Charles Renard

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Charles Renard (1847–1905) was an inventor in the French military. He entered l'École Polytechnique and by 1868 became sous-lieutenant in an engineering corps. In the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, Renard headed a division. By 1875 the French ministry of war had appointed him secretary of a communications commission working on carrier pigeons and balloon-based optical telegraphy. At this time he was interested in heaver-than-air flight, but the obstacle of motor weight led him to shift his focus to lighter than air aeronautics. In 1878 he was appointed to head the new aeronautics research facility at Chalais-Meudon.[1]

[NB: Renard rose through the ranks from capitaine (his rank in 1884)[2] to commandant to colonel. His brother Paul Renard was a commandant at the time of Charles's death and later became lieutenant-colonel.]

Dirigible parachute

Gustave Rives of the French auto club described Renard's "dirigible parachute" of 1873 as an early ancestor of the modern aeroplane—an airplane without a motor:[3]

C'était un corps fusiforme, en cuivre mince, surmonté d'une tige verticale passant en son milieu. À cette tige étaient fixées, dans une direction perpendiculaire à l'axe de l'appareil, 10 surfaces planes horizontales superposées, de grande envergure. Cet appareil avait été construit à Arras en 1873, alors que l'éminent officier était simple lieutenant. Il l'avait appelé parachute dirigeable ; en réalité c'était un véritable aéroplane sans moteur ; il était donc propre à des glissades analogues à celles que Lilienthal, Chanute, les frères Wright, les frères Voisin, et bien d'autres, ont exécutées depuis. C'était un appareil de petite dimension, non monté, un simple modèle réduit ; mais, tel qu'il était, cet appareil fut essayé aux environs d'Arras ; il fut lancé du haut des tours Saint-Éloi, reste d'une ancienne abbaye, et, conformément aux prévisions de son auteur il descendit non pas verticalement, mais suivant une pente douce, ainsi que doit faire tout aéroplane sans moteur ou dont le moteur a été arrêté.

According to Octave Chanute, Renard displayed this machine at the Paris exhibition of 1889:[4]

In 1889 Commandant Renard, the eminent superintendent of the French Aeronautical Department, exhibited at the Paris Exposition of that year, an apparatus experimented with some years before, which he termed a "dirigible parachute." It consisted of an oviform body to which were pivoted two upright slats carrying above the body nine long superposed flat blades spaced about one-third of their width apart. When this apparatus was properly set at an angle to the longitudinal axis of the body and dropped from a balloon, it travelled back against the wind for a considerable distance before alighting. The course could be varied by a rudder. No practical application seems to have been made of this device by the French War Department, but Mr. J. P. Holland, the inventor of the submarine boat which bears his name, proposed in 1893 an arrangement of pivoted framework attached to the body of a flying machine which combines the principle of Commandant Renard with the curved blades experimented with by Mr. Phillips, now to be noticed, with the addition of lifting screws inserted among the blades.

(Chanute, however, credits Francis Herbert Wenham with the origination of the two-surface aircraft — citing Patent GB-1866-1571.)

La France

« La France »

With Arthur Krebs, Renard constructed an electric dirigible named La France.

Renard worked out the advantages of a 'fusiform' dirigible which bulges closer to the front, a design which became increasingly popular.[5]

End of life

Renard and Krebs envisioned another vessel, the Général Meusnier,, to follow the success of La France—but it was never built. Renard was surprisingly rejected from the Académie des Sciences in 1904, and he killed himself the next year.[6]

Publications by or about Charles Renard



  1. Jéromine Gilet, Ammanuelle Mauret, Hilaire Legentil, & Agnès Chablat-Beylot, "Établissement central d'aérostation militaire de Chalais-Meudon: Fonds Renard (1872-1959): Répertoire numérique détaillé"; Service historique de la Defense / Department de l'armee de l'air; July 2012. [NB: Finding aid for presumably interesting collection.]
  2. Mangon, 1884, La direction des ballons, p. 190.
  3. Gustave Rives, Rapport sur le Premier Salon de l'Aéronautique - Décembre 1908, p. 14; full section, "L'Oeuvre de Colonel Renard"
  4. Octave Chanute, "Evolution of the Two-Surface Flying Machine" in Flying Machines: Construction and Operation by W.J. Jackman & Thos. H. Russell, 1910/1912.
  5. Berget, 1909, Conquest of the Air, pp. 17–18:

    The first attempts, those of Giffard in 1852, of Dupuy de Lôme in 1872, and of Tissandier in 1884, were made with "fusiform" (spindle-shaped) balloons; in other words, their shape, equally pointed at either end, was symmetrical in relation to the central plan. But all this was changed when that man of genius appeared who was indisputably the real creator of aerial navigation, Colonel Charles Renard, whose premature death in 1905 was an irreparable loss to science and to France.

    Renard demonstrated by his calculations that the most advantageous shape is that of a dissymetrical fish (B), with the largest end at the front. So long ago as the beginning of the nineteenth century, Marey-Monge had presaged the necessity of adopting this form if an attempt should be made to propel aerostats: "They must have the head of a cod and the tail of a mackerel" was his dictum.

    This, indeed, is the shape of all birds and of all swiftly moving fishes: whales, cachalots, and porpoises. At present all dirigible balloons which have proved really capable of progression are all constructed in the shape worked out by Renard.

  6. Hallion, 2003, p. 88.