Henri Mignet is in France the "Saint Patron" of the homebuilders. I guess that he should be the saint patron of the homebuilders worldwide! Why? Well, he is the first to make a airplane accessible to the man of the street. In 1934, he wrote in his book "Le sport de l' Air" how he designed and built his "Pou du Ciel" or "Flying Flea". Inside the book all plans were available to built yourself this remarkable, small airplane. The book became very popular. More than 6000 copies were sold and it was translated in several languages.
The story of Henri Mignet would be ideal for a movie. It has it all. Victory, tragedy and rebirth. Let's start in 1934.
Henri Mignet wrote his book "Le sport de l' Air". He himself never thought it would be such a success. But a reprint was needed and the book was read worldwide (From France to USA to Japan. Like I said ... worldwide). Many people, who always thought that flying was something for the rich, had a possibility to built their own airplane. Many, many men began building their "Pou du Ciel".
Most of the builders have never seen a airplane like the "Pou du Ciel" before. It has two nearly identical wings. No horizontal tail! And it has a very strange system of steering. To control pitch you have to rotate the COMPLETE front wing! The airplane is very small and it is completely out of wood (beside some metal connections and supports). But nobody feared the new system. Mignet did not only have a bright mind when it comes to airplanes, but he is a excellent writer too. Inside his book he tells in easy words why he choose to design the airplane this way and what the benefits would be. There was also a chapter about how you should learn YOURSELF to fly it. And he wrote his own experiences he made himself in a HM14. All that gave the builder confidence that he was building a excellent airplane. A airplane made for a beginning pilot. Yes, even steering was simplified. All you had was a stick in your hands. No more pedals! And if you read the book, it tells that it steers like a car. Hold the stick left and you go left. It sounds simple. I experienced it is.
If you want to read more about how this airplane steers and how this rotating front wing (named by Henri Mignet as "Aile Vivante" (=Living Wing)) works, click the link.
If you have a bit of time and you want to know ALL about the Pou du Ciel, go to the site of our friend "HMS Foundation" (http://www.flyingflea.com.ar/home/lecture) and read the English translation of the entire book "Le Sport de l' Air". But beware ... it is a translation of the 1934 edition. So, read the texts, they are goooood. But ... don't use the plans. They are still holding some teething problems which were corrected in the plans of 1936.
I once made a print of the HM-14 page and after reading it, I was 75% convinced that I wanted a Pou du Ciel. Seeing one made it 100%.
Another thing that is so wonderfull in this Pou du Ciel is the fact that it cannot stall. Many pilots lost their lives due to stall at low heights. But what is this stall? Well, a wing glides through air and both sides of the wing (up and below) touch the air. If the wing flies slower and the wings front comes up higher and higher, you will make it harder and harder for the air to keep touching the wing at the upperside of the wing. Problems will happen when the air loses contact with the wing. If the air no longer touches the wing, all lifting force will disappear. And ... the airplane will fall as a brick. If you have this situation flying at low altitude, you have a major problem. Recovery from this situation is not always possible due to the low height. ... Many conventional airplane pilots crashed and died.
But the Pou du Ciel is different. It has its own way of preventing the stall. In my first flight in a Pou du Ciel (it was a HM1000 Balerit), I asked the pilot to demonstrate me this situation in flight. Without asking more details, the pilot reduces the engine power and started pulling the stick. The nose came up slowly and than ...it happened. The wings started making noise and they seemed to vibrate. I knew what was happening. We were in the stallzone, but we were not stalling. If a airplane stalls the nose of the airplane sinks like a brick. And you start diving to the earth. In this flight our nose stayed up. Besides the noise from the wings, all seemed calm. The expression on the pilots face told me that all was OK. He pointed at the altitude meter. We were going down ... rather fast. We were in the parachutal descent. The rate of descent is like a parachute from WW2. Really feels safe.
If we were flying a conventional airplane who could stall, we were now diving towards earth. An experience I want to avoid at all times. I prefer to keep it safe. The easy steering and the stallfree flying made me choose a Pou du Ciel as my first own airplane. I didn't build it myself. I am the proud owner of a construction made by Bernard Domont, a French very experienced and know homebuilder.
This picture comes from a amateur book by Alain Blondiau. It handles the history of the "Pou du Ciel" in Belgium alone. Alain is working on his second edition of his book. He told me that he will stop his research at the Pou du Ciel number 200.
Just imagine ... nearly 200 Flying Fleas (some not completed) in a small country like Belgium!
A true "Flying Flea" fever rose all over the world. Very soon several HM14s were flying. Everybody had a great time. Henri Mignet crossed several times the channel to be beside the English builders and flyers. But than it happened... Several Flying Fleas crashed. It seemed that in some circumstance they started diving. A dive which ended unavoidably in a crash. I think it were about 7 airplanes that crashed. If you have the exact numbers, please contact me. The result was tremendous. Several countries grounded all HM14s and several builders lost faith in their project. It was a dark time for Henri Mignet. The reputation of the "Pou du Ciel" or "Flying Flea" was crushed ... and you still can feel it today.
Henri Mignet used all he could to find out what went wrong. Inside a windtunnel the teething problems came to view. If you want to read about them and about the way they solved the problems, click the link above.
In 1936 Henri Mignet published a new edition of his book "Le sport de l' Air". Inside the book were the reworked plans. Those plans are still used ...even today! The HM14 of 1936 no longer has the problems, which caused the grounding of the "Flying Flea". It is as safe as you can get any other plane. But the damage was already done. The Flying Flea was no longer popular. The Flying Flea Fever died. Pity, the design is totally safe now.
Henri Mignet didn't stop designing. He made several other designs. All on the same concept, but he introduced the folding wings in 1944. So there no longer is need for a hangar. You keep the airplane at home ...in your garage.
I made small drawings of some of them. But be sure ... I still need to draw a lot of them.
The "Saint Patron", as he is called, died too early. But his work is not lost. His son and nephew have started a firm, Mignet Aviation, in which they made new designs. But they are still based on the concept of the old HM14. The HM1000 "Balerit" and the HM1100 "Corduan" are ultralights. Both are two-seaters. The firm was very active. They no longer worked on plans, they build complete ultralight airplanes. They stopped activity in 2005.
But besides the firm of the Mignet family, there is a whole group of "pouducielists" working with plans of the old designs. Each years there are meetings with "Flying Fleas". The largest one is in the south of France. I once visited it. A nice, international group of builders, flyers and designers.
The work of Henri Mignet will never get lost, I guess. Why? Well, it is a good way to get yourself in the air. Mignet told it this way: "All you need to be able to do is ... making a crate. If you can do that, a HM14 or other HM can be built and flown by you."
From experience I can tell that the group of "Pou du Ciel" enthusiasts is the most gentle group I have ever met. You can contact them in several groups on the internet. If you speak English, i advise to go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/flyingflea.
Most sites about the Flying Flea are in French: http://pou.guide.free.fr and http://pouguide.org
These guys will be super happy to guide you in your quest to find the perfect Flying Flea for you.
A good saying would be:
"All for Flying Flea, a Flying Flea for All".
"Tous pour le Pou du Ciel, un Pou du Ciel pour Tous".
Here are some links to other "Pou du Ciel" or "Flying Flea" sites. Hope you like them.
If you want to fly these Flying Fleas in a simulator, go to the site "Jolly Roger" at http://jolly.roger.2.free.fr/Simulation.htm, there you find it all (a link to the free sim-software and the zipped model files).
Flightsim.com has also some Flying Flea models. Go search on Mignet or Flying Flea.