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, who took an extended amount of flight training back in the day, 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


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.


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.

14 thoughts on “Aviation in India – A Peep Into Its Early History – An Update”

  1. With new information provided by Jefferis Evans D’Angelis the great grandson of the then famous Flying Corsican,it had become necessary to update our history of the early days of flying in India. The present post fulfills this requirement.

  2. Santiago de Chile.
    South America
    September 12 2009.
    Dear Capt Bhargava, the all D’Angelis Family, we thank you.
    Now Mr Giacomo D’Angelis rest in peace in his Grave.
    The D’Angelis Family, from Chile, Argentina, U.S.A and Spain…Sincerly Appreciated by All
    God Bless you and your fAMILY.
    I love India
    Sincerly Jefferis Donald Evans D’Angelis.-

  3. Capitàn Bhargava

    A nombre de nuestra familia D Angelis para ud. y para nuestro primo Jeffery Evans D Angelis reciba nuestos mayores reconocimientos por su labor como historiador de la aviaciòn Hindù y agradecemos sinceramente su publiciòn tan importante sobre los logros de nuestro bisabuelo que a partir de hoy ha quedado claro para la historia de la aviaciòn mundial .

    Muchas gracias .

    Julio Menadier D Angelis

    English Translation by Google:

    On behalf of our family Angelis D for you. and our cousin Jeffery Evans D Angelis received raising our major awards for his work as Indian aviation history and appreciate your important Messages Publications on the achievements of our great-grandfather who as of today has become clear to the world aviation history.

  4. Kapilji,


    I am an aviation enthusiast,have a Pvt.Pilot’s License and am a member of the Fedn. of Indian Pilots

    I recall reading an article by you in Indian Aviation mag. some years ago,on the unfortunate Indian Airlines A320 crash at Bangalore in 1990

    This is to request you to kindly send me your email ID as I would like to consult you about a research project I am engaged in, relating to the history of air safety in India.

    Thanking you,

    John Britto

  5. This is a request for De Angelis family to past a picture of their illustrious ancestor-De Angelis. It sure was a fascinating discovery to know that HE was the first Flyer of the subcontinent.


  6. This is a request for De Angelis family to post a picture of their illustrious ancestor-De Angelis. It sure was a fascinating discovery to know that HE was the first Flyer of the subcontinent.


  7. Dear Capt.Bhargava, I need contact to Mr Subbiah Muthiah, the great Journalist, from the hindu news paper, its posible to you sendme the e-mail from Mr Subbiah Muthiah???
    Thank’s and God Bles you and your Family
    atte. Jefferis Evans D’Angelis.

  8. Dear Group Captain Kapil Bhargava,

    I came across an article you wrote on aeronautical history, in which you mentioned one Mr. Jagan Chawla. The URL is the following: http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/History/1960s/IAFMfr.html . I am actually trying to locate Mr. Chawla as an old friend of his is trying to reach him. Could you please let me know (via email, my ID is koolkatt20@yahoo.com) whether you could connect me to him or give him my email ID? Many thanks.


  9. Sir, Stumbled across this web site looking for Air Marshal P Venugopal, an old friend of my father, WG CDR NM Patel. I believe you know him. I would appreciate it very much if you could pass this information on to him.
    mobile (3 more weeks) 9899653945
    Being an airforce brat, I never get tired of reading these blogs and stories.
    Thank You

  10. Dear Mr Johnson,

    Thanks for you latest offered comment which I decided not to put up here. I really enjoyed the sarcasm in it. But I am not sure it would be taken as humour by some readers.

    I definitely like to keep religion out of my blog, if I can help it. Even mild negative views about it make sensitive people see red.

    By the way, I am not a Captain. The rank exists in the Army and the Navy apart from many areas of civilian life.

    I can be addressed as Kapil, Kapil Bhargava or Group Captain. This is an Air Force rank, taken from Captain of the Navy, not the Army or civil aviation.

    With best wishes,
    Kapil Bhargava

  11. Fascinating piece. Madras musings ran a story on the Hotel D’Angelis along with a photo from 1908.

  12. Thanks, Vijay. It was fun doing it but

    I am not a real historian, only tried to write articles about aviation, etc. A descendant of the Flying Corsican helped correct and update the history. He had already pointed me to photographs of the man,his hotel and a biography. But I saw no reason to add any of that here. Those interested in him will need to do their own search.

    I am glad you liked the article.

    With best wishes,
    Kapil Bhargava

  13. Dear Sir

    I read about my uncle late Gp Capt Suranjan Das and it was nice. I was commissioned with the112PC and am an ex NDA retired officer. I started my air force fighter squadron days in 22 Sqn AF on Gnats in 1976 and I was very happy to do this since my own uncle not very well known by my colleagues at that time was one of the first to fly the Gnat. I would have close to 10000 hrs on the Gnat & Ajeet Mk1. It would be nice to be in touch with you as I am a published author too. I need your e mail for this sir and will be honoured to get a reply from you. Thank you and best regards. Arjun

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