100th Anniversary of the Seaplane
On March 28, 1910, Frenchman Henri Fabre flew his aeroplane Le Canard for the first time, taking off from the surface of the Golfe de Fos near Marseille and flying for approximately 1,500 feet. Fabre, who lived to the age of 101, dying in 1984, was a marine engineer who had an interest in aviation. His ungainly canard aircraft is acknowledged as the first powered seaplane to lift off the water under its own power.
Fabre’s experience as a nautically oriented engineer, and not an aviator, gave him an advantage over others who had previously attempted to operate their gliders and powered pioneer-era aircraft. Even the imaginative Glenn Curtiss wouldn’t successfully fly off of liquid water (he had flown off of a frozen lake or two!) until late January of 1911.
Although Fabre’s airplane was certainly a draggy collection of highly braced external structure, Edward Jablonski, in the prologue to his book Sea Wings, the Romance of the Flying Boat, wrote this description: “It looked more like an unfinished length of fence to which a wing and various other appendages had been attached.”
Using a 50-hp Gnome rotary engine for power, Fabre succeeded during that spring of 1910 to make a series of straight line flights. With plenty of room to fly, he didn’t concern himself with turning the seaplane – in fact, the vertical fin was completely fixed in place, with no moveable rudder installed!
Control was effectedusing a pair of horizontal elevators installed at the front of the craft, with a pair of foot pedals controlling the warping of the wingtips for roll control.
Pleased with his success in learning to fly the aeroplane and in teaching himself to fly it, Fabre continued to make flights until May 18, 1910, when, after stalling while attempting to climb higher, he crashed it into the Mediterranean. Unhurt but now ruefully aware of the dangers, he chose to end his aeronautical experiments while he could still read about the exploits of others, and not become a footnote to the ever-growing list of those who gave their lives to the cause of aeronautical progress.
You can still see an original version of Fabre’s Hydravionat the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace near Paris. If you read French, you can view the museum’s webpage here.
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Join the seaplane enthusiasts at the EAA Seaplane Base during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh to celebrate this milestone. One of the nicest places to spend a day you’ll ever find in Wisconsin, you can take a bus directly from the seaplane area just south of the ultralight/lightplane runway on the south end of the convention grounds or from the main bus stop just northwest of the main gate. The bus trip costs a mere $3 round trip. Limited parking is also available at the base at a cost of $8 a day.