Frédéric Airault

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Frédéric Airault (b. Paris 18 May 1868)[1] was a French engineer and dirigible pilot who was technical director of a number of automobile and aviation firms before the First World War.


He enrolled at the École des Arts et Métiers campus in Angers from 1884 gaining his "diplôme d'ingénieur" in 1887. Airault served with the French Navy for five years, and in 1892 he joined the fr:Société française de constructions mécaniques.[1] In 1897 he designed a V-4 engine 24 hp engine with progressive friction transmission, and from 1899 he worked at the car and bicycle maker Hurtu as engineer, head of research and then Technical Director. He stayed there for four years, and in 1903 became a co-director of the Anciennes usines Buchet ('Former Buchet Factories') in Levallois-Perret, a north western Paris suburb.[1][2][3][n 1] Élie Buchet, founder of the original 'Usines Buchet', had died in late 1903.[5]

Airault left in 1905 to become general director of Fabbrica di it:Automobili Florentia.[1][n 2] Airault stayed there for a year before moving to become Technical Director of the Société française des trains Renard in 1906.[1] The Daimler Company manufactured the Road Train under licence in the UK.

The industrialist Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe joined with Édouard Surcouf to form Société Astra to make dirigible airships. Airault piloted the dirigible "Osmanli" (the first Turkish airship) at the Parc Saint-Cloud on 18 April 1909.[7][8] Airault was the director of the aeronautic park for the Astra III dirigible Ville-de-Nancy (piloted by Édouard Surcouf and fr:Henry Kapférer) at the Exposition Internationale de l'Est de la France in Nancy in 1909.[9]

He became Technical Director of Compagnie générale transaérienne[1] (CGT) (later Air France), founded in October 1909 by Louis Blériot and again owned by Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe.[10][n 3] He installed hydrogen gas plants at Nancy and then at Beauval for CGT.[1][n 4]

While testing the Astra VI l'Espagne on 5 November 1909, the propeller shaft ruptured, breaking the nacelle. Airault avoided a catastrophe, landing with a masterly hand near Frémainville, Seine-et-Oise (now Val d'Oise), some 50 miles (85 km) from Meaux. Brought back to Beauval, repaired and modified, l’España was delivered to the Spanish military authorities at the start of 1910.[11]

In August 1910 he received his pilot-aeronaut certificate for dirigible balloons (along with Robert Balny d'Avricourt.)[12] Transaérienne started operating Astra dirigibles in France and Switzerland. Airault, as the company's chief pilot, directed operations of Surcouf's Astra VII Ville de Lucerne in August 1910 in Lucerne.[1][13][14][15][16] Transaérienne followed this with a seaplane service on Lake Lucerne and Lake Geneva, then cross-channel flights in 1911. Henri de la Meurthe also bought the Nieuport aircraft firm after Edouard Nieuport died in a flying accident in 1911.

In 1912 he lived at 25, fr:Rue de Marignan, Paris.[17]


  1. ^ The engine maker Filtz was also based in Levallois: a 75 hp Filtz engine was fitted to the Renard Road Train imported to Britain in 1907 by the Daimler Company.[4]
  2. ^ His replacement at Buchet was Joseph-Ambroise Farcot who owned his own engineering firm.[3] Farcot was soon joined by Alessandro Anzani, on secondment from Alcyon motorcycles whose owner Edmond Gentil had spotted him on a Hurtu motorcycle at a 1903 World Championship at the Parc des Princes, Paris.[6] The appearance of the first of the Farcot-Anzani 3-cylinder fan engines (80 x 80 mm, 1206 cc) in a Alcyon motorcycle was announced in (L'Automobile, No. 109, 28 October 1905).[3]
  3. ^ Blériot had used an Anzani 3-cylinder W fan engine of about 3 litres to power the Blériot IX across the English Channel on 25 July 1909 (he had previously used Antoinette engines).
  4. ^ These were possibly water gas plants for continuous production of hydrogen. See "l'usine oxhydrique". MeauXfiles. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Lagrange 1910.
  2. ^ Automobiles Buchet 1898-1930. (in French). Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b c "L'héritage d'Élie Buchet (4ème partie)". Z'humeurs & Rumeurs (in French). 13 November 2012. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  4. ^ Martin, Liz (February 2013). "The Renard Road Train system". Transmission (20): 8–12. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  5. ^ "L'héritage d'Élie Buchet (2ème partie)". Z'humeurs & Rumeurs (in French). 11 October 2012. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  6. ^ Dupont, Daniel (ed.). "La moto en France: L'ere des pionniers". (in French). Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  7. ^ Leroy, Serge. "1909, année de l'aéroplane. 1ère partie" (PDF) (in French). Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  8. ^ Leiser, Gary (2005). "The Dawn of Aviation in the Middle East: The First Flying Machines over Istanbul". Air Power History, Vol. 52. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  9. ^ "Airship News: "Ville de Nancy"'s long voyage" (PDF). Flight: 449. 24 July 1909. Also same page, report of Blériot's burnt foot on the day before his channel crossing...
  10. ^ Hartmann 2006, p. 2.
  11. ^ "Le parc aérostatique de Meaux-Beauval (page 2)". MeauXfiles. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  12. ^ "Foreign Aviation News: Ae.C.F. Doings" (PDF). Flight: 648b. 13 August 1910. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  13. ^ "Bibliographie" (PDF). Le Littoral (in French). Cannes. 19 August 1910. p. 3d. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  14. ^ "Airship and Balloon News: 'Ville de Lucerne' a success" (PDF). Flight: 697. 27 August 1910. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  15. ^ Short newsreel clip of "Astra Airship 1910". British Pathé. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  16. ^ Silver 1910 Medal commemorating the Ville de Lucerne. Retrieved 22 March 2016
  17. ^ Paris-Hachette 1912, p. 3. (in French).

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