Tag Archives: Lighter-Than-Air

18 January 1906

Graf von Zeppelin's LZ 2 at Lake Constance, 1906. (RAF Museum)
Graf von Zeppelin’s LZ 2 at Lake Constance, 1906. (RAF Museum)

17 January 1906: Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin’s second airship, Luftschiff Zeppelin 2, designed by Ludwig Dürr, made its first—and only—flight, at Lake Constance (Bodensee), a large lake at the base of Alps.

Ludwig Dürr (1878–1956)
Ludwig Dürr (1878–1956)

LZ 2 was 127 meters (416 feet, 8 inches) long and 11.70 meters (38 feet, 5 inches) in diameter. It had a volume of 10,400 cubic meters (367,273 cubic feet). The rigid structure was built of triangular-section girders that combined light weight and strength. Hydrogen gas contained in bags inside the airship’s envelope gave it buoyancy.

Ladislas d’Orcy described the airship:

. . . Hull-frame of aluminum-alloy lattice girders, cross-braced by wire stays, and subdivided into compartments for independent gas-cells. No ballonets. Fabric skin. Trim controlled by lifting planes. Cars rigidly connected. Gangway affording passage between the cars.

D’Orcy’s Airship Manual, by Ladislas d’Orcy, M.S.A.E., The Century Company, New York, 1917, at Page 127

The airship was powered by two 85 horsepower Daimler-Motoren-Gesellchaft gasoline-fueled engines designed by Karl Maybach. They turned four three-bladed propellers at 820 r.p.m. It was capable of reaching 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour). The airship’s ceiling was 2,800 feet (853 meters).

L’AÉROPHILE reported:

Une nouvelle sortie—la derniére—eut lieu le jeudi 18 janvier 1906. Parti de son garage et parvenu à 500 mètres environ, le ballon était désemparé, et après avoir passé au-dessus de Raverasburg, Kisslegg et Sommerstadt, venait s’abattre en territoire suisse, à Allgaen. Certains correspondants assurent qu’il était monte par l’inventeur, , des officiers allemands et des hommes d’équipage qui n’eurent pas de mal. Mais, dans la chute, das avaries irréparables se produisirent si bien que le comte Zeppelin, decouragé, ne continuera pas ses essais. ¹

L’AÉROPHILE, 14º Année, Noº 1, Janvier 1906, at Page 32

THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER reported:

AERONAUT’S ILL LUCK.

CABLE TO THE ENQUIRER AND N. Y. HERALD.

(Copyright, 1906, by N. Y. Herald Company.)

     Berlin, January 18.—Count Zeppelin made a second trial to-day with hi snew airship. Starting from Lake Constance, the airship passed over Ravensberg, Kisslegg and Sommersledat and landed at Allgaen. It was seriously damaged in the storm, and further trials will be impossible at present.

THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, Vo. LXIII, No. 10, Friday, 19 January 1906, Page 2. Column 1

An engine failure forced the ship to make an emergency landing close to a small town named Sommersried, Allgäu, in southern Germany, and was so badly damaged by a storm during the night that it had to be scrapped.

Wreckage of LZ 2.
Wreckage of LZ 2.

¹ Google Translation: “A new exit-the last-took place on Thursday, January 18, 1906. From his garage and reached about 500 meters, the balloon was clueless/distraught, and after passing over Raverasburg, Kisslegg and Sommerstadt, came crashing down in Swiss territory, in Allgaen. Some correspondents assert that he was mounted by the inventor, German officers and crewmen who were not hurt. But in the fall, irreparable damage occurred so that Count Zeppelin, discouraged, did not continue his attempts.”

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 January 1793

Jean-Pierre François Blanchard. (Library of Congress)
Jean-Pierre François Blanchard. (Library of Congress)

9 January 1793: At approximately 10:00 a.m., Jean-Pierre François Blanchard ascended from the courtyard of the Walnut Street jail in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, aboard a hydrogen-filled silk balloon. Aboard were various scientific instruments and a small dog.

Blanchard has sold tickets for viewing the balloon launch, and many people were present, including George Washington, who provided Messr. Blanchard with a letter of introduction.

A contemporary newspaper article described the event: [Note, at the time, the English letter ſ (“long s”) was similar to the symbol for “f”.]

M. Blanchard,

     The celebrated aeronaut made his 45th voyage in a magnificent balloon, from the Priſon court of the city of Philadelphia, the 9th inſt.  amidſt the acclamations of an immenſe concourſe of ſpectators. His aſcencion was majeſtick; he ſaluted his terreſtial gazers with his flag, and appeared to be as much elated, as he was elevated. At the moment in time when THE PRESIDENT arrived, to be preſent at the inflation of the the baloon, 15 rounds were fired by Capt. Fiſher‘s artillery; two cannon were fired every quarter hour until Mr. B. aſcended, when he was ſaluted with a federal diſcharge. At the date of our accounts, he had not deſcended; and it was impoſſible for anyone to ſay in what direction his car would move; or where he would land. If the wind in the upper atmosphere was fair, he was expected to arrive at New-York at night — The citizens of which place were on the look-out for this unusual viſitant.Columbian Centinel, Boston, Saturday, 19 January 1793, Page 2, Column 4.

Jean-Pierre Blanchard began his ascent at the Walnut Street jail, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 9 January 1793.
Jean-Pierre Blanchard began his ascent at the Walnut Street jail, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 9 January 1793. (W. Birch & Son, 1800)

The “aerostat” and its passengers rose to an altitude of approximately “200 fathoms” (600 feet, 183 meters) and drifted to the southeast with the air currents. After 46 minutes of flight, Blanchard and his balloon alighted near the village of Deptford, Gloucester County, New Jersey. Though he spoke no English, Blanchard was able to have some local farmers help him return to Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, he returned to France.

The approximate route of travel of Jean-Pierre Blanchard's balloon, 9 January 1793.
The approximate route of travel of Jean-Pierre Blanchard’s balloon, 9 January 1793.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 January 1785

Balloon Leaving Dover, Jean-Pierre François Blanchard and Dr. John Jeffries depart Dover, 7 January 1785, by E.W. Cocks, oil on canvas, ca. 1840 (Science Museum, London)
Balloon Leaving Dover, Jean-Pierre François Blanchard and Dr. John Jeffries depart Dover, 7 January 1785, by E.W. Cocks, oil on canvas, ca. 1840 (Science Museum, London)

7 January 1785: On a clear, calm day, Jean-Pierre François Blanchard and Doctor John Jeffries flew across the English Channel in a hydrogen-filled balloon. They lifted off from Dover Castle, Kent, England at about 1:00 p.m. The journey to Guînes, Pas-de-Calais, France, took about two and a half hours.

The balloon was approximately 8.2 meters (27 feet) in diameter. A gondola was suspended beneath the gas envelope, equipped with oar-like devices that were intended to steer and propel the light-than-air craft.

With sufficient buoyancy to just lift the two aeronauts and their equipment, the Channel crossing was made at a very low altitude. During the flight, all ballast, their equipment and most of their clothing were jettisoned. They crossed the French coast at about 3:00 p.m. and at 3:30, came to rest in a clearing in the Felmores Forest, near Guînes.

Balloon Arriving at Calais, by E.W. Cocks, oil on canvas, ca. 1840 (Science Museum, London)
Balloon Arriving at Calais, by E.W. Cocks, oil on canvas, ca. 1840 (Science Museum, London)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 November 1783

Jean-François Pilâtre Rozier, etching by André Pujos, ca. 1784. (Library of Congress)

21 November 1783: At approximately 2:00 p.m., Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent le Vieux d’Arlandes (Monsieur le Marquis d’Arlandes) departed Château de la Muette, the home of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette near the Bois de Boulogne in the western outskirts of Paris, aboard a hot air balloon which had been designed and built by the brothers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier.

De Rozier had made several tethered ascents previously, learning to control the balloon. On this, the first manned, untethered ascent, de Rozier and Marquis d’Arlandes rose to an altitude of approximately 3,000 feet (910 meters) and drifted to the southwest. After about 25 minutes, they descended to land between two windmills outside the city, at Butte-aux-Cailles. They had traveled about five miles (nine kilometers). They could have flown farther, but the embers from the fire were beginning to scorch the balloon.

The Montgolfier brothers were the sons of a paper maker. They combined with Jean-Baptiste Réveillon, a wallpaper manufacturer, to construct their balloon envelopes of taffeta (a woven silk fabric) coated by an alum/varnish mixture.

The balloon flown by de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes had an approximate volume of 60,000 cubic feet (1,699 cubic meters). It was approximately 75 feet (22.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 50 feet (15.24 meters). The air within the balloon was heated by burning coals. This resulted in a pressure differential: the heated air was less dense than the ambient air. This caused the balloon to rise.

A 1786 illustration of the Montgolfier brothers’ hot air balloon, flown by de Rozier and M. le Marquis d’Arlandes, 21 November 1783.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was killed 15 June 1785, while attempting to cross the English Channel in a hydrogen balloon along with Pierre Romain. Adverse winds blew him back onshore, but for unknown reasons, the balloon collapsed and fell approximately 1,500 feet (457 meters) to the ground near Wimereux, Pas-de-Calais.

François Laurent le Vieux d’Arlandes died in 1806, possibly committing suicide.

François Laurent le Vieux d’Arlandes, Monsieur le Marquis d’Arlandes, etching by André Pujos, 1784. (Library of Congress)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1927

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)
Hawthorne C. Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)

4 November 1927: Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, United States Army Air Corps, a balloon pilot since 1921, has carried out a series of ascents to study the effects of very high altitude on air crews.

Gray lifted off from Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois, at 2:13 p.m., in a helium-filled balloon with an open wicker gondola suspended below. The balloon, Air Corps serial number S 30-241, was constructed of rubberized silk and coated with aluminum paint. It had a volume of 70,000 cubic feet (1,982.2 cubic meters). In the gondola were instruments for measuring altitude and temperature, as well as two sealed recording barographs provided by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA). Captain Gray was dressed in heavy leather clothing for protection against the cold. Three gas cylinders of oxygen were provided for breathing at altitude.

This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne's gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne’s gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)

Early in the ascent, high winds carried him to the south, and though he was accompanied by four airplanes, their pilots quickly lost sight of Gray’s balloon. It disappeared into a heavy overcast 20 minutes after takeoff and rose to a peak altitude of 42,470 feet (12,944.9 meters) at 4:05 p.m.

Based on Captain Gray’s notes and data from the barographs, it was concluded that his ascent was at a much slower rate than his previous altitude flights. At 3:17 p.m., he wrote “Clock frozen.” Without the clock, Gray was unable to calculate his time aloft and the amount of breathing oxygen remaining. Estimates prior to lift off were that the supply would run out at 4:38 p.m. The balloon had only descended to 39,000 feet (11,887 meters) by 4:28 p.m. The barographs showed an increase in rate of descent at this time, indicating that Captain Gray was venting helium from the balloon to try to descend faster. The descent slowed, however, suggesting that Gray had lost consciousness.

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, USAAC, right, wearing flight suit, with an unidentified Air Corps officer. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The balloon and gondola were found near Sparta, Tennessee at 5:20 p.m., with Hawthorne Gray’s body curled in the bottom of the gondola. Captain Gray suffered a loss of oxygen which resulted in his death.

Captain Gray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, posthumously, and is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

His citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross (Posthumously) to Captain (Air Corps) Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, for heroism while participating in an aerial flight. On 9 March 1927, Capitan Gray attempted to establish the World’s altitude record for aircraft, but due to the faulty oxygen apparatus he fainted at an altitude of 27,000 feet recovering consciousness after 52 minute, when his balloon, having over shot its equilibrium point, descended to an atmosphere low enough to sustain life. Undaunted by this experience, Captain Gray on 4 May 1927, made a record attempt when he attained an altitude of 42,470 feet, higher than any other Earth creature has ever gone. On his descent, however, his balloon failed to parachute, and it was necessary for him to descend from 8,000 feet in a parachute. With faith unshaken, and still displaying great courage and self reliance, Capitan Gray, on 4 November 1927, made the third attempt, which resulted in his making the supreme sacrifice. Having attained an altitude of 42,000 feet he waited for ten minutes, testing his reactions, before making a last rapid climb to his ceiling and a more rapid descent to safe atmosphere. Undoubtedly his courage was greater than his supply of oxygen, which gave out at about 37,000 feet.

War Department, General Orders No. 5 (1928)

The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

Hawthorne Charles Gray was born at Pasco, Washington, 16 February 1889. He was the fourth of six children of William Polk Gray, a river steamboat pilot, and Oceanna (“Ocia”) Falkland Gray.

In 1913, Gray was employed as a baggageman for the Northern Pacific Railway at the Pasco Station. Gray attended University of Idaho at Moscow, Idaho, as a member of the Class of 1913. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, B.S.(E.E.)

Hawthorne C. Gray served as an enlisted soldier with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry, Idaho National Guard, 1911–1912, a second lieutenant, 25th Infantry, Idaho National Guard, from 7 March 1912 to 23 April 1913. He was qualified as an Expert Rifleman. Gray enlisted in the United States Army, serving in the Hospital Corps and Quartermaster Corps from 19 January 1915 to 25 June 1917. He participated in the Mexican Expedition, under General John J. Pershing.

Sergeant Senior Grade Gray was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 32nd Infantry, 3 June 1917, and promoted to 1st lieutenant on the same day. Lieutenant Gray was promoted to captain (temporary), 34th Infantry, on 5 August. The rank of captain became permanent on 24 February 1920.

Captain Hawthorne Charles Gray, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1923.

Captain Gray was assigned to duty with the Air Service from 9 August 1920, and was transferred to that branch was transferred on 29 August 1921. His date of rank was retroactive to 21 February 1920. Gray graduated from the Army’s Balloon School, Ross Field, in 1921. In 1923 graduated from the Air Service Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas, in 1923, and from the Balloon and Airship School at Scott Field in 1924.

Captain Gray and Mrs. Gray traveled to Europe to participate in the 15th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett (the Gordon Bennett Cup balloon race), held 30 May 1926 at Wilrijck, a small city near Antwerp, Belgium. Gray and his team mate, Lieutenant Douglas Johnson, placed second out of eighteen competitors, and behind another American team. Gray and Johnson traveled 599 kilometers (964 statute miles) in 12:00 hours, landing in the Duchy of Meklenburgia, a free state of the Weimar Republic (northern Germany), at about 4:00 a.m., 31 May. The Grays returned to the United States, arriving aboard S.S. President Harding at New York City after an eight-day voyage from Cherbourg, on 23 July 1926.

Captain Gray reached an altitude of 8,690 meters (28,510.5 feet) over Scott Field on 9 March 1927. This ascent set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude. ¹ On 4 May 1927, Captain Gray reached approximately 42,240 feet (12,875 meters). Because of a high rate of descent, he parachuted from the gondola at about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). Because he was not on board at the landing, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) did not recognize the flight as an official altitude record.

Captain Gray was married to the former Miss Miriam Lorette Maddux of Santa Rosa, California. They would have four children. Their first died at the age of 1 year, 3 months.

¹ FAI Record File Numbers: 10614, Ballooning, Subclass A-6th; 10615, Ballooning, Subclass A-7th; Ballooning, Subclass A-8th.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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