J. M. Bacon

By this period a revival of aeronautics in the land of its birth had fairly set in. Since the last ascents of Gay Lussac, in 1804, already recorded, there had been a lull in ballooning enterprise in France, and no serious scientific expeditions are recorded until the year 1850, when MM.

A balloon which has become famous in history was frequently used in the researches of the French aeronauts mentioned in our last chapter. This was known as "The Giant," the creation of M. Nadar, a progressive and practical aeronaut, who had always entertained ambitious ideas about aerial travel.

"He that would learn to fly must be brought up to the constant
practice of it from his youth, trying first only to use his
wings as a tame goose will do, so by degrees learning to rise

Within a few months of the completion of the period covered by the records of the last chapter, France was destined to receive a more urgent stimulus than ever before to develop the resources of ballooning, and, in hot haste, to turn to the most serious and practical account all the best resources of aerial locomotion. The stern necessity of war was upon her, and during four months the sole mode of exit from Paris - nay, the only possible means of conveying a simple message beyond the boundary of her fortifications - was by balloon.

It was a November night of the year 1782, in the little town of Annonay, near Lyons. Two young men, Stephen and Joseph Montgolfier, the representatives of a firm of paper makers, were sitting together over their parlour fire. While watching the smoke curling up the chimney one propounded an idea by way of a sudden inspiration: "Why shouldn't smoke be made to raise bodies into the air?"

The mechanical air ship had, by this time, as may be inferred, begun seriously to occupy the attention of both theoretical and practical aeronauts. One of the earliest machines deserving of special mention was designed by M. Giffard, and consisted of an elongated balloon, 104 feet in length and 39 feet in greatest diameter, furnished with a triangular rudder, and a steam engine operating a screw. The fire of the engine, which burned coke, was skilfully protected, and the fuel and water required were taken into calculation as so much ballast to be gradually expended.

As may be supposed, it was not long before the balloon was introduced into England. Indeed, the first successful ascent on record made in our own country took place in the summer of 1784, ten months previous to the fatal venture narrated at the close of the last chapter. Now, it is a remarkable and equally regrettable circumstance that though the first ascent on British soil was undoubtedly made by one of our own countrymen, the fact is almost universally forgotten, or ignored, and the credit is accorded to a foreigner.

It will have been gathered from what has been already stated that the balloonist is commonly in much uncertainty as to his precise course when he is above the clouds, or when unable from darkness to see the earth beneath him. With a view of overcoming this disadvantage some original experiments were suggested by a distinguished officer, who during the seventies had begun to interest himself in aeronautics.

In less than two years not only had the science of ballooning reached almost its highest development, but the balloon itself, as an aerostatic machine, had been brought to a state of perfection which has been but little improved upon up to the present t hour.

Syndicate content