Aeronautics

In the autumn of 1898 the aeronautical world was interested to hear that a young Brazilian, M. Santos Dumont, had completed a somewhat novel dirigible balloon, cylindrical in shape, with conical ends, 83 feet long by 12 feet in diameter, holding 6,500 cubic feet of gas, and having a small compensating balloon of 880 cubic feet capacity.

Resuming the roll of progressive aeronauts in England whose labours were devoted to the practical conquest of the air, and whose methods and mechanical achievements mark the road of advance by which the successes of to-day have been obtained, there stand out prominently two individuals, of whom one has already received mention in these pages.

The first trial of the Zeppelin air ship was arranged to take place on June 30th, 1900, a day which, from absence of wind, was eminently well suited for the purpose; but the inflation proved too slow a process, and operations were postponed to the morrow. The morrow, however, was somewhat windy, causing delay, and by the time all was in readiness darkness had set in and the start was once more postponed.

At this point we must, for a brief while, drop the history of the famous aeronaut whose early career we have been briefly sketching in the last chapter, and turn our attention to a new feature of English ballooning. We have, at last, to record some genuinely scientific ascents, which our country now, all too tardily, instituted. It was the British Association that took the initiative, and the two men they chose for their purpose were both exceptionally qualified for the task they had in hand.

Clearly the time has not yet arrived when the flying machine will be serviceable in war. Yet we are not without those theorisers who, at the present moment, would seriously propose schemes for conveying dynamite and other explosives by air ship, or dropping them over hostile forces or fortresses, or even fleets at sea. They go yet further, and gravely discuss the point whether such warfare would be legitimate. We, however, may say at once, emphatically, that any such scheme is simply impracticable.

Mention should be made in these pages of a night sail of a hundred miles, boldly carried out in 1849 by M. Arban, which took the voyager from Marseilles to Turin fairly over the Alps.

Some fair idea of the conditions prevailing in the upper air may have been gathered from the many and various observations already recorded. Stating the case broadly, we may assert that the same atmospheric changes with which we are familiar at the level of the earth are to be found also at all accessible heights, equally extensive and equally sudden.

It was the year 1862, and the scientific world in England determined once again on attempting observational work in connection with balloons. There had been a meeting of the British Association at Wolverhampton, and, under their auspices, and with the professional services of Thomas Lythgoe, Mr. Creswick, of Greenwich Observatory, was commissioned to make a lofty scientific ascent with a Cremorne balloon. The attempt, however, was unsatisfactory; and the balloon being condemned, an application was made to Mr. Coxwell to provide a suitable craft, and to undertake its management.

The future development of aerostation is necessarily difficult to forecast. Having reviewed its history from its inception we have to allow that the balloon in itself, as an instrument of aerial locomotion, remains practically only where it was 120 years ago. Nor, in the nature of the case, is this to be wondered at. The wind, which alone guides the balloon, is beyond man's control, while, as a source of lifting power, a lighter and therefore more suitable gas than hydrogen is not to be found in nature.

Mr. Glaisher's instrumental outfit was on an elaborate and costly scale, and the programme of experimental work drawn up for him by the Committee of the British Association did not err on the side of too much modesty. In the first place the temperature and moisture of the atmosphere were to be examined. Observations on mountain sides had determined that thermometers showed a decrease of 1 degree F. for every 300 feet, and the accuracy of this law was particularly to be tested. Also, investigations were to be made as to the distribution of vapour below the clouds, in them, and above them.

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