One frustrating aspect of collecting pioneer aviation material is the lack of clean schematics to use for display purposes. One of my favourite airplanes is the Antoinette Flyer, from 1908. It’s a beautiful monoplane.
Fragile and magnificent
I’ve scoured the internet looking for something presentable and concluded last week that I’d have to do my own. When it comes to something like schematics, it’s essential the lines are crisp and easy to follow. They also need to be free of scan artifacts. The little spots of black and paper markings are distracting.
To achieve all of this, I had to get over my phobia of using the pen tool in Photoshop. It was the only way of getting sharp lines and smooth curves. But, I’ve never been successful in earlier attempts. And yes, I developed a bit of a fear about using the pen tool. After this job, the fear is gone. I’m embarrassed to admit, it’s easy to use and I’m unsure why I made such a fuss over it through the years. I have a lot of work to do before I become proficient with it, but the Antoinette Flyer schematic was a great start.
Antoinette Flyer schematic – 1908
Cleaned up and ready to display
I used a composite of a couple grainy and badly scanned schematics to build the above. It took hours to lay out the lines and align them correctly. I don’t have all the measurements included yet. I’m hoping to layer them in at a later point. I also have the entire Antoinette engine somewhere on my hard drive. I might pull it out, clean it up a bit, and post it.
I played with several backgrounds to highlight the airplane as well as thicknesses for the lines. I opted for a very thin 2px white line and a black background. It displays the framework’s delicacy better. I tried traditional blueprint blue, but the airplane didn’t show well. The final schematic is 5,000 px x 3,843 px and prints to 10″ x 7.6″. It looks smashing.
Technology as art
One of my motivations, aside from the sheer joy of watching the Antoinette appear in pristine shape, was to use them over at Redbubble for a few merchandise ideas. I’ve played with a few postage stamps and early aviation photographs from my collection and have been pleased with their overall look. It takes quite a bit of time getting everything the right size and clarity. Schematics like the Antoinette adapt to Redbubble designs well.
Technology as art is an appealing genre. There’s something elegant in a simple schematic. I have a thing for industrial and mechanical style art, so I guess my passion for schematics is a natural extension. I’ll be working up more ideas in the coming months.
I’m currently taking a stab at a schematic for an Avro CF-100 Canuck. It’s a bit uncharacteristic for me, I’m not normally a jet fan, but it’s a bit of a sentimental journey. The Canuck was the jet my father worked on when he was in the RCAF with the old 440 Nimble Bat squadron. It’s not looking good at the moment, I need a few more drawings and blueprints if I want it to look correct.
Enjoy the Antoinette Flyer in the meantime and pop over to Bittergrounds.Redbubble.com and check out how well the Antoinette Flyer looks. Wish I had more space for pillows in my little apartment.
Worked out better than I expected
If you’d like to learn more about the magnificent Antoinette read my previous article here:
Today, we’re going to look at doping. No, no, not that kind, the aviation kind. Early airplanes were made of cloth pulled taut over a wood frame. To protect the wood, and create a streamlined body, the material was covered in something called dope, a liquid designed to waterproof & pull the material tight as it dried.
Looking at an early manual & doping
I have a treat for you today, something from my aviation collection – a 1914 aeroplane manual from the Canadian government’s War Office. While looking at a few patents dealing with doping material I remembered something from this book:
Published 2 months before the outbreak of WW1, the manual covered basics like assembling an aircraft, maintaining the engine, flying it, and of course doping the body. The book is fragile, so I didn’t scan from it. There isn’t much in the way of diagrams anyway. But it did include a small section on dope:
The shrinking and preservative agents employed by various makers also differ widely. The best known amongst the latter are rubber, pegamoid, cellon and emaillite. P 23 Training manual Royal Flying Corps 1914
Each company developed their own recipe for dope. They were a kind of witch’s brew, with the first being composed of nitrate. Other chemicals included nitrocellulose, cellulose acetate and cellulose acetate butyrate.
British Emaillite Co., Ltd. – the “Premier Dope”
Three aircraft makers are mentioned in the manual – Avro, Royal Aircraft Factory and Farman. Specific models aren’t mentioned, but I suspect they were Avro 504, British Aircraft Factory’s B.E.2 and the Farman MF11, also called the Longhorn. The manual recommends they all be treated with Emaillite. The B.E. plane doping was described this way:
The fabric is sewn with needle and thread along the trailing edges and round the curved edges. It is also sewn with twine through the plane to the reverse side along each rib. Rubber solution is then rubbed into the fabric with the fingers along each rib and rubber adhesive tape applied. Rubber adhesive tape is similarly applied around the curved ends and the trailing edges. Dome-headed brass tacks are driven in along each rib to further secure the fabric. The planes then receive three coats of the correct emaillite solutions. pg. 23
The Premier Dope Ad Rec. Num. 5 of 128 Source: Aeroplane July 3rd, 1913 https://www.aviationancestry.co.uk/
The British Emaillite Co. was around from about 1911 to 1921 when it was acquired by the Titanine company. It’s difficult finding solid information about the British Emaillite Co, but after a lot of searching, I found a patent for their cellulose acetate dope from around the time the RFC manual was written.
Patent # GB191206798A by British Emaillite Co., Jan. 14. 1914
I could only find abstracts from the patent, not the entire paper. But it is informative as to what chemicals were used:
A fabric for aviation apparatus that is invisible or indistinctly visible is formed of films of cellulose acetate or like compound. Materials are added to modify the refractive index of the compound so as to render a reinforcing-material, such as silk or cotton fibres, placed between the sheets, invisible. In an example, a composition, comprising 110 grm. of acetate or hydroacetate of cellulose, 35 grm. of a mixture composed of equal parts of naphthol, ethylic ether of naphthol, and benzene sulphonamide, 880 grm. of tetrachloride of ethane, and 120 grm. of alcohol, is spread on glass, and very fine silk tulle placed upon it while still moist. This is stripped off when dry and placed, tulle side downwards, upon a second moist layer of the composition spread on glass, and, when dry, the completed fabric is removed from the glass.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t download the entire patent, and Google Patents doesn’t offer it, just a reference. I did however obtain a 1917 patent, from the same company.
Patent # US1298199A Cellulose-ester dope or varnish by British Emaillite Co., filed June 13, 1917
This invention relates to the manufacture of dopes of the kind used for coating the surfaces of aeroplanes, and its chief objects are to improve the adhesiveness, strength and surface of the coating and to reduce or eliminate the poisonous or deleterious properties of dopes.
Aeroplane dopes must produce in and on the fabric employed an elastic highly contractile film with a hard surface which when struck must yield a clear resonant note (an indication that the necessary contraction has been obtained) with sufficient body and rigidity (obtained so by a succession of coats) to retain its stream line contour during flight.
So, the dope had to dry tight enough to protect the wood and pull the material taut, to keep the airplane streamlined, but not so tight it would damage the aircraft by warping the frame. If you’re interested in the chemical components, look at the patent US1298199A – Cellulose-ester dope or varnish. – Google Patents for the details. For now, the manual is back in its protective wrapping and back on the shelf. It’s been a real treat paging through it.
Originally published Oct 4 2018. Updated Oct 1, 2020
Updates include more reference links, updated details and additional information on pioneer aviation poster stamps
Here’s a little something from my pioneer aviation collection. I was looking for … well, I can’t remember because I became sidetracked.
About 7 years ago, I spotted a set of 1910 Wills Aviation cards on eBay. It’s one of those silly items I coveted for years so I threw in a modest bid and it turned out to be one of those days aviation and tobacco card collectors were asleep and I got the full set of 50.
1910 Wills’ Cigarette card The Antoinette Monoplane – from author’s collection
The cards are pretty cool and considering they are over 100 years old, in very good shape. They cover flight from early balloons to the most modern (as of 1910) aeroplanes, including my favourite – the Antoinette Flyer, designed and built by Léon Levavasseur.
The Antoinette Flyer, Levavasseur’s contribution to pioneer aviation
The Silver Dart comes close to the number 1 spot in my heart, but it’s always edged out by the Antoinette. I think primarily because the Antoinette’s design is so unusual. It looked like a canoe with wings and a pilot precariously plopped in the middle. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, engineer and pioneer aviation designer, Léon Levavasseur started out designing boats and boat engines. The Flyer may have looked fragile, but it was an outstanding aeroplane that helped Hubert (sometimes erroneously listed as Herbert) Latham set a number of height and speed records in the early days of aviation, as well as perform in most of the major aviation events of the day.
Latham attempts an English Channel crossing (1909)
Latham was the first aviator to attempt the Daily Mail’s Channel Crossing challenge. At stake was a £1000 prize for the first flight across the 38 km (21 miles) distance from Calais to Dover. His attempt, July 19, 1909, ended 13 km off the Calais coast line with Latham ditching in the water. He was uninjured, but the Antoinette was badly damaged.
Latham was seen as a good bet to win the prize. His two main rivals were Louis Blériot and his Blériot XI, who went on to win and Charles de Lambert flying a Wright Flyer. A second Antoinette was prepared by the 21st, but bad weather kept him grounded. Louis Blériot and his team arrived, after Latham’s crash, and prepared for crossing. Not far away, de Lambert setup his camp, but crashed or damaged both Flyers during practice flights. That left just Latham and Blériot.
On July 25, 1909, while Latham was still asleep, Blériot saw an opportunity. The weather turned favourable at dawn and he launched off the cliff in Calais and into history. Latham’s chance was gone.
Hubert Latham (left) and Leon Levavasseur (right) Calais 1909 for the English Channel crossing attempt – image courtesy BNF/Gallica
3rd aeroplane – Antoinette Flyer ready to try the Channel crossing – Image courtesty BNF/Galacia – Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Philosophie, histoire, sciences de l’homme, FOL-LC6-87
Latham in cockpit of Antoinette ready to try Channel crossing 1909 – image courtesy BNF/Gallica
Latham and the Antoinette early aviation records
Despite the disappointing outcome of the Channel race, Latham went on to set air speed and distance records with the Antoinette flyer.
May – European non-stop flight record, flying for 1hr 07mins) (this was set prior to the Channel crossing attempt)
August – Riems Airshow (Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne) world altitude record of 155 metres (509ft)
January 7 – Mourmelon-le-Grand, France, world altitude record of 1,100 metres (3,600 ft)
April – Nice Air show world air speed record of 48.186 miles per hour (77.548 km/h)
July – second Riems Airshow (Grande Semaine de l’Aviation de la Champagne), world altitude record of 1,384 m (4,541 ft)
Hubert Latham 1909 Airshow – La Revue aérienne / directeur Emile Mousset Author : Ligue nationale aérienne, Paris. Auteur du texte Publisher : [s.n.] (Paris) Publication date : 1909-09-10 Contributor : Mousset, Émile. Éditeur scientifique – image courtesy BNF/Galacia
I’ve looked around for postage stamps showing Latham, Levavasseur or the Antoinette and haven’t found a single one. Nor have I found Cinderellas commemorating them, although I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually stumble across at least a Cinderella. Air shows were very popular and many poster stamps were created to promote them, like I said, one is bound to pop up.
The stamp below is a a sample of one of the poster stamps produced for events like the Aug 1909 Reim’s airshow. They are works of art in themselves and hard to find around here. They aren’t expensive, as a rule, and can be a good start to a pioneer aviation collection.
Reims Airshow 1909 poster stamp
In the meantime enjoy the video below. It’s film footage of Levasseur and Latham preparing for the flight across the English Channel. It starts off in Calais, where fliers gathered to prepare for their attempts. It’s rare to find footage of the Antoinette in flight, but as you watch it, you’ll understand what I mean by “canoe with wings”.
The video shows the infamous dunking Latham took into the English Channel in July 1909. It was an improbable design, but flew fast and true. Would I fly in it? HELL YES! How about you? Take the poll below the video and let me know if you’d fly in an Antoinette.
The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) is a marvelous resource for early French aviation information. The archives hold many contemporary aviation magazines and newspaper articles that are impossible to find anywhere else. Search: Leon Levavasseur, Latham Hubert, Antoinette moteur and l’aéroplane Antointette for the best results.