Jersey's role in early air race

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A New York Times report of the race
Jean Benoist

The first aircraft to arrive in Jersey were competing in a series of air races centered on Saint Maloon the French coast to the south of the island. This is a report of the race from Contact!: The Story of the Early Aviators by Henry Serrano Villard.

Speed contest

In the summer of 1912 ... a contest for speed, organised by the Automobile Club of France for August 24, 25 and 26 at St Malo on the coast of Brittany: two races in St Malo Bay, and one race to the British isle of Jersey in the Channel and back, with an obligatory stop at Jersey.

No fewer than ten different makes of machine were represented - for the most part flown by pilots whose experience had hitherto been over land.

Monoplanes

For the first time, monoplanes were entered in an aquatic contest, and crowds converged on St Malo to see what the single-surface machines could do. Five of the eleven entries were monoplanes, all of French make: an REP, piloted by Henri Molla, the new standard bearer of the house; the Nieuport of Charles Weymann, a model which had given America the Gordon Bennett cup in 1911; an Astra-Train, latest vehicle of Emile Train, the unlucky pilot in the Paris-Madrid catastrophe; a Borel, flown by Marcus Chambenois - the first monoplane ever to be fitted with floats; and the Deperdussin of Guillaume Busson.

To the delight of the monoplane's supporters, Molla's REP showed its tail to all other competitors in the opening day's events.

Biplanes

The biplanes, however, had to be reckoned with on a point system of scoring. These included the Maurice Farman of Eugene Renaux; a Donnet-Leveque flying boat, with Jean Conneau at the controls; two Paulhen-Curtiss Triads, piloted by Frank Barra and a new flyer named Mesguich; the Sanchez-Besa of Jean Benoist; and a heavy Astra tractor, flown by Rene Labouret.

It was a first-day victory on points for the Astra, able to carry two passengers with ease, this Wright-licensed machine was a high scorer with the extra load.

Charles Weymann

Second day

Whether the event could continue on the second day was a question - for a strong wind had sprung up and sea had roughened considerably. Taxiing against the waves, some machines were damaged; others could not get off the water or threatened to capsize.

Six planes finally took part in the day's trials. Those that managed to become airborne demonstrated that a double float, in catamaran style, afforded more stability than a single float. An exception was the REP; with its broad single pontoon it rode the swells without apparent difficulty, and for the second time, Molla recorded the fastest time over the course. Again, however, a biplane was the winner on points, when the Sanchez-Beza of Benoist took off with three passengers and flew steadily into the freshening wind.

Jersey

On the last day angry whitecaps appeared, and the wind stiffened once more. Fortunately, for the race to Jersey and back, it was permissible to land and take off from the sheltered harbour areas. Speed from point to point, rather than number of passengers, was what counted. Weymann won the race in his Nieuport, showing again that monoplanes were the swiftest craft on water as well as on land. The high scorers of the event were the biplanes: the Astra in first place and the Sanchez-Besa in second.

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