Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

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


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