Alphonse Penaud
1850 - 1880

© 1998-2003 Carroll Gray All Rights To This Web Domain And Web Site And Contents Thereof Are Reserved

Alphonse Penaud

Often termed "The Father of Flying Models," Alphonse Penaud was the first person to build and successfully fly heavier than air rubber band powered model flying machines. He flew his remarkably modern looking Planophore at Tuileries Gardens in Paris, France, on August 18, 1871. The Planophore, powered by a rubber band driven pusher propeller, flew 181 feet in 11 seconds. Penaud is also credited with being the first to employ a cruciform tail (which became known generally as "Penaud" tails) on his flying models.

It was one of Penaud's rubber band powered helicopters which first interested two of Bishop Milton Wright's sons, of Dayton, Ohio, in the possibility of flight. The most common depiction of it is actually of the Launoy & Bienvenu "Helicoptre" of 1784, not of the Penaud toy helicopter. The main difference between the two being that the earlier toy relied on spooled thread under tension to turn the mechanism, while Penaud's design utilized a twisted rubber band.

The rubber band operated Penaud Helicopter Toy - 1870

Sketch by Orville Wright (drawn 1929) of the rubber band operated Penaud Helicopter Toy of 1878

The Penaud Planophore - 1871 & 1872

The Penaud Mechanical Bird (Ornithopter) - 1871

The Penaud & Gauchot Amphibian - 1876

Alphonse Penaud and Paul Gauchot's 1876 design for a large amphibious monoplane with retractable landing gear and twin tractor propellers was very well thought out. The control system was also well designed and featured a unified elevator and rudder control. An appropriate set of instruments would also have been available to the aviator, including an anemometer, wing mounted pressure gauges and an inclinometer. Penaud and Gauchot attempted to attract interest in building a full sized, human carrying machine, but were rebuffed by the Aerial Navigation Society of France. Penaud became deeply despondent when he realized his machine would not be built. He placed detailed drawings which he and Gauchot had prepared of the machine in a small wooden coffin, delivered the morbid gift to pioneer aeronaut Louis Giffard and then went home and committed suicide.

Penaud's influence was felt far and wide in aeronautical circles, a fact which might have thoroughly surprised Alphonse Penaud for he died believing his aeronautical work had been largely unappreciated and unacknowledged. Samuel Langley, Octave Chanute and Wilbur and Orville Wright all held Penaud's accomplishments in the highest regard.