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Albert Caquot

Albert Caquot (Vouziers, July 1, 1881 - Paris, November 28, 1976) was considered as the "best living French engineer during half a century. He received the “Croix de guerre 1914-1918” (military honor) and was Grand-croix of the Légion d’Honneur (1951). He was a member of the French Academy of Sciences from 1934 to 1976.

Biography

His parents, Paul and Marie-Irma Caquot owned a family farm in Vouziers, in the Ardennes. His father taught him modernism, by installing at their place electricity and telephone as early as 1890. One year only after high school, at eighteen years old, he was admitted at the Ecole Polytechnique. He graduated in the “Corps des Ponts et Chaussées”.

The scientist and designer

From 1905 to 1912, he was a project manager in Troyes (Aube), and was pointed out for major civil work improvements he undertook with the city sewer system. This protected the city from the centennial flood of the Crue de la Seine de 1910. In 1912, he joined a leading structural engineering firm where he applied his unique talent of structure designer.

Albert Caquot conducted outstanding research that was immediately applied in construction. His major contributions include:

  • reinforced concrete design, and structural engineering in a broader sense. In 1930, he defined the intrinsic curve and explained why the elasticity theory was not sufficient any more for modern structures design.
  • geotechnics and foundation design. He stated the corresponding states theorem (CST). In 1933, his publication on the stability of pulverulent and coherent material received an admiring report from the French Academy of Sciences, where he was elected life member in 1934. In 1948, with Jean Kérisel (1908-2005), his son-in-law and disciple, he developed an advanced theory extremely important for passive earth pressure (LINK) where there is soil-wall friction. This principle has been broadly applied ever since for the design of ground engineering structures such as retaining walls, tunnels and foundation piles.
  • the revival of cable-stayed bridges with reinforced concrete (Donzère Mondragon bridge, 1952), which he envisioned with long spans, even crossing the English Channel. In 1967, he designed a conceptual double-deck bridge of this type with 810 m-wide spans and two 25 m-wide decks stages accommodating 8 lanes for cars, 2 for rail and 2 for skytrain.

In the course of his life, Albert Caquot taught mechanical science for a long time in three of the most prominent French engineering schools in Paris: Écoles nationales supérieures des Mines, des Ponts et de l’Aéronautique.

In the course of his career, as both a highly creative designer and a tireless calculator, he designed more than 300 bridges and facilities among which several were world records at the time:

  • the bridge of La Madeleine, in Nantes (1928), a concrete cantilever bridge over the River Loire,
  • the Lafayette Bridge crossing the tracks of the Gare de l’Est in Paris (1928). This is a struss bridge in reinforced concrete, where concrete vibrators using compressed air were used for the first time in history.
  • the pont de la Caille (1928), on the ravine of Usses, in the Alps, close to Annecy. This is a 140-m-span concrete arc bridge.
  • the great Jean Bart dry dock in Saint-Nazaire harbor (1935).
  • Barrage de la Girotte (1944-49),
  • Dam of Donzère-Mondragon, which comprises the Bollène, the world’s tallest lock (1950).
  • the Bildstock tunnel (1953-1955),
  • the world’s largest tidal power plant on the River Rance, in Brittany (1961-1966). In his eighties, Albert Caquot made a critical contribution to the construction of the dam, designing an enclosure in order to protect the construction site from the 12-m-high ocean tides and the strong streams.

Two prestigious achievements made him famous internationally: the internal structure of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) at the peak of Corcovado Mountain (1931) and the , George V Bridge on the Clyde River in Glasgow (Scotland) for which the Scottish engineers asked for his assistance.

In his late eighties, he developed a gigantic tidal power project to capture the tide energy in Mont St Michel bay, in Normandy.

The aeronautical engineer

During the course of his life, he committed himself alternatively to structural and aeronautical engineering following the rhythm imposed by the First and Second World Wars. Albert Caquot’s contributions to aeronautics are priceless, from the design of the “Caquot dirigeable” to the launching of technical innovations at the new French Aviation Ministry, where he created several Fluid Mechanics Institute that still exist today. Marcel Dassault, who was charged by Albert Caquot to develop several major aeronautical projects at the beginning of his career, wrote about him: "He was one of the best engineers than aeronautics ever had. He was visionary and ahead of his time. He lead aeronautical innovations for forty years. "

As early as 1901, already visionary, he performed his military service in an airship unit of the French army. At the beginning of First World War, he naturally led an airship unit as first lieutenant. He noticed the poor wind behavior of the spherical balloon. In 1914, he designed a new sausage-shaped dirigeable equipped with back stabilizers, able to hold in 90 km/h winds. This balloon is known as “Caquot dirigeable”. During three years, France manufactured "Caquot dirigeables" for all the allied forces, including English and United States armies. This balloon gave to France and its allies an advantage in military observation which significantly contributed to the allies’ supremacy in aviation and eventually to the final victory. In January 1918, Georges Clémenceau named him technical director of the entire military aviation. In 1919, Albert Caquot proposed the creation of the French aeronautical museum (today called Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, in Le Bourget). This museum is the oldest aeronautical museum in the world.

In 1928, Albert Caquot became the first executive director of the new Aviation ministry. He implemented a policy of research, prototypes and mass production which contributed quickly to France leadership in the aeronautical industry. His main accomplishments are:

  • the development of fluid mechanics research and education. He created in 1928 the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Aéronautique (Sup' Aero), the leading engineering school in aeronautics that contributed to French scientific excellence in aeronautics and led to the creation of several institutions like ONERA (National Office of Aerospace Studies and Research) in 1946 and the CNES (National Center of Space Studies) in 1952. The school still exists today.
  • the construction of a gigantic wind tunnel in Chalais-Meudon in 1929 (120 m-long and 25 m-high) allowing to test a plane in real conditions, with engine on the way and pilot on board. This wind tunnel was the largest of the world at the time and it was used to test the Mirage III, the Caravelle and the Concorde, but also cars like the Peugeot 4 CV and the VW Beetle.

In 1933, after a budget cut which prevented him from carrying forward his projects, he resigned and went back to structural engineering for several years.

In 1938, under the threat of the war, Albert Caquot was brought back to manage all the national aeronautical businesses. He resigned in January 1940.

The man

He always had a great independence of mind and an incredible selflessness. The numerous honors he received from multiple countries, for example the dignity of Grand-croix de la Légion d’Honneur in France (1951), pay tribute to his exceptional merits. He was a member of the French Academy of Sciences for 41 years and served as their president from 1952 to 1961. During more than twenty years, he chaired numerous French scientific organizations, like the CNISF (CNISF), and was on the board of EDF (Électricité de France), the main electricity generation and distribution company in France, during more than ten years. In 1961, at 80 years old, Albert Caquot resigned from all the presidencies which he had always assured voluntarily. Warm-hearted, attentive and available, he loved to withdraw within his family.

Homage

On July 2, 2001, a Timbres de France 2001 was issued in France to celebrate Albert Caquot’s legacy on the 120e anniversary of his birth and the 25e anniversary of his death. A “Caquot dirigeable” and the pont de la Caille, two of his creations, surround his picture on the stamp.

Since 1989, the Prix Albert Caquot is awarded annually by the French Association of Civil and Structural Engineering (AFGC) to an engineer for his/her whole career, particularly for his/her scientific and technical achievements, but also for his/her ethics and influence in the construction industry. Every other year, it is awarded to a French engineer then to a foreign engineer. Fritz Leonhardt (1909-1999), Tung-Yen Lin (1912-2003) and Jean Muller received this honor.

Notes and references

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