CHAPTER XXIX. CONCLUSION.
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.
It is, however, conceivable that a superior mode of inflation may yet be discovered. Now that the liquefaction of gases has become an accomplished fact, it seems almost theoretically possible that a balloonist may presently be able to provide himself with an unlimited reserve of potential energy so as to be fitted for travel of indefinite duration. Endowed with increased powers of this nature, the aeronaut could utilise a balloon for voyages of discovery over regions of the earth which bar man's progress by any other mode of travel. A future Andree, provided with a means of maintaining his gas supply for six weeks, need have no hesitation in laying his course towards the North Pole, being confident that the winds must ultimately waft him to some safe haven. He could, indeed, well afford, having reached the Pole, to descend and build his cairn, or even to stop a week, if he so desired, before continuing on his way.
But it may fairly be claimed for the balloon, even as it now is, that a great and important future is open to it as a means for exploring inaccessible country. It may, indeed, be urged that Andree's task was, in the very nature of the case, well nigh impracticable, and his unfortunate miscarriage will be used as argument against such a method of exploration. But it must always be remembered that in Andree's case the rigours of climate which he was compelled to face were the most serious of all obstacles to balloon travel. The extreme cold would not only cause constant shrinkage of the gas, but would entail the deposition of a weight of moisture, if not of snow, upon the surface of the balloon, which must greatly shorten its life.
It would be entirely otherwise if the country it were sought to explore were in lower latitudes, in Australia, or within the vast unknown belt of earth lying nearer the equator. The writer's scheme for exploring the wholly unknown regions of Arabia is already before the public. The fact, thought to be established by the most experienced aeronauts of old times, and already referred to in these pages, that at some height a strong west wind is to be found blowing with great constancy all round the globe, is in accordance with the view entertained by modern meteorologists. Such a wind, too, may be expected to be a fairly fast wind, the calculation being that, as a general rule, the velocity of currents increases from the ground at the rate of about three miles per hour for each thousand feet of height; thus the chance of a balloon drifting speedily across the breadth of Arabia is a strong one, and, regarded in this light, the distance to be traversed is certainly not excessive, being probably well within the lasting power of such a balloon as that employed by Andree. If, for the sake of gas supply, Aden were chosen for the starting ground, then 1,200 miles E.N.E. would carry the voyager to Muscat; 1,100 miles N.E. by E. would land him at Sohar; while some 800 miles would suffice to take him to the seaboard if his course lay N.E. It must also be borne in mind that the Arabian sun by day, and the heat radiated off the desert by night, would be all in favour of the buoyancy of the balloon.
But there are other persistent winds that, for purposes of exploration, would prove equally serviceable and sure. From time immemorial the dweller on the Nile has been led to regard his river in the light of a benignant deity. If he wished to travel down its course he had but to entrust his vessel to the stream, and this would carry him. If, again, he wished to retrace his course, he had but to raise a sail, and the prevalent wind, conquering the flood, would bear him against the stream. This constant north wind, following the Nile valley, and thence trending still southward towards Uganda, has been regarded as a means to hand well adapted for the exploration of important unsurveyed country by balloon. This scheme has been conceived and elaborated by Major B.F.S. Baden-Powell, and, so far, the only apparent obstacle in the way has proved the lack of necessary funds.
It will be urged, however, that for purposes of exploration some form of dirigible balloon is desirable, and we have already had proof that where it is not sought to combat winds strongly opposed to their course such air ships as Santos-Dumont or Messrs. Spencer have already constructed acquit themselves well; and it requires no stretch of imagination to conceive that before the present century is closed many great gaps in the map of the world will have been filled in by aerial survey.
But, leaving the balloon to its proper function, we turn to the flying machine properly so called with more sanguine hopes of seeing the real conquest of the air achieved. It was as it were but yesterday when the air ship, unhampered by huge globes of gas, and controlled by mechanical means alone, was first fairly tried, yet it is already considered by those best able to judge that its ultimate success is assured.