Tag Archives: Lighter-Than-Air

17 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, LZ 2, designed by Ludwig Dürr, made its first—and only—flight at Lake Constance.

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

LZ 2 was 414 feet (126.19 meters) long and 38 feet, 6 inches (11.75 meters) in diameter. It had a volume of 366,200 cubic feet (10,370 cubic meters). The rigid structure was provided by triangular-section girders that provided light weight and strength. Buoyancy was provided by hydrogen gas contained in bags inside the airship’s envelope.

The airship was powered by two 85 horsepower Daimler engines. It was capable of reaching 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour). The airship’s ceiling was 2,800 feet (850 meters).

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.

© 2017, 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 descend 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 that 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)
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)

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

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.

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)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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