Houdini in the cockpit of his Voisin, at Hamburg before his first flying attempt. Image courtesy of Gywnn-Jones Collection
In 1909, while performing at theatres in Germany, Houdini purchased a French-built Voisin biplane.
Houdini then rented a building to serve as a hangar, and imported a French mechanic, M. Brassac, to teach him how to fly. The German government even let him use a parade ground as an airfield on condition that he would instruct the regiment stationed there to fly. He had many pictures taken with himself seated in the machine, the name HOUDINI painted proudly on the rudder, also photos with German army officers grouped around it. After the war with Germany in 1917, Houdini destroyed these, saying “I taught those fellows to fly and they may have killed Americans”.
Early each morning Houdini would be at the hangar with Brassac, going over the plane. Soon he was ready for his solo, but gusty winds kept him on the ground. Finally after two weeks the wind died and he took off, rose a few feet and dived into the earth.
In his diary, he wrote: “I smashed the machine. Broke propeller all to hell!”
Undeterred, Houdini arranged to have the plane repaired quickly so that the Voisin could accompany him on tour in Australia.
After two weeks for repairs, he managed a successful take-off and landing [November 26, 1909], staying in the air for a couple of minutes.
1909 Life Insurance Policy – Gywnn-Jones Collection
On November 29, 1909, in Hamburg, Houdini cautiously took out a 100,000 mark ($2500) life insurance policy with the Albingia Company of Hamburg prior to his tour in Australia and record breaking flight on March 18, 1910 at Diggers Rest. Displaying a fine sense of history, he wrote on the back of the policy: “This is the first insurance policy ever taken out re accident in an aeroplane. I had to pay 10 marks (about 25 cents) every time I made a flight.”
After making 18 flights in Australia, Houdini had the Voisin crated and shipped back to England. He planned to fly the aeroplane to each of his performances during his next U.K. tour, as a publicity stunt. But Houdini never flew that aeroplane again.
In future weeks, we will examine some other Aeroplane accidents that Houdini was involved in.
- Aviation January 1994, Houdini’s Historic Flight by Terry Gywnn-Jones
- Air Classics April 1968, Hedgehopping with Houdini By Manny Weltman