Gabriel and Charles Voisin were among Europe's leading pioneer aviators.
Gabriel began his formal aviation career in 1903 when he was engaged by
a prominent French aeronautical promoter, Ernest Archdeacon, to build
gliders for him. In 1905 he formed the first commercial aircraft
manufacturing company in Europe with the soon-to-be famous Louis Blériot.
Numerous disputes between the two quickly arose, however, and Voisin
bought out Blériot's interest in the venture in 1906. He immediately
reformed the company with his brother Charles, thus establishing the
highly successful Appareils d'Aviation Les Frères Voisin. The firm's
first truly successful airplane appeared in 1907.
The classic Voisin pusher biplane design of 1907 was one of the most
significant aircraft of the pre-World War I era. Many of Europe's
leading aviators flew the Voisin. On January 13, 1908, Henri Farman made
the first one-kilometer circuit in Europe with a Voisin biplane, winning
a 50,000-franc prize and much acclaim for the Voisin product. By 1912,
Les Frères Voisin had produced more than 75 airplanes that were based on
the simple and sturdy 1907 design.
On 5th October, 1914 the
Voisin III, became the first Allied plane to shoot down an
Voisin became the standard Allied bomber in the early years of the war.
Successive models were more powerful and over 800 were purchased by the
French Army Air Service. The Royal Flying Corps and the Russian and
Belgian airforces also used them in the war. The Voisin V first appeared
in 1915. It was the first bomber to be armed with a cannon instead of a
In 1912, the Voisin brothers developed a version of their successful
design for the military. Thereafter they built aircraft almost
exclusively for military contracts. The Voisin 1912 Type, as it was
referred to by the French military, also sometimes identified as the
Voisin Type 1, launched the standard configuration of almost all Voisin
aircraft throughout the war. Designated the Type L by the Voisin
factory, this seminal airplane was an equal-span biplane with no
dihedral, with a short nacelle carrying the crew of two in front and an
80-horsepower Le Rhône 9C engine at the rear. A cruciform tail was
attached to the wings with a set of booms, and it had a quadricycle
landing gear. A second pre-war military design, similar to the Type L,
powered by a 70-horsepower Gnome 7A engine, was produced in 1913.
Although they were largely obsolete by the start of the war, the
sturdiness and the reliability of these, and subsequent, Voisin aircraft
enabled them to form the backbone of the French night bomber force until
late in 1918.
Les Frères Voisin was conservative in its design philosophy. There
were only slight, incremental design changes in the airframes during the
war. Improvement in performance of the successive types was made
principally by installing more powerful engines, usually necessitating
wings of greater span. The first wartime version, the Voisin 3, powered
by a 120-horsepower Salmson M9 engine, had a range of 200 km (125 mi),
carrying a bomb load of 150 kg (330 lb). The 1918 Voisin 10 by
comparison, which in outward appearance looked much like the Voisin 3,
had a range of 350 km (220 mi) with a bomb load of 300 kg (660). The
280-horsepower Renault 12Fe engine of the Voisin 10 gave it a maximum
speed of 135 kph (84 mph) at 2,000 m (6,562 ft) altitude, 37 kph (23
mph) faster than the Voisin 3 at the same altitude.
During the war, the Voisin pusher series performed a variety of
missions, including reconnaissance, artillery spotting, training, day
and night bombing, and ground attack. The first recorded armed aerial
victory of the war occurred on October 5, 1914, when a French pilot and
his observer, flying a Voisin 3, downed a German Aviatik B.1 with
bullets fired from a Hotchkiss machine gun.
The Voisin 3 is also notable in having equipped the first dedicated
bomber units. Voisin 3 units staged a retaliatory attack against the
Badische Anilin Gesellschaft at Ludwigshaven, Germany, on May 26, 1915,
shortly after the German Army introduced poison gas in battle.
Successful daytime attacks on targets within Germany ensued, but by 1916
the Voisin 3 and its immediate successors became vulnerable to new,
better performing, German fighters. (The Voisin Type 4 was similar to
the Type 3, but was fitted with a 47 mm cannon and used primarily for
ground strafing. The Types 5 and 6 were virtually the same as the Type
3, except that they had more powerful Salmson engines.) The Voisins were
slow and with their pusher configuration they were defenceless from the
rear. Despite these limitations, these rugged and reliable aircraft
still had a role to play. Voisins were used as trainers and for night
missions for the remainder of the war. Voisin pusher aircraft were
supplied to, or built under license by, twelve countries, including
Britain, Russia, Italy, and the United States.
The Voisin Type 8 entered service with French night bombing squadrons
in November 1916. (The Type 7 was a transitional model of which only
about a hundred were built.) The Type 8 was intended to be powered by a
300-horsepower Hispano-Suiza engine, nearly double the output of the
155-horsepower Salmson used on the Type 6. But the Hispanso-Suizas were
not available in sufficient numbers, and a 220-horsepower Peugeot 8 Aa
inline was substituted. To accommodate the bulkier and heavier Peugeot,
the Type 8 required an enlarged and strengthened fuselage, and greater
wingspan. It was fitted with either a single machine gun or a 37 mm
The new engine provided a nominal increase in performance over the
Voisin Type 6 while carrying the same bomb load of 180 kg (396 lb); but
it was unreliable. Voisin then developed the Type 10, which combined a
lighter and more powerful 280-horsepower Renault 12Fe engine with the
Type 8 airframe. The Type 10, with improved range, speed, and bomb load,
replaced the Voisin Type 8 early in 1918. (Only one Type 9 was built. It
was a modified Type 8 with 160-horsepower 8G engine intended for