Semaine d'Aviation de Mondorf-les-Bains
Mondorf-les-Bains, Luxembourg, June 5th - 12th, 1910

Aviation comes to the Grand Duchy

The title page of the program of the meeting.
Charles Bettendorf's ex-Léon Delagrange Voisin with Jacques Wiesenbach at the controls, probably during a test flight before the meeting. Note the lack of vertical "curtains" between the wings. (1)
This was all that was seen of the Bettendorf machine during the meeting. The inexperienced Wiesenbach didn't want to risk his employer's machine in the difficult weather conditions and therefore refused to fly. (2)
Joseph Christiaens' Farman. This was a brand new machine, he had sold his old one after the St Petersburg meeting less than three weeks before. (2)
A view towards the northeast, out of the park, with Christiaens coming in to land. The pole is presumably one of the flag poles used as rounding-points. (1)
Alexander de Petrovsky's crew rolling his Sommer back towards the hangar area. In the background is the Convent of Saint Elisabeth, on the east side of the park. The building still exists, but has been enlarged. (1)
Élie Mollien outside his hangar, in neat white overalls. (2)
The young princesses in the grandstand during their visit on June 7th. (3)
The princesses touring the hangars. (4)
Mollien ready for a take-off. (2)
René Barrier's Blériot in front of the hangars. We have not seen any other photo that shows a machine with a race number. (1)
Christiaens about to touch down. (2)
Charles Bettendorf (1863-1929), the industrialist and mecenate who made the meeting possible. A better photo would be welcome. (5)
This drawing of a Voisin was used on the front page of the program of the meeting.

Mondorf-les-Bains (in German Bad Mondorf, in Luxembourgish Munneref) is a small town in the south-east part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. It is situated right on the border against the part of Lorraine that between 1871 and 1918 belonged to the German Empire. In 1910 the town had around 1,000 inhabitants. As indicated by its name, Mondorf is a spa town - the main business was, and is, the thermal springs that were opened in the 1840s. Then as now, thousands of people each year visit the town to enjoy the richly mineralized water, which is said to particularly suitable for the treatment of liver, gastric and respiratory ailments.

Charles Bettendorf was a rich industrialist from Mondorf, with interests in iron works and mining, and also in the town's mineral waters. He was one of a group of Luxembourg aviation enthusiasts who visited the famous 1909 "Grande Semaine d'Aviation" of Reims. On the train home they decided to start the Aero Club of Luxembourg. In November 1909 Bettendorf bought a Voisin biplane from aviation pioneer Léon Delagrange. In the spring of 1910 he displayed the Voisin at Villa Louvigny in Luxembourg City. He then brought it to Mondorf, rented some land for an airfield in front of his own park and built a couple of hangars. For piloting duties he hired Jacques Wiesenbach, who worked at the French Wright licensees Ariel together with his brother Vincent (in German sources often called Vinzenz), who participated at the Cannes meeting in the spring of 1910.

Bettendorf managed to convince the government of Luxembourg to support the organisation of an aviation meeting by sponsoring 10,000 francs of prize money. Thanks to 5,000 francs of Bettendorf's own money and contributions from other local sponsors a total prize fund of 21,500 francs was raised. The meeting was initially planned for the middle of May, but after some reconsiderations it was finally to be held on June 5th to 12th. With the help of the French sports magazine "L'Auto" Bettendorf contracted five interested pilots, resulting in this list of participants:

  • René Barrier (France, Blériot)
  • Baron Pierre de Caters, (Belgium, Voisin)
  • Joseph Christiaens (Belgium, Farman)
  • Élie Mollien (France, Blériot)
  • Alexander de Petrovsky (Russia/Belgium, Sommer)
  • Jacques Wiesenbach (Luxembourg, Voisin)
De Caters, Christiaens and Barrier had all participated in earlier meetings, but the others were relative newcomers and Wiesenbach had practically no flying experience at all.

The first flights were made the day before the official start of the meeting. At five o'clock de Petrovsky made a three-kilometre flight, but an approaching thunderstorm forced him to land. One of the landing skids of his Sommer was slightly damaged during the landing. Later in the evening Mollien also flew around the airfield.

Sunday 5 June
The weather on the opening day was very hot and the crowds travelling to the airfield were so big that the railways had difficulty maintaining organized traffic. Already before the start of proceedings growing clouds indicated that thunderstorms were likely during the afternoon. When the official flights started Barrier was fist to try, but without much success. Seconds after lift-off the machine landed again, "like a weak young bird that left its nest too soon, lost its strength and now lies panting, in need of help, in the street", according to the reporter from "Obermosel-Zeitung". Barrier turned the machine around and rolled back for a new effort. This went slightly better, but it was still only a straight flight and ended in a clover field. The grass was only mowed inside the park where the hangars and grandstands were located, in the farmland in the northeast end of the field the crops were still standing. Mollien also made an effort, with the same result. The Blériot crews blamed their bad performances on the Anzani engines, which they claimed did not deliver full power in the heat.

At 15:15 Christiaens rolled out his Farman, a brand new machine, and flew one lap during a three-minute flight. He was followed by de Caters, who landed in a field after only 300 metres. He had his machine pulled to a hill nearby, pointed it towards the hangar area and to everybody's surprise managed to take off again. He did unfortunately not land immediately, but flew behind the grandstands where he was caught by a gust and driven down into a potato field on the Lorraine side of the border. The machine stood on its nose and de Caters was thrown out and slid and tumbled some ten metres along the ground. He got away with some bruises, but the front fuselage and the landing gear of his Voisin were rather badly damaged. It was retrieved with the aid of two horses and returned to his hangar around seven o'clock in the evening. De Caters stated that it should be possible to repair the machine in two days.

At 16:20 Christiaens made a second flight, this time a longer one of almost seven minutes. Like de Caters he passed behind the grandstand, over the border into Lorraine, and then via a wide circle to the south and east before making an elegant landing in front of the grandstand, where he was greeted by applause and ovations. At 16:45 a violent thunderstorm arrived, and it lasted for one and a half hour. The crowds waited patiently in the grandstands, restaurants and bars, and were relieved by the cooling effect of the rain.

At 18:25, when the rain had stopped, Mollien made a good flight around the airfield. He was followed by Barrier, whose engine also ran better in the cooler weather, but that didn't help much, since he ended up in a field again. Then de Petrovsky, who had worked on his machine after the slight mishap the day before, rolled out his machine. It was also a brand new machine, "its fuel tank gleaming like a polished musical instrument". He made a good flight, but a bad landing. The machine swerved towards the fence in front of the grandstand, but stopped at the last moment, only metres away from an accident. The first day had not offered any great performances, but the large crowd had at least got to see some flying.

Monday 6 June
The morning was calm, but towards lunchtime the winds increased to more than 10 m/s, making flights impossible until around half past four. As usual, the first event was the single-lap speed contest. Christiaens was first to start and won the event before de Petrovsky. The only other starter was Mollien, who was forced to land after 300 metres. Barrier was busy replacing a cylinder on his recalcitrant Anzani engine and the almost completely inexperienced Wiesenbach was reluctant to fly and risk damaging the machine of his employer. He did in fact not make any flights at all during the entire meeting.

The Monday was the day scheduled for the "Prix de la Commune de Mondorf-les-Bains" (Preis der Gemeinde Mondorf), a speed event over 12 kilometres, eight laps of a 1.5-kilometre course. Again Christiaens was first to try, flying seven laps in sixteen and a half minutes before being forced down by increasing winds. He managed to land immediately in front of his hangar, where his mechanics had difficulties holding the machine down in the gusts.

When the winds had calmed down de Petrovsky made a ten-minute flight, but he had to land because he had run out of oil. At the end of the day it was decided that the flights on each day should be extended until eight o'clock in the evening. It was also announced that red, white and black flags indicating the flight status should be flown at Hotel Staar in the centre of Luxembourg City, the capital of the Grand-Duchy, a train ride of some 20 km away from Mondorf.

Tuesday 7 June
The afternoon started with yet another thunderstorm, with lightning, high winds and pouring rain. The downpour flooded part of the railway between Luxembourg City and Mondorf, slowing down the arrival of visitors considerably. Parts of the airfield were also flooded, forcing the organizers to lay planks on the ground in order to enable people to get to the grandstands. Around a quarter to five the weather suddenly turned better, coinciding with the arrival of the Grand-Duchess and five of the six young princesses, Marie-Adélaïde (15), Charlotte (14), Hilda (13) Antonia (10) and Sophie (8) to the airfield. They went on a visit to the hangars, "the princely children, the darlings of the people, their cheerful, innocent-looking beings contrasting strangely against the machines, in whose inwards blind, uncanny powers rage, and to whose heels death often enough clings" according to the "Obermosel-Zeitung".

The first to fly was de Petrovsky, who finally managed to get his wheels off the ground after a long take-off run in the muddy puddles, water thrown high in the slipstream. He made a flight of ten minutes, first completing his lap for the daily speed contest, the continuing with a long meandering flight around the countryside outside the airfield. After landing he was brought to Charles Bettendorf's box, where he was presented to the princesses and was given a portrait of the crown-princess while the orchestra played the Russian national anthem. Then followed further flights, almost without pause: Three by Christiaens, the longest for 23 minutes, and two each by de Petrovsky, Barrier and Mollien. All the flyers were presented to the princesses and had their national anthems played.

The "Prix de la Commune de Mondorf-les-Bains", which was postponed the day before, was won by Christiaens, who also won the "Prix des Chemins de Fers Secondaires" for the highest altitude reached during a flight of at least 20 minutes. At the end of the day Christiaens had reached a total flying time of 63 minutes, giving him a handsome lead of 36 minutes over de Petrovsky in the total time prize.

Wednesday 8 June
The fourth day of the meeting again started windy, but at four o'clock it had calmed down enough for flying. Barrier was first, making a flight of six minutes before his engine started missing and he had to give up. Mollien made two flights, totalling twelve and a half minutes. De Petrovsky then beat Christiaens best time for the single lap by posting a time of 2:36.8. De Caters had received a new propeller for his Voisin and performed some engine tests, but that was his last appearance. His repairs perhaps didn't go as well as expected, because he wouldn't make any further flights during the meeting. After these flights, the winds increased and there was a long break.

Around six o'clock Christiaens made an effort for the "tour de piste", improving his best time, but not beating de Petrovsky's. Then de Petrovsky made a superb 22-minute flight for the total flying time prize. While he was in the air Christiaens improved the best time for the single lap to 2:28.6. He then took off on a flight of 16 minutes, but after a protest by de Petrovsky these two flights weren't counted, since the rules didn't allow two competing planes in the air at the same time.

Thursday 9 June
Fine sunny weather finally arrived, so flying continued almost uninterrupted between four o'clock in the afternoon and quarter to nine in the evening. Mollien made two single-lap flights, improving his best time to 2:53.4. Barrier's machine still didn't run well and he tried in vain to complete a lap. In contrast the Gnôme engines of Christiaens and de Petrovsky performed faultlessly, enabling them to fly more during this one day than was flown in total by all fliers during the four previous days. Christiaens made three flights, the longest lasting 59 minutes 28 seconds. De Petrovsky made two long flights, the longest lasting 57 minutes 30 seconds, once "shooting up" the grandstand at lowest altitude, making the poles and fabric of the awnings shudder. Christiaens once again won the single-lap prize with a best of 2:30.6. De Petrovsky had by now reached 2 h 46:13 in the total flight time contest. He had caught and passed Christiaens, who was now nine minutes behind.

Friday 10 June
The windy weather was back on the sixth day of the meeting. At four o'clock Christiaens took his Farman out in order to "feel the pulse of the air", but returned immediately and retreated to the hangar. An hour later Mollien tried, but he was forced down after one kilometre, breaking an elevator. Then de Petrovsky tried, but he hit some turbulence and damaged his propeller during the heavy landing.

During the afternoon the meeting was visited by the members of the Luxembourg government, 40 members of parliament and some other government officers, accompanied by around 20 of their wives and daughters. They arrived on a special train around half past three and after visiting the spa and its park and delivering a couple of speeches they toured the airfield. At around half past seven they finally got to see some flying, when Christiaens first made a five-lap flight to reclaim the lead in the total flight time contest and then lowered the record for the fastest lap to 2:27.4. Barrier also took off, but landed after half a lap. Then another thunderstorm broke out, and at quarter past eight the train took the visiting dignitaries back to Luxembourg City, escaping the pouring rain.

Saturday 11 June
This was another windy day, and only two of the flyers tried to take off from the waterlogged field. At 15:38 Christiaens made his run for the daily fastest lap. Around half an hour later Barrier made a flight of two and a half minutes. At 16:20 Christiaens made the day's last flight, but landed after less than three minutes because of the winds. The spectators were displeased and some protested loudly.

In the evening Charles Bettendorf invited the flyers and their wives, the organizing committee and some reporters to a dinner at the "Villa Beau-Sejour", where many glasses were raised and many speeches were held.

Sunday 12 June
Large crowds, estimated to around 40,000 people, gathered for the last day of the meeting, when two events, the take-off prize and the altitude prize were to be contested. The railway had pressed cargo wagons and even cattle wagons into service in order to bring visitors into the little town. However, because of the constant high winds, the last day of the meeting was an almost complete washout. The orchestra tried their best, but in the crowded grandstand people were screaming, whistling and stamping their feet. The flyers remained in their hangars the entire afternoon.

Many visitors had already had to leave disappointed for the overcrowded trains or the jammed roads after waiting for several hours, when de Petrovsky finally made the day's first flight at 19:45, winning the altitude prize by reaching the not very impressive height of 102 metres during a one-lap flight. The only other "flights" were the short jumps necessary for the take-off prize, which de Petrovsky also won with an effort of 84.60 metres, beating Christiaens by four metres - again hardly impressive results. Mollien's much better effort of 64.75 metres was disallowed, because he touched the ground again too soon. The meeting ended on a very low note.

From organizational point of view the meeting was a success, and Bettendorf's brave effort, sponsorship and hard work were praised by everybody. The meeting attracted around 100,000 visitors from near and far. It was reported in newspapers both in Luxembourg and abroad, and certainly drew attention to the town. The organizers could hardly be criticized for the weather that restricted the total official flying time of the eight days of the meeting to less than six hours, but the fiasco of the last couple of days was of course a bitter disappointment.
The five pilots who participated - from left to right Joseph Christiaens, Pierre de Caters, Alexander de Petrovsky, René Barrier and Élie Mollien. (6)
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