French brothers Gabriel and Charles Voisin established Europe’s first successful aeroplane manufacturing company in 1906. In its early years, the company built a combination of its own designs and made-to-order planes for others’ plans. During World War I, Voisin produced military aircraft, primarily observation planes for the French air force. Charles Voisin (b. 1882) died in a car accident in 1912, leaving Gabriel (1880-1973) to carry on the business. In 1918, after the close of World War I, Voisin abandoned aeronautics for automobile manufacture, and built beautiful cars (now prized by collectors) until World War II.
Only a handful of original Voisins exist and they are not very popular with replica builders, so the different types are presented below rather than giving each type its own gallery.
1907 Voisin-Farman replica
Aviator Henri Farman, later to become an aircraft designer in his own right, was an early Voisin customer. He commissioned Voisin to build an aircraft capable of flying for 1 kilometre, which Farman achieved in the plane in January 1908. This machine is a replica, but a historic artifact in its own right, because it was built for France’s Musee de l’Air (today’s Musee Air et Espace) in 1919!
Aeroplane designers and builders freely copied and adapted each other’s designs in the early years of aviation. In America, aeronautical experimenters often cloned European designs. This aircraft, built in 1908 by Norvin Rinek of Virginia, was a copy of the 1907 Voisin-Delagrange biplane which achieved a successful 200-foot flight in March 1907. Rinek substituted his own engine and a frame made of metal instead of wood. Reportedly the aircraft flew several times before 1910, then was stored until Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome obtained it and restored it in the early 1970s. It is a very valuable piece of early U.S. aviation history.
During World War I, Voisin built bombers and observation aircraft. The standard configuration for these large planes consisted of long biplane wings, a small fuselage pod containing the cockpits and a pusher engine at the rear, and boom-mounted tail surfaces. The Musee Air et Espace displays a 1915 Voisin V, also known as the Voisin L.A.S.
Voisin VIII 4640
The National Air & Space Museum has one of the few Voisins that remain. The Type VIII, although it entered service in 1916, was only slightly developed from the seminal Voisin III of the first year of the war. A total of 1,100 type VIIIs was produced, and this sole survivor, built in February 1916, was configured as a night bomber. Acquired by the United States in 1917 for technical evaluation, it was passed to the Smithsonian in late 1918, before World War I was even over. The NASM claims that this plane is “the oldest surviving aircraft that was specifically designed as a bomber.” It is painted in the colors of French bombing squadron VB 109.