Alphonse Penaud



1850 - 1880

Alphonse Pénaud (1850 – 1880), described as a “talented French aeronautical designer”, created a helicopter toy powered by a rubberband, becoming “The Father of Flying Models”.  He flew his “Planophore”  181 feet in 11 seconds at Tuileries Gardens in Paris, France, on August 18, 1871.

Pénaud died at the age of 30, convinced that his work was unappreciated – his 1876 design with Paul Gauchot for a large amphibious monoplane had been rejected by both the public and the Aerial Navigation Society of France.  Depressed, Pénaud sent his engineering drawings in a small wooden coffin, delivered to pioneering aeronaut Louis Giffard and returned home and committed suicide.  And while he may have known that his helicopter toy had captured the public’s imagination and become popular, he could not have anticipated that the gift of a Pénaud helicopter toy in 1878 by Bishop Milton Wright to his sons Orville and Wilbur was to spur their interest in aviation.  Orville Wright, attesting to the gift of the helicopter toy in a letter to Bertram P. Pond dated January 30, 1929, even sketched the toy 51 years after receiving it.