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P70 La Nature 1887 Editor Gaston Tissandier.


Translation into English by  John Gwynn

Jet Propulsion experiment of J. J. Buisson and A. Ciurcu.

Title: Disaster of 16th December 1886.

Introduction by Gaston Tissandier

On the16th December 1886 a terrible accident left the population of Asnieres and its vicinity in a state of  shock. After an engine used to power a whaling gaff exploded on the river Seine. Just downstream from the Pont de Clichy bridge.

The fragile wooden structure was transformed into a cloud of debris, and the three occupants projected by the force of the blast into the river. Two occupants were killed instantly by the blast, whilst the third although suffering from severe burns to his face and hand managed to swim to the rivers edge and safety.

The debates which  followed the accident and those that had been  raised during the enquiry into the affair had thrown little light onto the real scientific principles on which the experiments where based.

Based on witness accounts of the accident the public had been informed that the machine which had exploded was the product of an invention by MM Just Bussion and Al. Ciurcu whose objective was to develop a new means of propulsion. Adding somewhat superficially that the principle was based on that of a cannon. However we should be reluctant to make comment before we have detailed knowledge of the actual cause.Consequently we had thought it more appropriate to ask one of the original inventors Mr Alexandre Ciurcu ( pronounced Tchurcou) what information he could supply without  breaching the confidential nature of the patented invention,

Following the inquest and let me add his aquittal, Mr Ciurcu had briefly left France to return home to his native Romania. Recently Mr Ciurcu has returned from Bucharest to Asnieres where he had undertaken the initial propulsion research with his unfortunate co-inventor. Where he intended to continue the development of his invention. 

Following our request Mr Ciurcu has given us a complete account of the propulsion project.from which we have selected extracts for you to read in this article. Beyond the interset of a description where the lack of precise detail is unfortunate we reserve judgement on the quality of  the practical tests carried out to date. GT

Note by John Gwynn: 

Due to patent right confidentiality the exact detail of both there engine and the chemical formula of the rocket propergol fuel had to be kept out of the public domain. Until the idea had been fully developed and secured.

Gaston was a chemist so he would have liked to have discussed the explosive mixture. A certain Mr.Nobel would also.

Alexandru Ciurcu:

Our jet propulsion system is based on the reaction principle.

Just Buisson was the first to have the idea to use it as a means of propulsion. Whilst I was involved with putting the idea into practice


They say that we adopt the principle of reaction demonstrated by the recoil force produced when a gun is fired. Its true.

But we can also give other examples like the rotating steam jet driven eolipile invented in the first century AD by Heron of Alexandria, another more appropriate example is that of the thrust produced by a flying rocket (firework rocket)

The principle is as old as the world itself and well known everywhere. However our method of applying this principle is completely new.

When Mr. Maurouard from the Ministry of War ( Director of explosive powder and saltpetre division) spoke for the first time about our invention at the Ministry. He made reference that the experimental demonstrations at which he was present had been a complete success. Using the following useful description to explain the principle of our invention:

" Imagine a large firework rocket fixed horizontally at the rear of a vehicle. For example a boat or the under cabin (nacelle) of a balloon. Such that the gas produced by the powerful slow combustion of the powder charge is allowed to escape freely into the atmosphere at the rear of the vehicle.

Now imagine that this rocket is enclosed inside the barrel of a cannon (also pointing to the rear of the vehicle)

Once the rocket is lit the gas produced will escape, with force from the mouth of the cannon. Producing a reaction within the interior which will make the cannon recoil in the direction directly opposing that of the gas projected to the rear."


Nature P71

"Now if for example the cannon was fixed , to a boat the recoil force would then be transmitted allowing the boat to advance on the water. Due solely to the reaction force of the escaping gas jet. The boat advances without the use of either a propeller, paddle wheels or oars. The only difference being that in place of the cannon the inventors have used a cylinder in which they burn a patented combustible mixture of there creation which can burn in an enclosed space producing a very large volume of gas without leaving any solid residue. The cylinder has a small rearward facing opening or orifice which is intended to control the gas escaping from the cylinder.

The size of this opening can be varied during operation by the use a hand adjustable 'butterfly  throat valve. Interior pressure is monitored by a pressure gauge and can be increased or reduced by the action of closing or opening the butterfly valve. Effectively reducing or opening the outlet for the gas to escape. The force of the escaping gas makes a load noise and the boat steadily advances in a direction opposite to that of the projected escaping gas.

Its a rocket that flies and carries with it the object to which it is attached. The inventors managed to remount the current on the river Seine for a period of between 12 and 15 minutes when the combustible charge had been completely consumed."

 If I have asked Mr Maurouard to make his presentation it is because of his grand experience in the field of combustibles for the government and that he had actually taken part in one of our demonstrations that was completely successful.

So what does this new method of propulsion consist.

Its simply by using the propulsion obtained by a reaction force created by a gas at high pressure escaping to atmosphere from the 

pressure vessel. In which combustion of a slow burning fusante substance occurs.

Fusante : Relatively slow burning explosive mixture. Propergol solid.

Our starting point was that relating toaprinciple law of physics and mechanics:

" T hat a fluid enclosed in a pressure vessel, exerts a pressure on the interior surface area that is equal in qll directions.Supposing the fluid were a gas at high pressure .It is clear that the force exerted is equal in all directions and is held in equilibrium by the resulting restraining force provided by the pressure vessel structure. Consequently the gas is stationary. or at rest.

But if we create an opening or hole in the cylinder wall the gas will escape with force through that hole Since the gas continues to exert pressure on the interior of the pressure vessel. There is a reaction force equal and opposite to that of the escaping gas exerted on the interior of the cylinder.

If the pressure vessel is free to move then if the reaction force is large enough to overcome the resistance ( inertia) of the pressure chamber. The pressure vessel will move in a direction of the reaction force for as long as the gas pressure allows.


Now that I have explained the the basic principles of physics/ mechanics on which our invention is based . I will not describe in detail all the numerous experiments we conducted over  several years with the objective of producing a practical application of our system of jet propulsion. I'll just simply say that we tried and rejected solutions based on water steam vapour, compressed air and ignition powder. For many different a varied reasons that I can explain in more detail on another occasion.

 We conclude that the ideal would be to find a substance that with only a small quantity would burn producing a considerable quantity of gas without producing any significant volume of waste residue, that would have a slow controlled rate of combustion and was capable of burning inside a pressure vessel without the need to supply oxygen/air.

The rest of our research was focused on transforming our idea for jet propulsion from a dream into a practical reality.

The combustible we invented is a mixture of several substances that conformed to all our initial conditions. Whilst its fabrication was simple and its price not unreasonable.

After carrying out numerous tests on land we satisfied ourselves that we could with confidence control pressure produced by the combustion of our combustible. So that at any moment during the operation we could manually reduce pressure by either opening the orifice/ aperture or evacuating the cylinder pressure through two horizontal exhaust tubes.

In actual operation these so called exhaust tubes where vented into water below the boat waterline facing rearwards.

Ultimately we navigated in our test boat on the river Seine powered solely by the reaction force create by our gas jet propulsion system.

All our calculations and dynamometer tests  had all indicated that dynamically there was every possibility that our invention would work.

 However it was with both great emotion  and  joy that on the morning of 3rd of  August 1886 we travelled in our boat against the current on the Seine for the first time; powered by our system of  jet propulsion.



P70 La Nature 1887 Editor Gaston Tissandier

Translation into English by  John Gwynn  2006 All rights reserved.




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