European Motorcycles

Today in Motorcycle History

Aviation and Motorcycles

Exploring the technical and social aspects of the relationship between motorcycling and flying



Designed by Granville Bradshaw and built by the Sopwith aviation company from 1919 at Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. They were also built by an aviation firm in France, Gnome et Rhone.

Argus Motorengesellschaft

Founded in 1901 as a motor vehicle firm, under the Argus name they produced an extensive range of engines for the fledgling aviation industry beginning around 1906.


Aeronautica Macchi was founded in 1912 by Giulio Macchi. They built a wide range of aircraft over the ensuing 9 decades.


The Ader motorcycles were designed and built at a factory in Levallois-Perret, Seine by Clement Ader, an aviation pioneer


Alessandro Anzani was an aviation pioneer whose engines were employed in many famous motorcycles.

Ernest Archdeacon's exploits in aviation are the stuff of legend: he built gliders and aeroplanes, he was a hot-air balloonist, and he was instrumental in the advancement of aviation in France. He offered a prize for the first 1km flight around a circuit of 50,000 francs - the equivalent of 20 years salary for the average French worker.


Advance Motor Manufacturing Co. Ltd of Northampton produced Advance motorcycles, tricars and forecars. Advance also supplied engines to various leading edge projects such as Scott's motorised sledges trialled in Norway, Handley Page's Blue Bird monoplane and the Oakington monoplane built by Grose and Feary.


The firm also built aviation engines including inverted two-stroke twins and triples used in light aircraft.


Spanish firm built motocarri trucks and aircraft.

Avro Monocar 1926

Pioneer aviator Sir Alliott Verdon Roe designed and built this prototype and rode it many thousands of miles...


Douglas Bader
Paul Brickhill writes in his biography Reach for the Sky of Bader riding home from the pub on his Douglas with three other Hurricane pilots aboard, and being stopped by police. He was legless, but he got away with it.¹


W. O. Bentley, Motorcycle Racing, and the Bits That Go Up and Down.

Bentley, of Australian parentage, was one of the first (possibly *the* first) to adopt alloy pistons in his racing motorcycles, and later convinced Rolls-Royce to use them in their aircraft engines. Bentley became Mr Fixit for all things aviation...


Bradshaw, Granville

Louis Bleriot was the first to cross the English Channel by aeroplane. After WWI he built motorcycles, and the first French police motorcycle squad used his machines.



Sir Malcolm Campbell (1885-1949)

English automobile and speedboat racer. A racing enthusiast from boyhood, Campbell set many speed records for motorcycles, aeroplanes, automobiles and power boats, and in 1931 was knighted for his accomplishments. Driving his famed automobile Bluebird at Bonneville Flats, Utah, in 1935, Sir Malcolm was the first to reach the 300 mph (483 kph) mark. He then turned to speedboat racing and in 1939 set a new record of 141 miles per hour. Donald Campbell was his son.

Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. 2000.


Aero-Caproni, famous Italian aircraft manufacturer. Their NSU-powered motorcycles, the Caproni Vizzola, shared their name with a range of Caproni gliders, one of which was jet-powered. These sailplanes achieved numerous world records.


The factory also produced a variety of horizontally-opposed fours for nautical and aviation use.


Adolphe Clément-Bayard was the first to cross the English Channel by airship

Glenn Curtiss


Established by former pilot Pierre de Font-Réaulx

Roald Dahl
A respected author of children's books and perhaps best known for the stories in the TV series Tales of the Unexpected, Dahl survived, against impossible odds, a series of hair-raising battles as a Hurricane pilot during WW2. He mentions his motorcycle experiences in either Boy or Going Solo.

De Havilland

Dedics of Hungary


The Dufaux brothers were both pioneer aviators. They founded Motosacoche



Jacob Ellehammer's first three-cylinder engine for his aeroplane (homebuilt using cylinders and heads from the Peugeot-Freres engines of his motorcycle) built in the early years of the 20th century still exists, and is started regularly at the Elsinore Technical Museum in Denmark. It is considered the mother of all radial-engines.

Ellehammer built all manner of contraptions including a helicopter which flew in 1912, and a powered hang-glider six decades before anyone could tell you what on earth that was.


Ellehammer Motorcycles




Henri Farman coined the term aileron. The Farman brothers built more than 200 types of aircraft, at least two of which took part in the 1932 Tour de France des avions de tourisme.


The firm was involved in aviation, producing a variety of aircraft.


Robert E. Fulton Jr. (E for Edison, a friend of his father's) rode his Douglas motorcycle across Europe through Asia and on to Japan, sailed to San Francisco and from there rode on to New York, arriving in 1933. As do many keen motorcyclists he collected a shed full of junk. His was quite a large one, and contained the aeroplanes he flew. One was a a P51 Mustang.


GCS George Cyril Stillwell created a string of motor dealerships selling Jaguar and BMW. He was also involved in aviation in no small manner, becoming president of Learjet in the United States.

Gnome Rhone

... ceased motorcycle production towards the end of the 1950s. The company continued in the aviation industry and built engines for military and civilian aircraft including Mirage, Boeing and ...

Grade, Hans.
Hans Grade was one of Germany's first aviators. He was the builder of Grade motorcycles.




Harry Hawker built motorcycles in the 1920s, and established an aviation company which later built the Hawker Hurricane.


Hildebrand & Wolfmüller - Alois Wolfmülier was an aviation pioneer



Horex began with the purchase of Columbus-Motorenbau AG, a subsidiary of Columbus Flugmotorenbau, builder of engines for the Fokker Dr-1 flown by von Richthofen during the Great War.

Motocross rider Andrea Mosconi built the Hiro sport aviation engine of 23hp.


HRD was founded by Howard Raymond Davies, an RAF pilot who was shot down and captured by the Germans in 1917. The story goes that whilst a prisoner of war that he conceived the idea of building his own motorcycle.



Louis Janoir, born 1883, was a pioneer aviator who obtained his pilot's licence in 1911.


Kingsbury were scooters and motorcycles produced from 1919 to 1923, by aircraft builders in Croydon, Surrey. The machines were sold by London and Midland Motors of London W1.




Butterfield built an aircraft powered by a an inverted inline five cylinder two-stroke Levis engine in 1912. It clipped a goal post on the playing fields it was using as an airstrip on its first takeoff, and was wrecked.

Professor Archibald Low, Rocket Scientist

The Rocket Man

Lutz ... relating to jet engines and two-stroke engine technology, and became a respected figure in aviation research.




The Stork logo is derived from the WWI Escadrille des Cigognes Spad squadron with which Joseph-Henri Guiguet (Légion d'Honneur) had flown. He and his brother Marcel founded the MGC company which produced the N34 motorcycle with an inverted inline four cylinder engine of similar configuration to the Tiger Moth.


Jules Albert & André Moreau of Chantenay-Saint-Imbert (Nievre) were pioneer aviators.


Émile Robion of E.R. was an aviation pioneer.

Moto Guzzi

...the men who founded the company were WWI pilots


Simultaneously with the expansion of their motorcycle business, the brothers Dufaux directed their personal attention to building airplanes and helicopters. As early as 1904 they built model helicopters and planes with variable-tilt propellers, and invented the concept of the 'VTOL' airplane. Their helicopter of 1905 was the first powered aircraft of any type in the world to successfully fly, and was demonstrated for Louis Bleriot (who also made motorcycles), Alberto Santos-Dumont, Clement Ader, Henri Farman, Gabriel Voisin, Captain Ferber, etc; all founders of European aviation. The Dufaux brothers tasted success in airplane flight in 1909, becoming the first Swiss plane to fly with a pilot aboard.

Muller, Italy

... terminated motorcycle activities in 1979 and began designing and building gliders and ultralight aircraft.

MV Agusta


New Imperial Logo

New Imperial

The New Imperial firm was bought by Jack Sangster of Ariel, who promptly sold it to Solomon Clifford Joseph. Shortly thereafter the factory tooled up to provide engine components for the Rolls-Royce Merlin used in Spitfires and Lancasters. As may be guessed from his name, Birmingham-born and bred Joseph is of Jewish heritage, so Mr Hitler would not have been amused. Even less so had he discovered that Captain Joseph was awarded the DFC and Bar for shooting down 13 German aircraft during the First World War, at least four of which were Fokker fighters.
Hitler's #Proudboy progeny would love this one!
Further information: Clifford Aero
N.B. Although Manfred von Richthofen flew a Fokker of the same type which Joseph shot down four of, it is not the type he died in. The shot which killed him is believed to have been fired by an Australian on the ground, Sergeant Cedric Popkin.


Charles and Fred Norman of Norman Cycles Limited. Fred had been a fighter pilot in the First World War. Fred presented Guy Gibson, the leader of 617 Squadron on the Dambuster Raids, with a motorcycle to ride at his airbase at RAF Scampton. 


"In spite of the thrills and excitement aviation offers, Lt. Owen Edmunds, who made the first official mail flight between London and Paris, still retains his affection for the motor cycle. His mount is a 5-6 h.p. overhead valve N.U.T.-J.A.P., with three-speed hub gear.

Lt Edmunds has made over 200 Channel flights."
Credit: The Motor Cycle



Opel also built a rocket-powered car, and a rocket powered glider!


Engelbert Zaschka of Orionette designed and built a helicopter in the 1920s. It was a large scale model developed to test whether the machine would glide to the ground without power - autorotate. It could, but it was not developed further due to financial difficulties. It was this machine which was the inspiration for the helicopter first flown some ten years later by Hanna Reisch. (Requires verification).

Orionette Motorcycles

Otto, Gustav

Gustav Otto (12 January 1883 – 28 February 1926) was a German aircraft and aircraft engine designer and manufacturer. His father was Nicolaus August Otto, inventor of the Otto-cycle - now known as the four-stroke internal combustion engine.

Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenfabrik became Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW) which in 1917 became Bayerische Motoren Werke GmbH (BMW).

Gustav Otto


Pearson & Sopwith

Tom Sopwith built the Sopwith Camel.


J. A. Peters (t/a Peter Motors), an aircraft designer, produced motorcycles from 1920 to 1925.


Piaggio, parent company of Vespa and Gilera, is a multinational aerospace manufacturing company, best known perhaps for its twin turboprop Avanti.


Puma motorcycles were built by the same company in Argentina which manufactured a variety of aircraft including fighter jets.


Ratier built wooden aeroplane propellors. They now make components for Airbus and other aircraft.

RC Cross

Cross components have been employed in the engines used on the Concorde


Charles Redrup was a Welshman who had a background in aviation. The firm developed engines for the likes of Avro, Vickers, Crossley and Bristol. During WWII he was involved in secret squirrel stuff developing the bouncing bomb used by the Dam Busters.

Harry Ricardo was building tank engines for the UK military at the age of 19. He developed a love of aviation, and the firm he created was integral in the development of the history-making Voyager aircraft which flew around the world non-stop in 1986. His name is celebrated in the motorcycle world for the the 4-valve Ricardo Triumph.

Norbert Riedel, designer of the Imme. Junkers Motorenbau GMBH commissioned him in 1941 to design a simple 2-stroke engine to be used as a fresh-air blower/cooler for the Jumo 004 Jet engine then being designed. It was used until the end of the war. (JF)

Rotax Motor Accessories (UK)
Lucas decided to concentrate manufacture of equipment for the heavier types of vehicles in C. A. Vandervell and Co and to develop Rotax for the manufacture of equipment for aircraft.

This firm is not believed to be associated with Rotax of Austria.



André Morin had been designing aircraft since his teens and was in aviation design during the war, returned to that passion and subsequently built light aircraft ...


Sheffield-Henderson were motorcycles designed by Leonard B. Henderson, an aeronautical engineer.

Tilly Shilling


David Stanger was a pioneer of aero-modelling.




Enoch Thulin was a Swedish aviation pioneer.



The designer of the Vespa was Corradino D'Ascanio, who designed helicopters in the 1930s.


During WWII the Vincent HRD company built components for the De Haviland Mosquito, and post-war they developed a V-Twin engine named the Picador for the ML U120D drone project.



The company was founded by World War II pilot Ted Wassell. The Wassell company site says "The original W E Wassell Limited was established in 1946 by W E (Ted) Wassell after being de-mobbed from the Navy in 1945. The Company was incorporated in April 1956."

1. Actually, Bader seldom drank. (warfarehistorynetwork.com, Life magazine, go2war.nl).

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