The Ponnier Monoplane Racer, conceived by Albert Pagny, was specifically designed to compete in the Gordon Bennett Rheims Air Race in 1913. It had a span of 23ft 6in, and was powered by a twin-row rotary Gnome engine.
The event, the third of its kind, was held on the Betheny Plain site of the historic first race in 1909. It is significant to note that even this early in the history of air racing, eight of the nine entries flew monoplanes. The race consisted 20 laps of the 10km / 6.21 mile course, yielding a total of distance of 124.2 miles.
The pilot chosen for the Ponnier was Emile Vedrines, a well known aviator of the day, and brother of Jules. Unfortunately, during the elimination flights, the current world speed record was broken by a Deperdussin, which clocked up an amazing 192 km/hr. Though ahead of all the other entrants, the Ponnier was narrowly beaten. Therefore, the three-man French Air Race Team consisted of two Deperdussins and the Ponnier.
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Shortly before the race, the Deperdussin was significantly modified and a smaller wing was fitted. On 29th September 1913 the Deperdussin triumphed, also setting a new world record of 204km/hr. However, many believed that in pure speed terms, the Ponnier was faster. Observers adjudged that only imperfect flying had lost the Ponnier the race. As if in confirmation, after the formal race, the Ponnier was unofficially timed at 230 km/hr.
Noted large scale modeller and LMA member Ian Turney-White designed and built this magnificent model. It’s half-scale, spans 141 inches, and weighs 65 lbs. Its sheer size, finish and execution imparts a very impressive true-scale presence. On the ground, the model has that indefinable patina that makes it feel like the real thing. Ian has reproduced the plethora of tiny brackets, undercarriage components, panels and surface detailing that build up an accurate model. In the air, its performance is deceptively sprightly, and even appropriately aerobatic, amply fulfilling Ian’s major criterion for an all-weather flyer. He also consciously designed the Ponnier as a show model, and has paid great attention to building in engine and airframe reliability. Its longevity proves this point. At shows Ian always delights the crowd by flying the model with great flair – it never stooges around the circuit!
Ian built the fuselage structure from Columbian pine with internal wire bracing, whilst the wing ribs have balsa centres and spruce cap-strips. The undercarriage framing is constructed from ash, stainless-steel tubing has been used for the cabane pylon and, similarly, all the fittings were made from stainless steel. Aluminium was used to cover the fuselage sides, the forward top deck, and the cowling. The model uses two Futaba 1024 PCM receivers powered by two 6V 2A diode batteries. Finally, the ignition system has its own 6V 1.2A battery.
Designed to fly when other large models might otherwise be grounded by the weather, it’s fitted with a 200cc King engine. For a 1913 aircraft, it’s fast, aerobatic, and very manoeuvrable. The only significant modification to the original design was to increase the incidence of the tailplane, to reduce the model’s tendency to climb. Best of all is the fact that the Ponnier eschews ailerons and has authentic Edwardian wing-warping. That said, as with Ian’s other wing-warping aircraft, the rudder must be used to initiate a turn. The aircraft is capable of barrel rolls, loops, stall turns, spins and very impressive pylon turns. However, she does need to be flown at all times; she climbs into wind and descends downwind due to the under-cambered wing section. Ian reports that the model’s only fault lies in the undercarriage being a bit too far forward and too tall. As a result she’s best landed under power. If too slow an attempt is made, she’ll tip up on her nose.
The Ponnier has proved to be a very reliable performer, and has been around for a good while on the LMA circuit. By as long ago as November 2001, it had completed 145 flights. Why not see it fly this season at the major LMA Shows?