Charles Fauvel biography

Fauvel gliders and airplanes

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Precursors and successors



Charles Fauvel Biography

1904 - 1979

harles Fauvel is best known in aeronautical circles as the designer of "flying wing" type gliders. Yet his life was equally rich in many other events which marked the development of French soaring, and which we will evoke throughout this biography.

Born 31 December 1904 at Angers, Charles Fauvel was attracted to aviation from an early age. From 1913 on, he built models, and Garros and Audemar's acrobatic competition at Angers in 1914 permanently sealed his passion for aviation. He passed his latin-science-philosophy baccalaureat, then obtained a military flight training scholarship in 1923; he then entered the French Air Force Academy. In 1925 he witnessed his first soaring competition at Vauville, during which Alfred Auger officially beat the glider altitude record using the Peyret-Abrial "Vautour" with more than 700 meters. The same year, during his military service at Chateauroux, he made the acquaintance of Pierre Massenet, with whom he later participated in the foundation of the Club Aéronautique Universitaire (University Aero Club), one of the most renowned soaring clubs of the pre-1940 period.
It was also in 1928 that Fauvel, watching the new Summer soaring competition at Vauville, formed his first flying wing concepts. Observing certain gliders with long, thin wings (Peyret-Abrial "Rapace", Wolf Hirth...), he considered that to reduce parasitic losses to a minimum, one cannot indefinitely increase the aspect ratio of the wings. Reducing the size of the fuselage and the interaction with the horizontal empennage thus led to the "flying wing" formula, for which Fauvel registered a patent in 1929. Unlike the projects conceived at about the same time in Germany by the Horten brothers and by Lippisch, the work of Charles Fauvel, based on studies and experiments of Georges Abrial and René Arnoux, involved the use of a "stable" airfoil section providing both lift and stabilization, without recourse to a swept and twisted wing as on the German gliders.

Horten Ho-2

Still in 1928, toward the end of the year, Charles Fauvel put the finishing touches of a small light single-seater, the Peyret-Mauboussin PM-10, equipped with a 34 hp Scorpion ABC engine, whose best glide ratio was nearly 16 without engine fairing or wheel pants. It was with this machine that he beat, in September 1929, several international records in the under-400 kg category, including the international altitude record (5,193 meters) and the duration record (12 hours). In 1929, Fauvel participated in the creation of AVIA with Massenet, Auger and a few friends; this was a committee founded to promote the development of soaring. He then left the air force to join AVIA as sport director, while remaining chief pilot of the CAU. He prospected and discovered the airfields of Beynes (near Paris) and of la Banne d'Ordanche (in Auvergne). In the same period he received and perfected the single-seat AVIA 10 A designed by Jarlaud at the Béchereau works. In 1931, he had to leave AVIA, which was suffering financial difficulties, and re-enter the Air Force as a test pilot at the Villacoublay flight test center, until 1933. While on leave, he participated in the Vauville competition in 1931 in the AVIA 32 E, and managed the best French distance of the competition. In 1932, he passed his C license (no. 19) at la Banne d'Ordanche, on the AVIA 15 A.
He then threw himself into the design of his first machine, the AV-1, followed by the AV-2, then by the first pure glider, AV-3, which appeared in 1933. In 1935 he flew the AV-10, a light two-seater touring craft with a Pobjoy engine. Concentrating his efforts on this machine, Fauvel improved its performance, and in 1937 the AV-10 took the world altitude record in its category, while becoming the first flying wing to receive a Certificate of Navigability. Simultaneously, Charles Fauvel pursued his study of flying wings for soaring, but the realisation of his glider projects was to be delayed by the outbreak of the second world war.
In 1940, Germany invaded France. Charles Fauvel was reassigned to Morocco a deputy group commander. Returning to France after the armistice, he passed in 1941 his instructor's license at the Montagne Noire center, and was appointed chief of the military soaring center at Avignon. After the invasion of the free zone, he retired from the Air Force with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In May 1945, he was working at the air sports studies technical establishment at Castelnaudary. Simultaneously, in cooperation with the Société Aéronautique du Rhône, he developed the AV-17, based on the AV-3. Wrecked in one of its early test flights, this prototype had no successors. It was not until 1951 that Charles Fauvel's greatest technical and commercial success, the AV-36, was constructed. This glider flew in 16 countries. Fifty or so were built in France as "kits" (parts furnished by the Wassmer works, assembly carried out by the aero-clubs), and about twice that many were built from plans by amateur builders. It was later replaced by an improved model, AV-361.


In 1954, Charles Fauvel started his own enterprise, the SURVOL company, at Cannes, whose purpose was to promote and facilitate the commercialization of his flying wings. In 1956, it was the two-seat AV-22's turn to see the light of day; six of these machines were built. It is often considered Charles Fauvel's masterpiece, and marks the consecration of his two-seat flying wing glider designs. In 1958 he instituted the Survol Cup to reward the best-performing AV-36s, and later AV-22s.
In May 1960, Fauvel made the first flight in René Fournier's RF-1, a "glider/airplane" whose descendants (RF-3, RF-5, RF-10...) were to fly in many countries. Interested in the motor-glider concept, with its freedom from the constraints of towing and winching, he brought out his AV-45 in 1960, equipped with a Nelson 37 hp engine, later improved under the designation AV-451. These models had scarcely any success, no more than the AV-221 which was officially presented at the 18th assembly of amateur builders at Montluçon in 1965. Extrapolated from the AV-22, the AV-221 was a side-by-side two-seater with a Rectimo 39 hp engine. Despite its good qualities, this flying wing, reduced to a version - AV-222 - for amateur construction, was unable to make inroads in the market. The fashion of that day was high-performance machines, and the motor-glider formula - even in conventional configuration - could not get good press in France.


In 1971, Charles Fauvel decided to stop commercial production of his gliders, but continued to distribute stacks of drawings to amateur builders. The Survol company offered the AV-361, the AV-451, as well as touring craft such as the AV-60. From 1972 on he was president of the Fayence soaring center and also participated in the OSTIV (Organisation Scientifique et Technique du Vol à Voile) congresses, notably in 1978 at Chateauroux, where he presented his report on the flying wing design formula. He died on 10 September 1979 at the controls of his airplane, a Gardan "Super Cab", which struck the Alps at 735 meters altitude north of Genoa, in Italy.

Recipient of the Croix de Guerre 40-45, Officer of the Legion of Honor, Médaille d'Outre-mer (Overseas Medal) 1926-1927, Aeronautical Medal, Grand Silver Medal of the Aéro-club de France, Grand Gold Medal of the FFVV, Charles Fauvel flew more than 200 different types of airplane and 50 types of glider. The small means available to him, both technically and financially, prevented him from advancing his ideas as far as he would have liked. Prejudice and fashion both worked against him, but he remains undoubtedly one of the most prolific and inventive french engineer-pilots. Certain recent projects, like the American Genesis glider, tend to prove that current computing methods allow the construction of high-performance gliders equipped with inherently stable wings. Furthermore, the recent resurgence in interest in light motor-gliders shows that there, too, Charles Fauvel was a pioneer, and that his work must not be allowed to sink into obscurity

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Translated from the French by Marc de Piolenc (