Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

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.

 

CHAPTER IV. 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

 

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