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Etienne Dormoy


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Aeronautical Engineer

Designer and Pilot

Born Vandoncourt, France

February 10, 1885 - February 28, 1959

Etienne Dormoy graduated from the Industrial Institute of Northern France in Lille in 1906 with a Civil Engineering degree from the Electrical Department.  He joined the French Military as an engineer.  After completing his service, Etienne joined the Deperdussin Company as a draftsman. He became an expert at building monocoque fuselages—a fuselage
built by wrapping and gluing thin strips of wood around a form to make a strong airplane body without any struts.

Etienne came to the U.S. in 1913 and built the first true monocoque fuselage for Maximillian Schmiddt.  This airplane won the 1914 New York Times 4th of July Race.   Etienne then returned to France and joined the French Air Force and became a pilot in 1915. He flew bomber flights before becoming one of the first pilots to make night flights in search of Zeppelins.  In January 1916 Dormoy flew his last mission.   He was not released from the French Air Force at that time but was sent back to the Deperdussin Company to help design the S.P.A.D.  According to Dormoy, his service with the French Air Force ended in 1917.

In 1917, through an agreement between the United States Army Signal Corps and the Deperdussin Company, Dormoy was brought to the U.S. to teach the Americans how to build the S.P.A.D.  He came to the U.S. with two S.P.A.D.s and blueprints to help Americans build the airplane. Several fuselages were made at the Curtiss Elmwood plant but none were completed due to the lack of Hispano engines.  Etienne worked for the Packard Motor Company for a short time but was fired for drawing airplane designs instead of automobiles.

Next, he joined the U.S. Army Air Force as a civil engineer.  During this time he built his 1924 "Flying Bathtub" from parts he bought at a hardware store.   The only component not from a hardware store was the Henderson Motorcycle engine. His plane won the 1924 Dayton Daily News Light Airplane Contest and the Rickenbacker Trophy.

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Drawing by Jerry M. Turner

Etienne left the U.S. Army Air Force in 1925 and joined the Buhl Aircraft Company.   He designed all the Buhl planes including the Spokane Sun God, the first plane to fly from Spokane, Washington to New York City and back nonstop.
It was fueled in the air.  After the Buhl Company closed due to the depression, Etienne joined the Boeing Aircraft Company of Seattle.  He was assigned to the wind tunnel division and helped design the P—26 Peashooter, a well received fighter plane that remained in service in Guatemala until 1957.  It is also featured on the U.S. Classic Aircraft Postage Stamp.

Etienne became an U.S. citizen in Seattle before joining Consolidated Aircraft Company of San Diego.  He helped Isaac Laddon design the Catalina PBY before he was sent to Russia to oversee an American crew who was helping the
Russians build the PBY. He returned to the U.S. in 1938 and work for Consolidated (later renamed Convair) until he retired in 1958 as senior design engineer.  In a interview in February,1958, Dormoy claimed that he was the designer of the first monocoque fuselage.   This may have contributed to the decision to end his flying missions in 1916 and sent him back to the Deperdussin Company.  Mr. Dormoy died in 1959 of a heart ailment.

This biography was provided by Jerry M. Turner and Richard L. Meister Jr.
1998 by Jerry M. Turner & Richard L. Meister Jr. 

This biography was modified by the ALLSTAR network, based on more recent information provided by the authors.  A similar, but more detailed, biography, also written by Mr. Turner and Mr. Meister, may be found by clicking here.

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Updated: 12 March, 2004