Aviation in India – A Peep Into Its Early History – An Update

By Group Captain Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

History has a strong tendency to get revised and updated as new information emerges. Almost all the text of the earlier article came from a book by Late Mr Alka Sen, one of India’s earliest aviation correspondents. Now we have Jefferis Evans D’Angelis the great grandson of the then famous Flying Corsican, to point out that the actual first flight ever in India took place in Madras on 10th March 1910, nine months ahead of the one in Allahabad. He is correct in this claim and this post is an update of the last article. Additional; background of the intrepid designer-pilot of the past is also reproduced here to introduce his many facets to us.

Giacomo D’Angelis, a confectioner from Corsica, arrived in Madras in 1880 and opened his `Maison Francaise’. His `Kitchen Department’, he assured the gentry of Madras, was “the first and finest of its kind”. It didn’t take long for D’Angeli’s catering service to get known. His excellent service soon enabled him to open a small hotel in 1906. Continuing to prosper, this eventually became the Hotel d’ Angeli, with unmatched luxury and facilities, including an electrical lift, running hot water, etc. But with passage of time, changes of ownership and name, the hotel premises on Mount Road, Madras transformed into Bata’s main showroom in Chennai.

An extract from its own vintage archives was published by the The Hindu on Wednesday, July 16, 2003. You can read the full article for yourself on him at http://tinyurl.com/kkto3n. This recalls the remarkable feat of Giacomo d’ Angelis, popularly known as the “Flying Corsican” He had a biplane constructed, presumably to his own design. He then successfully flew it. This achievement is also recorded in Flight magazine as the following extract shows: –

Inspired by Bleriot, his fellow-Frenchman, who was the first to fly across the Channel, D`Angeli got Simpson’s to build him an aeroplane! He tested this made-in-Madras machine in Pallavaram, found it flew, then decided to offer flying demonstrations one day at Island Grounds for a fee. Crowds paid up to watch those demonstrations in March 1910 – and at least one boy was courageous enough to accept D’Angeli’s invitation to fly with him during one of his several flights that day. D’Angeli, thus, was not only the first in the South to run a modern hotel, but he was also the first to fly in South India.

This story is further corroborated by an extract from Flight of March 26, 1910. Please see the pdf image from it at http://tinyurl.com/ontxjo. This is reproduced from FlightGlobal/Archive

AN INDIAN BIPLANE.

We have yours giving us names of motor engines, for which we are much obliged, and in return we are posting you photograph of what we believe is the first aeroplane in India, which has been constructed by one of our customers, a Mr. C. D’Angelis, of Madras. The machine has been built by our friend entirely fromhis own designs, and we understand that although up to the present he has been experimenting with a small horse-power engine, the results given by this are so satisfactory that with a higher horsepower he anticipates being able to make long and consecutive flights.

E. AND A. LEVETUS AND Co.

The Flying Corsican's Plane

In view of this evidence, Allahabad will have to concede that the aircraft in Madras made the very first flight in India and in fact in Asia. Obviously, with inadequate communication facilities, this was not known to newspapers in Allahabad or Calcutta. Thus, each of these three cities claimed the first flight for themselves. But the final pride of place should now go to Madras with the first flight in all Asia by Giacomo D’Angelis on March 10, 1910.

Fortunately the rest of the history of early aviation In India can stand as it is recorded in the earlier post – so far! This can remain until more new information turns up to correct our history of the early days of aviation in India.