March 18th, 1906 – Flying Romanians

Traian Vuia (also Trajan Vuia) was a Romanian inventor and aviation pioneer who designed, built and tested a tractor configuration monoplane. He was the first to demonstrate that a flying apparatus could rise into the air by running upon wheels upon an ordinary road. He is credited with a powered hop of 11 metres (36 feet) made on March 18th, 1906 and he later claimed a powered hop of 24 metres (79 feet).


A French citizen since 1918, Vuia was also a great patriot, leading the Romanians (especially Transylvanians) of France in the resistance during World War II. He returned to Romania in 1950.


Traian Vuia (August 17th, 1872 – September 3rd, 1950)

By December 1905 Vuia had finished construction of his first airplane, the “Vuia I”. This was a high-wing monoplane constructed entirely of steel tubing. The basic framework consisted of a pair of triangular frames, the lower members forming the sides of the rectangular chassis which bore four pneumatic-tyred wheels, the front pair steerable. The wing was mounted on the apices of these frames and resembled those of Otto Lilienthal‘s gliders, with a number of curved steel tubes radiating outwards from centres at the apex of each of the side frames, braced by wires attached to a pair of kingposts, and covered in varnished linen. Pitch control was achieved by varying the angle of attack of the wing. A trapezoidal rudder was mounted behind and below the wing. It was powered by a carbonic acid gas engine driving a single tractor propeller. The 25 hp engine had to be adapted by Vuia himself as a suitable engine was not available. Liquid carbon dioxide was vaporized in a Serpollet boiler and fed to a Serpollet engine. The fuel supply was enough for a running time of about five minutes at full power. The aircraft was constructed for Vuia by the Parisian engineering company of Hockenjos and Schmitt.

Vuia chose a site in Montesson, near Paris, for testing. At first he used the machine without the wings mounted so he could gather experience controlling it on the ground. The wings were put on in March and on March 18th, 1906, it lifted off briefly. After accelerating for about 50 m (160 ft), the aircraft left the ground and travelled through the air at a height of about 1 m (3 ft 3 in) for a distance of about 12 m (39 ft), but then the engine cut out and it came down. Caught by the wind it was damaged against a tree. On August 9th a longer hop of 24 m (79 ft) at a height of about 2.5 m (8 ft) was made, ending in a heavy landing which damaged the propeller.

Traian_Vuia_aircraftIn August 1906 he modified the aircraft, reducing the camber of the wing and adding an elevator. In this form it is sometimes called the Vuia I-bis. The British aviation historian Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith described this aircraft as “the first man-carrying monoplane of basically modern configuration”, yet “unsuccessful” because it was incapable of sustained flight.

The French journal L’Aérophile emphasized that Vuia’s machine had the capability to take off from a flat surface, without assistance such as an incline, rails, or catapult. At the time Europe was aware of the efforts of the Wright brothers who on December 17th, 1903, had flown their Wright Flyer from level ground using a dolly undercarriage running on a guide rail, though few yet recognised the achievement. The Wrights had made sustained and controlled flights in a complete circuit by September 1904.

Though unsuccessful in sustained flight, Vuia’s invention influenced Louis Blériot in designing monoplanes. Later, Vuia also designed helicopters.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


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