On this day: Aviation Pioneer Clément Ader died,
le 5 Mars 1926
Clément Ader was an early enthusiast and pioneer of aviation. He was born on le 4 février 1841 in Muret, Haute Garonne. He is remembered as a pioneer of aviation who constructed a balloon at his own expense during the Franco-German War of 1870-71. In 1876 he quit his job in the French government's Administration of Bridges and Highways to make more money to support his hobby. Though little known in the U.S., Ader flew before the Wright brothers.
Ader was an electrical and mechanical genius. He originally studied electrical engineering. In 1878, Ader improved Alexander Graham Bell's recently-invented telephone and established the first telephone network in Paris in 1880. In 1881, he invented Théâtrophone, a system of telephonic transmission where two channels allowed binaural hearing and gave listeners an exact idea of the respective positions of the actors on a set. The ultra-sensitive microphones Ader built for le Théâtrophone marked the discovery of the stereo effect. He used twelve of these microphones to transmit the sounds of l'opéra de Paris, via lines laid through the Paris sewers, to the Exhibition Hall at le Palais de l'Industrie, a distance of three kilometres (2 miles) away. Up to 48 listeners were able to hear l'opéra using two receivers each, one for each ear. This was the first public broadcast of entertainment.
Ader then turned to mechanical flight and concentrated all of his time and money on it until the end of his life. Using the studies of Louis Mouillard (1834-1837) on the flight of birds, he constructed his first flying machine in 1886, l'Éole, the "Zephyr." It was a bat-like design run by a lightweight steam engine of his own invention (4 cylinders developing 20 horsepower (15 kilowats). The engine drove a four-blade propeller. The wings, with a span of 14 yards, were equipped with a system of warping. The machine weighed 650 pounds (300 kilograms). On le 9 octobre 1890, Ader attempted to fly l'Éole. He succeeded in taking off and flew a distance of approximately 50 metres (160 feet) before witnesses on a friend's estate near Paris. However, the plane then crashed and was wrecked. The steam engine was unsuitable for sustained and controlled flight. Nevertheless, Ader's short hop was the first demonstration that a manned heavier-than-air machine could take off from level ground under its own power.
Following the wreck of l'Éole, Ader undertook the construction of an aircraft he called l' Éole II. Most sources agree that work on this aircraft was never completed, and it was abandoned in favour of the Avion III, However, Ader claimed in later life that he flew l'Éole II in août 1892 for a distance of 200 metres in Satory.
Ader's progress attracted the interest of le ministre de guerre, Charles de Freycinet. With the backing of the French War office, Ader developed and constructed l' Avion III. It was like an enormous bat of linen and wood, with a 16-yard wingspan, equipped with two puller propellers of four blades, each powered by a steam engine of 30 hp (22 kW). After extensive taxi tests, Ader attempted a flight at Satory on le 14 octobre 1897. Some witnesses contend that l'Avion rolled, took off towards the sky and, before the official commission, flew a distance of more than 300 yards, while others contend that l'Avion III crashed before even taking off. In any event, the commission was not impressed and withdrew its funding, but kept the results secret. After the Wright brothers made their flight, the commission released reports on Ader's flights, stating that they were successful.
All three of Ader's planes suffered from the same design flaw: there was no method of lateral control.
Abandoning everything, and in particular public demonstrations, the "father of aviation" died on le 5 mars 1926 in Toulouse in obscurity. His Avion is still displayed at le musée du Conservatoire des Arts et Industrie de Paris. Non-French aviation historians often discredit any claims of priority, since all flights ended in crashes, many were disputed, and Ader greatly exaggerated his achievements in later life. Nonetheless, Ader's flight of l'Éole on le 9 octobre 1890 remains relatively undisputed, and Ader is still admired for his efforts. In 1938, France issued a postage stamp honoring him, and Airbus named one of its aircraft assembly sites in Toulouse after him.
Picture History of Early Aviation, 1903-1913