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Chapter 7. On Board The Albatross
"When will man cease to crawl in the depths to live in the azure and quiet of the
To this question of Camille Flammarion's the answer is easy. It will be when the
progress of mechanics has enabled us to solve the problem of aviation. And in a
few years--as we can foresee--a more practical utilization of electricity will do
much towards that solution.
In 1783, before the Montgolfier brothers had built their fire-balloon, and Charles,
the physician, had devised his first aerostat, a few adventurous spirits had
dreamt of the conquest of space by mechanical means. The first inventors did
not think of apparatus lighter than air, for that the science of their time did not
allow them to imagine. It was to contrivances heavier than air, to flying machines
in imitation of the birds, that they trusted to realize aerial locomotion.
This was exactly what had been done by that madman Icarus, the son of
Daedalus, whose wings, fixed together with wax, had melted as they approached
the sun.
But without going back to mythological times, without dwelling on Archytas of
Tarentum, we find, in the works of Dante of Perugia, of Leonardo da Vinci and
Guidotti, the idea of machines made to move through the air. Two centuries and
a half afterwards inventors began to multiply. In 1742 the Marquis de Bacqueville
designed a system of wings, tried it over the Seine, and fell and broke his arm. In
1768 Paucton conceived the idea of an apparatus with two screws, suspensive
and propulsive. In 1781 Meerwein, the architect of the Prince of Baden, built an
orthopteric machine, and protested against the tendency of the aerostats which
had just been invented. In 1784 Launoy and Bienvenu had maneuvered a
helicopter worked by springs. In 1808 there were the attempts at flight by the
Austrian Jacques Degen. In 1810 came the pamphlet by Denian of Nantes, in
which the principles of "heavier than air" are laid down. From 1811 to 1840 came
the inventions and researches of Derblinger, Vigual, Sarti, Dubochet, and
Cagniard de Latour. In 1842 we have the Englishman Henson, with his system of
inclined planes and screws worked by steam. In 1845 came Cossus and his
ascensional screws. In 1847 came Camille Vert and his helicopter made of birds'
wings. in 1852 came Letur with his system of guidable parachutes, whose trial
cost him his life; and in the same year came Michel Loup with his plan of gliding
through the air on four revolving wings. In 1853 came Beleguic and his aeroplane
with the traction screws, Vaussin-Chardannes with his guidable kite, and George
Cauley with his flying machines driven by gas. From 1854 to 1863 appeared
Joseph Pline with several patents for aerial systems. Breant, Carlingford, Le Bris,
Du Temple, Bright, whose ascensional screws were left-handed; Smythies,
Panafieu, Crosnier, &c. At length, in 1863, thanks to the efforts of Nadar, a
society of "heavier than air" was founded in Paris. There the inventors could
experiment with the machines, of which many were patented. Ponton d'Amecourt
and his steam helicopter, La Landelle and his system of combining screws with
inclined planes and parachutes, Louvrie and his aeroscape, Esterno and his