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The Right Flyer: Gabriel Voisin, Henry Farman and the Archetype of Aeroplanes
The Right Flyer: Gabriel Voisin, Henry Farman and the Archetype of Aeroplanes
By Reg Winstone
Published by CjBobrow
27 August 2017
Author review
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The Right Flyer: Gabriel Voisin, Henry Farman and the Archetype of Aeroplanes

The Right Flyer: Gabriel Voisin, Henry Farman and the Archetype of Aeroplanes
By Reg Winstone
9 ½” x 9 ½” Hardbound
310 Photographs and illustrations, Bibliography, Appendices
£39.95/$50.00 Pp.360
ISBN: 9780956981103
Language: English

French aeronautical inventor Antoine Odier recalled that, “of us all, Gabriel Voisin and his right-hand man Colliex were the best at combining the theory and practice of the new discipline. They built some 160 of their flying chicken coops, and in proportion to this astonishing output of new aeroplanes, they did so with the fewest accidents.”

The French have been air-minded since pioneering the world’s first balloon ascensions of the 1780s. So it is of little surprise that the 1906 powered flight by Alberto Santos-Dumont, the first in Europe, took place in France as well. Reg Winstone’s superbly illustrated and wonderfully detailed book provides an insightful look at early aviation development in France between 1902 and 1909. The work features the foremost aircraft designers, pilots, proponents and aviation patrons of the age. The book rightly focuses on Gabriel Voisin and Henry Farman, whose efforts were quite public in France—in contrast to the work in America undertaken in secret by the Wright brothers.

The experiments and designs conducted by Gabriel and his brother Charles would pave the way for the French aviation industry to commence, in many ways enabling a host of others to glorify their machines as well as achievements. This is a long overdue story, one that was eclipsed by the Wright brother’s flights of 1908 in France, and perhaps for that reason, not as well covered.

On the fragile wings of the Voisin-designed and built biplane, Henri Farman piloted in January 1908 for the first time the one-kilometer closed-circuit flight in Europe. This flight heralded the race for speed, distance and height to come, one that in many ways continues to this day. This initial effort proved that the aeroplane was capable of controlled flight beyond the limited straight flights that had previously been made. In many ways, this achievement helped establish the foundation of French aviation. It also prepared the continent for when Wilbur Wright, touring Europe in August of that same year, with great aplomb, would fly further, faster, and higher—proving that what he and Orville had created was a superior design and one showing the possibilities of what more advanced designs could and would achieve.

The book excels in depicting the figures who were central to these halcyon days of early flight. Its interweaving of technology, events, developments and personalities offers an intriguing look at how and why powered flight came into existence. The author insightfully compares these design developments and the outcomes. At the time when many of the machines that were built, such as Voisin’s, were devised through an intuitive design process the Wights’ approach was a systematic using the engineering requirements for flight as their raison d'être.

Using a mix of narrative and images, Winstone has gone to great lengths to provide the reader with a “you are there” sense of the unfolding story. The book deals with the intriguing and complex relationship between the various participants. That the Voisins were able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time resulted, in part, from the fact that they had private sponsors and investors who were willing to underwrite their experimental designs. The heart of the work examines how and why Voisin succeeded and with that helped give birth to aviation in Europe. This fascinating story uncovers and often overlooked details and events that would launch an industry.

Carl J. Bobrow
Museum Specialist, National Air and Space Museum

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