British Airships: Past, Present and Future
Part 3 out of 3
permitted at the various patrol stations, having passed a balloon
course and undergone a rudimentary training at various places.
To conclude, the greatest of all difficulties was the shortage of
money voted for airship development, and this was a disadvantage
under which airships laboured even until the conclusion of
We have seen previously how the other difficulties were
surmounted and how our airships were evolved, type by type, and
the measure of success which attended them. It is interesting to
recall that five years ago we only possessed three ships capable
of flying, and that during the war we built upwards of two
hundred, of which no fewer than 103 were actually in commission
on the date of the signing of the Armistice.
The work carried out by our airships during the war falls under
three main headings:
1. Operations with the fleet or with various units.
2. Anti-submarine patrol and searching for mines.
3. Escort of shipping and examination duties.
With regard to the first heading it is only permissible at
present to say very little; certain manoeuvres were carried out
in connection with the fleet, but the slow development of our
rigid airships prohibited anything on a large scale being
attempted. The Germans, on the other hand, made the fullest use
of their Zeppelins for scouting purposes with the high seas
fleet. Responsible people were guilty of a grave mistake when
speaking in public in denouncing the Zeppelin as a useless
monster every time one was destroyed in a raid on this country.
The main function of the Zeppelin airship was to act as an aerial
scout, and it carried out these duties with the utmost efficiency
during the war. It is acknowledged that the German fleet owed
its escape after the Battle of Jutland to the information
received from their airships, while again the Zeppelin was
instrumental in effecting the escape of the flotilla which
bombarded Scarborough in 1916.
Very probably, also, the large airship was responsible for the
success which attended the U boats during their attack on the
cruisers Nottingham and Falmouth, and also at the Hogue disaster.
Various experiments were carried out in towing airships by
cruisers, in refuelling while in tow and changing crews, all of
which would have borne good fruit had the war lasted longer.
An exceedingly interesting experiment was carried out during the
closing stages of the war by an airship of the S.S. Zero type.
At this period the German submarines were gradually extending
their operations at a greater distance from our coasts, and the
authorities became concerned at the prospect that the small type
of airship would not possess sufficient endurance to carry out
patrol over these increased distances. The possibility was
considered of carrying a small airship on board a ship which
should carry out patrol and return to the ship for refuelling
purposes, to replenish gas, and change her crew. To test the
feasibility of this idea S.S. Z 57 carried out landing
experiments on the deck of H.M.S. Furious, which had been adapted
as an aeroplane carrier. S.S. Z 57 came over the deck and
dropped her trail rope, which was passed through a block secured
to the deck, and was hauled down without difficulty. These
experiments were continued while the ship was under weigh and
were highly successful. No great difficulty was encountered in
making fast the trail rope, and the airship proved quite easy to
handle. The car was also lowered into the hangar below the upper
deck, the envelope only remaining on the upper level, and
everything worked smoothly. If the war had continued there is no
doubt that some attempt would have been made to test the
practical efficiency of the problem.
Anti-submarine patrol was the chief work of the airship during
the war, and, like everything else, underwent most striking
changes. Submarine hunting probably had more clever brains
concentrated upon it than anything else in the war, and the part
allotted to the airship in conjunction with the hunting flotillas
of surface craft was carefully thought out.
In the case of a suspected submarine in a certain spot, all
surface and air craft were concentrated by means of wireless
signals at the appointed rendezvous. It is in operations of this
kind that the airship is so superior to the seaplane or
aeroplane, as she can hover over a fixed point for an indefinite
period with engines shut off. If the submarine was located from
the air, signals were given and depth charges dropped in the
position pointed out. Incidents of this kind were of frequent
occurrence, and in them the value of the airship was fully
The most monotonous and arduous of the airship's duties was the
routine patrol. The ship would leave her shed before dawn and
be at the appointed place many miles away from land. She then
would carry out patrol, closely scanning the sea all round, and
investigating any suspicious object. For hours this might last
with nothing seen, and then in the gathering darkness the ship
would make her way home often against a rising wind, and in the
winter through hail and snow. Bombs were always carried, and on
many occasions direct hits were observed on enemy submarines. A
sharp look-out was always kept for mines, and many were
destroyed, either by gunfire from the airship herself or through
the agency of patrol boats in the vicinity. This was the chief
work of the S.S. ships, and was brought to a high pitch of
perfection by the S.S. Zero. These ships proved so handy that
they could circle round an object without ever losing sight of
it, and yet could be taken in and out of sheds in weather too bad
to handle bigger ships.
The hunting of the submarine has been likened to big-game
hunting, and certainly no one ever set out to destroy a bigger
quarry. It needs the same amount of patience and the same
vigilance. Days may pass without the opportunity, and that will
only be a fleeting one: the psychological moment must be seized
and it will not brook a moment's delay. The eye must be trained
to pick up the minutest detail, and must be capable of doing this
for hour after hour. For those on submarine patrol in a small
ship there is not one second's rest. As is well known, the
submarine campaign reached its climax in April, 1917. In that
month British and Allied shipping sustained its greatest losses.
The value of the airship in combating this menace was now fully
recognized, and with the big building programme of Zero airships
approved, the housing accommodation again reached an acute stage.
Shortage of steel and timber for shed building, and the lack of
labour to erect these materials had they been available, rendered
other methods necessary. It was resolved to try the experiment
of mooring airships in clearings cut into belts of trees or small
A suitable site was selected and the trees were felled by service
labour. The ships were then taken into the gaps thus formed and
were moored by steel wires to the adjacent trees. Screens of
brushwood were then built up between the trees, and the whole
scheme proved so successful that even in winter, when the trees
were stripped of their foliage, airships rode out gales of over
60 miles per hour. The personnel were housed either in tents or
billeted in cottages or houses in the neighbourhood, and gas was
supplied in tubes as in the earlier days of the stations before
the gas plants had been erected.
This method having succeeded beyond the most sanguine
expectations, every station had one or more of these sub-stations
based on it, the airships allocated to them making a periodical
visit to the parent station for overhaul as required.
Engineering repairs were effected by workshop lorries, provided
that extensive work was not required.
In this way a large fleet of small airships was maintained around
our coasts, leaving the bigger types of ships on the parent
stations, and the operations were enabled to be considerably
extended. Of course, certain ships were wrecked when gales of
unprecedented violence sprung up; but the output of envelopes,
planes and cars was by this time so good that a ship could be
replaced at a few hours' notice, and the cost compared with
building of additional sheds was so small as to be negligible.
From the month of April, 1917, the convoy system was introduced,
by which all ships on entering the danger zones were collected at
an appointed rendezvous and escorted by destroyers and
patrolboats. The airship was singularly suitable to assist in
these duties. Owing to her power of reducing her speed to
whatever was required, she could keep her station ahead or abeam
of the convoy as was necessary, and from her altitude was able to
exercise an outlook for a far greater distance than was possible
from the bridge of a destroyer. She could also sweep the surface
ahead of the approaching convoy, and warn it by wireless or by
flash-lamp of the presence of submarines or mines. By these
timely warnings many vessels were saved. Owing to the position
of the stations it was possible for a convoy to be met by
airships west of the Scilly Isles and escorted by the airships of
the succeeding stations right up the Channel. In a similar
manner, the main shipping routes on the east coast and also in
the Irish Sea were under constant observation. The mail steamers
between England and Ireland and transports between England and
France were always escorted whenever flying conditions were
possible. For escort duties involving long hours of flying, the
Coastal and C Star types were peculiarly suitable, and at a later
date the North Sea, which could accompany a convoy for the length
of Scotland. Airships have often proved of value in summoning
help to torpedoed vessels, and on occasions survivors in open
boats have been rescued through the agency of patrolling
airships. Examination duties are reckoned among the many
obligations of the airship. Suspicious-looking vessels were
always carefully scrutinized, and if unable to give a
satisfactory answer to signals made, were reported to vessels of
the auxiliary patrol for closer examination. Isolated fishing
vessels always were kept under close observation, for one of the
many ruses of the submarine was to adopt the disguise of a
harmless fishing boat with masts and sails.
The large transports, conveying American troops who passed
through England on their way to France, were always provided with
escorting airships whenever possible, and their officers have
extolled their merits in most laudatory terms.
Our rigid airships also contributed their share in convoy work,
although their appearance as active units was delayed owing to
slowness in construction.
A disturbing feature to the advocate of the large airship, has
been the destruction of raiding Zeppelins by heavier-than-air
machines, and the Jeremiahs have not lost this opportunity of
declaring that for war purposes the huge rigid is now useless and
will always be at the complete mercy of the fast scouting
aeroplane. There is never any obstacle in this world that cannot
be surmounted by some means or other. On the one hand there is
helium, a non-inflammable gas which would render airships almost
immune to such attacks. On the other hand, one opinion of
thought is that the rigid airship in the future will proceed to
sea escorted by a squadron of scouting aeroplanes for its
defence, in the same way that the capital ship is escorted at sea
by destroyers and torpedo boats. This latter idea has been even
further developed by those who look into the future, and have
conceived the possibility of a gigantic airship carrying its own
aeroplanes for its protection.
To test the possibility of this innovation, a small aeroplane was
attached to one of our rigid airships beneath the keel.
Attachments were made to the top of the wings and were carried to
the main framework of the hull. The release gear was tested on
the ground to preclude the possibility of any accident, and on
the day appointed the airship was got ready for flight. While
the airship was flying, the pilot of the aeroplane was in his
position with his engine just ticking over. The bows of the
airship were then inclined upwards and the release gear was put
into operation. The pilot afterwards said that he had no notion
that anything had been done until he noticed that the airship was
some considerable height above him. The machine made a circuit of
the aerodrome and landed in perfect safety, while no trouble was
experienced in any way in the airship. Whether this satisfactory
experiment will have any practical outcome the future alone can
say, but this achievement would have been considered,beyond all
the possibilities of attainment only a few years ago.
Since the Armistice several notable endurance flights were
accomplished by ships of the North Sea class, several voyages
being made to the coast of Norway, and quite recently a trip was
carried out all round the North Sea.
The weather has ceased to be the deterrent of the early days.
Many will no doubt remember seeing the North Sea airship over
London on a day of squalls and snow showers, and R 34 encountered
heavy snow storms on the occasion of one of her flight trials,
which goes to prove that the airship is scarcely the fair-weather
aircraft as maintained by her opponents.
Throughout the war our airships flew for approximately 89,000
hours and covered a distance of upwards of two and a quarter
million miles. The Germans attempted to win the war by the
wholesale sinking of our merchant shipping, bringing supplies and
food to these islands, and by torpedoing our transports and
ships carrying guns and munitions of war. They were, perhaps,
nearer to success than we thought at the time, but we were saved
by the defeat of the submarine. In the victory won over the
underseas craft the airship certainly played a prominent part and
we, who never suffered the pinch of hunger, should gratefully
remember those who never lost heart, but in spite of all
difficulties and discouragement, designed, built, maintained and
flew our fleet of airships.
THE FUTURE OF AIRSHIPS
With the signing of the Armistice on November 11th, 1918, the
airship's work in the war was practically completed and peace
reigned on the stations which for so many months had been centres
of feverish activity. The enemy submarines were withdrawn from
our shipping routes and merchant ships could traverse the sea in
safety except for the occasional danger of drifting mines. "What
is to be the future of the airship?" is the question which is
agitating the minds of innumerable people at the present moment.
During the war we have built the largest fleet of airships in the
world, in non-rigids we have reached a stage in design which is
unsurpassed by any country, and in rigid airships we are second
only to the Germans, who have declared that, with the signing of
the peace terms, their aircraft industry will be destroyed. Such
is our position at the present moment, a position almost
incredible if we look back to the closing days of the year 1914.
Are we now to allow ourselves to drift gradually back to our old
policy of supineness and negligence as existed before the war?
Surely such a thought is inconceivable; as we have organized our
airship production for the purposes of war, so shall we have to
redouble our efforts for its development in peace, if we intend
to maintain our supremacy in the air.
Unless all war is from henceforth to cease, a most improbable
supposition when the violence of human nature is considered,
aircraft will be in the future almost the most important arm.
Owing to its speed, there will not be that period of waiting for
the concentration and marching of the armies of the past, but the
nation resolved on war will be able to strike its blow, and that
a very powerful and terrible one, within a few hours of the
rupture of negotiations. Every nation to be prepared to counter
such a blow must be possessed of adequate resources, and unless
the enormous expense is incurred of maintaining in peace a huge
establishment of aircraft and personnel, other methods must be
adopted of possessing both of these available for war while
employed in peace for other purposes.
From the war two new methods of transportation have emerged--the
aeroplane and the airship. To the business man neither of these
is at the present juncture likely to commend itself on the basis
of cost per ton mile. When, however, it is considered that the
aeroplane is faster than the express train and the airship's
speed is double that of the fastest merchant ship, it will be
appreciated that for certain commercial purposes both these
mediums for transport have their possibilities. The future may
prove that in the time to come both the airship and the aeroplane
will become self-supporting, but for the present, if assisted by
the Government, a fair return may be given for the capital laid
out, and a large fleet of aircraft together with the necessary
personnel will always be available for military purposes should
the emergency arise. The present war has shown that the merchant
service provided a valuable addition both of highly-trained
personnel and of vessels readily adapted for war purposes, and it
appears that a similar organization can be effected to reinforce
our aerial navies in future times of danger.
In discussions relative to the commercial possibilities of
aircraft, a heated controversy always rages between advocates of
the airship and those of the heavier-than-air machine, but into
this it is not proposed to plunge the reader of this volume. The
aeroplane is eminently adapted for certain purposes, and the
greatest bigot in favour of the airship can hardly dispute the
claims of this machine to remain predominant for short-distance
travel, where high speed is essential and the load to be carried
is light. For long distance voyages over the oceans or broken or
unpopulated country, where large loads are to be carried, the
airship should be found to be the more suitable.
The demand for airships for commercial purposes falls under three
main headings, which will be considered in some detail. It will
be shown to what extent the present types will fill this demand,
and how they can be developed in the future to render the
proposed undertakings successful.
2. A quick and safe means of transport for passengers.
3. A quick commercial service for delivering goods of reasonable
weight from one country to another.
1. Pleasure.--In the past, men have kept mechanically-driven
means of transport such as yachts, motor cars, and motor boats
for their amusement, and to a limited extent have taken
recreation in the air by means of balloons. For short cruises
about this country and round the coast a small airship, somewhat
similar to the S.S. Zero, would be an ideal craft. In cost it
would be considerably less than a small yacht, and as it would
only be required in the summer months, it would be inflated and
moored out in the open in a park or grounds and the expense of
providing a shed need not be incurred. For longer distances, a
ship of 150,000 cubic feet capacity, with a covered-in car and
driven by two engines, would have an endurance of 25 hours at a
cruising speed of 45 miles per hour. With such a ship voyages
could easily be made from the south coast to the Riviera or
Spain, and mooring out would still be possible under the lee of a
small wood or to a buoy on the water.
Possibilities also exist for an enterprising firm to start a
series of short pleasure trips at various fashionable seaside
resorts, and until the novelty had worn off the demand for such
excursions will probably be far in excess of the supply.
2. Passenger transport.--In the re-organization of the world
after this devastating war the business man's time will be of
even more value than it was before. This country is largely
bound up with the United States of America in business interests
which necessitate continual visits between the two countries.
The time occupied by steamer in completing this journey is at
present about five days. If this time can be cut down to two and
a half days, no doubt a large number of passengers will be only
too anxious to avail themselves of this means of travel,
providing that it will be accomplished in reasonable safety and
comfort. The requirements for this purpose are an aerial liner
capable of carrying a hundred passengers with a certain quantity
of luggage and sufficient provisions for a voyage which may be
extended over the specified time owing to weather conditions.
The transatlantic service if successful could then be extended
until regular passenger routes are established encircling the
3. Quick commercial service for certain types of goods.--
Certain mails and parcels are largely enhanced in value by the
rapidity of transport, and here, as in the passenger service
outlined above, the airship offers undoubted facilities. As we
have said before, it is mainly over long distances that the
airship will score, and for long distances on the amount carried
the success of the enterprise will be secured. For this purpose
the rigid airship will be essential. There are certain instances
in which the non-rigid may possibly be profitably utilized, and
one such is suggested by a mail service between this country and
Scandinavia. A service is feasible between Newcastle and Norway
by airships of a capacity of the S.S. Twin type. These ships
would carry 700 lb. of mails each trip at about 4d. per ounce,
which would reduce the time of delivering letters from about two
and a half to three days to twenty-four hours.
A commercial airship company is regarded in this country as a new
and highly hazardous undertaking, and it seems to be somewhat
overlooked that it is not quite the novel idea so many people
imagine. Before the war, in the years 1910 to 1914, the Deutsche
Luftfahrt Actien Gesellschaft successfully ran a commercial
Zeppelin service in which four airships were used, namely,
Schwaben, Victoria Luise, Hansa and Sachsan. During this period
over 17,000 passengers were carried a total distance of over
100,000 miles without incurring a single fatal accident.
Numerous English people made trips in these airships, including
Viscount Jellicoe, but the success of the company has apparently
We have endeavoured to show that the non-rigid airship has
potentialities even for commercial purposes, but there is no
doubt whatever that the future of the airship in the commercial
world rests entirely with the rigid type, and the airships of
this type moreover must be of infinitely greater capacity than
those at present in existence, if a return is to be expected for
the capital invested in them. General Sykes stated, in the paper
which he read before the London Chamber of Commerce, "that for
commercial purposes the airship is eminently adapted for
long-distance journeys involving non-stop flights. It has this
inherent advantage over the aeroplane, that while there appears
to be a limit to the range of the aeroplane as at present
constructed, there is practically no limit whatever to that of
the airship, as this can be overcome by merely increasing the
size. It thus appears that for such journeys as crossing the
Atlantic, or crossing the Pacific from the west coast of America
to Australia or Japan, the airship will be peculiarly suitable."
He also remarked that, "it having been conceded that the scope of
the airship is long-distance travel, the only type which need be
considered for this purpose is the rigid. The rigid airship is
still in an embryonic state, but sufficient has already been
accomplished in this country, and more particularly in Germany,
to show that with increased capacity there is no reason why,
within a few years' time, airships should not be built capable of
completing the circuit of the globe and of conveying sufficient
passengers and merchandise to render such an undertaking a paying
The report of the Civil Aerial Transport Committee also states
that, "airships are the most suitable aircraft for the carrying
of passengers where safety, comfort and reliability are
When we consider the rapid development of the rigid airship since
1914, it should not be insuperable to construct an airship with
the capabilities suggested by General Sykes. In 1914, the
average endurance of the Zeppelin at cruising speed was under one
day and the maximum full speed about 50 miles per hour. In 1918,
the German L 70, which is of 2,195,000 cubic feet capacity, the
endurance at 45 miles per hour has risen to 7.4 days and the
maximum full speed to 77 miles per hour. The "ceiling" has
correspondingly increased from 6,000 feet to 23,000 feet.
The British R 38 class, at present building, with a capacity of
approximately 2 3/4 million cubic feet has an estimated endurance
at 45 miles per hour of 211 hours or 8.8 days, which is 34 hours
greater than the German L 70 class. It is evident that for a
ship of this calibre the crossing of the Atlantic will possess no
difficulty, and as an instance of what has already been
accomplished in the way of a long-distance flight the exploit of
a Zeppelin airship based in Bulgaria during the war is
sufficiently remarkable. This airship in the autumn of 1917 left
the station at Jamboli to carry twelve tons of ammunition for the
relief of a force operating in German East Africa. Having
crossed the Mediterranean, she proceeded up the course of the
Nile until she had reached the upper waters of this river.
Information was then received by wireless of the surrender of the
force, and that its commander, Von Lettow, was a fugitive in the
bush. She thereupon set out for home and reached her station in
safety, having been in the air 96 hours, or four days, without
It is therefore patent that in R 33 and R 34 we possess two
airships which can cross to America to-morrow as far as actual
distance is concerned, but various other conditions are necessary
before such voyages can be undertaken with any prospects of
The distance between England and America must be roughly taken as
3,000 miles. It is not reasonable for airship stations to be
situated either in the inaccessible extreme west of Ireland or
among the prevailing fogs of Newfoundland.
Weather conditions must also be taken into account; head winds
may prevail, rendering the forward speed of the ship to be small
even with the engines running full out. In calculations it is
considered that the following assumptions should be made:
1. At least 75 per cent additional petrol to be carried as would
be necessary for the passage in calm air, should unfavourable
weather conditions be met. This amount could be reduced to 50
per cent in future airships with a speed of upwards of 80
miles per hour.
2. About a quarter of the total discharge able lift of the ship
should be in the form of merchandise or passengers to render
the project a reasonable commercial proposition.
We will consider the commercial loads that can be carried by the
German airship L 70 and our airships R 33 and R 38 under the
conditions given above. Two speeds will be taken for the
purposes of this comparison: normal full speed, or about 60 miles
per hour, and cruising speed of 45 miles per hour.
L 70.--At 60 miles per hour a distance of 3,000 miles will be
accomplished in 50 hours.
Fuel consumption about
13 tons + 9.75 tons (additional for safety) = 22.75 tons.
Available lift for fuel and freight = 27.8 tons.
Fuel carried = 22.75 "
Balance for freight = 5 " about.
At 45 miles per hour, distance will be
accomplished in 66.6 hours.
Fuel consumption about
10 tons + 7.5 tons additional = 17.5 tons.
Available lift = 27.8 tons
Fuel carried = 17.5 "
Balance for freight = 10 " about.
R. 33.--At 60 miles per hour.
14.25 tons + 10.68 tons additional = 24.93 tons.
Lift available for fuel and freight = 21.5 tons.
Fuel carried = 24.93 "
Minus balance = 3. 43 "
At 45 miles per hour.
9.66 tons + 7.23 tons (17 tons approx.)
Lift available for fuel and freight = 21.5 tons.
Fuel carried = 17 "
Balance for freight = 4.5 "
R. 38.-Estimated only. At 60 miles per hour.
20 tons + 15 tons additional = 35 tons.
Lift available for fuel and freight = 42 tons.
Fuel carried = 35 "
Balance for freight = 7 "
At 45 miles per hour.
Fuel consumption 12 tons + 9 tons additional = 21 tons.
Lift available for fuel and freight = 42 "
Fuel carried = 21 "
Balance for freight = 21 "
It will thus be seen that at the faster speed small commercial
loads can be carried by L 70 and R 38 and not at all in the case
of R 33, that is assuming, of course, that the extra fuel is
carried, of which 75 per cent of the total does not appear at all
excessive in view of the weather continually experienced over the
At the cruising speed the loads naturally increase but still, in
L 70, and more particularly in R 33, they are too small to be
considered commercially. In R 38, however, the load that can be
carried at cruising speed is sufficient to become a commercial
From this short statement it is evident that, by a comparatively
small increase in volume, the lifting capacity of an airship is
enormously increased, and it is in this subject that the airship
possesses such undoubted advantage over the aeroplane. In the
heavier-than-air machine there is no automatic improvement in
efficiency resulting from greater dimensions. In the airship,
however, this automatic improvement takes place in a very marked
degree; for example, an airship of 10,000,000 cubic feet capacity
has five times the lift of the present 2,000,000 cubic feet
capacity rigid, but the length of the former is only 1.7 times
greater, and therefore the weight of the structure only five
times greater (1.7); that is, the weight of the structure is
directly proportional to the total lift. Having seen that the
total lift varies as the cube of the linear dimensions while air
resistance, B.H.P.--other things being equal--vary as the square
of the linear dimensions,it follows that the ratio "weight of
machinery/total lift" decreases automatically.
In comparing the different methods of transport for efficiency,
the resistance or thrust required is compared as a percentage of
the total weight. The result obtained is known as the
"co-efficient of tractive resistance." Experiments have shown
that as the size of the airship increases, the co-efficient of
tractive resistance decreases to a marked extent; with a
proportionate increase in horse-power it is proportionally more
economical for a 10,000,000 cubic feet capacity rigid to fly at
80 miles per hour than for a 2,000,000 cubic feet capacity to fly
at 60 miles per hour.
As the ratio "weight structure/total lift" is in airships fairly
constant, it follows that the ratio "disposable lift/total lift"
increases with the dimensions.
It is therefore obvious that increased benefits are obtained by
building airships of a larger size, and that the bigger the ship
the greater will be its efficiency, providing, of course, that it
is kept within such limits that it can be handled on the ground
and manoeuvred in the air.
The proportion of the useful lift in a large rigid, that is the
lift available for fuel, crew, passengers, and merchandise, is
well over 50 per cent when compared with the gross lift. When the
accompanying table is studied it will be seen that with airships
of large capacity the available lift will be such that
considerable weights of merchandise or passengers can be carried.
Capacity in Gross Lift Length Diameter
cubic feet in tons in feet in feet
2,000,000 60.7 643 79
3,000,000 91.1 736 90.4
4,000,000 121.4 810 99.5
5,000,000 151.8 872 107.2
6,000,000 182.2 927 113.9
7,000,000 212.5 976 119.9
8,000,000 242.8 1,021 125.5
9,000,000 273.3 1,061 130.4
10,000,000 303.6 1,100 135.1
In airships of their present capacity, in order to obtain the
greatest amount of lift possible, lightness of construction has
been of paramount importance. With this object in view duralumin
has been used, and complicated girders built up to obtain
strength without increase of weight. In a large ship with a
considerable gain in lift, steel will probably be employed with a
simpler form of girder work. In that way cheapness of
construction will be effected together with increased rapidity of
output, and in addition the strength of the whole structure
should be increased.
The rigid airship of 10,000,000 cubic feet capacity will have a
disposable lift of over 200 tons available for fuel, crew,
passengers, and merchandise in such proportions as are desired.
The endurance of such a ship at a cruising speed of 45 miles per
hour will be in the neighbourhood of three weeks, with a maximum
speed of 70 to 80 miles per hour, and a "ceiling" of some 30,000
feet can be reached. This will give a range of over 20,000
miles, or very nearly a complete circuit of the globe.
For commercial purposes the possibilities of such a craft are
enormous, and the uses to which it could be put are manifestly of
great importance. Urgent mails and passengers could be
transported from England to America in under half the time at
present taken by the steamship routes, and any city in the world
could be reached from London in a fortnight.
In the event of war in the future, which may be waged with a
nation situated at a greater distance from this country than was
Germany, aircraft Of long endurance will be necessary both for
scouting in conjunction with our fleets and convoy duties. The
British Empire is widely scattered, and large tracts of ocean lie
between the various colonies, all of which will require
protection for the safe-guarding of our merchant shipping. The
provision of a force of these large airships will greatly add to
the security of our out-lying dominions.
We have now reached a point where it is incumbent on us to face
certain difficulties which beset the airship of large dimensions,
and which are always magnified by its detractors. Firstly, there
is the expense of sheds in which to house it; secondly, the large
number of trained personnel to assist in landing and handling it
when on the ground; thirdly, the risks attendant on the weather--
for the airship is still considered the general public as a
fair-weather craft; and fourthly, though this is principally in
connection with its efficiency for military purposes, its
vulnerability. We will deal with the four difficulties
enumerated under these headings seriatim, and endeavour to show
to what extent they may be surmounted if not entirely removed.
The solution of the first two problems may be summed up in two
words: "mooring out"; on the success of this it is considered
that the whole future of airships for commercial purposes rests.
It will be essential that in every country which the airship
visits on its voyages, one large central station is established
for housing and repairs. The position of such a station is
dependent on good weather conditions and the best railway
facilities possible. In all respects this station will be
comparable to a dry dock for surface vessels. The airship will
be taken into the shed for overhaul of hull structure, renewing
of gasbags or outer cover, and in short to undergo a periodical
refit. The cost of a shed capable of housing two rigid airships,
even at the present time, should not greatly exceed L500,000.
This sum, though considerable, is but a small item compared with
the cost of constructing docks to accommodate the Atlantic liner,
and when once completed the cost of maintenance is small when
weighed against the amount annually expended in dredging and
making good the wear and tear of a dock.
Apart from these occasional visits to a shed, the airship, in the
ordinary way at the end of a voyage, will pick up its moorings as
does the big steamer, and land its passengers and cargo, at the
same time replenishing its supplies of fuel, gas, provisions,
etc., while minor repairs to the machinery can be carried out as
she rides in the air.
A completely satisfactory solution of the mooring problem for the
rigid airship has yet to reach its consummation. We saw in the
previous chapter how, in the case of small non-rigids, they were
sheltered in berths cut into woods or belts of trees, but for the
rigid airship something more secure and less at the mercy of the
elements is required.
At the present moment three systems of mooring are in an
experimental stage: one, known as "the single-wire system," is
now practically acknowledged to fall short of perfection; the
second, "the three-wire system," and the third, "mooring to a
mast," both have their champions, but it is probable that the
last will be the one finally chosen, and when thoroughly tried
out with its imperfections eliminated will satisfy the most
The single-wire system is at the same time the simplest and most
obvious method which suggests itself, and means that the ship is
secured by a wire cable attached to a suitable point in the ship
and led to some fixed point on the ground. It has been found
that an airship secured in this way requires constant attention,
and that steering is always necessary to render her steady in the
air. Considerable improvement is obtained if a dragging weight
is added to the wire, as it tends to check to a considerable
extent lateral motion of the bow of the ship.
The three-wire system is an adaptation and an improvement on the
one previously mentioned. In this case the mooring point of the
ship is attached to three long wire cables, which, when raised in
the air, form a pyramid to the head of which the ship is
attached. These wires are led to bollards which form in plan an
equilateral triangle. The lift of the ship raises these wires
off the ground, and if the ship is trimmed up by the bows she
will be found to resist the action of the wind. A rigid airship
moored out by this method remained in the open for a considerable
time and rendered the future of this experiment most hopeful. It
was resolved to continue these experiments by adding a subsidiary
system of wires with running blocks, the whole wiring to form a
polygon revolving round a fixed centre. The disadvantages of
this method appear to be rather serious. It seems that great
difficulty will always be found in picking up these moorings in a
high wind, and though this also applies to the method with the
mast, the initial obstacles do not appear to be so great. A
powerful engine driving a winch will be necessary to raise these
heavy wires from the ground, although of course the lift of the
airship will assist in this. Secondly, the lowering of
passengers and cargo will not be easy as the ship will not be
rigidly secured. This, however, can probably be managed when
experiments have reached a further stage, and at present the
system may be said to present distinct possibilities.
The third system, that of mooring to a mast, possesses several
features peculiar to itself, and not embraced by the other two,
which should secure it prolonged investigations. The system is
by no means new and has been tried from time to time for several
years, but since the question of mooring in the open has been so
ventilated and is now considered of such vital importance, these
experiments have been continued, and in less spasmodic fashion
than in the past. In a trial with a small non-rigid airship some
months ago a signal success was achieved. The ship remained
attached to a mast in open country with no protection whatsoever
for six weeks in two of the worst months of the year. During
this period two men only were required to look after the ship,
which experienced gales in which the force of the wind rose to 52
miles per hour, and not the slightest damage was sustained.
Two or three methods of attaching the airship to the mast have
been proposed, but the one which appears to be most practical
is to attach the extreme bow point of the ship to some form of
cap, in which the nose of the ship will fit, and will revolve
round the top of the mast in accordance with the direction of the
For large airships, employed as passenger and commerce carriers,
we can imagine the mast advanced a stage further, and transformed
into a tower with a revolving head. Incorporated in this tower
will be a lift for passengers and luggage, pipes also will be
led to the summit through which both gas and water can be pumped
into the ship. With the airship rigidly held at the head of such
a structure all the difficulties of changing crews, embarking and
disembarking passengers, shipping and discharging cargo and also
refuelling, vanish at once. Assuming the mooring problem solved
with success, and we feel correct in this assumption, the first
two of our difficulties automatically disappear. Sheds will only
be necessary as repair depots and will not be extensively
required, all intermediate stopping places being provided with
masts and necessary arrangements for taking in gas, etc. At
these intermediate stations the number of men employed will be
comparatively speaking few. At the depots or repair stations the
number must, of course, be considerably increased, but the
provision of an enormous handling party will not be necessary. At
present large numbers of men are only required to take a large
airship in or out of a shed when the wind is blowing in a
direction across the shed; when these conditions prevail the
airship will, unless compelled by accident or other unforeseen
circumstances, remain moored out in the open until the direction
of the wind has changed.
Mechanical traction will also help effectually in handling
airships on the ground, and the difficulty of taking them in and
out of sheds has always been unduly magnified. The provision of
track rails and travellers to which the guys of the ship can be
attached, as is the practice in Germany, will tend to eliminate
the source of trouble.
We must now consider the effect that weather will have on the big
airship. In the past it has been a great handicap owing to the
short hours of endurance, with the resulting probability of the
ship having to land before the wind dropped and being wrecked in
consequence. Bad weather will not endanger the big airship in
flight, and its endurance will be such that, should it encounter
bad weather, it will be able to wait for a lull to land.
Meteorological forecasts have now reached a high state of
efficiency, and it should be possible for ample warnings to be
received of depressions to be met with during a voyage, and these
will be avoided by the airship flying round them. In the
northern hemisphere, depressions generally travel from west to
east and invariably rotate in a counter-clockwise direction with
the wind on the south side blowing from the west and on the north
side blowing from the east. Going west, the airship would fly to
the north of a depression to take advantage of the wind
circulating round the edge, and going east the southern course
would be taken.
Lastly, the vulnerability of the airship must be taken into
account. Hydrogen is, as everyone knows, most highly inflammable
when mixed with air. The public still feels uncomfortable
misgivings at the close proximity of an immense volume of gas to
a number of running engines. It may be said that the danger of
disaster due to the gas catching fire is for peace flying to all
intents and purposes negligible. At the risk of being thought
hackneyed we must point out a fact which has appeared in every
discussion of the kind, namely, that British airships flew during
the war some 21 million miles, and there is only one case of an
airship catching fire in the air. This was during a trial flight
in a purely experimental ship, and the cause which was afterwards
discovered has been completely eliminated.
For airships employed for military purposes this danger, due to
the use of incendiary bullets, rockets and various other
munitions evolved for their destruction, still exists.
Owing to its ceiling, rate of climb and speed, which we take to
be from 70 to 80 miles per hour in the airship of the future, the
airship may be regarded as comparatively safe against attack from
the ordinary type of seaplane. The chief danger to be
apprehended is attack from small scouting seaplanes, possessing
great speed and the power to climb to a great height, or from
aeroplanes launched from the decks of ships. If, however, the
airship is fitted to carry several small scout aeroplanes of high
efficiency in the manner described in the previous chapter, it
will probably be able to defend itself sufficiently to enable it
to climb to a great height and thus make good its escape.
The airship, moreover, will be more or less immune from such
dangers if the non-inflamable gas, known as "C" gas, becomes
sufficiently cheap to be used for inflating airships. In the
past the expense of this gas has rendered its use absolutely
prohibitive, but it is believed that it can be produced in
the United States for such a figure as will make it compare
favourably with hydrogen.
The navigation of an airship during these long voyages proposed
will present no difficulty whatever. The airship, as opposed to
the aeroplane, is reasonably steady in the air and the ordinary
naval instruments can be used. In addition, "directional"
wireless telegraphy will prove of immense assistance. The method
at present in use is to call up simultaneously two land stations
which, knowing their own distance apart, and reading the
direction of the call, plot a triangle on a chart which fixes the
position of the airship. This position is then transmitted by
wireless to the airship. In the future the airship itself will
carry its own directional apparatus, with which it will be able
to judge the direction of a call received from a single land
station and plot its own position on a chart.
We have so far confined our attention to the utilization of
airships for transport of passengers, mails and goods, but there
appear to be other fields of activity which can be exploited in
times of peace. The photographic work carried out by aeroplanes
during the war on the western front and in Syria and Mesopotamia
has shown the value of aerial photography for map making and
preliminary surveys of virgin country. Photography of broken
country and vast tracks of forest can be much more easily
undertaken from an airship than an aeroplane, on account of its
power to hover for prolonged periods over any given area and its
greater powers of endurance. For exploring the unmapped regions
of the Amazon or the upper reaches of the Chinese rivers the
airship offers unbounded facilities. Another scope suggested by
the above is searching for pearl-oyster beds, sunken treasure,
and assisting in salvage operations. Owing to the clearness of
the water in tropical regions, objects can be located at a great
depth when viewed from the air, and it is imagined that an
airship will be of great assistance in searching for likely
places. Sponges and coral are also obtained by diving, and here
the airship's co-operation will be of value. Small ships such as
the S.S. Zero would be ideal craft for these and similar
The mine patrol, as maintained by airships during the war,
encourages the opinion that a systematic search for icebergs in
the northern Atlantic might be carried out by airships during
certain months of the year. As is well known, icebergs are a
source of great danger to shipping in these waters during the
late spring and summer; if the situation becomes bad the main
shipping routes are altered and a southerly course is taken which
adds considerably to the length of the voyage. The proposal put
forward is that during these months as continuous a patrol as
possible should be carried out over these waters. The airship
employed could be based in Newfoundland and the method of working
would be very similar to anti-submarine patrol. Fixes could be
obtained from D.F. stations and warnings issued by wireless
telegraphy. Ice is chiefly found within five hundred miles of
the coast of Newfoundland, so that this work would come within
the scope of the N.S. airship. The knowledge that reliable
information concerning the presence of ice will always be to hand
would prove of inestimable value to the captains of Atlantic
liners, and would also relieve the shipping companies and the
public of great anxiety.
There are possibly many other uses to which airships can be put
such as the policing of wide stretches of desert country as in
Arabia and the Soudan. The merits of all of these will doubtless
be considered in due course and there for the present we must
Finally, a few words must be written regarding the means to be
adopted in introducing the airship into the realms of commerce.
As we said at the beginning of the chapter it is not likely that
the formation of a company to exploit airships only will at the
present moment appeal to business men. Airships are very costly
and are still in their infancy, which means that the premiums
demanded for their insurance must of necessity be enormous. One
suggestion is to place a reasonable scheme before the great
shipping companies in case they will care to find the necessary
capital and form subsidiary companies.
Another suggestion is that the Government should make
arrangements to subsidize commercial airships. The subsidy might
take the form of insuring them. If the burden of insurance is
taken off their shoulders, it is considered feasible to promote
companies which will give an adequate return for capital
invested. The Government could also give a financial guarantee
if mails are carried, in the same manner as is done by shipping
In return for this the Government could at the outbreak of
hostilities commandeer all or any of the airships for war
purposes and so save the number to be kept in commission.
By this means the Government will have a large number of
highly-trained and efficient personnel to call upon when the
emergency arises, in the same way as the fleet can call upon the
R.N.R. This system appears to be the best in every respect, and
it cannot be denied that in the long run it would be the most
economical for the country.
The airship has now arrived at the parting of the ways, and at
this point we must leave it. The flying in war has been
concluded, the flying in peace has not yet commenced. It seems a
far cry to the dark days of 1914, when we only possessed two
airships of utility, the one manufactured in France, the other in
Germany, while to-day we have built the mighty airship which can
fly to America and back. We are now at the dawn of a new period
of reconstruction and progress, and during this period many
wonderful things will happen. Not the least of these will be the
development of the airship.
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