Nine years before the Wright brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk, aerial engineers were making headway in their argument that the flying machine, not the balloon, represented the future of aviation. There was, however, one problem that continued to stump them (and us): the motor. How exactly would you build a motor and a generator that could levitate despite being heavier than air? In an article translated to English, Le Monde del la Science et de l'Industrie shared their ideas with us.
In 1870, the Academy of Sciences presented them with a proposal for a flying machine based on a bird. If you consider the motor and generator as the machine's "propulsory organs," then think of the atmosphere as its fuel. Nature's birds take in oxygen and hydrogen every day. The mechanical bird would do the same using a revolver barrel equipped with 12 cartridges. You would hang the bird on a large crane and drop it as if it were a pendulum. Once it falls, the barrel would turn, the catches would go off, hydrogen would react with atmospheric air, the cartridges would explode, allowing the bird to take flight. Instead of falling, the bird would use its wings to glide gently away.
Read the full story in "The Aviator Flying-Machine"