21st Century Science & Technology

Pedro Paulet: Peruvian Space and Rocket Pioneer

by Sara Madueño Paulet de Vásquez

(Full text of article from Winter 2001–2002 21st Century)

The inventor of the liquid fuel motor (1895) and the first modern rocket propulsion system (1900) was a Peruvian engineer and statesman. His story is told here by his great niece.

Taking on the economic, moral, and cultural crisis that is ravaging the world today, requires a new universal cultural renaissance, in which each nation adopts a national educational policy designed to encourage our children and youth to rediscover and take as their own, the classical principles which have occupied the best scientific, artistic, and philosophic minds of our civilization.

In this context, it becomes necessary to bring to the fore those great men and women who represent a point of reference, a touchstone for evoking a commitment to the sciences, to discovery, to good government. Among this exemplary lineage of world citizens, is the great Peruvian scientist Pedro Paulet (1874-1945), pioneer of aerospace aviation, who also postulated the principle of universal scientific and classical education, as the basis for progress among peoples.

Pedro Paulet discovered the advantages of liquid fuel for rocket propulsion, and designed, built, and tested the first liquid fuel rocket engine known to history. Paulet also designed an early spaceship prototype.

Peru also counts among its illustrious sons, the astronaut Carlos Noriega who, as a member of the December 2000 Endeavour Space Shuttle crew, helped install the solar panels of the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS represents the bridge across which man must travel on his way to the colonization of the Moon, then Mars, and beyond.

Paulet and Noriega, seen from this historic viewpoint, represent a continuity of the same purpose: to extend the boundaries of man into space, to be fruitful and multiply, as Genesis commands. They also represent positive role models for guiding our children and youth along the road of science and discovery, to the benefit of all humanity.

In his book World History of Aeronautics (co-authored with Fred Ordway), Wernher von Braun, former head of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and director of the Saturn V rocket that took men to the Moon, states: "Pedro Paulet was in Paris in those years (1900), experimenting with his tiny two-and-a-half kilogram motor, and achieved 100 kg of force. By this act, Paulet should be considered the pioneer of the liquid fuel propulsion motor." Further, in his History of Rocketry and Space Travel, von Braun recognizes that "by his efforts, Paulet helped man reach the Moon."

Paulet’s scientific contributions were not, however, limited to the discovery of the advantages of liquid fuel for rocket propulsion, or the design of the reaction motor known as the "Paulet Motor" (1895), and the design of the Girándula propulsion system (1900). He also designed the "Avion Torpedo" (1902)– his "perfect airplane," which is an aerospace ship with specific aerodynamic characteristics, and room for a small crew, resistant materials for space and atmospheric conditions, thermal walls, and electricity supplied through thermoelectric batteries.

In the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., we can see a small plaque honoring the memory of the Peruvian Pedro Paulet, as one of the fathers of aeronautics. But Paulet deserves more than a plaque in his honor. He is a model for the present and future generations of the world, but especially for the so-called "Third World." He was one of many children born into a mestizo family living in one of the thousands of forgotten little villages in the Peruvian jungle, who demonstrated through his contribution to universal science that every person is capable of achieving the highest level of human creativity.

In Peru, Paulet is not only considered the "greatest Peruvian inventor of all time," but his birthday, July 2, has been officially declared National Aeronautics Day.

The Peruvian Air Force, in its Aeronautics Museum in Lima, has made the "Pedro Paulet Hall" into a major exhibit, where Paulet’s works, original sketches, and scale models of his inventions, are on view.

Paulet as a child

As a child, Pedro Paulet was fascinated with the idea of using rockets to reach into space. He went on to carry out the first experiments with liquid fuel rocket engines.

‘Reaching Space,’ a Childhood Dream
Pedro Paulet Mostajo (1874-1945) was born on July 2, 1874, the son of Pedro Paulet and Antonia Mostajo, in the small town of Tiabaya, near the prosperous city of Arequipa in Peru’s southwest. According to Megan Paulet, his daughter:

From early childhood, Pedro Paulet showed a passion for reaching the stars. With his primitive model rockets, inspired by the town’s fireworks, his whole childhood was a collection of anecdotes about his curiosity for discovery and scientific creation; curiosity that often led him into risky experiments.

After a strict primary and secondary education under French Lazarists led by Father Duhamel, Paulet entered the St. Augustine University of Arequipa, where he studied arts and sciences for several years. In 1894, when he was 18, the Peruvian government gave Paulet a scholarship to study engineering and architecture at the Sorbonne in Paris, in recognition of his academic excellence. He later enrolled also in the School of Fine and Decorative Arts. While studying engineering and architecture, Paulet attended public lectures in chemistry by Prof. Marcelin Berthelot at the College of France, in Paris. Then, in 1898, he decided to enroll at the Applied Chemistry Institute at the University of Paris to study with Prof. Berthelot.

In an interview with Argentina’s La Cronica, on April 18, 1944, Paulet recalled that, "at the Institute I was mainly attracted to the work of Berthelot, on the forces of explosive materials. I could not understand why his book is not featured in every technical library."

Paulet graduated from the Institute in 1901.

From the very beginning, Paulet concentrated on research and experimentation in that area which had obsessed him since childhood: rocket design and propulsion. For Paulet, the dream of plowing through space depended solely on the infinite capacity of individual human creativity. Convinced that there are truly "no limits to growth," and that man’s mission is to go forth and multiply, and dominate the Earth, he stated, in an interview with La Crónica in 1944:

Progress does not consist of matching the processes of nature, but of surpassing them. [Thus] what we must study is not aviation as it comes from the birds, and which only invites us to imitate flight, but weightlessness. Transport above the planet must be probed, where there is no air, no clouds, no ice.

At the same time, Paulet conceived and designed his "flying machine to reach space," and he began a period of intense experimentation. His challenge was to find the most appropriate explosive to use as a propellant. This issue dominated his constant consultations with his teachers: Charles Friedel (renowned chemist and mineralogist); Marcelin Berthelot (known for his work in organic chemistry and thermodynamics); and the famous Pierre Curie (Nobel physicist in 1903, who together with his wife Marie Sklodowska Curie and Henri Becquerel, are considered the pioneers of nuclear energy by virtue of having discovered polonium and radium).

It was during this stage of his life (1895-1902), that Paulet reached the first conclusions that would lead him to the discovery of liquid rocket fuel, and later to the physical principles upon which he based the conception and design of the Paulet Engine, the Girándula device, and, finally, his Torpedo Plane.

Figure 1

This diagram of Pedro Paulet’s first experimental rocket engine was reconstructed by James E. Wyld in 1946, from the inventor’s written description. The spring dynamometer at center top would measure the force produced by the thrust of the rocket engine below.

The Experimental ‘Paulet Engine’ (1895)
In Paris, Paulet dedicated himself to his project. When both the conception and form of his "flying machine" became clear, he designed both (see Figure 1 and photograph of model).

British author A.V. Cleaver writes that, by 1900, Paulet

has to his scientific credit, recognition of his invention of the "rocket engine," the first example of the bi-propellant rocket, where the oxidant and the hydrocarbon are in separate tanks, and only mix in the combustion chamber. This is a forerunner of that which is used in today’s spacecraft, with the difference that today, nitric acid replaces the nitrogen peroxide used by Paulet.

In 1927, in a letter written in Rome on August 25, and published in October of that year in the Lima daily El Comercio, Paulet describes his prototype for the experimental reaction motor for rocket propulsion:

My most definitive experiments were carried out with steel and vanadium rockets, then a novelty, and with Plankacite [a powerful explosive], which had just been invented by Turpin, the discoverer of melinite. The interior part of this metal rocket was a conical interior measuring some 10 centimeters high by 10 centimeters at the open base. Opposing ducts provided with spring valves, introduce nitrogen peroxide steam on the one side, and petroleum benzene on the other. Ignition was effected by an electric spark plug similar to that in an automobile, and placed halfway up the interior of the rocket.

At the same time, to carry out the preliminary experiments, the rocket was ringed on the outside with long flexible tubes which connect the above-mentioned nitrogen peroxide and benzene tanks to a lead from the spark plug to the electric mains. The rocket would ascend between the two taut, parallel and vertical wires, between whose upper part was installed a strong spring thrust measuring device, supporting the pressure of the firing rocket. The dynamometer could give the approximate measure of the lifting forces.

The results of these experiments were very satisfying. A single two-and-a-half kilogram rocket, undergoing 300 explosions per minute, could not only maintain a constant pressure against the dynamometer, of up to 90 kilograms, but could operate without damage for nearly an hour. Under such conditions, it would not be reckless to predict that, using two batteries of 1,000 rockets apiece, one in operation while the other rested, it would have been possible to lift several tons.

As can be seen in the schematic reconstruction of his "Paulet Engine–1895," rendered from his description (Figure 1), this is a detailed plan for the experimental reaction engine that Paulet invented. In fact, as he himself said, it was a conception for a rocket-airplane motor, or the "Torpedo Plane," as he was to call it.

‘Girándula’: Paulet’s Liquid Fuel Rocket
Paulet undertook to study and experiment with rocket propulsion, using various kinds of explosives. Through extensive research and arduous experimentation, as well as the guidance of Professor Berthelot, he reached the conclusion that liquid fuel is most appropriate for the reaction motor. He also experimented with his rocket-propelled device, the "Girándula," which he describes in his 1927 letter to El Comercio, and refers us to the results of his experiments with this:

It consisted of a bicycle wheel, fitted with three rockets fed by tubes attached to the spokes. The fuel comes through the tubes from a kind of fixed carburetor, placed near the axis, with a ring of holes. This explosive mixture flows through the tubes, every time the nozzle faces one of the holes. The number of rockets could be increased, until they come to look like a comfortably enclosed turbine.

The results [of the Girándula tests] were very encouraging: the wheel turned apparently indefinitely, and although the experiments were, as indicated, highly secret, word of their success reached the Latin Quarter [in Paris], which is perhaps why an English author has referred to me as one of the first driving forces of rocket flight.

It was decided to use Turpin Plankacite, a powerful explosive derived from picric acid, for the liquid fuel. This was a highly volatile and expandable fuel, which could be diluted with the appropriate solvents. The experiments were a success. What now needed to be established was the speed of rotation that the rocket-powered wheel could reach. In the midst of his experiments, an explosion occurred, causing the perforation of Paulet’s left eardrum, which was later to lead to deafness. In his 1944 interview with La Crónica, Paulet describes the accident as follows:

A serious accident caused by an acetone explosion in a beaker next to a Bunsen burner, alarmed the Institute’s director, Dr. C. Charbie, who vehemently prohibited the handling of explosives at the laboratories, which were then located in modest facilities near the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. As I was unable to continue these experiments at my hotel–less so, when the police, on account of some anarchist activity, were unfavorable to the manufacture of explosives–I abandoned my work on the Girándula motor, and its subsequent applications.

The Paris police detained Paulet, who was released when Professor Bethelot testified that he was not an anarchist. The police said that such experiments could only be done in military centers, or laboratories, not independently. Nonetheless, the efficiency of his experimental machine had already been proven.

This full-scale model of the Paulet Engine is part of the exhibit at the Aeronautical Museum in Lima.

Pedro Paulet’s Girándula consisted of rockets attached to the outside of a wheel, to be fed fuel through tubes in the spokes. Ignition was provided by spark plugs, similar to those used in automobiles. The rocket exhaust caused the wheel to rotate.

The Paulet ‘Torpedo Plane’ (1902)
Paulet laid out the general concepts for a rocket plane’s flight through the atmosphere, on its way to reach space, in his interview with La Crónica:

It is not a matter of "attracting" the air, but of "pushing" the air with rockets. The ship with which we will reach space will have to be aerodynamic in form. . . . The propeller and the glider elements should disappear. They must be replaced with a new form, which corresponds to its astrodynamic functions, once gravity has been overcome through the rockets.

In the process of conceptualizing the design of his "flying machine," Paulet concluded that, "It is possible to traverse the atmosphere, both dense and thin, by means of ships whose ends must be like spearheads. . . ."

The interior of the flying machine, he said, should be such that:

it must allow that, within the airtight chamber, the astronaut has full freedom of movement. To achieve this, the spherical form is certainly appropriate, because it is more resistant to external pressures.

The exterior of the machine, he said, should have a shape that:

allows the outside tip to be maneuvered from inside the chamber. It must also be assured, as occurred with submersibles, that whoever inhabits it would have no problem controlling the interactions of the metal ship with the outside environment.

To achieve the "perfect airplane," that is, his spaceship, said Paulet, it must:

(1) ascend vertically

(2) stop [or hover] at any point in the atmosphere

(3) be able to fly at more than 20,000 meters altitude

(4) possess an exterior impervious to the atmosphere, and an interior comfortable enough for a large number of passengers and a great deal of cargo weight; and

(5) descend vertically.

"Torpedo Plane, Paulet System, 1902." That is how Paulet signed the final sketches of his spaceship, which he liked to call, in Spanish, "Autobólido." (See Figures 2 and 3). These final sketches can be found in Antwerp, a city in which he lived for several years, when he was named Peruvian Consul to Belgium in 1902.

Figure 2

This front-view 1902 drawing by Paulet of his Torpedo Plane, shows the two batteries of rockets, on either side of the crew cabin. When the rocket plane is taking off, and is in vertical flight, the rockets, attached to the spear-shaped frame, are pointed downward.

Figure 3

The upper drawing shows the Torpedo Plane from a side view, while it is “at rest,” or hovering in the atmosphere. The lower drawing, also a side view, shows the vehicle flying horizontally through the air. The spear-shaped triangle holding the rockets has been rotated a quarter turn, by the crew inside the cabin, from a vertical to horizontal postion. The spearhead is now pointed toward the horizon, in order to move forward, rather than toward the zenith, to ascend.

Paulet describes his space ship in his 1927
rticle in El Comercio:

The first advantage of the application of rocket motors is that they create a force external to the apparatus, but are controllable from within, thus allowing us to give that apparatus the most appropriate shape. In order to slide through a fluid, such as the atmosphere, which is a homogeneous and stress-filled mixture, the shape, in my judgment, should be that of a very convex lens, almost ovoidal like our planet. By incorporating batteries of rockets, positioned both below and equatorially, whose angle of firing could be varied, it would be possible to direct the vehicle vertically, horizontally, or obliquely, resisting any contrary forces that the atmosphere might produce, to remain in space, and then descend to the ground.

Since this vehicle is destined to navigate stellar space, where there is no air, it needs neither propeller nor gliders. It is shaped like a triangular spearhead, on the base of which is placed, on each side of the astronaut’s cabin, 12 batteries of 3 rockets per battery (that is, 36 rockets). This allows the orientation of this triangular spearhead to an axis on the center of gravity of the astronauts’ cabin.

With such a system, a ship should be able to:

(a) Rise up vertically, with the spearhead pointed to the zenith;

(b) Maintain itself at any point in the atmosphere, using rockets to balance the force of gravity;

(c) Fly horizontally, with the spearhead rotated to point toward the horizon;

(d) Transition from the air to submersion in water, by aiming the spearhead below the horizon;

(e) Navigate under water, as a submarine.

In the 1927 El Comercio letter, Paulet made observations of the then "modern" airplanes, which he described as simple "self-propelled comets," with their "poorly performing propellers, their almost totally exposed bodies, and the impossibility of their remaining motionless in space. [They] satisfy none of the conditions" of the "perfect airplane." Paulet therefore suggests that "they should be viewed in aerial navigation as forerunners, similar to those sailing vessels in maritime navigation, which had also crossed the oceans."

Remember that while Paulet was presenting his daring "Torpedo Plane" in 1902, the American brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, were completing their record of 1,000 glider flights.

Regarding the helicopters of that era, these, he says, while they "can rise and descend vertically . . . the complexity of their makeup has meant that thus far, they have been unable to carry out effective flights."

Many years earlier, in 1909, while working as director of the magazine Ilustración Peruana, Paulet had explained, in his article "War and Aerial Navigation," the advantages and disadvantages, as weapons of war, of the hot air balloon, kite, and dirigible, as well as the Wright biplane, the Bleriot monoplane, the Krupp cannon, and the self-propelled mortar.

Paulet wrote his 1927 letter to El Comercio, 25 years after his crucial discoveries and designs had already been made. Thus, he asks himself:

With such advantages, one can ask why rocket-planes have not already been built, even more, why rockets have not been placed tangentially on a wheel, which would form the simplest and most powerful of industrial forces; and the why rocket projectiles have not eliminated the costly use of cannons in war, and so on. Well, as a result of my own experience, I can reveal why: It is because of the great difficulty that a civilian encounters, especially in Europe, trying to obtain information on, and experiment with, explosives. Moreover, the needed explosives, which are of the binary type and are not solid, but rather liquid or gaseous, are not sold commercially, due to their unsafe and dangerous composition.

Anticipating Nuclear-Propelled Rockets
How is it possible, Paulet stresses in that letter, that the rocket-plane has not yet been built when, as he writes, it is already conceptually feasible in that period to imagine nuclear-propelled rockets?

But during the past 15 years, the science of explosives is one of those which has made the most progress. . . . Internal combustion motors are replacing steam motors everywhere; pyrotechnics is no longer simply an art; and chemical manufacturers provide a range of explosives as varied as dyes and perfumes. And this progress is going to be even greater with the studies of radioactive forces. For example, M. Esnaut [sic] Pelterie has calculated that a rocket ship weighing 1,000 kilograms, with a motor fueled by the disintegration products of a mere two decigrams of radium, would produce a force of 40,000 horsepower over a period of half an hour, sufficient to be able to go the Moon in 24 minutes 9 seconds, and return from that satellite in 3 minutes 46 seconds.

The truth is that we still don’t know how to use the mechanical energy of radium, as we do that of petroleum. But, not much is needed to be able to travel modestly from Europe to Lima in a couple of hours.

Paulet, Pioneer of Peruvian Technical Education
In 1900, Paulet’s life took a turn. Because of the various diplomatic responsibilities he was given by the Peruvian government, he joined the diplomatic corps. He was first assigned as Peruvian consul in Paris, and in 1902 he was transferred to Belgium, as consul general in Antwerp. It was there that he finished his drafts for the "Torpedo-Plane, Paulet system."

The Peruvian government assigned him a number of official duties, which distracted him from his project. But the government also needed his technical and scientific input for other projects. For example, they asked him to evaluate the feasibility of applying wireless telegraphy across the Pacific Ocean, and it is on the basis of his research that a telegraph system was installed in Peru.

In 1904, Paulet was called upon by the Peruvian government to assume the founding and directorship of the School of Arts and Trades (predecessor of the current Superior Technology Institute). To carry out this project, Paulet studied the curriculum of the most prominent centers of European technical education. He invited a prominent teaching team of engineers to join him in founding the School, which was also provided with the best laboratory equipment and machinery for fulfilling its purpose.

Paulet combined the directorship of the School with the management of the magazine that he had founded in 1906, Ilustración Peruana. This magazine, directed toward youth, was known for its scientific-technical orientation, and had as its objective the preparation of youth for engineering, and especially aeronautical, vocations.

He also turned the magazine into a voice, demanding the attention of the Peruvian government in encouraging and investing in the generation of scientific vocations and in scientific research. Paulet’s dissertations at the Society of Engineers, on the advantages to Peru of encouraging education in the sciences and in engineering, were very well known.

The Dec. 7, 1910, edition of Ilustracíon Peruana), was dedicated, for example, to reporting on the 1908 construction of the first Peruvian monoplane. The building of this 36-foot monoplane, was carried out by Peruvian engineer Carlos Tenaud Pomar, at the School of Arts and Trades. Educated at the Carnot Lyceum in France, Tenaud came to Lima with Paulet, to collaborate on his project for the school.

Paulet also promoted the founding in Lima of an "aviation club," or "aerostation," to "encourage the efforts of our inventors," and to "inspire our future aeronauts." The magazine regularly supported the activities of the National Pro-Aviation League, which Paulet had also founded. Among its first activities, the League hired young Peruvians who had studied aeronautics in Europe, primarily in France, to come back to Peru to serve as instructors.

This model of Paulet’s Torpedo Plane clearly shows the rocket batteries underneath the spear-shaped triangle, and the ovoidal crew cabin, with windows. The bust of Pedro Paulet can be seen at the top left of the photograph.

The 1910 founding of the National Pro-Aviation League by Paulet, which was directed by Gen. Pedro Muniz, was closely followed by the founding of the Peruvian Air Club, both of which were precursors of the Peruvian Air Force. A prominent member of the League, flight pioneer Juan Bielovucic Cavalier, was among the first to fly across the Alps. In 1913, he brought a French Voisin plane to Peru, which was assembled there with the help of the local experts. It was one of the first airplanes to fly in the skies of South America.

Although Paulet hoped, through his Pro-Aviation League, to win economic backing from the Peruvian government for building his prototype ship, he did not get that support. Four years after getting his school established on firm ground and with renown, at the end of 1910, Paulet decided to return to Europe to seek financing there, and to continue with the development of his aerospace project.

He persisted, despite the fact that World War I and lack of financing conspired against him. Although his family was based in London, Paulet travelled through various European nations, carrying out diplomatic duties for the Peruvian government and seeking, unsuccessfully, to win financing for his project.

Paulet married, and from 1911 to 1919, lived mostly in Paris. Paulet travelled occasionally to other countries, representing the Peruvian government, particularly at scientific conferences.

Paulet’s first five children were born in this period, but it was during a difficult time of great economic hardship. He faced the tragedy of the death by starvation of his two youngest children. In 1920, he moved to London for financial reasons, but the next year, the government of Peru named him consul in Dresden, Germany, where he stayed until 1924.

While Paulet was in Germany, he became familiar with the rocket car experiments of Max Valier, and criticized Valier’s design for a spaceship in his 1927 letter to El Comercio.

Pedro Paulet, in his office in Lima, Peru, after a 25-year absence, on various diplomatic missions. Upon his return, he founded, organized, and directed the Trade Department of the Peruvian Foreign Ministry.

In his 1928 book, Spaceflight, Valier writes:

Paulet’s work is even more significant [than earlier attempts] for the present project of development of a rocket ship, as they have proven for the first time–as compared to the few seconds of the burning of powder rockets–that it is possible, by the use of liquid fuels, to construct a rocket engine that would burn for an hour.

In 1965, in preparation for the centenary of Pedro Paulet’s birth (in 1974), the Peruvian government named a Commission to investigate the contributions of Paulet, to establish his place among the pioneers of aerospace aviation, and also to resurrect his other contributions, to the education of scientists and engineers in Peru. One of the Commission members was Dr. Manuel del Castillo.

Dr. Castillo contacted Hermann Oberth, requesting to visit the German space pioneer at his home in Feucht. Professor Oberth replied: ".?.?.The name of Pedro Paulet is known to me, if I have been correctly informed. He has worked chiefly with nitric acid and benzene propulsion motors, until the police forbade it."

In 1929, he was sent to Rotterdam as Peru’s consul general. Without losing sight of his objective, he sought the collaboration of several well-known engineers there such as Hans Doerr y Philip, and with them began work again on the construction of his "Paulet Motor" prototype. Years earlier, the first prototype he had built had been damaged by war.

In a letter to European scientists who had asked about his work, written in about 1943, Paulet explained the thermoelectric power system he had proposed for a "moving habitat" in air and space. He also proposed the same system be used "for fixed dwellings, which would eliminate the present necessity of lighting, heating, and providing power from expensive electricity plants. I presented this proposal at a Congress on Rural Housing in Liege, Belgium, in 1930, and many of the attendees, and several newspapers there, were interested in this idea," he wrote.

Paulet’s work made it into the Rotterdam press. One of the articles about his invention, titled "A New System of Aviation," says in summary:

There are experiments currently under way in Rotterdam, whose results are going to revolutionize the practice of aerial navigation. Engineer Paulet, after more than 30 years of research and experimentation, is proposing a new system of aerial navigation, based on principles completely different from those currently known and applied. Mr. Paulet’s airplane has neither airfoils, nor a winged fuselage, nor a gasoline motor, nor propellers. It is essentially composed of an aluminum spheroid, with a steel interior measuring three-and-a-half meters long and two-and-a-half meters wide. Inside the cabin, similar to that of Swiss Professor August Píccard, which he uses for his studies of the stratosphere, there is room for three or four crew members. . . .

While working on his engine prototype, and on the prototype of his "Torpedo-Plane," Paulet faced new challenges specific to the development of the project, such as the need to provide a permanent supply of energy to the interior of the ship. In this regard, Paulet wrote in his 1931 notes:

I have come up with a system for a thermoelectric wall which produces electricity in flight. This device is very important, given the enormous difference in temperature that exists between the interior of the vehicle, where temperature has to be normal, and the exterior in the atmosphere, where it is very cold. Thermoelectric batteries are already well known, but what was missing was how to apply them to the provision of electricity in a travelling habitat.

Paulet began to receive recognition by well-known scientists, as the forefather of reaction motors for rocket propulsion. News of his invention went beyond Europe, and in 1928 he received a million-dollar offer from Henry Ford, who wanted to "buy" his invention with the idea of adapting the rockets of his "Torpedo-Plane" to his motor cars. Ford suggested that Paulet renounce his Peruvian nationality, and adopt American citizenship, so that his invention could be patented as American. But Paulet rejected the offer because, he said, his "Torpedo-Plane" had been conceived to "navigate 348,000 kilometers of space, until touchdown on lunar soil."

The German Astronautical Society invited Paulet to join a team of scientists to study rocket propulsion, a proposal presented as an opportunity to test his invention. But upon learning that it would be used to fabricate a weapon that could double the range of the "Great Britain Cannon," he rejected the offer.

In the midst of all of this, in 1932, the Peruvian government named Paulet consul general in Yokohama, Japan. While at this post, he studied the Japanese economic model, leading to the publication of a book titled Modern Japan and Its Economic Foundation. He also wrote a series of reports for the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, which included proposals for Peruvian development based on the Japanese economic model.

Paulet was called back to work at the Peruvian Foreign Ministry from 1935 to 1941. While there, he returned to building a replica of his "reaction engine" and "Torpedo-Plane," and gave his models to the Aviation Ministry, in the hope of winning financing to continue work on his project. His appeals did not succeed. During this period, he also appealed for support from the British, and gave a set of original drawings and writings on his project to the British Embassy in Peru. He never received a reply, or the return of his originals. In 1941, he was transferred to Buenos Aires for another diplomatic assignment.

In the middle of World War II, Peru broke diplomatic relations with Japan, and Paulet’s son (married to a Japanese woman), who had been protecting his reaction motor and Torpedo-Plane prototypes, had to suddenly leave the country. Although put in storage, the prototypes were lost over the years.

Paulet died in Buenos Aires in 1945.

The author (left), with Pedro Paulet’s daughter, Megan, in 1996. His legacy and accomplishments are an example of the limitless possibilities for all young people in Peru, and around the world.

Testament of a Scientist
Years later, when questioned why he had not made his early experiments public at the time, Paulet responded in his letter to European scientists, explaining why there had been little written about his experiments at the time they were carried out:

Those who witnessed these experiments knew I meant to invent a kind of motor which seemed simpler and more powerful than any known up until that time. But I chose not to publish anything about it, nor to apply for a patent, because even though the rocket seemed perfect to me, the explosive used was very dangerous and my intention was to find a safer and cheaper one.

In his letter to El Comercio, Paulet wrote with a scientist’s humility:

Even though I have no information that anyone before me concerned himself with a torpedo rocket plane, I don’t seek to claim paternity for this invention, because, as with all projects, it is not valid until it is realized. The inventor of the rocket airplane will be the first one to fly in an apparatus powered by rockets.

In the same way, he clarifies, "it is not enough to say that the project of the German [Max] Valier has been preceded, by 30 years at least, and by even perhaps more conclusive experiments, by that of a Peruvian," referring to himself.

Then, in a gesture that revealed his conviction that "genius is not born, but made" and that "every Peruvian child could be a scientist" because all men possess the divine spark of creation, he delegated the continuity of his invention to young Peruvian scientists, saying to them:

[I want] to call the attention of our nation’s technicians and inventors to this important matter. . . . In effect, what I was unable to achieve, through unfortunate circumstances, well might some other, better-provided compatriot obtain, to the glory and advantage of Peru.

Sara Madueño heads the Lima bureau of Executive Intelligence Review magazine in Peru and is a long-time political collaborator of international statesman Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. She notes that this article is in payment of a long-standing debt to Megan Paulet, daughter of Pedro Paulet, and is written in memory of her own mother, Sara Paulet de Madueño, Pedro Paulet’s niece. The article was translated into English by Valerie Rush and Carlos Potes.

Sources and Acknowledgments

My special thanks to Megan Paulet. My discussions with her were the inspiration and first-hand source for the preparation of this article.

The letter to El Comercio was written by Pedro Paulet on Aug. 25, 1927, while he was attending a congress in Rome. The entire text of this letter appears as an appendix to the book by Megan Paulet, Pedro Paulet, Father of Astronomy, published by the National Council of Science and Technology (CONCYTEC) of Peru, 1988.

The Feb. 1996 exhibit, "Pedro Paulet: Forerunner of the Space Age," at the Institute of Aerospace Historical Studies of Peru, included original drawings of Paulet’s inventions. It can be seen today at the Institute’s Pedro Paulet Museum, in his native Arequipa, and is the source for the illustrations for this article.

Sketches and full-scale models for the "reaction engine," the "Girándula," and the "Torpedo-Plane," can be seen in the Pedro Paulet Hall of the Aeronautics Museum of the Peruvian Air Force, in Lima, Peru.

The photographs of the sketches and models in this article were taken by Sara Madueño Paulet.

Home   Current Issue Contents   Sample Articles   Subscribe   Order Books  News
Shop Online
 Contribute  Statement of Purpose  Back Issues Contents  Español  Translations
Order Back Issues 
Index 1988-1999   Advert. Rates  Contact Us

21st Century, P.O. Box 16285, Washington, D.C. 20041 Phone: (703) 777-6943 Fax: (703) 771-9214
Copyright © 2005 21st Century Science Associates. All rights reserved.