AIR On Show

Those of you who remember how cramped the Olympia Motor Shows used to be, so that eventually a move was made to Earls Court, may well wonder how such bulky objects as aeroplanes could have been displayed at the former London exhibition hall. Yet this was the case, in spite of motor shows seeming to be rather congested even after the aforesaid move, until the great new multi-hall National Exhibition Centre was opened near Birmingham. At one time or another the more spacious Crystal Palace had been the focus of aeronautical exhibitions. I have a faint memory of going to one of these shows there when I was very young, but even then interested in aeroplanes, and seeing these in the great glass building, and seaplanes on view on the lakes in the grounds or is this a figment of my imagination? Perhaps not, the Crystal Palace had its first such visit by flying machines back in 1868, but only of steam-powered models and engines.

That was rather a long time ago. More to the point is that there were Aero Shows in Paris and London in 1919, at the critical time for the aircraft industry, with orders for military aeroplanes drastically curtailed, serious commercial air-travel still in the future, and private flying the main source of entries in slim order-books. Publicity was the lifebelt to grasp, and air-racing and aero-shows thus had their place in a tentative outlook. Picture yourself in Paris on a bleak December day in 1919, as they might say in BBC 1 ‘s “Call My Bluff” programme. You are outside the Grand Palais. It is bleak, apart from the seasonal weather, because the country has but recently experienced all the terrible ravages of a devastating war. Nevertheless, coal-scuttle Renault and Peugeot taxis are bringing well-dressed folk to the first post-war Aero Show. You go in with them and what do you find?

President Poincarre, Marshalls Foch and Petain, and many high military and civilian dignitaries are there, to encourage an industry which has now to turn itself from munitions manufacture to peacetime transportion, and now had aviation in mind after building fighting aeroplanes since 1914. (Incidentally, this is the sixth French AeroShow, the previous one having been held in 1913). The attendance at this 1919 Show is small compared to that which the recently concluded Motor Show in the same fine building attracted. Yet progress in what was quaintly called “aerial navigation” is already apparent, from the 28-seat Bleriot biplane powered by four Hispano-Suiza engines totalling 1200hp, to a £375 two-seater monoplane which could be flown for 1 1/4d a mile. The 50hp Farman-Rhone was there, and the even smaller single-seat De Marcay 13ft wingspan biplane with flat-twin ABC engine. Other hopeful “people planes” were shown by Bristol-Siddeley (a 4cwt 65mph fly-about), Clement and Farman.

Mainly, though, it was a show of “heavies” and the only aeroplane to be flown to it was the British 105mph Handley-Page with two Napier “Lions” that took 1hr 50min from London to Le Bourget, and was then dismantled for delivery to the Grand Palais, it was due on the London-Paris route, later in the year. Other giants were shown by Caudron, whose biplane had triple Salmson engines, by Farman whose Goliath had two such engines, and by Caproni who used three Fiat motors giving a total of 600hp. But the enormous Blenot dwarfed even the Handley-Page it stood next to. Fiat also showed their long-range 2730-mile, 155mph ARF two-seater, but the Italian railway congestion had robbed Ansaldo and Savoia of some exhibits. The 1919 engines were of much interest. Lorraine-Dietrich had the W-type 24-cylinder developing more than 1000hp, designed by M Barbarou from Delaunay-Belleville, he had his own aeroplane in which he often flew to the factory, and he went on to design the victorious Le Mans Lorraine racing cars, Peugeot had two new engines, one a 16-cylinder X-design with 64 valves and four magnetos. Multiple valves were commonplace but push-rod operation was returning, contrary to the use of the overhead camshaft among post-war luxury cars. Fiat had other fine new aviation engines said to be neater in appearance than many car power-units, notably its 400hp V12, and it also showed a nine-cylinder radial, water-cooling adding to its complexity. The steel cylinders had welded-on steel water jackets and a single push-rod prodded four valves per cylinder. Salmson had gone to finned air-cooled cylinders for its previously water-cooled radial.

Complication, indeed, appeared the name of the game with Anzani’s 20-cylinder water-cooled radial with paired “pots”, the mixture taken to them via the crankcase, and the rotary had survived, in the guise of the much revised Gnome et Rhone nine-cylinder Z9 of 60hp. Farman had a vee-eight and Sunbeam showed all its ex-war offerings, Dyak, Manitou, Matabele and Sikh, the last a V12, 67.7-litre, 800hp giant, with a total of 72 o h-valves. Other British engines came from Napier, Rolls-Royce, Cosmos and Siddeley, the French President chatting with R-R’s M Golovine. One Salmson motor had remote hairpin valve springs, the Henry Potely aeroplane actually had a veil/ca/four-cylinder engine with gears driving a horizontal propeller, and the Bugatti-Breguel quadrimotor put 1000hp into one prop from the four coupled engines, of the dual side-by-side vertical-eight kind. As someone objected those 128 valves would take a day to grind-in, or replace.

By the summer of 1920 London had its own Aero Show, at Olympia, under the patronage of HM the King and the Duke of York, with Governments from all over, Japan and Peru included, sending representatives. It was the sixth such International Exhibition, the exhibits much as at the Paris Show; but Sunbeam’s had added their Arab and Cossack engines, Siddeley had radials with mild links with the Puma, and outstanding were the 600hp Rolls-Royce Condor, which had an electric starter-motor and the 450hp Napier Lion. Radials continued to persist, the nine-cylinder Zeitlin an oddity, with a suction-stroke of 226mm, exhaust-stroke of 203.5mm, and a firing-stroke of 181mm. Aeroplanes also managed to find space, and there was interest in the Austin Whippet, no stranger to long-standing readers of MOTOR SPORT, the 35hp Avro Baby, one of which Bert Hinkler had flown from London to Turin at 35mpg, the microlight-like (had there been such contraptions then) BAT Crow (prices from £450 to £800) and the cabin four-seater Avro-Puma triplane, at £2250. But it is all a long time ago…

So transport yourselves back to Paris. It is now 1934; aviation is flourishing in comparison with 1920, and more sophisticated Renault, Peugeot and Citroen taxis are bringing visitors to the Paris Salon, the Garde Republicaine formed up for the arrival of President Lebrun, who in the presence of black-coated, top-hatted celebrities, opened the 14th Salon de L’Aviation. As he did so, the band struck up, Sasha lights flashed, rotors began to sweep round above the Breguet stand and a Russian dressed as a stratosphere pilot struggled to take his place in a stratospherical gondola.

The Show was now more established, with British exhibits from Armstrong-Whitworth, Bristol, Hawker and Avro, France showing the products of Volante, whose flying-wing had apparently not done much flying, Bloch, Breguel, Caudron, Dewoitine, Farman, Hanriot, Levasseur, Moraine, Potez and others, with Mignet’s Pou de Cie/replacing tht 1919 Cloud Fly, and German, Italian, Russian, Polish, even Czech exhibits being there, the last with Avia and Letov fighters. The outspoken C G Grey of The Aeroplane enjoyed himself, picturing the URSS biplane looking longingly westward, blocked by the Polish and Czech machines and flanked by a Whitworth Scimitar and an Avro with machinegun! On top of this Russian stand was a model of the eight-motor Maxim Gorki which Grey in a frivolous moment referred to as “the maximum of gorkiness”. . !

The French were showing big bombers, following the doctrine of the great Marshall Foch, “Attack, attack, and go on attacking”, in defiance of the fact that they would be easily shot down, although perhaps the French High Command held to the view that some of the bombers would always get through. But their 1934 multiplaces de combat were more cluttered-up than our night bombers and possessed so many transparent viewing panels that Grey thought their bellies looked like aquarium tanks and suggested that their designers might do better in the tomato growing field. Farman appeared to have a possible rival to the DH Dragon, the Potez monoplane met the Airspeed Envoy in respect of a retractable undercarriage, Caudron seemed to have copied our Leopard Moth, and the Bristol monoplane with metal monocoque fuselage was a match for the Lockheed Elektra. Most of the small sports aeroplanes might have been related to our Gulls, Couriers and Falcons, the low-wing style prevailing.

Cocking-a-snoot at Show exhibits arriving wrapped in cotton-wool, Bulman had flown the 250mph Hawker Fury over in foul weather, a fighter most of the foreigners would have had difficulty in catching. Grey, who had met old Mr Burt in 1911, was glad to see Bristol’s making such good use of his single sleeve valves in the Perseus engine. Germany was there with good, advanced, externally well-finished machines but which, like pre-war German cars, were a bit rough inside. Biggest in the Show was the Junkers diesel-motor Ju52, fastest German the Heinkel post-carrier, about as quick as our best day-bombers, almost as fast as our interceptors, taking mail from Germany to Spain at some 200mph. The Italian aeroplanes showed that artist-artisans still existed, but they lacked originality, apart from the speed-record Fiat-powered seaplanes — see the October MOTOR SPORT.

When the French railway engineer wanted to improve a locomotive he hung something on it, whereas the British engineer took something off; still true in 1934, with aeroplanes as with locos, observed CGG. That about sums up this Aero Show, held at a time when another at Olympia had been priced out of the SBAC’s reach. It is fun to look back, but now aero-shows are also top flying displays, like those at Paris and Farnborough, and 1934 too seems a long way away. W B