1910: The Fabre Hydravion flies. Henri Fabre was born in 1882 in Marseille, France. His family were shipowners in the city which afforded him an education at the Jesuit College of Marseilles where he studied the sciences. With the advent of flight, he turned his attention to airplanes with particular attention to propeller design. His fascination with flight led him to experiment and he patented a system of flotation devices which allowed him to be the first to built, fly, and survive seaplane flight. On this day he made four consecutive flights (his first four flights ever), the longest one about a third of mile.
Hydravion is French for seaplane or floatplane and Fabre worked on the design for four years. He was helped by Marius Burdin, a mechanic, and Leon Sebille, a naval architect. The craft the men developed was unnamed, but the English press and popular nomenclature bestowed the name “Hydravion” on it. The monoplane used Fabre’s patented beam design based on several components already in use but configured specially for taking off from the water. The plane was equipped with three large floats to keep it from sinking. While the day’s longest flight was less than a mile, within a week the distance had grown considerably to 3.5 miles.
The seaplane was a dream of many pioneering aviators and soon others were building their own planes, some using Fabre floats. Soon after her maiden flight, the Hydravion was damaged. The plane was repaired and on April 12, 1911 Jean Becue was flying it at the conours de Canots Automobiles de Monaco and crashed. The plane was damaged beyond repair and no other Hydravions were ever built. The plane is displayed today at the Musee de l’Air in Paris. Fabre himself preferred sailing and as late as 1971 could still be found sailing alone in the Marseille harbor. He died in 1984 at the age of 101.
Seaplanes remain a minor part of the aviation industry. Post-World War II building of airports made them less necessary but they have held onto some niche uses. They are divided into two categories, floatplanes and flying boats. Floatplanes have pontoons while flying boats rely on buoyancy in the fuselage. A seaplane can both take off from and land on water (and only on water) but some modern modifications have made floats retractable, allowing them to also take off and land away from water. They have come a long way from Fabre’s model, the first seaplane to take off and land on the water under its own power.
I was a child of World War Two. I saw films of pilots taking off from aircraft carriers and decided that was the only thing I wanted to do. And it had to be flying from sea carriers. Airfields were not enough. – Eugene Cernan
I don’t have a fear of flying; I have a fear of crashing. – Billy Bob Thornton
Flying is the only active profession I would ever continue with enthusiasm after the War. – Wilfred Owen
Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price. – Amelia Earhart