1/72 Moisant Red Crayfish

KIT #:  
REVIEWER: Chris Peachment
NOTES: Scratch-built



The pioneer aviator John Moisant was as famous in his day as the Wright brothers, and the New Orleans airport, still bears his name in the initials MSY, which stood for Moisant Stock Yards, on whose land the airport now stands. He was born American, in Illinois, to parents who were both French-speaking Canadian, and the beginnings of his life were adventurous, when he and his brothers moved to El Salvador in 1896 and bought sugar plantations that made a fortune.  While there he led two failed revolutions and coup attempts against President Figuera in 1907 and 1909. In 1909, President Zelaya of Nicaragua asked him to go to France to investigate aviation.

He was about 40 when he went to France, and in 1909 he designed the first of two curious aeroplanes. It was an all-metal sesquiplane, the upper wing of long aluminum sheets with 6 rolling chordwise corrugations, each supported by a rectangular chordwise plate or fence between the corrugations.

The fuselage was a streamlined boat shape, in case of accidental landing on water, although the design would also have lent considerable rigidity. A forward elevator was controlled with a long rod. Quite why the aircraft has another elevator at the rear end is beyond me.  As for its lateral control, I can see nothing like ailerons, and the wing looks too solid for wing-warping. Perhaps he just trusted to the rudder for turning, although that would have made the aircraft skid across the sky instead of banking.

It was not successful, having a tendency to turn over on the ground, though a note in Popular Mechanics for September 1910 reports several short flights. It was painted red and known as L'Ecrevisse Rouge - the Red Crayfish.

As a pilot, he  was the first to conduct passenger flights over a city, across the English Chennel from Paris to London. He was also  the co-founder of a prominent flying circus the Moisant International Aviators. He was the thirteenth registered pilot in the United States. His many siblings included Matilde Moisant (1878–1964) who was the second American woman to receive her pilot's license.


On August 17, 1910, he flew the first flight with a passenger across the Channel. His passengers on the flight were Albert Fileux, his mechanic, and his cat, Fifi. Moisant died on December 31, 1910, in an air crash while making a preparatory flight in his attempt to win the 1910 Michelin cup and its $4,000 prize. He was caught in a gust of wind as he was attempting to land and was thrown from his Blériot monoplane, landing on his head.

"Nine-tenths confidence and one-tenth common sense equals a successful aviator." John B. Moisant, How to Fly: The Flyer's Manual, 1917


I came across this fascinating machine while internet surfing on the excellent website Their Flying Machines, and began investigation. There are only about 6 photos of the machine, and no plans. And so I set to work drawing up some plans, working only from the pictures and the wingspan and length measurements. Some of the pictures show a mechanic standing beside the machine, and, since he looks of average height, I worked on the assumption that he was about 5 feet 9 inches, which would have been the norm then, and measured him against the aircraft to help reckon its dimensions.

The wings proved the trickiest things to work out, and I soon realised they could not be made in one piece. Each corrugation had to be cut separately and rolled into shape. They were then joined to a succession of oblong fences, which had their corners cut off. Then spanwise struts were used to join the leading and trailing edges of the fences, both above and below. It took me two attempts to get it even halfway right, and some of the struts are still springing free from their connections. Like all aircraft it needs constant upkeep.

The fuselage is simply two lengths of boat shaped card, joined along the bottom ridge, and separated up top by internal struts. The upper nose section is a curved length of card, and above that a steering wheel is mounted on a long control rod.  There is a seat in there, though you can't see it. The nose plate is triangular, on which to mount the engine.

I then turned attention to the tail. The girder from the upper trailing edge is an I-beam from card. The tail is cut from 20 though card, with lightening holes in the fin, and control horns of the drooped elevator. And the structure for the rear wheel is made from rod.

Then the front end controls were cut from plastic card, and mounted on lengths of rod. The elevator is rotated by a solid rod which joins the top of what looks like a triangular rudder, but is in fact a streamlined actuating rod.

The two lower wings are crescent shaped, cut from card, mounted on the mid point of the fuselage. Four cabanes were cut from aerofoil rod, the top wing secured, and then four interplane struts between the wings added. At this stage the whole thing can be blasted red, for which I used Revell Ferrari red, since there is no information as to what shade of red the original was. Pictures do show it having a high degree of polish however.

A five cylinder Gnome engine came from the Big Bag of Engines, in the spares box, as did the propeller, which has wide fans shaped blades. Interestingly it is mounted on the rear of the rotary engine, between engine and fuselage, an arrangement I can't recall seeing anywhere else, but one which should work in theory.

The only evidence of rigging that I can see is on the tail end, and so wires were put in place from cockpit to elevator and rudder. Other than that, the beast looks strong enough to be  completely unbraced.

Wire wheels came from an Eduard 1/72 etched set, a handy item which gives you a full series of sizes. Tyres are rubber o-rings.



Nothing very hard here, simply red overall, with some aluminium struts at the rear end, more for a little tonal variation than accuracy.


Another strange and unusual design from the pioneering days, although the more that I look at it, the more I think the design was a good one. The natural lack of rigidity in thin aluminium would have been countered by hose strong wing fences. If only it had had ailerons, I suspect that handling would have been much improved.

There is one remarkable photo on one of the websites below of Moisant.  A very handsome man, in a wing collar and homburg hat (sometimes known in the US as a “Godfather”, since Al Pacino sported one in the film The Godfather), he has a delightful cat standing on his shoulder. She was called Fifi, and often accompanied him on flights. Reading between the lines of the details of his life, he was obviously handsome, rich and confident. But he liked cats so he cannot have been completely insufferable.








 Chris Peachment

June 2014

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