La France

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La France was a dirigible airship created in the 1880s by Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs at the French military establishment at Chalais-Meudon. It became world-famous due to its effective propulsion and navigation systems.

The propulsion system used an electric battery, recently demonstrated for the first time in an airship by Gaston Tissandier.[1] According to Professor W. le Conte Stevens (Popular Science Monthly, July, 1885):

The pecuniary resources at their command gave them a great advantage over Tissandier in the ability to construct a balloon much larger than that with which Tissandier's success had been achieved, and this permitted the application of a motor nearly seven times as powerful as the one previously employed.[1]

Renard & Krebs placed the propeller at the front of the aircraft and used a thick rudder. The balloon used hydrogen gas with an interior vessel capable of taking in air to raise the vessel's specific gravity.[1]

The airship was powered by an electric motor designed by Zénobe-Théophile Gramme and in 1884 this was the first airship to return to its starting point by way of its own power. The engine was powered by batteries.[2]

La France made its debut on 9 August 1884, when Renard and Krebs flew it for 23 minutes around Villacoublay (near Versailles; later the site of a French air force base). Its top speed on this flight was 15 miles/hour. They made six more flights during the next year.[3]

Name La France
Year constructed 1884
Creators Charles Renard, Arthur Krebs
Volume (m3)
Length (m) 50.40
Diameter (m) 8.40
Height (m)
Weight (kg)
Engine horsepower 9
Speed (km/h) 12.60

3.5 m/s[4]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Aerostation" in Iconographic Encyclopaeda, 1889, pp. 375–376.
  2. Zénobe-Théophile Gramme on German Wikipedia
  3. Hallion, 2003, p. 87. Hallion writes: "So Renard and Krebs undertook a further six flights over the next year, overlying portions of Paris and carrying passengers including the actress Gaby Morlay (the first woman to fly in an airship) and a certain M. Duté-Poitevin, a civilian aeronaut attached to the Chalais Meudon establishment." This statement presents a difficulty as the apparently most famous French actress by this name had yet to be born and there is no evidence on the web of another one who flew with Krebs and Renard. Hallion cites "Captain Charles Renard: Le ballon dirigeable la France: Nouvelles expériences executs en 1885 (Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1886), copy in Renard & Krebs I file, MAE; Lecornu, 288−289, and figure 228. See also Zahm, Aerial, 93–98."
  4. Bruce, 1914, Aircraft in War, pp. p 15]–17.