CHAPTER VII. Some British Inventors of Air-ships
The huge balloon was 43 feet in diameter and 176 feet long, with a gas capacity of 235,000 cubic feet. To maintain the external form of the envelope a smaller balloon, or compensator, was placed inside the larger one. The framework was of bamboo, and the car was attached by about eighty wire-cables. The wooden deck was about 123 feet in length. Two 50-horse-power engines drove four propellers, two of which were at either end.
The inventor employed a most ingenious contrivance to preserve the horizontal balance of the air-ship. Fitted, one at each end of the carriage, were two 50-gallon tanks. These tanks were connected with a long pipe, in the centre of which was a hand-pump. When the bow of the air-ship dipped, the man at the pump could transfer some of the water from the fore-tank to the after-tank, and the ship would right itself. The water could similarly be transferred from the after-tank to the fore-tank when the stern of the craft pointed downwards.
There were many reports, in the early months of 1905, that the air-ship was going to be brought out from the shed for its trial flights, and the writer, in common with many other residents in the vicinity of the park, made dozens of journeys to the shed in the expectation of seeing the mighty dirigible sail away. But for months we were doomed to disappointment; something always seemed to go wrong at the last minute, and the flight had to be postponed.
At last, in 1905, the first ascent took place. It was unsuccessful. The huge balloon, made of tussore silk, cruised about for some time, then drifted away with the breeze, and came to grief in landing.
A clever inventor of air-ships, a young Welshman, Mr. E. T. Willows, designed in 1910, an air-ship in which he flew from Cardiff to London in the dark - a distance of 139 miles. In the same craft he crossed the English Channel a little later.
Mr. Willows has a large shed in the London aerodrome at Hendon, and he is at present working there on a new air-ship. For some time he has been the only successful private builder of air-ships in Great Britain. The Navy possess a small Willows air-ship.
Messrs. Vickers, the famous builders of battleships, are giving attention to the construction of air-ships for the Navy, in their works at Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness. This firm has erected an enormous shed, 540 feet long, 150 feet broad, and 98 feet high. In this shed two of the largest air-ships can be built side by side. Close at hand is an extensive factory for the production of hydrogen gas.
At each end of the roof are towers from which the difficult task of safely removing an air-ship from the shed can be directed.
At the time of writing, the redoubtable DORA (Defence of the Realm Act) forbids any but the vaguest references to what is going forward in the way of additions to our air forces. But it may be stated that air-ships are included in the great constructive programme now being carried out. It is not long since the citizens of Glasgow were treated to the spectacle of a full-sized British "Zep" circling round the city prior to her journey south, and so to regions unspecified. And use, too, is being found by the naval arm for that curious hybrid the "Blimp", which may be described as a cross between an aeroplane and an air-ship.