Monday, May 11, 2009

French Aeroplanes Before the Great War


French Aeroplanes Before the Great War By Leonard E. Opdycke
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd 1999 | 288 Pages | ISBN: 0764307525 | PDF | 87 MB

Forgive me while I eulogise, it's not often that a book I like as much as this one comes along. This is a joy to behold and fills a whacking great gap in aviation reference literature. Leo Opdycke, the publisher of two US aviation magazines, 'World War 1 Aero' and 'Skyways', has, together with a select band of collaborators, been collecting pictures and data on French pioneer aircraft for this project for many years. He has also been given the run of the Musée de l'Air's archive in Paris which has enabled him to expand his researches and unearth photographs of many of the machines. Now the results of all that effort have been published in the form of this book and we're presented with both a labour of love and a record of nearly 700 builders - in alphabetical order with lots of photos, many of which are very rare or appear for the first time in print. As far as I'm aware no one has attempted to do this before and J M Bruce in his enthusiastic foreword implies as much. The sheer scale of the task is daunting - and it's interesting that it has finally been undertaken by an American given that the bulk of the information must surely have been available in France. So, despite the author's modest statement that this is not the definitive work, it's by miles the nearest we've got or, even, are possibly likely to get. As well as being an invaluable work of reference it's very entertaining merely to read through and see the extraordinary range of ideas for flying machines that were optimistically and enthusiastically produced during the first decade or so of the 20th century in France, the 'cradle of aviation'. (North America, home of the Wright brothers, was the 'birthplace'). Quite a few never flew - and when you see the photos with the benefit of hindsight, you can quite see why - but a surprisingly large number did. Some look like they would have flown with a little more 'puissance' and others are remarkably prescient but ahead of their time as far as the available technology was concerned. It's also interesting that although the Wrights were the first to fly successfully, not many of the circa 700 French builders copied them, preferring to go their own ways or base their flying machines on indigenous products, notably Bleriot's. To be completely dispassionate (though, you can tell, I'm not!) it would be more splendid if some of the photos were bigger and there were even more. However, I'll end by quoting a sentence from the dust jacket 'summary'. "This collection serves as a kind of super Exposition Internationale de Locomotion Aérienne; readers are invited to enter the Grand Palais, as they might have in 1908 or 1909, to enjoy these marvellous aircraft." If you're interested in pioneer aircraft, it's a must have. - By W. Grigg "Albessard" (Bedfordshire, England)

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