Joyeuse Fête Nationale: French Airships

In honor of le 14 juillet, here is a brief review of early French airships.

Giffard Steam Powered Airship

In 1852, Jules-Henri Giffard built a 144-foot hydrogen airship powered by a coke-fired steam engine.  Taking off from the Paris Hippodrome on 24 September 1852, the dirigible was able to fly several kilometers downwind but was not powerful enough to overcome a headwind.

Henri Giffard Airship

Tissandier Electric Airship

Brothers Gaston and Albert Tissandier built a 92-foot battery-powered electric airship in 1882-1883, but their 1.5 hp Siemens engine could only drive the ship at 15 kph and it was unable to fly against even the lightest headwinds.

The Tissandiers flew an improved ship on 9 August 1894.  Named La France, the 165-foot ship carried an 8.5 hp electric motor and flew almost twice as fast as their earlier model, allowing the ship to return to its take-off point in light winds.

Tissandier Brothers Airship (Library of Congress)

Basket of Tissandier Brothers Airship (Library of Congress)

The Lebaudy Airships

Two wealthy sugar refiners, the brothers Paul and Pierre Lebaudy, financed and built a series of successful airships beginning in 1902.  Their first dirigible — nicknamed “le Jaune” for its yellow fabric — was a 175-foot semi-rigid ship powered by a 40 hp Daimler engine capable of flying in moderate winds.  Purchased by the French Army, Lebaudy I can be considered the world’s first military airship.

The Lebaudy brothers and their engineer, Henri Julliot, continued to build and improve airships over the next decade, including Patrie of 1906 and Republique  of 1908 which were built for the French army, and ships sold to the military forces of Russia, Austria, and Britain.

Lebaudy Airship I, c.1903 (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

Lebaudy Airship “Patrie” of 1906 (Original French postcard)

Gondola of a Lebaudy Airship (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

Bonne Fête Nationale to all my friends in France.  





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With a small month later… bonne fête for you too Dan !