Voisin (February 5, 1880 – December 25, 1973) was an
aviation pioneer and the creator of Europe's first manned,
engine-powered, heavier-than-air aircraft capable of a sustained
(1 km), circular, controlled flight, which was made by Henry
Farman on January 13, 1908 near Paris, France. During
World War I
World War I the
company founded by
Voisin became a major producer of military
aircraft, notably the
Voisin III. Subsequently he switched to the
design and production of luxury automobiles under the name Avions
1 Early life
2 Early flying experiments
3 Commercial airplane production:
4 After the death of Charles Voisin: Aéroplanes G. Voisin
5 Switch to car production: Avions Voisin
7 See also
8 Further reading
Voisin was born on February 5, 1880 at
Belleville-sur-Saône, France, and his brother Charles Voisin, two
years younger than him, was his main childhood companion. When his
father abandoned the family his mother, Amélie, took her sons to
Neuville-sur-Saône, where they settled near her father's factory.
Their grandfather, Charles Forestier, took charge of the boys'
education with military rigor. The boys also went for expeditions
along the river, went fishing, and built numerous contraptions. When
his grandfather died, Gabriel was sent to school in
Lyon and Paris
where he learned industrial design, a field in which
Voisin claims to
have been exceptionally gifted. He often returned home, and by the end
of the century the brothers had built, among other things, a rifle, a
steam boat and an automobile.
Early flying experiments
After completing his studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts de
1899, he joined an architectural firm in Paris. While in Paris he saw
Clément Ader Avion III, which was displayed at the Paris
International Exposition of 1900. This awakened an interest in the
problems of powered flight. After nine months of military service, in
February 1904, he attended a lecture given by Captain Ferdinand
Ferber, one of the leading figures in French aviation circles at
the time. After the lecture
Voisin approached Ferber and was given an
introduction to Ernest Archdeacon, the leading promoter and financial
supporter of early French aviation, and Archdeacon hired him to test
fly the Wright-type glider that he had had built. The tests took
Berck-sur-Mer in April 1904, and some short flights of around
20 m (66 ft) were achieved. Archdeacon then commissioned
Voisin to build another glider of similar design, but differing in
having a fixed horizontal stabiliser behind the wings, in addition to
its front-mounted elevator. This was tested at
26 March 1905 by towing it into the air using Archdeacon's automobile.
Fortunately, the test was unmanned, the pilot's place being taken by
50 kg (110 lb) of ballast, since the aircraft suffered a
structural failure and crashed. It was not rebuilt.
Voisin then designed and built a glider equipped with floats for
Archdeacon. This aircraft marks the first use of Hargrave cells, used
both for the empennage and the wings.
Voisin successfully flew it on 8
June 1905, having been towed into the air behind a motor boat on the
river Seine between the Billancourt and Sèvres bridges, managing a
flight of about 600 m (2,000 ft). While working on this
Voisin had been approached by Louis Blériot, who asked him
to build him a similar machine, later known as the Bleriot II. This
differed principally in having a smaller span lower wing, resulting in
the outer 'side-curtains' between upper and lower wings being angled
outwards. After this first flight Bleriot suggested to
they form a partnership to build aircraft, and so
Voisin ended his
association with Archdeacon's syndicate.
Voisin attempted flights in
both aircraft on 18 July 1905. Although the weather was unsuitable,
with a strong crosswind,
Voisin decided to attempt to fly the aircraft
since it was difficult to obtain the necessary permission to use the
river. He made a short flight in his own glider and then attempted a
flight in Bleriot's. This took off quickly, but
Voisin could not
control it and it crashed into the river.
Voisin was trapped inside
and was lucky to escape drowning. Louis Bleriot's cine footage of
this experiment survives in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space
The next aircraft built by
Voisin for Bleriot during 1906, the Bleriot
III, was a tandem biplane powered by an Antoinette engine driving two
tractor propellers with the wings formed into a closed ellipse as seen
from the front: according to Voisin's account, Bleriot had originally
wanted the lifting surfaces to be circular in front elevation, having
experimented with models of this form, and the adoption of their
eventual form was the result of a compromise between the two men.
This aircraft was unsuccessful, as was its subsequent modification
(the Blériot IV) in which the forward wing was replaced by a
conventional biplane arrangement and a second engine added.
Experiments were made first with floats and then with a wheeled
undercarriage, and the aircraft was wrecked in a taxying accident at
Bagatelle on the morning of 12 November 1906. Later that day, also at
Alberto Santos-Dumont succeeded in flying his 14-bis canard
biplane for a distance of over 100 metres. After the failure of this
Voisin and Blériot dissolved their partnership, and Voisin
set up a company with his brother Charles
Voisin to design and
Commercial airplane production:
Henry Farman (left) with Gabriel Voisin, 1908
Aviation Les Frères
Voisin was the world's first
commercial airplane factory. At this time aspiring European aviators
were in fierce competition to be the first to achieve powered
heavier-than-air flights. Until Wilbur Wright's demonstrations at Le
Mans (France) in August 1908 many people did not believe the claims
of the Wright brothers to have achieved sustained flights: for
instance, that the Wrights'
Flyer III had flown 24 miles
(38.9 km) in 39 minutes 23 seconds on October 5, 1905.
Santos-Dumont's flights in the 14-bis, in November 1906, were Europe's
first officially observed and verified heavier-than-air powered
flights. Despite its fame, all that the 14-bis could achieve was a
short flight on a straight line. It had no potential beyond that and
it was quickly abandoned.
Two almost identical pusher biplane machines, with Antoinette
engines, were built by the
Voisin brothers for two early aviation
pioneers: the first for
Leon Delagrange in March 1907, and the
second for his friend and rival
Henry Farman in October 1907.
The second one became known as the Voisin-
Farman I, and was flown
Farman to win Archdeacon's Grand Prix d'
Aviation for making the
first one-kilometre closed-circuit flight on January 13, 1908. Both
Farman and Delagrange won great fame with these aircraft, competing
with each other for aviation records. The Voisins' machines became
widely known as Europe's first successful aircraft.
In 1909, Gabriel
Voisin was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of
Honor, and along with Blériot was awarded the Prix Osiris,
awarded by the Institut de France. In the same year
Adrienne-Lola Bernet; they had one daughter, Janine.
Farman modified and improved the
Voisin pusher biplane
considerably. He eventually ended his cooperation with the Voisin
brothers, following a disagreement, and started manufacturing his
own designs which became very successful. The
continued the expansion of their factory resulting for example in the
Voisin of 1911.
After the death of Charles Voisin: Aéroplanes G. Voisin
Gabriel (left) and Charles
Voisin in 1906
Voisin was greatly affected by the death of his brother
Voisin in 1912 in an automobile accident near
Belleville-sur-Saône, but he continued the expansion of the
Boulogne-Billancourt factory, under the changed name Société Anonyme
des Aéroplanes G. Voisin.
After 1912, the factory shifted its manufacturing and sales towards
supplying the French military. When
World War I
World War I broke out in 1914,
Voisin immediately volunteered for service with French air
Voisin III, a two-seater pusher biplane with a
Salmson radial engine, was extensively used for bombing
and observation missions during World War I. It had a light steel
frame and thus could be stationed outdoors. The
Voisin III was built
in large numbers (about 1,000) between 1914 and 1916 and sold not
only to the French air services but also to other allies, including
Russia. The Type VIII (about 1,100 built) and Type X (about 900 built)
were delivered in 1917 and 1918. Those last to appear
aircraft were almost identical in appearance to the
although they were heavier and featured twice as powerful Peugeot and
Renault engines. They also had a longer range and carried almost twice
the bomb load of their predecessor. A complete and original Voisin
Type VIII bomber aircraft is preserved in excellent condition at the
National Air and Space Museum
National Air and Space Museum in Washington,D.C. It is
the oldest preserved bomber aircraft in the world.
Switch to car production: Avions Voisin
Voisin abandoned aviation, citing the trauma of the
military use of his more advanced airplanes (the
Voisin III) during
the war in addition to the then embryonic demand for civilian
aircraft. From then until 1958, he concentrated his efforts on making
automobiles under the brand of Avions Voisin. His early cars were
some of the finest luxury vehicles in the world, with unique technical
details. Many of them won in competition. However, the luxury car
market shrank in the 1930s because of depressed economic conditions
followed in June 1940 by the invasion of
France by Nazi Germany
forcing him to close down his factory. "In 1939, a certain Hitler
unleashed the regrettable chain of events that French people are all
too familiar with." - Gabriel Voisin. After 1945, he turned his
attention to designing a minimalist car for the masses, the Biscooter,
thousands of which were produced under licence in Spain during the
1950s as the Biscúter. Today, his pre-war luxury automobiles have
become highly prized by collectors, both in Europe and in the USA.
In the 1920s, the company also proposed a 'Motor-Fly' which was a
bicycle with a small auxiliary 2-stroke engine added to the back
wheel, and also produced pre-fabricated houses that could be built in
3 days ('votre maison en trois jours - your house in 3 days'). These
were available with a floor area of 35, 75 or 105 square meters, and
were constructed around a metal framework. Some of these houses still
exist, but none in their original condition. The houses carry the logo
Voisin Issy', just like the other products from the factory.
In 1960, he retired in his country house, "La Cadolle" at Le Villars,
Tournus on the banks of the
Saône river, where he wrote his
memoirs. A few years later, in 1965, he was made a Commander of the
Legion d'Honneur. He died on Christmas Day, December 25, 1973 in
Saône-et-Loire at the age of 93. He was buried at Le
Léon Lemartin – engineer on the Seine glider and the Gnome Omega
Courtault, Pascal Automobiles Voisin,1919–1950.London: White Mouse
Editions, 1991 ISBN 0-904568-72-5 ( in English )
Cahisa, Raymond L'
Aviation d'Ader et des temps heroique. Paris:
Editions Albin Michel,1950.
Elliott, B.A. Bleriot, Herald of An Age. Stroud: Tempus, 2000.
Gibbs-Smith, C.H. The Rebirth of European Aviation. London, HMSO.
1974. ISBN 0-11-290180-8
Opdycke, Leonard e. French Aeroplanes Before the Great War Atglen, PA:
Schiffer, 1999. ISBN 9780764307522
Voisin, Gabriel,1960,"Mes 10.000 Cerfs-Volants". Voisin's first volume
of personal memoirs. Editor:"Editions de la Table Ronde", Paris . Also
published in English under the title : Men, Women and 10,000
kites by Putnam,London, 1963.
Voisin Gabriel, 1962, "Mes milles et une Voitures" ( My 1001
automobiles ). Voisin's second volume of personal memoirs. Editor:
"Editions de la Table Ronde", Paris.
Voisin, Gabriel, 1966, "
Henry Farman (1874–1960)", :" Revue
Aeronautique Trimestrielle des Vieilles Tiges " No7, January 1966. pp
Tatin,V., 1910, " Theorie et Pratique de l'
Aviation ", H.Dunod et
E.Pinat Editeurs, Paris.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gabriel Voisin.
^ a b "Gabriel Voisin, an Air Pioneer, Who Flew Glider in 1904, Dies".
New York Times. December 27, 1973.
^ a b McNeil, Ian (1996). Biographical dictionary of the history of
technology. London: Routledge. pp. 1263–1264.
^ a b "Les Frères
Voisin Gabriel (1880–1973) et Charles
(1882–1912)". Monash University. Retrieved 2010-03-30.
^ Gibbs-Smith 1974, p. 127
^ Gibbs-Smith 1974, p.122
^ Elliott 2000 p.34
Voisin 1963 p. 142
^ a b c d e f g h Villard, Henry Serrano (2002). Contact! : the
story of the early aviators. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications.
pp. 39–53. ISBN 0-486-42327-1.
^ Sharpe, Michael (2000). Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes.
Friedman/Fairfax. p. 311. ISBN 1-58663-300-7.
^ Vivian, E. Charles (2004). A history of aeronautics. [S.l.]:
Kessinger Pub. pp. 109–111. ISBN 1-4191-0156-0. Archived
from the original on 2014-05-24.
^ Whitson, William W. The Fledgling. pp. 126, 192, 255, 285.
^ Opdycke 1999 p.264
^ Howard, Fred (1987). Wilbur and Orville : a biography of the
Wright brothers (1st ed.). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
pp. 232–235. ISBN 0-486-40297-5.
^ Prix Osiris awarded to
Aviation Flight International19 June 1909
^ Flight, 1914, p. 906.
^ a b c Letcher, Piers (2003). Eccentric France : the Bradt guide
to mad, magical and marvellous France. Chalfont St. Peter, [England]:
Bradt Travel Guides. pp. 38–39. ISBN 1-84162-068-8.
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