Marey (1830 - 1904)
Étienne-Jules Marey, c.1880
During the 1860s Marey
threw himself into the study of flight, first of insects and
then birds. His aim was to understand how a wing interacted
with the air to cause the animal to move.
He also devised some
ingenious apparatus based on his graphical method, such as a
corset which allowed a bird to fly around a circular track
while recording the movements of its thorax and wings.
Marey discovered that the
insect's wing described a double ellipse (a 'figure 8') in
the space of one revolution. Some years later,
chronophotography confirmed that the same was true of the
wing of a bird.
In his lectures at the
Collège de France, where he taught from 1867 onwards, Marey
presented drawings and graphics to illustrate his theories,
and demonstrated machines reproducing the flight of the
insect and the trajectory of its wings. Any aeronauts in the
audience must have been fascinated to see these machines in
operation, no doubt feeling that they were now very close to
At this period, French
aviation was in a state of continuous development, with
numerous flying machines being constructed and perfected.
These included dirigible airships, machines with flapping
wings, helicopters, and balloons with wings.
Victor Tatin, Ornithopter, 1875
Yet aviation as we know it
was still in a state of limbo, since advocates of the
heavier-than-air aeroplane were seen as cranks. However
Alphonse Pénaud, a member of the Société de Navigation
Aérienne ("Aerial Navigation Society") presided over by
Hureau de Villeneuve, remained convinced that human flight
would only be possible by means of the aeroplane.
He had identified the
problems which had to be solved in order to build the
machine of his dreams: the resistance of the air, that of
the materials used, and above all the essential need for a
lightweight engine. He had foreseen everything that would
make the flight of aeroplanes possible, but failed in the
application of his theories and finally committed suicide.
Victor Tatin compressed air
powered Aeroplane of 1879
Marey was no stranger to
the first faltering steps of aviation. He was aware of all
the work, followed Pénaud's research, wrote articles for
Hureau de Villeneuve's journal L'Aéronaute, and even became
vice-president of the Société de Navigation Aérienne in
Aware that "the most
perfect examples of locomotion which man has achieved are in
general obtained by methods quite different from those of
nature," Marey supported the work of his friend Victor Tatin,
whose aim was to construct, not a balloon or a machine
imitating the flight of an insect or bird, but a true
He placed the laboratories
and grounds of the Station Physiologique at the aeronaut's
disposal, and in 1879 Tatin achieved his goal. Through
Marey's advice and his own lengthy research and talents as a
craftsman, the device which he designed, one of the very
earliest aeroplanes, completed a flight around the track of
the Station at a speed of eight metres per second.
Victor Tatin aeroplane flying around the track at
After this first success
Marey continued to support the pioneers of aviation. He
published Le Vol des Oiseaux (The Flight of Birds) in
1890, and presented the work of Clément Ader, a famous
aviation pioneer, at the Académie des Sciences in 1898.
Finally he turned his attention to aerodynamics. His
research in this area included the construction of a smoke
machine which helped him to understand "how the air behaves
as it provides support to the wing".
Marey therefore made a
considerable contribution to one of the great discoveries of
his time. But he died too soon to see true aviation, or to
see that another of his inventions, medical in its nature,
would find use in aircraft (where it is still used today).
This was his "investigative drum", whose principle was to be
used in the design of manometric pressure-measuring