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Trivia Teaser: More Than A Rubber Band

Question: Who was the first person to build a rubber band powered airplane, and what was so special about it?
A) John Stringfellow, 1868
B) Alphonse Pénaud, 1871
C) Alexander Mozhaiski, 1884
D) Samuel Pierpont Langley, 1891

Question: Who was the first person to build a rubber band powered airplane, and what was so special about it?
A) John Stringfellow, 1868
B) Alphonse Pénaud, 1871
C) Alexander Mozhaiski, 1884
D) Samuel Pierpont Langley, 1891

The answer is choice B. Born in 1850, Penaud was the son of a French admiral, and a gifted pioneer of aviation design and engineering. Because of a hip disease he walked with the aid of crutches and so was unable to attend the Naval School. He was the originator of the use of twisted rubber to power model aircraft, and his 1871 model airplane (which he called the Planophore) was the first truly successful longitudinally stable flying model. In addition to the use of a twisted rubber motor driving a pusher propeller, this machine introduced two important principles to practical aeronautics: the wings were curved upwards at the tips, in effect having dihedral, and the rear-mounted horizontal stabilizer was set at a smaller angle of incidence than the wings, in fact at a negative angle of -8 degrees. (The principle of dihedral had been worked out by Sir George Cayley, although at the time Pénaud was not aware of Cayley's work.) Today we know that a negative setting for a rear-mounted tail is necessary for longitudinal stability (the pitching down of the nose due to the wing lift being behind the center of gravity coupled with the pitching up of the nose due to the negative lift of the tail). The Planophore was successfully flown at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris in front of members of the Société Aéronautique on 18 August 1871, for about 130 feet and stayed in the air for over 10 seconds. He went on to design a full sized aircraft with many advanced features, but was unable to get any support for the project, and committed suicide in 1880.

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About This Author:
Jeff Pardo is an aviation writer in Maryland with commercial ASEL, instrument, helicopter, and glider ratings. He started flying in 1989 and has about 1500 hours. Jeff holds a bachelors in meteorology and oceanography, as well as an MS in marine science. Prior to his present tenure at SES, Jeff worked in flight dynamics for various telecommunication firms for 15 years. He has flown mostly Cessna and Piper airplanes and R-22 helicopters, and has about 70 hours in J3 and Citabria aircraft. He has flown as a mission pilot for the Civil Air Patrol, as a mission pilot for Angel Flight, and he was a contributing editor for AOPA Flight Training for about 10 years.
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