The 1897 plane of Clement Ader never left the ground,
not even for a fraction of a second
Clement Ader did not fly. The October 21, 1897 report made by general MENSIER and its annex from October 27, 1897 (see the attached English translations) are clear, Ader’s plane never left the ground with its front wheels in both the October 12 and 14, 1897 officially witnessed tests. The October 14, 1897 alleged take off and short flight is a pure myth contradicted by historical documents.
Was Clement Ader an aviation pioneer? Yes, because he built a plane. Was he a flyer? No.
GENERAL MENSIER’S REPORT.
Paris, October 21, 1897.
Report of the Trials of Mr. Clement Ader’s aviation apparatus.
Mr. Ader having notified the Minister of War by letter, July 21, 1897, that the Apparatus of Aviation which he had agreed to build under the conditions set forth in the Convention of July 24, 1894, was ready, and therefore requesting that trials be undertaken before a Committee appointed for this purpose as per the decision of August 4, the Committee was appointed as follows:
Division General Mensier, Chairman; Division General Delambre, Inspector General of the Permanent Works for Coast Defense, Member of the Technical Committee of the Engineering Corps; Colonel Laussedat, Director of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers; Sarrau, Member of the Institute, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnique School; Leaute, Member of the Institute, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnique School.
Colonel Laussedat gave notice at once that his health and work as Director of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers did not permit him to be a member of the Committee; the Minister therefore accepted his resignation September 24, and decided not to replace him.
Later on, however, on the request of the Chairman of the Committee, the Minister appointed a new member, General Grillon, commanding the Engineer Corps of the Military Government of Paris.
To carry on the trials which were to take place at the Camp of Satory. the Minister ordered the Governor of the military forces of Paris to requisition from the Engineer Corps, on request of the Chairman of the Committee, the men necessary to prepare the grounds at Satory.
After an inspection made on the 16th an aerodrome was chosen. Mr. Ader's idea was to have it of circular shape with a width of 40 meters and an average diameter of 450 meters. The preliminary work, laying out the grounds, interior and exterior circumference, etc., was finished at the end of August; the work of smoothing off the grounds began September 1 with 45 men and two rollers and was finished on the day of the first tests October 12.
The first meeting of the Committee was held August 18 in Mr. Ader's workshop; the object being to demonstrate the machine to the Committee and give the members all the information possible on the tests that were to be held. After a careful examination and after having heard all the explanations by the inventor which were deemed useful and necessary, the Committee decided that the apparatus seemed to be built with a perfect understanding of the purpose to be fulfilled as far as one could judge from the study of the apparatus at rest; they therefore, authorized Mr. Ader to take the machine apart and carry it to the Camp of Satory so as to proceed with the trials.
By letter of August 19 the Chairman made a report to the Minister of the findings of the Committee.
The work on the grounds having taken longer than was anticipated, the Chairman took advantage of this delay to call the Committee together for a second meeting during which Mr. Ader was to run the two propulsive screws situated at the forward end of the apparatus.
The meeting was held October 2; it gave the Committee an opportunity to appreciate the motive power in all its details; firebox, boiler, engine, under perfect control, absolute condensation, automatic fuel and feed of the liquid to he vaporized, automatic lubrication and scavenging; everything in a word seemed well designed and executed.
The weights in comparison with the power of the engine realized a considerable advance over anything made to date, since the two engines weighed together 42 kg., the firebox and boiler 60 kg., the condenser 15 kg., or a total of 117 kg. for approximately 40 horsepower or a little less than 3 kg. per horsepower.
One of the members summed up the general opinion by saying: “Whatever may be the result from an aviation point of view, a result which could not be foreseen for the moment, it was nevertheless proven that from a mechanical point of view Mr. Ader's apparatus was of the greatest interest and of real ingeniosity. He expressed a hope that in any case the machine would not be lost to science.”
The second experiment in the workshop was made in the presence of the Chairman, the purpose being to demonstrate that the wings, having a spread of 17 meters, were sufficiently strong to support the weight of the apparatus. With this aim in view, 14 sliding supports were placed under each one of these, representing imperfectly the manner in which the wings would support the machine in the air; by gradually raising the supports with the slides, the wheels on which the machine rested were lifted from the ground. It was evident at that time that the members composing the skeleton of the wings supported the apparatus, and it was quite evident that when the wings were supported by the air on every point of their surface the stresses thereon would be better equalized than when resting upon a few supports, and that therefore the resistance to breakage would be considerably greater.
After this last test, the work on the grounds being practically finished, the machine was transported to Satory, assembled again and made ready for trial.
At first Mr. Ader was to maneuver the machine on the grounds at a moderate speed, then increase this until it was possible to judge whether there was a tendency for the machine to rise; and it was only after Mr. Ader had acquired sufficient practice that a meeting of the Committee was to be called to be present at the first part of the trials; namely, volutions of the apparatus on the ground.
The first test took place on Tuesday, Oct. 12, in the presence of the Chairman of the Committee. It had rained a great deal during the preceding night and the clay track would have offered considerable resistance to the rolling of the machine; furthermore a moderate wind was blowing from the southwest, too strong during the early part of the afternoon to allow for any trials.
Toward sunset, however, the wind having weakened, Mr. Ader decided to make his first trial; the machine was taken out of its hangar, the wings were mounted and steam raised. Mr. Ader in his seat had, on each side of him, one man to the right and one to the left, whose duty was to rectify the direction of the apparatus in the event that the action of the rear wheel as a rudder would not be sufficient to hold the machine in a straight course.
At 5:25 p. m. the machine was started, first slowly then at an increased speed; after 250 or 300 meters, the two men who were being dragged by the apparatus were exhausted and forced to fall flat on the ground in order to allow the wings to pass over them and the trip around the track was completed, or a total of 1,400 meters, without incident at a fair speed, which could be estimated to be from 300 to 400 meters per minute. Notwithstanding Mr. Ader's inexperience, this being the first time that he had run his apparatus, he followed approximately the chalk line which marked the center of the track and he stopped at the exact point from which he started.
The marks of the wheels on the grounds, which were rather soft, did not show up very much, and it was clear that a part of the weight of the apparatus had been supported by the wings, though the speed was only about one-third of what the machine could do, had Mr. Ader used all of its motive power; he was running at a pressure of from 3 to 4 atmospheres, when he could have used ten or twelve.
This first trial, so fortunately accomplished, was of great importance; it was the first time that a comparatively heavy vehicle (nearly 400 kg. including the weight of the operator, fuel and water) had been set in motion by a tractive apparatus, using the air solely as a propelling medium. The favorable report turned in by the Committee after the meeting of October 2 was found justified by the results demonstrated on the grounds, and the first problem of aviation, namely, the creation of efficient motive power could he considered as solved, since the propulsion of the apparatus in the air would be a great deal easier than the traction on the ground, provided that the second part of the problem, the sustaining of the machine in the air, would be realized.
The next day, Wednesday the 13th, no further trials were made on account of the rain and wind.
On Thursday the 14th the Chairman requested that General Grillon, who had just been appointed as a member of the Committee, accompany him so as to have a second witness.
The weather was fine, but a fairly strong, gusty wind was blowing from the south. Mr. Ader explained to the two members of the Committee the danger of these gusts since at two points of the circumference these would strike him sideways. The wind was blowing in the direction A. B., the apparatus starting from C. and running in the direction shown by the arrow. The first dangerous spot would be at B. The apparatus had been kept in readiness in the event of the wind dying down. Toward sunset the wind seemed to die down, as it had done on the evening of the 12th. Mr. Ader hesitated, which unfortunately further events only justified, but decided to make a new trial.
At the start which took place at 5:15 p. m. the apparatus having the wind in the rear seemed to run at a fairly regular speed, it was nevertheless easy to notice from the marks of the wheels on the ground that the rear part of the apparatus had been lifted and that the rear wheel, being the rudder, had not been in constant contact with the ground. When the machine came to the neighborhood of B. the two members of the Committee saw the machine swerve suddenly out of the track in a semicircle, lean over to the right and finally stop. They immediately proceeded to the point where the accident had taken place and endeavored to find an explanation for the same. The Chairman decided as follows:
Mr. Ader was the victim of a gust of wind which he had feared as he explained before starting out; feeling himself thrown out of this course, he tried to use the rudder energetically, but at that time the rear wheel was not in contact with the ground and therefore did not perform its function; the canvas rudder, which had as its purpose the maneuvering of the machine in the air, did not have sufficient action on the ground. It would have been possible without any doubt to react by using the propellers at unequal speed, but Mr. Ader being still inexperienced had not thought of this. Furthermore he was thrown out of his course so quickly that he decided in order to avoid a more serious accident to stop both engines. This sudden stop produced the half circle already described and the fall of the machine on its side.
The damage to the machine was serious; consisting, at first sight of the rupture of both propellers, the rear left wheel and the bending of the left wing tip. It will only be possible to tell after the machine is taken apart whether the engines and more particularly the organs of transmission have been put out of line.
Whatever the damage may be, though comparatively easy to repair, it will take a certain amount of time, and taking into consideration the time of the year it is evident that the tests will have to be adjourned for the present.
As has been said in the above report, the tests, though prematurely interrupted, have shown results of great importance, and though the final results are hard to foresee, it would seem advisable to continue the trials. By waiting for the return of spring there will he plenty of time to finish the tests and it will not be necessary to rush matters, which was a partial cause of the accident. The Chairman of the Committee personally has but one hope and that that a decision be reached accordingly.
Chairman of the Committee,
BOULOGNE-SUR-SEINE, October 21, 1897.
ANNEX TO THE REPORT OF OCTOBER 21
General Grillon, who was present at the trials of the 14th and who saw the report relative to what happened during that day, made the following observations in writing which are reproduced herewith in quotation marks. The Chairman of the Committee does not agree with General Grillon and he answers these observations paragraph by paragraph.
1.—“If the rear wheel (there is only one of these) left but intermittent tracks on the ground, does that prove that the machine has a tendency to rise when running at a certain speed?”
Answer.—This does not prove anything in any way and I was very careful not to mention this in my report, this point being exactly what was needed and that was not demonstrated during the two tests made on the grounds.
“Does not this unequal pressure of the two pair of wheels on the ground show that the center of gravity of the apparatus is placed too far forward and that under the impulse of the propellers the machine has a tendency to tilt forward, due to the resistance of the air?”
Answer.—The tendency of the apparatus to rise from the rear when it was running with the wind seemed to be brought about by the effects of the winds on the huge wings, having a spread of 17 meters, and I believe that when the machine would have faced the wind the front wheels would have been lifted.
During the trials of October 12, when a complete circuit of the track was accomplished without incidents, as I and Lieut. Binet witnessed, there was practically no wind. I was therefore unable to verify whether during this circuit the two front wheels or the two rear wheels were in constant contact with the ground because when the trial was over it was dark (it was 5:30), and the next day it was impossible to see anything, because it had rained during the night and during Wednesday morning. But what would prove that the rear wheel was in contact with the ground at all times is the fact that Mr. Ader, though inexperienced, did not swerve from the circular track, which would prove that he steered pretty well with his rear wheel—this he could not have done if he had been in the air.
In the tests of the 12th, the speed was at least as great as on the 14th.
2.—“It would seem to me that if Mr. Ader thought that his rear wheels were off the ground he should have used his canvas rudder in order to regain his proper course; this was the best way of causing the machine to rotate, since it would have given an angular motion to the front axle.”
Answer.—I state in my report that the canvas rudder whose object was the maneuver of the apparatus in the air could have no effect on the apparatus on the ground, and to convince oneself of this point it is only necessary to consider the small surface of this canvas rudder compared with a mass to be handled on the ground, a weight of approximately 400 kg. According to my idea and as I have stated in my report, Mr. Ader should have steered by increasing the speed on one of his propellers and slowing down the other. He admitted afterward that this remark was founded, but that he did not have time to think of it owing to the suddenness of the accident.
3.—“When the apparatus fell on its side it was under the sole influence of the wind, since Mr. Ader had stopped the machine. Haven't we a result here which will always be the same when the machine comes to the ground since the engines will have to be stopped or slowed down when coming to the ground? Here seems to be a bad defect of the apparatus under trial.”
Answer.—I believe that the apparatus fell on its side after coming to a stop, not on account of the wind but because the semicircle described was on rough ground and one of the wheels had collapsed.
October 27, 1897.