Caen is the capital of the French department Calvados
in Normandie, located where the little river Odon joins
the Orne. It was a town already in Roman times and has a
famous castle, built by William the Conqueror, who was
buried in the town. The town is situated fifteen
kilometres from the coast, but it's still accessible
for ships of up to 5.7 metres of draught. In 1910 it had
around 50,000 inhabitants and apart from the harbour
mainly lived from fishery and textile industry.
When the sanctions for the 1910 aviation meetings were granted by the French Aéro-Club, Caen was one of the lucky towns that got a meeting. A committee headed by E. Lanier was created and immediately started preparations for the event, which was supported the sports daily "L'Auto". It would be held at the exercise grounds at Cormelles some three kilometres southeast of the city centre, normally used by the 36e Régiment d'Infanterie. The organizers offered 200 free tickets to the soldiers of the garrison of Caen, who undertook the "service d'ordre". They also offered half-price tickets for the wives of the officers. Road traffic was organized and gravel roads were tarred. Sixteen Bessonneau hangars were erected and grandstands were constructed by the Cambronne company. Several bars and restaurants were built and telephone lines installed. The organizers had decided against using the usual big mast with complicated signals to inform the ongoing events and would instead use flags of different colours to inform about the different events. The hotels of the town had agreed to keep their normal prices, while the coach services certainly did not, leading to complaints of the high prices charged - 10 francs for the trip between the town and the airfield!
With a prize fund of some 50,000 francs it was not one of the richest meetings, but it still attracted a competent field of eleven civilian pilots, among them some of the most famous. The biggest name was Blériot pilot Léon Morane, who had had been very successful at the meetings of Rouen, Reims and Bournemouth. Other prominent names were René Labouchère, who had flown more than 1,150 kilometres in his Antoinette at the Reims meeting, and 16-year old Marcel Hanriot, who piloted the monoplanes built by his father's company. They were accompanied by Émile Aubrun, Robert Martinet, André Crochon, Marcel Paillette and Jean Daillens, who had all competed at the Reims meeting. Daillens knew the exercise grounds of Cormelles well, having served in the 36th regiment as a "soldat de deuxième classe" (private). The field was completed by three less experienced flyers: Capitaine Médéric Burgeat (who competed under the civilian pseudonym "de Chauveau"), Eugène Renaux and Victor Rigal. Renaux would the first to fly a Maurice Farman biplane at a meeting.
Military flyers had performed at a couple of previous meetings, but this was the first time when more than a couple would participate: Lieutenants Félix Camerman, Paul Acquaviva and Joseph Maillols and Sous-Lieutenant Jules Gronier. They were not allowed to compete against civilians or for cash prizes, but they would compete with each other for several trophies. The army would also be represented by the man-carrying kite trains flown by Capitaine Louis Madiot and Lieutenant Paul Basset.
Labouchère had planned to avoid the cost of transporting his machine by road or railway by flying from Mourmelon to Caen on the Saturday before the meeting, taking off at three o'clock in the morning. The Saturday passed, and the Sunday and the Monday, but nothing was heard of him.
On the 26th, the day before the start of the meeting, the prefect visited the hangars and had a meeting with the organizers, and the organizers had a meeting with the pilots. Almost everything was ready for the start of the meeting when a violent windstorm hit the airfield. It damaged 300 metres of fences, a couple of tents and a couple of pylons, but they were quickly repaired.
On the evening of the 26th, Marcel Hanriot made the first flight. In front of around a thousand visitors he flew two laps of the course, reaching an altitude of 80 metres. The president of the meeting emptied a glass of Champagne to celebrate the first flight in Caen. Soon afterwards Daillens and Renaux also made test flights.
Wednesday 27 July
Action at the airfield started already at seven o'clock in the morning, when Crochon made test flight. Thousands of people visited the airfield already during the morning to get a sight of the machines. At half past eleven the organizers met the pilots during a private luncheon. Somebody had amused himself by giving the courses aviation names, like Lobster Maillolaise, Veau Aviation, Entrecôtes Martinet, Haricots de Cormelles and Glaces Hanriot. The "Entrecôtes Martinet" played on the two "côtes" (ribs) that he broke when he crashed at the Reims meeting three weeks earlier.
The weather was perfect when the meeting officially started at two o'clock. Hanriot took off immediately after the opening cannon shot. At the same time the organizers received a message from the Antoinette company, which informed them that Labouchère had injured a leg during a crash landing at their airfield in Mourmelon. He would need to rest for several weeks and could not participate. At 14:20 Daillens made a short test flight. Hanriot was still flying and stayed in the air for around 45 minutes. Daillens made another flight and landed close to the road that crossed the airfield. The military flyers were preparing their machines and Lieutenant Camerman took off at 15:10. He landed after a superb flight of 45 minutes. Hanriot took off again at 15:55, followed by Crochon, who landed almost immediately. Martinet took off at 16:25, followed 15 minutes later by Burgeat. The big crowds enjoyed the spectacle of two monoplanes and one biplane in the air at the same time. Hanriot's second flight lasted 50 minutes and he glided down to a perfect landing. At five o'clock Crochon took off again, climbing to 200 minutes and going for the altitude prize.
Paillette took off at 17:10, starting a long flight, during which he left the airfield towards the southwest, then turned north to fly over the centre of Caen before returning from the northeast after fifteen minutes. After returning to the airfield he continued flying, for a while accompanied in the air by five other machines, those of Daillens, Martinet, Burgeat, Hanriot and Renaux. He landed after an hour and a half, having reached an altitude of 297 metres, the highest flight of the day. After landing, relaxed and none the worse for wear, he lit a cigarette and congratulated the mayor, M. Perrotte, on having such a beautiful town to administrate. He said that he had been surprised by the large number of cemeteries that he had seen during the flight, and declared that he didn't intend to land in one yet.
Between six and seven o'clock all the pilots made flights except Rigal, whose new Sommer had been damaged during the transport to the airfield, and Blériot flyers Morane and Aubrun, whose machines were not ready. The daily longest total flight time prize was won by Hanriot, whose four flights totalled 2 h 55:55.0, which beat second-placed Paillette by fifty minutes.
After the end of the official flights Morane made a test flight in Aubrun's Blériot, which was troubled by an overheating engine. It had a new Gnôme engine, which replaced his previous Clément-Bayard unit. After a couple of brief tests by Rigal the airfield went quiet. During the evening the machines of the military pilots Gronier and Maillols arrived, having been transported by road from Paris. The Wright of Maillols had also been damaged during the trip and would require some repairs.
Thursday 28 July
The second day of the meeting was sunny, but very windy. A two o'clock, when the meeting officially started, the wind speed was 10.5 m/s. The only ones who were pleased with that was Capitaine Madiot and Lieutenant Basset, who made a couple of flights in the army kites. The first flyer to show any interest in flying was Crochon. He rolled out his machine from the hangar at four o'clock, but he changed his mind and withdrew. Then Hanriot, Camerman and Paillette each made short flights, but nobody stayed in the air for more than a couple of minutes.
At 17:20 Morane finally took off, despite the still strong wind. He impressed the onlookers by leaving the airfield to fly a circle high above the villages east of the airfield, before gliding down to perfect landing. He made a second flight at 18:40, climbing to 500 metres and gliding back towards the airfield against the wind. Hanriot took off at 18:47 but got in trouble with the wind and landed almost immediately.
It had been intended to contest the cross-country race and the biplane speed prize during the day, but after Hanriot's last effort the day's events were postponed. The crowds left, many of them for the Place de la République, which was decorated and illuminated for a concert with the orchestra of the 36th Regiment.
Morane's two flights totalled 10:09.6, the highest total of the day, but the result didn't count for the daily total flying time prize, because he hadn't flown before five o'clock as required by the regulations. That prize went to Hanriot, whose total was 9:17.2.
Friday 29 July
The committee had given the participants of the bicycle Tour de France, which would finish two days later with the last stage from Caen to Paris, free entrance to the airfield. The start of the day was still windy. The first flight was again made by Hanriot, who took off at 15:25. He was followed fifteen minutes later by Burgeat, who hit a wheat sheaf when he drifted out of the mown strip during the take-off. The machine was brutally stopped and slightly damaged, but the pilot was not injured and the machine was towed back to the hangars by an automobile. Hanriot landed after 21 minutes. Crochon took off and made a flight of seven and a half minutes, but then the wind increased again and there was no flying for an hour.
The popular Morane was loudly cheered and applauded when he took off at 16:55. He flew two laps and then started to climb, higher and higher. In less than four minutes he reached 908 metres, three times higher than anybody else had flown during the meeting. While he was flying Hanriot took off, followed by Gronier, who made two passenger flights. Between five o'clock and seven o'clock almost all the remaining pilots were in action. Hanriot and Crochon circled the airfield, the former adding to his lead in the total time contest and climbing to 284 metres. Paillette, Martinet and Renaux all left the airfield and flew around the different villages and suburbs, later followed by Crochon. Daillens took off but had to land due to a broken fuel pipe.
At six o'clock the postponed first efforts for the cross-country race were made. The race was held over a course of around 21 kilometres, from the start/finish line of the airfield to Bellengreville around nine kilometres to the southeast, where the turning point was the tower of the Église Nôtre Dame. The flyers then returned to the start/finish line via the last three pylons of the airfield course. The planes were released at five-minute intervals, beginning at six o'clock. Three of the pilots decided to try. The first to take off was Morane, followed by Hanriot and Renaux. They landed in the same order, with Morane taking a clear lead. His time of 13:56.0 was more than four minutes better than Hanriot's, while Renaux's flight took almost 24 minutes after he lost his way. The intention was that the pilots would have two more days for the event, but they were both eventually cancelled because of bad weather, so this would be the final results.
Towards half past six Lieutenant Paul Acquaviva tried to take off in his two-seat Blériot, but the engine stopped after only a couple of seconds. Someone explained that this was only what could be expected with the number 13 machine on a Friday… Immediately before the end of the official flights Aubrun proved superstition wrong by making a successful fast flight in Acquaviva's machine, with the lieutenant as passenger. Aubrun's own machine was still not ready. Daillens made a flight with a lady passenger, the wife of an officer of the 36th regiment. Hanriot had again spent most time in the air, 1 h 30:01.4, nine minutes more than Martinet. Hanriot's lead the total time contest was now more than an hour, with Martinet second.
Saturday 30 July
Already at five o'clock in the morning Maillols made a test flight with his French-built Wright. The necessary spare parts had finally arrived, so the transport damages could be repaired.
Hanriot was, as usual, first to take off when official flights started, immediately after two o'clock. He was followed a quarter later by Crochon and by Renaux, who landed after two laps. During the following hour Martinet, Paillette, Daillens, Morane and Camerman also took off, as did Renaux for a second flight. At 15:45 Crochon crashed. He had been forced low by another machine flying above him and hit a haystack. He was thrown off his seat and dislocated a shoulder when he hit the ground. He was driven back to the hangars by an ambulance and the injury was set right by the airfield doctors within forty minutes. They claimed it was a difficult operation since Crochon was so muscular, "a real Hercules". Later in the afternoon he was walking around in the hangar area again.
It had been intended to run the second efforts for the cross-country contest, but it was cancelled because the first efforts had been postponed. This meant that the day's main event was the speed contest for the military pilots. This was won by Camerman, who flew the six laps in 13:06.4, beating Gronier and Acquaviva. Maillols' Wright was still not in full trim after the transport damages and couldn't participate.
Apart from Crochon's crash, there were no incidents during the day and the pilots just kept flying. The busy timers counted 350 laps around the course and timed almost ten hours of official flights. Paillette was the most active pilot, clocking a total of 3 h 13:56.4 and beating Hanriot by eleven minutes. Hanriot now lead the total endurance contest by almost two hours.
After the end of official flying, which had been postponed to half past seven on request from the press and the pilots, Camerman took Octave Lapize, the leader and eventual winner of the Tour de France and two of his competitors for flights, and then the reporter M. Le Grand from the sports daily L'Auto. All in all, the military fliers made more than ten passenger flights, gaining the fledgling flying service a lot of goodwill. Daillens tried to give the meeting's press commissioner a ride, but he had to give up after a 500-metre take-off roll. The extra weight of the 106-kilogram passenger proved too much for the machine!
Sunday 31 July
A fine rain fell during the morning, but when official flights started at two o'clock the sun was shining. By now the meeting had reached the point where the local press could no longer be bothered with recording single flights unless a record was beaten or there was some exciting incident. Instead, they wrote long rants about the incompetent, autocratic and bureaucratic officials who jealously guarded the gates to the hangar area…
The day's main event was the qualifications for the speed contest. This was separated in two events, one for monoplanes and one for the slower biplanes. In the monoplane event, Morane as expected qualified first, in front of Aubrun, who had finally got his machine in working order after the engine change. Morane's time over the three laps was 4:27.2, almost two minutes better than Renaux, who won the biplane qualifications with a time of 6:09.4, beating Martinet.
Burgeat crashed Maillols' Wright during a test flight, so the troublesome machine was now definitely out of action, but the pilot was not injured. Hanriot again topped the list of total flight times, having been in the air 2 h 19:49.6. This was only eight minutes better than the sensation of the day, Burgeat, whose Antoinette was obviously well prepared and maintained.
Monday 1 August
The big news of the day was the visit of M. Sarraut, the "sous-secretaire d'État à la Guerre". He was received by an orchestra playing the Marseillaise and was taken on a tour of the hangars, where he had champagne and sandwiches in one and ice-cream in another.
The weather was awful, with rain and wind. When it calmed down a little, Morane took off so that the visitor could see at least some flying. He was followed by Camerman and Gronier, but the wind was dangerously strong and they all landed almost immediately. As usual when the wind was too strong for airplanes, only the kite flyers Madiot and Basset were happy.
Towards seven o'clock, when the wind had calmed down somewhat, Camerman and Gronier contested the officers' prize for endurance. Camerman took the win with a flight of 22:40.2, beating Gronier by two and a half minutes. Conditions were still difficult, and the worried spectators were relieved when they landed. Nobody else made any officially timed flights during the day.
It was announced that aviation benefactor Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe had donated a trophy for a cross-country contest for the officers. It was to be held on the day after, over a 35-kilometre course with the church towers of Cintheaux and Bellengreville as turning points.
Tuesday 2 August
The morning of the last day started rainy and with few visitors, but the weather improved towards five o'clock. There were still several prizes to compete for. Morane secured the win in the altitude contest by "taking the elevator of the Grand Hôtel" and reaching an official altitude of 1.250 metres, though many observers stated that the actual altitude was much higher.
The final of the speed contest ended in the same order as the qualifications, with Morane beating Aubrun in front of the two slower biplanes of Renaux and Martinet. Morane's time was 4:33.4 and Aubrun took 19 seconds longer.
The three officers contested the Prix Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe. Acquaviva took yet another win for Blériot. His time was 30:23.6, beating Camerman's 32:39.8, with Gronier another almost five minutes behind.
Rigal had finally got his damaged machine in working order and clocked almost twelve minutes. Martinet was the day's busiest pilot. He spent 1 h 02:03.2 in the air, which was enough to move him into second place in the total endurance contest, ahead of Paillette. He was still beaten by a large margin by Hanriot, who had a lead of around four hours since the day before and didn't have to fly during the last day. Hanriot's total time during the meeting was almost ten hours, without even the smallest incident - an amazing performance by someone who had celebrated his sixteenth birthday less than two months before the meeting! Martinet's performance was also impressive, considering that he was still recovering after breaking two ribs in his crash at Reims only three weeks before. After the end of the official flights there were around ten passenger flights. Camerman was again the most active pilot, but Gronier and Daillens also made flights.
From a sporting point of view the meeting was satisfying, but hardly spectacular. No records had been beaten, but on the other hand, in contrast to the recent meetings of Reims, Bournemouth and Stockel, the meeting had been safe. There had been only one major accident, resulting in only minor injuries.
Just as with many of the meetings of 1910, the financial results were disappointing. The cost of organizing the meeting had been high and the gate receipts, totalling 123,000 francs, had been lower than expected, probably because of the difficult weather. The local businesses complained that there were few out-of-town visitors. The visitors from the local area had just gone to the airfield in the afternoons and back home again afterwards, instead of staying in town and spending their money there. The local press was of the opinion that the town had been overambitious, and that the organization of such big events should be left to bigger and richer towns.