Celebrating the First Dirigible Flight

Giffard_portrait_1_200On September 24, 1852, Jules Henri Giffard launched the first dirigible from the Hippodrome in Paris. Dirigible comes from the French word, diriger, which means to direct. So, you guessed it, Giffard’s airship could be steered, unlike earlier balloons. Giffard was an engineer and he began experimenting with ways to steer hot air balloons a few years earlier.

The airship he launched in 1852 was 144 feet long and had a steam engine that drove a three-blade propeller.  The envelope was filled with lighter-than-air hydrogen gas and had a sail rudder. It averaged about three miles per hour on its 17 mile journey from Paris to Elancourt, near Trappes. Unfortunately, the engine was not powerful enough to fly against the wind, so the dirigible did not make an immediate return trip to Paris.

Here’s a model of the airship on display in the London Science Museum. The control car with the steam engine and propeller hangs below the envelope, attached by all those ropes. (Imagine tying all those knots!)


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