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Title: Balloons, Airships, and Flying Machines
Author: Bacon, Gertrude
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Balloons, Airships, and Flying Machines" ***

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_The following Vols. are now ready or in the Press_:--

            GERTRUDE BACON.


        RADIUM. By Dr. HAMPSON.

            M‘PHERSON, M.A., LL.D.

    _Others in Preparation_





  LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK


  CHAP.                                          PAGE
    I. THE ORIGIN OF BALLOONING                     9

   II. THE COMING OF THE GAS BALLOON               23



    V. THE BALLOON IN WARFARE                      69

   VI. THE AIRSHIP                                 84

  VII. THE FLYING MACHINE                         105

 VIII. CONCLUSION                                 119




One November night in the year 1782, so the story runs, two brothers
sat over their winter fire in the little French town of Annonay,
watching the grey smoke-wreaths from the hearth curl up the wide
chimney. Their names were Stephen and Joseph Montgolfier, they were
papermakers by trade, and were noted as possessing thoughtful minds and
a deep interest in all scientific knowledge and new discovery. Before
that night--a memorable night, as it was to prove--hundreds of millions
of people had watched the rising smoke-wreaths of their fires without
drawing any special inspiration from the fact; but on this particular
occasion, as Stephen, the younger of the brothers, sat and gazed at
the familiar sight, the question flashed across his mind, “What is the
hidden power that makes those curling smoke-wreaths rise upwards, and
could I not employ it to make other things rise also?”


Then and there the brothers resolved on an experiment. They made
themselves a small fire of some light fuel in a little tin tray or
chafing-dish, and over the smoke of it they held a large paper-bag. And
to their delight they saw the bag fill out and make a feeble attempt
to rise. They were surely on the eve of some great invention; and yet,
try as they would, their experiment would not quite succeed, because
the smoke in the bag always became too cool before there was enough
in it to raise it from the table. But presently, while they were thus
engaged, a neighbour of theirs, a widow lady, alarmed by seeing smoke
issuing from their window, entered the room, and after watching their
fruitless efforts for some while, suggested that they should fasten the
tray on to the bottom of the bag. This was done, with the happy result
that the bag immediately rose up to the ceiling; and in this humble
fashion the first of all balloons sailed aloft.

That night of 1782, therefore, marks the first great step ever made
towards the conquest of the sky. But to better understand the history
of “Aeronautics”--a word that means “the sailing of the air”--we must
go back far beyond the days of the Montgolfier brothers. For in all
times and in all ages men have wanted to fly. David wished for the
wings of a dove to fly away and be at rest, and since his time, and
before it, how many have not longed to take flight and sail away in the
boundless, glorious realms above, to explore the fleecy clouds, and to
float free in the blue vault of heaven.

And since birds achieve this feat by means of wings, man’s first idea
was to provide himself with wings also. But here he was at once doomed
to disappointment. It is very certain that by his own natural strength
alone a man will never propel himself through the air with wings like
a bird, because he is made quite differently. A bird’s body is very
light compared with its size. The largest birds in existence weigh
under thirty pounds. A man’s body, on the contrary, is very heavy and
solid. The muscles that work a bird’s wing are wonderfully powerful and
strong, far stronger in proportion than the muscles of a man’s arm.
To sustain his great weight in the air, a man of eleven stone would
require a pair of wings nearly twenty feet in span. But the possession
of such mighty wings alone is not enough. He must also possess bodily
strength to keep them in sufficient motion to prevent him from falling,
and for this he would require at least the strength of a horse.

Such strength a man has never possessed, or can ever hope to; but
even as it is, by long practice and great effort, men have succeeded
at different times, not exactly in flying, but in helping themselves
along considerably by means of wings. A man is said to have flown in
this way in Rome in the days of Nero. A monk in the Middle Ages, named
Elmerus, it is stated, flew about a furlong from the top of a tower
in Spain, another from St. Mark’s steeple in Venice, and another from
Nuremburg. But the most successful attempt ever made in this direction
was accomplished about 200 years ago by a French locksmith of the name
of Besnier. He had made for himself a pair of light wooden oars, shaped
like the double paddle of a canoe, with cup-like blades at either
end. These he placed over his shoulders, and attached also to his
feet, and then casting himself off from some high place, and violently
working his arms and legs so as to buffet the air downwards with his
paddles, he was able to raise himself by short stages from one height
to another, or skim lightly over a field or river. It is said that
subsequently Besnier sold his oars to a mountebank, who performed most
successfully with them at fairs and festivals.

[Illustration: BESNIER AND HIS OARS.]

But it was soon clear that the art of human flight was not to be
achieved by such means; and when men found that they were unable
to soar upwards by their own bodily strength alone, they set about
devising some apparatus or machine which should carry them aloft. Many
ancient philosophers bent their minds to the inventing of a machine for
this purpose. One suggested that strong flying birds, such as eagles or
vultures, might be harnessed to a car, and trained to carry it into the
sky. Another gravely proposed the employment of “a little imp”--for in
those days the existence of imps and demons was most firmly believed
in. A third even went so far as to give an actual _recipe_ for flying,
declaring that “if the eggs of the larger description of swans, or
leather balls stitched with fine thongs, be filled with nitre, the
purest sulphur, quicksilver, or kindred materials which rarefy by their
caloric energy, and if they externally resemble pigeons, they will
easily be mistaken for flying animals.” (!)

The first man who appeared to have any inkling of the real way of
solving the problem of a “flying chariot,” and who in dim fashion seems
to have foreshadowed the invention of the balloon, was that wonderful
genius, Roger Bacon, the Learned Friar of Ilchester, the inventor or
re-inventor of gunpowder, who lived in the thirteenth century. He had
an idea--an idea which was far ahead of his times, and only proved to
be true hundreds of years after--that the earth’s atmosphere was an
actual substance or “true fluid,” and as such he supposed it to have
an upper surface as the sea has, and on this upper surface he thought
an airship might float, even as a boat floats on the top of the water.
And to make his airship rise upwards to reach this upper sea, he said
one must employ “a large hollow globe of copper or other similar metal
wrought extremely thin, to have it as light as possible, and filled
with _ethereal air_ or liquid fire.”

It is doubtful whether Bacon had very clear ideas of what he meant by
“ethereal air.” But, whether by accident or insight, he had in these
words hit upon the true principle of the balloon--a principle only
put into practice five centuries later. He saw that a body would rise
upwards through the air if it were filled with something lighter than
air, even as a body will rise upwards through the water if it is made
of, or filled with, something lighter than water. We know that if we
throw an empty bottle tightly corked into the sea it does not sink, but
rises upwards, because it is filled with air, which is lighter than
water. In the same way exactly a light bag or balloon which is filled
with some gas which is lighter than air will not stay on the surface
of the ground, but will rise upwards into the sky to a height which
depends upon its weight and buoyancy.

Later philosophers than Bacon came to the same conclusion, though they
do not seem to have seen matters more clearly. As recently as 1755 a
certain learned French priest actually suggested that since the air
on the top of high mountains is known to be lighter than that at an
ordinary level, men might ascend to these great heights and bring down
the light air “in constructions of canvas or cotton.” By means of
this air he then proposed to fly a great machine, which he describes,
and which seems to have been as large and cumbersome as Noah’s Ark.
Needless to say, the worthy Father’s proposal has never yet been put
into practice.

But it is time now that we return to the two brothers Montgolfier and
their paper-bag of smoke. Their experiments proved at once that in
smoke they had found something which was lighter than air, and which
would, therefore, carry a light weight upwards. But of what this
something was they had, at the time, but a confused idea. They imagined
that the burning fuel they had used had given off some special light
gas, with the exact nature of which they were unacquainted. The very
word gas, be it here said, was in those days almost unknown, and of
different gases, their nature and properties, most people had but the
very vaguest notions.

And so for some time the Montgolfiers and their followers supposed
that the presence of this mysterious gas was necessary to the success
of their experiments, and they were very careful about always using
special kinds of fuel, which they supposed gave off this gas, to
inflate their bags. Later experiments proved, however, what every one
now knows, that the paper-bag rose, not because of the gases given off
by the fire, but by reason of the hot air with which it became filled.
Nearly all substances, no matter how solid, expand more or less under
the influence of heat, and air expands very greatly indeed. By thus
expanding heated air becomes lighter than the surrounding air, and,
because it is lighter, rises upwards in the atmosphere, and continues
to rise until it has once more regained the average temperature.


Encouraged by the success of their first humble experiment, the
Montgolfiers next tried their paper-bag in the open air, when to their
delight it sailed upwards to a height of 70 feet. The next step was
to make a much larger craft of 600 cubic feet capacity and spherical
in shape, which they called a “Balloon,” because it was in appearance
like a large, round, short-necked vessel used in chemistry which was
technically known by that name. This great bag, after being inflated,
became so powerful that it broke loose from its moorings, and floated
proudly upwards 600 feet and more, and came down in an adjoining
field. After a few more successful trials the brothers thought that
the time had come to make known their new invention. Accordingly
they constructed a great balloon of 35 feet in diameter, and issued
invitations to the public to come and see the inflation. This was
successfully made over a fire of chopped straw and wool, and the giant
rose up into the sky amid the deafening applause of a huge multitude,
and after attaining a height of 7000 feet, fell to the ground a mile
and a half away.

The news of this marvellous event spread like wild-fire throughout the
kingdom, and soon not only all France, but all Europe also, was ringing
with the tidings. The French Royal Academy of Sciences immediately
invited Stephen Montgolfier to Paris, and provided him with money to
repeat his experiment. He accordingly constructed a yet larger machine,
which stood no less than 72 feet high, had it most magnificently
painted and decorated and hung with flags, and sent it up at Versailles
in the presence of the King and all his court.

This particular balloon is noteworthy as having been the first of all
balloons to carry living passengers into the air. They were three
in number, a sheep, a cock, and a duck. Breathlessly the assembled
multitude watched these innocent victims placed in the basket and soar
calmly and majestically above their heads; and eagerly they followed
the balloon to where it fell half a mile away to learn their fate.
Would they have been suffocated in those upper regions of the air which
no human being had yet explored, or would they be dashed to pieces in
the descent? But they found the trio quite uninjured; the unimaginative
sheep grazing quietly, and the duck cheerfully quacking. Forthwith
the cry then arose that it was time for a man to hazard the ascent,
and King Louis, who, like every one else, was vastly excited over the
wonder, suggested that two criminals then lying under sentence of death
should be sent aloft.

But now a brave French gentleman--M. Pilâtre de Rozier, a name ever
to be remembered in the history of the conquest of the air--uprose in
indignation. “Shall vile criminals have the first glory of rising into
the sky!” he cried, and then and there he proudly claimed for himself
the honour of being first among mortals in the history of the world
to sail the air. His courageous resolve was wildly applauded, and
forthwith preparations were commenced for the new venture. A yet larger
balloon was made, in height as tall as a church tower, with a mouth 15
feet across. Around the mouth was fastened a gallery of wicker-work,
three feet wide, to hold the passengers, and below all was slung with
chains an iron brazier of burning fuel.

By way of precaution, when all was complete De Rozier made a few short
captive excursions, the balloon being fastened to earth by a rope. But
all proving satisfactory, he decided to hazard a “right away” trip on
the 21st of November 1783, when he was also to be accompanied by an
equally courageous fellow-countryman, the Marquis d’Arlandes. It would
be difficult to conceive a more daring and perilous enterprise than
these two brave Frenchmen set themselves. They were to venture, by
an untried way, into unknown realms where no mortal had been before;
they were to entrust their lives to a frail craft whose capabilities
had never yet been tested, and at a giddy height they were to soar
aloft with an open fire, which at any moment might set light to the
inflammable balloon and hurl them to destruction.

Wild indeed was the applause of the crowd as the mighty craft, after
due inflation, rose majestically into the sky, carrying with it its two
brave voyagers--

          the first that ever burst
    Into that silent sea;

and with what anxiety was its course followed as, rising rapidly to a
height of 3000 feet, it drifted away on an upper current which bore it
right over the city of Paris. The travellers themselves experienced
various excitements during their adventurous trip. They had constantly
to stir the fire and feed it with fresh fuel; they had also with wet
sponges continually to extinguish the flames when the light fabric
from time to time ignited. At one period they feared descending into
the river or on the house-tops, at another a sharp shock gave them the
impression that their balloon had burst. But they came safely in the
end through all perils and alarms, descending quietly, after a voyage
of twenty-five minutes’ duration, five miles from their starting-place.


Thus was invented and perfected in the course of less than a year
the first of all craft which carried man into the sky--the Hot-Air
or Montgolfier Balloon. To this day large hot-air balloons inflated
by the same methods employed a hundred years ago occasionally take
passengers aloft. Indeed, there now seems a likelihood that the use of
the Montgolfier balloon will be largely revived for military purposes,
since, with modern improvements, it would appear to be more quickly and
easily inflated than a gas balloon in time of warfare. With miniature
hot-air balloons we are all familiar, for every schoolboy has made
them for himself of coloured papers, and watched them float away on
the breeze with as much admiration and delight as the two brothers of
Annonay watched their bag first float upwards to the ceiling.

But almost before the invention of the hot-air balloon had been
completed, and before Pilâtre de Rozier had made his ascent, a rival
craft had appeared upon the scene, to which we must more specially
refer in the next chapter.



During the time of which we are speaking there was living in London a
famous chemist named Henry Cavendish. He was the son of a nobleman,
and a very rich man; but he shut himself up entirely from the world,
and devoted his whole time and energies to the study of science. So
afraid was he of being interrupted in his work that he lived the life
of a hermit, commanding his servants to keep out of his sight on pain
of dismissal, and ordering his dinner daily by means of a note placed
on the hall table. In the year 1760--twenty-two years before the
Montgolfier brothers began their experiments--this eccentric man had
discovered what was then known as “inflammable air,” but what we now
call hydrogen gas.

Cavendish’s experiments proved that hydrogen is the lightest of all
known substances, being about fourteen times lighter than atmospheric
air; and soon after he had made known his researches, it occurred to a
certain Dr. Black of Edinburgh that if a sufficiently thin and light
bladder were filled with this “inflammable air” it would rise upwards.
Dr. Black even went so far as to order a special bladder to be prepared
for the purpose; but by the time it was ready he was busy with other
work, and the experiment was never made; otherwise it is extremely
probable that the honour of inventing the balloon would have been won
for this country, and not for France.

A little later Tiberius Cavallo, an Italian chemist living in England,
came yet nearer to the great invention, for he filled a number
of soap-bubbles with the newly discovered gas, and saw them float
high into the air. He did not, however, think at the time that his
experiments would lead to any practical result, and so the matter
dropped entirely, until the world was suddenly electrified by the
tidings of the wonderful hot-air balloon invented by the brothers
Montgolfier at Annonay.

The news of this discovery recalled to the minds of many the almost
forgotten experiments of the past, and it was forthwith suggested
that balloons might be inflated with hydrogen gas more successfully
than with hot air. It was resolved immediately to put this theory to
the test. A large subscription to defray expenses was raised in Paris
without difficulty, for men’s minds were keen on the new-found art of
sailing the sky; and M. Charles, Professor of Experimental Philosophy,
and two brothers, the Messrs. Roberts, well-known mechanicians, were
appointed to construct a suitable balloon and inflate it by the new

But they were immediately confronted with a difficulty. Hydrogen
being the lightest and most subtle of gases, they were at a loss
to know of what material to make their balloon, to prevent the gas
escaping. After several failures they eventually constructed a bag of
a special kind of silk, and coated it all over with a varnish made of
indiarubber dissolved in turpentine. As they found great difficulty in
manufacturing large quantities of hydrogen, they were forced to make
their bag a comparatively small one, about thirteen feet in diameter.
On the 25th of August 1783 the bag was successfully filled, and the
ascent was made in Paris in the presence of an enormous crowd. The
little balloon rose upwards with immense rapidity, until it was lost
to sight in the clouds. Ascending yet higher, it presently burst, and
came to the earth in a village, fifteen miles away, after a voyage of
three-quarters of an hour.


In the field where the balloon fell a party of peasants were at work;
at its approach they fled in abject terror. From a safe distance they
watched the strange new monster settle to earth and lie prone, and
then they cautiously drew nearer to inspect it. The silk still heaved
with the escaping gas, and the countrymen were fully convinced that
an actual living creature of mysterious nature lay before them. One
man seized his gun and fired full at it, and then supposing it to be
mortally wounded, they all rushed in with flails and pitchforks to
complete its destruction, finally tying it to the tail of a horse, who
galloped with it all over the country, tearing it to shreds. It was
small wonder that after such an occurrence the French Government issued
a proclamation to the people, telling them that these aeronautical
experiments were to be repeated, and warning them not to be alarmed
if they saw a balloon in the air, since it was a perfectly harmless
machine filled with gas, and incapable of injuring any one.

This event took place about three months after the first public
ascent of the hot-air balloon. The new craft was immediately called
a “Charlier,” after its inventor, and to distinguish it from the
“Montgolfier.” There followed various exhibitions of the rival
airships, and after the voyage of Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis
D’Arlandes, Messrs. Charles and Roberts resolved also to hazard an
ascent in a balloon inflated with hydrogen.

A new machine was therefore constructed, which differed in many
important details from all others which had previously been made. It
was twenty-seven feet in diameter, of varnished silk, and over it was
spread a net of cordage. Instead of a gallery to carry the passengers,
as in the “Montgolfier,” a car shaped like a boat was suspended from
the net with ropes and hung a few feet below the balloon. A valve to
let out the gas was also provided, and the voyagers carried in their
car ballast and a barometer to indicate their height. It will thus be
seen that this new balloon was in all practical details the same as the
balloon of the present day.

The ascent took place on the 17th of December in Paris. Stephen
Montgolfier was present, and launched a small hot-air balloon, which
amused the onlookers and indicated the direction of the wind. Then
MM. Charles and Roberts stepped into the car, and the balloon being
liberated, they were immediately carried up to a height of 6000 feet,
where a glorious panorama of Paris and the adjacent country was spread
out before their delighted vision. After staying aloft about a couple
of hours they descended to earth again, and Roberts got out of the
car. Charles decided to continue the voyage awhile by himself, and,
lightened of his companion’s weight, the balloon this time rose to
10,500 feet. The sun had by this time set upon the earth, but at
this height Charles saw it rise once more and set a second time. The
thermometer fell far below freezing-point, and he was benumbed with
cold and felt violent pains in his ears. When at his greatest elevation
he was obliged to pull the valve to prevent the balloon from bursting,
and eventually descended without mischance about seven miles from where
Roberts had left him.

It would be well now to describe a little more fully the way in which
the “Montgolfier” and “Charlier” balloons were inflated. Each of
the rival methods had its advantages and also its disadvantages. In
the case of the hot-air balloon a shallow pit was dug, in which a
quick-burning fire of chopped wool and straw was lighted, and the bag
simply suspended over it. The inflation was thus rapid, and its cost
comparatively small; the great drawback being that as the bag was of
very light material, it ran considerable risk of being ignited by the
fire; and all the while it was filling it was the uncomfortable duty
of an unfortunate attendant to stand actually inside, roasted with the
heat and choked with the smoke, armed with a paddle with which to beat
out the flames whenever the bag caught alight.


This danger of fire was done away with in the method of filling
with hydrogen gas. The balloon, suspended from aloft as before, was
connected by hose-pipes with a number of casks containing iron or zinc
filings upon which dilute sulphuric acid was poured. The effect of
mixing these substances together is to set up a brisk chemical action,
in the course of which hydrogen gas is given off. In this case the
hydrogen thus liberated came through the pipes and filled the balloon.
The great disadvantages of this method of filling--which, it may here
be mentioned, is occasionally employed at the present day--are the long
time it occupies, the great labour entailed, and the enormous expense.


It is said that when Roberts and Charles returned from their
adventurous voyage they were immediately arrested and thrown into
prison by order of the King, who considered it his duty to put a stop
to his subjects risking their lives in such dangerous enterprises.
Public opinion was too strong for him, however, and the two heroes were
quickly released, and Charles was rewarded by a pension of £200 a year
for life. This newly discovered art of sailing the heavens had indeed
fired popular imagination to an extraordinary degree. Probably no
invention has ever aroused greater enthusiasm. Not only all France but
all the civilised world went wild with excitement for the time. Most
extravagant statements were made and written. A new kingdom, it was
declared, had been given to mankind to conquer; voyages might be made
to the moon and stars, and now it would even be possible to take Heaven
itself by storm!

Ascent after ascent took place with the “Montgolfier” and the
“Charlier,” both in France and in other countries; nor was it long
before the balloon made its appearance in England. In August of the
next summer (1784) a Mr Tytler of Edinburgh made some short voyages in
a hot-air balloon of his own manufacture, and in the following month a
much more adventurous attempt was successfully carried out in London by
a young Italian of the name of Vincent Lunardi.

Lunardi was at this time secretary to the Neapolitan Ambassador. He was
keenly interested in the subject of ballooning, and presently became
fired with a desire to repeat in England those aerial experiments
which were creating such a sensation on the Continent. He was only a
poor man, and great difficulties stood in the way of accomplishing his
object. He had to excite public interest in his venture, to collect
subscriptions to defray the cost of his balloon, which was to be a
“Charlier,” and to find a suitable site in London for the inflation and
ascent. He met with disappointments and disasters enough to discourage
a less enthusiastic man, but at length, after many troubles, on the
15th of September his balloon was ready and in process of filling in
the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company, in the city, where
150,000 people had assembled to witness the new wonder.

[Illustration: VINCENT LUNARDI.]

Still Lunardi’s trials were not at an end. The balloon was advertised
to ascend at a certain hour; but the supply of gas was insufficient,
so that when the time came it was only partially filled, and a long
delay ensued. The vast crowd--more than half inclined to believe the
whole thing an imposture--began to grow very impatient and unruly, and
it was only the presence of the Prince of Wales, afterwards George the
Fourth, which kept them in restraint for another hour while the filling

Even then the balloon was not full; but Lunardi felt he could wait no
longer. He left behind him the companion who was to have accompanied
him, substituted a smaller and lighter car, jumped inside and severed
the ropes. Instantly the balloon rose high over the delighted city, as
the crowd, led by the Prince himself, rent the air with their cheers.
Wild was the excitement in every quarter. At Westminster King George
the Third was in conference with Mr. Pitt and his other chief Ministers
of State, but when it was known that Lunardi was in the sky the King
exclaimed, “Gentlemen, we may resume our deliberations at pleasure,
but we may never see poor Lunardi again!” and with one accord they
adjourned to watch his progress through telescopes. Tradesmen rushed
out of their shops, business men from their offices, even judge and
jury from their courts.

[Illustration: LUNARDI’S BALLOON.]

Lunardi continued his voyage over the town into the country beyond. His
balloon apparently attained a considerable height, for he found that
the condensed moisture round the neck had frozen, and the gas, which to
begin with had only two-thirds filled the balloon, presently expanded
so much that he was obliged to untie the mouth to relieve the strain.
He had taken up with him as companions a dog and a cat. The cat was
very ill at ease in the cold of the upper regions, and he resolved to
put her out; so, coming down to the ground, he handed her to a country
woman standing in a field. Throwing out ballast, he then rose again
and continued his voyage for some distance, eventually descending in
a meadow near Ware. Some labourers were at work on the spot, but they
at first refused to come near him, and a young woman was the first
whom he could induce to help him out of his car. A stone with a long
inscription, set up in a meadow in the parish of Standon, near Ware,
marks to this day the place where the first of all English balloons
touched ground.

The following year witnessed a yet bolder enterprise. Blanchard, a
French aeronaut, and Dr. Jeffries, an American, determined on an
attempt to cross the Channel. On a winter’s day, early in 1785, they
had their balloon inflated with hydrogen at Dover and boldly cast off
to sea. The cold air appeared to chill the gas more than they had
foreseen, and long before they were across the Channel their balloon
began settling down upon the water. They threw out all their ballast,
then a number of books they were carrying, then their anchor, extra
ropes, and other gear. Still it seemed very doubtful whether they would
reach the French coast, and as a last resort they began even to throw
away their clothes to lighten the balloon. Fortunately at this moment
the balloon shot up into the air again, and eventually brought them
down in safety near the forest of Guiennes.

So far, although several hundred ascents had been made, and in spite of
the many and great dangers of the new-found art and the inexperience
of the early voyagers, no fatal accident had marred the delight of
sailing the skies. Disasters, however, were soon to come. It is sad
to relate that the earliest to fall a victim was the brave Pilâtre de
Rozier himself, the first of all men to go aloft in a balloon. Fired
with a desire to emulate Blanchard and Jeffries, he decided that he
himself would cross the Channel, this time from France to England; and
to avoid, as he imagined, the cooling of the gas, which had so nearly
proved disastrous on the previous occasion, he hit on the extraordinary
idea of combining the principles of both the “Montgolfier” and
“Charlier” balloons, and suspending a fire balloon beneath another
filled with hydrogen gas. It seems a remarkable thing to us now that
no one in those days saw the awful danger of such a combination. The
inevitable happened. When the balloon was high in the air the furnace
of the hot-air machine set fire to the highly inflammable hydrogen, a
fearful explosion followed, and De Rozier and his companion were dashed
to pieces.



Unfortunately the death of Pilâtre de Rozier was but the first of a
series of fatal accidents which marred the early years of the history
of ballooning. Shortly afterwards another French aeronaut, going up
in too shallow a car, fell overboard when at a great height and was
killed. A little later Count Zambeccari, an Italian, ascended in a
hot-air balloon, which, on coming near the earth, became entangled in
a tree. The furnace it carried set fire to the silk. To escape from
the flames, the Count leapt to the ground and was killed on the spot.
A few years after, Madame Blanchard, wife of the man who first crossed
the English Channel, made a night ascent from Paris with a number of
fireworks hung from the car. These, in some way, ignited the balloon,
which fell to the ground, killing the unfortunate lady in its fall.

On the other hand, many miraculous escapes are on record. One of the
earliest balloonists spent the night alone aloft in the midst of a
terrific thunder-storm, with the lightning flashing all around him,
and yet descended in safety when morning broke. M. Garnerin, a famous
French aeronaut of this date, also was lost in a storm. His balloon
became unmanageable, and borne to earth was dashed against a mountain
side, the occupant losing consciousness, until the balloon, which had
ascended again, brought him safely down once more many miles away.

A marvellous escape took place in 1808, when two Italians ascended in
a gas balloon from Padua and attained a great height, estimated as
approaching 30,000 feet. Here the balloon burst, and came precipitately
to the ground; and yet, despite the terrific fall, the aeronauts
escaped with their lives. The explanation of this seeming impossibility
was, no doubt, the tendency which a balloon, emptied of its gas,
possesses to form a natural parachute. During a rapid fall the lower
part of the silk will, if loose, collapse into the upper portion to
form a kind of open umbrella, and thus very effectually break the
descent. Many balloonists have owed their safety in similar accidents
to this fortunate fact.

The bursting of balloons when at high altitudes has already been
referred to as happening on several previous occasions. It is a danger
which is always present when a balloon is aloft, unless due precautions
are taken, and the neglect of these precautions has probably led
to more ballooning accidents than any other cause. The explanation
is simply the varying pressure exerted upon the bag of gas by the
weight of the atmosphere. When an inflated balloon is resting upon
the ground, the vast ocean of air above it is pressing upon it with a
weight of approximately fifteen pounds to the square inch, and it is
this pressure which prevents the enclosed gas from expanding beyond
a certain limit. The balloon then rises high into the air, where the
weight of atmosphere pressing upon it is much diminished. The higher it
rises the less the pressure becomes, and the gas it holds soon expands
so much that, unless a vent is provided for it, the balloon will burst.
At the present day the neck of a balloon is always left wide open when
the balloon is in the air, to allow of the escape of the gas during the

A perilous adventure befell Mr. Sadler, an English aeronaut, in 1812,
whilst attempting to cross the Irish Channel. He started from Dublin
with a wind which he hoped would carry him to Liverpool, but had gone
only a short distance when he discovered a rent, which seemed to be
increasing, in the silk of his balloon. Climbing the rigging with
difficulty, he contrived to tie up the hole with his neckcloth. He was
by this time over the sea, and having passed near the Isle of Man,
found himself, as evening was approaching, close to the coast of North
Wales. Here he endeavoured to seek a landing, but just at the critical
moment the wind shifted, as it frequently does in this treacherous
Channel, and he was quickly blown out to sea again. There he remained
for another hour vainly endeavouring to make the land, and then,
despairing of the attempt and seeing five ships beneath him, he came
boldly down on the water, trusting they would come to his assistance.

But he came down too far away from them, and one and all continued
their course and took no notice. He was obliged, therefore, to throw
out ballast and to rise into the air once more. The sun was now
set upon the level of the water, but as the brave aeronaut rose he
beheld it once more above the horizon, and was cheered by its beams.
Presently he saw beneath him three more vessels, which signalled their
willingness to help him, and he immediately came down on the sea again
as close to them as he could. But the wind, now rising fast, caught the
half empty silk of the balloon as it touched the waves, and bore it
along over the surface of the water at a terrific pace; and although
the vessels came after in full pursuit, they were unable to overtake it.

Mr. Sadler then dropped his grappling-iron to act as a drag, and this
not proving sufficient, took off his clothes and tied them to the iron
as a further expedient. Still the vessels failed to overhaul him as he
sped over the waves, and he was at length forced to let out a quantity
of the gas still remaining, and so cripple the balloon. But this was
a dangerous move, for the car now instantly sank; and the unfortunate
man had to clutch the hoop and then the netting, to keep himself above
water. Chilled and exhausted, and frequently plunged beneath the waves,
he was soon at the point of death; for the nearest ship, though now
close at hand, fearful of becoming entangled in the netting, still held
off. Fainting as he was, Mr. Sadler yet managed to summon strength to
call to the sailors to run their bowsprit through the balloon to stop
its course, and this being done, he was hauled on board more dead than

Five years passed, and no more attempts were made to cross the
treacherous Irish Sea, until Mr. Sadler’s own son, Mr. Windham Sadler,
determined himself to make the attempt which had so nearly cost his
father his life. Choosing the same starting-ground for his venture, he
left Dublin on the longest day of 1817, and, fortune favouring him,
reached the Welsh coast not far from Holyhead, after a voyage of 70
miles, lasting five hours. This was the last attempt to cross the
Irish Channel, until November 1902, when the Rev. J. M. Bacon and Mr.
Percival Spencer, starting from Douglas, in the Isle of Man, landed in
a rocky glen 15 miles beyond Dumfries, after a journey of 80 miles,
accomplished in three hours. Brave Mr. Windham Sadler unhappily lost
his life in a terrible balloon accident in 1824.

But a more celebrated balloonist, perhaps the most famous of all, had
by this time come to the fore--Charles Green, fitly called “The Father
of English Aeronautics.” It was he who first introduced a new method
of balloon-filling, which quickly revolutionised the whole art and
practice. This was nothing more or less than the employment of ordinary
household or coal gas for inflation, in place of the costly and
dangerous hydrogen.

While balloons were inflated only with pure hydrogen--for the uncertain
and dangerous method of filling with hot air was soon almost entirely
abandoned--no great strides could be made in the art of sailing the
skies. The filling of a large balloon eighty years ago cost no less
than £250, and few people could be found willing to provide so much
money for such a purpose. Coal gas, however, was by then to be found
in every town of any consequence; and it was Green’s suggestion that
though this gas might be greatly inferior to pure hydrogen in buoyancy
or “lifting power,” it yet contained a sufficient quantity of hydrogen
in it for all ordinary aeronautical purposes.

The coronation of King George the Fourth was the occasion chosen
by Green to put his new scheme to the test and fill a balloon with
coal gas. The experiment was entirely successful, and henceforward
balloon ascents became much commoner throughout the world, for Green’s
discovery reduced the cost of filling tenfold, and the trouble and
anxiety a hundredfold. Green himself became one of the most famous men
of his day, and lived to make a thousand ascents, some of them of the
most daring and exciting description.


The most celebrated event in all his career, however, was the voyage
of the Great Nassau Balloon, in November 1836. This voyage created a
tremendous sensation at the time, and has always been considered one of
the most adventurous enterprises in the whole history of aeronautics.
How it came about was as follows:--

The managers of the Vauxhall Gardens, London, had made, with Mr.
Green’s assistance, a very large and fine balloon of crimson silk,
which stood eighty feet high and held 90,000 cubic feet of gas, and
which would carry, if needed, more than twenty persons. After it was
made the proprietors proposed exhibiting it in Paris, and there was
some question of how this valuable and fragile property had best be
conveyed so far. Mr. Hollond, a young gentleman of considerable wealth,
and a great lover of adventure, at once came forward, and proposed
to take the balloon to the Continent by sky. His offer was accepted,
and to make the ascent more noteworthy, it was decided to start from
London and cross the sea by night, making as long a voyage as possible,
although it was already winter time, and such a venture had never
before been made.

Preparations were at once commenced. The passengers were limited to
three--Mr. Green, who was to manage the balloon, Mr. Hollond, and his
friend Mr. Monck Mason. A ton of ballast was to be carried, provisions
for a whole fortnight were laid in, and, since none could tell to
within a thousand miles or more where they might be drifted, passports
to every kingdom in Europe were obtained.

They left London late one November day, and, rising under a north-west
wind, skirted the north of Kent. Passing presently over Canterbury,
they wrote a courteous message to the mayor, and dropped it in a
parachute. Some time later, when the short autumn twilight was
beginning to wane, they saw beneath them the gleam of white waves, and
knew they had reached the boundary of the hitherto much-dreaded sea.
Immediately afterwards they entered a heavy sea fog, which hid all
things from their sight, and darkness and dead silence reigned around.


This lasted for fifty minutes, when they emerged from the cloud and
found the bright lights of Calais beneath them. It was then quite dark,
and they sped on through the night over unknown towns and villages
whose lights gleamed fainter and fewer as the time went on. Then once
again they entered the fog-bank, and for long hours no sign or sound of
earth reached them more.

As the night wore on they suddenly had a startling and alarming
experience. Their balloon, which had been flying near the earth, was
presently lightened by the discharge of ballast, and rose to a height
of 12,000 feet into the air. Immediately afterwards, when all around
was wrapped in the deepest silence and the blackest darkness, there
came the sound of a sharp explosion from over their heads, followed
by a rustling of the silk, and immediately the car received a violent
jerk. The same thing was repeated again and yet again, and it is small
wonder that the awful conviction then seized the party that there,
in the darkness, in the dead of night, at that fearful height, their
balloon had burst, and they were falling headlong to the ground. Great
indeed must have been their relief when they found this was not the
case, and discovered the real reason of their alarm.

It is the tendency of a balloon when flying near the ground to assume
an elongated or pear shape; and while their balloon was in this
position the netting, which was wet with dew, had frozen hard and
tight around it. Immediately they rose to great heights the gas had
expanded, and the balloon had become globular in shape, with a result
that the stiffened ropes sprang to their new position with the crack
and jerk which had so startled the party. When day broke next morning
they found themselves over long tracts of desolate forest land, and
fearing they were approaching the wild, inhospitable steppes of Russia,
they descended with all speed, and discovered they were in the Duchy
of Nassau, in Germany, near Weilburg, where they were received with
the wildest enthusiasm and delight. From start to finish they had
accomplished a voyage of 500 miles in eighteen hours.

After this event Green made many other voyages in the great Nassau
balloon, and met with many exciting adventures. On one occasion,
ascending in a violent gale of wind, he and a passenger covered twenty
miles in a quarter of an hour, and, on descending near Rainham, in
Essex, were blown along across the fields at a furious pace, until the
anchor caught, and brought them up with such a wrench that it broke the
ring and jerked the car completely upside down. Green and his friend
only escaped from being thrown out by holding on to the ropes, and
they were afterwards dragged wildly through fences and hedges until the
balloon collapsed and came to a stand, though not before they had both
been severely hurt.

On another voyage the famous balloon met with serious injury, for
having been some time above the clouds, during an ascent, Green found
himself carried out to sea, and was obliged to come down in the water
two miles north of Sheerness. As in the accident which befell Mr.
Sadler in his attempt to cross the Irish Channel, the wind caught the
silk and bore it along across the water too rapidly for a pursuing
vessel to overtake it. Green then lowered his anchor, which by happy
chance soon became entangled in a sunken wreck, and so brought the
balloon up. A boat immediately put out to his assistance, and he and a
companion were speedily rescued; but the balloon was so restive in the
wind that it was dangerous to approach it. Green himself then suggested
that a volley of musketry should be fired into the silk to expel the
gas, and this was accordingly done and the balloon secured, though it
afterwards took Green a fortnight’s hard labour to repair the damage
done to the fabric.

But the saddest event connected with the Nassau balloon was the fatal
accident which befell Mr. Cocking in 1837, the year after the great
Nassau voyage. Before relating this, however, it will be necessary
to refer briefly to the history of a most important accessory of the
balloon, hitherto unmentioned--the parachute.

The name parachute comes from two French words, _parer_, to parry and
_chute_, a fall, and it signifies a contrivance, made more or less in
the form of an enormous umbrella, to break the fall from a balloon
or other great height. The principle of the parachute was understood
even before the invention of the balloon. In Eastern countries, in
particular, where the umbrella or parasol has been in familiar use
from earliest ages, parachutes were frequently employed by acrobats
to enable them to jump safely from great elevations. In France also,
at the end of the eighteenth century, a captive officer attempted to
escape from a lofty prison by similar means.

The aeronaut Blanchard was the first to construct a parachute for use
from a balloon, his idea being that it might prove of service in the
event of an accident while aloft. In 1785 he let down from a great
height a parachute to which was attached a dog in a basket, which
reached the ground gently and safely. After this M. Garnerin, the
famous balloonist already referred to, hazarded a parachute descent
in person, and his attempt being eminently satisfactory, parachute
descents became fairly common.

In August 1814 Mr. Cocking, an English gentleman of scientific
tastes, read a paper on parachutes, suggesting an amendment in their
shape and construction, before the Society of Arts, for which he was
awarded a medal. His theory was never put into practice, however, till
twenty-three years later, when, fired no doubt by the interest aroused
by the famous Nassau voyage, he resolved to put his invention to the

He accordingly constructed his parachute, which was of enormous size,
of unwieldy weight, and in shape rather resembling an umbrella turned
inside out. Despite the warning of friends that the untried machine was
unwisely built, he insisted on making a descent with it, and succeeded
in persuading Mr. Green to take him and his craft aloft attached to the
Nassau balloon.

[Illustration: COCKING’S PARACHUTE.]

On the 27th of July 1837 they started from the Vauxhall Gardens, Mr.
Green in the car accompanied by Mr. Edward Spencer (grandfather of
the present well-known firm of aeronauts), his friend and frequent
companion; Mr. Cocking seated in his machine slung below. A height of
5000 feet was attained, and then Mr. Cocking, after bidding a hearty
farewell to the others, pulled the rope which liberated his parachute
from the balloon. Relieved from the enormous weight, the latter
rushed upwards into the sky with terrific velocity, the gas pouring
in volumes from the valves and almost suffocating the occupants of
the car. Their position, indeed, for the time was one of the greatest
danger, and they were thankful to reach the earth unharmed, which
they eventually did. But their fate was happier far than that of the
luckless Cocking, whose parachute, after swaying fearfully from side to
side, at length utterly collapsed, and falling headlong, was, with its
inventor, dashed to pieces.

While Charles Green was making his famous ascents in England, an
equally celebrated aeronaut, John Wise, was pursuing the same art in
America. During a long and successful career, unhappily terminated
by an accident, Wise made many experiments in the construction of
balloons, their shape, size, varnish, material, and so forth. His
results, which he carefully put together, have been of the greatest
value to balloon manufacturers until the present time. In the course
of his many voyages he met with various exciting adventures. On
one occasion while aloft he saw before him a huge black cloud of
particularly forbidding aspect. Entering this, he found himself in
the heart of a terrific storm. His balloon was caught in a whirlwind,
and set so violently spinning and swinging that he was sea-sick with
the motion, while, at the same time, he felt himself half-suffocated
and scarce able to breathe. Within the cloud the cold was intense;
the ropes of the balloon became glazed with ice and snow till they
resembled glass rods; hail fell around, and the gloom was so great that
from the car the silk above became invisible. “A noise resembling the
rushing of a thousand mill-dams, intermingled with a dismal moaning
sound of wind, surrounded me in this terrible flight.” Wise adds,
“Bright sunshine was just above the clouds;” but though he endeavoured
to reach it by throwing out ballast, the balloon had no sooner begun
to rise upwards than it was caught afresh by the storm and whirled
down again. Neither was he able, by letting out gas, to escape this
furious vortex from beneath; and for twenty minutes he was swept to and
fro, and up and down in the cloud, before he could get clear of it, or
regain any control over his balloon.

On another occasion Wise made an exceedingly daring and bold
experiment. Convinced of the power which, as has before been said,
an empty balloon has of turning itself into a natural parachute, he
determined to put the matter to the test, and deliberately to burst
his balloon when at a great height. For this purpose he made a special
balloon of very thin material, and fastened up the neck so that there
was no vent for the gas. He then ascended fearlessly to a height of
13,000 feet, where, through the expansion of the hydrogen with which it
was filled, his balloon exploded. The gas escaped instantly, so that in
ten seconds not a trace remained. The empty balloon at first descended
with fearful rapidity, with a strange moaning sound as the air rushed
through the network. Then the silk assuming parachute shape, the fall
became less rapid, and finally the car, coming down in zigzags, turned
upside down when close to the ground, and tossed Wise out into a field

It was John Wise’s great desire at one time to sail a balloon right
across the Atlantic from America to Europe. Long study of the upper
winds had convinced him that a regular current of air is always blowing
steadily high aloft from west to east, and he believed that if an
aeronaut could only keep his balloon in this upper current he might
be carried across the ocean quicker, and with more ease and safety,
than in the fastest steamship. Wise went so far as to work out all the
details for this plan, the size of the balloon required, the ballast,
provisions, and number of passengers; and only the want of sufficient
money prevented him from actually making the attempt. Curiously
enough, about the same time, Charles Green, in England, was, quite
independently, working at the same idea, which he also believed, with
proper equipment, to be quite feasible.



So far, in our history of aeronautics, we have referred to ballooning
only as a sport or pastime for the amusement of spectators, and for
the gratifying of a love of adventure. It is now time to speak of
the practical uses of the balloon, and how it has been employed as a
most valuable scientific instrument to teach us facts about the upper
atmosphere, its nature and extent, the clouds, the winds and their
ways, the travel of sounds, and many other things of which we should
otherwise be ignorant.

Before the invention of the balloon men were quite unaware of the
nature of the air even a short distance above their heads. In those
days high mountain climbing had not come into fashion, and when Pilâtre
de Rozier made the first ascent, it was considered very doubtful
whether he might be able to exist in the strange atmosphere aloft.
Charles and Roberts were the first to make scientific observations
from a balloon, for they took up a thermometer and barometer, and made
certain rough records, as also did other early aeronauts. The most
interesting purely scientific ascents of early days, however, were
made in the autumn of 1804, from Paris, by Gay Lussac, a famous French
philosopher. He took up with him all manner of instruments, among them
a compass (to see if the needle behaved the same as on earth), an
apparatus to test the electricity of the air, thermometers, barometers,
and hygrometers, carefully exhausted flasks in which to bring down
samples of the upper air, birds, and even insects and frogs, to see
how great heights affected them. In his second voyage his balloon
attained the enormous altitude of 23,000 feet, or more than four miles
and a quarter, and nearly 2000 feet higher than the highest peaks
of the Andes. At this tremendous height the temperature fell to far
below freezing-point, and the aeronaut became extremely cold, though
warmly clad; he also felt headache, a difficulty in breathing, and his
throat became so parched that he could hardly swallow. Nevertheless,
undismayed by the awfulness of his position, he continued making his
observations, and eventually reached the ground in safety, and none the
worse for his experience.

Gay Lussac’s experiments at least proved that though the air becomes
less and less dense as we ascend into it, it remains of the same nature
and constitution. His second voyage also showed that the limit to which
man could ascend aloft into the sky and yet live had not yet been
reached. Almost sixty years later other scientific ascents threw fresh
light on this point, and also continued the other investigations that
Gay Lussac had commenced.

Towards the close of Charles Green’s famous career, scientific men in
England woke up to the fact that the use of a balloon as an important
means for obtaining observations on meteorology and other matters had
of late been very much neglected. The British Association took the
matter up, and provided the money for four scientific ascents, which
were made by Mr. Welsh of Kew Observatory, a trained observer. Green
was the aeronaut chosen to accompany him, and the balloon used was
none other than the great Nassau balloon, of whose many and wonderful
adventures we have already spoken. Green was then nearly seventy years
of age, but his skill as an aeronaut was as great as ever, and Welsh
was able to obtain many valuable records. During the last voyage a
height was attained almost as great as that reached by Gay Lussac, and
both men found much difficulty in breathing. While at this elevation
they suddenly noticed they were rapidly approaching the sea, and
so were forced to make a very hasty descent, in which many of the
instruments were broken.

The veteran Green lived to a ripe old age, dying in 1870, aged
eighty-five. When a very old man he still delighted in taking visitors
to an outhouse where he kept the old Nassau balloon, now worn out and
useless, and, handling it affectionately, would talk of its famous
adventures and his own thousand ascents, during which he had never once
met with serious accident or failure. After his death the old balloon
passed into the hands of another equally famous man, who, after Green’s
retirement, took his place as the most celebrated English aeronaut of
the day.

This was Henry Coxwell. He was the son of a naval officer, and was
brought up to the profession of a dentist. But when a boy of only nine
years old he watched, through his father’s telescope, a balloon ascent
by Green, which so fired his imagination that henceforward balloons
filled all his thoughts. As he grew older the fascination increased
upon him. He would go long distances to see ascents or catch glimpses
of balloons in the air, and he was fortunate enough to be present at
the first launching of the great Nassau balloon. He did not get the
chance of a voyage aloft, however, till he was twenty-five; but after
this nothing could restrain his ardour, and, throwing his profession to
the winds, he made ascent after ascent on all possible occasions.

In one of his early voyages he met with what he describes as one of the
most perilous descents in the whole history of ballooning. The occasion
was an evening ascent made from the Vauxhall Gardens one autumn night
of 1848. The aeronaut was a Mr. Gypson, and besides Mr. Coxwell there
were two other passengers, one of whom was the well-known mountaineer
and lecturer, Albert Smith. A number of fireworks which were to be
displayed when aloft were slung on a framework forty feet below the car.


  COXWELL.                GLAISHER.

The balloon rose high above London, and the party were amazed and
delighted with the strange and lovely view of the great city by night,
all sight of the houses being lost in the darkness, and the thousands
of gas lamps, outlining the invisible streets and bridges, twinkling
like stars in a blue-black sky. Coxwell was sitting, not in the car,
but in the ring of the balloon, and presently, when they were about
7000 feet above the town, he noticed that the silk, the mouth of which
appears to have been fastened, was growing dangerously distended with
the expanding gas. By his advice the valve was immediately pulled, but
it was already too late; the balloon burst, the gas escaped with a
noise like the escape of steam from an engine, the silk collapsed, and
the balloon began to descend with appalling speed, the immense mass
of loose silk surging and rustling frightfully overhead. Everything
was immediately thrown out of the car to break the fall; but the wind
still seemed to be rushing past at a fearful rate, and, to add to the
horror of the aeronauts, they now came down through the remains of the
discharged fireworks floating in the air. Little bits of burning cases
and still smouldering touch-paper blew about them, and were caught in
the rigging. These kindled into sparks, and there seemed every chance
of the whole balloon catching alight. They were still a whole mile from
the ground, and this distance they appear to have covered in less than
two minutes. The house-tops seemed advancing up towards them with awful
speed as they neared earth. In the end they were tossed out of the car
along the ground, and it appeared a perfect marvel to them all that
they escaped with only a severe shaking. This adventure did not in the
least abate Coxwell’s ardour for ballooning, and exactly a week later
he and Gypson successfully made the same ascent from the same place,
and in the same balloon--and loaded with twice the number of fireworks!

But Coxwell’s most celebrated voyage of all took place some years
later, on the occasion of a scientific voyage made in company with Mr.
James Glaisher. In 1862 the British Association determined to continue
the balloon observations which Mr. Welsh had so successfully commenced,
but this time on a larger scale. The observer was to be Mr. Glaisher
of Greenwich Observatory, and Mr. Coxwell, who by this time had become
a recognised aeronaut, undertook the management of the balloon. The
first ascents were made in July and August. Mr. Glaisher took up a
most elaborate and costly outfit of instruments, which, however, were
badly damaged at the outset during a very rapid descent, made perforce
to avoid falling in the “Wash.” On each occasion a height of over four
miles was attained; but on the third voyage, which was in September, it
was decided to try and reach yet greater altitudes.

The balloon with its two passengers left Wolverhampton at 1 P.M.--the
temperature on the ground being 59°. At about a mile high a dense cloud
was entered, and the thermometer fell to 36°. In nineteen minutes a
height of two miles was reached, and the air was at freezing-point.
Six minutes later they were three miles aloft, with the thermometer
still falling; and by the time four miles high was attained the mercury
registered only 8°.

In forty-seven minutes from the start five miles had been passed;
and now the temperature was 2° below zero. Mr. Coxwell, who was up
in the ring of the balloon and exerting himself over the management
of it, found he was beginning to breathe with great difficulty. Mr.
Glaisher, sitting quietly in the car watching his instruments, felt no
inconvenience. More ballast was thrown out, and the balloon continued
to rise apace; and soon Mr. Glaisher found his eyes growing strangely
dim. He could not see to read his thermometer, or distinguish the hands
of his watch. He noticed the mercury of the barometer, however, and
saw that a height of 29,000 feet had been reached, and the balloon was
still rising. What followed next had best be told in Mr. Glaisher’s own

“Shortly after I laid my arm upon the table, possessed of its full
vigour, but on being desirous of using it, I found it useless. Trying
to move the other arm, I found it powerless also. Then I tried to
shake myself and succeeded, but I seemed to have no limbs. In looking
at the barometer my head fell over my left shoulder. I struggled and
shook my body again, but could not move my arms. Getting my head
upright for an instant only, it fell on my right shoulder; then I
fell backwards, my body resting against the side of the car, and my
head on the edge. I dimly saw Mr. Coxwell and endeavoured to speak,
but could not. In an instant intense darkness overcame me; but I was
still conscious, with as active a brain as at the present moment while
writing this. I thought I had been seized with asphyxia, and believed I
should experience nothing more, as death would come unless we speedily
descended. Other thoughts were entering my mind, when I suddenly became
unconscious as on going to sleep.” Mr. Glaisher adds: “I cannot tell
anything of the sense of hearing, as no sound reaches the ear to break
the perfect stillness and silence of the regions between six and seven
miles above the earth.”

Meanwhile, as stated, Mr. Coxwell was up in the ring, trying to secure
the valve-line, which had become twisted. To do this he had taken off
a pair of thick gloves he had been wearing, and in the tremendous cold
of that awful region the moment his bare hands rested on the metal
of the ring they became frost-bitten and useless. Looking down, he
saw Mr. Glaisher in a fainting condition, and called out to him, but
received no answer. Thoroughly alarmed by this time, he tried to come
down to his companion’s assistance; but now _his_ hands also had become
lifeless, and he felt unconsciousness rapidly stealing over him.

Quickly realising that death to both of them would speedily follow if
the balloon continued to ascend, Mr. Coxwell now endeavoured to pull
the valve-line; but he found it impossible to do so with his disabled
hands. Fortunately he was a man of great bodily strength, as well as
of iron nerve, and by a great effort he succeeded in catching the
valve-line _in his teeth_. Then, putting his whole weight upon it, he
managed to pull open the valve, and hold it until the balloon took a
decided turn downwards. This saved them. As lower regions were reached,
where the air was denser, Mr. Glaisher began to recover, and by the
time they came to the ground neither of these two brave men were any
the worse for their extraordinary experience.

Neither Mr. Glaisher or Mr. Coxwell were able to note the exact
elevation when they were at their greatest height; but from several
circumstances they were convinced that it must have been 36,000 or
37,000 feet, or fully _seven miles high_. Later aeronauts have been
inclined to doubt if this surmise can be quite correct; but whether it
is so or not is of no great moment, for this great balloon ascent will
always stand unrivalled in the history of ballooning. Since that day
nearly as great, or perhaps even greater, heights have been reached in
balloons; but nowadays those who attempt to ascend to great elevations
always provide themselves, before they start, with cylinders of
compressed oxygen gas. Then when the atmosphere aloft becomes so thin
and rare as to make breathing difficult, they begin to fill their lungs
with the life-giving gas from the cylinders, and at once recover.

After this perilous voyage Glaisher and Coxwell made several other
scientific balloon ascents. They met with various experiences. On one
occasion, during a lofty ascent, they lost sight of the earth above
the clouds for a while, but, the mist suddenly breaking, they found
themselves on the point of drifting out to sea. Not a moment was to be
lost, and both men hung on to the valve-line until it cut their hands.
The result was a tremendously rapid descent. The balloon fell four and
a quarter miles in less than a quarter of an hour, covering the last
two miles in only four minutes. They reached earth close to the shore,
and were fortunate to escape with only a few bruises, though all the
instruments were once more broken in the shock.

Mr. Glaisher was able to make many interesting notes of the condition
of the winds and clouds at high levels. He observed how frequently
different currents of air are blowing aloft in different directions at
the same time. These differing winds affect the shape of the clouds
among which they blow. High above the ground he frequently met with a
warm wind blowing constantly from the south-west; and he believed that
it is largely due to this mild air-stream passing always overhead that
England enjoys such much less rigorous winters than other countries
that lie as far north of the equator. This mildness of our climate has
long been attributed to the Gulf Stream, that warm current of the sea
which sweeps up from the tropics past our shores. But it may well be
that there is besides an “Aerial Gulf Stream,” as Mr. Glaisher calls
it, blowing constantly above our heads, which also serves to warm the
air, and make our winter climate mild and moist.

One fact these experiments seemed to establish was, that when rain is
falling from an overcast sky, there is always a higher layer of clouds
overhanging the lower stratum. Nothing surprised Mr. Glaisher more than
the extreme rapidity with which the whole sky, up to a vast height,
could fill up entirely with clouds at the approach of a storm. Another
point noted was that, when a wind is blowing, the upper portion of the
current always travels faster than that next the ground. This is due,
of course, to the obstacles the wind meets as it sweeps over the earth,
and which check its onward progress.

These, and very many other facts of the greatest interest to the
meteorologist, were the outcome of Mr. Glaisher’s experiments. Later
voyages of a similar kind have added greatly to our knowledge of the
condition of the air, and it seems certain that in the future the
balloon will be much more used by scientific men, and by its means they
will be able to predict the weather more accurately and further ahead
than at present, and learn many other things of which we are now in



But there is another practical use for the balloon to which we must
now refer, and that a most important one--its employment in war-time.
It was not long after the invention of this ship of the skies that
soldiers began to realise what a valuable aid it might be to them
in times of battle, enabling them to see inside a camp, fort, or
beleaguered city, or watch the enemy’s movements from afar off. The
opportunity for first putting the matter to the test very soon arose.
Within a very few years of the earliest balloon experiments in France
there commenced in that very country the dreadful French Revolution,
and soon the nation found itself at war with all the world, and forced
to hold its own, alone, against the armies of Europe. This danger
quickened the minds of all to the importance of making use of every
possible means of defence in their power. It was suggested that the
newly discovered balloon might be turned to account, and immediately a
school for military ballooning was established near Paris. Fifty young
military students were trained in the new art, and suitable balloons
were provided. The value of their work was soon apparent. In June 1794
was fought the battle of Fleurus, between the French and Austrians.
Before the fight a balloon party had carefully observed the position of
the Austrian forces, and, through the information they gave, the French
were able to gain a speedy and decisive victory. In this way, and at
this early stage, the value of the war balloon was at once established.

Curiously enough, Napoleon would make no use of balloons in his
campaigns, and even did away with the balloon school at Paris. The
reason given for his prejudice is a curious one. At the time of his
coronation a large, unmanned balloon, gaily decorated, and carrying
thousands of lights, was sent up from Paris during the evening’s
illuminations. It was a very beautiful object, and behaved splendidly,
sailing away into the night, amidst great popular rejoicing, until it
was lost to sight in the darkness. But at daybreak next morning it was
seen approaching the city of Rome, where it presently arrived, actually
hovering over St. Peter’s and the Vatican. Then, as if its mission were
fulfilled, it settled to earth, and finally fell in Lake Bracciano. But
as it fell it rent itself, and left a portion of the crown with which
it was ornamented on the tomb of the Roman Emperor Nero. Napoleon,
who was always a superstitious man, saw in this extraordinary voyage
some dreadful forecast of his own fate. He was much disturbed, and
forebade the matter ever to be mentioned in his presence; nor would he
henceforward have any more to do with balloons.


Military balloons were used by the French again, however, during
their war in Africa in 1830. The Austrians also used them in 1849,
and it is said the Russians had them at the siege of Sebastopol in
the Crimean War. A Montgolfier balloon was made use of by the French
in 1862 at the battle of Solferino; and the Americans also employed
balloons during the Civil War a year later. The American war balloons
were comparatively small ones, inflated with hydrogen. The hydrogen
was manufactured in the way already described, by pouring dilute
sulphuric acid upon scrap-iron. For making the gas upon the field
two large tanks of wood called “generators” were used. In these the
water and scrap-iron were placed and the acid poured upon them, the
gas produced being carried to the balloon through pipes, passing first
through vessels filled with lime-water to cool and purify it. When on
the march four waggons were sufficient to carry the whole apparatus.
The inflation, which took some time, was made as close to the scene of
action as was considered safe, and when the balloon was once full a
party of men could easily tow it about to where it was needed.

But the time when the balloon was most largely and most usefully used
in time of war was during the Siege of Paris. In the month of September
1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, Paris was closely invested by
the Prussian forces, and for eighteen long weeks lay besieged and cut
off from all the rest of the world. No communication with the city
was possible either by road, river, rail, or telegraph, nor could the
inhabitants convey tidings of their plight save by one means alone.
Only the passage of the air was open to them.

Quite at the beginning of the siege it occurred to the Parisians that
they might use balloons to escape from the beleaguered town, and pass
over the heads of the enemy to safety beyond; and inquiry was at once
made to discover what aeronautical resources were at their command.

It was soon found that with only one or two exceptions the balloons
actually in existence within the walls were unserviceable or unsuitable
for the work on hand, being mostly old ones which had been laid aside
as worthless. One lucky discovery was, however, made. Two professional
aeronauts, of well-proved experience and skill, were in Paris at the
time. These were MM. Godard and Yon, both of whom had been in London
only a short time before in connection with a huge captive balloon
which was then being exhibited there. They at once received orders to
establish two balloon factories, and begin making a large number of
balloons as quickly as possible. For their workshops they were given
the use of two great railway stations, then standing idle and deserted.
No better places for the purpose could be imagined, for under the great
glass roofs there was plenty of space, and the work went on apace.

As the balloons were intended to make only one journey each, plain
white or coloured calico (of which there was plenty in the city),
covered with quick-drying varnish, was considered good enough for their
material. Hundreds of men and women were employed at the two factories;
and altogether some sixty balloons were turned out during the siege.
Their management was entrusted to sailors, who, of all men, seemed
most fitted for the work. The only previous training that could be
given them was to sling them up to the roof of the railway stations in
a balloon car, and there make them go through the actions of throwing
out ballast, dropping the anchor, and pulling the valve-line. This was,
of course, very like learning to swim on dry land; nevertheless, these
amateurs made, on the whole, very fair aeronauts.

But before the first of the new balloons was ready experiments were
already being made with the few old balloons then in Paris. Two were
moored captive at different ends of the town to act as observation
stations from whence the enemy’s movements could be watched. Captive
ascents were made in them every few hours. Meanwhile M. Duruof, a
professional aeronaut, made his escape from the city in an old and
unskyworthy balloon called “Le Neptune,” descending safely outside the
enemy’s lines, while another equally successful voyage was made with
two small balloons fastened together.

And then, as soon as the possibility of leaving Paris by this means was
fully proved, an important new development arose. So far, as was shown,
tidings of the besieged city could be conveyed to the outside world;
but how was news from without to reach those imprisoned within? The
problem was presently solved in a most ingenious way.

There was in Paris, when the siege commenced, a society or club of
pigeon-fanciers who were specially interested in the breeding and
training of “carrier” or “homing” pigeons. The leaders of this club
now came forward and suggested to the authorities that, with the aid
of the balloons, their birds might be turned to practical account
as letter-carriers. The idea was at once taken up, and henceforward
every balloon that sailed out of Paris contained not only letters and
despatches, but also a number of properly trained pigeons, which, when
liberated, would find their way back to their homes within the walls of
the besieged city.

When the pigeons had been safely brought out of Paris, and fallen
into friendly hands beyond the Prussian forces, there were attached
to the tail feathers of each of them goose quills, about two inches
long, fastened on by a silken thread or thin wire. Inside these
were tiny scraps of photographic film, not much larger than postage
stamps, upon which a large number of messages had been photographed by
microscopic photography. So skilfully was this done that each scrap of
film could contain 2500 messages of twenty words each. A bird might
easily carry a dozen of these films, for the weight was always less
than one gramme, or 15½ grains. One bird, in fact, arrived in Paris
on the 3rd of February carrying eighteen films, containing altogether
40,000 messages. To avoid accidents, several copies of the same film
were made, and attached to different birds. When any of the pigeons
arrived in Paris their despatches were enlarged and thrown on a screen
by a magic-lantern, then copied and sent to those for whom they were

This system of balloon and pigeon post went on during the whole siege.
Between sixty and seventy balloons left the city, carrying altogether
nearly 200 people, and two and a half million letters, weighing in
all about ten tons. The greater number of these arrived in safety,
while the return journeys, accomplished by the birds, were scarcely
less successful. The weather was very unfavourable during most of the
time, and cold and fogs prevented many pigeons from making their way
back to Paris. Of 360 birds brought safely out of the city by balloon
only about 60 returned, but these had carried between them some 100,000

Of the balloons themselves two, each with its luckless aeronaut, were
blown out to sea and never heard of more. Two sailed into Germany and
were captured by the enemy, three more came down too soon and fell into
the hands of the besieging army near Paris, and one did not even get
as far as the Prussian lines. Others experienced accidents and rough
landings in which their passengers were more or less injured. Moreover,
each balloon which sailed by day from the city became at once a mark
for the enemy’s fire; so much so that before long it became necessary
to make all the ascents by night, under cover of darkness.

They were brave men indeed who dared face the perils of a night voyage
in an untried balloon, manned by an unskilled pilot, and exposed to
the fire of the enemy, into whose hands they ran the greatest risk
of falling. It is small wonder there was much excitement in Paris
when it became known that the first of the new balloons made during
the siege was to take away no less a personage than M. Gambetta, the
great statesman, who was at the time, and for long after, the leading
man in France. He made his escape by balloon on the 7th of October,
accompanied by his secretary and an aeronaut, and managed to reach a
safe haven, though not before they had been vigorously fired at by shot
and shell, and M. Gambetta himself had actually been grazed on the hand
by a bullet.

Another distinguished man who hazarded the same perilous feat, though
for a very different reason, was M. Janssen, a famous astronomer. On
the 22nd of December of that year there was to take place an important
total eclipse of the sun, which would be visible in Spain and Algeria.
It had long been M. Janssen’s intention to observe this eclipse, and
for this purpose he had prepared a special telescope and apparatus; but
when the time drew near he found himself and his instruments shut up in
besieged Paris, with no possible means of escape except the dangerous
and desperate hazard of a voyage by sky.

But so great was the astronomer’s enthusiasm for his work, that he
resolved to brave even this risk. Taking the essential parts of his
telescope with him, and, as aeronaut, an active young sailor, he set
sail in the darkness of a winter’s morning, long before dawn, passed
safely over the enemy’s lines, and continued the voyage till nearly
mid-day, when they sighted the sea, and came down near the mouth of the
river Loire, having travelled 300 miles in little more than five hours.
Neither Janssen or his telescope were injured in the descent, though
the wind was high at the time; and both reached Algeria in time for the
eclipse. It must have been a most bitter disappointment to the ardent
astronomer, after all his exertions, that when the great day arrived
the sun was hidden by clouds, and he was unable to observe the sight
for which he had risked so much.

Since the Franco-Prussian war, military ballooning has been largely
developed, and now all great armies possess their properly equipped
and trained balloon corps. The balloons in use in the British Army at
the present day are made, not of silk, but of gold-beater’s skin, a
very thin, but extremely tough membrane prepared from the insides of
oxen. This is, of course, much stronger and more durable than ordinary
balloon fabric, but much more expensive. The balloons are comparatively
small ones, of 10,000 feet capacity, and are inflated with hydrogen.
The hydrogen is now no longer made upon the field, but is manufactured
in special factories, and carried compressed in large steel cylinders.
By this means the time occupied in filling the balloon is much reduced,
but the weight of the cylinders is very great. As will be remembered,
balloons were made of considerable use during the late Boer War. At the
siege of Ladysmith they were thought of much value in directing the
fire of the British Artillery, and again at Spion Kop and Magersfontein
are said to have done good service.

So far we have shown of what use balloons may be in times of peace and
war. Every year sees fresh improvements and developments in balloons
for military purposes and in those employed for making meteorological
and other similar observations; and there is no doubt that great
advances may shortly be expected in both these directions. But there
is yet another and totally different science to which the balloon may
lend its aid, and help greatly to add to our knowledge; and this is the
science of geography, or the study of the earth’s surface.

One of the earliest ideas suggested by Montgolfier’s invention was that
the balloon might be turned to practical account in the exploring of
unknown and inaccessible tracts of the world. It was suggested that
in a balloon men might sail over and survey country that they were
not able to reach in any other way. Deserts could be crossed in this
fashion, forests and mountain ranges, and even the desolate ice-tracts
of the North and South Poles.

All this is, in truth, perfectly possible, and another day may be
accomplished; but at present great difficulties and dangers stand in
the way of exploring by balloon, and up to the present time, with one
great exception, no special attempt has been made. It has already been
mentioned that both Wise and Green wished to cross the Atlantic by sky,
and indeed at the present moment plans are actually being made on the
Continent for a similar voyage. This, however, can scarcely be called
exploring. Other suggestions which may presently be put to the test are
the crossing of the Sahara, and also of another great desert in Central
Arabia, into which no white man has ever succeeded in penetrating.
Recent expeditions both to the North and South Poles have also taken
with them balloons to be used captive for the observation of the state
of the ice ahead, and for obtaining wide views around.

The one great attempt at exploring by balloon which has so far been
made has, unfortunately, met with hopeless and terrible disaster--this
was the ill-fated voyage to the North Pole of Andrée and his
companions. The idea of reaching the Pole by balloon was first proposed
many years ago, and both French and English aeronauts at different
times have made suggestions as to the best way in which it might be
accomplished. Nothing, however, was attempted until about the year
1894, when M. S. A. Andrée, a well-known Swedish balloonist, who had
already met with exciting experiences in the air, made up his mind
actually to risk the venture.

His plan was to take a suitable balloon, and the apparatus for
inflating it, to a place as far north as a ship could safely go, then
to fill the balloon and wait for a favourable wind which should carry
him right over the Pole and beyond until inhabited country was reached.
By the summer of 1896 all his preparations were complete. His balloon
was an enormous one, capable of holding 162,000 cubic feet of gas, and
was fitted with a rudder sail and a long trail-rope, by means of which
Andrée hoped to be able to some extent to steer his course across the
ice. Two companions were to accompany him on his voyage, and on June
7th the party embarked with all their apparatus, and were conveyed to

They landed at Dane’s Island, where their first work was to build
themselves a shed. They then got their gas-making apparatus into order,
and filled the balloon, and by the 27th of July were all ready for a
start. But the wind was contrary, and day after day they waited in vain
for a change, until at last the captain of the ship which had brought
them warned them they would be frozen in for the winter unless they
returned without delay. Very reluctantly, therefore, they abandoned
their venture for that year, and went home, leaving behind them the
shed and gas-generator for another occasion.

The winter passed, and by the end of next May they were back again at
Dane’s Island. Their shed and apparatus had suffered damage during
their absence, and had to be repaired, and their preparations were
not complete until the end of June. But again the wind was contrary,
and for three weeks more they waited impatiently. All this while the
balloon remained inflated, and by the long delay must have lost a
considerable amount of its buoyancy. At last the wind changed, and
though it was not exactly in the direction they wished, being a little
west of south, instead of due south, Andrée felt he could wait no
longer, and at half-past two in the afternoon of July 11th set sail,
with his two friends, on his daring voyage.

What followed is soon told. Eleven days later one of the carrier
pigeons taken by Andrée in his balloon was picked up by a fishing-boat
off Spitzbergen. Fastened to it was the following message:--“July 13th,
12.30 P.M. 82° 2´ north lat., 15° 5´ east long. Good journey eastward.
All goes well on board.--ANDRÉE.”

This was the latest news ever heard of the ill-fated voyagers. Later on
two of Andrée’s buoys, thrown out from the balloon, were found; but the
messages these contained were dated on the evening of July 11th, only
a few hours after the start. If the date of the first found message
can be relied on, it would seem that after forty-eight hours Andrée’s
balloon was still sailing well, and he had already accomplished the
longest voyage aloft ever made.

Of his subsequent fate, and that of his companions, nothing is known.
Search expeditions have failed to find any trace of them or of the
balloon, and the many rumours received have been proved to be false.
There can be no possible reason to doubt that these brave men perished
in their daring attempt, and that their bones lie in the Arctic Sea or
in the waste of ice and snow that surrounds the Pole.



So far in our story we have traced the origin and progress of the
balloon, showing how from small beginnings it has grown to be an
important invention, of great use to the scientific observer, the
soldier, and the explorer, and the means of teaching us much fresh

But in spite of the high hopes of early aeronauts, and the extravagant
prophecies made when the first balloons ascended into the sky, it has
long been evident that the balloon alone has not solved the problem
of human flight or accomplished the conquest of the air. An ordinary
balloon is, in fact, nothing more than a mere lifting machine, no more
capable of sailing the sky, in the proper sense of the word, than a
cork floating in the water is capable of sailing the sea. It has no
movement of its own, but drifts simply at the mercy of the wind, and
quite beyond control. By the discharge of ballast, or by the letting
out of gas, the aeronaut can indeed cause it to rise or sink at
pleasure, and sometimes when two currents of air are blowing aloft in
different directions at the same time he may, by passing from one to
the other, “tack” his balloon to some extent across the sky. Otherwise
he has no power of guiding or directing it in the least degree, and
should he lose sight of the earth above the clouds, has even no method
of telling in which direction he is travelling.

Early inventors thought they would be able to steer balloons by means
of sails, like a boat, but they soon found that this was impossible.
The effect of hoisting a sail at the side of a balloon was merely to
swing the balloon round until the sail was in front, while meantime it
continued its course unaltered. The use of a rudder and other means
were also tried, but without success; nor can such methods ever hope to
succeed so long as a balloon floats in the air at the same pace as the
wind that carries it forward. A balloon travelling with the wind may be
compared to a boat drifting idly with the tide. As long as she drifts
she refuses to answer her rudder, which swings idly. But presently the
boatman hoists a sail, and the wind carries the boat onwards faster
than the tide, and then immediately the rudder comes into action. Or
should there be no wind, he may accomplish the same thing by dragging
an anchor or other weight in the water, and so slowing his boat down
until it moves slower than the current; he will then again find that
his boat will answer her helm.

To steer his course in a balloon, therefore, the aeronaut must so
arrange that he is travelling faster or slower than the wind in which
he finds himself. To travel faster, he must employ some sort of engine
or motor to drive his craft onwards. To travel slower, he must trail
something along the ground beneath to act as a drag.

Part of the equipment of every balloon is a long trail-rope, which,
when the balloon is aloft, hangs some 300 feet below the car. The
object of this rope is to break the force of the fall when the balloon
comes down to the earth at the end of the voyage. In the greater number
of cases a balloon, in its final swoop to the ground, falls the last
few hundred feet with considerable, and often uncomfortable, speed. But
when provided with a trail-rope, as it descends more and more of the
heavy rope will lie along the ground, and so lighten the weight of the
balloon, and lessen the shock of falling.

If then a trail-rope were used of such length that it would sweep along
the ground while the balloon was flying in the air, the effect would
be to put a drag or brake on the balloon, and so render it capable of
being steered to some extent with a sail; and this is what has actually
been done in all attempts of the kind. But since a long rope dragging
rapidly across the country is a very dangerous object, capable of doing
great damage, and also liable to catch in trees and other obstacles,
such experiments can only be tried with safety over the sea, or, as in
the case of Andrée’s voyage, over desert or uninhabited country.

The best way of steering a balloon, therefore, is to provide it with
some mechanical power which shall urge it onwards at a greater speed
than the wind; and when this is done, it has ceased to be a balloon in
the popular sense of the word, and has become an “airship.”

There is a great deal of confusion between the terms “airship,” and
“flying machine,” and the two words are often considered as meaning
the same thing. But while, strictly speaking, neither word in itself
has any very definite meaning, it is gradually becoming more general
to apply them to two widely different objects. According to this plan,
although both names stand for an aerial vessel capable of travelling
in the sky by its own motion, an airship is a machine supported in the
air by reason of its buoyancy, while a flying machine is kept aloft
only by virtue of its onward movement.

In other words, part of the construction of an airship consists of a
bag or balloon, filled with gas or hot air, which causes the whole to
rise and maintain its position in the air. This balloon part is quite
independent of the machinery which drives the airship forward, and
indeed if the engine ceases working, the vessel becomes nothing more
than an ordinary balloon in its nature, and will behave like one. An
airship, therefore, is in principle an apparatus lighter than air.

A flying machine, on the contrary, is heavier than air, and maintains
its position aloft merely by the power it obtains from its engines,
assisted by its special construction. The inventors of flying machines
take as their analogy the flight of birds. Birds are creatures
heavier than air, which yet manage to rise and fly by reason of the
strength and construction of their wings. In the same way the heavy
flying machine essays to fly by the power of its machinery. And, as
a bird aloft, if its wings became disabled, would instantly drop
towards earth, so a flying machine would immediately commence to fall
if its engine stopped or ceased to move with sufficient power. The
airship and the flying machine, therefore, may be regarded as rival
aerial vessels, and their inventors and advocates, sometimes known
as “lighter-than-air-ites” and “heavier-than-air-ites,” though both
working for the same end, are endeavouring to accomplish their aim by
widely different methods.

Up to the present day the airship--to which we will first turn our
attention--has been much more largely and successfully experimented
with than the flying machine. It is, however, the opinion of many,
including the great authority Sir Hiram Maxim, that in the future the
flying machine will become the more important invention of the two.
“In all Nature,” says Sir Hiram, “we do not find a single balloon. All
Nature’s flying machines are heavier than air.” And from this he argues
that, as Nature is ever our best guide and example, a flying machine
heavier than air will be in the end most likely to succeed.

One of the earliest airships which achieved any success was invented
by a Frenchman, M. Giffard, about the year 1852. He made his balloon
of an elongated or cigar shape, a form adopted by airship inventors
as offering less resistance to the air than the ordinary globular or
pear shape. To this balloon, which was 104 feet long and 39 feet in
diameter, he attached a steam-engine of three-horse power, weighing 462
lbs. and working a screw-propeller, which, by its rapid revolutions,
urged the balloon onwards through the air, even as the screw of a
steamship urges the vessel through the water. With this apparatus he
succeeded on one occasion, for a very short while, in obtaining a speed
of six and a half miles an hour. Twenty years later another Frenchman,
M. Dupuy de Lôme, constructed another airship; but fearing to place an
engine so near the gas of his balloon, he used the strength of eight
men to work his screw. This was a very wasteful mode of supplying
energy, for the weight of the men was very great in proportion to
their strength, and this machine, during its trial, did not attain as
great a speed as Giffard’s. Twelve years after a third Frenchman, M.
Tissandier, took up the same experiments. His elongated balloon was
smaller than the two previous, and his engine was an electric motor of
one and a half horse-power. On one occasion a speed of nearly eight
miles an hour was attained.

By this time the French Government had become interested in the work,
and provided money to continue investigations. The result of this was
that in 1885 two officers of the French army, Captains Renard and
Krebs, brought out by far the most successful airship yet constructed.
It was 165 feet long, 27 feet in diameter, and was driven by an
electric motor of nine horse-power. That this machine proved itself
perfectly capable of being guided in the air is amply shown by the
fact that it returned to its shed five times out of the seven on which
it was publicly taken out. It also attained a speed of fourteen miles
an hour, and indeed it would seem that Renard and Krebs, although their
names are now almost forgotten, accomplished nearly as great things
twenty years ago as the popular airship inventors of the present day.

One of the greatest difficulties with which early inventors had to
contend was the enormous weight of their engines. The machinery they
were obliged to use to drive their airships through the air weighed
more than their balloons, unless made of unwieldy size, had power
to lift. The same difficulty indeed exists at the present time,
though to a much less degree. Of late years, and especially since
the introduction of the motor-car, great progress has been made in
the construction of light but powerful engines, or motors, and the
employment of petrol vapour instead of coal or oil has very greatly
lessened the weight of the fuel which has to be carried.

In consequence of this improvement many airships have recently been
made which have met with varying success, and many more are at the
present moment in process of construction. Among the host of inventors,
whose names it would here be impossible even to mention, three stand
out from the rest in special prominence--Zeppelin, Santos Dumont, and
Stanley Spencer--all three the inventors of airships which have, by
actual experience, proved their power of steering a course across the

Of these rival airships, by far the largest and most elaborate was
that built by the first named, Count Zeppelin, a distinguished veteran
soldier of the German army. For many years he had spent his time and
fortune in making experiments in aerial navigation, and at length in
1900, having formed a company and collected a large sum of money for
the purpose, he produced an enormous airship, which, from its size,
has been compared to a man-of-war. In shape Count Zeppelin’s invention
resembled a gigantic cigar, 420 feet in length, pointed at both ends.
The framework was made of the specially light metal aluminium, covered
over with silk, and though from outside it looked all in one piece,
within it was divided into seventeen compartments, each holding a
separate balloon made of oiled silk and absolutely gas-tight. The
object of this was to prevent the tendency the gas has to collect all
at one end as the ship forces its way through the air. These balloons
were filled with pure hydrogen, the cost of the inflation alone being
£500. Beneath was slung a long gangway, 346 feet in length, with two
cars, also made of aluminium, attached to it. In these cars were placed
two motor-engines of sixteen horse power each, driven by benzine, and
working a pair of screw-propellers attached to the balloon. A steering
apparatus was placed at each end, and the whole machine, with five
passengers, weighed about eleven tons.


To lessen the effects of a possible fall, the experiments were carried
out over water, and the great airship was housed in a shed built on
Lake Constance. The cost of this shed alone was enormous, for it was
elaborately constructed on pontoons, and anchored in such a way that
it could be turned round to allow the airship to be liberated from it
in the best direction to suit the wind. The trial trip was made one
evening in June 1900, when a very light wind was blowing. The great
machine rose into the air, carrying Zeppelin and four companions to a
height of 800 feet. The steering apparatus then being put into action,
it circled round and faced the wind, remained stationary for a short
while, and then sank gracefully and gently upon the water. A few days
later another and more successful trial was made. The wind at the time
was blowing at sixteen miles an hour, but in spite of this the airship
slowly steered its course against the wind for three and a half miles,
when, one of the rudders breaking, it was obliged to come down. On
one or two other occasions also it made successful voyages, proving
itself to be perfectly manageable and capable of being steered on an
absolutely calm day. The expense of the experiments was, however,
tremendous; money fell short, and the great machine, the result of many
years’ labour and thought, has since been abandoned and broken up.


A far happier fate has so far attended the efforts of the brave young
Brazilian, Albert Santos Dumont. The wealthy son of a successful
coffee-planter, he had always from his boyhood been keenly interested
in aeronautics, and, coming to Paris, he constructed in 1898 an
airship of a somewhat novel kind. His balloon was cigar-shaped, 83
feet long, and holding 6500 feet of pure hydrogen. Attached to the
balloon, and working a propeller, was a small motor like those used
for motor cycles, and astride of this Santos Dumont rode, bicycle
fashion, steering his course with a rudder. In this ingenious machine
he ascended from the Botanical Gardens in Paris and circled several
times round the large captive balloon then moored there, after which
he made a number of bold sweeps in the air, until an accident occurred
to his engine and he came precipitately to the ground. Though shaken he
was by no means discouraged, and declared his intention of continuing
his experiments until he should have invented an airship which, in his
own words, should be “not a mere plaything, but a practical invention,
capable of being applied in a thoroughly useful fashion.”

Accordingly he constructed one machine after another, gaining fresh
knowledge by each new experience, and profiting by the accidents and
failures which continually beset him in his dangerous and daring work.
Before long also he received an additional incentive to his labours.
Early in the year of 1900 it was announced by the Paris Aero Club, a
society of Frenchmen interested in aeronautical matters, that one of
its members, M. Deutsch, had offered a prize of 100,000 francs--about
£4000--to the man who, starting from the Aero Club grounds at
Longchamps in a balloon or flying machine, should steer his course
right round the Eiffel Tower and back to the starting-place--a distance
of three and a half miles--within half an hour. If the prize were not
won within a certain time, his offer was to be withdrawn, and meanwhile
he promised a certain sum of money every year for the encouragement of
aeronautical experiments.

The offer of this reward set many inventors to work upon the
construction of various aerial vessels of all kinds, but from the
beginning Santos Dumont was well to the fore. By the middle of 1901
he had completed what was his sixth airship--a cigar-shaped balloon,
100 feet long, its propeller worked by a motor-car engine of fifteen
horse-power--and with it, on July 15th, he made a splendid attempt
for the prize. Starting from the Club grounds, he reached the Eiffel
Tower in thirteen minutes, and, circling round it, started back on
his homeward journey. But this time his voyage was against the wind,
which was really too strong for the success of his experiment; part
of his engine broke down, and the balance of the vessel became upset;
and although he managed to fight his way back to the starting point,
he arrived eleven minutes behind time, and so failed to fulfil M.
Deutsch’s conditions.

Again, on the 9th of August, having in the meantime made further
trials with his machine, he embarked on another attempt to carry off
the prize. He chose the early hours of the morning, starting shortly
after six from the Club grounds, where only a few friends, among them
the keenly interested M. Deutsch, were present. The day was apparently
perfect, and when, after the lapse of five minutes only, he had reached
the Tower and swung gracefully round it, every one was convinced that
this time the prize was certain to be won. But the homeward journey
was all against the wind, which was blowing more powerfully aloft than
on the ground, and suddenly the onlookers were horrified to see the
fore part of the balloon double right back. By so doing the silken
envelope became torn and the gas began escaping. Rapidly the balloon
appeared to wither up and shrink together. The engine was seen still
to be working, though no progress was now being made. Then the whole
apparatus collapsed utterly, and fell with sickening speed upon the

Deutsch and his companions watched the fall horror-struck, and jumping
into their motorcars hurried to the spot, convinced that a fatal
accident must have occurred. But they found that, although the airship
was smashed to pieces, its plucky inventor had almost miraculously
escaped unhurt. The wrecked machine had fallen upon the roof of a house
in such a way that the keel had caught upon a corner, and the car,
which was fastened to it, hung at a perilous angle down the side of
a wall. Fortunately Dumont was secured to his car by a leather belt,
and he managed to hold on, though in considerable danger lest the keel
should break and let him fall, until rescued by a fireman with a rope.
His machine was hopelessly ruined; but when asked what he intended to
do next he merely answered: “Begin again. Only a little patience is

A new machine, “Santos Dumont VII.,” was ready in less than a month,
and tested on the 6th of September. It behaved beautifully, and all
went well until the trail-rope caught in a tree. In liberating it the
framework became bent, and the airship was being towed back to its
shed when a sudden gust of wind tore it away from those who held it.
It immediately rose into the air, and on Dumont opening the valve the
whole collapsed and fell to earth with a great shock. Again the lucky
inventor escaped unhurt, though owning this time that he had “felt
really frightened.” Ten days later, in another trial, the airship came
in contact with some trees, which pierced the silk and let out the gas,
so that it fell precipitately twenty feet. But the aeronaut appeared to
bear a charmed life, for once more he was none the worse for the fall.
Several other unsuccessful trials followed, and then, on the 19th of
October, Santos Dumont made another grand attempt for the prize.

Starting with the wind in his favour, his machine travelled at the
rate of thirty miles an hour, and rounded the Eiffel Tower in nine
minutes. But in the journey homewards the airship had to struggle with
a wind blowing at thirteen miles an hour. In endeavouring to “tack”
the machinery became upset, and Dumont, leaving his car, crawled
along the framework to the motor, which he succeeded in putting in
order again. But this naturally occasioned some delay, and though he
accomplished the rest of his journey in eight minutes, the Committee at
first decided he had exceeded the allotted time by forty seconds, and
so had lost the prize. Great popular indignation was excited by this
decision, for public sympathy was all with the daring and persistent
young Brazilian, and M. Deutsch himself was most anxious he should
receive the award. Finally, he was considered to have fairly won it,
and the money, which he afterwards divided among the poor, was formally
presented to him.

Early in the next year Santos Dumont continued his experiments at
Monaco, and on one occasion came down in the sea, and had to be rescued
in the Prince of Monaco’s own steam yacht. After this there was a talk
of further voyages being made in England, but the project came to
nothing, and although Dumont made other ascents in Paris in the summer
of 1903, he does not appear to have eclipsed his previous record.

But although Santos Dumont came through all his accidents and perils
so happily, his example led to terrible disaster on the part of a
luckless imitator. In 1902 M. Severo, also a Brazilian, was fired with
a desire to share his fellow-countryman’s fame, and he also constructed
an airship with which he proposed to do great things. But while Dumont
was a skilled aeronaut of large experience, as well as a mechanician,
Severo knew scarcely anything about the subject, and had only been
aloft once or twice. Proof of his ignorance is shown by the fact that
his motor-engine was placed only a few feet away from the valve through
which the gas from the balloon would escape.

The ascent took place in Paris early in the morning of the 12th of May,
and was witnessed, unhappily, by Severo’s wife and son. Bidding them
good-bye, he stepped into the car, and, accompanied by an assistant,
rose above the town. The balloon rose steadily, and appeared to steer
well. Then Severo commenced to throw out ballast, and when the airship
had risen 2000 feet it was suddenly seen to burst into a sheet of
flame. A terrible explosion followed, and then the whole fell to the
ground a hopeless wreck, and the two men were dashed to pieces in
the fall. It is believed that this dreadful disaster, which recalls
the fate of Pilâtre de Rozier, was caused by the hydrogen gas, which
escaped from the valve during the rapid rise, becoming ignited by the
engine, which, as has been said, was placed dangerously close.

Nor was this, unhappily, the only accident of the kind in Paris during
the year. Only five months later, on the 13th of October, Baron Bradsky
ascended with an assistant in a large airship of his own invention.
Through faulty construction, the steel wires which fastened the car to
the balloon broke, the two became separated, the car fell, and its
occupants were killed on the spot.

So far, the credit of the only English airship which has yet flown
rests with Mr. Stanley Spencer, the well-known aeronaut. Mr. Spencer
comes of a race of aeronauts. His grandfather, Edward Spencer, was the
great friend and colleague of Charles Green, and shared with him some
of his chief ballooning adventures, notably the terrible voyage when
Cocking lost his life. Green stood godfather to Edward Spencer’s son,
who was christened Charles Green after him. He also grew up to be an
aeronaut, and made several inventions and improvements relating to
balloons and flying machines. His love of ballooning, inherited from
his father, has been passed on to his children, and his three eldest
sons, Percival, Arthur, and Stanley, are chief among British aeronauts,
and indeed have practically the monopoly of professional ballooning
and balloon manufacture in Great Britain. Nor have they confined
themselves to this country. All three have taken their balloons and
parachutes to distant parts of the world, and among their many hundreds
of ascents, both abroad and at home, have met with all manner of
exciting and perilous adventures, though never yet with serious mishap.
Their knowledge of practical aeronautics, then, is unrivalled, and Mr.
Stanley Spencer had the experience of three generations to guide him
when, in 1902, he set to work to build an airship which he had long
been devising.

His first machine was a comparatively small one, capable only of
lifting a light man. It took the usual form of a cigar-shaped balloon,
the framework of which was built of bamboo, driven forward by a
screw-propeller worked by a small petrol engine. Warned by the fate of
the unfortunate Severo, Mr. Spencer placed his engine far away from the
valve. Profiting also by Santos Dumont’s experience, he constructed
his balloon in such a manner that, should it become torn and the gas
escape, the empty silk would collapse into the form of a parachute and
break the fall. Furthermore, there was an arrangement by which, while
aloft, ordinary air could be forced into the balloon to replace any
loss of gas, and so keep the silk always fully inflated and “taut”--a
very important factor in a machine that has to be driven forward
through the atmosphere.

With this airship Mr. Spencer, as also his equally daring wife, made
several highly successful trials at the Crystal Palace, when it was
found to steer well and answer its helm most satisfactorily. Mr.
Spencer also made two long voyages, from London and from Blackpool, on
both of which occasions he found he could manœuvre his airship with
considerable success, make circular flights, and sail against the
wind, provided it was blowing only at moderate speed.

Encouraged by his success, he next built a similar but much larger
machine, nearly a hundred feet long, holding 30,000 cubic feet of gas,
and driven by a petrol motor of twenty-four horse-power. In this case
the propeller, instead of being placed at the rear, as in general, is
at the front of the airship, thereby pulling it forward through the
air instead of pushing it from behind. By this arrangement Mr. Spencer
thinks his balloon would have less tendency to double up when urged
against a strong wind. The steering is done by a rudder sail at the
stern, and to cause his machine to sail higher or lower, the aeronaut
points its head up or down by means of a heavy balance-rope.

This new airship was ready by the summer of 1903, but the unfavourable
weather of that stormy season again and again interfered with the
experiments. On the 17th of September Mr. Spencer announced his
intention of sailing from the Crystal Palace round the dome of St.
Paul’s, and returning to his starting-place. The Cathedral was indeed
safely reached, but the increasing breeze, now blowing half a gale,
baffled all his attempts to circle round. Again and again, till his
hands were cut and bleeding with the strain of the ropes, he brought
his machine up, quivering, to the wind, but all to no purpose, until at
length, abandoning the attempt, he sailed with the current to Barnet.
More favourable results may doubtless be looked for with better weather

In France during 1903 the brothers Lebaudy made some successful trips
with an airship of their own construction. Many other airships are
now being built in all parts of the world, in preparation for the
aeronautical competitions to take place in America on the occasion of
the St. Louis Exhibition of this year.



It is now time we turn our attention from the airship to its important
rival, the flying machine.

At first sight it may perhaps appear that so far the flying machine has
accomplished less than the airship, and gives less promise of success,
since up to the present time no flying machine has taken a man any
distance into the air, or indeed done much more than just lift itself
off the ground. Nevertheless those who have made a study of the matter
are full of hope for the future. Many experts declare that already the
limits of what can be done with the airship, which depends upon the
lifting power of its gas to raise it and to sustain it in the air,
are being reached. It has indeed been proved that on a calm day, or
with only a light breeze, this form of sky vessel can be steered safely
about the heavens, and doubtless as engines are constructed yet lighter
and more powerful in proportion to their weight, more successful
voyages still will be accomplished. But it is extremely doubtful
whether an airship can ever be constructed which shall be able to stand
against a gale of wind.

So long as a balloon sails only with the breeze it offers no resistance
to the force of the wind, and can be made of the lightest and thinnest
material. But directly it has to face the wind, and fight its way
against it as an airship must do, then it has to be made of sufficient
strength and rigidity to withstand the wind’s power, or it will be
blown to pieces. To make so large a thing as an airship withstand
a rough wind, it must be built of very strong and rigid materials.
To do this means to add to the weight of the machine. To lift the
increased weight, a larger machine which can hold more gas is needed.
The larger the machine the more surface it offers to the wind, and
the stronger therefore must be its construction. It will now be seen
that we are arguing in a circle, and we can understand that a point
must be reached in the making of airships when, with our present
materials, the advantage gained by increase of strength will be more
than counterbalanced by increased weight. On this point Sir Hiram Maxim
says: “It is not possible to make a balloon, strong enough to be driven
through the air at any considerable speed, at the same time light
enough to rise in the air; therefore balloons must always be at the
mercy of a wind no greater than that which prevails at least 300 days
in the year;” adding, “Those who seek to navigate the air by machines
lighter than air have, I think, come practically to the end of their

With the flying machine, on the contrary, the same difficulty does
not arise. Since it is at all times heavier than air, and is kept
aloft simply by its motive power and mechanism, its weight is of no
consequence, provided only its engine is sufficiently powerful. It may,
therefore, be built as rigidly as need be, while, from its size--which
is much smaller in proportion to its lifting power than in the case of
the airship--and also from its construction, it is much less liable to
be affected by the wind.

In constructing a flying machine which is heavier than air the inventor
has before him two examples of bodies which, though heavier than the
atmosphere, yet contrive to rise upwards into the sky; these are,
firstly, birds, and secondly, the familiar schoolboy toys, kites. To
imitate the flying powers of birds and kites, he must first understand
the means by which their flight is accomplished; and he will find,
on examination, that to a large extent the same principle underlies
each--the principle of what is termed the “aeroplane.”

[Illustration: KESTREL.]

As we watch birds--especially large birds, as hawks and gulls--winging
their way about the sky, we may notice that their flight is
accomplished in two ways; either they are moving through the air by
flapping their wings up and down, or else with wings wide outstretched
they are soaring or sailing in the air for long times together
without apparently moving their wings at all. Certain birds, such as
vultures and albatrosses, possess this power of soaring flight to an
extraordinary degree, and the exact way in which they keep themselves
poised aloft is indeed still a mystery. We cannot, however, as we
watch, say, a hawk, hovering in the air with motionless wing, help
being struck by its resemblance to the schoolboy’s kite, kept afloat
high in the sky by the action of the wind properly applied to its
surface, and we can at once see that the bird makes use of the same
principle as the kite in its soaring or hovering flight. Indeed, just
as a kite sinks to earth when the wind drops, so in a dead calm even an
albatross has to flap its wings to keep afloat.

It is to the principle of the kite, therefore, that the inventor of
the flying machine must turn. He must adapt the same principle to his
apparatus, and this he does in his aeroplane, which, as will be seen,
is an all-important part of his machine, and which, in its simplest
form, is nothing more or less than a kite.

We know that if a light flat body, such as a kite, is lying upon the
ground, and the wind gets under it so as to tilt it, it will be lifted
by the wind into the air. The string of a kite is so adjusted that as
the kite rises it is still held at an angle to the wind’s force, and so
long as the kite remains tilted at the necessary angle so long it will
continue to rise or poise itself in the air while the wind blows. When
schoolboys fly their kites they choose an exposed spot, and a day when
the wind is blowing freshly and steadily. One boy throws the kite into
the air, while another, holding the string to which it is fastened,
draws it tight by running with it against the wind. By this means the
kite, if rightly adjusted, is held at the proper angle to the wind, and
started without dragging along the ground to begin with. As soon as the
wind has fairly caught the kite and carried it up into the air, the boy
who holds the string need run no longer, but if the breeze suddenly
fails, and the kite begins to drop, he may still keep his toy aloft by
running quickly along and dragging the kite after him; the artificial
wind he thus creates making up for the lack of the other.

Now let us suppose that there is no string to hold the kite in proper
position, and no boy to run with it; but that their places are supplied
by a motor and propeller to drive it through the air; while at the same
time it is so balanced as to preserve a fitting angle against a wind of
its own making. We should then have a true flying machine, heavier than
air, and yet capable of sailing through the sky.

This is the kind of flying machine that inventors at the present moment
are trying to produce. They have, in their machines, to reproduce
artificially two essential conditions that cause a kite to fly. They
have to provide a substitute for the strength of the wind, and also a
substitute for the pull of the string which keeps the kite at the best
angle to profit by that strength. The first they achieve by using a
suitable engine or motor, and the second by supplying it with what are
called “aeroplanes”--large flat surfaces, light but rigid, inclined at
a suitable angle to the horizon. By the use of these the power of the
engine is employed to best advantage in causing the machine to sail
through the sky.

The great advantage of the aeroplane over any other mode of flying
is thus described by Major Baden-Powell, one of our greatest living
authorities on aeronautical matters: “When people realise that in the
case of the aeroplane a contrivance like the awning of a small steam
launch is capable of supporting the man and the engines, and that in
the case of the balloon a mass like a big ship is necessary to lift
the same weight, one can readily understand the advantages of the
aeroplane, especially when to the drawbacks of the bulky balloon are
added the great difficulties inherent in the retention of a large
volume of expensive, inflammable, and subtle gas, ever varying in its

The most successful inventors of flying machines at the present day
are all Americans, though one of them has made his experiments on this
side of the Atlantic. They are Sir Hiram Maxim, inventor of the famous
gun, and one of the greatest mechanicians living; Professor Langley,
Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington; and the brothers

Mr. Maxim, as he then was, commenced his experiments in the early
nineties. As we have already shown, he went to Nature for his guide,
and in constructing his flying machine took as his analogy the flight
of birds. Birds urge their way onwards in the air by reason of the
strength of their wings. A flying machine must do the same by the power
of its engine; and as a bird’s wings must be strong in proportion to
the bird’s weight, so the strength or horse-power of the engine must
stand in a certain proportion to the number of pounds it weighs. Mr.
Maxim’s first task, therefore, was to discover what proportion this
must be, and by his experiments he arrived at a conclusion which
Professor Langley in America, working at the same task at the same
time, but quite independently, had also proved to be true, namely,
that the faster a machine travels through the air the greater weight
it may carry; or, in other words, the quicker a body moves through
the atmosphere the less tendency will it have to fall to the ground.
A quick-flying bird like an albatross, therefore, flies with less
exertion, and so could carry a greater weight, than a slow-moving bird
like a goose. It must therefore be to the advantage of the flying
machine that its engines should attain as great a speed as possible.

Maxim’s next task was to construct a suitable engine. Light but
powerful engines had not then reached the pitch of perfection they have
now, and his results proved at the time a perfect revelation of what
could be done in this direction, and led to great advances being made.

[Illustration: THE MAXIM AIRSHIP.]

Next came the designing of the great machine itself. It was an enormous
apparatus, weighing over three tons, capable of carrying three men, and
supported by no less than 4000 square feet of aeroplanes, placed one
above the other. Its steam-engine was of 363 horse-power, and worked
two screws of nearly 18 feet in diameter. Before such a machine could
rise from the ground it must first have attained a very great forward
impetus, and this it was to receive by running at a great speed on
wheels along a railway track specially laid down for it. To prevent the
apparatus rising unduly, a reversed rail was erected a short distance
above, on which the machine would begin to run as soon as it lifted
itself off the lower track. Along this railway the flying machine was
tested, and it was found that as soon as a speed of thirty-six miles
an hour was reached the wheels were lifted clear off the ground, and
were running only upon the upper rail. On the last occasion a speed of
forty-two miles an hour was attained, when the lifting power became so
great that the restraining rail broke away altogether, and the great
flying machine actually floated in the air for a few moments, “giving
those on board the sensation of being in a boat,” until, steam being
shut off, it fell to the ground and was broken.

The enormous expense of his experiments has not prevented Sir Hiram
Maxim from repeating them, and he hopes soon to have a much improved
machine. Nevertheless his experience and calculations have been of
great value to those who would follow in his footsteps, and have proved
the possibility of constructing a flying machine which shall fly by
virtue of its own motion.

Meanwhile in America Professor Langley was experimenting,
independently, almost on the same lines. He also was bent on producing
a flying machine, but instead of starting to work upon a large
apparatus like Maxim, he began by making models, and gradually worked
his way up to bigger things. For many months he studied to understand
the principle of those ingenious little toys sometimes seen, which, by
means of the tension of a twisted india-rubber band, will keep afloat
in the air for a few seconds. Next he constructed small models driven
by steam, in which he found his great difficulty was in keeping down
the weight. For years he persevered in his work without any great
success, until in 1896 he produced a model machine which he called
an “aerodrome.” It was quite small, weighing with its engine only 25
lbs., and measuring but 14 feet from tip to tip of its aeroplanes.
The experiments were made over water, and the necessary momentum was
given by dropping it from a platform 20 feet high. On more than one
occasion this little flying machine rose with great steadiness in the
face of the wind to a height of 100 feet, moving so smoothly that it
might have carried a glass of water without spilling a drop; and then,
the steam of its engine being exhausted, sank down gracefully upon the
water, having flown about half a mile in a minute and a half. This
success encouraged Professor Langley next to construct a full-sized
flying machine on the same lines; but this on its first voyage plunged
headlong into the water and was hopelessly damaged. The United States
Government have since granted him a sum of money to continue his

Latest of all the airship inventors, and perhaps so far the most
successful, are the brothers Wright. Up to the date of writing this the
full details of their work are not yet made public, but it is known
that on the 17th of December 1903, their machine, which consists of two
large aeroplanes driven forward by an engine of sixteen horse-power,
after being started along a short track on level ground, rose into the
air and flew for about half a mile.

It remains for us now to make brief mention of how men have tried,
and are still trying, to imitate the soaring or gliding flight of
birds without the use of machinery to assist them. We have seen how an
albatross can, when the wind is blowing, convert itself, as it were,
into a kite, and keep aloft in the air for a while without moving its
wings. Similarly many people have attempted, by attaching themselves
to a large supporting surface or aeroplane, and casting themselves off
from a height, to glide with the wind across wide stretches of country.
In this mode of soaring flight some have made considerable progress.
Herr Lilienthal, a German, was perhaps for a time the most successful.
He started from small beginnings, jumping off a spring board a few feet
high, and gradually increasing the height as he became more accustomed
to his apparatus. Later he had a large artificial mound made specially
for him, and from the top of this he would throw himself into the
air, and with a favourable wind sail a distance of four hundred yards
at a considerable height above the ground. Lilienthal’s experiments,
however, came to a sad end. On August the 11th, 1896, after he had
glided along in the air for about two hundred yards, a sudden gust
of wind caught the wide-spread wings of his apparatus, and tilted it
upwards. This caused him to lose his balance, and he fell from a height
of sixty feet and broke his spine. A similar accident also caused the
death, a few years later, of a young Englishman, Mr. Percy S. Pilcher,
who had been following up Lilienthal’s experiments.

The greatest difficulty now to be overcome in solving the problem of
human flight, whether with soaring apparatus or flying machine, may be
summed up in one word--“balance.” Every schoolboy knows that the great
art of kite-flying consists in so adjusting the point of attachment
of the string and the length of the tail that his kite is properly
balanced, and is not liable to turn over or “dip” when in the air.
Every observer of birds, too, has noticed how largely the question of
balance enters into their flying. A bird in the air is continually and
instinctively adjusting its wings to its position, and to every puff of
wind, even as a man on a bicycle is continually, though unconsciously,
adjusting his handle-bar to the inequalities of the road; and as a
cyclist requires practice before he can ride his machine, or a skater
before he can keep his feet on the ice, so even a bird has to learn how
to balance itself before it can use its wings.

Dwellers in the country are familiar with the way in which the parent
birds teach their fledglings to fly, instructing them by example,
and encouraging them in their first short flights until they have
become familiar with their powers and can balance themselves aright
in the air. And if even birds, with whom flying is an instinct, have
to learn the art of balancing themselves in the air by practice, how
much more so must such a clumsy creature as a man, to whom flying is
entirely unnatural. Only by long and painful efforts can he ever hope
to succeed at all, and unfortunately all such efforts are necessarily
very dangerous. Many disastrous accidents have already occurred, and
although great progress has been made, and the time may not now be far
distant when, by means of improved machines, men will actually fly, it
will be at the cost of much labour, and, it is to be feared, at the
sacrifice of many more brave lives.



In our last chapters we have, in some measure, brought our aeronautical
history up to the present day, though of necessity many important
points and notable voyages have been passed over unnoticed. It now
remains to us but to gather up the loose ends of the story, and then
briefly to indicate the direction in which we may expect new advances
in the future.

And, first of all, it may be well to mention a few ballooning
“records.” The largest balloon ever known was used as a captive at the
Paris Exhibition of 1878. It was of 883,000 cubic feet capacity, and
capable of lifting more than fifty passengers at a time. Other mammoth
balloons of almost as great dimensions have also been employed for
captive work; but the largest balloon intended specially for “right
away” ascents was the “Giant,” built in Paris in 1863 by M. Nadar. It
held 215,000 cubic feet of gas, and was made of 22,000 yards of best
white silk, at 5s. 4d. a yard. The car was particularly elaborate,
almost as big as a small cottage, being of two stories, and divided
into several rooms. It proved, however, to be a very dangerous adjunct,
for on the two occasions it was used those within received very serious
injury during rough landings, and it was soon put aside and replaced by
an ordinary basket. None of these monster sky craft appear to have been
very successful, and at the present day the largest balloons in general
use do not exceed 50,000 or 60,000 cubic feet capacity.

The honour of the longest aerial voyage ever made rests with the
unfortunate Andrée, who, if his dates are to be relied upon, had
been forty-eight hours aloft in his balloon when he despatched his
last found message. Not far behind in point of time, however, was
Count de la Vaulx, who in the summer of 1901 attempted to cross the
Mediterranean by balloon. Contrary winds in the end baffled his
venture, and he was forced to descend on the deck of a steamer which
was following his course, but not before he had spent forty-one hours
in the sky. The year previous the Count had also achieved a record
long-distance voyage in connection with some balloon competitions
held during the French “Exposition” of 1900. Starting from Paris, he
descended in Russia, 1193 miles away, having been aloft thirty-six
hours all but fifteen minutes.

For lofty ascents the palm still rests with Glaisher and Coxwell,
whose famous voyage of 1862, when, as related, a height of 37,000
feet (or seven miles) is said to have been reached, has never been
equalled. The exact altitude attained on this occasion is, however,
as we have explained, only conjectural, neither being capable at the
last of taking observations, and no height being _registered_ over
29,000 feet. On July 31st, 1901, two German scientists, Dr. Berson and
Dr. Suring, ascended from Berlin to a _registered_ altitude of 34,400
feet, or well over six miles. They were provided with compressed oxygen
to breathe, but even then became unconscious during the last 800 feet
of the ascent. Three years before Dr. Berson had made a very lofty
ascent in England, accompanied by Mr. Stanley Spencer, when a height
of 27,500 feet was reached. A terrible accident occurred in connection
with a lofty scientific ascent made from Paris in 1875 by Tissandier,
inventor of the airship already mentioned, and two companions. Their
object was to attain a record height, in which they indeed succeeded,
reaching 28,000 feet. But despite the artificial air they took with
them to breathe, they all three became unconscious in the extreme upper
regions, and when, after one of the most awful voyages in the whole
history of ballooning, Tissandier came to himself, it was to find the
bodies of his two friends stiff and cold beside him in the car.

Coming to the aeronautical work of the present day, it is humiliating
to have to confess that, through lack of public support, England has
somewhat fallen behind other nations. In America and on the Continent
large sums of money are subscribed for experiments with balloons,
airships, and flying machines; but in our own country all efforts in
these directions are due to private enterprise alone. Among those
most keenly interested in aeronautical progress may be mentioned Mr.
P. Alexander, of Bath; Major Baden-Powell, President of the English
Aeronautical Society; and the Rev. J. M. Bacon. The latter has
made many scientific balloon ascents for the study of meteorology,
acoustics, and other kindred sciences, and his observations have proved
of much interest and value. During his voyages he has met with several
adventures, though no serious mishaps. On one occasion, when the writer
accompanied him, during a night ascent made to observe the great shower
of Leonid shooting stars foretold for the 16th of November 1899, the
balloon became unmanageable while lost above the clouds. For ten hours
it refused to come down, during much of which time the sea was heard
beneath, and the voyagers believed themselves blown out over the
Atlantic. A very stormy landing, in which the writer broke her arm, was
eventually made near the coast in South Wales as before mentioned.

In November 1902, Mr. Bacon, accompanied by Mr. Percival Spencer,
crossed the Irish Channel by balloon, the second time only this
dangerous passage has been made, the first occasion being the voyage
of Mr. Windham Sadler, eighty-five years before. Mr. Bacon’s voyage
was partly undertaken for the Admiralty, who lent the services of a
gunboat to follow the balloon’s course over the sea. One of the special
objects of investigation was to test a theory, long held, that from a
considerable height aloft the bottom of the sea becomes visible, even
in rough weather when the surface is troubled with waves. This point
was very successfully settled, for although the sea was very rough, Mr.
Bacon not only saw, but succeeded in photographing, from a height of
600 feet, the beds of sand and rock lying in ten fathoms at the bottom
of the Irish Channel--a feat never before accomplished.

In scientific observations of the upper atmosphere a valuable ally to
the balloon has been found in the kite. The making of kites has now
reached a high pitch of perfection, and by their means self-recording
scientific instruments can be raised to vast heights in the air, and
even men carried aloft with safety. A kite which latterly has excited
much attention is the Cody kite. With this, during the autumn of 1903,
its inventor, a Mexican, hazarded a bold venture. Harnessing it to a
light boat, and waiting for a favourable wind, he started from Calais
at eight o’clock one November evening, and was safely towed all night
across the Channel, reaching Dover at five the next morning.

The aeronautical competitions at the St. Louis Exhibition, in America,
have given a great impetus to one branch at least of aeronautics,
while the labour of many scientific workers throughout the whole world
is directed to the improvement of our present modes of exploring the
heavens, and the turning to best account of the means already at our
disposal. Never since the days when the Montgolfier brothers floated
their first frail craft has so much interest as now been manifested in
the conquest of the sky, and never has progress been more rapid and
sure. Whether the day will ever come when man will rule the atmosphere
as he now does the sea is, as yet, uncertain, but there are many who
hope and believe not only that he will, but that the day is not far
distant when the birds will no longer hold undisputed sway over the
empire of the air.

  Edinburgh & London

Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.

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