Reflections of the Hanriot Monoplane by Bill King

Reflections of the Hanriot Monoplane by Bill King

Amid the sputter of radial engines and the spit of castor oil, the voice blaring to the bench-cradling crowd at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome on a sulphurically-hot July Saturday announced the pioneer parade, as the Bleriot XI and the Curtiss Model D careened across the field before elevator-induced into their characteristic grass-hopper profiles. Trailing the two had been another early design the pilot had unassumingly surmounted and whose single-bladed propeller had been rotated into life in preparation for its threshold poise and the loud speaker-synchronized description of its features. That pilot, who had repeated this ritual for a quarter of a century, had been Bill King. And that aircraft, although initially appearing a sleeker version of the Bleriot which had preceded it, had been the Hanriot Monoplane.

Bill, first introduced to the vintage aircraft aerodrome in 1962 on advice of his Rhinebeck pilot brother, Richard King, had become a mechanic, an aircraft performer, a lecturer, and a pilot in his own right after completing his airframe and powerplant and private airmen’s certificates, adopting the rolling grass field as his “corner of the sky.” Recently asked to share his 25-year man-and-machine-merged reflections about the Hanriot, he offered considerable insight.

“The Hanriot at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is a replica and the date plate reads ‘Palen-Hanriot–1911,'” he began. “The first thing you notice about it is the fuselage. It looks a lot like a racing shell. It doesn’t have all the struts and bracing wires most of the other aircraft had at the time.”

In fact, its mahogany-ply, boat hull-resembling, aerodynamic fuselage results in a strong, but light girder which obviates the need for bracing support wires, reducing in-flight drag and forcing maintenance attention to the remaining flight surface linkages.

Confirming the initially perceived similarity to the Bleriot XI, Bill affirmed, “The wings look like they were borrowed from Louis’s Bleriots and warp in a similar fashion.” Built up of two three-inch-deep by one-and-a-half-inch wide, three-ply spars and cordwise ribs, the fabric-covered, rounded-tip wings span 30 feet, have a seven-foot width, and cover a 184-square-foot area. Steel strip-attached to the body, the spars are set at angles to each other, the aft one of which is hinged to permit wing-warping actuation. Their minimal, seven-inch dihedral, or upward airfoil mounting relative to the horizontal, creates an opposite, stabilizing moment to the airplane’s direction of roll in flight.

The two-section, relatively flat, fabric-covered horizontal tail, mounted at an almost-imperceptible angle-of-incidence, consists of the forward, 9.3-foot-long portion and the trailing, hinged, 2.5-foot-long elevator surfaces which, according to Bill, “are simplicity themselves. The stabilizer has one spruce spar at the rear to which the elevators are attached. The front spar is located two feet forward, with two fittings on the fuselage located about two feet further forward. Music wire or small-diameter cable fastens to the spar ends and the fuselage fittings. A single piece of fabric is laid on top of this structure and the outside is rolled under and sewed to form a shape like the kite I used to make as a kid. The fabric is shrunk tight and several coats of dope seal (it).” The horizontal tail has an eight-foot span.

Originally powered by an eight-cylinder, 40-hp, E.N.V., mounted on the fuselage’s forward portion and partially supported by A-frame struts, the Hanriot, reflecting Bill’s quarter-century experience with the machine, now draws thrust from “a 50-hp Franklin that might have come from a 1938 Piper Cub” and its propeller is unobstructed by any bracing wire. “It is lighter than the original,” he shared, “so most people who fly the Hanriot find it slightly tail-heavy.”

Resting on a unique, three-section, A-frame chassis introduced by Hanriot in 1909, the design employees this structure both as a fuselage mount, to which it is attached by a cradle of steel strips, and an undercarriage strut, its two spoked, pneumatic-tired wheels affixed to either end of an axle, which is itself installed between two vertical guides. The entire aircraft is suspended on rubber springs anchored to the skids, and its inherent design, coupled with its engine location, provides a high degree of equilibrium-so much so, in fact, that its tail skid is often unnecessary during taxi.

According to the December 3, 1910 edition of Flight, “Like everything else in the Hanriot design, solidity (of its axle) seems to be a keynote of its construction.”

The aircraft’s racing skiff analogy extends to the upper, or deck-resembling, surface of its body, which runs uninterruptedly from “bow” to “stern” with the exception of a shallow cockpit “dugout” on which the pilot seems to sit, and a strengthened section immediately behind it catering to his weight and the associated stresses during his “mounting.” Wire absence, the design’s very signature, facilitates this access.

The 26-foot-long monoplane, again according to Flight, had been dubbed “simple in design and construction, (but) strong on principle.”

Bill King’s initial Hanriot aerial experiences stretch a quarter of a century back in his mind. “My first flight was on June 12, 1985,” he proclaimed. ‘Cole checked me (out) on the procedures and I taxied (the aircraft) several times. The first flight was to the north and the plane started to drift to the right, toward the buildings of the village. I gave left rudder and pulled hard…on the right stick. Then the plane gradually straightened out and made a reasonable landing. I realized the right stick moves forward and backward to control the elevator.”

“On the next flights,” he continued, “I kept the wings level with the left stick and things went better.”
His erroneous input had been the result of his understandable unfamiliarity with the Hanriot’s tri-axis control. Its left, wing-flexing stick, moved from side to side, pulls wires which, in turn, warp the wings to induce aerial banking, while the right stick, movable forward and aft, deflects the hinged elevators up or down, effectuating longitudinal axis control. A rubber bulb atop the lever ensures fuel pressure into the tank. A foot-depressed crossbar activates the scalloped rudder, permitting vertical axis control during takes offs and landings and in the air.

Experimentation resulted in familiarity for Bill. “I realized that when I concentrated on keeping the wings level, the nose would rise as I relaxed on the elevator,” he related. “I then worked the bungee cord to the bottom of the right stick and to a fitting on the fuselage, behind the stick. This gave me a constant down-elevator trim.”

Self-familiarity necessarily preceded his ability to both explain and demonstrate the Hanriot’s control characteristics to Old Rhinebeck’s weekend air show spectators. “As the season went on,” he explained, “I was able to demonstrate the control system to the crowd. To gain speed on take off,” he rehearsed, “I get the tail as high as I can without the skids touching the ground. This gets the wing almost parallel to the ground. As the ground speed increases, a slight back pressure on the right stick and the plane lifts off. Now, I carefully apply a touch of forward stick to build more airspeed. Next comes some up-elevator to get more altitude. If I can get ten or so feet (in the air), I can demonstrate the wing warping. Raising the wing nearest the crowd will turn the plane away from them, toward the village. Then (I) raise the other wing to get the plane back to the runway centerline.”

Landing the Hanriot, according to Bill, “starts by pressing the ignition button several times on the top of the left stick. This slows the engine down so that the plane will settle on the ground. When (it) slows down until I’m sure the wind won’t lift it back into the air, I reach over and close the throttle with my right hand.”

Subjected, like all of Old Rhinebeck’s vintage, but frail, fabric-covered fleet, to the rigors of wind and the weekend workout, the Hanriot has experienced a few irregularities during the almost four-decade period since Cole Palen, Mike Lockhart, and Andy Keefe had first built it in 1974, “suffering somewhat more than minor damage on two occasions,” according to Bill. This first occurred in the late-1970s when “Rick Vogt was flying south over the runway,” but when “he pressed the button on the stick to slow the engine down, it stayed at full throttle because of a broken magneto wire or a bad switch. He let go of the right stick to pull the throttle (back) to idle, (but) when he did this, the plane pitched up and he headed for a stall. He reached back and jammed the right stick.” Still in the air, the Hanriot “passed the concession stand with the engine at full throttle. He cleared the bushes and the road, then forced it down on to the overrun area. (It) was flat, but rough…with stones, high grass, and saplings. He never would have cleared the trees at the end of the area.”

For the pilot, the outcome had been successful. For the aircraft, however, it had not been. “Rich had minor injuries,” Bill reflected, but “the fuselage was cracked in the cockpit area. It was repaired and flew until September of 1989. (That was) when I damaged it.”

“It was model meet weekend,” he recalled, with “a large crowd, bright sun, and a brisk, steady wind blowing down the runway from the north. With good airspeed, the Hanriot was very controllable and the flight went well. Now for the landing. I got it on the ground and it looked slow enough (to allow me) to reach over for the throttle. That morning, we had changed (it) from a lever which we had worn out to a T-handle choke cable. I wanted to make sure I grasped the proper throttle control, so I looked over to see it and pulled it back. But when I looked forward, the tail came up! There I sat, with the aircraft level, three or four feet in the air, and the motor at idle.”

“I knew what would happen next,” he continued. “All I could think of was the coyote in the comics. Down we came with the sound of breaking wood! The engine was okay and the prop was at idle…I knew that I had won the Spandau award for that year,” referring to the Cole Palen-created award for mishaps.

Like many other Old Rhinebeck aircraft which often require lengthy intervals for maintenance, repairs, or reconstruction, the wounded monoplane was “hung from the trusses with cargo straps” in Bill’s hangar, and its restoration to aerial life had necessitated the strengthening and cleaning of the metal fittings before Ken Cassens “made all new wooden, vertical struts for the right landing gear and repaired the skid.”

Perhaps the pioneer aircraft’s greatest achievement had been its down-under debut as far afield as Australia, although modern-day, widebody airliners had been responsible for its kangaroo hop across the Pacific. “Old Rhinebeck took the Curtiss D Pusher flown by Dan Taylor, the Sopwith Camel flown by Gene DeMarco, and the Hanriot flown by me” to the Australian International Air Show in Avalon in February of 2003,” he recounted. “Fred Murin took his Fokker triplane. (Because) it was the 100th anniversary of flight, Boeing and Airbus were there.”

“I had been flying circuits of the airfield all week,” he continued, “as there were many flat fields next to the airport that could be used (as) landing (sites), if needed. (However), I was warned of one large, gray field that I shouldn’t land on. No one would come and get me. It was a settling area for a septic tank!”

Unlike Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome’s short-hop restrictive field, the current expanses promised more complete patterns to its spectators. On the day of the actual show, Thursday, “we had a brisk, but steady wind at 45 degrees from the crowd side of the runway,” he further provided. “The grass area…had been graded slightly down, so I started my take off about 300 feet from the runway, facing into the wind. By the time I reached (the runway itself), I had several feet of altitude, so I turned parallel to (it). By the time I reached the 5,000-foot line, I had 50 feet and started a 180-degree turn to down wind. I tried to maintain a 15-degree bank angle (I have read that wing-warping planes don’t like much more than this or you could be in trouble), but…the wind was blowing me away from the airport.” Finally able to overcome its forces, he returned to the airport, “where I was able to make a normal landing.”

“After the show (on) Sunday,” he concluded, “we disassembled the planes and by Monday we had them in the containers ready for the trip home”-“home” defined as Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, and Bill King’s “little corner of the sky.” The Hanriot Monoplane, a virtual extension of him, had enabled him to claim it for a quarter of a century.

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