Giffard, Baptiste Henry Jacques (Henri)

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b. 8 February 1825 Paris, France
d. 14 April 1882 Paris, France
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French pioneer of airships and balloons, inventor of an injector for steam-boiler feedwater.
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Giffard entered the works of the Western Railway of France at the age of 16 but became absorbed by the problem of steam-powered aerial navigation. He proposed a steam-powered helicopter in 1847, but he then turned his attention to an airship. He designed a lightweight coke-burning, single-cylinder steam engine and boiler which produced just over 3 hp (2.2 kW) and mounted it below a cigar-shaped gas bag 44 m (144 ft) in length. A triangular rudder was fitted at the rear to control the direction of flight. On 24 September 1852 Giffard took off from Paris and, at a steady 8 km/h (5 mph), he travelled 28 km (17 miles) to Trappes. This can be claimed to be the first steerable lighter-than-air craft, but with a top speed of only 8 km/h (5 mph) even a modest headwind would have reduced the forward speed to nil (or even negative). Giffard built a second airship, which crashed in 1855, slightly injuring Giffard and his companion; a third airship was planned with a very large gas bag in order to lift the inherently heavy steam engine and boiler, but this was never built. His airships were inflated by coal gas and refusal by the gas company to provide further supplies brought these promising experiments to a premature end.
As a draughtsman Giffard had the opportunity to travel on locomotives and he observed the inadequacies of the feed pumps then used to supply boiler feedwater. To overcome these problems he invented the injector with its series of three cones: in the first cone (convergent), steam at or below boiler pressure becomes a high-velocity jet; in the second (also convergent), it combines with feedwater to condense and impart high velocity to it; and in the third (divergent), that velocity is converted into pressure sufficient to overcome the pressure of steam in the boiler. The injector, patented by Giffard, was quickly adopted by railways everywhere, and the royalties provided him with funds to finance further experiments in aviation. These took the form of tethered hydrogen-inflated balloons of successively larger size. At the Paris Exposition of 1878 one of these balloons carried fifty-two passengers on each tethered "flight". The height of the balloon was controlled by a cable attached to a huge steam-powered winch, and by the end of the fair 1,033 ascents had been made and 35,000 passengers had seen Paris from the air. This, and similar balloons, greatly widened the public's interest in aeronautics. Sadly, after becoming blind, Giffard committed suicide; however, he died a rich man and bequeathed large sums of money to the State for humanitarian an scientific purposes.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Croix de la Légion d'honneur 1863.
Bibliography
1860, Notice théorique et pratique sur l'injecteur automoteur.
1870, Description du premier aérostat à vapeur.
Further Reading
Dictionnaire de biographie française.
Gaston Tissandier, 1872, Les Ballons dirigeables, Paris.
—1878, Le Grand ballon captif à vapeur de M. Henri Giffard, Paris.
W.de Fonvielle, 1882, Les Ballons dirigeables à vapeur de H.Giffard, Paris. Giffard is covered in most books on balloons or airships, e.g.: Basil Clarke, 1961, The History of Airships, London. L.T.C.Rolt, 1966, The Aeronauts, London.
Ian McNeill (ed.), 1990, An Encyclopaedia of the History of Technology, London: Routledge, pp. 575 and 614.
J.T.Hodgson and C.S.Lake, 1954, Locomotive Management, Tothill Press, p. 100.
PJGR / JDS

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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