Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

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.

 

CHAPTER V. 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

 

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