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Ernest Archdeacon

The 1904 Archdeacon glider was a copy of the Wright brothers' 1902 glider.
The 1904 Archdeacon glider was a copy of the Wright brothers' 1902 glider.

Ernest Archdeacon was a rich French lawyer and sportsman. He founded the Aro-Club de France after hearing Octave Chanute speak in March 1903 about his own and the Wrights' gliders. The goal of the club was to promote heavier-than-air flying, but if, along the way, it could beat the Wrights in the race to achieve the powered airplane, so much the better. Archdeacon built a copy of the Wright No. 3 glider of 1902, which was completed in March 1904 but had only limited success in flying it. In March 1905, he built a second glider, which retained the Wright biplane wings and forward-elevator but had a tailplane and fins added for stability. Archdeacon was soon joined by Gabriel Voison, who integrated this configuration with the box kite. In its first test, it broke apart in the air. They rebuilt the craft with a set of floats and held their next tests over water. It rose about 60 feet (18 meters) off the water and flew about 2,000 feet (610 meters) as it was towed. It was damaged in its next test and didn't fly again.

Archdeacon remained skeptical of the Wrights' achievements in spite of published reports. He stated in 1906 that the French would make the first public demonstration of powered flight. To spur progress, Archdeacon put up the Coupe d'Aviation Ernest Archdeacon, a silver trophy that would go to the first person to fly a powered airplane 80 feet (25 meters). The Aero-Club offered a prize of 1500 francs to the first person to fly 100 meters, or 330 feet. And Archdeacon collaborated with Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe to establish the Grand Prix d'Aviation, a prize of 50,000 francs to the first person to fly a kilometer in a circular course. It wasn't until the Wrights' first public flights in France in 1908 that Archdeacon admitted that he had committed an injustice in disbelieving the Wrights' achievements.