George Cayley
Felix du Temple
balloons and airships
Clément Ader
Jean-Marie Le Bris
Butler and Edwards
Jules Henri Giffard
Lawrence Hargrave
Etienne-Jules Marey
Thomas William Moy
Alexandr Mozhaisky
Charles Renard
Victor Tatin
Nikolaj Teleshov
Thomas Walker
John Wise
Richard Pearse
Henson and Stringfellow
Alphonse Penaud
Francis Wenham
Otto Lilienthal
Pilcher and Chanute
Samuel Langley
Horatio Phillips
was Herring the first to fly?

Alphonse Penaud

When the Wright brothers conducted their exhaustive study of everything that had been done in aeronautics and aviation until their day, they paid particular attention to the work of two men: George Cayley and Alphonse Penaud. Penaud, trained as a marine engineer, applied his training to the field of aeronautics. In 1870, at the age of twenty, he became famous as the inventor of a helicopter toy powered by a twisted rubber band. In 1871, he used the same mechanism to power a twenty-inch (51cm) monoplane (single-wing aircraft) that he called a “planophore.” Penaud’s model incorporated many elements of Cayley’s designs, but with some subtle differences.

Penaud’s incredible 1876 design for a seaplane with retractable landing gear

Some distance behind the wings, Penaud placed a tail section: a vertical rudder and two small wings called “elevators” tilted at a downward angle. This counteracted all the destabilizing forces on the aircraft. Penaud’s tail assembly did not just change the direction of the aircraft as it flew, which was all Cayley had attempted to do, but succeeded in making the aircraft stable in flight. The tests of his model represented the first flight of an inherently stable aircraft.

In 1876, Penaud patented a design for a large amphibious aircraft with such innovative features as retractable wheels, a glass-enclosed cockpit, a single-lever control for both the rudders and the elevators (the first “joy stick”), and twin propellers driven by an engine concealed in the fuselage. The design was amazingly ahead of its time, so much so that no engine existed that could drive such an aircraft and make it fly. Unable to raise money to build his design, in failing health and discouraged by jealous criticism of his work, Penaud committed suicide in 1880, when he was but thirty years of age. Next to Cayley, he ranks as the most significant aerodynamic theorist of the nineteenth century.