Etienne Oehmichen ChalonsEtienne Oehmichen Chalons
©Etienne Oehmichen Chalons|Collection Philippe Boulay

Etienne Oehmichen

Etienne Oehmichen was a French engineer and biologist considered to be one of the pioneers of stroboscope, and helicopter inventions, and one of the forerunners in biomechanics.

He shares his story with you…

Etienne OehmichenEtienne Oehmichen
©Etienne Oehmichen
Etienne Oehmichen


Hello, my name is Etienne Oehmichen

I was born in Châlons-sur-Marne on October 15th, in 1884. At the age of 8, I left Châlons to follow my mother to Lyon after the terrible shock of my father’s death. Lost in this big city, I felt an overwhelming sadness and so I tried to find some form of escapism. It was then that I became fascinated with astrology and palaeontology.

I obtained my engineering degree in 1908 and began my career at Peugeot where I developed a dynamo light for automobiles. From 1912 to 1914, I registered no less than twelve patents with Peugeot. However, I remained fascinated with the idea of flight.

During the war, I had to give up my research on flight. In 1917, as technical assistant to General Estienne, I played an essential part in developing the tank and invented and produced the electric stroboscope. At the end of the war, I resumed my studies and concentrated on designing helicopters. I was then self-employed and, with a small team, I began to build my prototypes.

On January 15th, 1921, my “helicopter n°1” lifted off the ground, in vertical flight! There were six flights lasting between 35 seconds and one minute, at altitudes of up to 3 metres. Six further prototypes followed.

In 1924, I achieved the feat of flying a complete circuit of one kilometre, at a speed of 40 km/hour. After this triumphant historic flight, I gradually equipped an entire laboratory to carry out wind tunnel studies and research on propellers. The Oehmichen-Peugeot laboratory was founded, becoming the Oehmichen Laboratory in 1930.

As the official services had decided that the helicopter was a machine with no future, I abandoned my research on flying machines in 1936.

I then thought that the sum of the knowledge I had accumulated could be the basis for teaching. In 1939, I was elected Professor at the Collège de France and gave prestigious lectures on “anatomical mechanics”. I gave my last lecture on June 11th, 1955 before passing away on July 10th of the same year. I am buried in Arbouans, where my historic flight took place.

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Where to find me today


3 Boulevard Vaubécourt
51000 Châlons-en-Champagne


Lycée Technique (Technical High School) Etienne Oehmichen

8 Avenue du Mont-Héry
51000 Châlons-en-Champagne
The high school adopted my name in 1974.