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What Is a Flying Flea?

Christian Petersen
Christian Petersen

A flying flea is a type of single-seat, open cockpit, light aircraft with a staggered biplane configuration. It was designed by French furniture maker, turned aircraft designer and builder, Henri Mignet in 1933. Mignet designed the flying flea to be small and simple to build, intending it to be a design that aviation enthusiasts could build themselves. It had an innovative and very simple control system and was considered to be very easy to fly, as well.

Mignet developed a number of prototypes before finalizing his design, which he first demonstrated publicly in 1934. He published the plans and instructions for building a flying flea later that year in a French book on recreational aviation, which was translated into English the following year. Many aviation enthusiasts in the United States and Europe built their own flying fleas within the next few years.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The original version of the flying flea was powered by a small motorcycle engine, producing 17 horsepower. Its wingspan was 19 feet (5.9 m) and it had an overall length of 11.5 feet (3.5 m). Built of fabric-covered wood, it weighed just 450 pounds (204 kg) and had a maximum speed of around 62 mph (100 kph).

Mignet designed the craft to be very simple to fly and gave it an unusual control configuration. Flight control was by a single flight stick. Moving the stick forward or back controlled pitch. Moving the stick from side to side produced yaw, or turning. The large rudder and the design of the wings allowed this control feature to also put the plane into a slight degree of roll, a motion that normally required a third axis of movement in the flight stick or foot pedals to execute.

Within a year of its introduction, a design flaw that caused pilots to be unable to recover from shallow dives led to a number of crashes. The flying flea was grounded in many countries and in some areas was even banned. The Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom studied the design and corrected the problem, and by 1936, flying fleas began appearing again.

Over the next several decades, hundreds of variants of this design appeared. Hobbyists and professionals alike have made countless modifications and improvements to Mignet's original design, incorporating more modern engines, improved materials, side-by-side dual cockpits, and improved flight characteristics. Today, at least 300 variants are known, many of them unique. Some were adapted for military use as scout and observation planes. The flying flea remains a popular home-built aircraft and many flying flea clubs and organizations exist in several countries.

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