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THE MASTERY OF THE AIR
by WILLIAM J. CLAXTON
This book makes no pretence of going minutely into the technical and scientific sides of human flight: rather does it deal mainly with the real achievements of pioneers who have helped to make aviation what it is to-day.
My chief object has been to arouse among my readers an intelligent interest in the art of flight, and, profiting by friendly criticism of several of my former works, I imagine that this is best obtained by setting forth the romance of triumph in the realms of an element which has defied man for untold centuries, rather than to give a mass of scientific principles which appeal to no one but the expert.
So rapid is the present development of aviation that it is difficult to keep abreast with the times. What is new to-day becomes old to-morrow. The Great War has given a tremendous impetus to the strife between the warring nations for the mastery of the air, and one can but give a rough and general impression of the achievements of naval and military airmen on the various fronts.
Finally, I have tried to bring home the fact that the fascinating progress of aviation should not be confined entirely to the airman and constructor of air-craft; in short, this progress is not a retord of events in which the mass of the nation have little personal concern, but of a movement in which each one of us may take an active and intelligent part.
I have to thank various aviation firms, airmen, and others who have kindly come to my assistance, either with the help of valuable information or by the loan of photographs. In particular, my thanks are due to the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service for permission to reproduce illustrations from their two publications on the work and training of their respective corps; to the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain; to Messrs. C. G. Spencer & Sons, Highbury; The Sopwith Aviation Company, Ltd.; Messrs. A. V. Roe & Co., Ltd.; The Gnome Engine Company; The Green Engine Company; Mr. A. G. Gross (Geographia, Ltd.); and M. Bleriot; for an exposition of the internal-combustion engine I have drawn on Mr. Horne’s The Age of Machinery.
PART I. BALLOONS AND AIR-SHIPS
I. MAN’S DUEL WITH NATURE
II. THE FRENCH PAPER-MAKER WHO INVENTED THE BALLOON III. THE FIRST MAN TO ASCEND IN A BALLOON IV. THE FIRST BALLOON ASCENT IN ENGLAND V. THE FATHER OF BRITISH AERONAUTS
VI. THE PARACHUTE
VII. SOME BRITISH INVENTORS OF AIR-SHIPS VIII. THE FIRST ATTEMPTS TO STEER A BALLOON IX. THE STRANGE CAREER OF COUNT ZEPPELIN X. A ZEPPELIN AIR-SHIP AND ITS CONSTRUCTION XI. THE SEMI-RIGID AIR-SHIP
XII. A NON-RIGID BALLOON
XIII. THE ZEPPELIN AND GOTHA RAIDS
PART II. AEROPLANES AND AIRMEN
XIV. EARLY ATTEMPTS IN AVIATION
XV. A PIONEER IN AVIATION
XVI. THE “HUMAN BIRDS”
XVII. THE AEROPLANE AND THE BIRD
XVIII. A GREAT BRITISH INVENTOR OF AEROPLANES XIX. THE WRIGHT BROTHERS AND THEIR SECRET EXPERIMENTS XX. THE INTERNAL-COMBUSTION ENGINE
XXI. THE INTERNAL-COMBUSTION ENGINE (Con’t.) XXII. THE AEROPLANE ENGINE
XXIII. A FAMOUS BRITISH INVENTOR OF AVIATION ENGINES XXIV. THE WRIGHT BIPLANE (CAMBER OF PLANES) XXV. THE WRIGHT BIPLANE (Cont.)
XXVI. HOW THE WRIGHTS LAUNCHED THEIR BIPLANE XXVII. THE FIRST MAN TO FLY IN EUROPE
XXVIII. M. BLARIOT AND THE MONOPLANE XXIX. HENRI FARMAN AND THE VOISIN BIPLANE XXX. A FAMOUS BRITISH INVENTOR
XXXI. THE ROMANCE OF A COWBOY AERONAUT XXXII. THREE HISTORIC FLIGHTS
XXXIII. THREE HISTORIC FLIGHTS (Cont. XXXIV. THE HYDROPLANE AND AIR-BOAT
XXXV. A FAMOUS BRITISH INVENTOR OF THE WATER-PLANE XXXVI. SEA-PLANES FOR WARFARE
XXXVII. THE FIRST MAN TO FLY IN BRITAIN XXXVIII.THE R.F.C. AND R.N.A.S.
XXXIX. AEROPLANES IN THE GREAT WAR
XL. THE ATMOSPHERE AND THE BAROMETER XLI. HOW AN AIRMAN KNOWS WHAT HEIGHT HE REACHES XLII. HOW AN AIRMAN FINDS HIS WAY
XLIII. THE FIRST AIRMAN TO FLY UPSIDE DOWN XLIV. THE FIRST ENGLISHMAN TO FLY UPSIDE DOWN XLV. ACCIDENTS AND THEIR CAUSE
XLVI. ACCIDENTS AND THEIR CAUSE (Cont.) XLVII. ACCIDENTS AND THEIR CAUSE (COnt.) XLVIII. SOME TECHNICAL TERMS USED By AVIATORS XLIX. THE FUTURE IN THE AIR
THE MASTERY OF THE AIR
PART I-BALLOONS AND AIR-SHIPS
Man’s Duel with Nature
Of all man’s great achievements none is, perhaps, more full of human interest than are those concerned with flight. We regard ourselves as remarkable beings, and our wonderful discoveries in science and invention induce us to believe we are far and away the cleverest of all the living creatures in the great scheme of Creation. And yet in the matter of flight the birds beat us; what has taken us years of education, and vast efforts of intelligence, foresight, and daring to accomplish, is known by the tiny fledglings almost as soon as they come into the world.
It is easy to see why the story of aviation is of such romantic interest. Man has been exercising his ingenuity, and deliberately pursuing a certain train of thought, in an attempt to harness the forces of Nature and compel them to act in what seems to be the exact converse of Nature’s own arrangements.
One of the mysteries of Nature is known as the FORCE OF GRAVITY. It is not our purpose in this book to go deeply into a study of gravitation; we may content ourselves with the statement, first proved by Sir Isaac Newton, that there is an invisible force which the Earth exerts on all bodies, by which it attracts or draws them towards itself. This property does not belong to the Earth alone, but to all matter–all matter attracts all other matter. In discussing the problems of aviation we are concerned mainly with the mutual attraction of The Earth and the bodies on or near its surface; this is usually called TERRESTRIAL gravity.
It has been found that every body attracts very other body with a force directly proportionate to its mass. Thus we see that, if every particle in a mass exerts its attractive influence, the more particles a body contains the greater will be the attraction. If a mass of iron be dropped to the ground from the roof of a building at the same time as a cork of similar size, the iron and the cork would, but for the retarding effect of the air, fall to the ground together, but the iron would strike the ground with much greater force than the cork. Briefly stated, a body which contains twice as much matter as another is attracted or drawn towards the centre of the Earth with twice the force of that other; if the mass be five times as great, then it will be attracted with five times the force, and so on.
It is thus evident that the Earth must exert an overwhelming attractive force on all bodies on or near its surface. Now, when man rises from the ground in an aeroplane he is counter-acting this force by other forces.
A short time ago the writer saw a picture which illustrated in a very striking manner man’s struggle with Nature. Nature was represented as a giant of immense stature and strength, standing on a globe with outstretched arms, and in his hands were shackles of great size. Rising gracefully from the earth, immediately in front of the giant, was an airman seated in a modern flying-machine, and on his face was a happy-go-lucky look as though he were delighting in the duel between him and the giant. The artist had drawn the picture so skilfully that one could imagine the huge, knotted fingers grasping the shackles were itching to bring the airman within their clutch. The picture was entitled “MAN TRIUMPHANT”
No doubt many of those who saw that picture were reminded of the great sacrifices made by man in the past. In the wake of the aviator there are many memorial stones of mournful significance.
It says much for the pluck and perseverance of aviators that they have been willing to run the great risks which ever accompany their efforts. Four years of the Great War have shown how splendidly airmen have risen to the great demands made upon them. In dispatch after dispatch from the front, tribute has been paid to the gallant and devoted work of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. In a long and bitter struggle British airmen have gradually asserted their supremacy in the air. In all parts of the globe, in Egypt, in Mesopotamia, in Palestine, in Africa, the airman has been an indispensable adjunct of the fighting forces. Truly it may be said that mastery of the air is the indispensable factor of final victory.
The French Paper-maker who Invented the Balloon
In the year 1782 two young Frenchmen might have been seen one winter night sitting over their cottage fire, performing the curious experiment of filling paper bags with smoke, and letting them rise up towards the ceiling. These young men were brothers, named Stephen and Joseph Montgolfier, and their experiments resulted in the invention of the balloon.
The brothers, like all inventors, seem to have had enquiring minds. They were for ever asking the why and the wherefore of things. “Why does smoke rise?” they asked. “Is there not some strange power in the atmosphere which makes the smoke from chimneys and elsewhere rise in opposition to the force of gravity? If so, cannot we discover this power, and apply it to the service of mankind?”
We may imagine that such questions were in the minds of those two French paper-makers, just as similar questions were in the mind of James Watt when he was discovering the power of steam. But one of the most important attributes of an inventor is an infinite capacity for taking pains, together with great patience.
And so we find the two brothers employing their leisure in what to us would, be a childish pastime, the making of paper balloons. The story tells us that their room was filled with smoke, which issued from the windows as though the house were on fire. A neighbour, thinking such was the case, rushed in, but, on being assured that nothing serious was wrong, stayed to watch the tiny balloons rise a little way from the thin tray which contained the fire that made the smoke with which the bags were filled. The experiments were not altogether successful, however, for the bags rarely rose more than a foot or so from the tray. The neighbour suggested that they should fasten the thin tray on to the bottom of the bag, for it was thought that the bags would not ascend higher because the smoke became cool; and if the smoke were imprisoned within the bag much better results would be obtained. This was done, and, to the great joy of the brothers and their visitor, the bag at once rose quickly to the ceiling.
But though they could make the bags rise their great trouble was that they did not know the cause of this ascent. They thought, however, that they were on the eve of some great discovery, and, as events proved, they were not far wrong. For a time they imagined that the fire they had used generated some special gas, and if they could find out the nature of this gas, and the means of making it in large quantities, they would be able to add to their success.
Of course, in the light of modern knowledge, it seems strange that the brothers did not know that the reason the bags rose, was not because of any special gas being used, but owing to the expansion of air under the influence of heat, whereby hot air tends to rise. Every schoolboy above the age of twelve knows that hot air rises upwards in the atmosphere, and that it continues to rise until its temperature has become the same as that of the surrounding air.
The next experiment was to try their bags in the open air. Choosing a calm, fine day, they made a fire similar to that used in their first experiments, and succeeded in making the bag rise nearly 100 feet. Later on, a much larger craft was built, which was equally successful.
And now we must leave the experiments of the Montgolfiers for a moment, and turn to the discovery of hydrogen gas by Henry Cavendish, a well-known London chemist. In 1766 Cavendish proved conclusively that hydrogen gas was not more than one-seventh the weight of ordinary air. It at once occurred to Dr. Black, of Glasgow, that if a thin bag could be filled with this light gas it would rise in the air; but for various reasons his experiments did not yield results of a practical nature for several years.
Some time afterwards, about a year before the Montgolfiers commenced their experiments which we have already described, Tiberius Cavallo, an Italian chemist, succeeded in making, with hydrogen gas, soap-bubbles which rose in the air. Previous to this he had experimented with bladders and paper bags; but the bladders he found too heavy, and the paper too porous.
It must not be thought that the Montgolfiers experimented solely with hot air in the inflation of their balloons. At one time they used steam, and, later on, the newly-discovered hydrogen gas; but with both these agents they were unsuccessful. It can easily be seen why steam was of no use, when we consider that paper was employed; hydrogen, too, owed its lack of success to the same cause for the porosity of the paper allowed the gas to escape quickly.
It is said that the name “balloon” was given to these paper craft because they resembled in shape a large spherical vessel used in chemistry, which was known by that name. To the brothers Montgolfier belongs the honour of having given the name to this type of aircraft, which, in the two succeeding centuries, became so popular.
After numerous experiments the public were invited to witness the inflation of a particularly huge balloon, over 30 feet in diameter. This was accomplished over a fire made of wool and straw. The ascent was successful, and the balloon, after rising to a height of some 7000 feet, fell to earth about two miles away.
It may be imagined that this experiment aroused enormous interest in Paris, whence the news rapidly spread over all France and to Britain. A Parisian scientific society invited Stephen Montgolfier to Paris in order that the citizens of the metropolis should have their imaginations excited by seeing the hero of these remarkable experiments. Montgolfier was not a rich man, and to enable him to continue his experiments the society granted him a considerable sum of money. He was then enabled to construct a very fine balloon, elaborately decorated and painted, which ascended at Versailles in the presence of the Court.
To add to the value of this experiment three animals were sent up in a basket attached to the balloon. These were a sheep, a cock, and a duck. All sorts of guesses were made as to what would be the fate of the “poor creatures”. Some people imagined that there was little or no air in those higher regions and that the animals would choke; others said they would be frozen to death. But when the balloon descended the cock was seen to be strutting about in his usual dignified way, the sheep was chewing the cud, and the duck was quacking for water and worms.
At this point we will leave the work of the brothers Montgolfier. They had succeeded in firing the imagination of nearly every Frenchman, from King Louis down to his humblest subject. Strange, was it not, though scores of millions of people had seen smoke rise, and clouds float, for untold centuries, yet no one, until the close of the eighteenth century, thought of making a balloon?
The learned Franciscan friar, Roger Bacon, who lived in the thirteenth century, seems to have thought of the possibility of producing a contrivance that would float in air. His idea was that the earth’s atmosphere was a “true fluid”, and that it had an upper surface as the ocean has. He quite believed that on this upper surface–subject, in his belief, to waves similar to those of the sea–an air-ship might float if it once succeeded in rising to the required height. But the difficulty was to reach the surface of this aerial sea. To do this he proposed to make a large hollow globe of metal, wrought as thin as the skill of man could make it, so that it might be as light as possible, and this vast globe was to be filled with “liquid fire”. Just what “liquid fire” was, one cannot attempt to explain, and it is doubtful if Bacon himself had any clear idea. But he doubtless thought of some gaseous substance lighter than air, and so he would seem to have, at least, hit upon the principle underlying the construction of the modern balloon. Roger Bacon had ideas far in advance of his time, and his experiments made such an impression of wonder on the popular mind that they were believed to be wrought by black magic, and the worthy monk was classed among those who were supposed to be in league with Satan.
The First Man to Ascend in a Balloon
The safe descent of the three animals, which has already been related, showed the way for man to venture up in a balloon. In our time we marvel at the daring of modern airmen, who ascend to giddy heights, and, as it were, engage in mortal combat with the demons of the air. But, courageous though these deeds are, they are not more so than those of the pioneers of ballooning.
In the eighteenth century nothing was known definitely of the conditions of the upper regions of the air, where, indeed, no human being had ever been; and though the frail Montgolfier balloons had ascended and descended with no outward happenings, yet none could tell what might be the risk to life in committing oneself to an ascent. There was, too, very special danger in making an ascent in a hot-air balloon. Underneath the huge envelope was suspended a brazier, so that the fabric of the balloon was in great danger of catching fire.
It was at first suggested that two French criminals under sentence of death should be sent up, and, if they made a safe descent, then the way would be open for other aeronauts to venture aloft. But everyone interested in aeronautics in those days saw that the man who first traversed the unexplored regions of the air would be held in high honour, and it seemed hardly right that this honour should fall to criminals. At any rate this was the view of M. Pilatre de Rozier, a French gentleman, and he determined himself to make the pioneer ascent.
De Rozier had no false notion of the risks he was prepared to run, and he superintended with the greatest care the construction of his balloon. It was of enormous size, with a cage slung underneath the brazier for heating the air. Befors making his free ascent De Rozier made a trial ascent with the balloon held captive by a long rope.
At length, in November, 1783, accompanied by the Marquis d’Arlandes as a passenger, he determined to venture. The experiment aroused immense excitement all over France, and a large concourse of people were gathered together on the outskirts of Paris to witness the risky feat. The balloon made a perfect ascent, and quickly reached a height of about half a mile above sea-level. A strong current of air in the upper regions caused the balloon to take an opposite direction from that intended, and the aeronauts drifted right over Paris. It would have gone hard with them if they had been forced to descend in the city, but the craft was driven by the wind to some distance beyond the suburbs and they alighted quite safely about six miles from their starting-point, after having been up in the air for about half an hour.
Their voyage, however, had by no means been free from anxiety. We are told that the fabric of the balloon repeatedly caught fire, which it took the aeronauts all their time to extinguish. At times, too, they came down perilously near to the Seine, or to the housetops of Paris, but after the most exciting half-hour of their lives they found themselves once more on Mother Earth.
Here we must make a slight digression and speak of the invention of the hydrogen, or gas, balloon. In a previous chapter we read of the discovery of hydrogen gas by Henry Cavendish, and the subsequent experiments with this gas by Dr. Black, of Glasgow. It was soon decided to try to inflate a balloon with this “inflammable air”–as the newly-discovered gas was called–and with this end in view a large public subscription was raised in France to meet the heavy expenses entailed in the venture. The work was entrusted to a French scientist, Professor Charles, and two brothers named Robert.
It was quickly seen that paper, such as was used by the Montgolfiers, was of little use in the construction of a gas balloon, for the gas escaped. Accordingly the fabric was made of silk and varnished with a solution of india-rubber and turpentine. The first hydrogen balloon was only about 13 feet in diameter, for in those early days the method of preparing hydrogen was very laborious and costly, and the constructors thought it advisable not to spend too much money over the initial experiments, in case they should be a failure.
In August, 1783–an eventful year in the history of aeronautics– the first gas-inflated balloon was sent up, of course unaccompanied by a passenger. It shot up high in the air much more rapidly than Montgolfier’s hot-air balloon had done, and was soon beyond the clouds. After a voyage of nearly an hour’s duration it descended in a field some 15 miles away. We are told that some peasants at work near by fled in the greatest alarm at this strange monster which settled in their midst. An old print shows them cautiously approaching the balloon as it lay heaving on the ground, stabbing it with pitchforks, and beating it with flails and sticks. The story goes that one of the alarmed farmers poured a charge of shot into it with his gun, no doubt thinking that he had effectually silenced the panting demon contained therein. To prevent such unseemly occurrences in the future the French Government found it necessary to warn the people by proclamation that balloons were perfectly harmless objects, and that the experiments would be repeated.
We now have two aerial craft competing for popular favour: the Montgolfier hot-air balloon and the “Charlier” or gas-inflated balloon. About four months after the first trial trip of the latter the inventors decided to ascend in a specially-constructed hydrogen-inflated craft. This balloon, which was 27 feet in diameter, contained nearly all the features of the modern balloon. Thus there was a valve at the top by means of which the gas could be let out as desired; a cord net covered the whole fabric, and from the loop which it formed below the neck of the balloon a car was suspended; and in the car there was a quantity of ballast which could be cast overboard when necessary.
It may be imagined that this new method of aerial navigation had thoroughly aroused the excitability of the French nation, so that thousands of people were met together just outside Paris on the 17th December to see Professor Charles and his mechanic, Robelt, ascend in their new craft. The ascent was successful in every way; the intrepid aeronauts, who carried a barometer, found that they had quickly reached an altitude of over a mile.
After remaining aloft for nearly two hours they came down. Professor Charles decided to ascend again, this time by himself, and with a much lighter load the balloon rose about two miles above sea-level. The temperature at this height became very low, and M. Charles was affected by violent pain in his right ear and jaw. During the voyage he witnessed the strange phenomenon of a double sunset; for, before the ascent, the sun had set behind the hills overshadowing the valleys, and when he rose above the hill-tops he saw the sun again, and presently saw it set again. There is no doubt that the balloon would have risen several thousand feet higher, but the professor thought it would burst, and he opened the valve, eventually making a safe descent about 7 miles from his starting-place.
England lagged behind her French neighbour’s in balloon aeronautics–much as she has recently done in aviation–for a considerable time, and,it was not till August of the following year (1784) that the first balloon ascent was made in Great Britain, by Mr. J. M. Tytler. This took place at Edinburgh in a fire balloon. Previous to this an Italian, named Lunardi, had in November, 1783, dispatched from the Artillery Ground, in London, a small balloon made of oil-silk, 10 feet in diameter and weighing 11 pounds. This small craft was sent aloft at one o’clock, and came down, about two and a half hours later, in Sussex, about 48 miles from its starting-place.
In 1784 the largest balloon on record was sent up from Lyons. This immense craft was more than 100 feet in diameter, and stood about 130 feet high. It was inflated with hot air over a straw fire, and seven passengers were carried, including Joseph Montgolfier and Pilatre de Rozier.
But to return to de Rozier, whom we left earlier in the chapter, after his memorable ascent near Paris. This daring Frenchman decided to cross the Channel, and to prevent the gas cooling, and the balloon falling into the sea, he hit on the idea of suspending a small fire balloon under the neck of another balloon inflated with hydrogen gas. In the light of our modern knowledge of the highly-inflammable nature of hydrogen, we wonder how anyone could have attempted such an adventure; but there had been little experience of this newly-discovered gas in those days. We are not surprised to read that, when high in the air, there was an awful explosion and the brave aeronaut fell to the earth and was dashed to death.
The First Balloon Ascent in England
It has been said that the honour of making the first ascent in a balloon from British soil must be awarded to Mr. Tytler. This took place in Scotland. In this chapter we will relate the almost romantic story of the first ascent made in England.
This was carried out successfully by Lunardi, the Italian of whom we have previously spoken. This young foreigner, who was engaged as a private secretary in London, had his interest keenly aroused by the accounts of the experiments being carried out in balloons in France, and he decided to attempt similar experiments in this country.
But great difficulties stood in his way. Like many other inventors and would-be airmen, he suffered from lack of funds to build his craft, and though people whom he approached for financial aid were sympathetic, many of them were unwilling to subscribe to his venture. At length, however, by indomitable perseverance, he collected enough money to defray the cost of building his balloon, and it was arranged that he should ascend from the Artillery Ground, London, in September, 1784.
His craft was a “Charlier”–that is, it was modelled after the hydrogen-inflated balloon built by Professor Charles–and it resembled in shape an enormous pear. A wide hoop encircled the neck of the envelope, and from this hoop the car was suspended by stout cordage.
It is said that on the day announced for the ascent a crowd of nearly 200,000 had assembled, and that the Prince of Wales was an interested spectator. Farmers and labourers and, indeed, all classes of people from the prince down to he humblest subject, were represented, and seldom had London’s citizens been more deeply excited.
Many of them, however, were incredulous, especially when an insufficiency of gas caused a long delay before the balloon could be liberated. Fate seemed to be thwarting the plucky Italian at every step. Even at the last minute, when all arrangements had been perfected as far as was humanly possible, and the crowd was agog with excitement, it appeared probable that he would have to postpone the ascent.
It was originally intended that Lunardi should be accompanied by a passenger; but as there was a shortage of gas the balloon’s lifting power was considerably lessened, and he had to take the trip with a dog and cat for companions. A perfect ascent was made, and in a few moments the huge balloon was sailing gracefully in a northerly direction over innumerable housetops.
This trip was memorable in another way. It was probably the only aerial cruise where a Royal Council was put off in order to witness the flight. It is recorded that George the Third was in conference with the Cabinet, and when news arrived in the Council Chamber that Lunardi was aloft, the king remarked: Gentlemen, we may resume our deliberations at pleasure, but we may never see poor Lunardi again!”
The journey was uneventful; there was a moderate northerly breeze, and the aeronaut attained a considerable altitude, so that he and his animals were in danger of frost-bite. Indeed, one of the animals suffered so severely from the effects of the cold that Lunardi skilfully descended low enough to drop it safely to earth, and then, throwing out ballast, once more ascended. He eventually came to earth near a Hertfordshire village about 30 miles to the north of London.
The Father of British Aeronauts
No account of the early history of English aeronautics could possibly be complete unless it included a description of the Nassau balloon, which was inflated by coal-gas, from the suggestion of Mr. Charles Green, who was one of Britain’s most famous aeronauts. Because of his institution of the modern method of using coal-gas in a balloon, Mr. Green is generally spoken of as the Father of British Aeronautics. During the close of the eighteenth and the opening years of the nineteenth century there had been numerous ascents in Charlier balloons, both in Britain and on the Continent. It had already been discovered that hydrogen gas was highly dangerous and also expensive, and Mr. Green proposed to try the experiment of inflating a balloon with ordinary coal-gas, which had now become fairly common in most large towns, and was much less costly than hydrogen.
Critics of the new scheme assured the promoters that coal-gas would be of little use for a balloon, averring that it had comparatively little lifting power, and aeronauts could never expect to rise to any great altitude in such a balloon. But Green firmly believed that his theory was practical, and he put it to the test. The initial experiments quite convinced him that he was right. Under his superintendence a fine balloon about 80 feet high, built of silk, was made in South London, and the car was constructed to hold from fifteen to twenty passengers. When the craft was completed it was proposed to send it to Paris for exhibition purposes, and the inventor, with two friends, Messrs. Holland and Mason, decided to take it over the Channel by air. It is said that provisions were taken in sufficient quantities to last a fortnight, and over a ton of ballast was shipped.
The journey commenced in November, 1836, late in the afternoon, as the aeronauts had planned to cross the sea by night. A fairly strong north-west wind quickly bore them to the coast, and in less than an hour they found themselves over the lights of Calais. On and on they went, now and then entirely lost to Earth through being enveloped in dense fog; hour after hour went by, until at length dawn revealed a densely-wooded tract of country with which they were entirely unfamiliar. They decided to land, and they were greatly surprised to find that they had reached Weilburg, in Nassau, Germany. The whole journey of 500 miles had been made in eighteen hours.
Probably no British aeronaut has made more daring and exciting ascents than Mr. Green–unless it be a member of the famous Spencer family, of whom we speak in another chapter. It is said that Mr. Green went aloft over a thousand times, and in later years he was accompanied by various passengers who were making ascents for scientific purposes. His skill was so great that though he had numerous hairbreadth escapes he seldom suffered much bodily harm. He lived to the ripe old age of eighty-five.
No doubt many of those who read this book have seen an aeronaut descend from a balloon by the aid of a parachute. For many years this performance has been one of the most attractive items on the programmes of fetes, galas, and various other outdoor exhibitions.
The word “parachute” has been almost bodily taken from the French language. It is derived from the French parer to parry, and chute a fall. In appearance a parachute is very similar to an enormous umbrella.
M. Blanchard, one of the pioneers of ballooning, has the honour of first using a parachute, although not in person. The first “aeronaut” to descend by this apparatus was a dog. The astonished animal was placed in a basket attached to a parachute, taken up in a balloon, and after reaching a considerable altitude was released. Happily for the dog the parachute acted quite admirably, and the animal had a graceful and gentle descent.
Shortly afterwards a well-known French aeronaut, M. Garnerin, had an equally satisfactory descent, and soon the parachute was used by most of the prominent aeronauts of the day. Mr. Cocking, a well-known balloonist, held somewhat different views from those of other inventors as to the best form of construction of parachutes. His idea was that a parachute should be very large and rather heavy in order to be able to support a great weight. His first descent from a great height was also his last. In 1837, accompanied by Messrs. Spencer and Green, he went up with his parachute, attached to the Nassau balloon. At a height of about a mile the parachute was liberated, but it failed to act properly; the inventor was cast headlong to earth, and dashed to death.
From time to time it has been thought that the parachute might be used for life-saving on the modern dirigible air-ship, and even on the aeroplane, and experiments have been carried out with that end in view. A most thrilling descent from an air-ship by means of a parachute was that made by Major Maitland, Commander of the British Airship Squadron, which forms part of the Royal Flying Corps. The descent took place from the Delta air-ship, which ascended from Farnborough Common. In the car with Major Maitland were the pilot, Captain Waterlow, and a passenger. The parachute was suspended from the rigging of the Delta, and when a height of about 2000 feet had been reached it was dropped over to the side of the car. With the dirigible travelling at about 20 miles an hour the major climbed over the car and seated himself in the parachute. Then it became detached from the Delta and shot downwards for about 200 feet at a terrific rate. For a moment or two it was thought that the opening apparatus had failed to work; but gradually the “umbrella” opened, and the gallant major had a gentle descent for the rest of the distance.
This experiment was really made in order to prove the stability of an air-ship after a comparatively great weight was suddenly removed from it. Lord Edward Grosvenor, who is attached to the Royal Flying Corps, was one of the eyewitnesses of the descent. In speaking of it he said: “We all think highly of Major Maitland’s performance, which has shown how the difficulty of lightening an air-ship after a long flight can be surmounted. During a voyage of several hours a dirigible naturally loses gas, and without some means of relieving her of weight she might have to descend in a hostile country. Major Maitland has proved the practicability of members of an air-ship’s crew dropping to the ground if the necessity arises.”
A descent in a parachute has also been made from an aeroplane by M. Pegoud, the daring French airman, of whom we speak later. A certain Frenchman, M. Bonnet, had constructed a parachute which was intended to be used by the pilot of an aeroplane if on any occasion he got into difficulties. It had been tried in many ways, but, unfortunately for the inventor, he could get no pilot to trust himself to it. Tempting offers were made to pilots of world-wide fame, but either the risk was thought to be too great, or it was believed that no practical good would come of the experiment. At last the inventor approached M. Pegoud, who undertook to make the descent. This was accomplished from a great height with perfect safety. It seems highly probable that in the near future the parachute will form part of the equipment of every aeroplane and air-ship.
Some British Inventors of Air-ships
The first Englishman to invent an air-ship was Mr. Stanley Spencer, head of the well-known firm of Spencer Brothers, whose worksare at Highbury, North London.
This firm has long held an honourable place in aeronautics, both in the construction of air-craft and in aerial navigation. Spencer Brothers claim to be the premier balloon manufacturers in the world, and, at the time of writing, eighteen balloons and two dirigibles lie in the works ready for use. In these works there may also be seen the frame of the famous Santos-Dumont air-ship, referred to later in this book.
In general appearance the first Spencer air-ship was very similar to the airship flown by Santos-Dumont; that is, there was the cigar-shaped balloon, the small engine, and the screw propellor for driving the craft forward.
But there was one very important distinction between the two air-ships. By a most ingenious contrivance the envelope was made so that, in the event of a large and serious escape of gas, the balloon would assume the form of a giant umbrella, and fall to earth after the manner of a parachute.
All inventors profit, or should profit, by the experience of others, whether such experience be gained by success or failure. It was found that Santos-Dumont’s air-ship lost a considerable amount of gas when driven through the air, and on several occasions the whole craft was in great danger of collapse. To keep the envelope inflated as tightly as possible Mr. Spencer, by a clever contrivance, made it possible to force air into the balloon to replace the escaped gas.
The first Spencer air-ship was built for experimental purposes. It was able to lift only one person of light weight, and was thus a great contrast to the modern dirigible which carries a crew of thirty or forty people. Mr. Spencer made several exhibition flights in his little craft at the Crystal Palace, and so successful were they that he determined to construct a much larger craft.
The second Spencer air-ship, first launched in 1903, was nearly 100 feet long. There was one very important distinction between this and other air-ships built at that time: the propeller was placed in front of the craft, instead of at the rear, as is the case in most air-ships. Thus the craft was pulled through the air much after the manner of an aeroplane.
In the autumn of 1903 great enthusiasm was aroused in London by the announcement that Mr. Spencer proposed to fly from the Crystal Palace round the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and back to his starting-place. This was a much longer journey than that made by Santos-Dumont when he won the Deutsch prize.
Tens of thousands of London’s citizens turned out to witness the novel sight of a giant air-ship hovering over the heart of their city, and it was at once seen what enormous possibilities there were in the employment of such craft in time of war. The writer remembers well moving among the dense crowds and hearing everywhere such remarks as these:
“What would happen if a few bombs were thrown over the side of the air-ship?” “Will there be air-fleets in future, manned by the soldiers or sailors?” Indeed the uppermost thought in people’s minds was not so much the possibility of Mr. Spencer being able to complete his journey successfully–nearly everyone recognized that air-ship construction had now advanced so far that it was only a matter of time for an ideal craft to be built–but that the coming of the air-ship was an affair of grave international importance.
The great craft, glistening in the sunlight, sailed majestically from the south, but when it reached the Cathedral it refused to turn round and face the wind. Try how he might, Mr. Spencer could not make any progress. It was a thrilling sight to witness this battle with the elements, right over the heart of the largest city in the world. At times the air-ship seemed to be standing quite still, head to wind. Unfortunately, half a gale had sprung up, and the 24-horse-power engine was quite incapable of conquering so stiff a breeze, and making its way home again. After several gallant attempts to circle round the dome, Mr. Spencer gave up in despair, and let the monster air-ship drift with the wind over the northern suburbs of the city until a favourable landing-place near Barnet was reached, where he descended.
The Spencer air-ships are of the non-rigid type. Spencer air-ship A comprises a gas vessel for hydrogen 88 feet long and 24 feet in diameter, with a capacity of 26,000 cubic feet. The framework is of polished ash wood, made in sections so that it can easily be taken to pieces and transported, and the length over all is 56 feet. Two propellers 7 feet 6 inches diameter, made of satin-wood, are employed to drive the craft, which is equipped with a Green engine of from 35 to 40 horse-power.
Spencer’s air-ship B is a much larger vessel, being 150 feet long and 35 feet in diameter, with a capacity for hydrogen of 100,000 cubic feet. The framework is of steel and aluminium, made in sections, with cars for ten persons, including aeronauts, mechanics, and passengers. It is driven with two petrol aerial engines of from 50 to 60 horse-power.
About the time that Mr. Spencer was experimenting with his large air-ship, Dr. Barton, of Beckenham, was forming plans for an even larger craft. This he laid down in the spacious grounds of the Alexandra Park, to the north of London. An enormous shed was erected on the northern slopes of the park, but visitors to the Alexandra Palace, intent on a peep at the monster air-ship under construction, were sorely disappointed, as the utmost secrecy in the building of the craft was maintained.
The huge balloon was 43 feet in diameter and 176 feet long, with a gas capacity of 235,000 cubic feet. To maintain the external form of the envelope a smaller balloon, or compensator, was placed inside the larger one. The framework was of bamboo, and the car was attached by about eighty wire-cables. The wooden deck was about 123 feet in length. Two 50-horse-power engines drove four propellers, two of which were at either end.
The inventor employed a most ingenious contrivance to preserve the horizontal balance of the air-ship. Fitted, one at each end of the carriage, were two 50-gallon tanks. These tanks were connected with a long pipe, in the centre of which was a hand-pump. When the bow of the air-ship dipped, the man at the pump could transfer some of the water from the fore-tank to the after-tank, and the ship would right itself. The water could similarly be transferred from the after-tank to the fore-tank when the stern of the craft pointed downwards.
There were many reports, in the early months of 1905, that the air-ship was going to be brought out from the shed for its trial flights, and the writer, in common with many other residents in the vicinity of the park, made dozens of journeys to the shed in the expectation of seeing the mighty dirigible sail away. But for months we were doomed to disappointment; something always seemed to go wrong at the last minute, and the flight had to be postponed.
At last, in 1905, the first ascent took place. It was unsuccessful. The huge balloon, made of tussore silk, cruised about for some time, then drifted away with the breeze, and came to grief in landing.
A clever inventor of air-ships, a young Welshman, Mr. E. T. Willows, designed in 1910, an air-ship in which he flew from Cardiff to London in the dark–a distance of 139 miles. In the same craft he crossed the English Channel a little later.
Mr. Willows has a large shed in the London aerodrome at Hendon, and he is at present working there on a new air-ship. For some time he has been the only successful private builder of air-ships in Great Britain. The Navy possess a small Willows air-ship.
Messrs. Vickers, the famous builders of battleships, are giving attention to the construction of air-ships for the Navy, in their works at Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness. This firm has erected an enormous shed, 540 feet long, 150 feet broad, and 98 feet high. In this shed two of the largest air-ships can be built side by side. Close at hand is an extensive factory for the production of hydrogen gas.
At each end of the roof are towers from which the difficult task of safely removing an air-ship from the shed can be directed.
At the time of writing, the redoubtable DORA (Defence of the Realm Act) forbids any but the vaguest references to what is going forward in the way of additions to our air forces. But it may be stated that air-ships are included in the great constructive programme now being carried out. It is not long since the citizens of Glasgow were treated to the spectacle of a full-sized British “Zep” circling round the city prior to her journey south, and so to regions unspecified. And use, too, is being found by the naval arm for that curious hybrid the “Blimp”, which may be described as a cross between an aeroplane and an air-ship.
The First Attempts to Steer a Balloon
For nearly a century after the invention of the Montgolfier and Charlier balloons there was not much progress made in the science of aeronautics. True, inventors such as Charles Green suggested and carried out new methods of inflating balloons, and scientific observations of great importance were made by balloonists both in Britain and on the Continent. But in the all-important work of steering the huge craft, progress was for many years practically at a standstill. All that the balloonist could do in controlling his balloon was to make it ascend or descend at will; he could not guide its direction of flight. No doubt pioneers of aeronautics early turned their attention to the problem of providing some apparatus, or some method, of steering their craft. One inventor suggested the hoisting of a huge sail at the side of the envelope; but when this was done the balloon simply turned round with the sail to the front. It had no effect on the direction of flight of the balloon. “Would not a rudder be of use?” someone asked. This plan was also tried, but was equally unsuccessful.
Perhaps some of us may wonder how it is that a rudder is not as serviceable on a balloon as it is on the stern of a boat. Have you ever found yourself in a boat on a calm day, drifting idly down stream, and going just as fast as the stream goes? Work the rudder how you may, you will not alter the boat’s course. But supposing your boat moves faster than the stream, or by some means or other is made to travel slower than the current, then your rudder will act, and you may take what direction you will.
It was soon seen that if some method could be adopted whereby the balloon moved through the air faster or slower than the wind, then the aeronaut would be able to steer it. Nowadays a balloon’s pace can be accelerated by means of a powerful motor-engine, but the invention of the petrol-engine is very recent. Indeed, the cause of the long delay in the construction of a steerable balloon was that a suitable engine could not be found. A steam-engine, with a boiler of sufficient power to propel a balloon, is so heavy that it would require a balloon of impossible size to lift it.
One of the first serious attempts to steer a balloon by means of engine power was that made by M. Giffard in 1852. Giffard’s balloon was about 100 feet long and 40 feet in diameter, and resembled in shape an elongated cigar. A 3-horse-power steam-engine, weighing nearly 500 pounds, was provided to work a propeller, but the enormous weight was so great in proportion to the lifting power of the balloon that for a time the aeronaut could not leave the ground. After several experiments the inventor succeeded in ascending, when he obtained a speed against the wind of about 6 miles an hour.
A balloon of great historical interest was that invented by Dtipuy du Lonie, in the year 1872. Instead of using steam he employed a number of men to propel the craft, and with this air-ship he hoped to communicate with the besieged city of Paris.
His greatest speed against a moderate breeze was only about 5 miles an hour, and the endurance of the men did not allow of even this speed being kept up for long at a time.
Dupuy foreshadowed the construction of the modern dirigible air-ship by inventing a system of suspension links which connected the car to the envelope; and he also used an internal ballonet similar to those described in Chapter X.
In the year 1883 Tissandier invented a steerable balloon which was fitted with an electric motor of 1 1/2 horse-power. This motor drove a propeller, and a speed of about 8 miles an hour was attained. It is interesting to contrast the power obtained from this engine with that of recent Zeppelin air-ships, each of which is fitted with three or four engines, capable of producing over 800 horse-power.
The first instance on record of an air-ship being steered back to its starting-point was that of La France. This air-craft was the invention of two French army captains, Reynard and Krebs. By special and much-improved electric motors a speed of about 14 miles an hour was attained.
Thus, step by step, progress was made; but notwithstanding the promising results it was quite evident that the engines were far too heavy in proportion to the power they supplied. At length, however, the internal-combustion engine, such as is used in motor-cars, arrived, and it became at last possible to solve the great problem of constructing a really-serviceable, steerable balloon.
The Strange Career of Count Zeppelin
In Berlin, on March 8, 1917, there passed away a man whose name will be remembered as long as the English language is spoken. For Count Zeppelin belongs to that little band of men who giving birth to a work of genius have also given their names to the christening of it; and so the patronymic will pass down the ages.
In the most sinister sense of the expression Count Zeppelin may be said to have left his mark deep down upon the British race. In course of time many old scores are forgiven and forgotten, but the Zeppelin raids on England will survive, if only as a curious failure. Their failure was both material and moral. Anti-aircraft guns and our intrepid airmen brought one after another of these destructive monsters blazing to the ground, and their work of “frightfulness” was taken up by the aeroplane; while more lamentable still was the failure of the Zeppelin as an instrument of terror to the civil population. In the long list of German miscalculations must be included that which pictured the victims of bombardment from the air crying out in terror for peace at any price.
Before the war Count Zeppelin was regarded by the British public as rather a picturesque personality. He appeared in the romantic guise of the inventor struggling against difficulties and disasters which would soon have overwhelmed a man of less resolute character. Even old age was included in his handicap, for he was verging on seventy when still arming against a sea of troubles.
The ebb and flow of his fortunes were followed with intense interest in this country, and it is not too much to say that the many disasters which overtook his air-ships in their experimental stages were regarded as world-wide calamities.
When, finally, the Count stood on the brink of ruin and the Kaiser stepped forward as his saviour, something like a cheer went up from the British public at this theatrical episode. Little did the audience realize what was to be the outcome of the association between these callous and masterful minds.
And now for a brief sketch of Count Zeppelin’s life-story. He was born in 1838, in a monastery on an island in Lake Constance. His love of adventure took him to America, and when he was about twenty-five years of age he took part in the American Civil War. Here he made his first aerial ascent in a balloon belonging to the Federal army, and in this way made that acquaintance with aeronautics which became the ruling passion of his life.
After the war was over he returned to Germany, only to find another war awaiting him–the Austro-Prussian campaign. Later on he took part in the Franco-Prussian War, and in both campaigns he emerged unscathed.
But his heart was not in the profession of soldiering. He had the restless mind of the inventor, and when he retired, a general, after twenty years’ military service, he was free to give his whole attention to his dreams of aerial navigation. His greatest ambition was to make his country pre-eminent in aerial greatness.
Friends to whom he revealed his inmost thoughts laughed at him behind his back, and considered that he was “a little bit wrong in his head”. Certainly his ideas of a huge aerial fleet appeared most extravagant, for it must be remembered that the motor-engine had not then arrived, and there appeared no reasonable prospect of its invention.
Perseverance, however, was the dominant feature of Count Zeppelin’s character; he refused to be beaten. His difficulties were formidable. In the first place, he had to master the whole science of aeronautics, which implies some knowledge of mechanics, meteorology, and electricity. This in itself was no small task for a man of over fifty years of age, for it was not until Count Zeppelin had retired from the army that he began to study these subjects at all deeply.
The next step was to construct a large shed for the housing of his air-ship, and also for the purpose of carrying out numerous costly experiments. The Count selected Friedrichshafen, on the shores of Lake Constance, as his head-quarters. He decided to conduct his experiments over the calm waters of the lake, in order to lessen the effects of a fall. The original shed was constructed on pontoons, and it could be turned round as desired, so that the air-ship could be brought out in the lee of any wind from whatsoever quarter it came.
It is said that the Count’s private fortune of about L25,000 was soon expended in the cost of these works and the necessary experiments. To continue his work he had to appeal for funds to all his friends, and also to all patriotic Germans, from the Kaiser downwards.
At length, in 1908, there came a turning-point in his fortunes. The German Government, which had watched the Count’s progress with great interest, offered to buy his invention outright if he succeeded in remaining aloft in one of his dirigibles for twenty-four hours. The Count did not quite succeed in his task, but he aroused the great interest of the whole German nation, and a Zeppelin fund was established, under the patronage of the Kaiser, in every town and city in the Fatherland. In about a month the fund amounted to over L300,000. With this sum the veteran inventor was able to extend his works, and produce air-ship after air-ship with remarkable rapidity.
When, war broke out it is probable that Germany possessed at least thirteen air-ships which had fulfilled very difficult tests. One had flown 1800 miles in a single journey. Thus the East Coast of England, representing a return journey of less than 600 miles was well within their range of action.
A Zeppelin Air-ship and its Construction
After the Zeppelin fund had brought in a sum of money which probably exceeded all expectations, a company was formed for the construction of dirigibles in the Zeppelin works on Lake Constance, and in 1909 an enormous air-ship was produced.
In shape a Zeppelin dirigible resembled a gigantic cigar, pointed at both ends. If placed with one end on the ground in Trafalgar Square, London, its other end would be nearly three times the height of the Nelson Column, which, as you may know, is 166 feet.
From the diagram here given, which shows a sectional view of a typical Zeppelin air-ship, we may obtain a clear idea of the main features of the craft. From time to time, during the last dozen years or so, the inventor has added certain details, but the main features as shown in the illustration are common to all air-craft of this type.
Zeppelin L1 was 525 feet in length, with a diameter of 50 feet. Some idea of the size may be obtained through the knowledge that she was longer than a modern Dreadnought. The framework was made of specially light metal, aluminium alloy, and wood. This framework, which was stayed with steel wire, maintained the shape and rigidity of her gas-bags; hence vessels of this type are known as RIGID air-ships. Externally the hull was covered with a waterproof fabric.
Though, from outside, a rigid air-ship looks to be all in one piece, within it is divided into numerous compartments. In Zeppelin L1 there were eighteen separate compartments, each of which contained a balloon filled with hydrogen gas. The object of providing the vessel with these small balloons, or ballonets, all separate from one another, was to prevent the gas collecting all at one end of the ship as the vessel travelled through the air. Outside the ballonets there was a ring-shaped, double bottom, containing non-inflammable gas, and the whole was enclosed in rubber-coated fabric.
The crew and motors were carried in cars slung fore and aft. The ship was propelled by three engines, each of 170 horse-power. One engine was placed in the forward car, and the two others in the after car. To steer her to right or left, she had six vertical planes somewhat resembling box-kites, while eight horizontal planes enabled her to ascend or descend.
In Zeppelin L2, which was a later type of craft, there were four motors capable of developing 820 horse-power. These drove four propellers, which gave the craft a speed of about 45 miles an hour.
The cars were connected by a gangway built within the framework. On the top of the gas-chambers was a platform of aluminium alloy, carrying a 1-pounder gun, and used also as an observation station. It is thought that L1 was also provided with four machine-guns in her cars.
Later types of Zeppelins were fitted with a “wireless” installation of sufficient range to transmit and receive messages up to 350 miles. L1 could rise to the height of a mile in favourable weather, and carry about 7 tons over and above her own weight.
Even when on ground the unwieldy craft cause many anxious moments to the officers and mechanics who handle them. Two of the line have broken loose from their anchorage in a storm and have been totally destroyed. Great difficulty is also experienced in getting them in and out of their sheds. Here, indeed, is a contrast with the ease and rapidity with which an aeroplane is removed from its hangar.
It was maintained by the inventor that, as the vessel is rigid, and therefore no pressure is required in the gas-chamber to maintain its shape, it will not be readily vulnerable to projectiles. But the Count did not foresee that the very “frightfulness” of his engine of war would engender counter-destructives. In a later chapter an account will be given of the manner in which Zeppelin attacks upon these islands were gradually beaten off by the combined efforts of anti-aircraft guns and aeroplanes. To the latter, and the intrepid pilots and fighters, is due the chief credit for the final overthrow of the Zeppelin as a weapon of offence. Both the British and French airmen in various brilliant sallies succeeded in gradually breaking up and destroying this Armada of the Air; and the Zeppelin was forced back to the one line of work in which it has proved a success, viz., scouting for the German fleet in the few timid sallies it has made from home ports.
The Semi-rigid Air-ship
Modern air-ships are of three general types: RIGID, SEMI-RIGID, and NON-RIGID. These differ from one another, as the names suggest, in the important feature, the RIGIDITY, NON-RIGIDITY, and PARTIAL RIGIDITY of the gas envelope.
Hitherto we have discussed the RIGID type of vessel with which the name of Count Zeppelin is so closely associated. This vessel is, as we have seen, not dependent for its form on the gas-bag, but is maintained in permanent shape by means of an aluminium framework. A serious disadvantage to this type of craft is that it lacks the portability necessary for military purposes. It is true that the vessel can be taken to pieces, but not quickly. The NON-RIGID type, on the other hand, can be quickly deflated, and the parts of the car and engine can be readily transported to the nearest balloon station when occasion requires.
In the SEMI-RIGID type of air-ship the vessel is dependent for its form partly on its framework and partly on the form of the gas envelope. The under side of the balloon consists of a flat rigid framework, to which the planes are attached, and from which the car, the engine, and propeller are suspended.
As the rigid type of dirigible is chiefly advocated in Germany, so the semi-rigid craft is most popular in France. The famous Lebaudy air-ships are good types of semi-rigid vessels. These were designed for the firm of Lebaudy Freres by the well-known French engineer M. Henri Julliot.
In November, 1902, M. Julliot and M. Surcouf completed an air-ship for M. Lebaudy which attained a speed of nearly 25 miles an hour. The craft, which was named Lebaudy I, made many successful voyages, and in 1905 M. Lebaudy offered a second vessel, Lebaudy II, to the French Minister of War, who accepted it for the French nation, and afterwards decided to order another dirigible, La Patrie, of the same type. Disaster, however, followed these air-ships. Lebaudy I was torn from its anchorage during a heavy gale in 1906, and was completely wrecked. La Patrie, after travelling in 1907 from Paris to Verdun, in seven hours, was, a few days later, caught in a gale, and the pilot was forced to descend. The wind, however, was so strong that 200 soldiers were unable to hold down the unwieldy craft, and it was torn from their hands. It sailed away in a north-westerly direction over the Channel into England, and ultimately disappeared into the North Sea, where it was subsequently discovered some days after the accident.
Notwithstanding these disasters the French military authorities ordered another craft of the same type, which was afterwards named the Republique. This vessel made a magnificent flight of six and a half hours in 1908, and it was considered to have quite exceptional features, which eclipsed the previous efforts of Messrs. Julliot and Lebaudy.
Unfortunately, however, this vessel was wrecked in a very terrible manner. While out cruising with a crew of four officers one of the propeller blades was suddenly fractured, and, flying off with immense force, it entered the balloon, which it ripped to pieces. The majestic craft crumpled up and crashed to the ground, killing its crew in its fall.
In the illustration facing p. 17, of a Lebaudy air-ship, we have a good type of the semi-rigid craft. In shape it somewhat resembles an enormous porpoise, with a sharply-pointed nose. The whole vessel is not as symmetrical as a Zeppelin dirigible, but its inventors claim that the sharp prow facilitates the steady displace ment of the air during flight. The stern is rounded so as to provide sufficient support for the rear planes.
Two propellers are employed, and are fixed outside the car, one on each side, and almost in the centre of the vessel. This is a some what unusual arrangement. Some inventors, such as Mr. Spencer, place the propellers at the prow, so that the air-ship is DRAWN along; others prefer the propeller at the stern, whereby the craft is PUSHED along; but M. Julliot chose the central position, because there the disturbance of the air is smallest.
The body of the balloon is not quite round, for the lower part is flattened and rests on a rigid frame from which the car is suspended. The balloon is divided into three compartments, so that the heavier air does not move to one part of the balloon when it is tilted.
In the picture there is shown the petrol storage-tank, which is suspended immediately under the rear horizontal plane, where it is out of danger of ignition from the hot engine placed in the car.
A Non-rigid Balloon
Hitherto we have described the rigid and semi-rigid types of air-ships. We have seen that the former maintains its shape without assistance from the gas which inflates its envelope and supplies the lifting power, while the latter, as its name implies, is dependent for its form partly on the flat rigid framework to which the car is attached, and partly on the gas balloon.
We have now to turn our attention to that type of craft known as a NON-RIGID BALLOON. This vessel relies for its form ENTIRELY upon the pressure of the gas, which keeps the envelope distended with sufficient tautness to enable it to be driven through the air at a considerable speed.
It will at once be seen that the safety of a vessel of this type depends on the maintenance of the gas pressure, and that it is liable to be quickly put out of action if the envelope becomes torn. Such an occurrence is quite possible in war. A well-directed shell which pierced the balloon would undoubtedly be disastrous to air-ship and crew. For this reason the non-rigid balloon does not appear to have much future value as a fighting ship. But, as great speed can be obtained from it, it seems especially suited for short overland voyages, either for sporting or commercial purposes. One of its greatest advantages is that it can be easily deflated, and can be packed away into a very small compass.
A good type of the non-rigid air-ship is that built by Major Von Parseval, which is named after its inventor. The Parseval has been described as “a marvel of modern aeronautical construction”, and also as “one of the most perfect expressions of modern aeronautics, not only on account of its design, but owing to its striking efficiency.
The balloon has the elongated form, rounded or pointed at one end, or both ends, which is common to most air-ships. The envelope is composed of a rubber-texture fabric, and externally it is painted yellow, so that the chemical properties of the sun’s rays may not injure the rubber. There are two smaller interior balloons, or COMPENSATORS, into which can be pumped air by means of a mechanically-driven fan or ventilator, to make up for contraction of the gas when descending or meeting a cooler atmosphere. The compensators occupy about one-quarter of the whole volume.
To secure the necessary inclination of the balloon while in flight, air can be transferred from one of the compensators, say at the fore end of the ship, into the ballonet in the aft part. Suppose it is desired to incline the bow of the craft upward, then the ventilating fan would DEFLATE the fore ballonet and INFLATE the aft one, so that the latter, becoming heavier, would lower the stern and raise the bow of the vessel.
Along each side of the envelope are seen strips to which the car suspension-cords are attached. To prevent these cords being jerked asunder, by the rolling or pitching of the vessel, horizontal fins, each 172 square feet in area, are provided at each side of the rear end of the balloon. In the past several serious accidents have been caused by the violent pitching of the balloon when caught in a gale, and so severe have been the stresses on the suspension cords that great damage has been done to the envelope, and the aeronauts have been fortunate if they have been able to make a safe descent.
The propeller and engine are carried by the car, which is slung well below the balloon, and by an ingenious contrivance the car always remains in a horizontal position, however much the balloon may be inclined. It is no uncommon occurrence for the balloon to make a considerable angle with the car beneath.
The propeller is quite a work of art. It has a diameter of about 14 feet, and consists of a frame of hollow steel tubes covered with fabric. It is so arranged that when out of action its blades fall lengthwise upon the frame supporting it, but when it is set to work the blades at once open out. The engine weighs 770 pounds, and has six cylinders, which develop 100 horse-power at 1200 revolutions a minute.
The vessel may be steered either to the right or the left by means of a large vertical helm, some 80 square feet in area, which is hinged at the rear end to a fixed vertical plane of 200 square feet area.
An upward or downward inclination is, as we have seen, effected by the ballonets, but in cases of emergency these compensators cannot be deflated or inflated sufficiently rapidly, and a large movable weight is employed for altering the balance of the vessel.
In this country the authorities have hitherto favoured the non-rigid air-ship for military and naval use. The Astra-Torres belongs to this type of vessel, which can be rapidly deflated and transported, and so, too, the air-ship built by Mr. Willows.
The Zeppelin and Gotha Raids
In the House of Commons recently Mr. Bonar Law announced that since the commencement of the war 14,250 lives had been lost as the result of enemy action by submarines and air-craft. A large percentage of these figures represents women, children, and defenceless citizens.
One had become almost hardened to the German method of making war on the civil population–that system of striving to act upon civilian “nerves” by calculated brutality which is summed up in the word “frightfulness”. But the publication of these figures awoke some of the old horror of German warfare. The sum total of lives lost brought home to the people at home the fact that bombardment from air and sea, while it had failed to shake their MORAL, had taken a large toll of human life.
At first the Zeppelin raids were not taken very seriously in this country. People rushed out of their houses to see the unwonted spectacle of an air-ship dealing death and destruction from the clouds. But soon the novelty began to wear off, and as the raids became more frequent and the casualty lists grew larger, people began to murmur against the policy of taking these attacks “lying down”. It was felt that “darkness and composure” formed but a feeble and ignoble weapon of defence. The people spoke with no uncertain voice, and it began to dawn upon the authorities that the system of regarding London and the south-east coast as part of “the front” was no excuse for not taking protective measures.
It was the raid into the Midlands on the night of 31st January, 1916, that finally shelved the old policy of do nothing. Further justification, if any were needed, for active measures was supplied by a still more audacious raid upon the east coast of Scotland, upon which occasion Zeppelins soared over England–at their will. Then the authorities woke up, and an extensive scheme of anti-aircraft guns and squadrons of aeroplanes was devised. About March of the year 1916 the Germans began to break the monotony of the Zeppelin raids by using sea-planes as variants. So there was plenty of work for our new defensive air force. Indeed, people began to ask themselves why we should not hit back by making raids into Germany. The subject was well aired in the public press, and distinguished advocates came forward for and against the policy of reprisals. At a considerably later date reprisals carried the day, and, as we write, air raids by the British into Germany are of frequent occurrence.
In March, 1916, the fruits of the new policy began to appear, and people found them very refreshing. A fleet of Zeppelins found, on approaching the mouth of the Thames, a very warm reception. Powerful searchlights, and shells from new anti-aircraft guns, played all round them. At length a shot got home. One of the Zeppelins, “winged” by a shell, began a wobbly retreat which ended in the waters of the estuary. The navy finished the business. The wrecked air-ship was quickly surrounded by a little fleet of destroyers and patrol-boats, and the crew were brought ashore, prisoners. That same night yet another Zeppelin was hit and damaged in another part of the country.
Raids followed in such quick succession as to be almost of nightly occurrence during the favouring moonless nights. Later, the conditions were reversed, and the attacks by aeroplane were all made in bright moonlight. But ever the defence became more strenuous. Then aeroplanes began to play the role of “hornets”, as Mr. Winston Churchill, speaking rather too previously, designated them.
Lieutenant Brandon, R.F.C., succeeded in dropping several aerial bombs on a Zeppelin during the raid on March 31, but it was not until six months later that an airman succeeded in bringing down a Zeppelin on British soil. The credit of repeating Lieutenant Warneford’s great feat belongs to Lieutenant W. R. Robinson, and the fight was witnessed by a large gathering. It occurred in the very formidable air raid on the night of September 2. Breathlessly the spectators watched the Zeppelin harried by searchlight and shell-fire. Suddenly it disappeared behind a veil of smoke which it had thrown out to baffle its pursuers. Then it appeared again, and a loud shout went up from the watching thousands. It was silhouetted against the night clouds in a faint line of fire. The hue deepened, the glow spread all round, and the doomed airship began its crash to earth in a smother of flame. The witnesses to this amazing spectacle naturally supposed that a shell had struck the Zeppelin. Its tiny assailant that had dealt the death-blow had been quite invisible during the fight. Only on the following morning did the public learn of Lieutenant Robinson’s feat. It appeared that he had been in the air a couple of hours, engaged in other conflicts with his monster foes. Besides the V.C. the plucky airman won considerable money prizes from citizens for destroying the first Zeppelin on British soil.
The Zeppelin raids continued at varying intervals for the remainder of the year. As the power of the defence increased the air-ships were forced to greater altitudes, with a corresponding decrease in the accuracy with which they could aim bombs on specified objects. But, however futile the raids, and however widely they missed their mark, there was no falling off in the outrageous claims made in the German communiques. Bombs dropped in fields, waste lands, and even the sea, masqueraded in the reports as missiles which had sunk ships in harbour, destroyed docks, and started fires in important military areas. So persistent were these exaggerations that it became evident that the Zeppelin raids were intended quite as much for moral effect at home as for material damage abroad. The heartening effect of the raids upon the German populace is evidenced by the mental attitude of men made prisoners on any of the fronts. Only with the utmost difficulty were their captors able to persuade them that London and other large towns were not in ruins; that shipbuilding was not at a standstill; and that the British people was not ready at any moment to purchase indemnity from the raids by concluding a German peace. When one method of terrorism fails try another, was evidently the German motto. After the Zeppelin the Gotha, and after that the submarine.
The next year–1917–brought in a very welcome change in the situation. One Zeppelin after another met with its just deserts, the British navy in particular scoring heavily against them. Nor must the skill and enterprise of our French allies be forgotten. In March, 1917, they shot down a Zeppelin at Compiegne, and seven months later dealt the blow which finally rid these islands of the Zeppelin menace.
For nearly a year London, owing to its greatly increased defences, had been free from attack. Then, on the night of October 19, Germany made a colossal effort to make good their boast of laying London in ruins. A fleet of eleven Zeppelins came over, five of which found the city. One, drifting low and silently, was responsible for most of the casualties, which totalled 34 killed and 56 injured.
The fleet got away from these shores without mishap. Then, at long last, came retribution. Flying very high, they seem to have encountered an aerial storm which drove them helplessly over French territory. Our allies were swift to seize this golden opportunity. Their airmen and anti-aircraft guns shot down no less than four of the Zeppelins in broad daylight, one of which was captured whole. Of the remainder, one at least drifted over the Mediterranean, and was not heard of again. That was the last of the Zeppelin, so far as the civilian population was concerned. But, for nearly a year, the work of killing citizens had been undertaken by the big bomb-dropping Gotha aeroplanes.
The work of the Gotha belongs rightly to the second part of this book, which deals with aeroplanes and airmen; but it would be convenient to dispose here of the part played by the Gotha in the air raids upon this country.
The reconnaissance took place on Tuesday, November 28, 1916, when in a slight haze a German aeroplane suddenly appeared over London, dropped six bombs, and flew off. The Gotha was intercepted off Dunkirk by the French, and brought down. Pilot and observer-two naval lieutenants-were found to have a large-scale map of London in their possession. The new era of raids had commenced.
Very soon it became evident that the new squadron of Gothas were much more destructive than the former fleets of unwieldy Zeppelins. These great Gothas were each capable of dropping nearly a ton of bombs. And their heavy armament and swift flight rendered them far less vulnerable than the air-ship.
From March 1 to October 31, 1917, no less than twenty-two raids took place, chiefly on London and towns on the south-east coast. The casualties amounted to 484 killed and 410 wounded. The two worst raids occurred June 13 on East London, and September 3 on the Sheerness and Chatham area.
A squadron of fifteen aeroplanes carried out the raid, on June 13, and although they were only over the city for a period of fifteen minutes the casualty list was exceedingly heavy–104 killed and 432 wounded. Many children were among the killed and injured as the result of a bomb which fell upon a Council school. The raid was carried out in daylight, and the bombs began to drop before any warning could be given. Later, an effective and comprehensive system of warnings was devised, and when people had acquired the habit of taking shelter, instead of rushing out into the street to see the aerial combats, the casualties began to diminish.
It is worthy of record that the possible danger to schools had been anticipated, and for some weeks previously the children had taken part in “Air Raid Drill”. When the raid came, the children behaved in the most exemplary fashion. They went through the manoeuvres as though it was merely a rehearsal, and their bearing as well as the coolness of the teachers obviated all danger from panic. In this raid the enemy first made use of aerial torpedoes.
Large loss of life, due to a building being struck, was also the feature of the moonlight raid on September 4. On this occasion enemy airmen found a mark on the Royal Naval barracks at Sheerness. The barracks were fitted with hammocks for sleeping, and no less than 108 bluejackets lost their lives, the number of wounded amounting to 92. Although the raid lasted nearly an hour and powerful searchlights were brought into play, neither guns nor our airmen succeeded in causing any loss to the raiders. Bombs were dropped at a number of other places, including Margate and Southend, but without result.
No less than six raids took place on London before the end of the month, but the greatest number of killed in any one of the raids was eleven, while on September 28 the raiders were driven off before they could claim any victims. The establishment of a close barrage of aerial guns did much to discourage the raiders, and gradually London, from being the most vulnerable spot in the British Isles, began to enjoy comparative immunity from attack.
Paris, too, during the Great War has had to suffer bombardment from the air, but not nearly to the same extent as London. The comparative immunity of Paris from air raids is due partly to the prompt measures which were taken to defend the capital. The French did not wait, as did the British, until the populace was goaded to the last point of exasperation, but quickly instituted the barrage system, in which we afterwards followed their lead. Moreover, the French were much more prompt in adopting retaliatory tactics. They hit back without having to wade through long moral and philosophical disquisitions upon the ethics of “reprisals”. On the other hand, it must be remembered that Paris, from the aerial standpoint, is a much more difficult objective than London. The enemy airman has to cross the French lines, which, like his own, stretch for miles in the rear. Practically he is in hostile country all the time, and he has to get back across the same dangerous air zones. It is a far easier task to dodge a few sea-planes over the wide seas en route to London. And on reaching the coast the airman has to evade or fight scattered local defences, instead of penetrating the close barriers which confront him all the way to Paris.
Since the first Zeppelin attack on Paris on March 21, 1915, when two of the air-ships reached the suburbs, killing 23 persons and injuring 30, there have been many raids and attempted raids, but mostly by single machines. The first air raid in force upon the French capital took place on January 31, 1918, when a squadron of Gothas crossed the lines north of Compiegne. Two hospitals were hit, and the casualties from the raid amounted to 20 killed and 50 wounded.
After the Italian set-back in the winter of 1917, the Venetian plain lay open to aerial bombardment by the Germans, who had given substantial military aid to their Austrian allies. This was an opportunity not to be lost by Germany, and Venice and other towns of the plain were subject to systematic bombardment.
At the time of writing, Germany is beginning to suffer some of the annoyances she is so ready to inflict upon others. The recently constituted Air Ministry have just published figures relating to the air raids into Germany from December 1, 1917, to February 19, 1918 inclusive. During these eleven weeks no fewer than thirty-five raids have taken place upon a variety of towns, railways, works, and barracks. In the list figure such important towns as Mannheim (pop. 20,000) and Metz (pop. 100,000). The average weight of bombs dropped at each raid works out about 1000 lbs. This welcome official report is but one of many signs which point the way to the growing supremacy of the Allies in the air.
AEROPLANES AND AIRMEN
Early Attempts in Aviation
The desire to fly is no new growth in humanity. For countless years men have longed to emulate the birds–“To soar upward and glide, free as a bird, over smiling fields, leafy woods, and mirror-like lakes,” as a great pioneer of aviation said. Great scholars and thinkers of old, such as Horace, Homer, Pindar, Tasso, and all the glorious line, dreamt of flight, but it has been left for the present century to see those dreams fulfilled.
Early writers of the fourth century saw the possibility of aerial navigation, but those who tried to put their theories in practice were beset by so many difficulties that they rarely succeeded in leaving the ground.
Most of the early pioneers of aviation believed that if a man wanted to fly he must provide himself with a pair of wings similar to those of a large bird. The story goes that a certain abbot told King James IV of Scotland that he would fly from Stirling Castle to Paris. He made for himself powerful wings of eagles’ feathers, which he fixed to his body and launched himself into the air. As might be expected, he fell and broke his legs.
But although the muscles of man are of insufficient strength to bear him in the air, it has been found possible, by using a motor engine, to give to man the power of flight which his natural weakness denied him.
Scientists estimate that to raise a man of about 12 stone in the air and enable him to fly there would be required an immense pair of wings over 20 feet in span. In comparison with the weight of a man a bird’s weight is remarkably small–the largest bird does not weigh much more than 20 pounds–but its wing muscles are infinitely stronger in proportion than the shoulder and arm muscles of a man.
As we shall see in a succeeding chapter, the “wing” theory was persevered with for many years some two or three centuries ago, and later on it was of much use in providing data for the gradual development of the modern aeroplane.
A Pioneer in Aviation
Hitherto we have traced the gradual development of the balloon right from the early days of aeronautics, when the brothers Montgolfier constructed their hot-air balloon, down to the most modern dirigible. It is now our purpose, in this and subsequent chapters, to follow the course of the pioneers of aviation.
It must not be supposed that the invention of the steerable balloon was greatly in advance of that of the heavier-than-air machine. Indeed, developments in both the dirigible airship and the aeroplane have taken place side by side. In some cases men like Santos Dumont have given earnest attention to both forms of air-craft, and produced practical results with both. Thus, after the famous Brazilian aeronaut had won the Deutsch prize for a flight in an air-ship round the Eiffel tower, he immediately set to work to construct an aeroplane which he subsequently piloted at Bagatelle and was awarded the first “Deutsch prize” for aviation.
It is generally agreed that the undoubted inventor of the aeroplane, practically in the form in which it now appears, was an English engineer, Sir George Cayley. Just over a hundred years ago this clever Englishman worked out complete plans for an aeroplane, which in many vital respects embodied the principal parts of the monoplane as it exists to-day.
There were wings which were inclined so that they formed a lifting plane; moreover, the wings were curved, or “cambered”, similar to the wing of a bird, and, as we shall see in a later chapter, this curve is one of the salient features of the plane of a modern heavier-than-air machine. Sir George also advocated the screw propeller worked by some form of “explosion” motor, which at that time had not arrived. Indeed, if there had been a motor available it is quite possible that England would have led the way in aviation. But, unfortunately, owing to the absence of a powerful motor engine, Sir George’s ideas could not be practically carried out till nearly a century later, and then Englishmen were forestalled by the Wright brothers, of America, as well as by several French inventors.
The distinguished French writer, Alphonse Berget, in his book, The Conquest of the Air, pays a striking tribute to our English inventor, and this, coming from a gentleman who is writing from a French point of view, makes the praise of great value. In alluding to Sir George, M. Berget says: “The inventor, the incontestable forerunner of aviation, was an Englishman, Sir George Cayley, and it was in 1809 that he described his project in detail in Nicholson’s Journal. . . . His idea embodied ‘everything’–the wings forming an oblique sail, the empennage, the spindle forms to diminish resistance, the screw-propeller, the ‘explosion’ motor, . . . he even described a means of securing automatic stability. Is not all that marvellous, and does it not constitute a complete specification for everything in aviation?
“Thus it is necessary to inscribe the name of Sir George Cayley in letters of gold, in the first page of the aeroplane’s history. Besides, the learned Englishman did not confine himself to ‘drawing-paper’: he built the first apparatus (without a motor) which gave him results highly promising. Then he built a second machine, this time with a motor, but unfortunately during the trials it was smashed to pieces.”
But were these ideas of any practical value? How is it that he did not succeed in flying, if he had most of the component parts of an aeroplane as we know it to-day?
The answer to the second question is that Sir George did not fly, simply because there was no light petrol motor in existence; the crude motors in use were far too heavy, in proportion to the power developed, for service in a flying machine. It was recognized, not only by Sir George, but by many other English engineers in the first half of the nineteenth century, that as soon as a sufficiently powerful and light engine did appear, then half the battle of the conquest of the air would be won.
But his prophetic voice was of the utmost assistance to such inventors as Santos Dumont, the Wright brothers, M. Bleriot, and others now world-famed. It is quite safe to assume that they gave serious attention to the views held by Sir George, which were given to the world at large in a number of highly-interest- ing lectures and magazine articles. “Ideas” are the very foundation-stones of invention–if we may be allowed the figure of speech–and Englishmen are proud, and rightly proud, to number within their ranks the original inventor of the heavier-than-air machine.
The “Human Birds”
For many years after the publication of Sir George Cayley’s articles and lectures on aviation very little was done in the way of aerial experiments. True, about midway through the nineteenth century two clever engineers, Henson and Stringfellow, built a model aeroplane after the design outlined by Sir George; but though their model was not of much practical value, a little more valuable experience was accumulated which would be of service when the time should come; in other words, when the motor engine should arrive. This model can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum, at South Kensington.
A few years later Stringfellow designed a tiny steam-engine, which he fitted to an equally tiny monoplane, and it is said that by its aid he was able to obtain a very short flight through the air. As some recognition of his enterprise the Aeronautical Society, which was founded in 1866, awarded him a prize of L100 for his engine.
The idea of producing a practical form of flying machine was never abandoned entirely. Here and there experiments continued to be carried out, and certain valuable conclusions were arrived at. Many advanced thinkers and writers of half a century ago set forth their opinions on the possibilities of human flight. Some of them, like Emerson, not only believed that flight would come, but also stated why it had not arrived. Thus Emerson, when writing on the subject of air navigation about fifty years ago, remarked: “We think the population is not yet quite fit for them, and therefore there will be none. Our friend suggests so many inconveniences from piracy out of the high air to orchards and lone houses, and also to high fliers, and the total inadequacy of the present system of defence, that we have not the heart to break the sleep of the great public by the repetition of these details. When children come into the library we put the inkstand and the watch on the high shelf until they be a little older.”
About the year 1870 a young German engineer, named Otto Lilienthal, began some experiments with a motorless glider, which in course of time were to make him world-famed. For nearly twenty years Lilienthal carried on his aerial research work in secrecy, and it was not until about the year 1890 that his experimental work was sufficiently advanced for him to give demonstrations in public.
The young German was a firm believer in what was known as the “soaring-plane” theory of flight. From the picture here given we can get some idea of his curious machine. It consisted of large wings, formed of thin osiers, over which was stretched light fabric. At the back were two horizontal rudders shaped somewhat like the long forked tail of a swallow, and over these was a large steering rudder. The wings were arranged around the glider’s body. The whole apparatus weighed about 40 pounds.
Lilienthal’s flights, or glides, were made from the top of a specially-constructed large mound, and in some cases from the summit of a low tower. The “birdman” would stand on the top of the mound, full to the wind, and run quickly forward with outstretched wings. When he thought he had gained sufficient momentum he jumped into the air, and the wings of the glider bore him through the air to the base of the mound.
To preserve the balance of his machine–always a most difficult feat–he swung his legs and hips to one side or the other, as occasion required, and, after hundreds of glides had been made, he became so skilful in maintaining the equilibrium of his machine that he was able to cover a distance, downhill, of 300 yards.
Later on, Lilienthal abandoned the glider, or elementary form of monoplane, and adopted a system of superposed planes, corresponding to the modern biplane. The promising career of this clever German was brought to an untimely end in 1896, when, in attempting to glide from a height of about 80 yards, his apparatus made a sudden downward swoop, and he broke his neck.
Now that Lillenthal’s experiments had proved conclusively the efficiency of wings, or planes, as carrying surfaces, other engineers followed in his footsteps, and tried to improve on his good work.
The first “birdman” to use a glider in this country was Mr. Percy Pilcher who carried out his experiments at Cardross in Scotland. His glides were at first made with a form of apparatus very similar to that employed by Lilienthal, and in time he came to use much larger machines. So cumbersome, however, was his apparatus–it weighed nearly 4 stones–that with such a great weight upon his shoulders he could not run forward quickly enough to gain sufficient momentum to “carry off” from the hillside. To assist him in launching the apparatus the machine was towed by horses, and when sufficient impetus had been gained the tow-rope was cast off.
Three years after Lilienthal’s death Pilcher met with a similar accident. While making a flight his glider was overturned, and the unfortunate “birdman ” was dashed to death.
In America there were at this time two or three “human birds”, one of the most famous being M. Octave Chanute. During the years 1895-7 Chanute made many flights in various types of gliding machines, some of which had as many as half a dozen planes arranged one above another. His best results, however, were obtained by the two-plane machine, resembling to a remarkable extent the modern biplane.
The Aeroplane and the Bird
We have seen that the inventors of flying machines in the early days of aviation modelled their various craft somewhat in the form of a bird, and that many of them believed that if the conquest of the air was to be achieved man must copy nature and provide himself with wings.
Let us closely examine a modern monoplane and discover in what way it resembles the body of a bird in build.
First, there is the long and comparatively narrow body, or FUSELAGE, at the end of which is the rudder, corresponding to the bird’s tail. The chassis, or under carriage, consisting of wheels, skids, &c., may well be compared with the legs of a bird, and the planes are very similar in construction to the bird’s wings. But here the resemblance ends: the aeroplane does not fly, nor will it ever fly, as a bird flies.
If we carefully inspect the wing of a bird–say a large bird, such as the crow–we shall find it curved or arched from front to back. This curve, however, is somewhat irregular. At the front edge of the wing it is sharpest, and there is a gradual dip or slope backwards and downwards. There is a special reason for this peculiar structure, as we shall see in a later chapter.
Now it is quite evident that the inventors of aeroplanes have modelled the planes of their craft on the bird’s wing. Strictly speaking, the word “plane” is a misnomer when applied to the supporting structure of an aeroplane. Euclid defines a plane, or a plane surface, as one in which, any two points being taken, the straight line between them lies wholly in that surface. But the plane of a flying machine is curved, or CAMBERED, and if one point were taken on the front of the so-called plane, and another on the back, a straight line joining these two points could not possibly lie wholly on the surface.
All planes are not cambered to the same extent: some have a very small curvature; in others the curve is greatly pronounced. Planes of the former type are generally fitted to racing aeroplanes, because they offer less resistance to the air than do deeply-cambered planes. Indeed, it is in the degree of camber that the various types of flying machine show their chief diversity, just as the work of certain shipmasters is known by the particular lines of the bow and stern of the vessels which are built in their yards.
Birds fly by a flapping movement of their wings, or by soaring. We are quite familiar with both these actions: at one time the bird propels itself by means of powerful muscles attached to its wings by means of which the wings are flapped up and down; at another time the bird, with wings nicely adjusted so as to take advantage of all the peculiarities of the air currents, keeps them almost stationary, and soars or glides through the air.
The method of soaring alone has long since been proved to be impracticable as a means of carrying a machine through the air, unless, of course, one describes the natural glide of an aeroplane from a great height down to earth as soaring. But the flapping motion was not proved a failure until numerous experiments by early aviators had been tried.
Probably the most successful attempt at propulsion by this method was that of a French locksmith named Besnier. Over two hundred years ago he made for himself a pair of light wooden paddles, with blades at either end, somewhat similar in shape to the double paddle of a canoe. These he placed over his shoulders, his feet being attached by ropes to the hindmost paddles. Jumping off from some high place in the face of a stiff breeze, he violently worked his arms and legs, so that the paddles beat the air and gave him support. It is said that Besnier became so expert in the management of his simple apparatus that he was able to raise himself from the ground, and skim lightly over fields and rivers for a considerable distance.
Now it has been shown that the enormous extent of wing required to support a man of average weight would be much too large to be flapped by man’s arm muscles. But in this, as with everything else, we have succeeded in harnessing the forces of nature into our service as tools and machinery.
And is not this, after all, one of the chief, distinctions between man and the lower orders of creation? The latter fulfil most of their bodily requirements by muscular effort. If a horse