The crossing of the Alps: The Start of the Competition
The preparations for the great crossing of the Alps continued, but due to the large number of pilots that had signed up for the competition, the Swiss and Italian committees held a special meeting and agreed to choose only five of them, taking into consideration their skills and their performance in the different competitions in which they had participated.
From the list of aviators registered for the trial, the commissioners of the crossing of the Alps, selected the following five pilots:
- Jorge Chávez, a Peruvian flying a modified Bleriot XI monoplane equipped with a 50 HP Gnome engine;
- Bartolomé Cattaneo, a Italian, flying a Bleriot XI monoplane equipped with a 50 HP Gnome engine;
- Charles Weymann, a North American, in a Farman biplane equipped with a 50HP Gnome engine;
- Eugen Wiencziers, a German, in an Antoinette monoplane equipped with an Antoinette 60HP engine; and
- Marcelo Paillette, a Frenchman, flying a Bleriot XI, equipped with a with 50 HP Gnome engine.
The competition was underway. On Friday 16th September 1910, the commissioners set up their headquarters in Brigue, Switzerland, to get ready for the Great Aviation Week of Brigue. Peruvian aviator Jorge Chavez had traveled to Brigue in advance, on September 11th, to supervise the assembly of his plane after its arrival from Paris.
Each of the five hangars installed in the Brigue airfield had a sign on the roof with the name of the participant and the flag of the country he represented. The planes that were taking part in the competition were four monoplanes: three Bleriot XI, an Antoinette, and a Farman bi plane. The hangar of young Chavez, read “CHAVEZ” in large print and flew the red and white Peruvian flag. The other hangars flew the flags of France, the United States of America, Germany and Italy, as well as the names of the other participants. The stands had already been installed towards the south of the airfield facing the parking area, the five hangars and the police station. The temporary airfield was approximately 300 meters long, it lay between the stands and the hangars and its course went from east to west. The spectators could access the airfield from the east, next to the road that led north, to the city of Brigue, and south, to Simplon. The number of spectators increased as the hours passed by, and a great sense of excitement, could be seen on the faces in the crowd and heard in the stands. The commissioners and the public observed the preparations in each one of the hangars; the planes were inspected by mechanics and by the pilots themselves, engines were started, adjustments were made, and some test flights were performed, all of which increased the expectation amongst those gathered at Brigue for the meet. Journalists took notes and set up interviews, while their photographers took the best shots of the planes and the pilots.
Following one of his observation trips by land, having climbed Pizzo Pioltone and traveled through the Monscera pass, Jorge Chavez made the following statement to Luigi Barzini, the correspondent of the Milan Corriere della Sera newspaper: “It is necessary for me to see and to perfectly remember all the characteristics of the place I will fly over. The crossing of the Alps is a very serious feat, but it is beautiful!” The young aviator had certainly trained well for this challenge. He had patiently gathered detailed information and was, therefore, aware of the challenge and danger he would face but confident of his success. Amongst the five competitors, Jorge Chavez had the most knowledge regarding the route and had the best preparation.
The weather on the morning of September 17th was not favorable for aviation. On the following day, Sunday, September 18th, an unforeseeable event occurred: The Canton Government of Valais had passed a decree that prohibited the execution of flights before 16:00 hours, stating that they had to observe Sunday rest and the sanctification of the day of prayer and penance. That Sunday morning the weather conditions were ideal for flying. This provoked angry protests not only from the participants, but also from the Italian committee, the Domodossola Major and the spectators, who had come in large numbers to Brigue to witness this important competition. Despite the protests in Brigue, the prohibition stood; the authorities even placed guards in front of the temporary hangars in the Brigue airfield to prevent the planes from taking off. Jorge Chavez kept calm and did not participate in the protests, instead accompanied by his friend Duray, he took advantage of the good weather to travel the complete route between Brigue and Domodossola by car, making final notes as well as taking a trip to Lake Major. Just before seven o’clock in the evening, on Sunday, September 18th, after returning from his journey, Jorge Chavez sent a notice to the commissioners of the race stating the following:
“Dear Commissioners, I shall depart tomorrow at six o’ clock in the morning to start the crossing of the Alps, signed, Chavez”.
Multimedia Archive: The crossing of the Alps