Mr. Esnault-Pelterie made his first flight in the spring of 1907 at
his own Aerodrome Toussus-le-Noble (Seine et Oise). He held French Pilot License N.4 (1908). Saw military service in
Sapeurs-Telegraphistes Mont-Valerien Paris under Commandant Ferrie's
command and made an Officer de la Legion d'Honeur. He was one of the best known early French aircraft designers and had
several inventions to his credit.
Gordon Bennet Race, 1909
For the Gordon Bennet Race in 1909 lots had been drawn for the
order of start and priority had fallen to the R.E.P. establishment of
A dark-haired man of great personal magnetism, he was a graduate of
the Sorbonne and a sculptor, engineer, and inventor whose thoughts were
often in the clouds.
He had been born in Paris on 8 November 1881 and was the fourth
person to obtain a pilot's license in France.
In 1904 he had started to experiment with gliders, and by late 1907 he
was making brief essays on a monoplane of advanced design with
internally braced wings and enclosed fuselage of steel tubing.
He had also invented a four-bladed propeller and a lightweight motor
whose fan-shaped "magic seven" cylinders delivered from 30 to 35
But Esnault-Pelterie's career as a pilot had ended in a crash on 18
June 1908. After that, fearing the effect of his injuries might cause
him to make an involuntary movement of the controls, he flew only as a
Although his contributions have been obscured by subsequent
developments, Robert Esnault-Pelterie continued in Verne's tradition of
French leadership in the interplanetary project. Esnault-Pelterie was
one of the pioneers of French aviation, whose contributions include the
first all-metal monoplane, which he built in 1907.
REP's work culminated in 1930, with the publication of his
Astronautics, which constituted a landmark review of the problems and
prospects of space travel. A subsequent edition in 1934 gave
considerable attention to interplanetary travel, including the
applications of nuclear power.
On 15 November 1912, Esnault-Pelterie presented a paper to the Physics
Society of France. In one of the first scientific discussions of the
problems of space travel, he suggested that atomic energy would hold the
key to solving the problem of reaching the Moon and other celestial
Although long a proponent of nuclear propulsion, by the early 1930s
the work of others on the potential of chemical propulsion had convinced
him that nuclear propulsion would not be required to accomplish lunar
Esnault-Pelterie's greatest contribution was the
publication in 1930
of a book entitled L'Astronautique (Astronautics), which, together with
its 1934 supplement, L'Astronautique-Complement, covered virtually all
that was then known of rocketry and space flight.
Although Esnault-Pelterie's major interest was theoretical
astronautics, he was well aware of the military implications of
rocketry. On 20 May 1929, he proposed to French army general Ferrie a
plan for the development of ballistic bombardment missiles against which
he could imagine no defence. We wrote such weapons could deliver "over
several hundreds of kilometres...thousands of tons" of destructive
payload, all within a few hours. (He was obviously thinking in terms of
salvo firings like the World War II V-1 and V-2 offensives) "Moreover."
he added, "the necessary ground installations would not entail great
expense and would doubtless be infinitely less burdensome than if it were
a question of delivering the same load by aeroplanes."
His proposal resulted in the appointment of ingenieur general J.J.
Barre to his laboratories in 1931, which in turn led to work approved by
the Commission des Poudres de Guerre at Versailles first on
liquid-oxygen-gasoline motors, then on nitrogen peroxide-benzene motors,
and one powered by liquid oxygen and tetranitromethane. In October 1931
(during) tests of the last, an accident occurred, causing
Esnault-Pelterie to lose four fingers.
In 1934 a study contract was let to Esnault-Pelterie by the Direction
des Etudes et Fabrications d'Armement under the general supervision of
ingenieur general Desmazieres. There, in addition to liquid rocket work,
80-mm solid-fuel rockets were developed whose application was to have
been to accelerate bombs. Elsewhere, the Services de l'Armement Fracaise
studied, in 1939, the use of 1,000-pound-thrust JATO units for assisting
heavy bombers to take off. Air Liquide, a private concern, worked for a
short period of time on a 100-pound-thrust test motor under Air Ministry
contract at Champigny and at Seyne. French rocketry continued
sporadically, and without conclusive results, until the outbreak of
Also, in 1929, Esnault-Pelterie proposed aero-braking: using
atmospheric drag to slow a spacecraft for gravitational capture by a