Clément Ader

From Inventing aviation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Clément Agnès Ader (2 April 1841 – 3 May 1925) was a aero inventor and electrical engineer from Muret (near Toulouse), credited by some with the first successful airplane flight.


Clément Ader, 1891
Patent drawings of the Éole
L'Avion d'Ader BOPI 1894 Certificate of addition Patent FR-1894-205155.2
L'Avion III d'Ader (as currently seen at the Musée des arts et métiers)
L'Avion III d'Ader (as currently seen at the Musée des arts et métiers)
L'Avion III d'Ader (as currently seen at the Musée des arts et métiers)
L'Avion III d'Ader (as currently seen at the Musée des arts et métiers)

After graduating from the Institution Assiot, a specialized engineering school in Toulouse, he went to work for a railroad company. Then he began designing vélocipèdes and formed the company Véloces-Caoutchouc Clément Ader.[1]

Ader began work on aviation after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. First he created an unsuccessful human-powered ornithopter. This vessel weighed 20 kg (with no pilot) and had wing surface of 9 m².[2]


Then he began work on gliders but didn't follow through and went into electricity and the emerging telephone. This paid off well, but he maintained his interest in aeronautics, traveling to Strasbourg to study storks and Algeria (where he met Louis-Pierre Mouillard) to study vultures. In 1895 he hired Éloi Vallier and Louis Espinosa as assistants. By 1890 they had constructed a vessel—an early airplane—called Éole, featuring bat-shaped wings and a 20-horsepower engine constructed in-house.[3]

The Éole was tested at 4PM on 9 October 1890, at Armainvilliers[4], a château in Gretz-Armainvilliers, Seine-et-Marne. It lifted off the ground a little (~20cm) for a distance of ~50 meters, as reported by Ader to Nadar in a letter.

Zahm and others consider this to be the first successful airplane flight.[5] Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith downplays its importance, agreeing with the facts of the case, but rejecting its classification as a flight.[6] (According to Gibbs-Smith the most comprehensive investigation into the flight of the Éole was conducted by Charles Dollfus; see Dollfus, 1965, L'homme, l'air et l'espace. Dollfus wrote that Ader, whom he knew personally, did not himself consider this trial to be a significant achievement.)[7]

Ader much later made an unproven claim that he had flown at Satory in September 1891.[3] He seems to have first made this claim in a 1906 article in Les Sports, and then in Première Étape de l'aviation militaire française (1907). On the grounds of the lack of corroborating evidence, and of factual inconsistencies, Gibbs-Smith deems it "a fabrication".[8]

Avion II and Avion III

Ader successfully solicited support from the French military and designed more aircraft in 1891–1892: the Avion II a.k.a. Zéphyr and the Avion III a.k.a. Aquilon. On 3 February 1892 he optimistically signed a 550,000 contract to provide the military with a heavier-than-air bomber which could travel at 35 miles per hour. He brought forth a craft in 1897 and demonstrated it in October. It didn't fly. Ader was quietly cut off.[9]

(Zahm blames this "fiasco" on bad weather and inexperience. "In truth," he writes, "Avion No. 3 was hardly, if at all excelled in airframe design by the first prize-winner planes of Santos-Dumont, Farman, and some others.")[10] (Meanwhile, according to Sherbondy and Wardrop, Ader did fly in 1897.)[11]

Samuel P. Langley visited Ader's workshop in July and August 1899. Langley got along well with Ader but didn't think much of his airplane: "The 'Avion' is simply a gigantic bat, plus steam engine and propellers . . . It seemed to me that the 'Avion', as constructed, had no chance of moving in the air for a single minute without disaster."[12]


Ader destroyed his equipment and records in 1903.[10]

Ader later wrote a popular book called L'Aviation militaire ("Military Aviation"; 1908, followed by multiple editions), as well as another one called La Première Étape de l'aviation militaire française ("The First Stage of French Military Aviation"; 1907).

In 1930, France erected a monument to Ader at his birthplace, proclaiming him "Père de l'Aviation".[10]

Patents whose inventor or applicant is Clément Ader

Publications by or about Clément Ader

Letters sent by Clément Ader

Letters received by Clément Ader

Names Clément Ader; Clément Agnès Ader
Birth date 2 April 1841
Death date 3 May 1925
Countries FR
Locations rue de l'Assomption, 68, Paris, Seine, France
Tech areas Airplane, Flapping, Ornithopter, Human-powered, Motors, LTA, Dirigibles, Balloons, Aerostat, Wings, Sustentation, Rubber
Wikidata id


  1. Hallion, 2003, p. 127.
  2. Lissarrague, 1990, Clément Ader, pp. 45–48.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hallion, 2003, pp. 128–131. "This airplane—the first in history, though certainly unsuccessful—featured a lightweight 20-horsepower steam engine of his own design, powerful enough (producing one horsepower per ten pounds of engine weight, a remarkable figure for the day) to propel it off level ground. Therefore, despite the lack of success he shared with all pre-Wright predecessors, Ader is due all credit for inventing the first significant powered airplane."
  4. See w:fr:Château d'Armainvilliers.
  5. Zahm, 1944, pp. 330, 336 etc.
  6. Gibbs-Smith, 1968, Clément Ader, p. 11. "And the three concomitant words that apply automatically to every flying creature are 'powered', 'sustained', and 'controlled'; for who would apply the word 'flight' to birds and moths that could not sustain themselves in the air, or that could not control their flight once they were airborne? Such circumstances conjure up situations of pure farce; and so they should. That is why the criterion of powered flight has always—and universally—been associated with sustentation and control."
  7. Gibbs-Smith, 1968, Clément Ader, pp. 9–13. "There can be no doubt that this take-off occurred as reported, and it ranks as the first time in history that a powered man-carrying aeroplane has taken off solely under its own power, from level ground. Dollfus has investigated every aspect of this test—he had the official task of examining Ader's papers after his death—and he long ago produced satisfactory evidence for it, on which all reputable historians agree."
  8. Gibbs-Smith, 1968, Clément Ader, p. 15.
  9. Hallion, 2003, pp. 133–134.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Zahm, 1944, p. 342–345.
  11. Textbook of Aero Engines, 1920, p. 82. "The first mechanical flight was made in October, 1897, at Satory, France, by M. Ader, a French electrician and scientists appointed by the French Minister of War. It is said that the conditions under which this flight was made were most unfavorable, the wind being of sufficient strength to have made it difficult for modern aviators to fly. Nevertheless, Ader succeeded in flying some 350 yards."
  12. Langley Papers, box 27, quoted in Hallion, 2003, p. 135.

See Also

  • Emmanuel Chadeau ; work is ongoing, on Chadeau's Doctoral analysis of material related to the above, focused on the same chronology, with an emphasis on the effects of Ader's relations with the military establishment of France, and these effects as they pertain to the encouragement of innovation, per se, and the subsequent development of aviation as an industry.