“SOMMER IN BIPLANE BEATS WRIGHT'S TIME”; Flies 2 Hours 27 Minutes 15 Seconds Around French Course and Makes World's Record. HE STARTS BY MOONLIGHT Frenchman Pupil of Farman, Who Designed Machine and Slept While Sommer Flew with Damaged Wing.
These then were the headlines in a French newspaper that Autumn morning in 1909 about that famous aviator Roger Sommer.
Born on 4 August 1877, the son of a felt manufacturer at Mouzon, Roger Sommer became interested in machinery, won fame at age 18 as a bicycle-racer, and built a one-cylinder 4-wheeled car. By the end of 1908 he had built his first aeroplane, a large biplane which foreshadowed Henry Farman's Type III of 1909. It had a monoplane forward elevator, the pilot seated on the leading edge of the lower wing. Sommer's design included a pair of small wings at the middle of the 4 tail-booms, with the rectangular rudder placed just forward of the biplane tail surfaces. The engine, reportedly an Anzani, was mounted below the lower wing, driving a pusher propeller mounted in the middle of the airframe; but photographs show a 50 hp water-cooled Vivinus, which Sommer knew well, since he owned a 60 hp Vivinus automobile. The machine rolled on 3 wheels.
As the third aviator at Chalons, Sommer had his hangar between Farman's and Voisin's, and his machine was tested there in the spring of 1909, achieving only occasional hops. There in May Sommer met Farman and bought one of his Type IIIs, which was delivered at the end of June; Sommer installed the 50 hp Vivinus.
On 7 August 1909 he became famous by bringing back to France the endurance record previously held by Wilbur Wright: Sommer had flown for 2 hr 27 min 15 sec. In December he sold the Farman to Daniel Kinet, since he had finished his own completely successful design: this 1910 Sommer was to undergo many alterations, and several were built in different forms; by the spring of 1910 he had 58 aeroplanes on order and 60 men working for him. Maria sent me this very interesting card.