Posts Tagged ‘Antoine Sibue’

Flying In A Paddle-Propelled Blimp

September 12, 2022

This comes from Tom Scott’s channel on YouTube and it’s brilliant! as the lad character always used to shout on the Fast Show. In this video, Scott goes flying with Aeroplume, a French company provides flights from human-powered blimps. These were designed twenty or so years ago by a French artist, inventor and engineer, Jean-Pierre David. The blimps are filled with helium and the human pilot is suspended underneath in a kind of horizontal harness. There are two paddles either side of them, which allow them to propel themselves around and steer the aircraft. It apparently takes a litre of helium to lift a gram of weight, so a blimp must carry 70,000 litres or so to lift a human. Antoine Sibue, Scott’s host from the company, explains that the hangar in which the flights are performed was originally built in 1919 for the military. It passed out of military service in 1999, and a think it was acquired by Aeroplume in 2009. It’s one of two locations. The other is in a cave 50 metres underground. Flight cost 60 Euros for half an hour. The company has three such blimps, lifting 90, 70 and 45 kilos respectively. They’re also open over school holiday, which is tempting fate, one feels. Still, they have had tens of thousands of flights and zero casualties. Sibue teaches Scott how to fly the blimp, how temperature affects buoyancy and how helium leaks from the blimp so that they have to replenish it occasionally, as well as problems when the surrounding air seeps in. But it all seems safe, sedate and rather cool.

The balloon was invented in France in the late 18th century and was enthusiastically taken up by scientists and the public. It represented the victory of human scientific ingenuity over nature. And when Napoleon was invading everyone in Europe, one of his schemes was to create a military airship. However, there was no form of artificial propulsion available at the time, so the idea was to have its crew pulling on paddles rather like those on Aeroplume’s blimps.

The blimps strongly remind me of the 19th century airships depicted by some of the early pioneers of Science Fiction, such as Jacques Robida. I think the French novelist and artist would be highly amused by the way his vision has now been realised.