10 May 1910 – Ernest Failloubaz opens history of the Swiss aviation

On 10th May 1910, the Swiss aviation pioneer Ernest Failloubaz performed his first flight in a copy of Blériot´s aircraft. It was the first flight of Swiss citizen in a domestically built aeroplane therefore is widely recognized as the beginning of aviation in Switzerland.

Ernest Failloubaz was born on 27th July 1892 in Avenches, Switzerland. His parents died when he was very young and Failloubaz was raised by his grandmother and aunt.

From early youth, Ernest Failloubaz was interested in mechanics and technical innovations. He was one of the first Swiss citizens to own a motorcycle and then, an automobile.

At the age of seventeen, Failloubaz made friends with René Grandjean, who was dreaming about building an aeroplane. Grandjean had only a few photos of Louis Blériot´s aircraft at his disposal, but his craftsmanlike nature and ability to improvise allowed him to complete the project.

In February of 1910, at l´Estivage field in Avenches, the two friends began with ground tests of the Grandjean´s aeroplane. On 10th May that year, the aircraft performed the first successful flight, with Ernest Failloubaz at the controls. A few days later, the aeroplane was flown also by René Grandjean.

Ernest Failloubaz

In October of 1910, Ernest Failloubaz performed a few public displays in Switzerland, flying the Grandjean´s aeroplane. He also set the national record for the longest flight of 58 minutes and 17 seconds. In recognition of his merits, Failloubaz received the first pilot´s licence in Switzerland, issued on 11th October 1910.

It seemed that Ernest Failloubaz had a great aviation career ahead of him. He continued with aviation displays that attracted dozen thousands of spectators. Most probably, Failloubaz was the first pilot ever to perform at that time an incredible stunt – during a flying display, he turned the aircraft engine off and then restarted it and continued the performance. The Swiss aviation pioneer was also displaying capabilities of an aircraft to the country´s military authorities and was one of the godfathers of the Swiss military aviation.

Regrettably, some bad financial investment bankrupted Failloubaz. He spent all his money on aviation and created the first aviation school in Switzerland. Then, he decided to acquire license for Dufaux aeroplanes he intended to manufacture. It costed Failloubaz a fortune but, to make the things even worse, the idea soon failed. In 1913 the Swiss aviator was forced to declare bankruptcy.

In addition, Failloubaz´s health condition deteriorated. Abandoned by everyone, he died from tuberculosis on 14th May 1919, at the age of twenty-six.

Ernest Failloubaz during the 1911 autumn maneuvers with an officer as observer, the biplane is a Dufaux Appareille No 5, Failloubaz series.

Cover photo: Ernest Failloubaz in his aeroplane, October 1910 (source: ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv/Stiftung Luftbild Schweiz / Fotograf: Swissair, Fotograf / LBS_SR03-02331 / CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped)
Photo #1 – ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv/Stiftung Luftbild Schweiz / Fotograf: Swissair, Fotograf / LBS_SR03-02333 / CC BY-SA 4.0
Photo #2 – ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv/Stiftung Luftbild Schweiz / Fotograf: Swissair, Fotograf / LBS_SR03-02335 / CC BY-SA 4.0, cropped