Public duel

After he open challenges the Wright brothers to a public duel in the end of March 1908 a contract for the total amount of 500.000 French francs is signed with a syndicate of French investors (of which owner of taxicab company/banker Lazare Weiller and petroleum tycoon Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe are the most important members). The syndicate is formed  specifically to induce the Wrights to come to France for trials with their flying machine.

Involved are the Compagnie Générale de Navigation Aérienne C.G.N.A., 27 Rue de Londres, Paris founded by Lazare Weiller. In 1908 this company bought the exclusive licence of the production-patents of Wright machines for France and its colonies. Production takes place at the Société de Construction Aéronautique ASTRA, 123 Rue de Bellevue, Billancourt (Seine) founded and financed by Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe also in 1908, directeur-gérant of which is G. (Georges) Besançon. Besides Besançon is director-founder of the authoritative magazine ‘l’Aérophile’. At the same time it is endeavoured to produce Wright machines with Société Ateliers et Chantiers de France Tristam at Dunkirk (North) which is not a success. In this all Société ARIEL, 152 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Paris, founded in February 1909 by Michel Clémenceau, moreover director, is the exclusive sales- and operating company of Wright-machines.

One clause of the contract – also called the Weiller-conditions – stipulates the training in France, of three aviators. For this purpose Wilbur Wright embarks early in June 1908 on the ‘Touraine’ for the second time to the Old World (from May till November 1907 the Wright brothers travelled in vain all over Europe to promote their invention). Brother Orville stays in the U.S.A. where he continues the trials – only after a training at Kitty Hawk in May 1908(!) shows the American government any interest – for the army. On September 17 1908 he met with a serious accident in which his passenger, lieutenant Thomas E. Selfridge dies while he himself suffers severe injuries.

After having visited several locations, such as Blain (north of Nantes, Loire-Atlantique), Wilbur Wright found on Monday June 8 1908 in Le Mans (not too far from Paris) a field where he can hold his flying demonstrations. This initiative is taken by the president of the Aéro-Club de la Sarthe (formerly the Commission aéronautique de l’Automobile Club de la Sarthe), inventor and car designer Léon Bollée, who also puts part of his workshop with machines and people at Wright’s disposal.

On Saturday August 8 1908, so 08/08/08, 18:25 is the hour of truth. In presence of members of the Aéroclub de France Wilbur performs on the hippodrome of Les Hunaudières – where he usually stays overnight in the ‘shed hangar’ – with a Barriquand-Marse motor equipped Flyer III the first public flight in the world and at the same time the first flight of the Wright brothers in Europe. To the spectators especially the course changes are a revelation!

Fig. 6-7
“Birdman” Wilbur Wright flies over the Hippodrome des Hunaudières
with public stands and his hangar in the background
J. Hauser, photographer-publisher, Paris

Fig. 6-8
Enthusiasm in Le Mans
“Ce ne fut pas un success, ce fut un triomphe”
“It wasn’t a success, it was a triumph”
daily paper La Sarthe
August 9 1908

Fig. 6-9
Horse racetrack Les Hunaudières at Le Mans
Wednesday July 9 2008

Fig. 6-10
Memorial tablet of the flights of Wilbur Wright on Les Hunaudières
in an odd corner with hard to decipher text in French and English
with an arrow pointing to Wilbur’s take-off direction
Wednesday July 9 2008
C’est de cet endroit que From this site
le 8 août 1908 on August 8th 1908
à 18 heures 25 the American aviator
l’aviateur américain WILBUR WRIGHT
WILBUR WRIGHT took off for his first
a pris son essor pour flight in Europe
la première fois en Europe
________ ________
Cette dalle a été posée This memorial is placed
en commémoration de ce to commemorate this eventful
vol historique et en deed and as a token
témoignage d’amitié of Franco – American
Franco – Américaine par friendship by

les Amitiés Franco Alliées
Les Ailes du Maine
l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest
La Société des courses du Mans

et inaugurée le and unveiled on
8 août 1946 August 8th 1946

Cette plaque marque l’emplacement du pilone de
lancement et le rail de 20 mètres de longeur environ
était le 8 août 1908 orienté dans le sens de la flêche