Tag Archives: Lighter-Than-Air

4 November 1927

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)
Hawthorne C. Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)

4 November 1927: Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, United States Army Air Corps, a balloon pilot since 1921, has carried out a series of ascents to study the effects of very high altitude on air crews.

Gray lifted off from Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois, at 2:13 p.m., in a helium-filled balloon with an open wicker gondola suspended below. The balloon, Air Corps serial number S 30-241, was constructed of rubberized silk and coated with aluminum paint. It had a volume of 70,000 cubic feet (1,982.2 cubic meters). In the gondola were instruments for measuring altitude and temperature, as well as two sealed recording barographs provided by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA). Captain Gray was dressed in heavy leather clothing for protection against the cold. Three gas cylinders of oxygen were provided for breathing at altitude.

This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne's gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne’s gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)

Early in the ascent, high winds carried him to the south, and though he was accompanied by four airplanes, their pilots quickly lost sight of Gray’s balloon. It disappeared into a heavy overcast 20 minutes after takeoff and rose to a peak altitude of 42,470 feet (12,944.9 meters) at 4:05 p.m.

Based on Captain Gray’s notes and data from the barographs, it was concluded that his ascent was at a much slower rate than his previous altitude flights. At 3:17 p.m., he wrote “Clock frozen.” Without the clock, Gray was unable to calculate his time aloft and the amount of breathing oxygen remaining. Estimates prior to lift off were that the supply would run out at 4:38 p.m. The balloon had only descended to 39,000 feet (11,887 meters) by 4:28 p.m. The barographs showed an increase in rate of descent at this time, indicating that Captain Gray was venting helium from the balloon to try to descend faster. The descent slowed, however, suggesting that Gray had lost consciousness.

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, USAAC, right, wearing flight suit, with an unidentified Air Corps officer. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The balloon and gondola were found near Sparta, Tennessee at 5:20 p.m., with Hawthorne Gray’s body curled in the bottom of the gondola. Captain Gray suffered a loss of oxygen which resulted in his death.

Captain Gray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, posthumously, and is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

His citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross (Posthumously) to Captain (Air Corps) Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, for heroism while participating in an aerial flight. On 9 March 1927, Capitan Gray attempted to establish the World’s altitude record for aircraft, but due to the faulty oxygen apparatus he fainted at an altitude of 27,000 feet recovering consciousness after 52 minute, when his balloon, having over shot its equilibrium point, descended to an atmosphere low enough to sustain life. Undaunted by this experience, Captain Gray on 4 May 1927, made a record attempt when he attained an altitude of 42,470 feet, higher than any other Earth creature has ever gone. On his descent, however, his balloon failed to parachute, and it was necessary for him to descend from 8,000 feet in a parachute. With faith unshaken, and still displaying great courage and self reliance, Capitan Gray, on 4 November 1927, made the third attempt, which resulted in his making the supreme sacrifice. Having attained an altitude of 42,000 feet he waited for ten minutes, testing his reactions, before making a last rapid climb to his ceiling and a more rapid descent to safe atmosphere. Undoubtedly his courage was greater than his supply of oxygen, which gave out at about 37,000 feet.

War Department, General Orders No. 5 (1928)

The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

Hawthorne Charles Gray was born at Pasco, Washington, 16 February 1889. He was the fourth of six children of William Polk Gray, a river steamboat pilot, and Oceanna (“Ocia”) Falkland Gray.

In 1913, Gray was employed as a baggageman for the Northern Pacific Railway at the Pasco Station. Gray attended University of Idaho at Moscow, Idaho, as a member of the Class of 1913. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, B.S.(E.E.)

Hawthorne C. Gray served as an enlisted soldier with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry, Idaho National Guard, 1911–1912, a second lieutenant, 25th Infantry, Idaho National Guard, from 7 March 1912 to 23 April 1913. He was qualified as an Expert Rifleman. Gray enlisted in the United States Army, serving in the Hospital Corps and Quartermaster Corps from 19 January 1915 to 25 June 1917. He participated in the Mexican Expedition, under General John J. Pershing.

Sergeant Senior Grade Gray was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 32nd Infantry, 3 June 1917, and promoted to 1st lieutenant on the same day. Lieutenant Gray was promoted to captain (temporary), 34th Infantry, on 5 August. The rank of captain became permanent on 24 February 1920.

Captain Hawthorne Charles Gray, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1923.

Captain Gray was assigned to duty with the Air Service from 9 August 1920, and was transferred to that branch was transferred on 29 August 1921. His date of rank was retroactive to 21 February 1920. Gray graduated from the Army’s Balloon School, Ross Field, in 1921. In 1923 graduated from the Air Service Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas, in 1923, and from the Balloon and Airship School at Scott Field in 1924.

Captain Gray and Mrs. Gray traveled to Europe to participate in the 15th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett (the Gordon Bennett Cup balloon race), held 30 May 1926 at Wilrijck, a small city near Antwerp, Belgium. Gray and his team mate, Lieutenant Douglas Johnson, placed second out of eighteen competitors, and behind another American team. Gray and Johnson traveled 599 kilometers (964 statute miles) in 12:00 hours, landing in the Duchy of Meklenburgia, a free state of the Weimar Republic (northern Germany), at about 4:00 a.m., 31 May. The Grays returned to the United States, arriving aboard S.S. President Harding at New York City after an eight-day voyage from Cherbourg, on 23 July 1926.

Captain Gray reached an altitude of 8,690 meters (28,510.5 feet) over Scott Field on 9 March 1927. This ascent set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude. ¹ On 4 May 1927, Captain Gray reached approximately 42,240 feet (12,875 meters). Because of a high rate of descent, he parachuted from the gondola at about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). Because he was not on board at the landing, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) did not recognize the flight as an official altitude record.

Captain Gray was married to the former Miss Miriam Lorette Maddux of Santa Rosa, California. They would have four children. Their first died at the age of 1 year, 3 months.

¹ FAI Record File Numbers: 10614, Ballooning, Subclass A-6th; 10615, Ballooning, Subclass A-7th; Ballooning, Subclass A-8th.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 October 1913

Zeppelin L2 LZ 18 (© Ullstein Bild)
Zeppelin L2 (LZ 18). The smoke is coming from the forward engine car. (© Ullstein Bild)

17 October 1913: On the morning of a scheduled test flight at Flugplatz Johannisthal-Adlershof, an airfield south east of Berlin, Germany, Marine-Luftschiffes L2, the second rigid airship built for the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin at Friedrichshafen, was delayed by problems with the engines. The morning sun heated the hydrogen contained in the airship’s gas bags, causing the gas to expand and increasing the airship’s buoyancy.

L2 New York Times 18 October 1913
L2 at altitude. This photograph was published in the New York Times, 18 October 1913. (George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

Once released, L2 rapidly rose to approximately 2,000 feet (610 meters). The hydrogen expanded even more due to the decreasing atmospheric pressure. To prevent the gas bags from rupturing, the crew vented hydrogen through relief valves located along the bottom of the hull.

L2 leaves a trail of smoke as it crashes to the ground, 17 October 1913. (Zeppelin-Luftschiffe.com)

In this early design, the builders had placed the relief valves too close to the engine cars. Hydrogen was sucked into the engines’ intakes and detonated. L2 caught fire and a series of explosions took place as it fell to the ground.

All 28 persons on board were either killed immediately, or died of their injuries shortly thereafter.

At the time of the accident, L2 had made ten flights, for a total of 34 hours, 16 minutes.

The flight crew of Marine-Luftschiffes L2 (via LZDEAM.NET)
The flight crew of Marine-Luftschiffes L2

A contemporary news article described the accident:

AIRSHIP AND BALLOON NEWS.

The Wreck of the Zeppelin.

ELSEWHERE in this issue we comment upon the terrible catastrophe which befell the German Navy’s new Zeppelin L2, on Friday last week, just outside the Johannisthal aerodrome, near Berlin. From the following official account it appears that the airship was making a trial voyage:—

“She started this morning for a high flight, with twenty-eight persons on board. After three minutes she had attained a height of two hundred metres (over 600 feet) when flames burst forth between the fore engine-car and the envelope. In two or three seconds the whole ship was on fire and an explosion occurred. At the same time the airship fell slowly head downwards, until she was forty metres (130 feet) from the earth. Here a second explosion took place, presumably of benzine. When the vessel struck the earth a third explosion occurred, and the framework collapsed. A company of pioneers and guide-rope men hastened to the scene, and doctors were immediately in attendance. Two of the crew were picked up outside the ship still alive, but they died shortly afterwards. Lieut. Bleuel, who was severely injured, was taken to hospital. The remaining 25 of the crew had been killed during the fall of the airship or by the impact with the earth. The cause of the disaster appears to have been, so far as is at present known, an outbreak of fire in or over the fore engine-car.”

The commanding officer was Lieut. Freyer, and he was assisted by Lieuts. A. Trenck, Hansmann, and Busch, with thirteen warrant and petty officers. There were also on board as representing the German Navy, Commander Behnisch, Naval Construtors Neumann, and Pretzker, and three secretaries, named Lehmann, Priess, and Eisele. The Zeppelin Co. were represented by Capt. Glund and three mechanics, and Lieut. Baron von Bleuel was a passenger. The last mentioned was the only one rescued alive, and he died from his injuries a few hours later.

One of the first messages of sympathy was addressed by President Poincare’ to the German Emperor.

Extraordinary scenes, showing the way in which the calamity was regarded in Germany, were witnessed at the funeral service of 23 of the victims, held on Tuesday at the Garrison Church. Upon each of the coffins Prince Adalbert placed a wreath from the German Emperor and Empress, who with the Crown Prince and princess, and Princes Eitel Friedrich, Adalbert, August Wilhelm,  Oscar and Joachim attended in person, while the Government was represented by the Chancellor, Admiral Tirpitz, the Chief of the General Staff, Field Marshall von Moltke, and many other officers. Count Zeppelin was also present.

FLIGHT, First Aero Weekly in the World. No. 252. (No. 43, Vol. V.), 25 October 1913 at Page 1179

Wreckage of the L2 at Flugplatz Johannisthal-Adlershof, Germany, 17 October 1913. (Photo Gebr. Haeckel, Berlin # 3227/2)
Wreckage of the L2 at Flugplatz Johannisthal-Adlershof, Germany, 17 October 1913. (Gebrüder Haeckel, Berlin  3227/2)

The Marine-Luftschiffes L2 had been designated LZ 18 by the builders. Both identifications are commonly used (sometimes, L.II). Technical data for L2 is limited and contradictory. One source describes it as having a length of 158 meters (518 feet, 4½ inches), with a diameter of 16.6 meters (54 feet, 5½ inches). Another states 492 feet.

Eighteen hydrogen-filled gas bags were placed inside the rigid framework and covered with an aerodynamic envelope. The airship had a volume of 27,000 cubic meters (953,496 cubic feet), and a lift capacity of 11.1 tons (24,471 pounds).

Four water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 22.921 liter (1,398.725 cubic inches) Maybach C-X six-cylinder inline engines were carried in two cars beneath the hull. They produced 207 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m., burning bensin (gasoline). Each engine drove a four-blade propeller through a drive shaft and gear arrangement. These engines weighed 414 kilograms (913 pounds), each.

L2 had a maximum speed of approximately 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour). At reduced speed, L2 had a 70 hour radius of action.

The Kaiser and Imperial princes lead the funeral procession.
The Imperial Princes lead the funeral procession. Left to right, Prince Oskar, Prince August Wilhelm, Prince Adalbert, Crown Prince Wilhelm, Prince Eitel Friederich, Prince Joachim.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 October 1910

Clément-Bayard No.2 at Issy-les-Moulineaux, 1910 (National Gallery of Canada)
Clément-Bayard No.2 at Issy-les-Moulineaux, 1910 (National Gallery of Canada)

16 October 1910: Maurice Clément-Bayard flew the dirigible, Clément-Bayard No. 2, from the Astra Clément-Bayard airship hangar at La Motte-Breuil, France, to Wormwood Scrubs, England, with six passengers. This was the first crossing of the English Channel by airship. The 244 mile (393 kilometer) distance was covered in less than six hours.

The Chronicle Annual Register reported,

The airship Clément-Bayard No. 2 travelled from near Paris to Wormwood Scrubbs between 6.55 a.m. and 1.25 p.m. Her average altitude was 200–300 metres, her average speed about 60 kil. hourly.

CHRONICLE OF EVENTS IN 1910, Part II, at Page 33

Gustave Adolphe Clément-Bayard
Gustave Adolphe Clément-Bayard

A contemporary newspaper article described the event:

LONDON, October 16.

The airship Clement Bayard II., carrying seven passengers, has made a remarkable journey from Compiegne, 52 miles to the north-east of Paris, to London, alighting at Shepherd’s Bush, five miles to the west of St. Paul’s Cathedral, in 6 hours, 11 minutes. The distance travelled was approximately 150 miles.

Later.

The Clement Bayard left Compiegne at 7.15 a.m. yesterday, the weather conditions being perfect at the time. Boulogne, about 75 miles distant, was reached three hours later, and then the trip across the Channel was made in three quarters of an hour.

French torpedo-boat destroyers were echelonned across the English Channel, and acted as guides to the airship as far as Folkestone, on the coast of Kent, and 71½ miles east south-east of London.

The Clement Bayard, however, outdistanced each torpedo-boat destroyer in turn. Tunbridge, 42 miles beyond Folkestone, was reached at a quarter past 12, and three-quarters of an hour later St. Paul’s Cathedral, 29½ miles from Tunbridge, was passed, the Clement Bayard on this part of the journey going faster than motor-cars following the airship. The remaining distance to Shepherd’s Bush was accomplished shortly afterwards.

M. Clement Bayard was on board his airship, and the passengers also included Mr. William Harvey De Cros, the Unionist member for Hastings, who represented the British Parliamentary Aerial Committee.

The Clement Bayard I. was completed in April last, and was on the eve of making its departure for London, when the French Government exercised its right, and acquired the airship. In August M. Clement Bayard made several successful flights in the Clement Bayard II., the building of which was started immediately after the French Government acquired the Clement Bayard I. In September, 1909, the “Daily Mail” completed, at a cost of £5,000, a garage for an airship on land belonging to the War office. It was constructed to accommodate the Clement Bayard airship, which was to make the journey through the air from Paris to London. The British Government has the option of purchasing the vessel.

The Mercury, Vol. XCIV, No. 12,658., Tuesday, 18 October 1910, Page 5, Column 2

This photograph shows the airship arriving at Wormwood Scrubs, 16 October 1910.
This photograph shows the airship arriving at Wormwood Scrubs, 16 October 1910. (Central News)

Maurice Clément-Bayard was the son of the company’s founder, Gustave Adolphe Clément-Bayard, and would succeed him after his father’s death.

The airship had been built for the Armée de Terre (the French Army), but because of the very high price, ₣200,000, it was not accepted. It was then sold to the British War Office for ₤18,000, more than twice the price the builders had offered to the French government. The British newspaper, The Daily Mail, contributed the cost of building an airship hangar.

After arriving in England, Clément-Bayard No. 2 was deflated for transport to another location. The airship was damaged in transit and was never repaired.

Clément-Bayard No. 2 was  76.5 meters (251 feet) long, with a diameter of 13.2 meters (43 feet). The dirigible had a volume of 6,500 cubic meters (229,545 cubic feet). It was powered by two water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,590.75-cubic-inch-dispalcement (26.068 liters) Clément-Bayard four-cylinder overhead cam engines, which produced 120 horsepower, each. These turned two, two-bladed, fixed-pitch laminated wood propellers with a diameter of 6 meters (19 feet, 8 inches) at 350 r.p.m.

According to an article in American Machinist,

. . . This engine is a four-cylinder, vertical, water-cooled motor, of the latest Clement racing type. The cylinders are cast separately and are copper jacketed; have a bore of 7.48 inches and a stroke of  9.05 inches [1,590.75 cubic inches, 26.07 liters], giving a horsepower estimated at over 200. The valves are mechanically operated and placed in the cylinder head. A magneto is used for ignition. The weight is 1100 pounds [499 kilograms].

There will be two of these motors used in the new Clement-Bayard airship being constructed for the British government; each motor having a propeller of its own, although when desired, both motors can run one propeller, or one motor can run two propellers.

American Machinist, Volume 33, Part I, 7 April 1910, at Page 645

Two 120 ch Clément-Bayard 4-cylinder engines installed on dirigible No. 2. (The Old Motor)
Two 120 ch Clément-Bayard 4-cylinder engines installed on dirigible No. 2. (The Old Motor)

The airship was debated in the British Parliament, with a question asked by Mr. Herbert Pike-Pease, M.P. (later, 1st Baron Daryngton): May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he thinks the action of the War Office in regard to this airship was justified? If the airship was fit for service, why was it not used, and if it was not fit for service, why was it purchased?

John Edward bernard Seely, photographed by Walter Stoneman, 1924. (The National Portrait Gallery, London)
John Edward Bernard Seely, photographed by Walter Stoneman, 1924. (The National Portrait Gallery, London)

Colonel John Edward Bernard Seely, D.S.O., (Later, 1st Baron Mottistone, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., T.D., P.C., J.O., D.L.), the Secretary of State for War, replied, I think part of the last two supplementary questions is answered in some of the replies I have just given. Of course, it is the fact that the envelope of this balloon leaked so badly that it would have been very costly to have inflated it. No doubt mistakes were made on both sides, by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, as well as by my Department, but we have not made half as many mistakes in this matter as our neighbours.

Mr. Pike Pease then asked,Was not the leakage known to the War Office before the ship was purchased?

Colonel Seely answered,It was before my time. There was a strong Committee of this House engaged in those transactions, and I understand they thought the airship was serviceable, and I suppose we thought it was when it was taken over. Mistakes must be made in a new matter of this kind. We have not made very many mistakes of a large kind in the matter of airships. We have been signally successful.

Earlier in the debate, Colonel Seely stated that,The engines are still available and are at the aircraft factory.

The Parliamentary Debates, 30 April 1913, at Page 1161.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 October 2012

Felix Baumgartner prepares to step off the gondola, 127,852 feet (38,969 meters) over New Mexico. The Mescalero Dunes are directly below. (Red Bull Stratos)

14 October 2012: At 12:08 p.m. MDT (1808 UTC) Felix Baumgartner jumped from the gondola of a helium-filled balloon at 127,852.4 feet (38,969.4 meters) over eastern New Mexico.

At 12:08 p.m. MDT (1808 UTC), Felix Baumgartner steps off the gondola. (Red Bull Stratos)

The free fall distance was 119,431.1 feet (36,402.6 meters). He fell for 4 minutes, 19 seconds before deploying his parachute and touched down after nine minutes, 3 seconds. During the free fall, he reached 843.6 miles per hour (1,357.6 kilometers per hour), Mach 1.25.

Felix Baumgartner in full-pressure suit, prepares to jump during an earlier intermediate test. (Red Bull Stratos)
Felix Baumgartner in full-pressure suit, prepares to jump during an earlier intermediate test. The geological feature running diagonally across the center of the image is the Mescalero Escarpment, western boundary of the Llano Estacado. The light-colored features are sand dunes. (Red Bull Stratos)

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) recognizes three Sub-Class G-2 World Records set by Baumgartner with this jump:

16669: Vertical Speed Without Drogue: 1,357.6 kilometers per hour (843.6 miles per hour miles per hour)

16670: Exit Altitude: 38,969.4 meters (127,852.4 feet)

16671: Freefall Distance: 36,402.6 meters (119,431.1 feet)

Felix Baumgartner wore a custom-made full-pressure suit designed and manufactured by the David Clark Co., Worcester, Massachusetts, based on their S1034 Improved Common Suit.

The helium balloon, with a volume 29,470,000 cubic feet, was manufactured by Raven Aerostar, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Baumgartner’s pressure capsule was designed and built by Sage Cheshire Aerospace, Lancaster, California.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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9–10 October 1900

The 1900 Paris World's Fair, before the start of the balloon race.
L’Exposition Universelle de 1900 à Paris (the 1900 Paris World’s Fair), before the start of the balloon race. (Parisienne de Photographie)

9–10 October 1900: The Aéro-Club de France held a long-distance balloon race, coinciding with the World’s Fair and Olympic Games. Six balloon teams competed for the Grand Prix, including that of Henri François Joseph, Comte de la Vaulx, and Joseph Félix Georges, Comte de Castillon de Saint-Victor, co-founders, along with several others, including Jules Verne, of the Aero Club.

From the American Monthly Review of Reviews, Vol. 23, January–June 2001, beginning at Page 609 :

M. le Comte, Henri de la Vaulx, 1908. (Agence ROL)

Of the six balloons entered for this record-breaking race, the Centaur was one of the smaller, its dimensions being 1,630 cubic meters, while its chief competitor, the St. Louis, measured 3,000 cubic meters. The Centaur rose from the grounds at Vincennes at 20 minutes past 5 in the afternoon of October 9. From Count de la Vaulx’s account of the journey, which appears in Pearson’s for April, we glean the following facts:

“Our direction at the start was north-north-east, and very soon, the sun having gone down, Paris was nothing for us but a vast, vaguely defined patch of luminosity far to the west. The Centaur was in equilibrium at about 5,000 feet [1,524 meters] above the sea-level, when the moon rose with such a radiant brilliance that we could read all our instruments without the aid of the electric lamp. Every now and then a shooting star traversed the vault of heaven, inciting us to wish for the success of our enterprise. . . .”

Count de la Vaulx described the route of the flight, the cities and landmarks that they passed over, the weather and temperatures at various altitudes. At several times during the race, they were in sight of another balloon, the larger St. Louis.

Centaur ascended as high as 22,000 feet (6,706 meters) and experienced temperatures as low as -12 °C. (10 °F.) The changes in air temperature caused the gas in the balloon to expand and contract, and it rose and fell as the density of the gas varied.

Having expended their supply of breathing oxygen, the two aeronauts opened the balloon’s vents to descend closer to the ground. Their anchor rope caught in some trees and Centaur came to earth shortly thereafter.

Map of the 1900 balloon race
Map of the 1900 World’s Fair balloon race

La Vaulx and Saint-Victor had landed near Korostyshiv, Ukraine. The two counts had traveled 1,153 miles (1,856 kilometers) in 35¾ hours.

Having crossed the Russian frontier without passports, the two gentlemen were held in custody for four days before being allowed to return to France by train.

Participants of the 1900 balloon race. Left to right: The Comte de Castillon de Saint-Victor, G. Hervieu, Jacques Balsan, J. Faure, the Comte de La Vaulx, G. Juchmes and L. Maison. (Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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