CHAPTER XXVI. RECENT AERONAUTICAL EVENTS.
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. On the evening of the third day the monster craft was skilfully and successfully manoeuvred, and, rising with a very light wind, got fairly away, carrying Count Zeppelin and four other persons in the two cars. Drifting with the wind, it attained a height of some 800 or 900 feet, at which point the steering apparatus being brought into play it circled round and faced the wind, when it remained stationary. But not for long. Shortly it began to descend and, sinking gradually, gracefully, and in perfect safety, in about nine minutes it reached and rested on the water, when it was towed home.
A little later in the month, July, another trial was made, when a wind was blowing estimated at sixteen miles an hour. As on the previous occasion, the direct influence of the sun was avoided by waiting till evening hours. It ascended at 8 p.m., and the engines getting to work it made a slow progress of about two miles an hour against the wind for about 3 1/2 miles, when one of the rudders gave way, and the machine was obliged to descend.
On the evening of October 24th of the same year, in very calm weather and with better hope, another ascent was made. On this occasion, however, success was frustrated by one of the rear rudders getting foul of the gear, followed by the escape of gas from one of the balloons.
Another and more successful trial took place in the same month, again in calm atmosphere. Inferior gas was employed, and it would appear that the vessel had not sufficient buoyancy. It remained aloft for a period of twenty minutes, during which it proved perfectly manageable, making a graceful journey out and home, and returning close to its point of departure. This magnificent air ship, the result of twenty years of experiment, has since been abandoned and broken up; yet the sacrifice has not been without result. Over and above the stimulus which Count Zeppelin's great endeavour has given to the aeronautical world, two special triumphs are his. He has shown balloonists how to make a perfectly gas-tight material, and has raised powerful petroleum motors in a balloon with safety.
In the early part of 1900 it was announced that a member of the Paris Aero Club, who at the time withheld his name (M. Deutsch) offered a prize of 100,000 francs to the aeronaut who, either in a balloon or flying machine, starting from the grounds of the Aero Club at Longchamps, would make a journey round the Eiffel Tower, returning to the starting place within half an hour. The donor would withdraw his prize if not won within five years, and in the meanwhile would pay 4,000 francs annually towards the encouragement of worthy experimenters.
It was from this time that flying machines in great variety and goodly number began to be heard of, if not actually seen. One of the earliest to be announced in the Press was a machine invented by the Russian, Feedoroff, and the Frenchman, Dupont. Dr. Danilewsky came forward with a flying machine combining balloon and aeroplane, the steering of which would be worked like a velocipede by the feet of the aeronaut.
Mr. P. Y. Alexander, of Bath, who had long been an enthusiastic balloonist, and who had devoted a vast amount of pains, originality, and engineering skill to the pursuit of aeronautics, was at this time giving much attention to the flying machine, and was, indeed, one of the assistants in the first successful launching of the Zeppelin airship. In concert with Mr. W. G. Walker, A.M.I.C.E., Mr. Alexander carried out some valuable and exhaustive experiments on the lifting power of air propellers, 30 feet in diameter, driven by a portable engine. The results, which were of a purely technical nature, have been embodied in a carefully compiled memoir.
An air ship now appeared, invented by M. Rose, consisting of two elongated vessels filled with gas, and carrying the working gear and car between them. The machine was intentionally made heavier than air, and was operated by a petrol motor of 12-horse power.
It was now that announcements began to be made to the effect that, next to the Zeppelin air ship, M. Santos Dumont's balloon was probably attracting most of the attention of experts. The account given of this air vessel] by the Daily Express was somewhat startling. The balloon proper was compared to a large torpedo. Three feet beneath this hangs the gasoline motor which is to supply the power. The propeller is 12 feet in diameter, and is revolved so rapidly by the motor that the engine frequently gets red hot. The only accommodation for the traveller is a little bicycle seat, from which the aeronaut will direct his motor and steering gear by means of treadles. Then the inclination or declination of his machine must be noted on the spirit level at his side, and the 200 odd pounds of ballast must be regulated as the course requires.
A more detailed account of this navigable balloon was furnished by a member of the Paris Aero Club. From this authority we learn that the capacity of the balloon was 10,700 cubic feet. It contained an inner balloon and an air fan, the function of which was to maintain the shape of the balloon when meeting the wind, and the whole was operated by a 10-horse power motor capable of working the screw at 100 revolutions per minute.