CHAPTER XI. The Semi-rigid Air-ship
Modern air-ships are of three general types: RIGID, SEMI-RIGID, and NON-RIGID. These differ from one another, as the names suggest, in the important feature, the RIGIDITY, NON-RIGIDITY, and PARTIAL RIGIDITY of the gas envelope.
Hitherto we have discussed the RIGID type of vessel with which the name of Count Zeppelin is so closely associated. This vessel is, as we have seen, not dependent for its form on the gas-bag, but is maintained in permanent shape by means of an aluminium framework. A serious disadvantage to this type of craft is that it lacks the portability necessary for military purposes. It is true that the vessel can be taken to pieces, but not quickly. The NON-RIGID type, on the other hand, can be quickly deflated, and the parts of the car and engine can be readily transported to the nearest balloon station when occasion requires.
In the SEMI-RIGID type of air-ship the vessel is dependent for its form partly on its framework and partly on the form of the gas envelope. The under side of the balloon consists of a flat rigid framework, to which the planes are attached, and from which the car, the engine, and propeller are suspended.
As the rigid type of dirigible is chiefly advocated in Germany, so the semi-rigid craft is most popular in France. The famous Lebaudy air-ships are good types of semi-rigid vessels. These were designed for the firm of Lebaudy Freres by the well-known French engineer M. Henri Julliot.
In November, 1902, M. Julliot and M. Surcouf completed an air-ship for M. Lebaudy which attained a speed of nearly 25 miles an hour. The craft, which was named Lebaudy I, made many successful voyages, and in 1905 M. Lebaudy offered a second vessel, Lebaudy II, to the French Minister of War, who accepted it for the French nation, and afterwards decided to order another dirigible, La Patrie, of the same type. Disaster, however, followed these air-ships. Lebaudy I was torn from its anchorage during a heavy gale in 1906, and was completely wrecked. La Patrie, after travelling in 1907 from Paris to Verdun, in seven hours, was, a few days later, caught in a gale, and the pilot was forced to descend. The wind, however, was so strong that 200 soldiers were unable to hold down the unwieldy craft, and it was torn from their hands. It sailed away in a north-westerly direction over the Channel into England, and ultimately disappeared into the North Sea, where it was subsequently discovered some days after the accident.
Notwithstanding these disasters the French military authorities ordered another craft of the same type, which was afterwards named the Republique. This vessel made a magnificent flight of six and a half hours in 1908, and it was considered to have quite exceptional features, which eclipsed the previous efforts of Messrs. Julliot and Lebaudy.
Unfortunately, however, this vessel was wrecked in a very terrible manner. While out cruising with a crew of four officers one of the propeller blades was suddenly fractured, and, flying off with immense force, it entered the balloon, which it ripped to pieces. The majestic craft crumpled up and crashed to the ground, killing its crew in its fall.
In the illustration facing p. 17, of a Lebaudy air-ship, we have a good type of the semi-rigid craft. In shape it somewhat resembles an enormous porpoise, with a sharply-pointed nose. The whole vessel is not as symmetrical as a Zeppelin dirigible, but its inventors claim that the sharp prow facilitates the steady displace ment of the air during flight. The stern is rounded so as to provide sufficient support for the rear planes.
Two propellers are employed, and are fixed outside the car, one on each side, and almost in the centre of the vessel. This is a some what unusual arrangement. Some inventors, such as Mr. Spencer, place the propellers at the prow, so that the air-ship is DRAWN along; others prefer the propeller at the stern, whereby the craft is PUSHED along; but M. Julliot chose the central position, because there the disturbance of the air is smallest.
The body of the balloon is not quite round, for the lower part is flattened and rests on a rigid frame from which the car is suspended. The balloon is divided into three compartments, so that the heavier air does not move to one part of the balloon when it is tilted.
In the picture there is shown the petrol storage-tank, which is suspended immediately under the rear horizontal plane, where it is out of danger of ignition from the hot engine placed in the car.