What we have here, is a 1909 “trading” card depicting a dirigible flying near Mount Fuji in Japan.
It's even called The Japanese Dirigible.
But is it really?
I collect and write historical diatribes about early aviation pioneers and their flying machines on my accurate as hell but, for obvious reasons, largely ignored blog called Pioneers of Aviation, which you can find here: https://av8rblog.wordpress.com/.
As for the Japanese Dirigible card, I was looking for data on another aircraft and came across the above card at: https://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/exhibits/flyingmachines/. I had never even seen or heard of this series of cards... so maybe something else to look out for in my travels through E-bay.
Here’s what the website had to say about this particular card - meaning someone did a wee bit of research, because the reverse of the card - not shown - merely describes the company offering these “trading card” inserts:
According to contemporary English sources, a pilot named Kluijtmans entered the biplane category at the 1909 Rheims aviation meet, at which no more than a third of the aircraft actually succeeded in flying. Whether Kluijtmans was among the lucky few to succeed is doubtful. This image suggests that he may have had more success flying dirigibles in Japan.
So… I decided to look for more information on Kluijtmans. It looks like a Dutch surname… but why isn’t there a first name associated with the entry.
Issue #2: J. Kluijtmans is apparently misspelled across the Internet as Kluytmann, Kluytmans, and Kluytemans.
Yeah… in my research into old aviation, I come across stuff like this all the time. No first name, and four possible surnames.
According to some accounts, back in 1906 Kluijtmans had designed the first airship in the Netherlands, but thanks to a lack of money, it failed to get off the ground (ahem).
Now… since I can’t determine WHEN in 1906 this happened, I can only assume that it was still a dirigible design, and not an aeroplane.
The Wright Brothers had first flown back on December 17, 1903, but kept their success a secret, except from a few people. Eventually, people found out by 1905-06 spurring a rush of aviation wannabes.
Alberto Santos-Dumont became the first European to fly in a heavier-than-air (aeroplane/airplane) craft on September 13, 1906…
So… what was it that Kluijtmans was trying to have built?
Well, the dirigible in the image above.
Considering he lacked money, we do know that Kluijtmans (an engineer) found financial backing for his design from Baron Edmond de Marçay in Paris, France.
I don’t even know in what country Baron Edmond de Marçay was a baron in, but we could simply assume France.
Kluijtmans actually had a radical design in mind for his dirigible, and with the aid of actual builder Paul Leprince, they built a scaled down version of the dirigible designed by Kluijtmans.
His design was a means to eliminate the instability dirigibles had owing to the placing of the propellers at the end of the craft.
Kluijtmans had two propeller blades fitted to a revolving wheel amidship, with the motor placed underneath.
As well, the balloon was divided into two equal halves, with four tubes communicating between the two halves and the propellers to provide equal pressure between the halves.
It makes sense to me.
The prototype was 24 meters long and had a diameter of 3.5 meters.
It first flew (tethered) on March 14, 1908 in Courbevoie near Paris.
The dirigible is known as the de Marçay-Kluytmans airship... but there is no evidence it was ever flown as depicted in the card at the top of this blog.
After this, we do know that Kluytmans tried his hand at building an honest-to-goodness aeroplane... an aircraft similar in design to the Wright Brother's Wright Flyer biplane—except this was a twin-pusher biplane, and again bankrolled by the good Baron de Marçay.
A Twin pusher implies that there are two motors placed at the rear of the craft to push it forward. Conventional propeller planes have propellers at the from to PULL it forward.
The aircraft was taken to Rheims where the first ever air meet was being held—Grande Semaine d'Aviation de Champagne—held August 22-29, 1909.
There is no record of him actually getting the aeroplane in the air.
Kluytmans travelled to Berlin, Germany and worked as a co-director of the Flugapparate-Bauanstalt Deutschland.
It was here that Kluytmans designed and built a monoplane (one set of wings like today's aircraft).
Biplanes, triplanes and monplanes were in constant battle for supremacy of design... For whatever reason, biplanes won out.
Triplanes, like the Red Baron's Fokker, and biplane's like Snoopy Sopwith Camel were all the rage of WWI.
And the monoplane? That didn't catch on again until the 1930s.
Anyhow, Kluytmans monplane did get some hype from the German media in 1911.
What was cool about his aeroplane, was its wings—more than just monoplane wings.
Travel back to 1911... if you were transporting an airplane from one place to another, you wouldn't fly it... it would be transported by either road or rail.
Now... you can imagine that an aeroplane's wing's wouldn't fit through a train tunnel. You could flip it sideways, so the wings were taken care of, but the plane's butt would still overhang... what to do... what to do.
So... Kluytmans designed a plane where the wings could be folded - without having to unrig all of that convoluted wiring those early biplane and triplanes had.
Just think about how they store modern fighter jets aboard an aircraft carrier.
Now... depending on what rumor you want to believe, nothing ever came of this, or.. the folding monoplane was later built up into two aircraft, with one piece being sold to a Tunesian Air Club... and the second one going... nowhere... used as a demo model, perhaps?
The folding monoplane was again designed by Kluytmans, financed by Baron de Marçay, and manufactureed by some spelling variation of Moonen, a construction company.
So… what about the dirigible flying alongside Mt. Fuji?
No effing idea.
I can find no evidence that the dirigible actually flew as a full-scale aircraft, let alone flew over the skies of Japan.
Since the card is the advertisement of Chocolat Felix Potin, presenting a 25-card series of postcard inserts of aviation… I can assume that since Baron Edmond de Marcay was a Frenchman, and teh chocolate company was also French, why not squeeze in as many local aviation heroes as possible.
Anyhow… now you see what I do in my spare time - when I’m not at work, writing blogs about Japan, coaching baseball and hockey, watching sports and doing family stuff…
I'm a historical aviation detective.