Meeting d'Aviation de Biarritz
Biarritz, France, March 27th - April 3rd, 1910

The start of the 1910 European season: A windy meeting on the west coast


Louis Blériot talking to Edward VII during the official opening of the meeting. (1)
A pilot, probably Alfred Leblanc, getting ready to to board his Blériot. (2)
Chávez's Farman after his encounter with a quite substantial tree stump that had been left inside the course. (3)
Mechanics retrieving the Gnôme engine of Chávez's plane. (2)
Louis Blériot's flight. (2)
The sad remains of Capitaine Burgeat's Antoinette after his crash on the opening day. (2)
The Blériot team must have brought two planes to the meeting. This is stated to be Leblanc flying, but none of the reports of the meeting tells the story behind this damage to the #2 Blériot. (4)
Chávez passing Duray's Farman during his long flight. (2)
Robert Mignot was one of the new pilots at the Biarritz meeting. In the background the ENV engine of his Voisin, with a very primitive metal propeller. (5)
The remains of Mignot's plane after his crash on March 30th. The plane carries race number 3 on its nose. (5)

Biarritz is a town on the Bay of Biscay in the Basque southwest corner of France. In 1910 it had around 15,000 inhabitants and was a popular health resort. Each year around 40,000 visitors came to enjoy the mild coastal climate and the thermal and salt-water baths, which were said to be particularly beneficial to persons suffering from scrofula. Biarritz had been popular among nobility and royalty since the days of Napoleon III.

In December 1908 the "Comité d'Aviation Bayonne-Biarritz" was created at the initiative of Dr. Gallard, aide of the Mayor of Biarritz. In early 1909 Louis Blériot was consulted on the construction of an airfield, and as a consequence the committee decided to build an airfield in the valley of the river Nive, some 6 km southeast of Biarritz and at around the same distance south of the neighbouring town Bayonne.

A limited company with a capital of 160,000 francs was formed, with most of the money coming from the casinos of Biarritz. Messrs Salzedo and Boulant were responsible for building the airfield, which according to Flugsport was triangular, with sides of 1,200 m, 1,200 m and 1,500 m, and with a course that was 180 m wide. A special railway station was planned and the airfield could also be reached by riverboats.

At a meeting on March 1st the program was finalized. The meeting would be held between 27 March and 3 April, with competitions taking place on 29 and 30 March and 1-3 April. A total prize fund of 52,000 francs were raised, with prizes for distance and altitude (both daily and overall), cross-country flying, longest "vol plané" and flight in the highest wind. The meeting was sanctioned by the Aéro-Club de France and would be run according to FAI regulations.

The meeting was overshadowed by the bigger Cannes meeting, which was held on the same days. Therefore the meeting was not covered in much detail in the aviation press. We do for example not know of official lists of entrants or results. The following is an effort to make sense of the few reports that we have found.

This is a list of the participants mentioned in different reports:

  • Capitaine Médéric Burgeat (Antoinette)
  • Jorge Chávez (Farman)
  • Arthur Duray (Farman)
  • Alfred Leblanc (Blériot)
  • Georges Leforestier (Garnier "Olga")
  • Robert Mignot (Voisin)
  • Gijs Küller (Antoinette)
  • Marquis Luis de Salamanca (Nicolas)
This meeting was the public debut of Jorge (Géo) Chávez, whose meteoric career would unfortunately end at Domodossola six months later. All of the pilots except Leblanc were actually newcomers, even though Duray had made some short flights at Heliopolis. Burgeat was a captain of the French Army and officially flew under the pseudonym "de Chauveaux". Küller didn't turn up and was actually training Antoinette pupils at Mourmelon during the week of the meeting. The Spanish Marquis de Salamanca brought the big Antoinette-inspired Anzani-engined monoplane, a "weird yellow gull-like home-made affair" according to "The Aero". It was built for him by François Nicolas from Biarritz, but it's unlikely that it ever flew. There is also no record of local man Georges Leforestier flying the Blériot-inspired "Olga" during the meeting. Louis Blériot was at the meeting, but hadn't planned to fly himself. After the December 1909 crash in Istanbul that forced him to stay three weeks in hospital he had retired from exhibition flying.

Tuesday March 29th
King Edward VII of Britain, who was in bad health and was convalescing after a collapse a couple of weeks earlier, participated at the official opening of the meeting, together with colonel Arthur Davidson, lieutenant-colonel Holford, sir James Reid and a numerous entourage. This was one of last public appearances of the king, who would die less than six weeks later.He arrived shortly before four o'clock and went on a tour of the hangars. Then he was escorted to the honorary tribune by M. de Cartassac, a member of the committee.

The weather was perfect and Leblanc made three successful flights, to the applause of the public. Louis Blériot also flew a lap after having been asked by the king. The other participants were not lucky. Just before the arrival of the King, Chávez had problems steering his plane during his first takeoff and swerved into a tree stump that had been left inside the course when it had been cleared. The right wing was broken and parts of the propeller were thrown high in the air, but the pilot was unharmed and the plane was declared to be repairable.

Burgeat had engine problems and his first start failed. At around seven o'clock he then flew a lap before coming back to land, but he was too high and risked crashing into the hangars. Trying to avoid that, he cut the power brusquely and his planed dropped like a stone from around ten metres. The plane was almost completely wrecked, both wings were broken, but the captain escaped without injuries. The plane caught fire and the firemen had some difficulty extinguishing the flames.

Wednesday March 30th
Crowds were much smaller on the second day and the windy conditions made flying difficult. Mignot flew twice, but at the landing the wind drove him into an earth wall. The plane overturned, but the pilot escaped with minor injuries. Despite an engine that didn't run well Leblanc made a flight of less than a lap around half past six. Not much flying in a whole day…

Thursday March 31st
Gale-force winds blew the whole day, which was anyway planned to be a flight-free day.

Friday April 1st
Leblanc flew eight laps around the course at around five o'clock. When he had landed Duray made a short flight.

Saturday April 2nd
Chávez had repaired his plane and made a flight of 55 minutes, reaching an altitude of 300 metres (or 310 or 450, depending on which report you trust) and covering 45 kilometres. Leblanc flew for eight minutes and Duray flew two laps.

Sunday April 3rd
There are no reports anywhere of any activities at all on this day, which should have been the last of the meeting. Since several reports mention that the meeting was badly disturbed by the weather it has to be assumed that this was another bad weather day.

Conclusion
Even though the prize money wasn't insignificant, the Biarritz meeting was a minor meeting that attracted only a few competent flyers. Given the windy conditions on several days and the crashes that involved half of the likely flying machines it is natural that not very much was achieved.

The airfield was praised in the reports, but the reporter from "The Aero" had scathing criticism of the general organization ("a more haphazard state of affairs never could elsewhere exist"), the access roads ("of this road I have no words fit to use here") and "the high-priced useless boxes and seats".

A second meeting was planned already for the second half of August.