- Engineering & Materials
- Giffard, Henri (1825–1882)
Giffard, Henri (1825–1882)
French aeronautical engineer, famous for building the first steerable powered airship and making a successful flight in it.
Giffard, who studied engineering, was particularly interested in balloon flight, which had been pioneered in his native France. In the early 1850s he began to experiment with methods for steering balloons, which hitherto had been entirely at the mercy of the wind. In 1852 Giffard built his airship. It was a sausage-shaped gas bag 44 m/144 ft long and 12 m/52 ft in diameter, with a hydrogen capacity of 2,500 cu m/88,300 cu ft. The gondola was strung from a long pole or keel attached to the gasbag by ropes. It was powered by a small 2-kW/3-hp steam engine driving a three-bladed propeller—itself an innovation at the time. The airship was steered using a rudder, a canvas sail stretched over a bamboo frame and hinged to the keel. On September 24, 1852 Giffard took off from the Hippodrome in Paris and flew to Elancourt, near Trappes. His average speed was only about 5 kph/3 mph and he had problems with the steering.
Giffard gave up his experiments with airships but went on to other inventions, such as an injector to feed water into a steam engine boiler to prevent it running out of steam when not in motion. But his historic flight marked the real beginning of the human conquest of the air.
From the Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography, © RM, 2020. All rights reserved. Published under license in AccessScience, © McGraw-Hill Education, 2000–2020. Helicon Publishing is a division of RM.