Alphonse Pénaud was born in Paris in 1850. Although he suffered from a crippling illness, he took a keen interest in aviation. He developed theories about wing contours and aerodynamic principles and built several model aeroplanes, helicopters and ornithopters.
His most important model was a monoplane called a Planophore. The machine had a two-blade pusher propeller and was powered by a twisted elastic band. When it was tested in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris on 18th August, 1871, it flew 131 feet (40 m) in 11 seconds.
Alphonse Pénaud also began work on a two-passenger amphibian monoplane. In 1880 Pénaud attended a meeting of the French Aeronautical Society. When the organization refused to give him any more financial help he returned home, placed all his drawings in a small coffin, and committed suicide.
A couple of years later one of Pénaud model monoplanes was given to two boys, Orville and Wilbur Wright. This toy proved to be the inspiration for their later designs for the Kitty Hawk.