1/72 1910 Fabré Hydroplane

KIT #:
REVIEWER: Chris Peachment
NOTES: Scratchbuilt from plastic card, rod and strut.


The very first successful seaplane to take off from water under its own power is credited to Henri Fabré (1882-1984) in 1910. He was born into a prominent family of ship owners in Marseilles, and he had already patented a system of floatation devices, which he used on his first aircraft. In spite of never having flown before, in March 1910 he completed four consecutive flights of about 500 yards.

 A yachting magazine of the time reported:

'There was an alarming incident at Monaco this morning... The machine crossed the harbour in perfect style, skimming along the surface; nearing the harbour mouth, it rose up into the air to a height of about 30 yards, and soared along beautifully, greatly admired by thousands of spectators. As soon as it cleared the harbour, however, and encountered the full force of the wind outside, the machine became unmanageable and to the horror of the onlookers was swept along at a terrific pace towards the rocks and stone walls below the terraces. Fortunately, M. Fabré, with great presence of mind, managed to throw himself clear of the machine into the sea, and was promptly picked up, none the worse for his startling experience.' 

One can see the attractions to early pilots of using water-borne machines. Hurling oneself to safety out of an aircraft above land would not have ended so happily.

The  Fabré  aircraft was a canard monoplane, whose structure made  use of a beam designed by Fabré himself.  This is two girders joined by an internal system of rectangular struts, known as a warren truss. Two of these beams, one above the other and connected by three  struts, formed the fuselage of the aircraft, and as far as can be seen from photos, were covered in fabric. The wing however used an exposed beam for its leading edge, and sat with a pronounce dihedral, with a Gnome rotary engine behind it. Bracing for the wings was by kingposts  at mid-span. The two foreplanes also had exposed Fabré beams as their leading edges. 

A rectangular rudder sat above the wing. Below the wing there was a similar fixed surface extending down to the lower fuselage beam. The aircraft had  three broad floats.

Following this record breaking flight, Henri Fabré settled for building floats for other aviation pioneers. One can't help but wonder if his life-saving dive into the sea hadn't given him a warning about defying gravity.

As late as 1971, the aged Fabré could still be seen sailing his own boat single handedly in Marseilles harbour. He died in 1984 at the age of 101, one of the last living pioneers of human flight. His hydroplane was later restored and can be seen at the French Air and Space museum.


Plans were found on one of the websites below. For once, I don't have to start with  “construction began with the cockpit”, because there isn't one. Instead I decided to get out of the way what looked like the trickiest part of the whole operation. Those warren truss beams at the leading edges of the wing and foreplanes. In fact it wasn't so difficult, just time consuming, and a good test of one's patience. Lengths of plastic card were cut for the main beams, and small rectangular pieces for the internal struts, which were then stacked at 45 degree angles like the base of a house of cards. The ends of the beams were joined to form a bow-like configuration. At this point one can admire the trusses for what they were. Even in this scale, they are very strong and don't flex at all under pressure.  

The fuselage was simply a question of cutting off some rectangular beams from the edge of thick 40 thou card.

The wings were one surface of linen, which were sewn onto curved ribs. For this I cut out some thin 10 thou card, marked where the ribs went, sprayed them white, then spent some happy hours gluing down lengths of rod, which had already been painted sandy brown.  It is hard to tell from contemporary pictures, but I suspect the ribs were joined to the lower leading edge of the warren truss beam, and were hinged with limited movement at that point to allow them to be formed by the airflow, much as in a yacht.

I think that M. Fabré  was on to something aerodynamically important  here without realising it. The beam itself would have channelled the air over the upper surface of the wing, in much the same fashion as modern leading edge slats do, and thus created a high pressure area over the upper surface which would have greatly helped with flight. The same with the smaller foreplanes, which were constructed in similar fashion.

Floats were made from card, painted dark brown, and some lighter brown straps were added, like hoops around a barrel.  The kingposts for the wings were also made from edge cuts from thick 40 thou plastic, sanded to shape and glued to the wing leading edges. Note that they sit at very odd angles.

Once the wings and foreplanes and floats were in place, it was all over bar the shouting. A simple triangle of rod holds the engine and propeller (from the spares box) in place. The fins were formed from 10 thou card surrounded by brown rod.

I did the rigging at this point, since all but the fiddly bits were left. Elastic thread, painted silver with a felt tip pen, and then superglued down, using the principle that wherever a beam or a strut or a rod ends, then it will be rigged to a nearby beam or strut end. The plans are very clear, as are many of the photos, so follow these and you can't go wrong.

In fact it is a good idea to keep a stack of the printed out photos near your elbow on the workbench. Keep consulting them and you will find life much easier.

A seat from the spares box went on top of the main fuselage beam. Some foot pedals were added from 10 thou card. A fuel tank was sanded down from some thick sprue, painted old copper, with a couple of gunmetal bands around it, and mounted on two metal struts.  

There are no markings, since no one yet had invented them.  The paint used overall was Modelmaster for the shades of brown, and Humbrol Primer White for the linen. It is best to paint as you go along.  Weathering was kept to a minimum as pictures show the aircraft kept in a clean state.


There you have it. The very first aircraft to power itself off the water. And a fine tribute to M. Fabré , who got up one morning never have flown in his life, strapped himself to this collection of toothpicks and did four consecutive flights across the bay. You have to admire the courage of those pioneers. Ask yourself this: would you do it?  


Apart from the one in the French museum, I see that a group of enthusiast have made a replica of the Fabré and look to be flying it successfully off a river. Wonderful though it is, be warned about using their replica for a reference. It very sensibly has updated various parts of the design to make it safer.






Chris Peachment

April 2015

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