Leon Delagrange (1873-1910)

Ferdinand Léon Delagrange (1873-1910) bought one of the first Voisins at the same as Henry Farman in 1907. In March 1908 he carried the first passenger in Europe, who was Henry Farman himself.

He also took up the first woman to fly, Madame Peltier, in July 1908 at Milan. She took several lessons which culminated in piloting the Voisin solo, but she did not take her interest any further. Delagrange set several distance and endurance records during 1908.

He purchased a standard Voisin in 1907. However he was less technically-minded than Henry and had made only a few modifications to the basic design. Gabriel Voisin remarked that in contrast to Farman, Delagrange "was not the sporting type" and knew nothing about running an engine. Nevertheless a sporting rivalry seems to have developed between the two fliers. Delagrange went south to Italy to demonstrate the art of flying while Farman went north to Belgium. On 23 June Delagrange set an endurance record of 18 minutes, 30 seconds at Milan: Farman retaliated with 20 minutes, 20 seconds at Ghent, on 6 July. On 6 September Delagrange flew for 25km (15 miles) at Issy: Farman bested that with 40km (25 miles) at Champ de Chalons on 2 October.

1910 opened with tragedy, for on January 4th Ferdinand Léon Delagrange, one of the greatest pilots of his time, was killed while flying at Pau. The machine was the Bleriot XI which Delagrange had used at the Doncaster meeting, and to which Delagrange had fitted a 50 horse-power Gnome engine, increasing the speed of the machine from its original 30 to 45 miles per hour. With the Rotary Gnome engine there was of necessity a certain gyroscopic effect, the strain of which proved too much for the machine.

Delagrange had come to assist in the inauguration of the Croix d'Hins aerodrome, and had twice lapped the course at a height of about 60 feet. At the beginning of the third lap, the strain of the Gnome engine became too great for the machine; one wing collapsed as if the stay wires had broken, and the whole machine turned over and fell, killing Delagrange. On January 7th Latham, flying at Mourmelon, first made the vertical kilometre and dedicated the record to Delagrange, this being the day of his friend's funeral.