AIRPLANES TO AUTOMOBILES – 1927 Avion Voisin C7 Chastness
Photo: J. Michael Hemsley
Gabriel Voisin was an amazing man. Born in France in 1880, he built a four-wheeled automobile and a kite big enough to lift boys off the ground by the time he was 18. He studied architecture, but in 1900, after seeing the avion of Clément Ader, which is said to have flown under its own power in 1890, he quit architecture to pursue aviation. In an article for Automobile Quarterly, historian Griffith Borgeson characterized him as “. . . a man who could do almost anything with his hands, a mechanic, architect, engineer, aerodynamicist, inventor, captain of industry, patriot, Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, and, due to his remarkable role in the birth of aviation, one of the human forces which helped to create the world of the Twentieth Century…. He was a full-time firebrand, a latter-day Cellini, dividing his time about equally between the creation of beauty in the form of functional design, the seduction and worship of beauty in the form of women, and his lifelong singlehanded crusade against what he called technological imbecility.”
Voisin was intrigued with flight and, together with his brother, opened an airplane factory—La Société des Aéroplanes G. Voisin. In January 1908, Henri Farman flew the first closed circuit kilometer in a plane of Voisin’s design. Throughout his life, Voisin believed that he, not the Wrights, had been the first to resolve all the problems of heavier than air flight. While others were building airplanes with wood frames covered in fabric, Voisin believed that an all-metal plane was a better solution, given the rough fields from which they operated. He built his first all-metal airplane in 1911 and, in 1914, the president of France announced that Voisin’s system would be used for all airplanes bought by the French Air Ministry. Voisin delivered 10,700 planes during WWI, built Hispano-Suiza and Salmson aircraft engines, and pioneered the use of machine guns, cannons and bombs on aircraft. Voisin and his company were very successful during the war, but it left him upset and feeling guilty about his role in how airplanes had been used. While he met his commitments to the Air Ministry, toward the end of the war, he turned his attention to automobiles. His company stopped building airplanes and was ready to switch to automobile production at the conclusion of the war.
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