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In aviation, what is called a Demoiselle ?

Published on 13/12/2015 01:00 - By

The name is rather charming for an airplane: the Demoiselle (Damselfly). This aircraft of yesteryear was built between 1909 and 1910 by Alberto Santos-Dumont (1873-1932). Brazilian by birth but Parisian by adoption, the wealthy pioneer of aviation spent much of his life in France. 

The Demoiselle’s fuselage was an open-framework bamboo construction, and its canvas covered wings were of linen, making the aircraft therefore extremely light, at some 143 kg including fuel. It had a wingspan of 16 ft 9 in (5.10m), a 22 ft (6.75m) fuselage length, and a maximum speed of 56 miles (90km) per hour. The aircraft, which was an early precursor of our current ultralight aircraft was very simple and therefore not expensive. 

Its price was between 800 and 1,000 francs (at today’s adjusted price : 3,200-4,000 euros). However, the Demoiselle was a fragile and dangerous flying machine. Whilst being manœuvrable but with highly sensitive handling, it was referred to as a "killer of men", since the plane could quickly become unstable, especially in strong wind conditions. 

The dihedral winged Demoiselle is easily recognized, with its 30hp engine mounted on the leading edge of the wing above the pilot, who was seated almost at ground level, between the undercarriage wheels - and just behind the propeller. 

Of the single-seater Demoiselle monoplane, ‘‘one hundred units were constructed’’, says Christian Tilatti, chief curator of the Air and Space Museum at le Bourget (near Paris), which houses one of them. Roland Garros, the first pilot to cross the Mediterranean, flew one, as did other aviators of the time.

The name Demoiselle was given to the aircraft in deference to the Damselfly (which belongs to the Dragonfly family), being as slender and graceful.

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