Little Bits of History

September 24

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 24, 2017

1852: Henri Giffard flies. The French engineer was born in 1825, in Paris. He invented a steam injector engine to power his airship. This type of engine pushed cold water into a boiler against its own pressure and used its own exhaust as power. While this seems to be a perpetual motion machine, thermodynamics holds the explanation. His airship or dirigible weight over 400 pounds and was the world’s first passenger carrying airship. His engine was able to deliver 3 hp and made the craft steerable. On this day he traveled from Paris to Elancourt, but was unable to return because he did not have enough power to drive against the wind. The 18 miles journey was able to prove the craft could make turns and was under his control.

In 1670, Jesuit priest Francesco Lana de Terzi, proposed a theoretical airship for the first time. His ship had four copper spheres completely emptied of air which would raise the ship. This was never built and still cannot be built today because the spheres would collapse from air pressure unless they were so thick, the ship would be too heavy to lift. The theory, however, remains possible. Others kept trying to come up with a way for mankind to fly.  There are rigid, semi-rigid, and non-rigid airships today and all of them must have certain components to be classified as an airship. They must have an envelope in which lifting gas is contained. They must also have a gondola for the crew and passengers and there must be a propulsion system which can be controlled.

Rigid airships have a rigid framework and can be built to any size. Semi-rigid ships have some supporting structure but the main envelope is held in shape by internal pressure. Non-rigid airships are called blimps and rely entirely on internal pressure to keep the envelope expanded. It can have only one envelope, unlike the other two types which can have compartmentalized envelopes. Blimps usually have “ballonets” containing air which are filled at sea level, but that air is expelled at altitude via pressure valves. The process is reversed while landing.

After Giffard’s success, improvements in airships was swift. A decade later, Solomon Andrews offered his newer design to the US for use in the Civil War. More experimentation changed the way lift was used to help provide propulsion. Twenty years after Giffard’s steam engine worked, Paul Haenlein included an internal combustion engine in his ship.  Airships were used in both world wars but since then they are no longer used for major cargo or passenger transport. Giffard was appointed a Chevalier in the Legion d’honneur in 1863. His eyesight failed as he aged and as a response to this, he committed suicide in 1882 at the age of 58. He left his estate to France for humanitarian and scientific purposes.

The sky is an infinite movie to me. I never get tired of looking at what’s happening up there. – K. D. Lang

Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work. – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky. – Bob Dylan

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet. – Rumi




Not Rigid Airship

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 24, 2014
Broken airship

Broken airship

September 24, 1911: His Majesty’s Airship No. 1 doesn’t take off. Designed and built by Vickers, Sons and Maxim in Cumbria, England for the British Royal Navy, the ship was the first rigid airship built in the country. It was to compete with the dominance of the German airship program. The ship was called Mayfly by the noncommissioned naval crew assigned to her. Public records show her designation as HMA Hermione because the naval contingent was stationed at Barrow aboard HMS Hermione, the ship assigned as the airship’s tender. Her story began three years earlier when the Royal Navy decided to venture into rigid airships in response to Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s success.

It was decided the Navy could afford £35,000 for the venture but Vickers said they could build the ship for just £28,000, not including the gas-bags and outer covers, which the Admiralty would acquire through private contractors. Vickers would also build a construction shed at their own expense but they would then have a ten year monopoly on airship construction. This was similar to the deal they had brokered with the Crown for submarine construction. Vickers got the contract, but the ten year monopoly line item was refused.

Mayfly was intended to be an aerial scout. There were some differences in the designs between the British and German models. Mayfly was 66 feet longer than LZ 6 with 50% greater volume. The Zeppelins of the time had a useful load of 10,000 pounds and could fly at 37 mph. Vickers’s ship was intended to be moorable on water, carry radio equipment, and have a cruising speed of 46 mph while carrying a crew of 20 comfortably. The mooring was to be via a mast and the Mayfly was the first ship to have the mooring equipment in the nose of the ship. Experimental sections were built and wood seemed preferable for the frame, but the Navy wished it to be made entirely of metal and when duralumin became available, it became the method of choice.

Trials had been held and the airship had been in and out of the Cavendish Dock building. The crew had practiced maneuvers both with getting the ship out of the hanger and with handling in the air. Previous static trials had proved successful. On this day, the Mayfly was being moved from the shed as high winds were blowing. Just as the nose cleared the hangar door, a gust caused the ship to roll onto her beam end and break in two pieces. The crew abandoned ship and there were no fatalities as the wreck was returned to the shed the same day and never flown. Winston Churchill took over as First Lord of the Admiralty in October 1911 and preferred heavier-than-air aircraft. The airship idea was forever grounded.

Altogether, compared with other navies, the British aeroplane service has started very well… I have a less satisfactory account to give of airships. – Winston Churchill

The ‘May-fly’ broke three years ago, and nothing further has been done. In non-rigid airships, Germany has seventeen, and against that we have two very inferior ones and two on order, but we are not doing anything in this respect. – Bolton Eyres-Monsell

The mishap which destroyed theMay-fly, or the Won’t Fly, as it would be more accurate to call it, at Barrow, was a very serious set-back to the development of Admiralty policy in airships. – Winston Churchill

Two crews were used to look after the ship whilst out, as the work was new. They lived on board the airship and suffered no discomfort at all although no provision had been made for cooking or smoking on board. – from the Handbook for HMA No. 1

Also on this day: Powerful Serve; Best Backhand – In 1938, John Donald Budge became the first tennis player to win the Grand Slam of tennis.
Majestic 12 – In 1947, Harry S Truman did not form a secret society.
Devil’s Tower – In 1906, this landmark was declared a National Monument.
Byzantine – In 1180, Manuel I Komnenos died.

Early Aviation

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 4, 2014
USS Shenandoah's final flight

USS Shenandoah‘s final flight

September 4, 1923: USS Shenandoah takes her maiden flight. She was the first of four US Navy rigid airships (blimps). Her original designation was FA-1 which stood for Fleet Airship Number One. It was then changed to ZR-1. She was built at Lakehurst Naval Air Station between 1922-23 in Hangar No.1, the only hangar large enough to accommodate the airship. Lakehurst had been used for Navy blimps for quite some time, but this was the first rigid airship the Navy attempted. She was 680 feet long with a maximum diameter of almost 79 feet. Her height was slightly over 93 feet and she was powered by 300 hp eight-cylinder Packard gasoline engines. Her top speed was 60 knots or 69 mph.

Shenandoah’s design was based on the Zeppelin bomber L-49 (also called LZ-96) which was built in 1917. Many new technologies were used in the construction phase, including many different building materials. To inflate the airbag, Shenandoah was the first airship to use helium rather than hydrogen which gave it a huge safety measure. Helium was scarce and it used much of the world’s reserve to fill the 2.1 million cubic foot volume. Helium sold for $55 per thousand cubic feet and was considered too expensive to simply vent, so the gas powered engines were used with condensers used to capture water vapor to preserve buoyancy.

Today marked her maiden flight. She was christened on October 10 by Mrs. Edwin Denby, the wife of the Secretary of the Navy. She was named for Denby’s home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She was designed for reconnaissance work modeled on the German use of airships during World War I. Her original flights in September and October were test trials for long range flights and airworthiness in rain, fog, and poor visibility. In July 1924, the Patoka became the first modified ship to handle aircraft when a mooring mast and other modifications were made so the airship could moor and replenish supplies. In October, Shenandoah made a trip from Lakehurst to California and on to Washington to test newly erected mooring masts, the first such trip by a rigid airship.

On September 2, 1925, Shenandoah left Lakehurst on a promotional flight to the Midwest which would include flyovers for forty cities and visiting a variety of state fairs. Then next morning, while passing over Ohio, she encountered a line of thunderstorms and turbulence. This was the 57th and last flight of the ship. She was caught in a severe updraft which carried the airship beyond the pressure limits of the helium gas bags. The ship was torn apart and crashed in several pieces near Caldwell, Ohio. Fourteen members of the crew were killed and there were 29 survivors who managed to ride the pieces down to Earth. Many of those who survived were later killed with the loss of the Akron.

Flight is the only truly new sensation than men have achieved in modern history. – James Dickey

Flying without feathers is not easy; my wings have no feathers. – Titus Maccius Plautus

Pilots are a rare kind of human. They leave the ordinary surface of the word, to purify their soul in the sky, and they come down to earth, only after receiving the communion of the infinite. – Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra

Bicycling is the nearest approximation I know to the flight of birds. The airplane simply carries a man on its back like an obedient Pegasus; it gives him no wings of his own. – Louis J. Helle, Jr.

Also on this day: Ginger or Mary Ann? – In 1967, the last Gilligan’s Island show is aired.
Smile – In 1888, George Eastman patented his camera.
Seven Golds – In 1973, Mark Spitz won his seventh Olympic gold medal.
The South – In 1950, the first Southern 500 was held.