The 1909 "Grande Semaine d'Aviation de la
Champagne" was a huge success and a defining event
in the history of aviation. Plans for a follow-up event
started immediately after it ended and an organizing
committee created. The date for the meeting was decided
by a meeting of Federation Aeronautique Internationale on
January 10th, and wheels were set in motion to create an
aviation meeting that would surpass everything of its
Everything at the airfield had to be built from scratch again, since the temporary installations used at the 1909 had been dismantled immediately after that meeting. The main grandstands were built in approximately the same position as the year before, only a little to the south, but everything else was realigned. The hangar area was enlarged and moved further to the northwest, closer to the main road. The 1909 rectangular ten-kilometre course, which had been criticized because too large parts of it weren't visible to the public, was abandoned in favour of a shorter five-kilometre course. This took less than half the space and was more visible to the spectators. The new course had six pylons, with two 90-degree turns and four 45-degree turns.
There were no participants from either Britain or the United States, but despite this, 76 machines were entered. They represented 14 different makes, but in the end no machines from Wright, Tellier or Maurice Farman would turn up. The most popular make was Henry Farman with 14 entrants, followed by Blériot (12), Sommer (9), Antoinette (8) and Voisin (8). Machines from Nieuport, Sanchez-Besa and Pischof (called "Werner" in the official program, after the manufacturers Werner & Pfleiderer) would appear for the first time at a French meeting.
Just like the year before, the Champagne manufacturers made big contributions to the prize funds. A total of more than 200,000 francs would be given to the winners. There were a couple of novel contests. The biggest prize, a single prize of 50,000 francs, was the "Grand Prix de Champagne". It would be won the manufacturer whose three best machines had flown the longest total distance during the week. Another novelty was the "Prix de Totalisation des Hauteurs", which would be won by the pilot with the highest sum of altitudes reached during any number of officially controlled flights. The "Prix Michel Ephrussi", named after its sponsor, a banker and breeder and racer of thoroughbreds, was the first air race ever in which the machines were released side by side at the same time, in race-horse style. It was held over a cross-country course of 22.4 kilometres. There was also a contest for military kites.
Sunday 3 July
The first day of the meeting was windy. During the late morning it started to rain, a fine persistent rain that was interrupted from time to time by heavy showers. The official flights started at eleven o'clock and at 11:11 Charles Wachter was first to take off in his Antoinette. The wind was recorded as 12 m/s, and it made him miss a couple of pylons on the first lap, but after these initial struggles he went on to fly nine good laps during a flight of 43 minutes. After Wachter's landing, Farman pilot Charles Weymann took off, but he landed after a single lap due to the torrential rain. After noon René Labouchère took off in his Antoinette, followed by Weymann. Labouchère went on to fly seven laps in 32 minutes, while Weymann gave up fighting his machine, which was pitching up and down, after three laps and turned inside the course to land. He almost immediately took off again, but again landed after only half a lap.
At 14:13 Walther de Mumm in his Antoinette tried to take off, but for some reason landed at the foot of the first pylon and returned to his hangar. At three o'clock he took off again and quickly climbed to 150 metres. He was followed by fellow Antoinette pilot Hubert Latham, who was driven far off the first pylon by the wind, but returned to the course and landed after a well-controlled 16-minute three-lap flight. Weymann made his third start at 15:15, also deflected by the wind at the first pylon. He climbed to 20 metres before diving steeply to almost ground level. During their flights Capitaine Madiot was launched, standing in his balloon-type wicker basket lifted by a train of four kites. The landing after his short flight was heavy, but there were no damages.
Then a series of flights started, with Léon Morane first to take off at 15:40, having trouble to take the pylons accurately in the wind in his light Blériot. Robert Martinet, in his heavier Farman, managed to make tighter turns. The relatively unexperienced René Thomas, in the fourth of the factory Antoinettes, lost control during his take off and put the machine on its nose. At four o'clock Wachter took off again, followed by Léon Cheuret, Jules Fischer and Weymann, their three Farmans framed by a rainbow. Jean Daillens took off on his Sommer and then Charles Van den Born made it four Farmans in the air, climbing to some 500 metres.
The winds had decreased a bit and several engines were heard from the hangars. Étienne Bunau-Varilla and Henri Brégi on Voisins, Marcel Hanriot on one of the monoplanes of his father's make, Otto Lindpaintner on a Sommer, Nicolas Kinet and Joseph Christiaens on Farmans, both of the large-span model, and Jan Olieslagers on his Blériot made for an interesting mixture of airframes and engines in the air. There were now twelve or thirteen machines circling around the five-kilometre course. Brégi's flight ended with his machine upside down in an unmowed field before he had recorded any official result, but obviously without injuries. Maurice Tétard took off, while Bunau-Varilla and Van den Born landed. Some improvised races started to appear, particularly between Wachter and the chasing Olieslagers.
The reporters had by now more or less given up reporting the flights in any detail. They were probably as overwhelmed as the timing staff, who after the first day would give up recording exact flying distances and instead only count whole laps. De Mumm, Louis Wagner and Michel Efimoff took off, despite a huge, threatening cloud that towered over the airfield. After a while the weather improved, and more pilots took to the air, circling "like flies around a lump of sugar" according to the reporter from "Le Figaro". The reporter from "L'Auto" claimed that it was "as crowded at 30 metres as in the Rue de la Paix at five o'clock in the afternoon", forcing Latham to climb to the less busy altitude of 300 metres. "Baroness" Raymonde de Laroche also took off, leaving the airfield to fly above a train on the nearby railway. Morane and Latham competed for the daily altitude prize, which started at four o'clock and which Morane eventually won by reaching 862 metres.
Around six o'clock there were only three or four pilots still in the air. One of them was Wachter, who had already flown 142 kilometres in his Antoinette, the longest total distance of the day. He had started to descend from an altitude of around 200 metres above the fourth pylon, close to the Modelin farm, when his machine suddenly pitched down and fell like a stone to the ground, followed by its wings, which had folded upwards, departed from the fuselage and slowly fluttered down in zigzag. The onlookers screamed in horror, while the ambulance services quickly rushed to the accident site, but there was no hope. Wachter had been killed immediately by the impact, suffering multiple fractures and massive injuries to the head, back and chest. The sad news had to be brought to his wife and his daughter of five years, who had accompanied him to the meeting, and to his brother-in-law Léon Levavasseur, the designer of the Antoinettes. The structural failure of the machine was blamed on Wachter over-speeding when descending to land without cutting the engine, but the machine had made five flights that day, in rain and hard winds, and it is quite likely that the rigging had got loose.
Wachter, who was 36 years old, had worked as a mechanic for Antoinettefor several years, particularly on racing boat engines. He had only started flying two months before the meeting, but had already made himself a name as a daring and competent pilot and a popular instructor at the Antoinette flying school. He became the world's eighth pilot to die in a flying accident. The accident put an end to the days' flying, except for Efimoff, who made a last flight and was criticised for "flying above the corpse of his comrade".
Until the accident the meeting had delivered an unprecedented flying experience, despite the difficult weather conditions. Altogether 24 pilots had flown during the first day. Tétard's flight of 87.125 kilometres had beaten Olieslagers to the prize for the day's longest non-stop flight. Weymann was second in the daily total distance contest after the unfortunate Wachter, his 139.750 kilometres beaten by less than three kilometres.
Monday 4 July
The second day also started windy, but Émile Ladougne in his Goupy biplane, Alphonse de Ridder in his Farman and Bunau-Varilla made test flights between ten and eleven o'clock. When official flights started at noon, Lindpaintner was first in the air. He was followed by de Mumm, Olieslagers, André Bouvier (Sommer) and Van den Born, but because of the increasing wind all of them landed soon. Olieslagers' flight of 20 kilometres in 17 minutes was the longest. Capitaine Madiot, however, found the high winds more useful to test his kite train.
When everybody had landed there was no action on the airfield until three o'clock, when Weymann started the engine of his Farman, but he decided that it was still too windy and never left the ground. The other kite train, of Lieutenant Basset, was also tested. Around half past four the weather turned even worse, with a violent wind from the north and dark threatening clouds. A window pane in the press pavilion was broken by a gust, and those who had hangars facing to the north started worrying about their integrity.
The weather improved towards the end of the afternoon, and at six o'clock Latham was first to take off, soon followed by Sommer pilots Georges Legagneux and Lindpaintner. When they had proved that flights were possible several more flyers came out. Cheuret and Nicolas Kinet took off in close succession in their Farmans and flew closely above Olieslagers, but a collision was avoided. Weymann, Ferdinand de Baeder and Martinet also took off, all flying at minimum altitude except Latham, who as usual wasn't afraid of heights. De Baeder suddenly turned inside the course and returned in front of the grandstands in the opposite direction, predictably to be punished with a fine for his irregular flying. Efimoff and Fischer took off, while Olieslagers joined Latham at 150 metres, before the latter swooped down and made a tight turn. Weymann suffered some bad oscillations in the turbulent air. Wagner took off, followed at 18:40 by André Frey on Émile Bruneau de Laborie's big Savary biplane. Frey only got to the end of the first straight before he had engine troubles and made a heavy landing in an unmown alfalfa field. The plane was wrecked, but the pilot escaped without injury. Daillens was hit by a gust and broke the landing gear of his machine when he touched down.
Labouchère, Bartolomeo Cattaneo (Blériot), and Hanriot took off, making it fourteen machines in the air at the same time. There was some light rain and like on the first evening the spectacle was improved by a beautiful rainbow. Christiaens, de Mumm, Morane, Émile Aubrun (Blériot) and Thomas joined "la ronde infernale", the "infernal circle", making it eighteen machines in the air! Ladougne also took off, and then chaos broke out as five machines came down almost simultaneously at the far end of the airfield. Ambulance services, reporters and officials, headed by the responsible commissioner M. Houdaille, rushed away on horseback, in automobiles or on foot. From the press pavilion little could be seen even with the help of binoculars, and rumours started to fly before the officials could return with some facts. Thomas and Weymann had made emergency landings without major dramas. Cheuret had come down in an unmown oat field, breaking the right wings of his Farman. Léon Bathiat had put his Breguet vertically on its nose after an emergency landing that ended in a pirouette-like ground loop, only metres away from Cheuret. Martinet's engine had failed and in the following crash he was thrown some ten metres from his machine into the wheat. The sight of a pilot carried on a stretcher on the opposite side of the airfield raised grave concerns in the grandstands in view of the fatal accident of the previous day. After a while it emerged that the pilot was Martinet, and that his injuries thankfully weren't life-threatening, only two broken ribs. The other three pilots were unharmed.
Then the cannon was fired, announcing that it was half past seven and that the day's official flying was over. Flights had only been possible during two hours, but there had been an enormous lot of action and all in all 29 pilots had flown. Morane, in his new 100 hp 14-cylinder Blériot, had won the daily speed contest by a broad margin. He was the first to break a world record during the meeting by covering the ten kilometres in 6:48.0, corresponding to 88.2 km/h. There would be many, many more records broken in the following days… Latham had made the day's longest flight. His 105 kilometres beat Olieslagers' 85, and that single flight was also good enough to win him the prize for the day's longest aggregated distance. Olieslagers tied the 105 kilometres, but his flights had taken longer time.
After the official flights had ended a couple of passenger flights were made, Aubrun with fellow Blériot pilot Julien Mamet on board and Morane with Jorge Chávez on board, the former perhaps giving new Blériot customer Chávez instructions on how the machine worked. Bouvier made a final test flight.
During the first two days of the meeting the unmown fields outside the course had claimed five machines during emergency landings. The 1909 meeting had been held later in the year, when most of the surrounding fields had been harvested, but now only a strip of around 100 metres had been cleared. The organizers hid behind the rule that it was forbidden to land outside the course, but, as pointed out by somebody, "rules are made on the ground and not valid in the air". Another risk that was pointed out was the kite trains that were launched inside the course. They reached an altitude of a couple of hundred metres and the consequences of an airplane flying into their mooring wires would of course have had been catastrophic.
Tuesday 5 July
During the morning the funeral services of Charles Wachter were held in Reims, at the house of the Krug family, friends of the unfortunate pilot. A large number of officials, pilots, reporters and Antoinette employees were present. His coffin was then taken to the railway station for transport to Puteaux outside Paris, the hometown of Léon Levavasseur, where he would be buried.
Already at seven o'clock in the morning Jacques Balsan made a successful test flight, showing good speed. Édouard Nieuport also made a test in the morning in his little monoplane, but otherwise there wasn't much activity. When the official flights started at eleven o'clock the weather was still good, with only light winds. The main events of the day were the qualifications for the speed contest and the qualifications for the French team for the Gordon Bennett Trophy race, which was to be held at Belmont Park in New York in October.
The qualifications for the speed event started immediately. Three machines at a time were flagged off to fly 20 kilometres, each with a delay of a minute, with the best of each heat advancing to the next round. The first starts went well and Wagner, Weymann, Nieuport and Louis Blériot's partner and pilot Alfred Leblanc completed their flights, while Ladougne and Alexander de Petrovsky (Sommer) failed to complete the distance. After only twenty minutes, just as Latham prepared to start, the weather turned worse, with thunder and heavy rain, followed by mist and a fine rain. At noon Jacques Faure, with Marquis de Polignac as passenger, took off in a balloon from Place du Boulingrin in central Reims, but the wind refused to take it over the airfield and it disappeared from sight in minutes.
At two o'clock the weather had improved again, but nobody except the kite-flying officers ventured out onto the waterlogged field until seven minutes past three, when Mamet took off and climbed to 60 metres. Lindpaintner followed him. At a quarter past three Latham took off, and soon passed above Mamet, whose machine was upset by the turbulence and had to land.
Due to the rain the time for the speed contest was delayed by three hours, which meant that the two contests were run at the same time, while other competitors were circling the field adding laps to their tally for the total flight time prizes. This made it very difficult to keep track of what was going on, and the visitors in the grandstands must have been completely confused. Even the most diligent reporters, like Frantz Reichel of "Le Figaro" and Pierre Souvestre and André Guymon from "L'Auto" gave up trying to report in detail. Realizing that one signal mast would be insufficient, the organizers had installed two masts on the airfield, but they couldn't by far report on all the machines that were in the air at the same time. All results were reported on the enormous result board behind the grandstands, which had one column for each contestant and one line for each event, but this could of course not happen immediately. The proceedings were "incomprehensible to the public and only barely comprehensible for the initiated", according to Souvestre, and the circulars containing the final results of the day were not published until half past eleven in the evening.
Leblanc completed the 100-kilometre distance for the Gordon Bennett qualifications in 1 h 19:13.6, having to run an extra lap in order to compensate for missing a pylon in the hard wind. After the landing he seemed to lose control of the plane, which like other airplanes of that era did not have any brakes. It swerved towards the fence in front of the grandstands. The dangerous situation was saved by the pilot, who acrobatically jumped out of the machine, which was rolling on the ground, and managed to get hold of the left wing to stop it. Behind him Latham took the second place, his time 1 h 24:58.6. Later, at six o'clock, Ladougne made his effort, showing good speed in the fastest of the biplanes but failing to complete the 100 kilometres. Labouchère was in the air at the same time, taking the third place with 1 h 25:24.0, the three monoplanes being the only ones to complete the distance. According to some reports Legagneux, de Baeder, Wagner and Mamet also tried, but failed to complete the distance.
Morane and Leblanc were in a class of their own in the speed contest, their best times over the 20 kilometres (13:08 and 13:14, respectively) being more than a minute and a half better than those of Antoinette pilots Latham and Labouchère, who posted the third and fourth best times of the twelve who qualified for the second round. We have not managed to find a report on exactly how the heats were composed and how the qualifications worked, but it appears that at least fifteen pilots took part. Apart from those mentioned above, it is known that Olieslagers, de Baeder, Aubrun and Kinet also took part.
Perhaps because so many pilots had participated in the day's previous events, or perhaps because the field was still so wet, there was not so much activity during the last hour. De Mumm crashed his Antoinette at some point during the evening. Labouchère, Latham, Wagner, Olieslagers, Cattaneo and Weymann were all circulating when the daily altitude contest started at five minutes before seven. Morane, Olieslagers and Aubrun climbed high, followed by the slower Latham. Morane won by reaching 550 metres, beating Latham's 390.
While Morane glided down in a dramatically steep "vol plané" Latham left the airfield and flew two circles around the cathedral of Reims at an estimated altitude of 800 metres before returning to make a perfect landing. The daily non-stop distance contest was won by Labouchère, whose 110 kilometres beat the 105 kilometres of Latham and Olieslagers. The daily total distance contest was won by Weymann, who covered 135 kilometres, in front of Latham and Labouchère. During the day's contests all speed records for all distances up to 100 kilometres were beaten, those from 5 to 20 km by Morane, those for 30 and 40 km by Olieslagers and the remaining distances by Leblanc. According to Frantz Reichel of "Le Figaro" at least 28 pilots had flown during the day.
Wednesday 6 July
During the first three days of the meeting the weather had at least been good at times. Not so on the fourth day - the weather was miserable from early in the morning until late in the evening. It rained constantly, and the wind was as strong as on any of the previous days. The airfield turned into a sea of mud where it was difficult to drive cars and even horse carts got stuck, so it was perhaps just as well that nobody wanted to fly. Workers tried to improve conditions by spreading sand and clinker on the roads and laying planks in front of the grandstands.
At a quarter past nine there was suddenly a large cloud of smoke from the hangar of René Thomas. A mechanic had been doing some soldering too close to an open fuel canister. The fuel had caught fire and the flames threatened the 1,200 metres of wooden buildings that surrounded the airfield. Thankfully there were lots of people in the neighbouring hangars and 22 fire extinguishers were soon emptied over the fire, quickly putting the flames out. The fire in itself caused little damage, but one of Thomas' mechanics was lightly burned and a carpenter who was working in a hangar was run down and trampled by the horse of one of the soldiers who galloped to the hangars to help. He was brought to the airfield hospital to be treated for a fractured pelvis. Nothing else happened. At eleven o'clock a team of mechanics brought back the remains of de Mumm's crashed machine. The officers brought out their kites, but it was too windy for them too and Basset suffered from seasickness in his bobbing and weaving basket. The cannon signalled the start of the day's official flights at 11:30, but nobody cared. The rain stopped towards the end of the afternoon and there was even some sun, but the gale continued to blow and the rain soon returned.
This was the day when Armand Fallières, the president of France, visited the airfield, and just like the year before he brought bad weather. He arrived at the airfield at five o'clock, having taken the train from Paris two hours earlier. He was accompanied by his wife and son and a large entourage of ministers, officers and government personnel. He was greeted by the organization committee and by the 137th infantry regiment and its band, before being brought to a meeting with Hermes da Fonseca, who had been elected president of Brazil and was on a tour of Europe before officially taking his position. This was followed by a tour of the hangars. The president was going to return to his train at half past seven, and at 19:25, when all speeches had been held and the preparations for his departure had already started, it looked like he would have to return to the capital without seeing any flying. The wind speed reached 13-15 m/s in the gusts.
But, just as the year before, a couple of brave pilots saved the day. The first machine to be hauled out onto the mud was Latham's Antoinette, and in the president's pavilion people got out of their chairs to watch the action. The president and his wife were a bit alarmed, since they didn't want anybody to risk their life for their sake. Latham's machine was followed by two biplanes, the Farmans of de Baeder and Weymann. De Baeder was first in the air but landed already after 250 metres. Weymann was next, his machine pitching and rolling dramatically in the turbulence during a one-lap flight. Latham was last to take off and as usual handled the wind with confident ease during two laps. All three landed safely in front of the grandstands, Latham last. Madame Fallières cried "I'm so pleased, there was no accident!" and everybody cheered, sighed of relief and got on with the ceremonies around the departure. The president and and his entourage were driven to the station and were back in Paris at ten o'clock in the evening.
Thursday 7 July
The weather was a little bit warmer, but it was still gusty and rained from time to time. The official flights started with the main event of the day, the second round of the heats for the speed contest. The object was to qualify nine machines for the semi-finals and finals, which were to be held on the last day of the meeting. The twelve pilots who had qualified after the first round ran two by two in six four-lap heats, with the intention to eliminate the three slowest. In the first heat, Efimoff failed to take the start on time, while Morane was disqualified, despite flying an extra lap, after missing the third pylon on three of his laps. The second heat was the only one where both planes completed the distance, with Latham beating Lindpaintner. In the third heat Leblanc scored the best time, 14:12.2, while Aubrun had an incident during the take-off and damaged his propeller. The fourth heat was won by Labouchère, while de Baeder landed after the first lap. The fifth heat saw Olieslagers win, while Wagner landed after one lap. The sixth heat was again a complete failure, when Weymann failed to start on time and Nieuport landed already after one lap. After these heats only five pilots had qualified, so in order to complete the field it was decided to run three second chance "repêchage" heats later in the afternoon.
At one o'clock the wind was around 7-9 m/s, so while conditions were reasonable it was still a bit windy. The course was left open for the "carousel", the free session for the pilots who circled the course competing for the distance prizes. The "desperate monotony" of this was by now regarded as an ordeal by some of the reporters, but they could still look forward to the struggle between particularly Latham, Olieslagers and Labouchère for new world distance and endurance records.
The slightly faster Olieslagers was separated from Latham, who started a little later, by only one minute and twenty seconds after 150 kilometres. Olieslagers went on to set a new world record for 200 kilometres, which he covered in 2 h 47:04.6, and after three hours he had covered 212.750 kilometres. The 200-km record was soon erased by Latham, whose time was 2 h 46:02.0. Latham landed after 215 kilometres, but Olieslagers kept on flying and at 16:23 the time-keepers signalled that he had beaten the world distance record, previously held by Henry Farman at 234.212 km. This coincided with the start of a rain shower, and Olieslagers landed after 235 kilometres, which he had covered in 3 h 02:04.8. Labouchère also intended to go for the long-distance record but had to land after 190 kilometres when he ran out of fuel. He made a cross-wind landing and ground-looped his machine, which turned over on its back at low speed with amazingly small damages.
While this went on, Weymann crashed in a wheat field after a flight of 25 kilometres. He was unharmed, and he was back in the air later during the afternoon, flying another Farman machine. Lindpaintner was driven towards the fence in front of the grandstands and had to crash deliberately to avoid hitting them. De Petrovsky was also in trouble, being forced to the ground by the turbulence and breaking a wing. He blamed Kinet, who he claimed to have passed him only 15 metres away, and said that he intended to file a formal protest. Wagner and Hanriot impressed with their speed, while several other pilots tried their wings, among them Bathiat, Ladougne, Legagneux, Cattaneo, Efimoff, Fischer, Van den Born, Mamet, Thomas, de Baeder, André Frey, Alfred de Pischof and Kinet.
Two of the four announced Army pilots had finally arrived, their flight from Mourmelon having been postponed because of the bad weather, and Lieutenant Albert Féquant in his Farman scored 15 kilometres for the contest for the officers' prize. Lieutenant Félix Camerman, whose machine was still at Mourmelon, flew the machine of Christiaens, and therefore his result didn't count.
The second-chance heats for the speed contest were run at five o'clock. Morane was the only starter in the first heat, his time of 13:46.0 beating the best times of all the other qualifiers. Wagner won the second heat and the slower de Baeder dropped out after two laps. It appears that the third heat, which should have matched Aubrun against Nieuport, was not run. There were thus only seven pilots qualified for the semi-finals.
The daily altitude contest ran until seven o'clock. During the take-off run one of Olieslagers' wheels got stuck in a rut and the aircraft nosed over and turned over on its back. The accident was not as bad as it looked, the Belgian was unharmed and the only damage to the machine was a broken wheel and a broken propeller. Latham took off, followed by Balsan and de Baeder, but the match for the prize was between Latham and Morane, who disappeared quickly into the sky in his faster Blériot. Latham disappeared into a cloud and reappeared. Morane gave up after ten minutes, later stating that he didn't like flying into the clouds and was frightened when he didn't see anything. He returned to land in a steep glide. De Baeder also descended, announcing his approach by means of a siren and landing smartly immediately in front of his hangar. Latham kept flying for another five minutes, flying into and out of the clouds. Exactly when the cannon announced the end of the days flying he appeared from a cloud to the right of the grandstands and started a masterful glide of four or five minutes, including two circles around the timing tower. He had reached 1,384 metres, beating Morane's 1,110. Reports claimed it was a world record, and it still stands as such in some lists, but it did not beat the 1,403 metres reached by Walter Brookins in a Wright at Indianapolis on June 17th. Nevertheless, Latham was hailed as a "surhomme", a superman, and carried in triumph from the hangars. Around 30 pilots flew during the fourth day. Olieslagers' total of 255 kilometres won him the daily total distance prize, in front of Latham's 230.
Friday 8 July
On the sixth day of the meeting the weather was finally good, with higher temperatures and almost calm air. The day saw an unprecedented amount of flying, but this was overshadowed by the horrific accident of "Baronesse" de Laroche.
There were already around ten machines in the air, among them Latham, Lindpaintner, Bunau-Varilla and Weymann, when she took off at around ten to one. She completed a lap and then climbed to 50 metres before starting the second. At the end of the second lap she took a wide turn at the fifth pylon to avoid some faster competitors. Her machine then suddenly pitched up, then down, and dived into the ground, completely breaking into pieces. Ambulances and reporters rushed to the crash site, which was some 1,500 metres from the grandstands. They found de Laroche almost buried in the debris, barely conscious and obviously very badly injured. She was carefully stretchered to an ambulance and transported to the airfield hospital. The initial reports were pessimistic, and some early reports even stated that she was dying. At half past three the airfield doctors published a bulletin, stating that she had suffered a complicated fracture of the right lower leg and fractures of the left arm, the left thigh and the left index finger. In addition to that she had dislocated the right hip and got several minor cuts and bruises. Her injuries would certainly have been worse if she hadn't tried to rise off the seat to avoid hitting the control wheel in the crash. The doctors' forecast stated that there was hope for her recovery. She was transported to the surgery of doctor Roussel in Reims, where her fractures were set during the late evening, without sedation and with only chloroform for pain relief. The bulletins issued afterwards by the doctor were carefully optimistic.
Initial rumours said that the accident was caused by Lindpaintner passing her too closely and forcing her to fly into his propeller wash. He was rudely abused and had to be protected when he returned to the pits. The officials, represented by sports commissioner Édouard Surcouf, quickly issued a statement that this was not the case, and that Lindpaintner had been too far away to have affected her. There were also witnesses who claimed to have heard the engine stop before the crash. The Voisin, like other early pushers, had lifting tail surfaces that were blown by the propeller slipstream. The effect of the engine suddenly stopping would have been that the tail lost lift and the machine pitched up, quickly losing its forward speed.
The controversies were not silenced the by the official statement, though, and on the next day three witnesses, including pilots Chávez and Morane, requested that the incident would be reinvestigated. They claimed that their observations had been misrepresented and that Lindpaintner had indeed cut the corner closely in front of de Laroche. The "procureur de la republic" (public prosecutor) of Reims announced that he would open an enquiry into the conditions around the accident, according to "Le Figaro" for the first time in the history of sports.
While everybody was following the rescue and the reports about the status of the baroness, another accident happened. This was de Petrovsky, who was now flying the Sommer of Efimoff, since his own machine was damaged the day before. He crashed rather heavily and the machine was badly smashed up, but the pilot escaped with a fractured wrist.
With these dramatic incidents on everybody's minds it is natural that the reporting of the day's other activities suffered, but in many ways it was a repetition of the day before. Olieslagers and Latham again crossed horns trying to break the distance records. Latham started a little earlier and flew the first 100 kilometres in 1 h 20:30.0, not quite matching Olieslagers' record of the day before. Olieslagers was not as fast as Latham during the first hour, his time half a minute slower at 1 h 20:51.6, but then he must have turned up the wick, because he reached 150 kilometres in 1 h 58:20.4, beating that record of the day before. Starting first, Latham was first to reach two hours and posted a new record of 147.750 kilometres. His joy was short-lived, though, since Olieslagers reached 152.125 kilometres in the same time. Latham landed after 160 kilometres, which he reached in 2 h 09:33.6, while Olieslagers continued to reach 225 kilometres in 2 h 55:05.4, in the process also beating setting a new 200-kilometre record of 2 h 35:18.2. After the flight he said that he was disappointed not to have gone further, but he had run out of fuel. Both Latham and Olieslagers went up again, the latter lowering the 100-kilometer record to 1 h 16:42.2 and that of 150 kilometres to 1 h 54:54.4 before landing after another 195 kilometres and 2 h 29:34.4 in the air, having covered a total of 420 kilometres in one day - the distance between Paris and London! Latham landed already after 40 kilometres.
Meanwhile, the short-distance speed records also fell. The 10-kilometre record was beaten first by Morane's 6:35.0, and then by Leblanc's 6:33.6. Leblanc also set a new 5-kilometre record during the same flight, covering a lap in 3:12.8.
In the shadow of the record-beaters several pilots flew impressive distances. Cattaneo made a non-stop flight of 170 kilometres, beating Latham to second place in the daily contest, while Labouchère was fourth at 125 and Kinet fifth at 110. Legagneux flew a total of 300 kilometres during the day, winning the second prize in front of Weymann's 270 and Cattaneo's 260. The Voisin pilots didn't have much to cheer for, but Bunau-Varilla flew 100 kilometres in 1 h 23 minutes, which was claimed to be a world record for biplanes. Altogether 32 pilots flew during the day, 13 of them covering more than 100 kilometres. The busy time-keepers had registered no less than 760 laps flown!
After the end of the official flights several of the pilots, among them Leblanc, Aubrun, Morane, Legagneux and Bathiat took prominent guests for passenger flights. Bathiat's passenger probably got more excitement than he had asked for when the machine crashed, but neither the pilot nor the passenger was injured.
Saturday 9 July
The weather was calm, with winds of only 3 m/s, but low clouds covered the airfield. This was the last day of the constructors' prize, so it could be expected that many would go for long-distance flights. At the beginning of the day, Antoinette stood at a total distance of 1,701 kilometres flown by their three best machines, Blériot at 1.463, Farman at 1.427 and Sommer at 1,269. It had been decided during the morning to deduct the 270 kilometres that Weymann had flown the day before from Farman's total. According to the rules it was the machines that counted, not the pilots, and several competitors had protested that the machine Weymann used on the Friday was not a rebuild of the machine that was damaged when he crashed on the Thursday, but a completely different machine.
When official flights started at eleven o'clock, Thomas was first to take off, accompanied during the following half hour by Daillens, Legagneux, Latham, Wagner, Fischer, Kinet, Lindpaintner, Labouchère, Olieslagers, Weymann and Cattaneo. At half past eleven Mamet took off with two passengers on board, his brother and his mechanic M. Lemartin. He landed after a flight of 97.750 kilometres, having beaten all two-passenger records for both speed and distance. Latham landed after 125 kilometres, Fischer after 100 and Weymann after 95. Lindpaintner, Olieslagers and Legagneux landed after 65 kilometres. Thomas made two flights of 90 kilometres each but his second landing, around a quarter to four in the afternoon, was very heavy. It broke the upper rigging of his machine and made the wing tips drop to the ground. André Noël also crashed his Blériot when the machine was hit by turbulence, but apparently without any injuries.
Labouchère landed after 40 kilometres and after a short pause took off again at 12:43. Aubrun took off with one passenger on board and made a flight of 85 kilometres, also beating several passenger speed records. Olieslagers was busy too, beating the records for 50 kilometres and for one hour. Morane took out the 100 horsepower Blériot, making "a terrifying impression, like an arrow that splits the air". His time for five kilometres was 2:51.0, corresponding to 105 km/h, a new world record. Lieutenant Camerman finally flew in from Camp de Châlons, some thirty kilometres away, on a Farman with the French "tricolore" flying from a wing strut. This meant there could finally be a contest between the two military pilots on the last day of the meeting. When he was congratulated for his 24-minute cross-country flight, made at altitudes up to 400 metres, he didn't accept any praise and modestly replied "J'étais en service commandé".
While this went on, Labouchère just kept flying and flying. At 16:26 the signal mast indicated that he had beaten Olieslagers distance record from two days before, but he didn't stop. After 4 hours and 14 minutes he reached 300 kilometres. After 4 hours and 39 minutes he finally landed, having flown 340 kilometres. When interviewed in the evening he stated that he had believed that the extra-large fuel tank would have kept him in the air for five hours, so he brought bread, chocolate, cookies and fruit to eat. He had eaten for the first time after one hour. He said it was impossible to count the laps, so he had watched the signal mast to keep track of his progress. He was worried that it didn't show anything at all in the beginning, not until he had completed the first 100 kilometres. When he finally saw the white ball that signified a world record hoisted beside his signal, a red ball and a red "diabolo" double cone, he knew that he had succeeded and celebrated with a second meal of bread and chocolate. He didn't want to risk running out fuel, so he decided to land after four and a half hours.
Aubrun made a second passenger flight, reaching 137.135 kilometres in 2 h 09:07.8 with Émile Reymond, a senator from Loire, on board, beating his previous mark. This new world record flight did not count for the passenger prize, however, since he had started after the end of the time allowed for the contest. As all the reporting of the day's flying centred on the record-beating, there were unfortunately few reports of the rest of the day's flying in the press. As usual, the daily altitude contest was held at the end of the day. It was won by Morane, who disappeared in the low clouds and reached 741 metres before making another spectacular dive for the airfield, with de Baeder placing second.
The standings in the "Grand Prix de Champagne" didn't change during the day. The Antoinette team of Labouchère, Latham and Thomas won the 50,000 francs by reaching 2,601 kilometres, beating the best Blériots of Olieslagers, Cattaneo and Aubrun by almost 300. The usually troublesome Antoinette engines ran without any problems, according to some reports because they were improved versions with carburettors instead of the fuel injectors that in the past had proved so sensitive to contaminated fuel. This reliability was in complete contrast to the ENV engines. These usually dependable V-8s failed left and right, forcing Voisins, Savarys and de Mumm's reengined Antoinette to make emergency landings time after time. The engine of Bunau-Varilla's Voisin was replaced four times during the meeting!
The Sommer pilots made several passenger flights and when the cannon announced the end of the day's flying, Legagneux was flying above the cathedral of Reims with Paul Painlevé, the politician, mathematician and creator of the world's first university course on aeronautics, on board. Without any previous practice on the type Chávez made his first flight in a Blériot, having decided to buy one in place of his Farman. Before starting, he said "if it stumbles, I will stop, if it goes well I'll fly right away". He pulled the stick after a roll of 20 metres, immediately climbed to 200 metres and made a flight of 30 minutes.
Sunday 10 July
The main events of the last day of the meeting was the semi-finals and finals of the speed contest and the cross-country race for the "Prix Michel Éphrussi". The weather was fine, and the wind was less than 3 m/s. Since six o'clock in the morning there had been a steady flow of people on foot, on bicycles and on kinds of cars and carriages heading towards the airfield. Trains arrived every five minutes to the temporary station at Fresnois. The grandstands and public areas were full of people and it was estimated that more than 100,000 people watched the day's flying.
The first semi-final of the speed contest staged Morane against Lindpaintner. The Frenchman won, as expected. His time was 12:49.6, beating Lindpaintner by the huge margin of seven minutes over the twenty kilometres. In the second semi-final, Leblanc won by walkover, since Labouchère couldn't make the start, but he still finished the distance in 12:58.8. Three pilots contested the third and slowest, but most exciting heat, in which Olieslagers overtook both Latham and Wagner and won the last of the three places in the finals.
The finals were run at 12:20. Morane was first to get the starting signal, with Leblanc and Olieslagers following at one-minute intervals. They finished in the same order, with Morane scoring the best time over the distance during the meeting, 12:45.6, yet another new world record, beating Leblanc by ten seconds and Olieslagers by thirty.
Many pilots tried to improve their results in the total distance contest. Fischer flew 175 kilometres in a flight of 2 h 26:24 and Labouchère flew 100 kilometres. Kinet, Cattaneo, Bouvier, Weymann, Thomas and Legagneux also added considerably to their totals. There were a couple of incidents, too: Latham's Antoinette pitched down and hit the ground in front of the grandstands. Paul Hesne made a heavy landing in his Breguet, but without causing any damage, while Bathiat in the other Breguet had a third accident when his machine nosed over close to the timing tower, also this time with only minor damages to the wings of the sturdily built machine. Lieutenants Camerman and Féquant contested the officers' prize, the former flying the 50 kilometres in 46:50, beating his colleague by 50 seconds.
At three o'clock Olieslagers took off again, with the intention to take the world distance record back from Labouchère. His Blériot was now equipped with extra fuel tanks both above and below the fuselage. At 5:10 it was announced that he had broken the speed record for two hours, at 5:15 the record for 200 kilometres and then followed records for all whole and half hours and for every even 50 kilometres flown.
At six o'clock, when Olieslagers had been in the air for three hours, a cannon shot called the ten competitors to line up for the Prix Michel Éphrussi, the first air race ever where planes started side by side, in racehorse style. Eight were monoplanes, flown by Wagner, Hanriot, Latham, Morane, Leblanc, Aubrun, Nieuport and de Pischof. Aubrun was also carrying a passenger, a Madame Charbonnel. The remaining two were Farman biplanes, flown by Lindpaintner and Weymann. The course would first take the flyers eastwards from the airfield to the church tower of Witry-lès-Reims, which could be seen from the airfield. The second leg took the flyers out of sight, northeast towards the next turning point, a factory chimney in Bazancourt. The third and last leg was a long straight past the village of Fresne-lès-Reims and back to the airfield, making a total distance 22.4 kilometres.
The machines were released three by three, by shots from the starter's pistol. Wagner was first off the ground in the #66 Hanriot originally entered for Fernand Delétang, followed by Marcel Hanriot and Lindpaintner. The second trio consisted of Aubrun, Latham and Morane, but the latter failed to make the start because of a blocked fuel line. De Pischof, Nieuport and Leblanc took off in the third trio, Leblanc making it look like the others were standing still. Weymann was alone in the fourth set, in an un-numbered spare Farman, but he retired to his hangar after only two minutes. Aubrun failed to take the first turn correctly and had to return to pass the church tower a second time. Wagner was also first to return to the airfield, easily recognizable by his bright red jersey. He only placed second, though, because Leblanc was close behind and his time of 20:14.0 had Wagner beaten by 43 seconds. Lindpaintner glided into the airfield from high, probably knowing that he had no chance against the faster monoplanes, and then Hanriot, de Pischof and Nieuport arrived almost simultaneously. In the results Nieuport was a distant third, more than two minutes slower than Leblanc, but it was still a great performance by his little monoplane, which only had a 20 horsepower two-cylinder Darracq engine. Latham had to make an emergency landing in a field three kilometres from the airfield.
Meanwhile, Olieslagers was still in the air. He had passed 320 kilometres when the time allowed for the total distance prize ran out, so the remaining distance would not count for the official results of the meeting. He flew on for four and then five hours, beating records all the way, and finally landed after 5 h 03:05.2, having flown 392.75 kilometres, a fantastic new world record. This also meant that he took the lead in the Coupe Michelin, which was offered for the longest non-stop flight during the entire year of 1910. One report stated that Olieslagers followed a strict diet during long distance flights, only drinking lemon juice and eating dried meat while flying, while another report claimed that he brought sandwiches and Flemish beer aboard!
In the altitude contest Chávez climbed to 1,150 metres after a somewhat uncertain start in only his second flight in the unfamiliar Blériot. He gave up after reaching the clouds, in which he didn't feel he could tell which way the machine was pointing. He beat Morane's second place result from the Thursday but failed to reach Latham's 1,384 metres, also set on the Thursday. De Baeder, Cattaneo, Lindpaintner, Wagner and Tétard also tried, all beating their previous best efforts. At seven o'clock, when the meeting closed, lieutenants Féquant and Camerman took off to fly back to Camp de Châlons. They were followed by Maurice Colliex, who flew his Voisin to the company base at Mourmelon, on the same field as Camp de Châlons. The last flight of the day was made by Mamet, who took off at half past seven with journalist M. Poillot on board. They quickly climbed to 500 metres and flew to Reims. On the way back, they lost their way in the increasing darkness and landed at Witry-lès-Reims, some five kilometres east of the airfield, before they found their way back.
Due to the bad weather the meeting didn't attract as many spectators as the previous one, but otherwise it was from all sporting, financial and organizational aspects a complete success. Nevertheless, an event of that size wouldn't be organized again until after the Great War. The Reims meeting had outgrown itself, and the huge effort and expenses of a follow-up meeting could not not be justified.
It had been realized already during the biggest meetings earlier in 1910 that the novelty of simply seeing airplanes fly soon wore off, and that the uninformed crowd in the end found the endless circling of airplanes at safe speeds and low altitudes rather monotonous. The lack of public announcement systems and other practical means of informing about what was going on surely played a part, since only the most initiated could tell whether the plane just passing by was on a world record flight or simply cruising. The simple fact was that too much went on at the airfield at the same time and even the initiated reporters found it difficult to keep track. The safety issues of the dense traffic around the course were also a concern, and several accidents were caused by airplanes being upset by the turbulence created by others. A new format of air racing would be tested a month later, the multi-stage cross-country "Circuit de l'Est"!
A month after the meeting it was reported that 21 flyers who had damaged their machines during the meeting were going to sue the organizers for damages. They claimed that their machines had been unnecessarily damaged by landing in the high crops outside the narrow mowed strip along the course, which did not conform with the regulations of the Aéro-Club. Martinet, who had been hospitalized for three weeks, claimed an additional 20,000 francs. It would be interesting to know how this process ended...
The bulletins regarding the status of de Laroche became more and more optimistic for every day. She faced a long rehabilitation, but eventually recovered completely. She was back at the controls of an airplane in 1912, and after being grounded during World War One she lost her life in an accident while testing a Caudron biplane in 1919.