The Battaille Triplane  



The Battaille triplane as it was when given to the "Air and Space" museum.



Battaille triplane, 10th August 1911.

Illustration representing the triplane in its second form.


Another picture of the triplane, by Mr Désiré Delforge, photographer at Basècles.


Discovery of a precursor

Triplane equipped with variable incidence upper and lower wings; the French pilot François Chassagne tested it in 1912.

Built and breveted in 1911 by César Battaille, inventor and industrial living at Basècles (Hainaut).

In 1972, the family Battaille gave the remains of the machine at the Air and Space section of the Royal Army museum of Brussels.

Origin and historical context

It was in the early days of aviation. Still in its infancy, airplanes were still experimental. Builders were often pilots and continuously out of founds.

That's why they often participated in races to get the quite big prices attributed to the winners.

Searching for publicity, several cities were organizing aviation meetings with attractive prices. In 1909, the meeting of Reims was made possible thanks to the generosity of the great Champagne producers grouped in a comity presided by the marquis of Polignac.

The total of the prices amounted 200.000 gold-francs. As an indication, the price of a brand new Farman was 25.000 gold-francs.

The reputation of the organising firms gave to the « week of Reims » an international prestige that attracted large crowds in the field of Bétheny, next to the doors of the city, from the 22nd till the 29th August 1909. Blériot just crossed the Channel. He was there, as well as other celebrity of the time: Farman, Latham, Curtiss, Paulhan amongst others.


Collared picture of the period, representing the airplane, as it will be, once restored.



Another view of the Triplane's remain.

1990, the fuselage structure is finished and the landing gear is being built.


Landing gear nearly completed.

A few weeks later, there was another meeting held between the 5th and the 14th September: the "week of aviation of Tournai".

Many pilots went there also: Paulhan on a "Farman", Brégi, Lastemas, Bonnet-Labranche on "Blériot" and some local aviators: Vandamme with a "Serive" glider, Henri Crombez on "Debongnies monoplane" and the toumaisien Walter Bulot presenting his triplane.

The meeting was hindered by bad weather and only Paulhan, with his Octavie III, was able to do some good flights; amongst those a Toumai-Froidmont trip (in other terms 12 km in 10 minutes) and a flight till Taintignies, where he landed next to the castle of Monsieur H. Crombez, burgomaster of the locality and father of Henri Crombez.

This one mounted the Debongnies type A (Anzani of 18 HP). It was the first aircraft of Belgian construction to take the air.

Vandamme was less lucky. Sunday the 12th of September, towards 15 o'clock, he crashed and was badly wounded when a sudden and violent wind blew while flying at an altitude of 30m.

Walter Bulot tried in vain to take off with his own built triplane: too heavy, the plane was just able to roll on 100m without leaving the ground.

Rebirth of the Battaille triplane

Was it the view of the "Antoinette" at Reims or, at Tournai, during the presentation of the tiplane Bulot that César Battaille started to think building his own triplane?

It is impossible to precise when the first drafts have been traced and when the decision to built has been taken.

It's in the sculpture workshop of César Bataille that the airplane was conceived and small pieces manufactured.


Building of the new tank, at left Bruno Dona, at right René Vanderidt



Amongst the many pieces to manufacture, the radiator.

Battaille in 1994.


Landing gear, engine, airscrew and top wing in place.

Only a few sketch have been found, very damaged and undated. Drawings must have existed but have disappeared since. We have as well a copy of the brevet.

A note about the drawings joined with the brevet: they are inexact if compared with the existing hardware.

It was a common practise at the time: Mr Henri Bollekens, aircraft builder from 1910 to 1917,told us that the first airplane manufacturers were doing so to avoid copy and plagiat by concurrent firms.

The aircraft was built by Henri Jonnieaux, more than probably with the help of Alfred Bertiaux, mechanic at the Battaille factory of Basècles. The construction was done between 1910 and 1911.

If referring to a handwritten note at the back of a frontal picture of the aircraft, the first flight took place the 16th of August 1911.

The trials of the triplan Battaille continued. Went it really airborne or was it simply bumping? The father of César, Octave Battaille, wanted to limit the risks encountered by his son and diminished the credits allocated to the engine, so limiting the available power.

A Grégoire (GYP) four cylinder of 40 HP engine was selected. The very limited power would allow only for very brief flights.

During the trials, the airplane was continuously modified, a common practise of the time.

The First World War stopped the trials. It must have been in reparation at this time: when found back, it was dismantled and a part of the fuselage was new, the main booms having been repaired.

At the end of the war, César Battaille, pushing aside bombs and airplane construction, concentrated on his industrial and artistic activities.


One of the original wings, found hanging at the ceiling of an abandoned garage.



The many ribs needed to construct the missing wings being manufactured.

Construction of the wings.


One of the very first aeroplane next to one of its descendant.

The triplane, dismantled, has been hanged at the ceiling of a barely used hangar of the Basècles factory.

Covered with dust, it degraded and distorted gradually.

The Battaille triplane at the Air museum

At the end of 1971, thanks to the action of Commandant Verelst, the remains of the aircraft were retrieved and donated to the museum.

It was in a sorry state: an incomplete fuselage, remains of the tail and various bits and pieces.

It was not a lot but, without any surviving drawings, it was a lot: the airplane still exists.

The only available documents were:

·  The brevet and its unreliable drawings;

·  Original pictures - format 9 x 13.

Because of the very bad condition of the airplane, it was decided to start working on it immediately to save what can be saved.

The remain of the fuselage was put in a jig, dismantled, repaired, re-varnished and remounted.

The tail was next, missing of too damaged pieces being manufactured. Using the scare documentation available, a new landing gear had to be drawn and built.

The fuselage covering had to be completely renewed and a new upper fuselage, seat, steering wheel and masts built.

The original rudder was completed, a fuel tank and a radiator built.

Having no 4-cylinder Grégoire engine to use for the restoration, an available contemporary engine, whose engine mounts corresponded to the ones of the triplane, was selected: a Chenu engine of 1908-1910.




The Battaille in 1998, ready to be fabric covered.



Note that the radiator is still not in place.

Preparation of the wings, 1997.


Fabric covering of one of the median wings.

In spring 1991, Mr Winders, small nephew of the inventor and manager of the Battaille factory of Baseclès, reported the following: during cleaning works of an old area of the factory, workers found a wing suspended to the ceiling of an abandoned garage.

A team of the BARMS retrieved this relic, nothing else than the upper wing of the triplane.

The wing, in a very good stage of conservation, was composed of spruce booms and oak ribs fixed with woodscrews. A metallic tube maintained rigidity and allowed the rotation of the wing.

It has to be noted that the wing is composed of 22 ribs, when study of the pictures reveals 26.

Was it a last modification, or a spare wing that has never been used?

Nevertheless we had now the exact profile of the ribs, we knew how those wings were built and a good idea of how the wings rotation mechanism worked.

By extrapolation, medium and lower wings were drawn and built.

In 1988 the work is finished, at least for the structure. The fabric covering required a lot of work.

Amongst other, the manufacturing of a machine to produce the hundreds of special roundels that were used to attach the fabric with the structure.

Stand Battaille

Once finished, the triplane had still to be put in a surrounding remembering the others realizations of its inventor, César Battaille.



The Chenu engine, its airscrew and the radiator finally in place.



Fuselage being moved to the first floor.

Stand Battaille


After a long wait for a crane able to move the cumbersome ancestor to the Great Hall's first floor, a stand has been built by non-vertigo benevolent.


Protected by a sheet of fabric from birds gifts and other dirt quite abundant in this area, the stand put the triplane in value while some plasters, straight from César Battaille's sculpture workshop, remember the inventor's other activities.


The past and present activity of the family being remember by some "genuine" fertilizer bags.






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