Meusnier, Jean Baptiste Marie

SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 1754 Tours, France
d. 1793 Mainz, Germany
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French designer of the "dirigible balloon" (airship).
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Just a few days after the first balloon flight by the relatively primitive Montgolfier hot-air balloon, a design for a sophisticated steerable or "dirigible" balloon was proposed by a young French army officer. On 3 December 1783, Lieutenant (later General) Jean Baptiste Marie Meusnier of the Corps of Engineers presented to the Académie des Sciences a paper entitled Mémoire sur l'équilibre des machines aérostatiques. This outlined Meusnier's ideas and so impressed the learned members of the Academy that they commissioned him to make a more complete study. This was published in 1784 and contained sixteen water-colour drawings of the proposed airship, which are preserved by the Musée de l'Air in Paris.
Meusnier's "machine aérostatique" was ellipsoidal in shape, in contrast to those of his unsuccessful contemporaries who tried to make spherical balloons steerable, often using oars for propulsion. Meusnier's proposed airship was 79.2 m (260 ft) long with the crew in a slim boat slung below the envelope (in case of a landing on water); it was steered by a large sail-like rudder at the rear end. Between the envelope and the boat were three propellers, which were to be manually driven as there was no suitable engine available; this was the first design for a propeller-driven aircraft. The most important innovation was a ballonnet, a balloon within the main envelope that was pressurized with air supplied by bellows in the boat. Varying the amount of air in the ballonnet would compensate for changes in the volume of hydrogen gas in the main envelope when the airship changed altitude. The ballonnet would also help to maintain the external shape of the main envelope.
General Meusnier was killed in action in 1793 and it was almost one hundred years from the date of his publication that his idea of ballonnets was put into practice, by Dupuy de Lome in 1872, and later by Renard and Krebs.
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Bibliography
1784, Mémoire sur l'équilibre des machines aérostatiques, Paris; repub. Paris: Musée de l'Air.
Further Reading
L.T.C.Rolt, 1966, The Aeronauts, London (paperback 1985). Basil Clarke, 1961, The History of Airships, London.
JDS

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

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