Leopoldoff Colibri – romantic, obscure, and very French (or is that, Russian?)

Leopoldoff L.7 Colibri

Sometimes you find something that surprises you – immensely. It is rather like panning for gold, and coming up with a huge, rough diamond. At Abingdon, during an early phase of the GVFWE event, I came across this pretty aircraft; it was rather like some Malagasy fishermen hauling up their nets and finding a coelcanthe (Latimeria chalumnae).

The genesis of the Leopoldoff is shrouded in the mists of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is said that the plans of the original aircraft were drawn up prior to 1917 by E.T.S. Leopoldoff, who, when the Imperial Russian regime fell, hurriedly left the country. Like many other Russian emigres, he ended up in Paris (French had been the preferred language of the Imperial Court, and most of the Russian aristocracy). There, the Russian community scratched out a living as best they could; some were shopkeepers, some salesmen, and some, as in Leopoldoff’s case, became taxi drivers. He finally persuaded a French company to build a prototype to his drawings, which flew in September, 1933. Progress was slow, with the first production machine appearing in 1937. Minor variations gave rise to changes in designation, with the main version being the L.3. Leopoldoff had formed his own company by now (Societe des Avions Leopoldoff), which undertook to build this pretty aircraft as a two seater for club or touring purposes. Just over 30 aircraft were produced before the Second World War broke out.

The L.7 Colibri (named after a genus of hummingbird) is a post-war modification of an L.3. The original aircraft would have been fitted with a Salmson 9Adb radial engine of 45hp, leaving it rather underpowered. Instead, the L.7 now has the ubiquitous Continental Motors Corporation A65-8S engine, of  65hp, driving a wooden Sensenich W72CK propeller – a much better proposition. You can just make out that the L.7 is a sesquiplane (or unequal span biplane). Some Leopoldoff aircraft were  ‘normal’ biplanes, and you can see that this has given rise to an odd appearance. The attachment points for the interplane struts on the upper wing have stayed the same, which means the struts now make an acute angle with the shorter, lower wing. Note the pronounced wing dihedral. There are echoes of WW1 aircraft in this design; indeed, one of the few examples still extant (in the collection of L’Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis, at La Ferte-Alais in France) is painted in German WW1 markings.

Post-war, six more aircraft were built in Morocco by Societe des Constructions Aeronautiques du Maroc, and one of these made a noteworthy flight on the 3rd July 1948, when it successfully completed a 600km course as part of an aviation rally organised by the Aviation Federation of Morocco. The Leopoldoff (powered by a Salmson radial) landed safely back at Rabat, where the crew of Dr Saugnes and M J Rousseau were greeted by the Resident General de la France au Maroc, General Juin and Prince Moulay Hassan. It was the smallest aircraft in the rally, and had no special navigation instruments!

This L.7 is the only one on the British register, and was owned by D’Arcy Aviation in the 1970s (it had been on the French register, at one stage, as F-PCZX). It is now in the capable hands of Mr William Cooper. Long may she grace British skies.


4 comments on “Leopoldoff Colibri – romantic, obscure, and very French (or is that, Russian?)”

  1. Hy, just one or two notes on this excellent page (appologies my english, I’m swiss) that I know as Lev Leopoldoff was my grand-father!

    The first plane was build by Lev himself, in his 6th floor appartment in Paris, and the final assembly was in Toussus-le-Noble, a small civil airport.

    After the WWII, with his own compagny, Lev build more than 80 planes (about 125 total) until his died in 1957. Some of these worked as reco and coordination planes for the french artillery, but the majority were school-planes or for civil purpose only (aéroclubs), because it was very cheep and safety (only one people died in a crash since 1933, of in a badly squeezed bolt).

    More details on my website (familly Leopoldoff-Colibri site).

    Thanks a lot for keeping this flying dream alive!


  2. Bonjour,
    The flying dream is still alive.
    Propriétaire du L55 F-PRJJ basé à La Ferté Alais j’ai à cette heure 200 heure de vol avec ce merveilleux oiseau .
    Si vos pas vous portent vers la région parisienne,ce serait un plaisir de vous rencontrer.
    Si vous désirez quelques photos non publiées,merci de me communiquer votre adresse électronique.
    Tres cordialement.
    Michel Germaine


  3. No tenia noticia de este aparato. Como admirador de los biplanos de los que he pilotado dos modelos, me habria gustado hacerlo con este. Parece el J-3 de loa biplanos.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: