A “Classic Build” of a 1911 Deperdussin Type A Monoplane

By Dennis Sparks

Dennis is an active and talented IPMS modeler in and around Kentucky.  I saw his superb build of the classic Pyro/Life-Like kit at the Cinicinatti IPMS show and he was kind enough to let me place his article on the website – AB


A relatively brief history of Armand Deperdussin and his aircraft…

Armand Deperdussin (pronounced as depper-DUE-sin”) was born c.1860-1870 (accounts vary) in or near Liege, Belgium (or possibly in or near Paris, as again, accounts vary). He held a number of jobs a young man, including working in a pharmacy and as a traveling sales representative for a Belgian chocolate firm, and still later was a singer in a Brussels night club. In Paris in 1902, he decided to venture into business on his own; borrowing enough money to begin buying imported silk in large quantities and then re-selling it in smaller portions to Parisian dress shops at a handsome profit. Possibly aided by the threat of the loss of the silk trade from the Far East during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, he quickly both amassed a fortune and simultaneously developed a real flair for extravagant spending.

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Armand Deperdussin (courtesy Wikipedia) and the Pyro issue of his aircraft, kit number P603-100

In the first decade of the 20th century, a number of French aviation enthusiasts began forming their own companies to design and build aeroplanes, and names like Voisin, Blériot, Bréguet, Caudron and Levavasseur began entering the lexicon of aviation history. After a chance meeting with an engineer named Louis Béchereau, Deperdussin also became interested in joining this new aero-industry and so in 1909 formed a company that he originally named Aéroplanes Deperdussin, before changing the name to Société de Production des Aéroplanes Deperdussin a few years later. Béchereau had previously worked for Clément Ader, who is regarded as the founding father of French aviation, and so Deperdussin immediately hired him as his chief designer. After one false start with a canard design, in 1910 Béchereau designed the elegant aircraft that’s the subject of this article.

The fuselage structure was a simple wire-braced box girder that was only about twelve inches deep. The depth of the forward section was increased by the addition of a shallow wooden veneer shell below the wings, but it was still more of a case of the pilot sitting on the aircraft rather than in it. A brass fuel tank was strapped atop the main wing spar just ahead of the pilot. His only instruments were sight glasses on the fuel and oil tanks.

Several different engines were used, but the two principal options were either an Anzani three cylinder engine that was rated at about 35 hp. or the larger seven cylinder Gnome Omega rotary engine, which was rated for closer to 50 hp. (A quick plug: Please recall that the Aviation Museum of Kentucky now has a Gnome Omega in its engine collection.)

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Two possible Deperdussin power plants, the Anzani and Gnome Omega (both courtesy of Wikipedia)

The wings were of a wood and fabric construction typical for the period, with roll axis control being via wing warping instead of ailerons. The original horizontal tail surfaces were totally flat, but on many or most of the later aircraft they were given a pronounced airfoil curvature to add lift, which was reputed to make the aircraft “more lively”.

The aircraft’s control column was an inverted U-shape that straddled the narrow fuselage, and moving it fore and aft controlled the elevators. An automotive-type steering wheel was mounted on this column, and turning it pulled cables that warped the wings, although roll control was reported to be rather marginal. A conventional rudder bar at the pilot’s feet effected yaw control.

And while I couldn’t find any specifics mention or photographic evidence to support this, I’ve surmised that at some point during production the rear fuselage might have been extended, moving the vertical stabilizer further to the rear so that the rudder was completely aft of the elevator. Possibly this was done hand-in-hand when the airfoil horizontal tail surface was installed. As was common with aircraft of that era, one can find variations in the published basic dimensions.

Deperdussin also began operating three flight schools, and the design quickly evolved into both two- and three-seat models with more powerful engines. A 1911 sales brochure listed four versions, with the single seat version now being dubbed as the “Type A”. An accurate count is difficult, but it’s believed that about 60 Type A’s were built.

By the following year, a beautifully streamlined racing version with a monocoque plywood fuselage and still larger engine was winning races and setting records in both Europe and the US.

But in August 1913, Deperdussin’s world came crashing down around him. He was arrested and charged with fraud, a crime to which he quickly confessed. In order to support his lifestyle, which included providing lavish cash prizes at a number of air races, he had begun forging orders and receipts and using these documents to borrow increasingly larger bank loans. He was immediately incarcerated and was still awaiting his trial when the World War began a year later. With Deperdussin disgraced, Béchereau and a consortium formed by their former rival Blériot bought the company’s assets and reformed it as Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, thus retaining the same SPAD acronym.

With the war approaching, a small number of the two-seat Deperdussins were outfitted with a machine gun on a tall flexible mount, allowing a standing(!) gunner in the front cockpit to fire over the propeller arc. Perhaps a few of the Type A’s also served early in the war as trainers and unarmed scouts.

The new company went on to build over 10,000 SPAD VII and SPAD XIII fighters during the war, and an estimated 20% of all of the French-built aircraft of the period were of SPAD design.


Followed by a somewhat shorter history of the model company and the film…

This 1/48th scale Deperdussin was one of a series of six model kits representing aircraft from the 1910-1913 period that were the first kits produced by a British firm named Inpact. According to the original box art for the kits, they were produced “in association with” the 1965 comedic film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines; Or, How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes. But since several of the six kits represented aircraft that were not featured in the film, while several aircraft that were prominent in the film were not included, linking the kits with the film seems to have been more of a fortunate coincidence for Inpact rather than a planned effort.


The other five kits included in Inpact’s initial series were the Blériot XI and Martin Handasyde No. 3 monoplanes, plus a Bristol Boxkite Military biplane, an Avro biplane and the unusual Avro triplane IV. The kits were originally released in the UK in March 1966, and began appearing on shelves in the US about two years later.

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(Click any photo to enlarge) 

Only the Deperdussin, the Boxkite and the Triplane were actually featured in the film, although the other three kit subjects either resembled or were related to some of the replica aeroplanes seen in the film.

Six full scale flying replicas of aircraft had built for the film, and as a testament to their accuracy, several of these replicas were either sold or donated to museums after filming was finished. Another fourteen full size static replicas of both real and somewhat fanciful aircraft were also constructed for the film and some of these ended up in museums as well.

However, the Deperdussin seen in the film was not one of the purpose-built replicas, but is instead a surviving original production aircraft, believed to be the 43rd one built. It has long been in the Shuttleworth Collection in the UK and is still flown on occasion, making it the second oldest aircraft that’s still in flying condition.

In 1967, Inpact released a second series of models, this time consisting of four 1930s-era RAF and RNAS biplane fighters, the Bristol Bulldog, Fairey Flycatcher, Hawker Fury and Gloster Gladiator.

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(Click any photo to enlarge) 

But after experiencing financial difficulties, Inpact was forced to liquidate their assets and so these ten kits were to be their entire output. This is something of a shame really, as current reviews and build articles commonly mention the high quality of the kits, noting that they still compare favorably with kits that were mastered 40 years later.

In my search for additional information about the company, I talked several times with Alan Bussie, the proprietor of OldModelKits.com, who provided the kit photos in this article and either provided or confirmed much of this information, but even he could not identify the people behind Inpact or learn of what had become of them. (Aficionados of vintage plastic models should definitely peruse his web page.)

Fortunately for modelers, the molds were purchased by the American firm Pyro c.1969 and the models were soon re-issued under the Pyro name. Pyro was in turn sold to Life-Like in 1972, and the kits appeared under the Life-Like brand beginning in the mid-1970s. The molds are now owned by Lindberg, which over the last several decades has periodically released only the later series. However, Lindberg is now in the process of releasing new pressings of the original six Inpact kits, including the Deperdussin, which is due in mid-April 2014.

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 (Click any photo to enlarge)  

Another surviving original Deperdussin is on display at the Norsk Teknisk Museum in Oslo, Norway. Both have the extended(?) fuselage and the airfoil tail, but the Shuttleworth aircraft has the Anzani engine, while the one in Oslo has the Gnome rotary engine as provided with the model kit, and so for that reason I decided to pattern my model to represent it.


And finally, building the model…

The fuselage sides under the wing were removable panels, and appear to have been either simple fabric panels that were laced to the structure, or were possibly sheet metal on some aircraft, but they are missing on the Oslo aircraft. However, I opted to keep these molded-on panels on my model for structural reasons, painting them a darker aluminum color to suggest sheet metal panels with heavy castor oil staining from the rotary engine.

To improve the appearance of the cockpit I removed a portion of the kit’s lower fuselage to open up the large fairing under the nose and added a few bits of Evergreen plastic strip to represent the internal structure. I also built a simple seat to replace the non-descript bench for the kit’s pilot. The kit includes a nicely rendered and suitably attired seated pilot, but he ended up in my scrap parts box.


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The tail end of the kit’s fuselage is bluntly rounded, with separate halves of the elevator on each side of the fuselage. Perhaps this was correct for the earliest Deperdussins with the flat horizontal tail surfaces, but on both the Oslo and the Shuttleworth aircraft the fuselage tapers smoothly to a vertical post.


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To replicate this, I cut off about ¼” of the rear fuselage and used Evergreen strip to fashion the four uncovered longerons of the presumably extended fuselage, leaving off the rudder post for the moment. I also filled in the mounting slots for the horizontal and vertical tails.

The kit’s horizontal tail planes represent the earlier flat style. But on aircraft with the curved airfoil tails, the elevator was a one-piece affair, passing between the upper and lower longerons. I removed the elevators from the horizontal stabilizers and added a couple of pieces of Evergreen to modify their shape and to bridge them together.

I cut off the mounting tabs on the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, then gently curved the horizontal stabs by hand and attached them to the fuselage with superglue. I glued the modified elevator to the rear edge of the stab, and then added a piece of Evergreen strip for the rudder post. Finally, I attached the vertical stabilizer to the fuselage, with it now positioned so that the rudder is aft of the elevator.

The only other modification I made to the kit was the substitution of photo etched spoked wheels. This particular pair was left over from my earlier Sopwith Tabloid model, but Eduard offers a photo etch sheet of wire wheels (stock number 48505). I’ve bought a sheet of these from Brian at Scale Reproductions that I’ll try out on a later model.

The wings and tail surfaces were brush-painted with a mix of Humbrol enamels, using about a 60/40 ratio of #34 matte white and #103 matte cream. Even this is a bit darker than contemporary color photos of the surviving original aircraft, which appears to be almost off-white.

The kit’s instructions include a complete step-by-step description of how to add the rigging wires, which I followed, substituting E-Z line, a very small, very stretchy rubber line that I also got from Brian. I’d already tried using this once before on a biplane model and found it to be a somewhat frustrating experience. But with that one behind me, I found it much easier to use this time. The fact that this model is a monoplane may have also made it easier to rig, as I had more room to work.


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With the assembly, painting and rigging finished, it was time to add the decals. The French national roundels were leftovers from the decal sheet that came with a Roden 1/48th scale Sopwith 1 ½ Strutter, while the numeral one was fashioned from an aftermarket sheet of black stripe decal.


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The markings on the original aircraft on display in Oslo are both interesting and enigmatic. From what I can read from online sources, the aircraft was originally ordered from Deperdussin’s firm in April 1912 by Lars Bjerke, who wanted to use it to make paid appearances at events around Norway. He dispatched one of his employees, Jul Hansen, to attend Deperdussin’s flight school in Rouen, France, with cost of instruction being included in the purchase price.

Near the end of his training, Jul crashed and suffered a broken leg following a mid-air collision with a balloon. After recovering, he passed his flight exams and returned to Norway to await the arrival of the new aircraft, which arrived in September. Jul then spent the rest of 1912 and the spring of 1913 assembling and testing the aircraft while awaiting the arrival of warm weather, which finally arrived in May.

After only a handful of flights, the aircraft was damaged in a crash, and repairs weren’t finished until September. After another small number of flights, the aircraft was again damaged in a crash, with the wreckage being stored until additional parts could be acquired. One account is that it was never flown again, but was eventually rebuilt for museum display.


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An email enquiry sent to the museum seeking additional details went unanswered, leaving me to surmise that the right wing might be a replacement taken from an aircraft that had been operated by the French air force early in the World War. Note that the numeral 1 on the upper surface of the wing is reversed and positioned directly over the same numeral on the lower surface of the wing. Apparently, the covering was translucent, requiring the upper number to be reversed so that an observer on the ground would see only one properly oriented number.


Lifted from the internet site www.europeanairlines.no, a photo of Jul Hansen posed with a Deperdussin. Note that the wings have been removed. The fabric on the fuselage is much darker than the aircraft currently on display in Oslo, and the forward fuselage panels are installed. Possibly this is one of the aircraft at the flight school at Rouen?