The Dream of Flying

Page 65




  Henri Mignet's Pou du Ciel /Flying Flea  (1935)  

Henri Mignet, a French furniture manufacturer, (1893-1965) was an aviation enthusiast since he was a boy. He studied at the Bordeaux School of Electricity and during the First World  War he was drafted into a signals unit. He made friends among the mechanics in a military air base nearby and was allowed to be their helper.

After the war, Mignet started to experiment with aircraft constructions. Powered aircraft, gliders, even a helicopter. His dream was to design an aeroplane which everybody could afford. Mignet was also a devoted radio amateur, and his intention was to design a machine that any inexperienced person could build himself for no more than the cost of a radio amateur station. The aircraft should be so easy to handle that you would not need any formal flying training. Just run in up and down a meadow until you were able to handle it.

Mignet wrote about his visions in an aviation magazine. The article made success and Mignet became famous among hobby aviators. He went on and published drawings and instructions how to build his eight aircraft design, the HM 8. It was a rather conventional aeroplane, but did not fly very well. Anyway, the first amateur-built HM 8 flew next year.

(Text continued below the photo)

  Mignets "Flygande loppan". Foto o montage © Lars Henriksson,  



But the great success came five years later when he was up to his fourteenth design, the HM 14 and published his results in a book “Le Sport de l’Air”, in England named “The Flying Flea”. Mignet called his HM 14 aircraft “Pou du Ciel”, which means “Sky Louse” in English.

The HM 14 had no direct roll control and consequently no ailerons. Lateral stability was achieved by giving the design two short wings in tandem with their wing-tips bent up and by making the rudder very large. The aircraft had no real tail. The forward wing could be tilted while the rear was fixed. When you moved the stick from left to right the rudder moved accordingly. When you moved the stick forward and aft, the front wing tilted. There were no foot pedals. The aircraft was powered by an ordinary motorcycle engine.

Now, in the summer of 1935, the Flying Flea fever began to spread. More than 1000 of them were under construction in France and Britain. Most of them never flew. It was not that simple to build this construction of wood and canvas in a correct way. And perhaps this was a blessing because the aircraft behaved very dangerously when diving. After pushing the stick forward, the force reversed and the dive grew steeper. If you tried to correct by pulling backward, the effect increased. If you was not too high up, you soon hit the ground. If higher up, you instead find yourself flying upside down. Now the aircraft was so stable that you could not regain a normal flying position. Several pilots were killed in accidents.

The problem was solved after wind tunnel tests. The two wings interfered in an unfortunate way. The simple solution was to mount the forward wing on a higher foundation. But the time of the Flea fever was over.

Above: HM 14 belonging to Flygvapenmuseum (the Swedish Air Force Museum).
Below: Cut-away drawing of HM 14.

  "Flygande loppan" HM 14 - röntgenskiss. © Lars Henriksson,  


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© Lars Henriksson

Updated 2009-05-13