1881: An Aviation Trailblazer is Born in Paris

November 8, 1881

Aviation pioneer and spaceflight theorist Robert Esnault-Pelterie was born in Paris, France. With a strong background in engineering, he made major contributions to the origins of heavier-than-air flight in Europe during the first decade of the 20th century.

In 1903, Esnault-Pelterie invented the aileron — a movable airfoil that could be installed at the trailing edges of a plane’s wings to steer the aircraft. About four years later, he flew one of the world’s first monoplanes. That monoplane, which he had designed and built, was also the first-ever metallic plane. It relied on internally braced wings instead of the then-prevalent drag-producing system of external wires. In addition, this plane was powered by a lightweight seven-cylinder radial engine that Esnault-Pelterie had likewise built.

After narrowly surviving a monoplane crash in 1908, Esnault-Pelterie never piloted a plane again. He instead channeled his energies even more than before into developing and manufacturing new aircraft. Esnault-Pelterie also became one of the co-founders of the Paris Air Show, the first large-scale exhibition devoted exclusively to aviation.   

Esnault-Pelterie eventually raised his sights even higher, focusing his attention on the possibilities of space exploration. He studied that subject extensively and prepared a variety of presentations on the type of spacecraft that humans might be able to use to someday travel to the Moon and other planets. In his 1930 book L’Astonautique (Astronautics) and its 1934 supplement L’Astronautique-Complement, Esnault-Pelterie discussed nearly everything about rocketry and its potential applications for space exploration that were known at the time.

As a tribute to his key contributions to this area of human flight, a crater on the Moon was named for Esnault-Pelterie. He died in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1957 at the age of 76.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Robert Esnault-Pelterie, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Esnault-Pelterie

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