Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

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

 

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