First Powered Flight

Giffard Airship

Giffard Airship


February 10, 2014 (Scottsdale, AZ)


We all know the Wright Brothers developed, designed and flew the first powered airplane. They successfully flew their powered Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903, for a distance of 120 feet in 12 seconds at a speed of 6.8 miles per hour. However, did you know that the first powered flight in an airship took place 51 years earlier?


After the first successful flight of a hot air balloon in 1783 inventors were trying to come up with a way to power and steer a lighter-than-air airship, to enable it to make a round trip instead a one way trip, as balloons could only do.


In 1850 a Frenchmen named Pierre Jullien designed a cigar shaped model of an airship with a rudder and an elevator mounted under the airship, but his design lacked a power source. Another French inventor and engineer by the name of Jules Henri Giffard saw Jullien’s design and wanted to develop the concept into an actual flying, powered airship. Giffard successfully built the full size version. It was a cigar shaped balloon that measured 143 feet long. He also designed and built a steam powered 3-horsepower engine that weighed a whopping 250 pounds and had a 100 pound boiler to power it. The engine powered a three blade propeller.


The first flight of Giffard’s new powered airship took place 51 years before the Wright’s flight on September 24, 1852. He flew almost 17 miles from Paris, France to Elancourt, France at a speed of 6 miles per hour. He wasn’t able to accomplish a round trip flight with this flight due to strong wind conditions. The first recorded round trip flight took place on August 9, 1884 with a different airship designed by Charles Renard and Arthur C. Krebs. Renard and Krebs were French military officers, who designed an elongated balloon named La France that was 165 feet long and powered by an electric motor that drove a four bladed propeller. The airship had rudders and an elevator to steer with. With this system in place Renard and Krebs made seven successful round trips.


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