Little Bits of History

Dirigible

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 6, 2013
R34  docking

R34 docking

July 6, 1919: The R34 arrives in Mineola, Long Island, New York, the first east-to-west crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by air. There is speculation about pre-Columbian crossings of the Atlantic. The Vikings landed in Canada settling in a few non-permanent villages on Newfoundland. Columbus sailed in 1492 hoping to reach China and ran into already populated lands. Until the 19th century, sailing across the ocean was perilous. Steamships made the journey faster and safer. And then mankind took to the air.

Airships or dirigibles are lighter-than-air craft. They can be powered or unpowered. They can be non-rigid, semi-rigid, or rigid. Hot air balloons led to the development of an airship. First presented in a French paper in 1783, they were first powered by a propeller in 1784. More refinements, technological advances, and sheer nerve allowed for an English Channel crossing in 1785. Further improvements followed to both the airship structure and the propulsion system.

The Golden Age of Airships began in July 1900 when the Germans launched the first rigid airship, the Zeppelin. The airships proved somewhat useful during World War I with the silent, slow ships being better suited to reconnaissance than bombing runs. The ships became less popular after the war until it was thought to use them for transatlantic transportation. The British RAF had engineered two airships based on the captured remains of a crashed L33 Zeppelin. The R33 made her first flight on March 6, 1919 with the R34 launched on March 14.

On June 17 the R34 made her first endurance trip and flew over the Baltic Sea, staying in the air for 56 hours. It was decided to try an Atlantic crossing. There were no provisions for passengers as the ship was not designed for them. Hammocks were placed in the keel hallway and food was cooked over the engine exhaust pipe. It took 108 hours to cross the ocean and no one on land knew how to tether the rigid airship. Major E.M. Pritchard parachuted to the ground to help secure the ship. He thus became the first person to traverse the Atlantic Ocean, nonstop, by air. The ship was out of fuel by the time she was docked. The return trip to England, with a tailwind to help, took 75 hours.

“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” – Mary Tyler Moore

“Life is like a hand of cards. You have to play the hand you’re dealt, you can’t win by folding, and sometimes you must take chances in order to win.” – Mike Conner

“It is better to err on the side of daring than the side of caution.” – Alvin Toffler

“Wherever there is danger, there lurks opportunity; whenever there is opportunity, there lurks danger. The two are inseparable. They go together.” – Earl Nightingale

This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin was a German general and later an aircraft manufacturer. He first mentioned creating a large dirigible in a diary entry dated March 25, 1874. He kept his dream alive while still serving in the army. However, he retired at the age of 52 in 1891 so that he could devote his time to the building of these large craft. He hired engineer Theodor Gross to help and by June he wrote to the King of Wurtemberg’s secretary announcing his plans to begin construction. After discovering his underestimation of the force of air resistance, he almost quit, but with his urging, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft were able to build a more efficient engine. With more help from many others, Zeppelin received a patent for an “airship-train” in August 1895. This “train” was of rigid construction consisting of three sections.  The first flight was finally taken on July 2, 1900 when LZ1 powered itself over Lake Constance in southern Germany.

Also on this day: The Greatest Show on Earth – In 1944, the Hartford Circus Fire kills over 100 attendees at the circus.
Rabidly Scientific – In 1865, Louis Pasteur begins the first series of rabies shots.
Homestead Strike – In 1892, violence broke out during the strike.

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