Tag Archives: Lighter-Than-Air

24 September 1852

Henri Giffard (Deveaux, 1863)
Portrait de M. Henri Giffard, ingénieur. (Jacques-Martial Deveaux, 1863)

24 September 1852: French engineer Baptiste Henri Jacques Giffard (1825–1882 ) flew his hydrogen-filled dirigible, powered be a 3-horsepower steam engine, 17 miles (27 kilometers) from the Paris Hippodrome to Trappes in about three hours. During the flight he maneuvered the airship, demonstrating control.

The Giffard Dirigible (French: “directable”) consisted of an envelope 44.00 meters (144 feet, 4 inches) in length, 10 meters (32 feet, 10 inches) in diameter, and had a volume of 2,500 cubic meters (88,300 cubic feet). The envelope was filled with coal gas. A one-cylinder steam engine fueled with coke turned a 3.3-meter (10 feet, 10 inches) diameter, three-bladed pusher propeller mounted to the underslung gondola. The steam engine weighed just 250 pounds (113 kilograms), and with the boiler and fuel, came to 400 pounds (181 kilograms).

Illustration of Giffard’s dirigible. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

19 September 1902

Stanley Spencer’s airship over London.

19 September 1902:

The New York Times reported:

AN AIRSHIP TRAVELS NEARLY THIRTY MILES

Stanley Spencer, the Aeronaut, Astonishes Londoners.

He Starts from the Crystal Palace and Descends Near Harrow—Makes Various Detours.

     LONDON, Sept. 20.—Stanley Spencer, the well-known English aeronaut, yesterday successfully accomplished a remarkable flight over London in an airship of his own invention. It is estimated that his ship traveled nearly thirty miles.

     From the observations of those on the ground, Stanley seemed to have complete control of the vessel. He started from the Crystal Palace at 4:15 o’clock in the afternoon, and descended three hours later near Harrow. The route taken by the aeronaut was over Streatham, Clapham Common and the smoky south side of the metropolis, across the Thames, over the populous Chelsea district, and across Kensington and Earl’s Court out to Harrow. Spencer executed an easy descent at the little village of Eastcote.

     Spencer has recently been experimenting with his vessel at the Crystal Palace. Finding the conditions suitable, he suddenly decided to start on his dangerous voyage yesterday afternoon, and the usual crown of palace spectators gave him a hearty send-off. The airship at once rose to a height of about 300 feet. After traveling for about a mile with practically no deviation in course, Spencer made various detours, and seemed able to steer his ship as easily as a torpedo boat. Near Clapham Common he came fairly close to the ground for the purpose of manoeuvring. The appearance of the air craft created intense astonishment among the thousands of persons in the streets over whose heads the aeronaut passed.

      Pericval Spencer, referring to his brother’s trip, said it exceeded the longest trip of Santos-Dumont by nearly twenty miles.

     Spencer’s airship has a blunt nose and tail, and does not taper to a cigar-like point, like the airships of Santos-Dumont. In general outline it has the appearance of a whale. The bag, which is seventy-five feet long, contains 20,000 cubic feet of hydrogen. The frame is built of bamboo, and the propeller is in front, instead of behind, as is the case with Santos-Dumont’s vessels.

     The motive power of Spencer’s machine is a petroleum motor of about 30 horse power, and the machinery is controlled by electric buttons. The extreme speed of the new airship in calm weather is about fifteen miles an hour.

     The machine accommodates only one person, and its entire weight is about 600 pounds. Special features of the airship are devices to avoid pitching and dipping.

_______

     Stanley Spencer is the aeronaut who, on Sept. 15, 1898, made an ascension from the Crystal Palace, and afterward claimed that he had reached the highest elevation that had yest been attained.

     Scientists denied his assertion, pointing out that Coxwell and Glaisher, in September, 1862, reached an altitude of 37,000 feet, while Mr. Spencer only claimed that he had reached an altitude of 27,500 feet.

The New York Times, 20 September 1902

Mr. Stanley Spencer, with his family.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

14–18 September 1984

Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. (Joe Kittinger collection)
Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., after setting an FAI World Record for Distance, Montenette, Italy, 18 September 1984. His deflated Yost GB55 helium balloon lies on the ground. (Joseph W. Kittinger Collection)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)
Yost Mfg. Co. GB55 helium balloon, N53NY, being prepared at Caribou, Maine, 14 September 1984 (Orlando Sentinel)

14–18 September 1984: Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger II, United States Air Force (Retired), lifted of from Caribou, Maine, at the extreme northeast corner of the United States, aboard Rosie O’Grady’s Balloon of Peace, a 3,000-cubic-meter Yost GB55 helium-filled balloon, registered N53NY. 86 hours later, he came rest at Montenotte, Italy, having completed the very first solo transatlantic balloon flight.

Kittinger established four Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Distance, having travelled 5,703.03 kilometers (3,543.70 miles).¹ These records still stand.

This was not the first time Joe Kittinger had ascended in a balloon. The previous year he had set two FAI distance records, covering 3,221.23 kilometers (2,001.58 miles) from Las Vegas, Nevada to Farmersville, New York.² But he is best known for his historic high-altitude balloon flights. On 2 June 1957, Joe Kittinger rode the Project MAN-HIGH I balloon to an altitude of 97,760 feet (29,490 meters). One 16 August 1960, aboard Excelsior III, Kittinger reached 102,800 feet (31,333 meters). He then stepped out of the gondola and began the longest free-fall parachute descent attempted.

During the Vietnam War, Joe Kittinger flew 483 combat missions during three tours. He shot down one enemy MiG-21 fighter, and was later himself shot down. He was captured and held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton for 11 months.

Joseph William Kittinger II
Joseph William Kittinger II, 1999. (MSGT Dave Nolan, United States Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 1045, 1046, 1047 and 1048

² FAI Record File Numbers 1013, 1014

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

18 September 1928

Graf Zeppelin over the airship hangars at Firedrichshafen. (The Lothians collection)
Graf Zeppelin over the airship hangars at Friedrichshafen. (The Lothians collection)

18 September 1928: The rigid airship, Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, made its first flight at Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH (the Zeppelin Airship Company). The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

LZ 127 was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

During the next nine years, Graf Zeppelin made 590 flights, including an around the world flight, and carried more than 13,000 passengers. It is estimated that it flew more than 1,000,000 miles. After the Hindenburg accident, it was decided to replace the hydrogen buoyancy gas with non-flammable helium. However, the United States government refused to allow the gas to be exported to Germany. With no other source for helium, in June 1938, Graf Zeppelin was deflated and placed in storage.

In his excellent history of the Royal Air Force leading up to the Battle of Britain, Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, describes how Germany used Graf Zeppelin for reconnaissance missions, occasionally overflying the British Isles in poor weather due to “navigational errors.” The airship was scouting for radar sites and RAF radio frequencies. (This airship may have been Graf Zeppelin II, LZ 130.)

Both airships were scrapped and their duralumin structures salvaged.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

23–26 August 1929

Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 August 1929. (M.J. Ford)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (18xx—1954)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (1868—1954)

The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, 8 August 1929, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first aerial circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company. The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

LZ-127was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.
A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

After refueling at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station, Tokyo, Japan, Graf Zeppelin started east across the Pacific Ocean on 23 August, enroute to Los Angeles, California. This leg crossed 5,998 miles (9,653 kilometers) in 79 hours, 3 minutes. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean.

LZ 127 arrived at Mines Field (now, LAX) at 1:50 a.m., 26 August 1929. There were an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside.
Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside. (M.J. Ford)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes