Gran Senmana d'Aviació / Gran Semana de Aviación
Barcelona, Spain, May 1st - 8th, 1910

A windy meeting on the Mediterranean coast

Louis Blériot and wife in front of a Gnôme-engined type XI. (1)
The wreckage after de Lesseps' crash on the second day. (4)
Olieslagers measuring the wind - a frequent activity during the week. (2)
Blériot in front of his machine. (2)
René Simon and a mechanic in front of his Blériot. Only Louis Blériot's own machine had a Gnôme engine, the others had Anzanis. (1)
Olieslagers' Blériot arrived straight from the Nice meeting one week earlier and still carried the race number 10 from that meeting ... (1)
... and Barrier's Blériot still carried race number 4 from the Seville meeting three weeks earlier. (1)
An unmarked Blériot - de Lesseps' or Simon's? (2)
A lucky photographer managed to catch all the three Blériots in the air in one shot. (3)

In 1910 Barcelona was the second biggest town of Spain, its population of 590,000 inhabitants only narrowly beaten by the capital Madrid. The first flights in Barcelona had been performed by Julien Mamet in February. He was followed by Louis Gaubert, who made some sensational long flights over the centre of the town in the end of March. As everywhere, aviation interest was booming and Barcelona was obviously an attractive place for staging an aviation meeting.

The aviation week of Barcelona was organized by the same companies as the Seville meeting three weeks earlier: the Blériot dealers "Borel et Cie" of Paris and the "Sociedad Española de Aviación" of Madrid, in cooperation with the local city council. Like in Seville the meeting was held on a horse-racing course, the "Hipódromo Can Tunis" three kilometres southwest of the city centre. It had not been easy to get access to the race course, since the owners, the "Casa Antúnes", had demanded a very high rent and according to one newspaper it would have been impossible to agree terms if it hadn't been for the negotiating power of a "well-known sportsman, who's name we cannot divulge".

Initially a larger starting field had been intended, but it was diminished before the meeting when Claude Grahame-White, who had just been beaten by Louis Paulhan to the "Daily Mail" London-Manchester prize on April 27th, withdrew. Louis Gaubert was also out, having crashed his Voisin at Zaragoza on April 25th. This left a field of four pilots, all in Blériots: René Barrier, Jacques de Lesseps, Jan Olieslagers and René Simon, the latter being called in as replacement for Grahame-White to make his meeting debut. Louis Blériot himself would also participate, but out of competition and only during the first days. Léonce Garnier was also called in lately and arrived during the meeting, but never made any flights.

The meeting was staged against the background of some very unpleasant events one week before: On April 24th, at a small aviation meeting in Durango near Bilbao, the British pilot Launcelot Gibbs and the French pilot Georges Prévoteau had been threatened by knife-armed hooligans, narrowly escaped being assaulted by a stone-throwing lynch mob and had their planes and hangars burned when they were not ready to fly at the time announced by the organizers.

Sunday 1 May
The first day of the meeting dawned cloudy and with light winds, but around noon the winds increased, accompanied by black rain clouds. Around four o'clock, when the gates of the airfield opened, the wind decreased and thousands of people went to the airfield in hope of seeing the famous Blériot fly. Soon before five he started his engine and after a short take-off run he made a three lap flight around the course, once flying behind the grandstands, before landing after 7:37. Around half an hour later he repeated the performance, this time with a flying time of 8:20 at altitudes of 10-40 metres.

Already while Blériot was still being applauded the rain started falling, first lightly but then increasing to a real downpour with thunder and lightning. The airfield, which was already wet after heavy rains on the preceding day, was turned into a quagmire, where cars got stuck and spectators slipped and fell. Further flying was of course impossible. The reporter of "La Vanguardia" colourfully described his trials and tribulations of this disappointing day, getting to the airfield on the delayed trains and muddy roads, only to be received by overzealous guards who didn't accept his tickets and papers and in the end not seeing much.

Monday 2 May
The day started with sunshine but strong winds. After five o'clock the winds calmed down and like on the day before Blériot was first out. After a first failed effort he took off at 17:29 and landed perfectly after a two-lap flight of 5:34, forced down by an engine failure. Four minutes later de Lesseps took off, but he had only travelled a couple of hundred metres when the wind changed direction and he was caught by a sudden gust. The machine crashed from a height of 10-15 metres and stood on its nose, breaking the propeller, the landing gear and both wings, but de Lesseps escaped with a bleeding nose and a sprained left wrist. The winds increased again, and the disappointed and rather sparse crowds protested and started to leave. In the evening the City Council held a reception for Blériot, his wife, the other flyers, the press and other VIPs.

Tuesday 3 May
The day again started with calm weather, which soon deteriorated with ever stronger winds. The committee of the Aero Club offered a luncheon to the flyers on mount Tibidabo, while the blue flag (not black for this meeting!) announced that there would be no flights. Blériot had stayed an extra day in the hope of a couple of more flights, but had to leave by train. The Barcelona meeting was one of his last public appearances as a pilot.

The wind unexpectedly calmed down late in the afternoon and at 18:15 the brave Olieslagers, in spite of the blue flag, took out his plane and made a long flight, reaching an altitude of 160 metres and flying out over the sea. Barrier had planned to fly after Olieslagers landed, but the approaching darkness forced him up while Olieslagers was still in the air. He made a flight of nine minutes, the engine not running well. Olieslagers finally landed, having been in the air for 41 minutes, the second longest flight of the meeting. He received a standing ovation and the organizers sent for champagne to the pilot.

Wednesday 4 May
Strong winds again prevented flights before the afternoon, and even then only allowed short, careful flights. At 17:47 Olieslagers made another spectacular flight, climbing to 200 metres and flying five large circles, all extending over the sea. Barrier again took off during his flight, making it two in the air for almost ten minutes. Olieslagers landed after 27 minutes, having dropped a bouquet of flowers to the public during his last lap, and the two flyers were taken on a tour of honour around the airfield in a car. Then young René Simon, who had arrived during the morning, took off, but his engine stopped after a short while and he had to land outside the airfield, thankfully without damage. That was the end of the fourth day of the meeting.

Thursday 5 May
The fifth day dawned clear, but still with strong winds. A small crowd waited patiently and were finally rewarded at half past six, when Barrier made a flight of almost six minutes. Soon after Barrier's take-off de Lesseps took off. His own plane was still not repaired, so he borrowed Garnier's, but landed almost immediately with engine troubles. Simon also took off and flew above the grandstands, where he was caught by some turbulence. The crowd feared that he would crash, but he managed to land safely after a flight of 2:35. Olieslagers had been at work all afternoon fixing some engine problems and finally took off at four past seven. He made a flight of almost seven minutes, again venturing out over the Mediterranean, before the darkness forced him to land. While he was in the air de Lesseps made another flight, this time without any problems, but landed after only three minutes. The crowd had to accept that this was the maximum flying that could be expected given the weather, but several ventilated their unhappiness about the disappointing spectacle.

Friday 6 May
Finally a day with good weather! Only a light breeze blew during the morning and in the afternoon it was completely calm. At 17:15 Olieslagers was the first to roll out his machine, but due to contaminated fuel he could not make it run. de Lesseps was next, making a flight of 6:30 before thrilling the crowd by landing from 80 metres with the engine shut down. Olieslagers made a new effort, but again had to abort. Simon took off, but his engine, despite being brand new and delivered the day before, didn't run well and he had to land immediately. At 17:47 Barrier took off and flew three laps. After another failed start by Simon Olieslagers had obviously solved his problems and made three large circles, flying over the grandstands and the sea during an 18-minute flight. While he was in the air de Lesseps took off and made some impressive figure-eights over the airfield during an eleven-minute flight. Barrier tried to make it three in the air, but had to abort his start in order to avoid a collision with Olieslagers, who was coming in to land.

After a short break Olieslagers took off again, making some wide turns towards Montjuich. Instead of landing he disappeared from sight, flying northeast towards the harbour. Barrier took again and made a flight of 6:27. Then Olieslagers returned again and landed to thunderous applause before being carried around the airfield in triumph. The total time of his flight, the last of the day, was almost 23 minutes. He had circled the Columbus monument at 150 metres, then flown over Plaza de Medinaceli and La Rambla, everywhere being cheered with hats and scarves. This day the crowds had no reason to complain about the action.

Saturday 7 May
The wind was a bit gusty in the morning, but the weather improved towards the afternoon. During the morning the flyers and some dignitaries were taken on a tour of the Hispano-Suiza factories, where they were captured on cinematic film. When back at the airfield the first to come out was Olieslagers, who had stated his intention to stay in the air for an hour. This came to nothing when his first start failed. He made a second effort at 18:35, with better results. After a flight over Montjuich he returned to fly a racing lap inside the horse-racing course, which he achieved with steeply banked turns in 30 seconds. When Olieslagers had flown for 18 minutes de Lesseps took off and climbed to 300 metres, followed by Olieslagers at 200. When de Lesseps had dived down at breath-taking speed to land after his flight of almost eight minutes Barrier took off for a flight of three laps. Then Simon took off to make it three in the air, "a superb performance of striking effect". When the other two pilots had already landed Olieslagers finally ran out of fuel and had to land after a flight of 47 minutes. The four pilots were once again driven on a tour of honour in a car, to the wild applause by the crowd. When everybody thought the flying was over for the day de Lesseps made a final flight, which he again finished with an elegant "vol plane".

Sunday 8 May
Everybody had of course hoped for a great last day, but the winds were stronger than ever and kicked up large dust-devils. At half past six, after some light rain showers, Olieslagers rolled out his plane. Ever the crowd-pleaser, he wanted to give the crowds a last flight. However, the turbulence proved too strong and after flying some 800 metres his plane was grabbed by a gust and driven to the ground with one wing first. The pilot escaped with only bruises on chin, neck and knees, but the wings and landing gear of the plane were wrecked. Olieslagers managed to return by foot to the hangars, where he was applauded for his brave effort.

After his crash the other pilots decided to stay on the ground, so the end of the meeting was an anti-climax. The meeting was ended by a dinner offered by the town and a gala evening at the Tivoli theatre. After the meeting the pilots immediately left for other meetings: Olieslagers to Genoa and Barrier and Simon to Córdoba. de Lesseps travelled to Paris to collect a new Blériot with Gnôme engine, in which he intended to cross the English Channel.

Like the Seville meeting, organized by the same people, this was another meeting where the focus was not so strong on competitive flying. Several trophies were given for different events, but apparently no cash prizes. The bad weather, blamed by some on the approaching Halley's Comet, reduced the number of both flights and spectators. The total flying time during the eight days of the meeting was less than four hours, and almost two thirds of that time had been achieved by Jan Olieslagers.

The meeting was a financial failure and the newspaper "ABC" stated that the revenues would only cover ten percent of the expenses, which included no less than 21,000 duros (105,000 pesetas) for lease and maintenance of the "Hipódromo".

The four pilots, from left to right Olieslagers, de Lesseps, Barrier and Simon. The "Copa Barcelona" was won by Olieslagers. (4)