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Jose Weiss

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José Weiss (c1859-1919), early aircraft designer

c.1859 Born in Paris the son of John Frederick Francis Weiss and his wife Sylvia Marie Josephine Talbot

1899 Became UK naturalised as Joseph Vincent Nicolas Francis Weiss (and his three children).

1907 Demonstrated several of his models at the Alexandra Palace competition organised by the Daily Mail, which was won by Alliott Verdon-Roe.[1]

1907 With help from Frederick Handley Page constructed an automatically stable aeroplane.

1909 Built an aeroplane Weiss Monoplane

c.1911 Another aeroplane, incorporating his learnings about stability, was demonstrated; this had a single E.N.V. engine[2]

1911 Living at Houghton House, Houghton, Arundel, Sussex: Jose Weiss (age 52 born France), Painter Artist. With his wife Agnes Weiss (age 30 born Croydon) and their five children; Bernard Weiss (age 14 born Amberley); Elsie Weiss (age 10 born Houghton); Olive Weiss (age 8 born Houghton); Agnes Weiss (age 5 born Houghton); and Joseph Weiss (age 2 months born Houghton). Also other relatives. One servant.[3]

1915 Letter concerning his nationality. '...Before I became a naturalised British subject, I was, not a German, but a French subject, and I take the liberty to enclose my birth certificate, which will make this point quite clear. My German name, or at least, surname, is due to the Alsatian origin of my father. On the other hand by my mother, whose maiden name was Talbot, I am of English descent. I may mention that in addition to several near relatives fighting in the French lines. I have my own son serving in the British army....'[4]


A report of his work published in 1922.[5]

It was on the Sussex Downs. which in parts retain pretty much the same appearance to-day which they presented to pre-historic man, that the first serious experiments were made with ‘gliders,’ and there seems something appropriate in the fact that it is on the Downs, but to the east of us instead of the west, that the latest trials of this method of progression through the air should have taken place. It was well over a quarter of a century ago that Jose Weiss, the artist, was examining at Amberley the problems of the air resistance of moving bodies, and twenty years ago he began a series of painstaking experiments to determine the principles of natural flight, constructing more than two hundred models varying in span from two to fifteen feet.

One of the early experiments was to make a dead rook glide within a few degrees of the horizontal, and in 1905 he became associated with Alexander Keith, who had an extraordinary knowledge of the structure of birds and the varying functions of wing curves and cambers, and the pair of pioneers progressed in the course of four or years to the stage of completing man-carrying gliders.

It is impossible to estimate the effect which the exhibition of two monoplane gliders sent by Jose Weiss to the Premier Concours d’Aviation at Paris, in 1905, had upon the history of aviation, for Bleriot, who had before worked entirely on biplane models, adopted the principle of the Weiss aeroplane, and the models perfected at Amberley were also seen at Paris by the Austrian Wells, whose subsequent experiments produced the Eitrich monoplane, later to become the German Taube.

A writer in the ‘Spectator’ says that experiments at Amberley Mount proved beyond question the absolute stability of the Weiss Gliders, "and the development of the uncapsizable aeroplane of to-day is in large measure due to their success:” - and he adds that the dimensions and other general particulars of the most efficient of our modern large machines approximate to those advocated by Jose Weiss in 1910.

About the time that the pioneers at Amberley were paying close attention to bird structure, a Worthing inventor (Mr. George Clout) was boldly ignoring nature altogether in his flying experiments, and endeavouring to develop an idea contained in a then familiar toy. A picture of his airship was published in the ‘Gazette,’ but Mr. Clout died at sea in 1906, his work unfinished.


A 1912 description of Jose Weiss's gliding developments and the tests by Gordon England[6]

". . . Jose Wiess made hundreds of models down in the country far removed from observation, and at last he succeeded in bringing his knowledge of the subject to a point at which he could be sure of building a model and so loading it that it could glide quite airworthily in any wind. Sometimes, when the wind was strong, he would launch his models which weighed several pounds, and they would soar upwards and backwards in the air-currents blowing up the side of the hill that served as his aerodrome. When he had reached this point, he obtained the most complete confidence in his system, and so, too, apparently, did Gordon England, for when Wiess made a machine large enough to carry a man Gordon England never hesitated about being the pilot. He just sat in the little cockpit, which would hardly hold him, and was pushed off down the steep slope. Nothing happened for a little while, and there was a precipitous drop in view straight ahead if nothing continued to happen indefinitely. Before the unpleasant alternative could occur, however, the little machine had gathered enough speed for flight, and proceeded to glide off through the air. Very soon it was some 20 or 30 feet above the ground and Gordon England had no controls of any sort to guide or control it. He could regulate the position of the centre of gravity a little by leaning forwards or backwards, but if the machine couldn't fly he could do little or nothing to make it, and if it were not inherently stable it was a sure thing that he would be tossed out sooner or later. Although he made many such glides, however, and on some occasions actually soared in strong winds he never met with any mishap. These facts are even more interesting now than they were considered to be at the lime. Indeed, at the time, comparatively few people either knew about the work that was done, or appreciated its significance."



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Flight 25 Nov 1948
  2. Flight 17 June 1911
  3. 1911 Census
  4. West Sussex Gazette - Thursday 20 May 1915
  5. Worthing Gazette - Wednesday 01 November 1922
  6. Flight 30 Nov 1912