On 30 November 1908, Baron Pierre de Caters made the first controlled flight over Belgium, on a machine equipped with a Belgian made engine.

At the head of a vast fortune, he had dedicated himself to aviation and had participated in various competitions. Member of the Belgian nobility, powerfully built, he was an energetic "sportsman." He had been a race-car driver and had received the title of "World Record Holder" at the Monaco races. In 1907, the Baron became interested in flying machines and purchased a Voisin aircraft built by the French brothers of the same name.

The Baron was a wealthy aviation enthusiast and an "amateur," not an engineer who designed his own machines. He began to win fame at the Frankfurt races where he had surpassed Bleriot, with respect to time aloft and altitude, and won first prize. Between 1909 and 1910, he started to participate to many of the “air show” that were then held all around the world. He was the first aviator to do an air display at Istanbul and in Cairo. He even went to India, along with another Belgian aviator, Jules Tyck and did an aborted try in Greece.

Reading the here under description, taken from local newspaper of the time, of the flights he did in Istanbul and its tentative flight in Athens, those air display were all but an easy task with the very new and untried aircraft technology of the time.

In a cold and blustery December of 1909, the Belgian Baron Pierre de Caters piloted the first heavier-than-air flying machines over Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The flights astounded the thousands of spectators who had gathered to watch. Baron de Caters arrived the 23 November, planning to make a demonstration of flight in Istanbul and no doubt in an attempt to be the first to fly across the Bosphorus. For his flights, he had brought two aircraft at a cost of 10,000 francs.As soon as he arrived, he obtained the necessary permit and built a shed to protect his machine at the site of his proposed demonstration. The Baron's machine was a canary-yellow, "pusher" biplane. In the center of the two wings was a small "cockpit." The wings were attached to a box kite-like tail by a skeleton frame. The engine had eight cylinders and could produce 70 horsepower. The top speed of the aircraft was 76 kilometers per hour. It carried 80 liters of fuel, which was enough for three hours.

On December 2, by the time the Baron had gotten his machine in order, installed the motor, and attached the propeller, it was sunset. Around noon, the Baron had his aircraft brought from its shed and had it pointed toward the field that stretched beyond for 200 meters. He leapt into the machine and started the engine. It made such a loud sound and so shook the ground that it terrified the horses. At the same time, the propellers caused awesome whirlwinds that blew dust and smoke high into the air in all directions. Meanwhile, strong winds began to blow from the southwest, but the Baron decided to carry on. His machine moved ahead quickly. Its three wheels remained on the ground for a distance of about 20 meters and then it gently rose into the air.

The Baron went up to an altitude of about 50 meters and headed toward the southeast, the direction of the Bosphorus. The strong southwesterly wind, however, prevented him from making much progress. Buffeted by the winds, the Baron tried to fly southeast till he crash landed in a meadow only 200 meters from where he had departed. He escaped injury, but his aircraft was slightly damaged: mainly the wheels and several cylinders of the motor. One propeller was buried in the ground.

Two days later, on a Sunday, the Baron was ready for another attempt. The weather was again calm and spring-like.

At three o'clock de Caters removed his aircraft from its shed, jumped aboard and sped down the field. He quickly became airborne and went up to an altitude of fifty meters. He then circled the astonished spectators who applauded and cheered. Near the end of his second circuit, the Baron headed west. The aircraft slowly descended and then disappeared from sight. A rudder wire snapped and, not able to control the direction of the aircraft, he slowly descended into the valley. When he reached the ground he collided with a flock of sheep and broke one of his wings. When asked if he would make another flight, he said that it would not be possible, for he planed to leave the coming Tuesday.

Indeed, de Caters took his aircraft aboard a ship and went to Egypt. On December 15, he became the first man to fly in that country, making several short trips at Cairo.

Baron de Caters' flights over Istanbul, although the first, were obviously not overwhelming successes, lasting altogether only a few minutes.

de Caters spent a few days at Athens with the intention of giving some exhibition flights on the Phaleron plain. Eventually, however, he left, without attempting any flight, because of the treatment meted out to him.

All the difficulties was about the rain (the airfield was wet), and the political situations of those times (police was not available to keep people away from the airfield).

Although the weather was unfavorable he found there was no shelter for his machine other than a tent, and this was partly blown away by the high wind, and as a result the aeroplane sustained damage. Finding his request for a more suitable shelter met with no response, Baron de Caters, therefore, decided to leave the place at once.”

VOISIN "de Caters"

In the seventies, the air museum did an exchange with the collection “Jean Salis” and received the remains of the “Dalbert” replica. This flying replica was build to be used in the making of the serie «Les faucheurs de marguerites », telling the exploits of the fictious French aviation pioneer “Dalbert”, and of the well known Ferber, Bleriot and Santos Dumont.

In order to improve the maneuverability of the original Voisin, ailerons were included in this “improved” flying replica and the engine had nothing to do with an original. Despite those improvements, the Voisin “Dalbert” was still a “hot” plane and those who few aboard it even wondered how those early aviators succeeded in flying aboard the original machines!

Nevertheless, the “cockpit” and many components of this replica were usable to create a replica of the Voisin “de Caters”. The Voisin « de Caters » being the plane used by the baron de Caters to accomplish the first official flight above Belgium ground in 1908.Furthermore, an original ENV engine and airscrew were available in the museum’s store.

Work started in 2001 with the objective of having the plane ready for the 100th years of the first flight by de Caters. All the woodwork of the wings and tails had to be reproduced and the engine restored and completed.

To speed up the project, the woodworking and fabric covering of the plane has been sub-contracted to the Ets Poncelet for the woodwork and to Firmin Henrard, well know for his gliders restoration, for the fabric covering.

The making of this replica provoked much interest as the « Voisin » has been used for many « first flights» in many countries, like the first flight in Australia carried out by Oudini.

Another advantage of this project is that the famous AELR, who finance part of the project, discover with astonishment the real cost of a restoration.

A few pics of the various stage of reconstruction, with the first one depicting the r-used "cocpit" and the remans of the "Dalbert" wings. Second picture show the new wings being manufactured by Ponselet and the third one let see the assembled wing box.




Once the various elements of the Voisin has been manufactured and assembled, they are shipped to the workshop of Firmin Henrard for the fabric covering process. Normally at the time Voisin (and others like Bleriot) were using Continental Aeroplanstoff for fabric covering. This "Aeroplanstoffe" was linen, or cotton fabric, coated with vulcanized rubber. For cost and time reason, we used cotton to fabric covered the Voisin "de caters" replica.









Picture gallery of the finished plane can be found at:


If you want to learn more about the Baron de Caters:

 'Baron de Caters - Een leven vol beweging’ by Guy de Caters. This biography of the first Belgian aviator is written be a relative of Pierre de Caters and contains documents from the family archives never published before. One of the most renowned specialist of pioneers aviation collaborated in this project.

Full details at: http://www.asa-be.com/Files/BookDecaters.pdf

And, if you want to learn more about the plane:

Brussels Air Museum Restoration Society (BAMRS)

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