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René Tampier Avion-automobile in flight, 1917

Just like Glenn Curtiss, René Tampier was the hit of an aeronautics show, in his case the 1921  Salon de l'Aviation, held in awesome coincidence at the Grand Palais in Paris. One not-so-slight difference: Tampier flew his Avion-automobile, and not for short hops, and then drove the beast through the streets of Paris up to Montmartre.

René Tampier Avion-automobile driving, 1917
Rene Tampier, pilot and crew

Engineering inventiveness seems to run in families. (See Stanley Hiller.) Long before Tampier was born, in Bordeaux, France, in 1885, his great-grandfather was renowned as the inventor of the automatic revolver, according to a French newspaper at any rate. His father organized the Gordon-Bennett automobile races, although he had to wait until the automobile was invented. René was sent off to study engineering in Paris and Heidelberg. He met Wilbur Wright when he toured France in 1908 and caught the aviation bug. His best-known achievement was the invention of the bloctube carburetor, ubiquitous in the Great War in rotary-engined planes.


Military applications dominated the industry in post-war France and like so many other flying cars to follow, the Avion-automobile touted its nimbleness in switching environments as a prime attribute for both the Army and Navy. A brochure entitled An Aeroplane-Motor Car, written in English for American customers, has been preserved on the Corpus Historique Étampois site.


Rene Tampier avion-automobile takeoff
Rene Tampier avion-automobile, folding the wings
Rene Tampier avion-automobile, driving on the boulevards
Rene Tampier avion-automobile, at Montmartre
Rene Tampier avion-automobil, in front of the Grand Palais


é Tampier’s aeroplane-motor car marks a new epoch in the history of aviation as it attempts to solve important problems which may be summed up as follows:


1) Fog problem. 


    In case of a fog, the pilot who frequently finds that he has lost his  bearing, cannot descend where he likes; the fastest solution is for him to try and find a high point, the nearest to his point of landing, which is not shrouded by fog, and to land there? Up to now, the aeroplane in such case had to stop there, but now it can get back to its landing point.


2) Garage problem.   

   The possibility of leaving the house in an aeroplane, reaching a starting ground, returning to the said place, bringing the aeroplane back and garaging it by the side of the motor car, opens new vistas to every one, the cost of hangar, mechanics, etc. being eliminated. 
3) Problem of returning in case of a breakdown.  

  The very high cost of labour for dismantling, placing  on truck and transporting the aeroplane in case of a breakdown, is now replaced by the low cost of returning by road. 
4) Problem of starting.   

    The auxiliary petrol engine makes it possible to start at once the large engine. It does away with the necessity of employing a mechanic for starting the propeller; it avoids moreover the use of carbonic acid or compressed air car buoys or of accumulator batteries difficult to keep charged in a hangar.

5) Problem of control of the inner parts of the aeroplane.   
     a) In large aeroplanes, a greater force than that of a man will be useful for keeping the aeroplane in its direction, and it will be supplied by the small engine.   
     b) In the latest aeroplanes, the lighting is supplied by a dynamo driven by the large engine. The small engine avoids the necessity of using for that purpose part of that power of the large engine.   
     c) For operating certain apparatus intended for wireless telegraphy, photography, etc. propellers controlling the differences of speed of the aeroplane, are something used which produce resistance to the advance. The auxiliary engine allows a more mechanical control.   
     d) In case of control in the air of an aeroplane without a pilot by another, the small engine will be supply the necessary power.   
     e) In case of the use of stabilisers of any type, the small engine could be used for operating them.


     f) The forced feed of the engines could be effected by means of a turbine driven by the small engine, the power of which will then increased.   
     When flying at high altitudes, the use of a source of power independent of that of the engines of the aeroplane, from the point of heating, ventilation, etc. is of great value.   
6) Military problem.   
     a) The aeroplane-motor car can accompany cavalry or artillery.   
     This aeroplane with folding wings is more particularly valuable for the navy when it is desired to carry on board ship aeroplane ready to fly. The starting of the large engine by an auxiliary petrol engine is a useful on water as it is on land.   
     b) Squadron could be formed, capable of moving in case of fog for instance and changing several times a day the landing point, without it being necessary to dismantle the apparatus. Their camouflage becomes easy, they can be concealed in the first line in ruins.

     c) An ordinary aeroplane of the size of that of Mr. René Tampier, requires several hours for erecting and adjusting it ; a squadron provided with Tampier machines is ready to fight in less than an hour. Moreover, ten aeroplanes-motor cars cab be stored where formerly there was room only for two or three ordinary aeroplanes.   
     d) The Tampier machine is easier to manage on the road than a lorry ; it runs faster, it can start on any ploughed ground, provided that the wheels do not skid ; it can climb any hills. It does with hand labour, tractors, etc. required in the case of long journeys. Machines of 10 and 15 tons can easily be moved with an auxiliary engine.   
     e) In large machines, the manipulation of bombs, torpedoes, etc. can be facilitated by the use of the auxiliary engine.   
     f) The controls of machine guns, guns, etc. could depend on the small engine, and will continue then work even in case of a breakdown of the large engine.   
     g) Either in the colonies or on long journeys, the starting engine will be a more reliable means of starting [p.12] the large engine than any other device. In case of a reconnaissance in uninhabited countries, of a breakdown or failure of fuel required for supplying the engines which consume 20 gallons per hour, the small engine with 2 gallons will sometimes enable the lost pilot to find human beings.


     h) The folding cell has the advantage of not requiring a specialist for its re-erecting. A squadron without a specialist fitter of cell, could fly after the wings have been examined by its chief, any want of adjustment being clearly noticeable when they are folded.   
     i) A whole new organization of squadron could be provided with Ren
é Tampier’s machines: transport of tents, preparation of landing ground, hangars, etc. are simplified. The chances of destruction are reduced owing to the facility of movement of the machine, equal to that of a car.   
     j) The folding Ren
é Tampier cell, of excellent efficiency, can used with various bodies, even with different engines forming families of aeroplanes that can get into a shed or travel on road.

     Mr. René Tampier has utilized on his machine a 300 H.P. Hispano-Suiza engine provided with the René Tampier feed by a pump in the tank, driven by the engine, bloctube carburetor without a float. His experience with the feeding of aeroplane engines has enabled him to do away with the variations due to defective carburetion, and to carry out quickly his program.   
     Mr. Ren
é Tampier has chiefly tried to produce an excellent aeroplane. He calls an excellent aeroplane that which obeys at once and in an absolute manner the pilot who must not have to make any effort for keeping his aeroplane in position, bringing it back to the said position or inclining it.   
     In spite of the addition of parts which do not exist in other aeroplane, the Ren
é Tampier two-seater has its masses very close together; its controls arranged at the end of the wings or of a light  tail, are highly efficacious. Its load is less than 41 kilogs per square meter; its small tween plane compatible with the small width of the upper wings, makes it possible to bring the masses close together in the vertical direction. Its great wings spread of 13 meters makes it a real storm bird, with long and narrow wings. Mr. René Tampier who has been experimenting [p.16] for three years, in his work and in the air, with the same 300HP. Hispano-Suiza engine, provided it with a slightly larger propeller than that generally utilized on this engine. He has limited its speed to about 1.600 revolutions, instead of the 1850 which the 300HP. engine can give. At less than 1000 revolutions the aeroplane without descending. The throttle open, the machine exceeding 110 miles per hour, can resist any winds. In running order it weighs 1300 kilogs.

     Mr. René Tampier who flies as a passenger with his pilot Meyniel, can operate, on his right, the starting magneto, on his left, the handles controlling the small engine, the change speed levers and the brake on the differential, the lever throwing into gear the large engine. At his feet are: on the right, the pedal of the brake on the wheels; on the left, the pedal for declutching the small engine. This engine is in one block with its clutch and change speed gear; it has 4 cylinders, is water-cooled; its cooling is ensured by the radiator of the large engine. The clutch is of multiple disc type. The differential is secured to the landing frame. Shafts with universal joint drive the wheels which when the aeroplane lands, are declutched and rotate loose on their spindles. They are provided with brakes.

     The steering, inclined, by hand wheel, differs from those generally used. The axle is fixed; the adjustable journals are controlled by the connection bar, sandows forming spring, make it possible to move them up and down. The moving parts are light. When flying a part of the steering gear is folded under the body of the aeroplane, the other one, comprising the wheels, can be dismantled and securely fixed in the machine.   
     On the ground, the aeroplane is a easily managed as in the air. Having started from Buc, after two days flight, it passed through Versailles, Boulogne sur Seine and got into the Grand Palais on the eve of the opening of the aeronautics exhibition on the 11th November 1921. The day after closing, the aeroplane-motor car climbed Montmartre, moved about then for two hours in Paris proving that it could climb any gradients and move in the thickest traffic. Beautifully sprung, it exceeds 15 miles per hour.   
     To change from the wing spread of 13 meters in the air, to 2 meters 50 of the machine on the ground, Mr. René Tampier turns each half cell about the rear mast nearest to the fuselage, after having raised part of the lower wing, the ailerons intersect each other; the upper wings almost touch each other.

     When the machine which has been running on the ground, is transformed in order to fly, the steering gear can be simply folded under the fuselage, without dismantling it; the time required for complete transformation, including the unfolding of the wings, is then about twenty minutes.   


     The machine was built in Mr. René Tampier’s workshop, 1 , rue de Bellevue, Boulogne sur Seine; where the following parts were machined on this machine tools: cylinder, gear cases, differential, landing frames, etc. A work shop has built for the first time the motor car part and the aeroplane part of a machine.   


     The quick getting ready of the machine is due to the fact it is the outcome of several years of study and of practical work placed at the disposal of a high conscience which has carried out its idea with devotion and all the time required.   


     Mr. René Tampier had collaborators of great value, and all their combined efforts have produced one of the finest works ever realized in aviation.

     On the 9th October 1890 a mechanical bird ridden by a man, left the ground for the first time; it was animated by the genius of the great Frenchman, Ader.  It took possession of the air, then it descended and stopped. It was then no longer anything but a poor thing made of wood, of metal and canvas, a body without soul, which was moved with difficulty, whilst around it jumped about its master : the bird.   


     At present, this corpse has moved; it vibrates, its heart is heard to beat; with the wings folded, it advance, turns, goes back…   
     The mechanical bird is now complete. It now knows how to use its feet.   

Etampes 23rd October 1921.


Complete or not, new military ideas were not what governments wanted to spend money on in the 1920s. Tampier's folding wings remained influential for decades on designers of flying cars - something had to be done to reduce the width to a single auto lane - but the aeroplane-motor car received as much space in his obituary as his design for a pilotless craft control by radio. In the long run, his service to airplane history lay in incremental improvements, the small changes to universal joints and hinges that pilots thanked him for but fail to make headlines. He died in 1944 in Montreal while running a factory, Bloctube Controls - on Bordeaux St. for aficionados of irony - that made parts for Lancaster bombers.


René Tampier unquestionably drove and flew a machine designed for those dual purposes. Doesn't that make him the originator of the flying car? Well, check those pictures of the plane in flight and the car on the ground. The difference is subtle and easy to miss. The plane has two wheels and the auto has four. That second axle wasn't part of the plane assembly, and had to be brought in and attached after landing and consequently left behind while flying. That's the kind of critical technicality that gets buffs arguing long into the night.


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