The History of Air Racing

Photos & Records

1909 Reims Air Race

1909 Poster



   In 1903 the Wright Brothers introduced the world to powered flight,
however they did little to improve their invention. The French and
      other European Countries had a great interest in the development of
    flying machines and were making a lot of progress improving them.
   In 1909 the French decided to hold the first ever air race. The wine
producers of the Champaign region and the city of Reims offered
200,000 Fr. The week-long event was held on the Bethany plain.

 Stands were built to include a 600 seat restaurant, barbershop,     
 beauty shop, flower shops, telegraph, phone lines connected to    
 major European Capitols. An elaborate system of flags to keep     
the public informed was also installed. The course was 6.2 miles 
 long. This was to be an International event, pilots from England,   
  Germany, Italy and the United States were invited. An American    
   newspaperman living in France offered the Gordon Bennett trophy.
  There would be speed events, altitude, distance and passenger     
  carrying events. All speed events would race against the clock.      
 All available hotel rooms were sold out, temporary housing had to
      be built and Inn keepers doubled & tripled their rates and than some.


  The Wright Brothers were invited but declined, which annoyed the French.
Cortland Bishop, president of the Aero Club of America invited Glen Curtiss to
represent the US.

Curtiss who worked with Alexander Graham Bell’s group was also an accomplished
pilot had only a few weeks to build an airplane and an engine for the competition.

Aircraft entered

9 Voisins    4 Bleriots    4 Antoinetts    4 Farmans    6 French owned Wrights

Bleriot                                                                                                 Voisin

             Wright                                                                                       Antoinette

Gordon Bennett Trophy

Opening day: Rained all morning Qualifying for the Gordon Bennett and
demo flights. Three qualified for the French; Bleriot, Latham and LeFebvre.
Monday: Good weather, Bleriot was first one up followed by several others.
Curtiss set a record for the day. Afternoon brought hi winds and several
who braved it suffered crashes.

Tuesday: The weather was no better. All flights cancelled due to winds of
25-30mph. It was President’s day and he arrived at 4:00 visited the hangars and
was impressed by Curtiss with his American flag draped over the hangar door.

Curtiss hangar

Wednesday; Latham won the daily speed test and Paulham broke the
Wright’s endurance record.

Thursday; Bleriot won the daily speed race, a French pilot suffered an
engine failure and landed in the crowd although frightened, no one was hurt.

Friday; The day of the endurance race, several contenders set records only
to be broken. Henri Farman took off late and won the competition at
118.06 miles finishing after dark. He landed with the help of automobile lights.

Friday; The day of the endurance race, several contenders set records only
to be broken. Henri Farman took off late and won the competition at
118.06 miles finishing after dark. He landed with the help of automobile lights.

Saturday: The day of the Gordon Bennett. Contenders were, Bleriot, Latham,
Lefebvre, Cockburn and Curtiss. Times were from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.
As many practice laps as they wished. Two monoplanes and three biplanes.
Curtiss was first up and set the pace. One by one they failed to better his time.
At last Bleriot waiting till the last minute was up. His first lap was faster but for
whatever reason slower on the second. As soon as he crossed the finish
line the signal went up that Curtiss had won! The crowd was in utter disbelief.
The American flag went up and the band played the National Anthem.

Curtiss Racer

Sunday: There were two races left; The Prix de la Vitesse, three laps and the
Pre de Tour de Piste one lap. First race was won by Bleriot 1.6 seconds faster.
Second race shorter one lap, Curtiss set the pace and it was again up to Bleriot.
Now Bleriot was flying his largest machine, which was somewhat difficult to handle.
He suffered a rudder failure at the first turn and crashed and burned. Curtiss had
won 38,000 francs and Bleriot 7,000 francs. Louis Latham won the Prix de la
Altitude carrying two passengers for 11 minutes.

If Reims did one thing, it brought out the spirit of friendly competitiveness among
those taking part. There was order, not interference and this helpful attitude
enabled the officials to keep the meeting going smoothly. Even the
press and photographers saw this and responded accordingly.

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