Ferdinand Ferber

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Ferdinand Ferber
Born 8 February 1862
Died 22 September 1909(1909-09-22) (aged 47)
Boulogne, France
Allegiance France
Service/branch French Army
Rank Captain
Awards Chevalier of the Legion of Honour

Ferdinand Ferber (February 8, 1862 - September 22, 1909)[1] was a French Army officer who played an important role in the development of aviation during the early 1900s. Although his attempts to build aircraft were generally unsuccessful, his early recognition and publicizing of the work of the Wright Brothers was a major influence on the development of aviation in Europe.

Early life[edit]

Born in Lyon in 1862, he studied at the Ecole Polytechnique before joining the Army, eventually becoming an instructor the School of Applied Artillery at Fontainbleu in 1897.[2] It was here that he came across the work of Otto Lilienthal, through reading about his work in an article in the Illustrierte Zeitung.

Aviation experiments[edit]

Early attempts[edit]

After some experimentation with models Ferber constructed his first full-size unmanned glider, which had a lozenge-shaped wing about 8 m (26 ft) across, and unsuccessfully attempted to fly it from a launching tower at his family's estate in Rue in Switzerland in August 1898. He then constructed a similar but smaller second machine, which he attempted to fly both as a kite and by towing it behind a horse, also without much success.

In early 1901 Ferber was transferred from Fontainbleu to Nice, where he was placed in command of the 17th Alpine Battery of the 19th Regiment. Here he continued his experiments: his third attempt was more closely modelled on the pattern of Lillienthal's gliders, and was Ferber's first attempt at building a man-carrying glider. Trial were made at Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée, but the wing area proved insufficient for the purpose, and so a fourth, larger, glider was constructed.

Contact with Chanute[edit]

In 1901 Ferber became aware of the aeronautical experiments of Octave Chanute, a French-born American civil engineer, as a result of reading an article in the Revue Scientifique published in the issue dated 1 June 1901.[3] Ferber wrote to Chanute, and through him learnt of the experiments of the Wright Brothers, receiving a copy of the Wilbur Wright's paper "Some Aeronautical Experiments" which had been published in the Journal of the Western Society of Engineers in December 1901. Ferber then built his fifth aircraft, based on photographs of the Wright's 1901 glider.

This resembled the Wright glider in being a two-bay biplane with a forward elevator, but the resemblance ends there. As with Ferber's previous aircraft, the construction was crude in the extreme, the wings consisting merely of a simple framework of bamboo loosely covered with fabric, entirely lacking the ribs which formed the wings of the Wright's glider into a lift-giving aerofoil section. Moreover there was no attempt at lateral control. The connection between lateral and directional control was the key discovery of the Wright Brothers, and although their 1901 glider lacked a rudder the use of wing warping was clearly described in the paper by Wilbur Wright. Ferber's experiments with this aircraft were encouraging, and an account of his work written by Ferber under his pseudonym "de Rue" was published in the February 1903 issue of l'Aérophile.[4]

Ferber did not attend Chanute's lecture to the Aero Club de France in April 1903, but after hearing of it he wrote to Ernest Archdeacon, one of the founder members of the Aero Club. His letter asked Archdeacon to use his influence to get the Aero Club to announce a prize for a glider flight, and contained the exhortation:

"The aeroplane must not be allowed to reach successful achievement in America (il ne faut pas laisser l'aéroplane s'acheiver en Amérique).[5] His suggestion was enthusiastically endorsed by Archdeacon, who included an extract from Ferber's letter in his account of Chanute's lecture published in La Locomotion on 11 April: the letter was also published in the April issue of L'Aerophile.

Ferber then built another aircraft very similar to his 1902 glider. This differed principally in having a pair of triangular rudders mounted on the aft outboard interplane struts. This aircraft was then fitted with a 6 hp (4 kW) Buchet engine, driving a pair of coaxially mounted propellers, in which form it was called the Type V-bis. Between September 1903 and October 1904 a number of attempts at flight were made, and he also constructed a tall latticework tower supporting a long counterbalanced revolving arm from which the aircraft was suspended. Ferber wrote that trials of this machine "were completely useless, but drew public attention to aviation"[6]

In April 1904 Ferber assisted Ernest Archdeacon with the trials of his Wright-derived glider at Berck-sur-Mer. Shortly after this Charles Renard, commander of the French Army balloon school at Chalais Meudon, invited Ferber to join this establishment, and he took up this new post in early May 1904.[7] He also constructed another aircraft, the Type VI, notable for its use of a rear-mounted horizontal stabiliser and also featuring dihedral in an attempt to obtain lateral stability.

In June 1905 Ferber wrote to the Wright Brothers offering to buy one of their machines. The Wrights were unwilling to do this but their reply, dated 9 October 1905, detailed the flights they had recently made, and so Ferber was the first European to learn of these achievements.

After the death of Renard in April 1905 Ferber's relationship with the authorities at Chalais Meudon deteriorated and in June 1906 he asked for three years leave, in order to work at the Antoinette company. This was granted in August 1906, and he also allowed to continue his experiments at Chalais-Meudon.[7]

In 1908, Ferber founded the Ligue Nationale Aérienne with the help of the well-known physiologist René Quinton. Quinton was a member of a Parisian group of literary personalities called the "Forty-five," who honored achievements in literature, sciences and arts. In May 1908 Ferber addressed the group at Quinton's suggestion and after receiving a standing ovation for his accomplishments in aviation, Quinton was inspired to establish a 10,000 francs prize for the first person to fly for 5 minutes with engine stopped and without losing more than 50 metres altitude.[8] In May 1909 the Ligue opened a flying school at Juvisy, with Ferber as its chief instructor.

Death[edit]

Captain Ferber was killed on 22 September 1909 at a flying meeting in Boulogne: when, attempting a turn at low altitude in a Voisin biplane one wing struck the ground[9]

In June 1910, the French Minister of War announced that one of their newly ordered Zodiac dirigibles was to be named Capitaine Ferber, and a memorial in the form of monolith bearing a bronze flying eagle was erected at Boulogne.[10]

Aircraft[edit]

1901 monoplane hang-glider modelled on Otto Lilienthal's designs. Photograph in flight of this hang glider is viewable.
1902 two bay biplane glider with forward elevator, later fitted with triangular rudders on the outer interplane struts, and thn rebuilt with a 6 hp Buchet engine and renamed the V-bis.
1904 two bay biplane glider, with an elongated rear-mounted horizontal stabiliser in addition to a forward elevator.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Capt. L. F. Feber". Retrieved 19 April 2012. 
  2. ^ "La Mort Tragique de Capitain Ferber". l'Aérophile (in French): 2. 1 October 1909. 
  3. ^ Gibbs-Smith, 1974, p36.
  4. ^ Gibbs-Smith 1974, p.53.
  5. ^ Gibbs-Smith 1974, p.64.
  6. ^ Opdycke 1999 p.129
  7. ^ a b Carlier, Claude (2005). "Ferdinand Ferber, précurseur et visionnaire de l'aviation" (in French). Institut de Stratégie Comparée, Commission Française d'Histoire Militaire. Retrieved 19 May 2012. 
  8. ^ "Miscellaneous Prizes: the René Quinton Prize"Flight 17 April 1909
  9. ^ "The Use of Accidents"Flight 28 January 1911
  10. ^ "Memorial for Captain Ferber"Flight 15 July 1911

References[edit]

  • On Great White Wings: The Wright Brothers and the Race for Flight, page 107
  • Gibbs-Smith, C.H. The Rebirth of European Aviation. London: HMSO, 1974 ISBN 0-11-290180-8
  • Gibbs-Smith, C.H. Aviation: An Historical Survey London: NMSI, 2003 ISBN 1-900747-52-9
  • Opdycke, Leonard E. French Aeroplanes Before the Great War Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 1999 ISBN 0-7643-0752-5