Cannes is a town in Provence in southern France. Its position on the
sunny Côte d'Azur has always ensured its status as a resort for the
rich and famous. In 1910 it had a population of around 30,000
inhabitants, with 10,000 visitors coming every year to enjoy the mild
winter climate. Apart from tourism, the main sources of income were
agriculture, for example production of olives, fruit, perfume and soap,
Cannes already had an aviation tradition. Ferdinand Ferber had made glider flights there already in 1901 and early in 1909 the French Wright licensees Ariel had established a flying school in order to be able to fly during the winter. During the autumn of 1909 around 80 towns applied for sanction from the Aéro-Club de France to hold an aviation meeting. Cannes was one the lucky towns that were granted a sanction.
The meeting was organized by the "Comité d'Aviation de Cannes" together with the Aéro-Club de Cannes. The competitions were of course held according to FAI regulations. According to new rules decided by the Aéro-Club only pilots with a valid "brevet de pilote" were allowed, no doubt as a consequence of the highly publicized incidents and accidents involving novice pilots at the October 1909 Port-Aviation meeting.
Originally there were 17 entrants:
Deletang, Jullerot and the Grégoire and Hanriot teams never turned
up. On the other hand Nicolas Popoff and Paul Bablot on Wrights were
added to the list. This was the first meeting for most of the pilots.
Baratoux had qualified for his license immediately before and Gaubert,
Popoff and Wiesenbach planned to qualify during the meeting.
The total prize money was 70,000 francs. The main event was the 25,000 francs "Prix du Voyage", a race from the airfield, across the Golfe de la Napoule, around the "Butte de Tir" on the island Île Sainte-Marguerite, around the Pointe de la Croisette in Cannes and back. Apart from the short cross-country race at the Vichy meeting the summer before it was the first of its type.
The meeting started during the Easter weekend. The Wright team was in place long before the meeting and Popoff had already made several long flights, even though the flyers complained of people making their way onto the course. Molon had prepared carefully, flying during 24 days of the month of December in his home town Le Havre.
Sunday March 27th
The first day of the meeting attracted 40,000 visitors and was quite justifiably hailed as an enormous success by the ecstatic local press. The official start of the meeting was at ten o'clock and from then to the end of the day at six o'clock there was constant action on the field and in the air. Eight planes made flights and the total time of the official flights was more than seven hours. Frey on his Farman was in the air for almost three hours, while Crochon made the longest non-stop flight of 1 h 09:29. Christiaens, "Edmond" and Baratoux made successful flights, while van Riemsdijk and Sands only flew single laps.
During the morning Molon, through no fault of his own, had a bad accident. Christiaens in his faster Farman caught up with Molon's Blériot around one of the pylons. Instead of overtaking high and on the outside he broke the rules and swooped down to overtake below and inside. The propeller wash from Christiaens' plane threw the Blériot out of control and Molon crashed violently. The plane was completely wrecked and the spectators feared for the worst, but Molon escaped with only a deep cut on the cheek, below the eye. The race committee fined Christiaens 100 francs for his offense and decided some additional rules: There should never be more than three planes on the course, the pilots should fly in a prearranged order and wait for their turns and they should not fly closer to each other than 500 metres. After being bandaged Molon wasted no time. Together with his brother Louis he immediately started preparing the team's second Blériot, hoping to be in the air again already during the afternoon.
Monday March 28th
The weather was cloudy in the morning but improved during the afternoon. The first flights were made already during the early morning. Rigal tried to qualify for his license at 6:30, but was caught by turbulence and crashed, fortunately without injury. Luxemburg's first pilot Vincent Wiesenbach successfully completed his three qualification flights on his Wright between 8:45 and 9:30, when the wind had calmed down a bit. Gaubert tried to start his Wright, but the engine didn't run well.
When the official flights started at ten o'clock the Farman pilots "Edmond", Crochon, Christiaens and Frey were in the air almost immediately, and they would take turns flying for much of the afternoon. Baratoux took off at around eleven o'clock, but his engine didn't run well so he only flew two laps. Wiesenbach flew a lap, but lost control of his Wright when he was hit by the wind after passing the buildings of the Westermann farm, which stood immediately inside the course at the north end of the field. He crashed heavily, but the newly-ploughed ground was soft after the rains of the previous days. His landing gear sunk 50 cm into the ground and dampened the impact, so he was not injured.
The unlucky Molon took his second Blériot for a test flight at 14:20, but his propeller axle broke after only one lap. At 14:45 Frey made an effort for the precision landing contest, but crashed when he tried to force his plane down from too high into the marked square. The left wings and landing gear were broken, but Frey was unhurt and declared the plane to be repairable during the meeting. The contest was won by Christiaens. Van Riemsdijk in his nimble Curtiss was becoming a crowd favourite and made the day's most celebrated flight at three o'clock, climbing to an officially measured altitude of 120 metres and venturing for a trip around the nearby golf course. After repairing his propeller Molon made several short test flights, one of which ended in a ground-loop almost immediately. When he finally managed to fly a couple of good laps towards the end of the day the crowd cheered for the plucky pilot who refused to give up.
During the day the flyers competed for the start at fixed time contest. Van Riemsdijk von by managing to start on the exact second, beating Crochon, who missed his given time by 0.8 seconds! Christiaens was third with 1.4 seconds and Molon fourth with 1.6, so there were no big margins. Crochon made the day's longest flight, of 53 minutes, and the total flying time of all pilots was more than four hours.
Immediately after the cannon announced the end of the day's official flying Popoff took his Wright out to the starting rail in order to make his third and final qualification flight for his licence. He made a beautiful flight, climbing to 60-70 metres and making three fast laps, and passed his test with ease.
Tuesday March 29th
The third day of the meeting was windier, with wind speed reaching almost 10 m/s around noon. As a result there was no flying until after three o'clock. "Edmond", Crochon and Christiaens again did most of the flying, the latter two making trips over the nearby golf course and polo field. Popoff, van Riemsdijk, Molon and Baratoux made short flights. Popoff was severely reprimanded by the race committee for flying above the grandstands and van Riemsdijk had to land because of a broken rigging wire. The day's total flying time was a little over two and a half hours, almost half of them by "Edmond".
Wednesday March 30th
The fourth day was even windier. From time to time it appeared that it would become calmer and the white "on volera probablement" flag was flown, but every time the wind increased again and to make things worse a light rain started to fall. Despite this Gaubert made his second licence qualification flight during the morning.
Crochon tried to make a flight at three o'clock, but he was caught by a gust and the resulting crash broke the right landing gear and wing. At 17:15 Molon tried, but was caught by a gust in exactly the same place. He had better luck: His plane broke the airfield fence and stopped in a neighbouring field, but the only damage was a couple of broken rigging wires. "Edmond" took off, but gave up after one lap. Then Popoff took off and made a flight of eight minutes. The brave Russian fought the gusts, reached an altitude of 70 metres and even flew above the trees that lined the river Siagne at the eastern end of the airfield. After landing he has greeted by the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who was visiting the airfield together with several other minor royalties, among them the crown-prince and princess of Hessen and the crown-prince of Sachsen-Mainingen. The only other flight before the end of the day was another single lap of "Edmond".
Thursday March 31st
Rain and wind again plagued the airfield, but towards four o'clock the weather improved somewhat and the committee decided to run the speed and altitude contests. Only Popoff went for the altitude prize, reaching 57 metres. Baratoux, Popoff, Christiaens and "Edmond" flew the five laps of the speed contest. "Edmond" did best with 8:01.6, beating Christiaens' 8:08.0, and also scored the fastest lap of 1:35.4. Molon tried twice, but both times managed only four laps. The total flying time of the day was less than 45 minutes.
Friday April 1st
Wind and rain made all flying impossible. The committee decided to extend the meeting by two days, with some extra prizes offered. They also moved the closing dinner at the municipal casino from the Sunday to the Tuesday. On two hours on the Sunday afternoon the hangars would be open to public, so that they could see the planes from close.
Saturday April 2nd
The airfield was hit by very hard winds, which caused some damage to the hangars and grandstands.
Sunday April 3rd
The Sunday was the day of the "Prix du voyage", the race over the Golfe de la Napoule to Îles de Lérins and back. The wind was still strong and boat owners had been asked to circulate on the bay in order to be able to rescue any flyers who had to land in the water.
The big hero of the day was Popoff, who after a lap of the course climbed to 90 metres and set course for the islands. The crowd watched with shock and admiration as he disappeared eastwards towards the horizon. Climbing to 250 metres he made whole lap, rounding the Îles de Lérins and the Cap de la Croisette, flying past the quays and promenades of Cannes where an enormous crowd greeted him with applause. After around eighteen minutes the Wright appeared over the trees at the airport and the young Russian came in to land. The crowd broke through the fences and carried Popoff to his hangar, where the Russian flag was flying. The Marseillaise and the Russian hymn were interrupted by fanfares as the flyer was greeted by royalty and dignitaries. When asked about his thoughts about the flight Popoff simply said that it was nothing extraordinary, "I just took off with the idea of making the flight and managed to do it. The wind tried to drive me in over land, but it was no problem. It was fantastic to see the crowds on the seafront, but I had to concentrate on steering and had little time to look at the scenery".
No other flyer tried to fly the "croisière" course, but Frey, Crochon, Christiaens, "Edmond" and Molon made some flights over the airfield. The total flying time of the day was two and a half hours, Christiaens being in the air for a total of more than an hour.
Monday April 4th
The weather on the first additional day started bad, with wind and rain. Around one o'clock it improved somewhat and the sun started to break through the cloud cover. An hour later Molon brought out his Blériot. The take-off was difficult because of the mud and the puddles, but he eventually managed an eight-minute flight. He was followed by Christiaens, who had more wings and more power and easily took off. Popoff also took off from his rail and after overtaking Christiaens retook the line close in front of him. Christians landed immediately and the race committee decided to fine Popoff 100 francs for flying too close to a competitor.
"Edmond", Christiaens and Molon made further flights. Baratoux had planned to repeat Popoff's flight over the bay, only for the glory of it because the contest was closed, but the cylinder head of his engine broke so he had to land after only four minutes. At 17:45 Christiaens, Crochon and "Edmond" made efforts for the passenger flight contest, but it came to nothing. The fabric of Christiaens' top wing started to come off, so he had to give up. Crochon, who weighed 95 kg himself, didn't manage to lift off from the soft ground with the additional weight of a passenger. "Edmond" did somewhat better, but had to land before he had completed the required four laps. Christiaens made the longest flight of the day, 53:06.4, enough to win the prize for highest total flying time.
Tuesday April 5th
The last day was another complete washout, since heavy rain kept falling all day. In the evening the flyers and organizers got some compensation by enjoying a six-course dinner with wines from Bordeaux and Champagne and several speeches by politicians, press, organizers and pilots.
The Cannes meeting was a great success for Henry Farman. His sturdy and well-balanced biplanes won almost all the events. It was also further proof that airplanes were getting reliable enough to fly for hours, several days in a row. The first days of the meeting were an unqualified success, but two days were completely washed out and during the rest of the meeting bad weather was never far away.
The competitors had reason to be disappointed: In July 1911 "Flight" reported that the prize money hadn't been paid and that the aviators had entered an action against the mayor of the town and the organizers of the meeting. The money was finally paid in February 1912!