May-viation Mystery Plane – Farman, or Not to Farman?

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Farman, or Not to Farman?

Author: Lloyd Sabin


I am not an aviation aficionado by any means but I know what I like. And I like early, exotic aviation. From lighter than air barrage balloons to zeppelins to early fixed-wing aircraft, I eat that stuff up. And I’ve found that the more obscure and weird they are, the more I like them.

I was in this frame of mind a few months ago when I made the above picture my avatar in the forums and indicated that across the internet it had caused a bit of a mini-sensation with aviation nuts, grogs and history lovers. I quickly fell in love with the image and made it my desktop wallpaper because not only was it uncertain what kind of aircraft it represented, but it was also in the service of the Empire of Japan during their massive Siberian Intervention from 1918-1922, a fascinating historical event and harbinger of events to come. That ticked off at least three or four boxes on my ‘love’ list and I really enjoyed investigating what kind of machine it was.

Not too long after I posted the image on our boards, our very own Staggerwing responded “You are so silly. That is obviously a Farman bomber in Japanese service. Did I mention you’re silly?” Other people on the board agreed (both that it was a Farman and that I am silly) and it looked like the mystery was solved, except exactly what type of Farman the image represents is still up for debate.

For those of you who, like me, have never heard of Farman, they were a French aircraft engine company that was operated privately by the three Farman brothers from 1908-1936 and was then incorporated into the French national aircraft industry. And they were quite prolific, building over 200 different types of military aircraft throughout the 1910s, 20s, 30s and into the 40s. They were at their most successful and innovative in the 1920s, but right after World War I there were Farman machines in military service all over the world.

Since fewer Farman’s were built in the 1910s, it was a bit easier to narrow down what the machine pictured could be. Taking into account that the Siberian postcard was heavily stylized, there was a small handful of airplanes that a quick visual glance could identify as the potential craft in the picture. These include:



Farman MF.11 Shorthorn – fighter aircraft (1913)


Farman MF.7 Longhorn – reconnaissance aircraft (1913)

Farman MF.7 Longhorn – reconnaissance aircraft (1913)


Farman F.40 – “pusher” reconnaissance aircraft (1915)

Farman F.40 – “pusher” reconnaissance aircraft (1915)


Farman F.50 – bomber aircraft (1918)

Farman F.50 – bomber aircraft (1918)


There are other Farman models that were operational by the time of the postcard, but I could not find any images of them. While putting this article together I also noticed that the Farmans had a distinct look and design to them, which is captured in the above postcard.  That doesn’t really help because it means that the plane in the card could still be almost any Farman airplane of that era, because the size and dimensions of the portrayed plane look exaggerated. But…and this is a big but…add  what appears to be a ‘pusher engine’ and what appears to be a lack of any armament and I estimate that we could call the plane in the card a Farman F.40…but there’s really no way to confirm that. Also, it looks like multiple Farmans used pusher engines and were not labeled specifically as ‘pushers.’

So…we have a bunch of planes that this Japanese aircraft could be, but nothing particularly definitive. Using the images included above, what do you think it is? A Farman? Something totally different?

Let us know what you think in our forums!

Nothing like a good Mayviation mystery to help kick things off!



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