VI. THE AIRSHIP COMMERCIALLY
Prior to the war period, between the years 1910 and 1914, a German undertaking called the Deutsche Luftfahrt Actien Gesellschaft conducted a commercial Zeppelin service in which four airships known as the Sachsan, Hansa, Victoria Louise, and Schwaben were used. During the four years of its work, the company carried over 17,000 passengers, and over 100,000 miles were flown without incurring one fatality and with only minor and unavoidable accidents to the vessels composing the service. Although a number of English notabilities made voyages in these airships, the success of this only experiment in commercial aerostation seems to have been forgotten since the war. There was beyond doubt a military aim in this apparently peaceful use of Zeppelin airships; it is past question now that all Germany's mechanical development in respect of land sea, and air transport in the years immediately preceding the war, was accomplished with the ulterior aim of military conquest, but, at the same time, the running of this service afforded proof of the possibility of establishing a dirigible service for peaceful ends, and afforded proof too, of the value of the dirigible as a vessel of purely commercial utility.
In considering the possibility of a commercial dirigible service, it is necessary always to bear in mind the disadvantages of first cost and upkeep as compared with the aeroplane. The building of a modern rigid is an exceedingly costly undertaking, and the provision of an efficient supply of hydrogen gas to keep its compartments filled is a very large item in upkeep of which the heavier-than-air machine goes free. Yet the future of commercial aeronautics so far would seem to lie with the dirigible where very long voyages are in question. No matter how the aeroplane may be improved, the possibility of engine failure always remains as a danger for work over water. In seaplane or flying boat form, the danger is still present in a rough sea, though in the American Transatlantic flight, N.C.3, taxi-ing 300 miles to the Azores after having fallen to the water, proved that this danger is not so acute as is generally assumed. Yet the multiple-engined rigid, as R.34 showed on her return voyage, may have part of her power plant put out of action altogether and still complete her voyage very successfully, which, in the case of mail carrying and services run strictly to time, gives her an enormous advantage over the heavier-than-air machine.
'For commercial purposes,' General Sykes has remarked, 'the airship is eminently adapted for long distance journeys involving non-stop flights. It has this inherent advantage over the aeroplane, that while there appears to be a limit to the range of the aeroplane as at present constructed, there is practically no limit whatever to that of the airship, as this can be overcome by merely increasing the size. It thus appears that for such journeys as crossing the Atlantic, or crossing the Pacific from the west coast of America to Australia or Japan, the airship will be peculiarly suitable. It having been conceded that the scope of the airship is long distance travel, the only type which need be considered for this purpose is the rigid. The rigid airship is still in an embryonic state, but sufficient has already been accomplished in this country, and more particularly in Germany, to show that with increased capacity there is no reason why, within a few years' time, airships should not be built capable of completing the circuit of the globe and of conveying sufficient passengers and merchandise to render such an undertaking a paying proposition.'
The British R.38 class, embodying the latest improvements in airship design outside Germany, gives a gross lift per airship of 85 tons and a net lift of about 45 tons. The capacity of the gas bags is about two and three-quarter million cubic feet, and, travelling at the rate of 45 miles per hour, the cruising range of the vessel is estimated at 8.8 days. Six engines, each of 350 horse-power, admit of an extreme speed of 70 miles per hour if necessary.
The last word in German design is exemplified in the rigids L.70 and L.71, together with the commercial airship 'Bodensee.' Previous to the construction of these, the L.65 type is noteworthy as being the first Zeppelin in which direct drive of the propeller was introduced, together with an improved and lighter type of car. L.70 built in 1918 and destroyed by the British naval forces, had a speed of about 75 miles per hour; L.71 had a maximum speed of 72 miles per hour, a gas bag capacity of 2,420,000 cubic feet, and a length of 743 feet, while the total lift was 73 tons. Progress in design is best shown by the progress in useful load; in the L.70 and L.71 class, this has been increased to 58.3 per cent, while in the Bodensee it was ever higher.
As was shown in R.34's American flight, the main problem in connection with the commercial use of dirigibles is that of mooring in the open. The nearest to a solution of this problem, so far, consists in the mast carrying a swivelling cap; this has been tried in the British service with a non-rigid airship, which was attached to a mast in open country in a gale of 52 miles an hour without the slightest damage to the airship. In its commercial form, the mast would probably take the form of a tower, at the top of which the cap would revolve so that the airship should always face the wind, the tower being used for embarkation and disembarkation of passengers and the provision of fuel and gas. Such a system would render sheds unnecessary except in case of repairs, and would enormously decrease the establishment charges of any commercial airship.
All this, however, is hypothetical. Remains the airship of to-day, developed far beyond the promise of five years ago, capable, as has been proved by its achievements both in Britain and in Germany, of undertaking practically any given voyage with success.