Monday 14 June 2021

Week 24: The invention that didn't take off

100 years ago this week: Week 24

In the early decades of the twentieth century, pulling away from the gravitational pull of our planet and taking to the skies became an obsession. Convential aviation was developing at an incredibly rapid pace, but a number of dreamers also believed they could be at one with the birds using just their own strength and a bit of home engineering. One champion cyclist managed to go further than anyone had ever been before, but still made it nowhere near the stars.

Fasten your seatbelts  and read on.

Poulain has resumed trials on his aviette

At Longchamp yesterday morning he 'took off' several times very clearly

Gabriel Poulain, the ex-champion cyclist, has devoted much of his time studying the possibility of human flight, and we haven't forgotten his experiences on the 'aviette' he invented.

Poulain, an 'aviateur' of distinction, resumed his trials yesterday morning at the crack of dawn behind the stadium at the Longchamp racecourse.

In the faint mist that covered the Bois de Boulogne at this very early hour - it was 4am - a handful of curious spectators - sportsmen, journalists, photographers - were gathered around the slight structure of the person who was known as 'the man with the green jersey' on the cycling track.

Poulain is calm, cheerful and confident of success. He gives some explanations about the engine that he will attempt to lift off the ground where our poor humanity is condemned to drag its feet.


Gabriel Poulain was a man of great strength. He was a multiple champion sprint cyclist on the track, but he was also someone who looked beyond the limits of his sport. He sprinted so quickly that he almost flew, so what would happen if he also had a set of wings? It also happened that the industrialist Robert Peugeot was offering a prize of 10,000 francs to the first person who could fly at least 10 metres at a height of at least 20 centimetres - in two directions - using pedal power only.

On this June morning in the Bois de Boulogne, Poulain was in training for an attempt at this prize that had stood unclaimed for nearly a decade. On July 9, Poulain made his attempt with his homemade 'aviette' - essentially a bicycle with wings and a tail attached - in controlled conditions, and was successful

Following this attempt, no other prize would ever be awarded a similar attempt with an 'avette', and bicycles would remain firmly on the ground. The strength needed to get an aviette off the ground was almost super human, making the viability of such a machine extremely limited. Poulain had made his point, and pocketed a nice sum of money!


The Boy said...

Boy, they’d try anything back then! What spirit of fun and adventure. Thanks, Adam, for another gem from days gone by.

Susan said...

I didn't know this story at all. A great little nugget. Thanks.

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