Tag Archives: Lighter-Than-Air

9–10 October 1900

The 1900 Paris World's Fair, before the start of the balloon race.
L’Exposition Universelle de 1900 à Paris (the 1900 Paris World’s Fair), before the start of the balloon race. (Parisienne de Photographie)

9–10 October 1900: The Aéro-Club de France held a long-distance balloon race, coinciding with the World’s Fair and Olympic Games. Six balloon teams competed for the Grand Prix, including that of Henri François Joseph, Comte de la Vaulx, and Joseph Félix Georges, Comte de Castillon de Saint-Victor, co-founders, along with several others, including Jules Verne, of the Aero Club.

From the American Monthly Review of Reviews, Vol. 23, January–June 2001, beginning at Page 609 :

M. le Comte, Henri de la Vaulx, 1908. (Agence ROL)

Of the six balloons entered for this record-breaking race, the Centaur was one of the smaller, its dimensions being 1,630 cubic meters, while its chief competitor, the St. Louis, measured 3,000 cubic meters. The Centaur rose from the grounds at Vincennes at 20 minutes past 5 in the afternoon of October 9. From Count de la Vaulx’s account of the journey, which appears in Pearson’s for April, we glean the following facts:

“Our direction at the start was north-north-east, and very soon, the sun having gone down, Paris was nothing for us but a vast, vaguely defined patch of luminosity far to the west. The Centaur was in equilibrium at about 5,000 feet [1,524 meters] above the sea-level, when the moon rose with such a radiant brilliance that we could read all our instruments without the aid of the electric lamp. Every now and then a shooting star traversed the vault of heaven, inciting us to wish for the success of our enterprise. . . .”

Count de la Vaulx described the route of the flight, the cities and landmarks that they passed over, the weather and temperatures at various altitudes. At several times during the race, they were in sight of another balloon, the larger St. Louis.

Centaur ascended as high as 22,000 feet (6,706 meters) and experienced temperatures as low as -12 °C. (10 °F.) The changes in air temperature caused the gas in the balloon to expand and contract, and it rose and fell as the density of the gas varied.

Having expended their supply of breathing oxygen, the two aeronauts opened the balloon’s vents to descend closer to the ground. Their anchor rope caught in some trees and Centaur came to earth shortly thereafter.

Map of the 1900 balloon race
Map of the 1900 World’s Fair balloon race

La Vaulx and Saint-Victor had landed near Korostyshiv, Ukraine. The two counts had traveled 1,153 miles (1,856 kilometers) in 35¾ hours.

Having crossed the Russian frontier without passports, the two gentlemen were held in custody for four days before being allowed to return to France by train.

Participants of the 1900 balloon race. Left to right: The Comte de Castillon de Saint-Victor, G. Hervieu, Jacques Balsan, J. Faure, the Comte de La Vaulx, G. Juchmes and L. Maison. (Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 October 1958

The Project MANHIGH III balloon and gondola, shortly after launch at Holloman AFB, 1151 UTC, 8 October 1958. (Al Fenn/LIFE Magazine)
The Project MANHIGH III balloon and gondola, shortly after launch at Holloman AFB, 6:51 a.m., 8 October 1958. (Al Fenn/LIFE Magazine)

8 October 1958: At Holloman Air Force Base, southeast of Alamogordo, New Mexico, the Project MANHIGH III balloon was launched at 6:51 a.m., Mountain Standard Time (13:51  UTC). The helium balloon lifted a 1,648 pound (748 kilogram) pressurized gondola. Inside was Lieutenant Clifton Moody McClure III, U.S. Air Force.

Over the next three hours, the balloon ascended to an altitude of 99,700 feet (30,389 meters)¹ over the Tularosa Basin.

From this altitude, “Demi” McClure radioed to Dr. David G. Simon, who had flown a previous MANHIGH mission, “I see the most fantastic thing, the sky that you described. It’s blacker than black, but it’s saturated with blue like you said. . . I’m looking at it, but it seems more like I’m feeling it. . . I have the feeling that I should be able to see stars in this darkness, but I can’t find them, either—I have the feeling that this black is so black it has put the stars out.”

The purpose of the MANHIGH flights was to conduct scientific research through the direct observations of the pilot while in contact with ground-based scientists and engineers, and to gather physiological data about the stresses imposed on a human body during extreme high altitude flight.

Lieutenant Clifton M. McClure, U.S. Air Force (1932–2001)
1st Lieutenant Clifton Moody McClure III, United States Air Force

Lieutenant McClure was born at Anderson, South Carolina, 8 November 1932, the son of Clfton M. McClure, Jr., a bookkeeper (who would serve as a U.S. Marine Corps officer during World War II) and Frances Melaney Allen McClure. He attended the Anderson High School, graduating in 1950. He earned a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering and a master’s degree in ceramic engineering from Clemson University. He had been an instructor pilot, flying the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star jet trainer, at air bases in Texas, but was then assigned to the Solar Furnace Project at Holloman AFB.

Prior high-altitude balloon flights had shown the need for extreme physiological fitness, and McClure was selected through a series of medical and physical evaluations similar to those that would later be used to select astronaut candidates for Project Mercury. He was considered to be physiologically and psychologically the best candidate for MANHIGH flights.

The MANHIGH III balloon was manufactured by Winzen Research, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota. It had a capacity of approximately 3,000,000 cubic feet (84,950 cubic meters) and was filled with helium.

The gondola was built of three cast aluminum cylindrical sections with hemispherical caps at each end. It was 9 feet (2.743 meters) high with a diameter of 3 feet (0.914 meters). Inside were cooling and pressurization equipment ,and equipment for various scientific experiments.

Lieutenant McClure wore a modified David Clark Company MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation MA-2 helmet for protection. He breathed a mixture of 60% oxygen, 20% nitrogen and 20% helium.

During the flight, Lieutenant McClure became dehydrated. Later, temperatures inside the gondola rose to 118 °F. (47.8 °C.). The cooling system was unable to dissipate heat from McClure’s body, and his body core temperature rose to 108.6 °F. (42.6 °C.). After twelve hours, it was decidede to end the flight. MANHIGH III touched down a few miles from its departure point at 2342 UTC, 9 October 1958.

After his participation in Project MANHIGH, Clifton McClure applied to become an astronaut in Project Mercury. He was turned down because his height—6 feet, 1 inch (1.854 meters)— exceeded the limits imposed by the small Mercury space capsule. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the MANHIGH III flight. He later flew Lockheed F-104 Starfighters with the South Carolina Air National Guard.

Clifton Moody McClure III died at Huntsville, Alabama, 14 January 2000, at the age of 67 years.

Lieutenant Clifton M. McClure, USAF, seated inside the MANHIGH III gondola. (U.S. Air Force)

¹Sources vary. A NASA publication, Dressing For Altitude, cites McClure’s maximum altitude as 98,097 feet (29,900 meters) (Chapter 4, Page 162). The Albuquerque Tribune reported McClure’s altitude as 99,600 feet (30,358 meters), (Vol. 36, No. 163, Saturday, 11 October 1958, Page 7 at Column 6. The National Museum of the United States Air Force states 99,700 feet (30,389 meters). 99,700 feet is also cited in Office of Naval Research Report ACR-64, “Animals and Man in Space,” 1962.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 October 1883

Tissandier
Gaston Tissandier (left) and Albert Tissandier (Fine Art America)

8 October 1883: The first airship powered by an electric motor was flown by brothers Albert Tissandier (1839–1906) and Gaston Tissandier (1843–1899) at at Auteuil, a suburb of Paris, France.

The brothers were experienced aeronauts, having designed and built a number of balloons.

This engraving by E.A. Tilly depicts Albert Tissandier (left) and Gaston Tissandier (right) in the gondola of their airship. A an unidentified third man is above. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)
This engraving by E.A. Tilly depicts Albert Tissandier (left) and Gaston Tissandier (right) in the gondola of their airship. An unidentified third man is above. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

The Tissandier brothers’ dirigible was the first to be powered by electricity. A 1.5 horsepower Siemens electric motor, turning 180 r.p.m., drove a two-bladed propeller through a reduction gear, producing 26 pounds of thrust (116 newtons). 24 bichromate of potash (potassium bichromate) cells provided electricity for the motor, which propelled the airship at 3 miles per hour (4.8 kilometers per hour).

The airship was 92 feet (28 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 30 feet (9 meters). Its gas capacity was approximately 37,500 cubic feet (1,062 cubic meters).

This engraving by E.A. Tilly depicts the Tissandier electric airship departing Auteuil, Paris, 8 October 1883. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)
This engraving by E.A. Tilly depicts the Tissandier electric airship departing Auteuil, Paris, 8 October 1883. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 October 1907

Nulli Secundus (Cale & Polden Ltd., Aldershot)
Nulli Secundus (Gale & Polden Printers, Aldershot)

5 October 1907: The British Army Dirigible No 1, Nulli Secundus, flown by Colonel John E. Capper, Royal Engineers, Superintendent of the Royal Balloon Factory, and Samuel Frederick Cody, made a flight from the Balloon Factory at Farnborough to London. After circling St. Paul’s Cathedral, the crew attempted to return to Farnborough but unfavorable winds forced them to moor the airship at the Crystal Palace. The flight covered a distance of 40 miles (64 kilometers) and took 3 hours, 25 minutes.

A contemporary news article described the event:

The military airship “Nulli Secundus” made a successful trip to London from Farnborough on Saturday last. Starting at 10.40, with Colonel Capper and Mr. Cody on board, the airship—a huge sausage-shaped balloon of goldbeater’s skin of thirty thousand cubic feet capacity driven by a fifty horse-power petrol-engine—travelled to London at a rate of about twenty-five miles an hour, passing over Buckingham Palace and the War Office, and circling round St. Paul’s. On the return journey a strong head-wind brought the airship almost to a standstill over Clapham Common, and its course was altered to Sydenham, where it descended safely in the grounds of the Crystal Palace. From the spectacular point of view, the experiment was a splendid success, as the airship passed over London at a height of only seven hundred and fifty feet, and at this stage of the journey seemed to be completely master of the elements. Journalists who talk of “the conquest of the air,” however, or declare that Colonel Capper’s fifty-mile flight has completely changed the strategic position of Great Britain, will do well to note that gallant officer’s modest estimate of his achievement. The conditions of the experiment were exceptionally favourable. “At the start the pilot-balloon we sent up showed that there was no wind at all.” The slight breeze which sprang up was with them on their way to London; but the moderate head-wind at Clapham pevented them from making any progress at all. Colonel Capper summed up the lessons of the trip by observing:—”We have got a decent slow-speed airship which we can navigate if the wind is not too strong”—i.e., more than fifteen miles an hour—”and which can be raised and depressed at will without the use of ballast. We do not pretend that what we have done to-day is anything first-class, but we do say it is satisfactory as a first attempt.” We may further note that the return journey to Farnborough has been abandoned owing to the damage done to the airship by a high wind on Thursday morning.

The Spectator, No. 4,137, Saturday, 12 October 1907, at Page 515. 

British Army Dirigible No. 1. (Unattributed)
British Army Dirigible No. 1. (Unattributed)

Nulli Secundus was 120 feet (36.59 meters) in length with a diameter of 26 feet (7.93 meters). The envelope was constructed of fifteen layers of goldbeaters’ skin (the outer membrane of calf intestine) and was filled with hydrogen. The semi-rigid dirigible was powered by a 50 horsepower Antoinette engine. It was capable of 40 miles per hour (64 kilometers per hour).

Several days later, still moored at the Crystal Palace, the hydrogen gas was vented through the relief valves to prevent it being carried away in high winds. To speed up the dirigible’s deflation, the airship’s envelope was slashed. The materials were salvaged and returned to the Balloon Factory, where they were used to construct Nulli Secundus II.

Major General Sir John Edward Capper, KCB, KCVO, portrait by Elliott & Fry, 1916. (National Portrait Gallery NPGx82404)
Major General Sir John Edward Capper, KCB, KCVO. Portrait by Elliott & Fry, 1916. (National Portrait Gallery NPGx82404)

Major General Sir John Edward Capper, KCB, KCVO, was a senior British Army officer, born in India in 1861. He served on the Northwest Frontier, South Africa, and commanded the 24th Division during the Battle of the Somme. He was also Commander of the Tank Corps.

Samuel Franklin Cody (1867–1913), photographed in 1909.
Samuel Franklin Cody, 1909. (Monash University)

Samuel Franklin Cody, born Samuel Cowdery, (1867–1909) was an American who had been an early pioneer in manned kites and gliders, airships and powered airplanes. His flight British Army Aeroplane No 1 at Aldershot, 5 October 1908—one year after the cross-country flight of Nulli Secundus—is officially considered to be the first flight of a powered airplane in Great Britain.

Cody commonly dressed in cowboy fashion, and appeared similar to “Buffalo Bill” Cody, whose name he had adopted in 1889. He had been a performer in a “wild west show” that traveled to England.

Samuel Cody was killed 7 August  1913 when a new airplane he was testing, the Cody Floatplane, came apart “due to inherent structural weakness,” at about 200 feet (61 meters).

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 September 2003

“David Hempleman-Adams, left, with Saint John resident Jim Rogers on Sept. 26, 2003, just before the balloon launch.” (Kings County Record)

26 September 2003: At 2:38 a.m., Friday, David Kim Hempleman-Adams, OBE, lifted off  from the athletic field of Sussex Elementary School, Sussex, New Brunswick, Canada, in his Rozière balloon on a four-day transatlantic flight. Hempleman-Adams was in an open  7 feet × 3 feet (2.1 × 0.9 meters) wicker basket.

Hempleman-Adam’s Cameron R-90 being prepared for takeoff on a previous transatlantic attempt, 27 June 2003, at Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The balloon was built by Cameron Balloons, Ltd., Bristol, in 2000. It was a Cameron R-90, serial number 4751. The balloon was first registered 31 March 2000, as G-BYZX.

The R-90 is a Rozière balloon, which has separate chambers for helium and heated air. This allows the aeronaut to control the balloon’s buoyancy, but the hybrid type uses much less fuel than a hot-air balloon. The type is named after its inventor, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale places the Cameron R-90 in the free balloon sub-class AM-08, for mixed balloons with a volume of 2,200–3,000 cubic meters (77,692–105,944 cubic feet).

G-BYZX had a maximum takeoff weight of 2,654 kilograms (5,851 pounds).

Hempleman Adams had previously flown G-BYZX, then named Britannic Challenge, to the North Pole, on 3 June 2000. Following his transatlantic flight, he would use it to set a FAI World Record for Altitude of 12,557 meters (41,198 feet), 23 March 2004.

During the first day, Hempleman-Adams’ balloon gradually rose to an altitude of 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) as it drifted eastward. On the second day he was at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and on Day 3 he reached a peak of 14,000 feet (4,267 meters).

The weather was very cold, with rain and snow. Hempleman-Adams said that the average temperature during the flight was -12 °C. (10.4 °F.). Ice built up on the balloon’s envelope, increasing its weight. It became heavy enough that the balloon began to descend. Hempleman-Adams was unable to prevent the descent by using the propane burners to heat the air and increase buoyancy, and was forced to lighten the balloon by jettisoning six propane cylinders.

During the third day, the balloon was hit by the shock waves of a Concorde supersonic airliner as it passed overhead at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). Hempleman-Adams felt a very abrupt, but fortunately, brief, descent as a result.

G-BYZX reached the southwestern tip of Ireland at 8:30 a.m., BST, on 29 September, completing the transatlantic phase of his flight. The balloon continued to drift eastward, and at 6 p.m. on 30 September, came to rest near Hambleton, Lancashire, England. The total duration of the flight was 83 hours, 14 minutes, 35 seconds.

Sir David Kim Hempleman-Adams, KCVO, OBE, KStJ, DL, is an interesting guy. He is the first person to have completed the True Adventurer’s Grand Slam, by reaching the North and South Poles, the North and South Magnetic Poles, and to have climbed the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale online database currently credits him with 49 world aviation records.

David Hempleman-Adams waves at the camera after landing in England, 30 September 2003.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

 

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