Robert Esnault-Pelterie
Robert Esnault-Pelterie
  Paul Nortz Collection Library of Congress Collection  

Robert Esnault-Pelterie
  Michel Esnault-Pelterie            
  The R.E.P., monoplane, named after its designer, Robert Esnault-Peltier, was the first plane with a completely enclosed fuselage. Constructed with welded-steel tubing, it was covered with red muslin.  

Robert Esnault-Pelterie
  REP 2
Library of Congress Collection, 1-16-11

Robert Esnault-Pelterie, an early Aero Club enthusiast, was the son of a comfortably well-off cotton industrialist. Born in Paris on November 8, 1881, and educated at the Faculte des Sciences, he began his experiments with a biplane glider built using secondhand information of the Wright machines. However, since his data were incomplete, performance was faulty; and this led to erroneous conclusions about the Wright claims.
     Esnault-Pelterie tried out his gliders on the beach and sand hills of Wissant, in the region of Calais; at one point he took the risk of being towed by an automobile, the better to study the mysteries of air pressure. His progress paralleled the advances of Bleriot; by October 1907, he was flying his first monoplane---using internally braced wings, instead of a drag-producing system of external wires, and a lightweight engine of his own design. Known as the R.E.P. (after the inventor's initials), this was the first aeroplane with a completely enclosed fuselage of welded-steel tubing---a type well ahead of the times, embodying an engineer's idea of streamlining. Characteristically covered with red muslin, the R.E.P., ran along the ground on a single large bicycle wheel, with a smaller wheel at the end of each wing to maintain balance as the plane tipped to one side or the other, and a fourth wheel at the tail.
     The designer was, like Delagrange, a man of many talents. He too was a sculptor---and also an engineer and a visionary who peered into the future like Jules Verne. Esnault-Pelterie predicted a rocket voyage to the moon that would take forty-nine days, and he wrote an incredibly farsighted treatise on space travel. In addition to contributing a soundly designed monoplane to the early achivements of aviation, this creative birdman devised, as early as 1906, an ingenious means of obtaining greater regularity of motor powewer---namely, the use of an odd number of cylinders delivering from 30 to 35 hp and weighing only 115 pounds, blazed the way for the development of other eingines combining both power and lightness.
     In an unpublished book of memoirs written for his son Michel, Robert Esnault-Pelterie tells of the crash that ended his career as a pilot. On June 18, 1908, he set out on a short trial flight; deciding to descend, he failed to realize that he should retard or cut the motor. The machine hit the ground at full speed. Despite an elastic seat belt the inventor was thrown against the fuel tank with such force that he broke one of its steel supports, while his right hip received a severe gash from another metal section. Suffering from shock and contusions, Esnault-Pelterie was found unconscious by a farmer who had witnessed the accident, and who revived the flyer with a stiff shot of cognac. From then on, the constructor left piloting to others; afflicted for years with the aftereffects of his injuries, which he feared might cause him to make some involuntary movement of the controls, he flew only as a passenger.
From CONTACT: The Story of the Early Birds

Robert Esnault-Pelterie
Library of Congress Collection, 1-16-11

Gordon Bennett Race, 1909
Lots had been drawn for the order of start and priority had fallen to the R.E.P. extablishment of Robert Esnault-Pelterie. A dark-haired man of great personal magnetism, he was a graduate of the Sorbonne and a sculptor, engineer, and inventor whose thoughts were often in the clouds. He had been born in Paris on 8 November 1881 and was the fourth person to obtain a pilot's license in France. In 1904 he had started to experiment with gliders, and by late 1907 he was making brief essays on a monoplane of advanced design with internally braced wings and enclosed fuselage of steel tubing. He had also invented a four-bladed propeller and a lightweight motor whose fan-shaped "magic seven" cylinders delivered from 30 to 35 horsepower. But Esnault-Pelterie's career as a pilot had ended in a crash on 18 June 1908. After that, fearing the effect of his injuries might cause him to make an involuntary movement of the controls, he flew only as a passenger. The red muslin-covered monoplane that was now dragged from its shed hitched to a horse and escorted by a small band of helpers was in the hands of Maurice Guffroy, a company mechanic.

Editors Note:
I was privileged to know Henry during several years before his death.
He was an fascinating companion and a lifetime friend of aviation.
Henry has several more pages of this incident in Esnault-Pelterie's career in his book.
I heartily recommend it to you for the complete story of the Gordon Bennettt Race.

       Robert A. C. Esnault-Pelterie of Geneva, Switzerland, an EB Life Member, passed away in November, 1957
     Mr. Esnault-Pelterie made his first flight in the spring of 1907 at his own Aerodrome Toussus-le-Noble (Seine et Oise). He held French Pilot License N.4 (1908). Saw military service in Sapeurs-Telegraphistes Mont-Valerien Paris under Commandant Ferrie's command and made an Officer de la Legion d'Honeur. He was one of the best known early French aircraft designers and had several inventions to his credit.
From The Early Birds of Aviation CHIRP
April, 1958, Number 59

  Highly Recommended Further Reading:
The Gordon Bennettt Races
by Henry Serrano Villard
Smithsonian Institution Press.

The Story of the Early Birds
by Henry Serrano Villard
Thomas Y. Crowell Company

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