Semaine d'Aviation de Touraine
Tours, France, April 30th - May 5th, 1910

First rain and wind - then floods...

The race committee inspecting the hangars. (1)
Baronesse de Laroche's Voisin arriving from Paris. (1)
Küller's Antoinette arrived well wrapped in this neat package. (1)
Antelme's Voisin is being removed from its crate. It probably didn't fly during the meeting. (1)
Küller's mechanic testing the engine in front of the hangar. (1)
Bertram Dickson in his plane. The tanks and the engine look like new. (1)
The Tours meeting was the debut of Voisin's new racing model, piloted by René Métrot. It was smaller and lighter than the 1909 model, the fuselage was of metal tubing and it was equipped with ailerons. (2)
Dutchman Gijs Küller in the cockpit of his Antoinette. This was his first meeting, but he was an experienced flying instructor at Antoinette. (3)
Dickson preparing for a flight. (1)
Küller passing a pylon. (1)
After Dickson's crash on the last day. Fortunately for him, he had already won most of the prizes. (4)
During the flood two weeks after the end of the meeting the airfield could only be accessed by boat. This is the entrance to the spectator area. (1)
The very first Schneider Cup. It was to have been won by the longest flight of a pilot who had a licence since less than six months and who had never won any prizes. It wasn't mentioned in any reports, and in fact none of the pilots who actually flew during the meeting was eligible. (4)

Tours is the capital of the department of Indre-et-Loire in western central France, around 200 km southwest of Paris. It is bordered on the north by the Loire and on the south by its tributary the Cher. In 1910 it had around 65,000 inhabitants and an economy based on metal-working and textile industries, wine and agricultural produce.

Like in many other towns there was a great interest in aviation and the "Comité d'aviation de Touraine" was formed on 7 December 1909. It was headed by the baron du Saussay and the members included politicians and people from the local press. The committee immediately set about organizing an aviation meeting and applied to the Aéro-Club de France to be granted a sanction for a meeting in the Easter week, around the end of March and beginning of April 1910.

Tours was one of the lucky towns to be granted a sanction, but the date offered by the Aéro-Club was one month later, between the big meetings of Nice and Lyon. The city of Tours decided to support the meeting with 25,000 francs. A prize fund of 45,000 francs was raised, mainly from local businessmen, but it was still one of the smallest purses of the sanctioned meetings of the 1910 French season. One of the prizes, for debutant pilots, was offered by the industrialist Jacques Schneider, of later Schneider Trophy fame.

In the beginning of March it was announced that the race committee had leased around 100 hectares of grounds at Saint-Avertin, between factories owned by the Saint-Gobain company and the river Cher, around two and a half kilometres southeast of the city centre. Work immediately started on construction of grandstands, hangars and a 2.2 kilometre four-pylon course.

When the deadline for entries closed on 31 March sixteen pilots had entered and paid the 1,000 francs entry fee (which would be repaid if the pilot crossed the start/finish line in flight):

  • Émile Allard, Voisin
  • Antelme (first name unknown), Voisin
  • Bœswillwald (first name unknown), BGS
  • Médéric Burgeat, Antoinette
  • Florentin Champel, Voisin
  • Édouard Chateau, Zodiac
  • Jorge ("Géo") Chávez, Farman
  • Bertram Dickson, Farman
  • Arthur Duray, Farman
  • Albert Guyot, BGS
  • Gijs Küller, Antoinette
  • Raymonde de Laroche, Voisin
  • René Métrot, Voisin
  • Léon Molon, Blériot
  • Stahl (first name unknown), BGS
  • Gaston (?) Tranchant (first name unknown), Blériot

The entrants included some pilots with experience from previous meetings, like Métrot, Chávez, Molon, Duray and "Baroness" de Laroche, but the rest were mainly novices. Local men Antelme, Bœswillwald, Stahl and Tranchant were little known even then and appear to have vanished without much trace in the mists of aviation history.

The pilots could start practising at the airfield from 25 April and all equipment had to be in place on 28 April. The number of participants had dropped to eleven by the time the meeting started. At the start of the meeting it was announced that the BGS (Bœswillwald, Guyot & Stahl) monoplane would not be ready in time, so its three pilots were scratched from the list of entries. Capitaine Burgeat's Antoinette arrived too late to be readied for the meeting, perhaps because it was badly damaged at the Biarritz meeting a month before, and Tranchant's Blériot had also been damaged before the meeting.

Saturday 30 April
On the opening day the lawns around the field were full of people, but there were not so many in the more expensive grandstands. At two o'clock, when the official flights were supposed to start, the planes of Métrot, Duray, Antelme, Allard, Champel and Dickson were rolled out. Some engines were started, but to the disappointment of the spectators nobody moved. The wind was too strong.

There were no flights until five o'clock when Duray took off, but he he was forced down by the wind after only 250 metres. He was followed fiteen minutes later by Dickson, who stayed in the air for almost eighteen minutes and completed eight laps, in perfect control despite the wind. At a quarter past six Küller took off for the daily speed prize, which he won with a time of 4:08.0 over the two two-kilometre laps, beating Dickson, the only other competitor, by ten minutes. Chávez also flew, but didn't manage to complete the two laps. A ten-kilometre flight by Dickson finished the day's flying, ensuring him the daily distance prize.

Sunday 1 May
Early in the morning de Laroche, Métrot and Molon made successful tests, but when the sun started shining the winds increased, even worse than the day before. The strong wind from the northwest was still blowing well into the late afternoon. The impatient crowd of 50,000 complained, but again there were no flights until the end of the day.

At four o'clock the committee decided that the flights would be timed until seven o'clock in the evening, and twenty minutes later Küller finally started his machine and flew three laps, fighting the strong wind in an impressive way. Then Dickson took off and flew six laps, having great difficulty in the turns. While he was flying the awnings of one of the grandstands blew off. Some disappointed spectators broke the fence, which was only guarded by a small number of soldiers, and threatened to invade the airfield. Küller took off again and flew five laps, which somewhat calmed down the crowds.

At half past six Küller and Dickson took off for the daily speed prize, followed by Chávez and Métrot, and towards seven o'clock also by Duray. For a while there were four airplanes around the course at the same time, "an unforgettable sight", according to the local press. Métrot climbed to 80 metres in his Voisin, of the new "racing" model that hadn't appeared at any previous meeting, and left the airfield for a trip over the Cher.

Küller again won the speed prize, his time of 3:58.2 beating Dickson by ten seconds. Dickson again flew longest, 32 kilometres, and increased his lead in the total flight time contest. The reporter from "L'Auto" laconically remarked that it had been a beautiful spectacle during ten minutes...

Monday 2 May
The wind dropped on the third day, but instead it rained the whole day. The weather of course kept the crowds away, the spectators could only be counted in hundreds, but the pilots still managed to do quite a lot of flying between three and seven o'clock. The revelation of the day was Molon, who made several flights and covered a total of 52 kilometres on his first flying day, while Dickson and Métrot flew 70 and 60 kilometres respectively.

Dickson, who also made the day's longest flight, now lead the total distance contest by 58 kilometres. Duray flew five laps and won the daily speed prize at 3:49.2, beating Küller, who had engine problems and could only complete two laps. Chávez flew 16 kilometres. Allard made his debut at aviation meetings by flying a kilometre, but he participated out of contest since he didn't have a licence.

Tuesday 3 May
The rain and wind disappeared and there was finally good flying weather. The pilots made the most of it and there were airplanes in the air all the time between half past three and seven. This was Chávez's day. He made the longest flight of the meeting, 108 kilometres in two hours and five minutes, finishing it with a spectacular vol plané and landing in front of the secretariat. Later in the evening he reached an altitude of 150-200 metres and performed some impressive swoops in front of the grandstands.

Dickson's longest flight was 93 kilometres, but his total during the day was 138 kilometres and he further increased his lead in the total flight contest. He too made some spectacular crowd-pleasing vols planés. Molon flew 36 kilometres, only landing when the official flights were terminated by the timers. Küller still had engine problems and only managed 21 kilometres. Duray only made some short flights, but again won the daily speed prize with a flight of 3:40, apparently without any competition. Métrot made a 14-kilometre flight in de Laroche's Voisin, but the landing resulted in a damaged wing.

Wednesday 4 May
The bad weather returned on the fifth day, when a cold and violent tempest from the northwest raged over the airfield. The organizers pleaded to the flyers to make at least some little flights in order to give something to paying crowds. The only one who responded was Küller, who managed a flight of three kilometres. His machine was badly thrown around by the wind, particularly in the turns, but he landed safely. The other flyers stayed in their hangars and checked their planes after the flights of the day before. As a consolation to the visitors, they were allowed to walk through the hangar area to have a closer look at the machines before leaving.

The crowd kept complaining about the lack of flying and baroness de Laroche was particularly targeted by some who claimed that she was only there because of the sensation value of a woman pilot and that she was really quite pleased to use the weather as an excuse for not flying. She angrily replied that at this time of the year good weather could not be taken for granted and that she hoped to find a more hospitable climate at the upcoming St Petersburg meeting - whatever kind of climate she meant by that...

Thursday 5 May
The last day of the meeting was Ascension Thursday, a public holiday. It was still very windy and to make things worse there were several heavy rain showers, so there was little flying. Küller tried, but his engine acted up again. Dickson tried to take off in a wind of 10 m/s when the rudder jammed so that he couldn't fly straight ahead. He tried to control the plane with the ailerons, but it rolled to the left, pitched up and then crashed to the ground. He was thrown out of the plane and escaped without injuries, but the plane was heavily damaged. The cause was apparently a rigging error.

At half past six Chávez tried to win the altitude prize, but had to give up before reaching the 100 metres required in order to be classified. Exactly two minutes before the official end of the meeting baroness de Laroche made her first official flight, a short hop past the start/finish line so that she could reclaim the 1,000 francs entry fee. During the landing her plane was damaged again, this time the tail.

Due to the bad weather the Tours meeting can hardly be called a success, and the flyers were heavily criticised by many spectators and part of the press. The big winner of the meeting was Dickson, who flew a total of 267 kilometres and took home half of the prize money. He made a special reputation for his vols planés, gliding down from high altitude to land with the engine stopped.

The weather had a final sting in the tail: Two weeks after the meeting the Cher flooded, reaching a highest level of 3.05 metres above its normal level on May 16th. The airfield was completely below water. Fences and pylons were wrecked and the hangars and grandstands were damaged. Local flyers Tranchant, Max-Antoine and Cluzan managed to save their planes, but Chateau's Zodiac biplane was left in two metres of water and could only be reached by boat.

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