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   Chapter 26 RECENT AERONAUTICAL EVENTS.

The Dominion of the Air: The Story of Aerial Navigation By John M. Bacon Characters: 18735

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The first trial of the Zeppelin air ship was arranged to take place on June 30th, 1900, a day which, from absence of wind, was eminently well suited for the purpose; but the inflation proved too slow a process, and operations were postponed to the morrow. The morrow, however, was somewhat windy, causing delay, and by the time all was in readiness darkness had set in and the start was once more postponed. On the evening of the third day the monster craft was skilfully and successfully manoeuvred, and, rising with a very light wind, got fairly away, carrying Count Zeppelin and four other persons in the two cars. Drifting with the wind, it attained a height of some 800 or 900 feet, at which point the steering apparatus being brought into play it circled round and faced the wind, when it remained stationary. But not for long. Shortly it began to descend and, sinking gradually, gracefully, and in perfect safety, in about nine minutes it reached and rested on the water, when it was towed home.

A little later in the month, July, another trial was made, when a wind was blowing estimated at sixteen miles an hour. As on the previous occasion, the direct influence of the sun was avoided by waiting till evening hours. It ascended at 8 p.m., and the engines getting to work it made a slow progress of about two miles an hour against the wind for about 3 1/2 miles, when one of the rudders gave way, and the machine was obliged to descend.

On the evening of October 24th of the same year, in very calm weather and with better hope, another ascent was made. On this occasion, however, success was frustrated by one of the rear rudders getting foul of the gear, followed by the escape of gas from one of the balloons.

Another and more successful trial took place in the same month, again in calm atmosphere. Inferior gas was employed, and it would appear that the vessel had not sufficient buoyancy. It remained aloft for a period of twenty minutes, during which it proved perfectly manageable, making a graceful journey out and home, and returning close to its point of departure. This magnificent air ship, the result of twenty years of experiment, has since been abandoned and broken up; yet the sacrifice has not been without result. Over and above the stimulus which Count Zeppelin's great endeavour has given to the aeronautical world, two special triumphs are his. He has shown balloonists how to make a perfectly gas-tight material, and has raised powerful petroleum motors in a balloon with safety.

In the early part of 1900 it was announced that a member of the Paris Aero Club, who at the time withheld his name (M. Deutsch) offered a prize of 100,000 francs to the aeronaut who, either in a balloon or flying machine, starting from the grounds of the Aero Club at Longchamps, would make a journey round the Eiffel Tower, returning to the starting place within half an hour. The donor would withdraw his prize if not won within five years, and in the meanwhile would pay 4,000 francs annually towards the encouragement of worthy experimenters.

It was from this time that flying machines in great variety and goodly number began to be heard of, if not actually seen. One of the earliest to be announced in the Press was a machine invented by the Russian, Feedoroff, and the Frenchman, Dupont. Dr. Danilewsky came forward with a flying machine combining balloon and aeroplane, the steering of which would be worked like a velocipede by the feet of the aeronaut.

Mr. P. Y. Alexander, of Bath, who had long been an enthusiastic balloonist, and who had devoted a vast amount of pains, originality, and engineering skill to the pursuit of aeronautics, was at this time giving much attention to the flying machine, and was, indeed, one of the assistants in the first successful launching of the Zeppelin airship. In concert with Mr. W. G. Walker, A.M.I.C.E., Mr. Alexander carried out some valuable and exhaustive experiments on the lifting power of air propellers, 30 feet in diameter, driven by a portable engine. The results, which were of a purely technical nature, have been embodied in a carefully compiled memoir.

An air ship now appeared, invented by M. Rose, consisting of two elongated vessels filled with gas, and carrying the working gear and car between them. The machine was intentionally made heavier than air, and was operated by a petrol motor of 12-horse power.

It was now that announcements began to be made to the effect that, next to the Zeppelin air ship, M. Santos Dumont's balloon was probably attracting most of the attention of experts. The account given of this air vessel by the Daily Express was somewhat startling. The balloon proper was compared to a large torpedo. Three feet beneath this hangs the gasoline motor which is to supply the power. The propeller is 12 feet in diameter, and is revolved so rapidly by the motor that the engine frequently gets red hot. The only accommodation for the traveller is a little bicycle seat, from which the aeronaut will direct his motor and steering gear by means of treadles. Then the inclination or declination of his machine must be noted on the spirit level at his side, and the 200 odd pounds of ballast must be regulated as the course requires.

A more detailed account of this navigable balloon was furnished by a member of the Paris Aero Club. From this authority we learn that the capacity of the balloon was 10,700 cubic feet. It contained an inner balloon and an air fan, the function of which was to maintain the shape of the balloon when meeting the wind, and the whole was operated by a 10-horse power motor capable of working the screw at 100 revolutions per minute.

But before the aerial exploits of Santos Dumont had become famous, balloons had again claimed public attention. On August 1st Captain Spelterini, with two companions, taking a balloon and 180 cylinders of hydrogen to the top of the Rigi and ascending thence, pursued a north-east course, across extensive and beautiful tracts of icefield and mountain fastnesses unvisited by men. The descent, which was difficult and critical, was happily manoeuvred. This took place on the Gnuetseven, a peak over 5,000 feet high, the plateau on which the voyagers landed being described as only 50 yards square, surrounded by precipices.

On the 10th of September following the writer was fortunate in carrying out some wireless telegraphy experiments in a balloon, the success of which is entirely due to the unrivalled skill of Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.A.S., and to his clever adaptation of the special apparatus of his own invention to the exigencies of a free balloon. The occasion was the garden party at the Bradford meeting of the British Association, Admiral Sir Edmund Fremantle taking part in the voyage, with Mr. Percival Spencer in charge. The experiment was to include the firing of a mine in the grounds two minutes after the balloon had left, and this item was entirely successful. The main idea was to attempt to establish communication between a base and a free balloon retreating through space at a height beyond practicable gun shot. The wind was fast and squally, and the unavoidable rough jolting which the car received at the start put the transmitting instrument out of action. The messages, however, which were sent from the grounds at Lister Park were received and watched by the occupants of the car up to a distance of twenty miles, at which point the voyage terminated.

On September 30th, and also on October 9th, of this year, took place two principal balloon races from Vincennes in connection with the Paris Exposition. In the first race, among those who competed were M. Jacques Faure, the Count de la Vaulx, and M. Jacques Balsan. The Count was the winner, reaching Wocawek, in Russian Poland, a travel of 706 miles, in 21 hours 34 minutes. M. Balsan was second, descending near Dantzig in East Prussia, 757 miles, in 22 hours. M. Jacques Faure reached Mamlitz, in East Prussia, a distance of 753 miles.

In the final race the Count de la Vaulx made a record voyage of 1,193 miles, reaching Korosticheff, in Russia, in 35 hours 45 minutes, attaining a maximum altitude of 18,810 feet. M. J. Balsan reached a greater height, namely, 21,582 feet, travelling to Rodom, in Russia, a distance of 843 miles, in 27 hours 25 minutes.

Some phenomenal altitudes were attained at this time. In September, 1898, Dr. Berson, of Berlin, ascended from the Crystal Palace in a balloon inflated with hydrogen, under the management of Mr. Stanley Spencer, oxygen being an essential part of the equipment. The start was made at 5 p.m., and the balloon at first drifted south-east, out over the mouth of the Thames, until at an altitude of 10,000 feet an upper current changed the course to southwest, the balloon mounting rapidly till 23,000 feet was reached, at which height the coast of France was plainly seen. At 25,000 feet both voyagers were gasping, and compelled to inhale oxygen. At 27,500 feet, only four bags of ballast being left, the descent was commenced, and a safe landing was effected at Romford.

Subsequently Dr. Berson, in company with Dr. Suring, ascending from Berlin, attained an altitude of 34,000 feet. At 30,000 feet the aeronauts were inhaling oxygen, and before reaching their highest point both had for a considerable time remained uncons

cious.

In 1901 a new aeroplane flying machine began to attract attention, the invention of Herr Kress. A novel feature of the machine was a device to render it of avail for Arctic travel. In shape it might be compared to an iceboat with two keels and a long stem, the keels being adapted to run on ice or snow, while the boat would float on water. Power was to be derived from a petrol motor.

At the same period M. Henry Sutor was busy on Lake Constance with an air ship designed also to float on water. Then Mr. Buchanan followed with a fish-shaped vessel, one of the most important specialities of which consisted in side propellers, the surfaces of which were roughened with minute diagonal grooves to effect a greater grip on the air.

No less original was the air ship, 100 feet long, and carrying 18,000 cubic feet of gas, which Mr. W. Beedle was engaged upon. In this machine, besides the propellers for controlling the horizontal motion, there was one to regulate vertical motion, with a view of obviating expenditure of gas or ballast.

But by this time M. Santos Dumont, pursuing his hobby with unparalleled perseverance, had built in succession no less than six air ships, meeting with no mean success, profiting by every lesson taught by failures, and making light of all accidents, great or small. On July 15th, 1901, he made a famous try for the Deutsch prize in a cigar-shaped balloon, 110 feet long, 19,000 cubic feet capacity, carrying a Daimler oil motor of 15-horse power. The day was not favourable, but, starting from the Parc d'Aerostation, he was abreast of the Eiffel Tower in thirteen minutes, circling round which, and battling against a head wind, he reached the grounds of the Aero Club in 41 minutes from the start, or 11 minutes late by the conditions of the prize. A cylinder had broken down, and the balance of the vessel had become upset.

Within a fortnight-July 29th-in favourable weather, he made another flight, lasting fifteen minutes, at the end of which he had returned to his starting ground. Then on August 8th a more momentous attempt came off. Sailing up with a rapid ascent, and flying with the wind, Santos Dumont covered the distance to the Tower in five minutes only, and gracefully swung round; but, immediately after, the wind played havoc, slowing down the motor, at the same time damaging the balloon, and causing an escape of gas. On this Santos Dumont, ascending higher into the sky, quitted the car, and climbed along the keel to inspect, and, if possible, rectify the motor, but with little success. The balloon was emptying, and the machine pitched badly, till a further rent occurred, when it commenced falling hopelessly and with a speed momentarily increasing.

Slanting over a roof, the balloon caught a chimney and tore asunder; but the wreck, also catching, held fast, while the car hung helplessly down a blank wall. In this perilous predicament great coolness and agility alone averted disaster, till firemen were able to come to the rescue.

The air ship was damaged beyond repair, but by September 6th another was completed, and on trial appeared to work well until, while travelling at speed, it was brought up and badly strained by the trail rope catching in trees.

Early in the next month the young Brazilian was aloft again, with weather conditions entirely in his favour; but again certain minor mishaps prevented his next struggle for the prize, which did not take place till the 19th. On this day a light cross wind was blowing, not sufficient, however, seriously to influence the first stage of the time race, and the outward journey was accomplished with a direct flight in nine minutes. On rounding the tower, however, the wind began to tell prejudicially, and the propeller became deranged. On this, letting his vessel fall off from the wind, Santos Dumont crawled along the framework till he reached the motor, which he succeeded in again setting in working order, though not without a delay of several minutes and some loss of ground. From that point the return journey was accomplished in eight minutes, and the race was, at the time, declared lost by 40 seconds only.

The most important and novel feature in the air ships constructed by Santos Dumont was the internal ballonet, inflated automatically by a ventilator, the expedient being designed to preserve the shape of the main balloon itself while meeting the wind. On the whole, it answered well, and took the place of the heavy wire cage used by Zeppelin.

M. de Fonvielle, commenting on the achievements of Santos Dumont, wrote:-"It does not appear that he has navigated his balloon against more than very light winds, but in his machinery he has shown such attention to detail that it may reasonably be expected that if he continues to increase his motive power he will, ere long, exceed past performances."

Mr. Chanute has a further word to say about the possibility of making balloons navigable. He considers that their size will have to be great to the verge of impracticability and the power of the motor enormous in proportion to its weight. As to flying machines, properly so called, he calculates the best that has been done to be the sustaining of from 27 lbs. to 55 lbs. per horse power by impact upon the air. But Mr. Chanute also argues that the equilibrium is of prime importance, and on this point there could scarcely be a greater authority. No one of living men has given more attention to the problem of "soaring," and it is stated that he has had about a thousand "slides" made by assistants, with different types of machine, and all without the slightest accident.

Many other aerial vessels might be mentioned. Mr. T. H. Bastin, of Clapham, has been engaged for many years on a machine which should imitate bird flight as nearly as this may be practicable.

Baron Bradsky aims at a navigable balloon on an ambitious scale. M. Tatin is another candidate for the Deutsch prize. Of Dr. Barton's air ship more is looked for, as being designed for the War Office. It is understood that the official requirements demand a machine which, while capable of transporting a man through the air at a speed of 13 miles an hour, can remain fully inflated for 48 hours. One of the most sanguine, as well as enterprising, imitators of Santos Dumont was a fellow countryman, Auguste Severo. Of his machine during construction little could be gathered, and still less seen, from the fact that the various parts were being manufactured at different workshops, but it was known to be of large size and to be fitted with powerful motors. This was an ill-fated vessel. At an early hour on May 12th of this year, 1902, all Paris was startled by a report that M. Severo and his assistant, M. Sachet had been killed while making a trial excursion. It appears that at daybreak it had been decided that the favourable moment for trial had arrived. The machinery was got ready, and with little delay the air vessel was dismissed and rose quietly and steadily into the calm sky. The Daily Mail gives the following account of what ensued:-

"For the first few minutes all went well, and the motor seemed to be working satisfactorily. The air ship answered the helm readily, and admiring exclamations rose from the crowd.... But as the vessel rose higher she was seen to fall off from the wind, while the aeronauts could be seen vainly endeavouring to keep her head on. Then M. Severo commenced throwing out ballast.... All this time the ship was gradually soaring higher and higher until, just as it was over the Montparnasse Cemetery, at the height of 2,000 feet, a sheet of flame was seen to shoot up from one of the motors, and instantly the immense silk envelope containing 9,000 cubic feet of hydrogen was enveloped in leaping tongues of fire.... As soon as the flames came in contact with the gas a tremendous explosion followed, and in an instant all that was left of the air ship fell to the earth." Both aeronauts were dashed to pieces. It was thought that the fatality was caused through faulty construction, the escape valve for the gas being situated only about nine feet from the motor. It was announced by Count de la Vaulx that during the summer of 1901 he would attempt to cross the Mediterranean by a balloon, provisioned for three weeks, maintaining communication with the coast during his voyage by wireless telegraphy and other methods of signalling. He was to make use of the "Herve Deviator," or steering apparatus, which may be described as a series of cupshaped plates dipping in the water at the end of a trail rope. By means of controlling cords worked from the car, the whole series of plates could be turned at an angle to the direction of the wind, by which the balloon's course would be altered. Count de la Vaulx attempted this grand journey on October 12th, starting from Toulon with the intention of reaching Algiers, taking the precaution, however, of having a cruiser in attendance. When fifty miles out from Marseilles a passing steamer received from the balloon the signal, "All's well"; but the wind had veered round to the east, and, remaining persistently in this quarter, the Count abandoned his venture, and, signalling to the cruiser, succeeded in alighting on her deck, not, however, before he had completed the splendid and record voyage of 41 hours' duration.

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