Grande Semaine de Paris
Port-Aviation (Juvisy), France, June 9th - 16th, 1910

After floods and bankruptcy, the revival of the world's first airfield

The rather modest title page of the official program of the meeting.
A view over the grandstands on the first day. (1)
Adolphe Didier at the controls of his Farman. He was one of the several participating pilots who competed at a meeting for the first time. (2)
The bearded Florentin Champel in front of his Voisin. The machine still carries the Port-Aviation race number 4, but the photo was actually taken on July 11th, after a 55-minute 60-kilometre cross-country flight that took him across Paris from Port-Aviation to Sartrouville. (3)
Émile Dubonnet in flight, with the grandstands in the background. This was the first meeting for both Dubonnet, of the family producing the famous apéritif of the same name, and for the Tellier monoplanes. (4)
The rudders of Didier's Farman carry the name of its owners, the Port-Aviation-based flying school "Avia-Pilote" (2)
Dubonnet flying above Didier's Farman, which has short lower "racing" wing panels. (5)
Ladougne's Goupy, with pivoting wing tip ailerons on both wings. (1)
Didier flying. (6)

It has been very difficult to find photos from this meeting. Please contact us if you know of any more!

The winter and spring of 1910 had been difficult for the Port-Aviation airfield. The Paris area was heavily affected by a flooding of the Seine and several of its tributaries during the late winter. One of those tributaries was the Orge, which splits in two branches at the airfield, one running along the northwest side of the airfield and one crossing the airfield. It started rising in mid-January and from January 21st all activity on the airfield had to be cancelled. Water covered most of the airfield and all the hangars had to be evacuated. Only on March 2nd could Louis Gaudart make the first flights on the still partly waterlogged field.

The company operating the airfield, the "Compagnie de l'Aviation", was in financial problems already before the floods. The closure of the airfield and the costs of repairing the damage put further burden on them, and in April they declared their bankruptcy. The operation was taken over by a new group of owners, headed by Boris Chapiro and Paul Marchal. They immediately started expanding the hangar area further to the northwest of the airfield. They demolished the western parts of the grandstands in order to make room for further hangars and administrative buildings.

When the aviation meetings of 1910 were sanctioned by the Aéro-Club, a national meeting at Port-Aviation in mid-June was included in the calendar. It had a modest prize fund and since it clashed with the prestigious Budapest meeting and was scheduled to end less than a week before the much bigger Rouen meeting it didn't attract any of aviation's biggest names. Fourteen pilots entered, all Frenchmen except Swiss Edmond Audemars. The most famous of them was Émile Dubonnet, who on April 3rd, on his tenth flight ever, in a Tellier monoplane that had hardly ever been flown outside its home airfield, had flown from Juvisy to La Ferté-Saint-Aubin, south of Orléans. This flight won him the 10,000 francs prize offered by the magazine "La Nature" for "the first cross-country flight, far from airfields and under conditions realistic to practical aviation, of at least 100 kilometres in less than two hours, between two points specified in advance". Several of the pilots who had entered didn't qualify for their licenses in time, and Guillaume Busson had the additional excuse of his Blériot going missing on the railway during the transport to the meeting, so in the end only eight of them made official flights:

  • Edmond Audemars, Demoiselle
  • Médéric Burgeat ("de Chauveau"), Antoinette
  • Florentin Champel, Voisin
  • Fernand Deletang, Blériot,
  • Jean Dufour, Voisin
  • Adolphe Didier, H. Farman
  • Émile Dubonnet, Tellier
  • Émile Ladougne, Goupy
Under the direction of Jacques Therould, the organizers had restored the airfield to its former glory. Avenue Blériot, the street that led onto the airfield, had resumed its festive atmosphere with bars and kiosks selling tobacco, postcards, sweets and flowers. There was a new press pavilion, and the post and telegraph offices were open, with several phone booths and direct telegraph lines to London and Berlin. The railway operators Compagnie d'Orléans claimed to have taken all necessary measures to avoid the debacle of the previous year, when they were incapable of handling the huge crowds and passengers after waiting for hours rioted on the trains and stations.

The program included contests for total and non-stop distance, altitude, quickest take-off and two speed events, one with passenger on board and one requiring a one-minute stop with engine running. A special prize was offered by Léon Laurent, owner and developer of the "Parc de Beauséjour" estate, the site of the famous art-nouveau Castel d'Orgeval, some three kilometres southwest of the airfield. He promised a plot of land worth 5,000 francs to the first aviator who made a flight from the airfield to his property and back, but it appears the prize wasn't claimed.

Thursday 9 June
The meeting started with sunshine and a blue sky, but the weather got more unsettled during the afternoon. In the morning Dufour and Dubonnet made short tests before the official opening at eleven o'clock. It was followed by a luncheon for the participants and the members of the Aéro-Club. Before they had left the tables Edouard Château, who had not entered in the contests, flew a lap of the course in a Zodiac biplane.

The official flights started in the afternoon, in front of some 30,000 spectators. Dufour was first out, at around half past two. After a successful one-lap flight his machine was hit by a gust during the landing, bounced and nosed over when it hit the ground again. The right wing was damaged, but the pilot was unhurt and it was estimated that the machine could be repaired in two days. At three o'clock Didier made a perfect take-off and flew two laps before being forced down by a rain shower.

At around five o'clock, when the rain had stopped, Dubonnet started a series of three three-lap flights. He was followed by Champel, who impressed with his speed, and Didier, who again flew two laps before gliding down to land in a magnificent "vol plané". The climax of the day was around half past five, when the crowds, estimated to 30,000 persons, got to see three machines in the air at the same time, those of Dubonnet, Audemars and Champel. Dubonnet was flying highest, at altitudes estimated to around 200 metres, with Audemars lowest and Champel in between. Dubonnet was last to land, forced down by another rain shower and increasing winds. When the day's flights were added up, Dubonnet had flown 37.32 km in 33 minutes, with Champel second.

Friday 10 June
The crowds were large on the second day too, but the weather was not cooperative. The sky was grey with clouds that threatened with rain and the wind was very changeable and gusty. Dubonnet made the only official flight, only five minutes after the start of official flights at eleven o'clock. He covered six laps, under perfect control. Nobody else dared to fly and the further the afternoon went, the more impatient the crowds got, screaming, whistling and protesting. Towards the end of the day they finally got to see a couple of flights. Towards half past six, after the end of official flights, M. Houdaille, the commissioner in charge of the security service, managed to persuade Audemars to bring out his Demoiselle. The brave pilot flew four laps in the midst of endless acclamation, "a picturesque sight, the tiny monoplane standing out dark against the grey background of the sky, resembling a gigantic bat". It was reported that Dufour's machine was repaired and ready for flight, and that Burgeat had finished assembling his Antoinette and was ready for flights.

Saturday 11 June
The second day might have been a disappointment, but the third offered lots of action. It started already at 11:20 in the morning, when Dubonnet and Didier made test flights, Dubonnet landing after 14 laps. At noon Audemars took off, followed by Dubonnet. Audemars showed an impressive speed, around one and a half minute per lap. At 12:30 Didier took off, followed by Ladougne, who made his first flight of the meeting and the first flight of a Goupy biplane during a meeting.

The official flights started at three o'clock. Dubonnet was first to take off, at 15:18, but he landed already after one lap to make some engine adjustments. Seven minutes later he took off again, this time for an eleven-minute flight of six laps. Next to take off was Didier, who flew three laps, and when he had landed Dubonnet took off again and remained in the air for ten laps. Didier took off again, for a flight of eighteen minutes, then Audemars, then Didier again, who this time made a flight of fifteen laps before landing at 18:07. Dubonnet had taken off again at 17:54 and went on to fly fourteen laps, landing at 18:19. Audemars flew two laps, followed by Burgeat, whose Antoinette nosed over when he landed. The propeller was broken, but no other major damage was caused and the pilot managed to jump to safety and escaped injury.

This was the end of the day's action, and nobody could have left the airfield disappointed. At most there had been four machines in the air at the same time! Dubonnet had flown 69 kilometres during the day and increased his lead over Didier in the total distance contest to 119.465 km against 57.246. Didier had taken the lead in the take-off prize with a time of 34.4 seconds. Audemars' fastest lap over the two-kilometre course had taken only 1:30.

Sunday 12 June
The Sunday was the only holiday of the meeting and attracted great crowds. Around 50,000 watched the proceedings from the airfield and many more saved their money by watching from the hills outside the field. This day the official flights started at one o'clock. The first to fly was Didier. He took off at 13:20 and flew three laps, landed and then took off again at 14:10. Ladougne took off at 14:22. He flew five laps at an altitude of 100 metres, landed, and then took off at 14:55 for a second flight of six minutes. Meanwhile Audemars and Deletang both had engine problems and aborted their starts. Ladougne was followed by Dubonnet, who made a short flight while Ladougne again climbed to higher altitudes.

Then a very busy period followed. Burgeat took off at 15:15 for a short test, followed by a failed start by Dufour. At 15:30 Burgeat took off again in order to go for the altitude prize, and flew four laps at around 100 metres. At four o'clock Didier and Dubonnet also took off again, locked in battle for the total distance prize, and they were joined by Audemars. Both landed and took off again. While these three were still in the air Ladougne took off, competing for the altitude prize. He quickly reached 135 metres during a three-lap flight. When Dubonnet finally landed he had been in the air for one hour and 17 minutes, still not enough to beat the one hour and 24 minutes of Didier.

While all this was going on, Deletang had made his debut by making a successful flight of almost two laps, and Dufour had twice more failed to leave the ground. Ladougne then took one of his mechanics on board for an effort at the passenger prize, but on the second lap his machine hit the turbulence from a competitor and was thrown into some alarming oscillations. He landed immediately, to the relief of the spectators. Then Audemars made a flight of several laps, the little man in his tiny machine as always cheered by the crowds. Burgeat took off again at 18:45, but couldn't match Ladougne's altitude and had to settle for second, beaten by only five metres. He tried a last time, just before the seven o'clock curfew, but had to give up. Audemars also used the last few minutes for a final flight.

37 flights had been made and nobody could have been disappointed with the day's action! Didier had flown 95.164 km, narrowly beating Dubonnet's total, but Dubonnet had made what would be the longest nonstop flight of the meeting, 65.361 km. When the official flights were finished and rain started to fall, Émile Duval in his Saulnier made the first of the qualification flights required for his license, in front of an observer from the Aéro-Club.

Monday 13 June
The stormy weather made all flights impossible. The day was a complete washout and the organizers had to refund the tickets of the visitors. Busson's machine had finally arrived, but it would be too late for him to qualify for his license in time to participate in the official flights.

Tuesday 14 June
The sixth day of the meeting was still affected by high winds, and the patient spectators were despairing as the afternoon went by. At quarter past four the balloon "Aérodrome de Paris" was launched and quickly disappeared in the direction of Fontainebleu, driven by the wind from the northwest, but the crowds had come to see aeroplanes. At 17:35 Didier finally relieved their misery, when he lined up to compete for the take-off prize. He didn't manage a clean take-off, so the effort was disallowed, but he completed a lap, despite the vicious gusts. When he had landed, Audemars flew five laps to once again close a day's action, pitching up and down "like a big butterfly flying from flower to flower". Audemars' had taken off in 15.2 seconds, giving him the lead in the take-off contest.

Wednesday 15 June
The morning again started cloudy, and towards noon the winds again increased to 12 - 15 m/s. At 16:52 Didier again broke the stalemate. He managed to take-off in 11.6 seconds, improving on his previous mark and taking the lead in the take-off contest. He then flew a lap and a half in the gusty wind, before losing control. A gust overturned the machine twice and it crashed heavily and was completely destroyed except for the top wing - the engine, the propeller, everything else was broken into pieces. The spectators were horrified, but fortunately Didier escaped without serious injuries.

The accident didn't frighten Audemars, who wanted to reclaim the lead in the take-off contest from Didier. He made his effort at 17:28 and managed to take off in 9.0 seconds. He landed again after 16 minutes and seven laps. Half an hour later he took off again, but landed already after one lap, so he couldn't add much to his total flying time tally. Dubonnet made a failed flight and landed immediately, after only 50 metres. At 18:51 Audemars took off again, and he didn't land until the 19:03, when the official timing had stopped. His flights during the day totalled 27 km.

Thursday 16 June
Big crowds came to watch the last day of the meeting, probably encouraged by the flights that did after all take place the previous day, but it was again a stormy day with very high winds. They were kept amused by another launch of the balloon "Aérodrome de Paris" and by some kite flying. The day's only flight was made at 17:55, and it was Audemars in his little Demoiselle who once again saved the day. His machine pitched and rolled like a ship at sea and touched the ground a couple of times, but he kept flying for three and a half laps to the applause of the spectators.

A magnificent photo of seven of eight the participating machines, showing an interesting variety of makes and configurations. In the centre, nearest the camera, Audemars' Demoiselle and Deletang's Blériot, behind them, from left to right, Dufour's Voisin, Ladougne's Goupy, Champel's Voisin, Dubonnet's Tellier and Burgeat's Antoinette.    Click here for a high-resolution version! (7)

Conclusion
The weather was not very cooperative, but given the circumstances and the relative inexperience of the pilots the meeting must be considered relatively successful. The organization of the meeting and the effort of the new airfield management company were universally praised. The big winner of the meeting was Émile Dubonnet, whose secure handling of the big Tellier monoplane impressed many. The meeting was the public beginning of Edmond Audemars' career as an aviation showman, which would last until the Great War broke out.

The organizers wanted to compensate the paying visitors for the lack of action during the rainy days, and therefore promised that they could come and watch at least some of the pilots on the next Sunday. On the 19th, Burgeat, Champel and Ladougne made several successful flights in perfect weather, together with Guillaume Busson and Eugène Lesire, two of the pilots that had entered the contests but couldn't get their licenses in time.

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