French Compagnie d’Aeronautiers

WR is thinking of using his French Aerostiers unit in another French republican tabletop battle soon. Been several years since this unit has seen action and spied the Die Kaiserliks battle dispositions.

Before the intrepid Captain Coutelle flies again, some details on WR’s model. The aerostiers unit consists of two parts; the flying balloon model and a weighted French semaphore station base. Normally, the French aerostiers “marched” their airborne inflated balloon to the battlefield with tethered ropes held by soldiers. But WR couldn’t devise a model base, of marching miniature soldiers, with sufficient weight to hold the model balloon above the tabletop. Hence, the thought of a weighted semaphore station to “receive” Captain Coutelle’s messages became a fun project.

French aerostiers model, include all the nice French tricoloured ribbons for propaganda.

French aerostiers model showing the bent black steel rod design to offset the balloon weight and model balance.

French semaphore station model base with civilian semaphore attendants, posted grenadier guard and local “on mission” representative awaiting word from Paris.

French semaphore station rearview.

French aerostiers model broken into components. Semaphore weighted station base, balloon, steel rod and hanger.

Modelling notes: The balloon, WR thinks, was a railroad Faller kit (HO scale) plastic kit. Built per instructions then some ribbon from local fabric store finished the tricolour. The tricolour ribbon historically wasn’t on the balloon but the effect to tease the Die Kaiserliks couldn’t be passed up. Captain Coutelle is a 25mm Dixon republican artillery officer with his legs trimmed to fit basket. The semaphore station is scratched built from a heavy plumbing flange* fitting (the weight) and old spray can top. The flange fitting was covered with some brickwork, a doorway and heavy window created. The “white” top half is the spray can top cut out with a circular hole then glued to the flange. The semaphore central post is a “square” brass section from the base to 4″ above the “white” upper section of the station, well anchored into the plumbing flange with resin. This square post holds the vertical steel rod for the balloon above. Cross rods sections glued to the square brass section to create the step ladder on the central vertical post. Semaphore arms are balsa wood and wire finished with some rope and pulley work.

French aerostiers model components. Note the hollow vertical central semaphore brass square post.

French Aerostiers model diagram. The steel rod “degreed bends” help offset the model balloon’s weight and preserve model balance on the tabletop. The balloon hanger just threads into the balloon top (“s” bend) and provides the flexible hanging hook.

Looking at the components, the semaphore base is placed on the tabletop where the model wouldn’t be “bumped” by waving arms. Next the steel rod is inserted into the “square” vertical post. The balloon has the bent hanger placed in the small hole atop the balloon finishing with the balloon model is hung from the black steel rod (see picture).

The entire model is just representative that the French republican army has the aerostiers deployed for action. Our tabletop rules provide increased and distant reconnaissance reports of enemy forces and dispositions to French commanders (players).

Additional information on the French Compagnie d’Aeronautiers and the French semaphore system, it’s codes and signals linked below.

Wikipedia link: French Aerostiers Corps   Captured balloon in museum: L’Intrepide

French Semaphore: French Semaphore   French semaphore signals: Code and Signals

Seems the Austrians had the last laugh…..they still have the French balloon. WR now needs to work on the Austrian ABB 3-pounder (anti-balloon battery). Ha ha..:-).

In closing, the intrepid Captain Coutelle….

French Aerostier Captain Coutelle.

Information on the first Englishman to fly (1784) one year later after the first Frenchmen can be read on this link. John Sadler: The Oxford balloon man history forgot.

James Sadler: England's first balloon man.

James Sadler: England’s first balloon man.

James Salder's balloon design. He used a iron "oven" to heat iron bars and suflic to create "coal gas"... a form of hydrogen.

James Salder’s balloon design. First his burned wool for heating air. Then used an iron “oven” to heat iron filings, zinc and sulphuric acid to create “coal gas”… a form of hydrogen in later flights.

For the Italian (Neapolitan) entrance to this new field of travel in 1784, read about Vincent Lunardi. For Scotland we have James Tytler. Seems the skies over Great Britain were crowded.

Cheers from the airborne warren.



* Note: The heavy plumbing flange is a fixture to mount threaded piping to a wall, stud or similar wall surface. WR has another flange unused someplace in the garage and will take a picture to include in blog post soon.


9 thoughts on “French Compagnie d’Aeronautiers

  1. This is an absolutely spectacular model, WR! I love the tricolor ribbons, and the semaphore base is a creation of brilliance as well. The Balloon Corps (along with the Dromedaries in Egypt) are the real glories of having a French Republican army!


    • Peter,
      Does tend to make the Austrian player jealous. All those “free” aerial scouting reports where the Austrians formations are located…..even the Austrians sometimes don’t know their dispositions (staff and paperwork you know… has delays).
      Years ago, when I ran the Battle of Wurzburg 1796 at a convention, I pulled this model out over the Wurzburg model town/fortress. Took several minutes of game delay for the onlookers to stop taking pictures with flash. Two offers to purchase….declined with thanks. Next thing I heard…..can you fire upon the balloon from the Austrian players? I let them try….but all attempts failed. Thus, the legend of the Austrian 3 lb ABB (Anti-Balloon battery) was born. Couldn’t hit a thing….including a balloon floating overhead. Much fun indeed.
      Michael aka WR

  2. Yep, good luck elevating artillery to hit a Balloon, LOL. OTOH, IIRC, they generated the hydrogen to fill these things on the spot – THAT would be subject to a very spectacular fireball should any sparks get in among the equipment!

    • Yes, hydrogen filled. Sparks in the equipment near impossible since the hydrogen making took place well behind the battle lines. Period plates show the balloon just towed along the road by a platoon or two of soldiers with tow ropes.
      Like the Zeppelins of WWI… could shoot holes with a rifle (cannonball or musket shot for this period), but without a tracer element, the chance to hit metal would be near zero on the French balloon. I wonder if they had “no smoking” signs near the balloon? Maybe I should post a scaled “no smoking” sign on the semaphore base…in french of course.
      Cheers again Peter. Liked your recent Austrian cavalry write up on Chevau-legers and the old green vs. white coat discussion.
      Thanks for your comments at the warren…..Michael aka WR

  3. That is truly, and utterly brilliant – love it !

    Thanks for posting this, its just brimming full of good ideas, and inspiration for both research and modelling.


    • Thanks David for the link. I added to my French Co. d’Aeronautier blog post along with Vincent Lunardi (Naples) and James Tytler of Scotland. All were buzzing about the green fields of Great Britain in 1784.

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