The Artificial Albatross - History of an Early Flying Machine
History is littered with attempts at aviation, performed by people eager to soar as high and as gracefully as birds. One flying machine was inspired by birds so much that its inventor named his creation after one. L'Albatros artificiel, or the Artificial Albatross, was a glider invented by Jean-Marie Le Bris in 1856. Le Bris was a sailor and sea captain who had become fascinated by the flight of the albatross. These birds glide in the air, using currents of wind more than the power of beating wings to fly. It was this innovative method of flight that inspired Le Bris, who began to study the albatross and their wings in closer detail.
Based on the aerodynamic quality of an albatross' wings, Le Bris invented the Artificial Albatross glider, which was shaped like the bird itself. With a wood frame and covered in cloth, its wingspan was 50 feet. The pilot (Le Bris) sat inside, almost like in a canoe, and used levers to operate the movements of the wings and tail. The glider was put on top of a cart which itself was attached to a horse that ran against the wind. At this point, the Artificial Albatross was released from the cart and began to rise into the air. There is one report that claims the cart's driver became caught on the restraining rope and experienced flight along with the glider and Le Bris. The original report of this first flight indicates that the glider reached a distance of 600 feet and a height of 300 feet. Apparently the landing, cart driver and all, was pulled off with only a broken glider wing. This was the first flight in history to reach a point higher than its departure. In other words - up.
Le Bris' second test flight of his invention wasn't so smooth. This time he suspended the Artificial Albatross from a mast and yard arm over a quarry. At first the flight went well, but when an unexpected wind hit, the glider crashed and Le Bris broke a leg.
In 1868, Le Bris continued to test his invention, building a second flying machine with the help of the French army. This glider was much like the first one Le Bris invented, but it was lighter and had weight distribution controls. It was also the first flying machine in history to be photographed. Not only that, but Le Bris invented and patented flight controls.
Jean-Marie Le Bris spent the remainder of his life experimenting with his dream of flight. He was murdered by gang members in 1872, but his legacy and dedication to aviation lived on. Le Bris was an innovator who was able to mold elements of nature into useful mechanical forms and this innovative spirit inspired others, helping to further aviation progress.