24 Sep 2022

Marking the 170th anniversary of Giffard's inaugural dirigible flight

By Ruth Wilson, CIA Alternate Delegate for Australia and Member of the CIA PMR subcommittee

History and anniversaries make good companions. On 24 September 1852, Frenchman Henri Giffard, an engineer and inventor, attached a small steam-powered engine to a huge propeller to move through air in a dirigible or airship for the inaugural flight. Records show his flight covered 17 miles (27km) travelling at 6mph (10kph). 

Henri Giffard was 27 years old, and acclaimed earlier in that same year with inventing the steam injector.

Henri Giffard
Henri Giffard

It is the nature of pioneers to inspire others to expand their horizons.

It took the son of a Brazilian coffee-plantation owner to progress the story of airship flight.  Paris-based Alberto Santos built 14 airships helped by the invention of the internal combustion engine. His dedication to airships and flight propelled interest in aerial activity forward. 

In aviation history the first manned balloon flight by Frenchmen in 1783 in Paris deserves its continued recognition.  It is important that another Frenchman Henri Giffard be remembered, recognised for his role in the creation and flying of the first dirigible or airship in Paris in 1852.

Giffard dirigible over Paris
Giffard balloon over Paris rooftops, 1878

This enthusiastic inventor died in the city he was born, Paris on April 15, 1882.  He was 57 years old. One of the streets on the left bank of the Seine carries his name.  Along with 71 other scientists his name is inscribed on the first floor of the Eiffel tower.  

On the one hundred-and-seventy years anniversary we acknowledge Monsieur Giffard and the first dirigible/airship flight.