The Right Flyer Gabriel Voisin, Henry Farman and the archetype of aeroplanes


Reg Winstone


Gabriel Voisin, Henry Farman and the World’s First Practical Aeroplane

This is the story of an unjustly neglected landmark in the history of technology: the first comprehensive account of the genesis and evolution of the Voisin biplane with which Henry Farman proved to Europe at least that heavier-than-air flight was a practical proposition, and which has been eclipsed in the popular imagination by the Wright brothers’ 1903 breakthrough at Kill Devil Hills.

As well as chronicling the intense rivalry between the Old World and the New, it explores the technical background of Farman’s Voisin and charts its wider social and cultural impact in the US and Europe while illuminating the intelligence, ingenuity and indomitable spirit of the characters involved.

Relying on primary sources wherever possible, lavishly illustrated by contemporary photographs and with short biographies of all of the main protagonists, it unravels a complex tale of intrigue, daring innovation, personal courage and dogged determination in a world of doers, dilettantes and daredevils, where autodidacts mixed with aristocrats and theories with inspired pragmatists.

They emerge as a colorful bunch of fierce individualists competing against each other and their transatlantic rivals to realise an ambition which was rightly hailed as the dawn of a new era. As such, their achievements merit celebration alongside the other epoch-defining beacons of Modernism that shown from Paris in the first years of the last century.