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British Industrial History

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Clement Ader

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1897. Ader's steam-powered 'Avion III'
April 1903. One of the V8's devised especially for the Paris Madrid Rally.
May 1903. Eight-cylinder Ader.

Clément Ader (April 2, 1841 – March 5, 1925) was a French engineer born in Muret, Haute Garonne remembered for his pioneering work in aviation.

See also Ader

Ader innovated in a number of domains of electrical and mechanical engineering. He originally studied electrical engineering, and in 1878 improved the telephone manufactured by Alexander Graham Bell. He refined the Bell Telephone and established the first telephone network in Paris in 1880.

In 1881, he invented the "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; it was this invention which gave the first transmission in stereo of the spectacles of the Opera, over a distance of 2 miles.

He turned to mechanical flight and concentrated much time and money on it until the end of his life. Using the studies of Louis Pierre Mouillard (1834-1837) on the flight of birds, he constructed his first flying machine in 1886, the Éole. It was a bat-like design run by a lightweight steam engine of his own invention (4 cylinders developing 20 horsepower. The weight was no more than 7 pounds per horsepower, and it drove a four-blade propeller. The wings, with a span of 14 metres, were equipped with a system of warping and all together weighed 300 kg (650 pounds). On 9 October 1890, Ader attempted a flight of the Éole, which succeeded in taking off and flying a distance of approximately 50 metres. This was the first self-propelled flight in history, 13 years before the Wright Brothers.

Ader undertook the construction of an aircraft he called the Avion II (also referred to as the Zephyr or 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 the Avion II in August 1892 for a distance of 200 metres in Satory, which was then a military base, and which is still today a military airport near Paris.

Ader's progress attracted the interest of the minister of war, Charles de Freycinet. With the backing of the French War office, Ader developed and constructed the Avion III. It was like an enormous bat of linen and wood, with a 16-yard (15 m) 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 October 14, 1897. Some witnesses contend that the Avion rolled, took off towards the sky and, before the official commission, flew a distance of more than 300 yards (300 m), while others contend that the Avion III crashed before even taking off. 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.

See here for more information on Ader's Eole and Avion aircraft. Illustrations of engine, airframe and models of Ader aircraft here and here (in French).

In 1903, he devised a V8 engine for the Paris-Madrid Rally; 3 or 4 were made, none sold.

Clément Ader remained an active proponent of the development of aviation. He published in 1909 "L'Aviation Militaire", a very popular book which went through 10 editions in the five years until the beginning of World War I, which is especially famous for its vision of air warfare and its precise description of the concept of the modern aircraft carrier with a flat flight deck, an island superstructure, deck elevators and a hangar bay. His published concept for the aircraft carrier, relayed by the US Naval Attaché in Paris were followed by the first trials in the United States in November 1910.

Abandoning everything, and in particular public demonstrations, the "father of aviation" fell into obscurity. His Avion III and its engine are still displayed at the museum of the Conservatory of Arts and Industry in Paris (the Musée des Arts et Métiers), where the startling contrast between the sophistication of the power plant and the curious design of the aircraft can be clearly appreciated. 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 October 9, 1890 flight of the Éole remains relatively undisputed, and Ader is still admired for his efforts.

In 1938, France issued a postage stamp honouring him, and Airbus named one of its aircraft assembly sites in Toulouse after him.

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