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BEGINNINGS

 

Francesco Lana, with his 'aerial ship,' stands as one of the first great exponents of aerostatics; up to the time of the Montgolfier and Charles balloon experiments, aerostatic and aerodynamic research are so inextricably intermingled that it has been thought well to treat of them as one, and thus the work of Lana, Veranzio and his parachute, Guzman's frauds, and the like, have already been sketched. In connection with Guzman, Hildebrandt states in his Airships Past and Present, a fairly exhaustive treatise on the subject up to 1906, the year of its publication, that there were two inventors or charlatans Lorenzo de Guzman and a monk Bartolemeo Laurenzo, the former of whom constructed an unsuccessful airship out of a wooden basket covered with paper, while the latter made certain experiments with a machine of which no description remains. A third de Guzman, some twenty-five years later, announced that he had constructed a flying machine, with which he proposed to fly from a tower to prove his success to the public. The lack of record of any fatal accident overtaking him about that time seems to show that the experiment was not carried out.

 

Galien, a French monk, published a book L'art de naviguer dans l'air in 1757, in which it was conjectured that the air at high levels was lighter than that immediately over the surface of the earth. Galien proposed to bring down the upper layers of air and with them fill a vessel, which by Archimidean principle would rise through the heavier atmosphere. If one went high enough, said Galien, the air would be two thousand times as light as water, and it would be possible to construct an airship, with this light air as lifting factor, which should be as large as the town of Avignon, and carry four million passengers with their baggage. How this high air was to be obtained is matter for conjecture Galien seems to have thought in a vicious circle, in which the vessel that must rise to obtain the light air must first be filled with it in order to rise. 

 

Cavendish's discovery of hydrogen in 1776 set men thinking, and soon a certain Doctor Black was suggesting that vessels might be filled with hydrogen, in order that they might rise in the air. Black, however, did not get beyond suggestion; it was Leo Cavallo who first made experiments with hydrogen, beginning with filling soap bubbles, and passing on to bladders and special paper bags. In these latter, the gas escaped, and Cavallo was about to try goldbeaters' skin at the time that the Montgolfiers came into the field with their hot air balloon.

 

Joseph and Stephen Montgolfier, sons of a wealthy French paper manufacturer, carried out many experiments in physics, and Joseph interested himself in the study of aeronautics some time before the first balloon was constructed by the brothers he is said to have made a parachute descent from the roof of his house as early as 1771, but of this there is no proof. Galien's idea, together with study of the movement of clouds, gave Joseph some hope of achieving aerostation through Galien's schemes, and the first experiments were made by passing steam into a receiver, which, of course, tended to rise but the rapid condensation of the steam prevented the receiver from more than threatening ascent. The experiments were continued with smoke, which produced only a slightly better effect, and, moreover, the paper bag into which the smoke was induced permitted of escape through its pores; finding this method a failure the brothers desisted until Priestley's work became known to them, and they conceived the use of hydrogen as a lifting factor. Trying this with paper bags, they found that the hydrogen escaped through the pores of the paper.

 

Their first balloon, made of paper, reverted to the hot-air principle; they lighted a fire of wool and wet straw under the balloon and as a matter of course the balloon took fire after very little experiment; thereupon they constructed a second, having a capacity of 700 cubic feet, and this rose to a height of over 1,000 feet. Such a success gave them confidence, and they gave their first public exhibition on June 5th, 1783, with a balloon constructed of paper and of a circumference of 112 feet. A fire was lighted under this balloon, which, after rising to a height of 1,000 feet, descended through the cooling of the air inside a matter of ten minutes. At this, the Academie des Sciences invited the brothers to conduct experiments in Paris.

 

The Montgolfiers were undoubtedly first to send up balloons, but other experimenters were not far behind them, and before they could get to Paris in response to their invitation, Charles, a prominent physicist of those days, had constructed a balloon of silk, which he proofed against escape of gas with rubber the Roberts had just succeeded in dissolving this substance to permit of making a suitable coating for the silk. With a quarter of a ton of sulphuric acid, and half a ton of iron filings and turnings, sufficient hydrogen was generated in four days to fill Charles's balloon, which went up on August 28th, 1783. Although the day was wet, Paris turned out to the number of over 300,000 in the Champs de Mars, and cannon were fired to announce the ascent of the balloon. This, rising very rapidly, disappeared amid the rain clouds, but, probably bursting through no outlet being provided to compensate for the escape of gas, fell soon in the neighborhood of Paris. Here peasants, ascribing evil supernatural influence to the fall of such a thing from nowhere, went at it with the implements of their craft forks, hoes, and the like and maltreated it severely, finally attaching it to a horse's tail and dragging it about until it was mere rag and scrap.

 

Meanwhile, Joseph Montgolfier, having come to Paris, set about the construction of a balloon out of linen; this was in three diverse sections, the top being a cone 30 feet in depth, the middle a cylinder 42 feet in diameter by 26 feet in depth, and the bottom another cone 20 feet in depth from junction with the cylindrical portion to its point. The balloon was both lined and covered with paper, decorated in blue and gold. Before ever an ascent could be attempted, this ambitious balloon was caught in a heavy rainstorm, which reduced its paper covering to pulp, and tore the linen at its seams, so that a supervening strong wind tore the whole thing to shreds.

 

Montgolfier's next balloon was spherical, having a capacity of 52,000 cubic feet. It was made from waterproofed linen, and on September 19th, 1783, it made an ascent for the palace courtyard at Versailles, taking up as passengers a cock, a sheep, and a duck. A rent at the top of the balloon caused it to descend within eight minutes, and the duck and sheep were found none the worse for being the first living things to leave the earth in a balloon, but the cock, evidently suffering, was thought to have been affected by the rarefaction of the atmosphere at the tremendous height reached--for at that time the general opinion was that the atmosphere did not extend more than four or five miles above the earth's surface. It transpired later that the sheep had trampled on the cock, causing more solid injury than any that might be inflicted by rarefied air in an eight-minute ascent and descent of a balloon.

 

For achieving this flight, Joseph Montgolfier received from the King of France a pension of L40, while Stephen was given the order of St Michael, and a patent of nobility was granted to their father. They were made members of the Legion d'Honneur, and a scientific deputation, of which Faujas de Saint-Fond, who had raised the funds with which Charles's hydrogen balloon was constructed, presented to Stephen Montgolfier a gold medal struck in honour of his aerial conquest. Since Joseph appears to have had quite as much share in the success as Stephen, the presentation of the medal to one brother only was in questionable taste, unless it was intended to balance Joseph's pension.

 

Once aerostation had been proved possible, many people began the construction of small balloons the whole hole thing was regarded as a matter of spectacles and a form of amusement by the great majority. A certain Baron de Beaumanoir made the first balloon of goldbeaters' skin, this being eighteen inches in diameter, and using hydrogen as a lifting factor. Few people saw any possibilities in aerostation, in spite of the adventures of the duck and sheep and cock; voyages to the moon were talked and written, and there was more of levity than seriousness over ballooning as a rule. The classic retort of Benjamin Franklin stands as an exception to the general rule: asked what was the use of ballooning--'What's the use of a baby?' he countered, and the spirit of that reply brought both the dirigible and the aeroplane to being, later.

 

The next noteworthy balloon was one by Stephen Montgolfier, designed to take up passengers, and therefore of rather large dimensions, as these things went then. The capacity was 100,000 cubic feet, the depth being 85 feet, and the exterior was very gaily decorated. A short, cylindrical opening was made at the lower extremity, and under this, a fire-pan was suspended, above the passenger car of the balloon. On October 15th, 1783, Pilatre de Rozier made the first balloon ascent but the balloon was held captive, and only allowed to rise to a height of 80

feet. But, a little later in 1783, Rozier secured the honour of making the first ascent in a free balloon, taking up with him the Marquis d'Arlandes. It had been originally intended that two criminals, condemned to death, should risk their lives in the perilous venture, with the prospect of a free pardon if they made a safe descent, but d'Arlandes got the royal consent to accompany Rozier, and the criminals lost their chance. Rozier and d'Arlandes made a voyage lasting for twenty-five minutes, and, on landing, the balloon collapsed with such rapidity as almost to suffocate Rozier, who, however, was dragged out to safety by d'Arlandes. This first aerostatic journey took place on November 21st, 1783.

 

Some seven months later, on June 4th, 1784, a Madame Thible ascended in a free balloon, reaching a height of 9,000 feet, and making a journey which lasted for forty-five minutes the great King Gustavus of Sweden witnessed this ascent. France grew used to balloon ascents in the course of a few months, in spite of the brewing of such a storm as might have been calculated to wipe out all but purely political interests. Meanwhile, interest in the new discovery spread across the Channel, and on September 15th, 1784, one Vincent Lunardi made the first balloon voyage in England, starting from the Artillery Ground at Chelsea, with a cat and dog as passengers, and landing in a field in the parish of Standon, near Ware. There is a rather rare book which gives a very detailed account of this first ascent in England, one copy of which is in the library of the Royal Aeronautical Society; the venturesome Lunardi won a greater measure of fame through his exploit than did Cody for his infinitely more courageous and--from a scientific point of View valuable first aeroplane ascent in this country.

 

The Montgolfier type of balloon, depending on hot air for its lifting power, was soon realised as having dangerous limitations. There was always a possibility of the balloon catching fire while it was being filled, and on landing there was further danger from the hot pan which kept up the supply of hot air on the voyage the collapsing balloon fell on the pan, inevitably. The scientist Saussure, observing the filling of the balloons very carefully, ascertained that it was rarefaction of the air which was responsible for the lifting power, and not the heat in itself, and, owing to the rarefaction of the air at normal temperature at great heights above the earth, the limit of ascent for a balloon of the Montgolfier type was estimated by him at under 9,000 feet. Moreover, since the amount of fuel that could be carried for maintaining the heat of the balloon after inflation was subject to definite limits, prescribed by the carrying capacity of the balloon, the duration of the journey was necessarily limited just as strictly.

 

These considerations tended to turn the minds of those interested in aerostation to consideration of the hydrogen balloon evolved by Professor Charles. Certain improvements had been made by Charles since his first construction; he employed rubber coated silk in the construction of a balloon of 30 feet diameter, and provided a net for distributing the pressure uniformly over the surface of the envelope; this net covered the top half of the balloon, and from its lower edge dependent ropes hung to join on a wooden ring, from which the car of the balloon was suspended apart from the extension of the net so as to cover in the whole of the envelope, the spherical balloon of to-day is virtually identical with that of Charles in its method of construction. He introduced the valve at the top of the balloon, by which escape of gas could be controlled, operating his valve by means of ropes which depended to the car of the balloon, and he also inserted a tube, of about 7 inches diameter, at the bottom of the balloon, not only for purposes of inflation, but also to provide a means of escape for gas in case of expansion due to atmospheric conditions.

 

Sulphuric acid and iron filings were used by Charles for filling his balloon, which required three days and three nights for the generation of its 14,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas. The inflation was completed on December 1st, 1783, and the fittings carried included a barometer and a grapnel form of anchor. In addition to this, Charles provided the first 'ballon sonde' in the form of a small pilot balloon, which he handed to Montgolfier to launch before his own ascent, in order to determine the direction and velocity of the wind. It was a graceful compliment to his rival, and indicated that, although they were both working to the one end, their rivalry was not a matter of bitterness.

 

Ascending on December 1st, 1783, Charles took with him one of the brothers Robert, and with him made the record journey up to that date, covering a period of three and three-quarter hours, in which time they journeyed some forty miles. Robert then landed, and Charles ascended again alone, reaching such a height as to feel the effects of the rarefaction of the air, this very largely due to the rapidity of his ascent. Opening the valve at the top of the balloon, he descended thirty-five minutes after leaving Robert behind, and came to earth a few miles from the point of the first descent. His discomfort over the rapid ascent was mainly due to the fact that, when Robert landed, he forgot to compensate for the reduction of weight by taking in further ballast, but the ascent proved the value of the tube at the bottom of the balloon envelope, for the gas escaped very rapidly in that second ascent, and, but for the tube, the balloon must inevitably have burst in the air, with fatal results for Charles.

 

As in the case of aeroplane flight, as soon as the balloon was proved practicable the flight across the English Channel was talked of, and Rozier, who had the honour of the first flight, announced his intention of being first to cross. But Blanchard, who had an idea for a 'flying car,' anticipated him, and made a start from Dover on January 7th, 1785, taking with him an American doctor named Jeffries. Blanchard fitted out his craft for the journey very thoroughly, taking provisions, oars, and even wings, for propulsion in case of need. He took so much, in fact, that as soon as the balloon lifted clear of the ground the whole of the ballast had to be jettisoned, lest the balloon should drop into the sea. Half-way across the Channel the sinking of the balloon warned Blanchard that he had to part with more than ballast to accomplish the journey, and all the equipment went, together with certain books and papers that were on board the car. The balloon looked perilously like collapsing, and both Blanchard and Jeffries began to undress in order further to lighten their craft Jeffries even proposed a heroic dive to save the situation, but suddenly the balloon rose sufficiently to clear the French coast, and the two voyagers landed at a point near Calais in the Forest of Gaines, where a marble column was subsequently erected to commemorate the great feat.

 

Rozier, although not first across, determined to be second, and for that purpose, he constructed a balloon, which was to owe its buoyancy to a combination of the hydrogen and hot air principles. There was a spherical hydrogen balloon above, and beneath it a cylindrical container which could be filled with hot air, thus compensating for the leakage of gas from the hydrogen portion of the balloon regulating the heat of his fire, he thought, would give him perfect control in the matter of ascending and descending.

 

On July 6th, 1785, a favorable breeze gave Rozier his opportunity of starting from the French coast, and with a passenger aboard, he cast off in his balloon, which he had named the 'Aero-Montgolfiere. There was a rapid rise at first, and then for a time the balloon remained stationary over the land, after which a cloud suddenly appeared round the balloon, denoting that an explosion had taken place. Both Rozier and his companion were killed in the fall, so that he, first to leave the earth by balloon, was also first victim to the art of aerostation.

 

There followed, naturally, a lull in the enthusiasm with which ballooning had been taken up, so far as France was concerned. In Italy, however, Count Zambeccari took up hot air ballooning, using a spirit lamp to give him buoyancy, and on the first occasion when the balloon car was set on fire, Zambeccari let down his passenger by means of the anchor rope, and managed to extinguish the fire while in the air. This reduced the buoyancy of the balloon to such an extent that it fell into the Adriatic and was totally wrecked, Zambeccari being rescued by fishermen. He continued to experiment up to 1812, when he attempted to ascend at Bologna; the spirit in his lamp was upset by the collision of the car with a tree, and the car was again set on fire. Zambeccari jumped from the car when it was over fifty feet above level ground, and was killed. With him the Rozier type of balloon, combining the hydrogen and hot air principles, disappeared; the combination was obviously too dangerous to be practical.

 

The brothers Robert were first to note how the heat of the sun acted on the gases within a balloon envelope, and it has since been ascertained that sun rays will heat the gas in a balloon to as much as 80 degrees Fahrenheit greater temperature than the surrounding atmosphere; hydrogen, being less affected by change of temperature than coal gas, is the most suitable filling element, and coal gas comes next as the medium of buoyancy. This for the free and non-navigable balloon, though for the airship, carrying means of combustion, and in military work liable to ignition by explosives, the gas helium seems likely to replace hydrogen, being non-combustible. 

 

In spite of the development of the dirigible airship, there remains work for the free, spherical type of balloon in the scientific field. Blanchard's companion on the first Channel crossing by balloon, Dr Jeffries, was the first balloonist to ascend for purely scientific purposes; as early as 1784 he made an ascent to a height of 9,000 feet, and observed a fall in temperature of from degrees at the level of London, where he began his ascent to 29 degrees at the maximum height reached. He took up an electrometer, a hydrometer, a compass, a thermometer, and a Toricelli barometer, together with bottles of water, in order to collect samples of the air at different heights. In 1785 he made a second ascent, when trigonometrically observations of the height of the balloon were made from the French coast, giving an altitude of 4,800 feet.

 

The matter was taken up on its scientific side very early in America, experiments in Philadelphia being almost simultaneous with those of the Montgolfiers in France. The flight of Rozier and d'Arlandes inspired two members of the Philadelphia Philosophical Academy to construct a balloon or series of balloons of their own design; they made a machine, which consisted of no less than 47 small hydrogen balloons attached to a wicker car, and made certain preliminary trials, using animals as passengers. This was followed by a captive ascent with a man as passenger, and eventually by the first free ascent in America, which was undertaken by one James Wilcox, a carpenter, on December 28th, 1783. Wilcox, fearful of falling into a river, attempted to regulate his landing by cutting slits in some of the supporting balloons, which was the method adopted for regulating ascent or descent in this machine. He first cut three, and then, finding that the effect produced was not sufficient, cut three more, and then another five--eleven out of the forty-seven. The result was so swift a descent that he dislocated his wrist on landing.

 

 

A NOTE ON BALLONETS OR AIR BAGS.

 

Meusnier, toward the end of the eighteenth century, was first to conceive the idea of compensating for the loss of gas due to expansion by fitting to the interior of a free balloon a ballonet, or air bag, which could be pumped full of air so as to retain the shape and rigidity of the envelope.

 

The ballonet became particularly valuable as soon as airship construction became general, and it was in the course of advance in Astra Torres design that the project was introduced of using the ballonets in order to give inclination from the horizontal. In the earlier Astra Torres, trimming was accomplished by moving the car fore and aft this in itself was an advance on the separate 'sliding weigh' principle and this was the method followed in the Astra Torres bought by the British Government from France in 1912 for training airship pilots. Subsequently, the two ballonets fitted inside the envelope were made to serve for trimming by the extent of their inflation, and this method of securing inclination proved the best until exterior rudders, and greater engine power, supplanted it, as in the Zeppelin and, in fact, all rigid types.

 

In the kite balloon, the ballonet serves the purpose of a rudder, filling itself through the opening being kept pointed toward the wind there is an ingenious type of air scoop with non-return valve which assures perfect inflation. In the S.S. type of airship, two ballonets are provided, the supply of air being taken from the propeller draught by a slanting aluminium tube to the underside of the envelope, where it meets a longitudinal fabric hose, which connects the two-ballonet air inlets. In this hose the non-return air valves, known as 'crab-pots,' are fitted, on either side of the junction with the air-scoop. Two automatic air valves, one for each ballonet, are fitted in the underside of the envelope, and, as the air pressure tends to open these instead of keeping them shut, the spring of the valve is set inside the envelope. Each spring is set to open at a pressure of 25 to 28 mm.

 

 
 
Section 1
The Period of Legend | Early Experiments | Sir George-Thomas | The Middle 19 Century | Wenham Bris & Others | The Age of Giants | Lili & Pilcher | American Gliding Experiments | Not Proven | Samuel Langley | The Wright Brothers | First Year of Conquest | First Flier in England | Rhems and After | The Channel Crossing | London to Manchester | Summary to 1911 | Summa to 1914 | The War Period-I | The War Period-II | Reconstruction | 1919-1920

 

 
Section 2
The Beginnings | Multiplicity of Ideas | Progress on Standardized Lines | The War Period
 

 
Section 3
The Beginning | The First Dirigibles | Santos Dumont | The Military Dirigible | British Airship Design | The Airship Commercially | Kite Balloons
 

 
Section4
The Vertical Type | The Vee Type | The Radial Type | The Rotatory Type | The Horizontal Opposed Engine | The Two Stroke Cycle Engine | Engines of the War Period
 
 
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