II. THE FIRST DIRIGIBLES

Having got off the earth, the very early balloonists set about the task of finding a means of navigating the air but, lacking steam or other accessory power to human muscle, they failed to solve the problem. Joseph Montgolfier speedily exploded the idea of propelling a balloon either by means of oars or sails, pointing out that even in a dead calm a speed of five miles an hour would be the limit achieved. Still, sailing balloons were constructed, even up to the time of Andree, the explorer, who proposed to retard the speed of the balloon by ropes dragging on the ground, and then to spread a sail which should catch the wind and permit of deviation of the course. It has been proved that slight divergences from the course of the wind can be obtained by this means, but no real navigation of the air could be thus accomplished.

Professor Wellner, of Brunn, brought up the idea of a sailing balloon in more practical fashion in 1883. He observed that surfaces inclined to the horizontal have a slight lateral motion in rising and falling, and deduced that by alternate lowering and raising of such surfaces he would be able to navigate the air, regulating ascent and descent by increasing or decreasing the temperature of his buoyant medium in the balloon. He calculated that a balloon, 50 feet in diameter and 150 feet in length, with a vertical surface in front and a horizontal surface behind, might be navigated at a speed of ten miles per hour, and in actual tests at Brunn he proved that a single rise and fall moved the balloon three miles against the wind. His ideas were further developed by Lebaudy in the construction of the early French dirigibles.

According to Hildebrandt,[*] the first sailing balloon was built in 1784 by Guyot, who made his balloon egg-shaped, with the smaller end at the back and the longer axis horizontal; oars were intended to propel the craft, and naturally it was a failure. Carra proposed the use of paddle wheels, a step in the right direction, by mounting them on the sides of the car, but the improvement was only slight. Guyton de Morveau, entrusted by the Academy of Dijon with the building of a sailing balloon, first used a vertical rudder at the rear end of his construction - it survives in the modern dirigible. His construction included sails and oars, but, lacking steam or other than human propulsive power, the airship was a failure equally with Guyot's.

[*] Airships Past and Present.

Two priests, Miollan and Janinet, proposed to drive balloons through the air by the forcible expulsion of the hot air in the envelope from the rear of the balloon. An opening was made about half-way up the envelope, through which the hot air was to escape, buoyancy being maintained by a pan of combustibles in the car. Unfortunately, this development of the Montgolfier type never got a trial, for those who were to be spectators of the first flight grew exasperated at successive delays, and in the end, thinking that the balloon would never rise, they destroyed it.

Meusnier, a French general, first conceived the idea of compensating for loss of gas by carrying an air bag inside the balloon, in order to maintain the full expansion of the envelope. The brothers Robert constructed the first balloon in which this was tried and placed the air bag near the neck of the balloon which was intended to be driven by oars, and steered by a rudder. A violent swirl of wind which was encountered on the first ascent tore away the oars and rudder and broke the ropes which held the air bag in position; the bag fell into the opening of the neck and stopped it up, preventing the escape of gas under expansion. The Duc de Chartres, who was aboard, realised the extreme danger of the envelope bursting as the balloon ascended, and at 16,000 feet he thrust a staff through the envelope - another account says that he slit it with his sword - and thus prevented disaster. The descent after this rip in the fabric was swift, but the passengers got off without injury in the landing.

Meusnier, experimenting in various ways, experimented with regard to the resistance offered by various shapes to the air, and found that an elliptical shape was best; he proposed to make the car boat - shaped, in order further to decrease the resistance, and he advocated an entirely rigid connection between the car and the body of the balloon, as indispensable to a dirigible.[*] He suggested using three propellers, which were to be driven by hand by means of pulleys, and calculated that a crew of eighty would be required to furnish sufficient motive power. Horizontal fins were to be used to assure stability, and Meusnier thoroughly investigated the pressures exerted by gases, in order to ascertain the stresses to which the envelope would be subjected. More important still, he went into detail with regard to the use of air bags, in order to retain the shape of the balloon under varying pressures of gas due to expansion and consequent losses; he proposed two separate envelopes, the inner one containing gas, and the space between it and the outer one being filled with air. Further, by compressing the air inside the air bag, the rate of ascent or descent could be regulated. Lebaudy, acting on this principle, found it possible to pump air at the rate of 35 cubic feet per second, thus making good loss of ballast which had to be thrown overboard.

[*] Hildebrandt.