavalry ground at Rheims in just under 20 minutes. It was the first cross-country flight in Europe. 

Henry Farman takes off for Europe's first cross-country
Farman takes off from Bouy on 30 October 1908. Note 'side-curtains' between the wings.

This is his account of the flight:

    At first I was a bit emotional ... The departure for the first journey had rather alarmed me. What, I asked myself, am I going to do when I arrive above those large poplars that I can see way over there, in the direction of Mourmelon-le-Petit? For the moment, all is well. The ground is flat and the countryside very agreeable.

    But, during these reflections the poplars are growing in an astonishing fashion. The crows, who were holding a squawking gathering, are flying off horrified at my approach. Ah! those 100 ft. poplars! Should I pass them on the right? on the left? My indecision does not last long, for I am scarcely 50 yards from the vast high grove. Oh well, here goes! A touch on the elevator and the aircraft rises up rapidly; it goes over, while with an anxious eye I look to see whether I am clearing the tree-tops.

    My tranquility is, however, short-lived. Here is the Mourmelon windmill and now Mourmelon itself. Bah! I thought, One only dies once! The windmill, the village, the railway - I go over them all. A critical moment in an emotional journey. And then, I'm not sure about the height. I am told I was flying at 150 ft. Maybe I was, because I went up as high as possible so as not to be caught by the poplars.

    I was giving my full attention to steering the machine, to the noise of the motor which 'mis-fired' from time to time and worried me, to the roaring of the propeller. But I nevertheless enjoyed, at that instant, the greatest joy of my life: the charm of gliding above my fellow men while the scenery flew by in strips and where, from all sides, people were running towards me who seemed tiny, tiny. At that moment I found myself in pure air, carressed by a gentle breeze, and the sun lit up the way, limpid and serene. It is my most cherished memory.

Henry Farman lands after first cross-country in Europe
Farman on the cavalry ground at Rheims
  To cap this historic achievement, and mark the end of his 1908 flying season, Henry Farman went out the next day and set an altitude record of 80 feet. (Though as his adventure with the poplars had showed, his aircraft could probably do more.)

In November, Farman sold his trusty HF 1-bis and waited for delivery of a new and improved Voisin. A machine in the Voisin workshops was earmarked for him, but instead the brothers sold it to a wealthy young Englishman newly arrived in Paris, John Moore-Brabazon. Farman's relations with the Voisin brothers were already less friendly than they had been. This episode was the final straw. Farman resolved to build his own aeroplanes from now on, and set to work that winter. The result would be the Farman boxkite aeroplane, which proved immensely popular with the growing band of amateur aviators. Henry went into business with his brothers Maurice and Dick in order to manufacture and sell the design, and the firm soon rivaled the Voisin company.

Farman's achievements in 1908 had been impressive - by European standards. But in August of that year the whole flying landscape had been turned upside-down: Wilbur Wright had arrived in France!


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