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News Link • Transportation: Air Travel

The First Powered Airship

Soon after the Montgolfier brothers launched the first hot-air balloon in 1783, inventors began to design ways to propel and control lighter-than-air aircraft. The major drawback in balloon travel was that it was essentially a one-way trip.  If lighter-than-air flight was going to be successful, there had to be a way to steer the airship, or dirigible. The word "dirigible," in fact, comes from the French word diriger, meaning "to direct or to steer."
In 1784, General Jean Baptiste Marie Meusnier designed an elliptical airship that was about 260 feet (79 meters) long. It was to be powered by three hand-cranked propellers, which required the labor of 80 men. Meusnier's design was never built.
In 1850, another Frenchmen, Pierre Jullien of Villejuif, demonstrated a cigar-shaped model airship at the Paris Hippodrome. The airship's rudder, elevator, and gondola were mounted under the front part of the balloon. A clockwork motor that drove two airscrews mounted on either side of a center line propelled the airship. A light wire frame stiffened by a truss maintained the bag's form. Jullien was onto something that another man would leverage.

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