Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

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


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.


CHAPTER VII. 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


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


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