Ponnier, From the race to the air force
The Ponnier company raised from the needs to win a prestigious race, the Gordon Bennett Trophy in 1913. Gordon Bennett was the American owner and publisher of the New York Herald. This airplane racing even was launched for the first time in 1909 and quickly establish as the #1 aircraft race, before the start of the arguably equally successful Schneider trophy, which awarded floatplanes. This race awarded the fastest time over a measured distance (time trial). In 1911 René Hanriot recruited Alfred Pagny, formerly a designer at Nieuport, to present a winner at the Concours Militaire, but failed. Hanriot soon turned to another business but sold the blueprints to a designer of his team, Louis Alfred Ponnier, which created his own workshop. The latter soon presented a plane to compete in the Race, after two other monoplanes, with boat-like shell fuselages, flat sided, deep chested and all designed by Pagny.
Ponnier D.III (1913)
The Ponnier D.III was a single seat, mid wing monoplane, with landing wires both sides attached over the fuselage (pyramidal pylon). Other flying wires went to the lower fuselage. There was also an oil deflecting cowling ejecting downwards, and the plane was propelled by the powerful double row, fourteen cylinder Gnome Lambda-Lambda rotary engine. It was capable of 160 hp (119 kW), connected to a 2 m diameter propeller. There was an open cockpit, mid-wing aft of the pylon centre, a finless rudder and a straight edged tailplane ahead (upper fuselage). The elevators were interconnected and controlled by central wires. The undercarriage was standard with cross-braced V-struts and a simple elliptical leaf spring tailskid.However Jane's 2013 edition made a mention about an Hanriot D.III fitted with a 100 hp rotary Gnome, which was about 6.65 m (21 ft 10 in). The Ponnier D.III was 5.41 m (17 ft 9 in) by 7.16 m (23 ft 6 in) in wingspan with a 8.7 m2 (94 sq ft) area, and gross weight: 500 kg (1,102 lb). It was capable of 200 km/h (124 mph; 108 kn), competed in the 1913 edition, but ended second, piloted by Emile Védrines, at 60 min 51.4 s flight time for 198 km/h (123 mph) top speed again three Deperdussin monocoque. Despite the obvious advantages of the design for military purposes, the D.III only served as a basis for future designs.
Ponnier L.1 (1913)
The success of the Sopwith Tabloid, a biplane, at the Schneider Trophy this year led the Army to ask for biplanes only for its own requirements competition. This conducted Alfred Ponnier to devise a specific model to won the "Cavalrie" types competition, the L.1. This was basically a fast conversion of the Ponnier D.III into a biplane, later followed by the M.1. The Ponnier L.1 had a less poerful but more economical and reliable 50 hp (37 kW) Gnome rotary engine, still mounted on tubular steel extensions of the main wooden fuselage. The latter had a rectangular cross section, with four ash longerons interconnected by spruce struts. The forward upper part was covered by aluminium covered ahead of the cockpit. There was also the same oil deflecting cowling mounted on the upper half of the rotary engine. There was no fixed fin but a flat topped rudder and a tailplane mounted on top of the fuselage with separate elevators. The tail surfaces were steel tube structures. As a single bay biplane it was was mild stagger and dihedral, with an airframe using a thick airfoil, straight edged, slightly tapered and square tipped. The top and bottom spans were asymetric. There was also a fixed, conventional undercarriage and a long tailskid, mounted well forward. Despite its merits and a first successful flight circa July 1914, the L.1 was not chosen by the Army.
Ponnier M.1 (1914) the production fighter
The M.1, was apparently designed not by Pagny but Emile Dupont. The latter would later design the 1916 Hanriot HD.1 fighter. Both planes therefore shared the fact to have been produced and used by the Aéronautique militaire belge (Belgian Air Force), and some design features. This 1915 design was single bay, with a pair of parallel interplane struts braced with flying and landing wires. The wings were almost rectangular, with a small the lower plane and the ailerons were mounted on the upper planes only. This plane was powered by a 80 hp (60 kW) le Rhône 9C nine cylinder rotary engine, fitted with a two blade propeller. It was usually capped by a specific large domed spinner leaving a small gap for cooling. The engine enclosure was cylindrical, and therefore was found aerodynamically sound, but the spinner was later removed. The fuselage was flat sided but with a curved upper decking, tapered aft where the horizontal tail was mounted on top of the fuselage. The rear straight edged tailplane was later scale-up. There were also angle tipped elevators with a wide chord fin and a fixed conventional undercarriage, but no tailskid. The armament consisted in a single Lewis gun mounted above the upper wing surface, out of the propeller's radius.
After a sucessful first flight in 1915, and despite the loss of a production plane in January 1916, twenty M.1s were produced by the S.A. Française de Constructions Aéronautiques, the company that replaced Avions Ponnier and about 18 or more, were bought by the Aviation Militaire Belge. Famous ace Willy Coppens (which flew the Hanriot) found them ineffective despite later modifications like the larger empennage. The spinner was also removed. They only flew missions until 1917, and were replaced. Apparently the M.2 was designed as a derivative, a slightly larger two-seat version offered to the RFC, never built.
Dimensions: 5.75 m (18 ft 10 in) x 6.18 m (20 ft 3 in)x 2.30 m (7 ft 7 in)
Weight: 304 kg (670 lb), up to 464 kg (1,023 lb)
Engine: Le Rhône 9C 9-cylinder rotary, 60 kW (80 hp), top speed: 167 km/h (104 mph; 90 kn) climb 4.67 min to 1,000 m (3,280 ft)
Armament: 1× 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Lewis machine gun (upper wing)