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In 1911 the Deperdussin Company in France built a trim, single-seat racing plane that heralded the sleek aerodynamic designs of later years. The plane's performance was equal to its appearance. It not only won the Gordon Bennett Trophy in 1912, but became the first plane to exceed 100 mph, in the process setting a new world speed record of 108 mph.
The brainchild of Louis Bechereau, the company's designer, the Deperdussin was anything but conventional. Instead of building the plane's fuselage with a conventional frame covered with fabric, as was then accepted practice, Bechereau adopted a revolutionary new method. He designed a central form and glued strips of tulip wood over it to create the fuselage. The form was later removed, leaving only the sleek, rounded shell which was strong and light. This was known as a monocoque fuselage and is the type of construction used on modern aircraft.
The Deperdussin's linen-covered wings were extremely thin. To strengthen them, bracing wires extended almost from the wingtips to supports on top of the body and to the landing gear on the underside. The rotary engine was enclosed in an aluminum housing. A distinctive streamlining feature was the large spinner over the hub of the propeller. With a pilot and a load of fuel, the plane weighed just under 1,000 pounds.
After winning the Gordon Bennett Trophy, the Deperdussin, equipped with floats, won the first Schneider Trophy race. Defending its title in the 1913 Gordon Bennett race, the Deperdussin was again the winner. This time it set a new world speed record of 126.7 mph.
Despite its success, however, the Deperdussin failed to halt a growing trend toward biplane design. Even though it was one of the fastest aircraft in existence before World War I, it did not attract many orders. In 1914 the Deperdussin Company was taken over by Louis Blériot who retained Bechereau as a designer. Eventually the firm produced the famous World War I Spad fighter plane.
But the record-breaking Deperdussin ranks as one
of Bechereau's finest achievements. With its monocoque fuselage and streamlined design, it
was so far ahead of its time that it remained unmatched for many years.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
Permission was granted to ALLSTAR by The Franklin Mint to use the preceding materials.
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Updated: March 12, 2004