The Dominion of the Air
J. M. Bacon

Part 5 out of 5

lon. We are at an altitude of 600 metres. All well.--Andree,
Svedenborg, Frankel.' "

Commenting on the first message, Mr. Percival Spencer says:--"I
cannot place reliance upon the accuracy of either the date or
else the lat. and long. given, as I am confident that the
balloon would have travelled a greater distance in two days."
It should be noted that Dane's Island lies in 79 degrees 30
minutes north lat. and 10 degrees 10 minutes east long.

Mr. Spencer's opinion, carefully considered and expressed
eighteen months afterwards, will be read with real interest:--

"The distance from Dane's Island to the Pole is about 750
miles, and to Alaska on the other side about 1,500 miles. The
course of the balloon, however, was not direct to the Pole, but
towards Franz Josef Land (about 600 miles) and to the Siberian
coast (another 800 miles). Judging from the description of
the wind at the start, and comparing it with my own ballooning
experience, I estimate its speed as 40 miles per hour, and it
will, therefore, be evident that a distance of 2,000 miles
would be covered in 50 hours, that is two days and two hours
after the start. I regard all theories as to the balloon being
capable of remaining in the air for a month as illusory. No
free balloon has ever remained aloft for more than 36 hours,
but with the favourable conditions at the northern regions
(where the sun does not set and where the temperature remains
equable) a balloon might remain in the air for double the
length of time which I consider ample for the purpose of Polar

A record of the direction of the wind was made after Andree's
departure, and proved that there was a fluctuation in direction
from S.W. to N.W., indicating that the voyagers may have been
borne across towards Siberia. This, however, can be but
surmise. All aeronauts of experience know that it is an
exceedingly difficult manoeuvre to keep a trail rope dragging
on the ground if it is desirable to prevent contact with the
earth on the one hand, or on the other to avoid loss of gas. A
slight increase of temperature or drying off of condensed
moisture may--indeed, is sure to after a while--lift the rope
off the ground, in which case the balloon, rising into upper
levels, may be borne away on currents which may be of almost
any direction, and of which the observer below may know
nothing. As to the actual divergence from the wind's direction
which a trail rope and side sail might be hoped to effect, it
may be confidently stated that, notwithstanding some wonderful
accounts that have gone abroad, it must not be relied on as
commonly amounting to much more than one or, at the most, two

Although it is to be feared that trustworthy information as to
the ultimate destination of Andree's balloon may never be
gained, yet we may safely state that his ever famous, though
regrettable, voyage was the longest in duration ever attained.
At the end of 48 hours his vessel would seem to have been still
well up and going strong. The only other previous voyage that
had in duration of travel approached this record was that made
by M. Mallet, in 1892, and maintained for 36 hours. Next we
may mention that of M. Herve, in 1886, occupying 24 1/2 hours,
which feat, however, was almost equal led by the great Leipzig
balloon in 1897, which, with eight people in the car, remained
up for 24 1/4 hours, and did not touch earth till 1,032 miles
had been traversed.

The fabric of Andree's balloon may not be considered to have
been the best for such an exceptional purpose. Dismissing
considerations of cost, goldbeaters' skin would doubtless have
been more suitable. The military balloons at Aldershot are
made of this, and one such balloon has been known to remain
inflated for three months with very little loss. It is
conceivable, therefore, that the chances of the voyagers, whose
ultimate safety depended so largely upon the staying power of
their aerial vessel, might have been considerably increased.

One other expedient, wholly impracticable, but often seriously
discussed, may be briefly referred to, namely, the idea of
taking up apparatus for pumping gas into metal receivers as the
voyage proceeds, in order to raise or lower a balloon, and in
this way to prolong its life. Mr. Wenham has investigated the
point with his usual painstaking care, and reduced its
absurdity to a simple calculation, which should serve to banish
for good such a mere extravagant theory.

Suppose, he says, the gas were compressed to one-twentieth part
of its bulk, which would mean a pressure within its receiver of
300 lbs. per square inch, and that each receiver had a capacity
of 1 cubic foot, while for safety sake it was made of steel
plates one-twentieth of an inch thick, then each receiver would
weigh 10 lbs., and to liberate 1,000 feet clearly a weight of
500 lbs. would have to be taken up. Now, when it is considered
that 1,000 cubic feet of hydrogen will only lift 72 lbs., the
scheme begins to look hope less enough. But when the question
of the pumping apparatus, to be worked by hand, is contemplated
the difficulties introduced become yet more insuperable. The
only feasible suggestion with respect the use of compressed gas
is that of taking on board charged cylinders under high
pressure, which, after being discharged to supply the leakage
of the balloon could, in an uninhabited country, be cast out as
ballast last. It will need no pointing out, however, that such
an idea would be practically as futile as another which has
gravely been recommended, namely, that of heating the gas of
the balloon by a Davy lamp, so as to increase its buoyancy at
will. Major Baden-Powell has aptly described this as
resembling "an attempt to warm a large hall with a small spirit

In any future attempt to reach the Pole by balloon it is
not unreasonable to suppose that wireless telegraphy will be
put in practice to maintain communication with the base. The
writer's personal experience of the possibilities afforded by
this mode of communication, yet in its infancy, will be given.


In the autumn of 1898 the aeronautical world was interested to
hear that a young Brazilian, M. Santos Dumont, had completed a
somewhat novel dirigible balloon, cylindrical in shape, with
conical ends, 83 feet long by 12 feet in diameter, holding
6,500 cubic feet of gas, and having a small compensating
balloon of 880 cubic feet capacity. For a net was substituted
a simple contrivance, consisting of two side pockets, running
the length of the balloon, and containing battens of wood, to
which were affixed the suspension cords, bands being also sewn
over the upper part of the balloon connecting the two pockets.
The most important novelty, however, was the introduction of a
small petroleum motor similar to those used for motor

The inventor ascended in this balloon, inflated with pure
hydrogen, from the Jardin d'Acclimatation, Paris, and circled
several times round the large captive balloon in the Gardens,
after which, moving towards the Bois de Boulogne, he made
several sweeps of 100 yards radius. Then the pump of the
compensator caused the engine to stop, and the machine,
partially collapsing, fell to the ground. Santos Dumont was
somewhat shaken, but announced his intention of making other
trials. In this bold and successful attempt there was clear
indication of a fresh phase in the construction of the airship,
consisting in the happy adoption of the modern type of
petroleum motor. Two other hying machines were heard of about
this date, one by Professor Giampietre, of Pavia, cigar-shaped,
driven by screws, and rigged with masts and sails. The other,
which had been constructed and tested in strict privacy, was
the invention of a French engineer, M. Ader, and was imagined
to imitate the essential structure of a bird. Two steam motors
of 20-horse power supplied the power. It was started by being
run on the ground on small wheels attached to it, and it was
claimed that before a breakdown occurred the machine had
actually raised itself into the air.

Of Santos Dumont the world was presently to know more, and the
same must be said of another inventor, Dr. Barton, of
Beckenham, who shortly completed an airship model carrying
aeroplanes and operated by clockwork. In an early experiment
this model travelled four miles in twenty-three minutes.

But another airship, a true leviathan, had been growing into
stately and graceful proportions on the shores of the Bodenzee
in Wurtemberg, and was already on the eve of completion. Count
Zeppelin, a lieut.-general in the German Army, who had seen
service in the Franco-German War, had for some years devoted
his fortune and energy to the practical study of aerial
navigation, and had prosecuted experiments on a large scale.
Eventually, having formed a company with a large capital, he
was enabled to construct an airship which in size has been
compared to a British man-of-war. Cigar-shaped, its length was
no less than 420 feet, and diameter 40 feet, while its weight
amounted to no more than 7,250 lbs. The framework, which for
lightness had been made of aluminium, was, with the object of
preventing all the gas collecting at one end of its elongated
form, subdivided into seventeen compartments, each of these
compartments containing a completely fitted gas balloon, made
of oiled cotton and marvellously gas tight. A steering
apparatus was placed both fore and aft, and at a safe distance
below the main structure were fixed, also forward and aft, on
aluminium platforms, two Daimler motor engines of 16-horse
power, working aluminium propellers of four blades at the rate
of 1,000 revolutions a minute. Finally, firmly attached to the
inner framework by rods of aluminium, were two cars of the same
metal, furnished with buffer springs to break the force of a
fall. The trial trip was not made till the summer
following--June, 1900--and, in the meanwhile, experiments had
gone forward with another mode of flight, terminating,
unhappily, in the death of one of the most expert and ingenious
of mechanical aeronauts.

Mr. Percy S. Pilcher, now thirty-three years of age, having
received his early training in the Navy, retired from the
Service to become a civil engineer, and had been for some time
a partner in the firm of Wilson and Pilcher. For four or five
years he had been experimenting in soaring flight, using a
Lilienthal machine, which he improved to suit his own methods.
Among these was the device of rising off the ground by being
rapidly towed by a line against the wind.

At the end of September he gave an exhibition at Stamford Park
before Lord Bray and a select party of friends--this in spite
of an unsuitable afternoon of unsteady wind and occasional
showers. A long towing line was provided, which, being passed
round pulley blocks and dragged by a couple of horses, was
capable of being hauled in at high speed. The first trial,
though ending in an accident, was eminently satisfactory. The
apparatus, running against the wind, had risen some distance,
when the line broke, yet the inventor descended slowly and
safely with outstretched wings. The next trial also commenced
well, with an easy rise to a height of some thirty feet. At
that point, however, the tail broke with a snap, and the
machine, pitching over, fell a complete wreck. Mr. Pilcher was
found insensible, with his thigh broken, and though no other
serious injury was apparent, he succumbed two days afterwards
without recovering consciousness. It was surmised that
shrinkage of the canvas of the tail, through getting wet, had
strained and broken its bamboo stretcher.

This autumn died Gaston Tissandier, at the age of fifty-six;
and in the month of December, at a ripe old age, while still in
full possession of intellectual vigour, Mr. Coxwell somewhat
suddenly passed away. Always keenly interested in the progress
of aeronautics; he had but recently, in a letter to the
Standard, proposed a well-considered and practical method of
employing Montgolfier reconnoitring balloons, portable, readily
inflated, and especially suited to the war in South Africa.
Perhaps the last letters of a private nature penned by Mr.
Coxwell were to the writer and his daughter, full of friendly
and valuable suggestion, and more particularly commenting on a
recent scientific aerial voyage, which proved to be not only
sensational, but established a record in English ballooning.

The great train of the November meteors, known as the Leonids,
which at regular periods of thirty-three years had in the past
encountered the earth's atmosphere, was due, and over-due. The
cause of this, and of their finally eluding observation, need
only be very briefly touched on here. The actual meteoric
train is known to travel in an elongated ellipse, the far end
of which lies near the confines of the solar system, while at a
point near the hither end the earth's orbit runs slantingly
athwart it, forming, as it were, a level crossing common to the
two orbits, the earth taking some five or six hours in transit.
Calculation shows that the meteor train is to be expected at
this crossing every thirty-three and a third years, while the
train is extended to such an enormous length--taking more than
a year to draw clear--that the earth must needs encounter it
ere it gets by, possibly even two years running. There could
be no absolute certainty about the exact year, nor the exact
night when the earth and the meteors would foregather, owing to
the uncertain disturbance which the latter must suffer from the
pull of the planetary bodies in the long journey out and home
again among them. As is now known, this disturbing effect had
actually dispersed the train.

The shower, which was well seen in 1866, was pretty confidently
expected in 1899, and to guard against the mischance of cloudy
weather, it was arranged that the writer should, on behalf of
the Times newspaper, make an ascent on the right night to
secure observations. Moreover, it was arranged that he should
have, as chief assistant, his own daughter, an enthusiastic
lady aeronaut, who had also taken part in previous astronomical

Unfortunately there were two nights, those of November 14th and
15th, when the expected shower seemed equally probable, and,
taking counsel with the best authorities in the astronomical
world, it seemed that the only course to avoid disappointment
would be to have a balloon filled and moored in readiness for
an immediate start, either on the first night or on the second.

This settled the matter from the astronomical side, but there
was the aeronautical side also to be considered. A balloon of
56,000 cubic feet capacity was the largest available for the
occasion, and a night ascent with three passengers and
instruments would need plenty of lifting power to meet chance
emergencies. Thus it seemed that a possible delay of
forty-eight hours might entail a greater leakage of gas than
could be afforded.

The leakage might be expected chiefly to occur at the valve in
the head of the balloon, it being extremely difficult to render
any form of mechanical valve gas tight, however carefully its
joints be stopped with luting. On this account, therefore, it
was determined that the balloon should be fitted with what is
known as a solid or rending valve, consisting simply of balloon
fabric tied hard and fast over the entire upper outlet, after
the fashion of a jam pot cover. The outlet itself was a gaping
hole of over 2 feet across; but by the time its covering had
been carefully varnished over all leakage was sufficiently
prevented, the one drawback to this method being the fact that
the liberation of gas now admitted of no regulation. Pulling
the valve line would simply mean opening the entire wide
aperture, which could in no way be closed again.

The management of such a valve consists in allowing the balloon
to sink spontaneously earthwards, and when it has settled near
the ground, having chosen a desirable landing place, to tear
open the so-called valve once and for all.

This expedient, dictated by necessity, seeming sufficient for
the purpose at hand, preparations were proceeded with, and,
under the management of Mr. Stanley Spencer, who agreed to act
as aeronaut, a large balloon, with solid valve, was brought
down to Newbury gas works on November 14th, and, being inflated
during the afternoon, was full and made snug by sundown. But
as the meteor radiant would not be well above the horizon till
after midnight, the aeronautical party retired for refreshment,
and subsequently for rest, when, as the night wore on, it
became evident that, though the sky remained clear, there would
be no meteor display that night. The next day was overcast,
and by nightfall hopelessly so, the clouds ever thickening,
with absence of wind or any indication which might give promise
of a change. Thus by midnight it became impossible to tell
whether any display were in progress or not. Under these
circumstances, it might have been difficult to decide when to
make the start with the best show of reason. Clearly too early
a start could not subsequently be rectified; the balloon, once
off, could not come back again; while, once liberated, it would
be highly unwise for it to remain aloft and hidden by clouds
for more than some two hours, lest it should be carried out to

Happily the right decision under these circumstances was
perfectly clear. Other things being equal, the best time would
be about 4 a.m., by which period the moon, then near the full,
would be getting low, and the two hours of darkness left would
afford the best seeing. Leaving, then, an efficient outlook on
the balloon ground, the party enjoyed for some hours the
entertainment offered them by the Newbury Guildhall Club, and
at 4 a.m. taking their seats in the car, sailed up into the
calm chilly air of the November night.

But the chilliness did not last for long. A height of 1,500
feet was read by the Davy lamp, and then we entered fog--warm,
wetting fog, through which the balloon would make no progress
in spite of a prodigal discharge of sand. The fact was that
the balloon, which had become chilled through the night hours,
was gathering a great weight of moisture from condensation on
its surface, and when, at last, the whole depth of the cloud,
1,500 feet, had been penetrated, the chill of the upper air
crippled the balloon and sent her plunging down again into the
mist, necessitating yet further expenditure of sand, which by
this time had amounted to no less than 3 1/2 cwt. in twenty
minutes. And then at last we reached our level, a region on
the upper margin of the cloud floor, where evaporation reduced
the temperature, that had recently been that of greenhouse
warmth, to intense cold.

That evaporation was going on around us on a gigantic scale was
made very manifest. The surface of the vast cloud floor below
us was in a perfect turmoil, like that of a troubled sea. If
the cloud surface could be compared to anything on earth it
most resembled sea where waves are running mountains high. At
one moment we should be sailing over a trough, wide and deep
below us, the next a mighty billow would toss itself aloft and
vanish utterly into space. Everywhere wreaths of mist with
ragged fringes were withering away into empty air, and, more
remarkable yet, was the conflict of wind which sent the cloud
wrack flying simply in all directions.

For two hours now there was opportunity for observing at
leisure all that could be made of the falling meteors. There
were a few, and these, owing to our clear, elevated region,
were exceptionally bright. The majority, too, were true
Leonids, issuing from the radiant point in the "Sickle," but
these were not more numerous than may be counted on that night
in any year, and served to emphasise the fact that no real
display was in progress. The outlook was maintained, and
careful notes made for two hours, at the end of which time the
dawn began to break, the stars went in, and we were ready to
pack up and come down.

But the point was that we were not coming down. We were at
that time, 6 a.m., 4,000 feet high, and it needs no pointing
out that at such an altitude it would have been madness to tear
open our huge rending valve, thus emptying the balloon of gas.
It may also be unnecessary to point out that in an ordinary
afternoon ascent such a valve would be perfectly satisfactory,
for under these circumstances the sun presently must go down,
the air must grow chill, and the balloon must come earthward,
allowing of an easy descent until a safe and suitable
opportunity for rending the valve occurred; but now we knew
that conditions were reversed, and that the sun was just going
to rise.

And then it was we realised that we were caught in a trap.
From that moment it was painfully evident that we were
powerless to act, and were at the mercy of circumstances. By
this time the light was strong, and, being well above the
tossing billows of mist, we commanded an extended view on every
side, which revealed, however, only the upper unbroken surface
of the dense cloud canopy that lay over all the British Isles.
We could only make a rough guess as to our probable locality.
We knew that our course at starting lay towards the west, and
if we were maintaining that course a travel of scarcely more
than sixty miles would carry us out to the open sea. We had
already been aloft for two hours, and as we were at an altitude
at which fast upper currents are commonly met with, it was high
time that, for safety, we should be coming down; yet it was
morally certain that it would be now many hours before our
balloon would commence to descend of its own accord by sheer
slow leakage of gas, by which time, beyond all reasonable
doubt, we must be carried far out over the Atlantic. All we
could do was to listen intently for any sounds that might reach
us from earth, and assure us that we were still over the land;
and for a length of time such sounds were vouchsafed us--the
bark of a dog, the lowing of cattle, the ringing trot of a
horse on some hard road far down.

And then, as we were expecting, the sun climbed up into an
unsullied sky, and, mounting by leaps and bounds, we watched
the cloud floor receding beneath us. The effect was extremely
beautiful. A description written to the Times the next
morning, while the impression was still fresh, and from notes
made at this period, ran thus:--" Away to an infinitely distant
horizon stretched rolling billows of snowy whiteness, broken up
here and there into seeming icefields, with huge fantastic
hummocks. Elsewhere domes and spires reared themselves above
the general surface, or an isolated Matterhorn towered into
space. In some quarters it was impossible to look without the
conviction that we actually beheld the outline of lofty cliffs
overhanging a none too distant sea." Shortly we began to hear
loud reports overhead, resembling small explosions, and we knew
what these were--the moist, shrunken netting was giving out
under the hot sun and yielding now and again with sudden
release to the rapidly expanding gas. It was, therefore, with
grave concern, but with no surprise, that when we next turned
to the aneroid we found the index pointing to 9,000 feet, and
still moving upwards.

Hour after hour passed by, and, sounds having ceased to reach
us, it remains uncertain whether or no we were actually carried
out to sea and headed back again by contrary currents, an
experience with which aeronauts, including the writer, have
been familiar; but, at length, there was borne up to us the
distant sound of heavy hammers and of frequent trains, from
which we gathered that we were probably over Bristol, and it
was then that the thought occurred to my daughter that we might
possibly communicate with those below with a view to succour.
This led to our writing the following message many times over
on blank telegraph forms and casting them down:-- "Urgent.
Large balloon from Newbury travelling overhead above the
clouds. Cannot descend. Telegraph to sea coast (coast-guards)
to be ready to rescue.--Bacon and Spencer."

While thus occupied we caught the sound of waves, and the
shriek of a ship's siren. We were crossing a reach of the
Severn, and most of our missives probably fell in the sea. But
over the estuary there must have been a cold upper current
blowing, which crippled our balloon, for the aneroid presently
told of a fall of 2,000 feet. It was now past noon, and to us
the turn of the tide was come. Very slowly, and with strange
fluctuations, the balloon crept down till it reached and became
enveloped in the cloud below, and then the end was near. The
actual descent occupied nearly two hours, and affords a curious
study in aerostation. The details of the balloon's dying
struggles and of our own rough descent, entailing the fracture
of my daughter's arm, are told in another volume.*

We fell near Neath, Glamorganshire, only one and a half miles
short of the sea, completing a voyage which is a record in
English ballooning--ten hours from start to finish.

* "By Land and Sky," by the Author.


The first trial of the Zeppelin air ship was arranged to take
place on June 30th, 1900, a day which, from absence of wind,
was eminently well suited for the purpose; but the inflation
proved too slow a process, and operations were postponed to the
morrow. The morrow, however, was somewhat windy, causing
delay, and by the time all was in readiness darkness had set in
and the start was once more postponed. On the evening of the
third day the monster craft was skilfully and successfully
manoeuvred, and, rising with a very light wind, got fairly
away, carrying Count Zeppelin and four other persons in the two
cars. Drifting with the wind, it attained a height of some 800
or 900 feet, at which point the steering apparatus being
brought into play it circled round and faced the wind, when it
remained stationary. But not for long. Shortly it began to
descend and, sinking gradually, gracefully, and in perfect
safety, in about nine minutes it reached and rested on the
water, when it was towed home.

A little later in the month, July, another trial was made, when
a wind was blowing estimated at sixteen miles an hour. As on
the previous occasion, the direct influence of the sun was
avoided by waiting till evening hours. It ascended at 8 p.m.,
and the engines getting to work it made a slow progress of
about two miles an hour against the wind for about 3 1/2 miles,
when one of the rudders gave way, and the machine was obliged
to descend.

On the evening of October 24th of the same year, in very calm
weather and with better hope, another ascent was made. On this
occasion, however, success was frustrated by one of the rear
rudders getting foul of the gear, followed by the escape of gas
from one of the balloons.

Another and more successful trial took place in the same month,
again in calm atmosphere. Inferior gas was employed, and it
would appear that the vessel had not sufficient buoyancy. It
remained aloft for a period of twenty minutes, during which it
proved perfectly manageable, making a graceful journey out and
home, and returning close to its point of departure. This
magnificent air ship, the result of twenty years of experiment,
has since been abandoned and broken up; yet the sacrifice has
not been without result. Over and above the stimulus which
Count Zeppelin's great endeavour has given to the aeronautical
world, two special triumphs are his. He has shown balloonists
how to make a perfectly gas-tight material, and has raised
powerful petroleum motors in a balloon with safety.

In the early part of 1900 it was announced that a member of the
Paris Aero Club, who at the time withheld his name (M. Deutsch)
offered a prize of 100,000 francs to the aeronaut who, either
in a balloon or flying machine, starting from the grounds of
the Aero Club at Longchamps, would make a journey round the
Eiffel Tower, returning to the starting place within half an
hour. The donor would withdraw his prize if not won within
five years, and in the meanwhile would pay 4,000 francs
annually towards the encouragement of worthy experimenters.

It was from this time that flying machines in great variety and
goodly number began to be heard of, if not actually seen. One
of the earliest to be announced in the Press was a machine
invented by the Russian, Feedoroff, and the Frenchman, Dupont.
Dr. Danilewsky came forward with a flying machine combining
balloon and aeroplane, the steering of which would be worked
like a velocipede by the feet of the aeronaut.

Mr. P. Y. Alexander, of Bath, who had long been an enthusiastic
balloonist, and who had devoted a vast amount of pains,
originality, and engineering skill to the pursuit of
aeronautics, was at this time giving much attention to the
flying machine, and was, indeed, one of the assistants in the
first successful launching of the Zeppelin airship. In concert
with Mr. W. G. Walker, A.M.I.C.E., Mr. Alexander carried out
some valuable and exhaustive experiments on the lifting power
of air propellers, 30 feet in diameter, driven by a portable
engine. The results, which were of a purely technical nature,
have been embodied in a carefully compiled memoir.

An air ship now appeared, invented by M. Rose, consisting of
two elongated vessels filled with gas, and carrying the working
gear and car between them. The machine was intentionally made
heavier than air, and was operated by a petrol motor of
12-horse power.

It was now that announcements began to be made to the effect
that, next to the Zeppelin air ship, M. Santos Dumont's balloon
was probably attracting most of the attention of experts. The
account given of this air vessel] by the Daily Express was
somewhat startling. The balloon proper was compared to a large
torpedo. Three feet beneath this hangs the gasoline motor
which is to supply the power. The propeller is 12 feet in
diameter, and is revolved so rapidly by the motor that the
engine frequently gets red hot. The only accommodation for the
traveller is a little bicycle seat, from which the aeronaut
will direct his motor and steering gear by means of treadles.
Then the inclination or declination of his machine must be
noted on the spirit level at his side, and the 200 odd pounds
of ballast must be regulated as the course requires.

A more detailed account of this navigable balloon was furnished
by a member of the Paris Aero Club. From this authority we
learn that the capacity of the balloon was 10,700 cubic feet.
It contained an inner balloon and an air fan, the function of
which was to maintain the shape of the balloon when meeting the
wind, and the whole was operated by a 10-horse power motor
capable of working the screw at 100 revolutions per minute.

But before the aerial exploits of Santos Dumont had become
famous, balloons had again claimed public attention. On August
1st Captain Spelterini, with two companions, taking a balloon
and 180 cylinders of hydrogen to the top of the Rigi and
ascending thence, pursued a north-east course, across extensive
and beautiful tracts of icefield and mountain fastnesses
unvisited by men. The descent, which was difficult and
critical, was happily manoeuvred. This took place on the
Gnuetseven, a peak over 5,000 feet high, the plateau on which
the voyagers landed being described as only 50 yards square,
surrounded by precipices.

On the 10th of September following the writer was fortunate in
carrying out some wireless telegraphy experiments in a balloon,
the success of which is entirely due to the unrivalled skill of
Mr. Nevil Maskelyne, F.R.A.S., and to his clever adaptation of
the special apparatus of his own invention to the exigencies of
a free balloon. The occasion was the garden party at the
Bradford meeting of the British Association, Admiral Sir Edmund
Fremantle taking part in the voyage, with Mr. Percival Spencer
in charge. The experiment was to include the firing of a mine
in the grounds two minutes after the balloon had left, and this
item was entirely successful. The main idea was to attempt to
establish communication between a base and a free balloon
retreating through space at a height beyond practicable gun
shot. The wind was fast and squally, and the unavoidable rough
jolting which the car received at the start put the
transmitting instrument out of action. The messages, however,
which were sent from the grounds at Lister Park were received
and watched by the occupants of the car up to a distance of
twenty miles, at which point the voyage terminated.

On September 30th, and also on October 9th, of this year, took
place two principal balloon races from Vincennes in connection
with the Paris Exposition. In the first race, among those who
competed were M. Jacques Faure, the Count de la Vaulx, and M.
Jacques Balsan. The Count was the winner, reaching Wocawek, in
Russian Poland, a travel of 706 miles, in 21 hours 34 minutes.
M. Balsan was second, descending near Dantzig in East Prussia,
757 miles, in 22 hours. M. Jacques Faure reached Mamlitz, in
East Prussia, a distance of 753 miles.

In the final race the Count de la Vaulx made a record voyage of
1,193 miles, reaching Korosticheff, in Russia, in 35 hours 45
minutes, attaining a maximum altitude of 18,810 feet. M. J.
Balsan reached a greater height, namely, 21,582 feet,
travelling to Rodom, in Russia, a distance of 843 miles, in 27
hours 25 minutes.

Some phenomenal altitudes were attained at this time. In
September, 1898, Dr. Berson, of Berlin, ascended from the
Crystal Palace in a balloon inflated with hydrogen, under the
management of Mr. Stanley Spencer, oxygen being an essential
part of the equipment. The start was made at 5 p.m., and the
balloon at first drifted south-east, out over the mouth of the
Thames, until at an altitude of 10,000 feet an upper current
changed the course to southwest, the balloon mounting rapidly
till 23,000 feet was reached, at which height the coast of
France was plainly seen. At 25,000 feet both voyagers were
gasping, and compelled to inhale oxygen. At 27,500 feet, only
four bags of ballast being left, the descent was commenced, and
a safe landing was effected at Romford.

Subsequently Dr. Berson, in company with Dr. Suring, ascending
from Berlin, attained an altitude of 34,000 feet. At 30,000
feet the aeronauts were inhaling oxygen, and before reaching
their highest point both had for a considerable time remained

In 1901 a new aeroplane flying machine began to attract
attention, the invention of Herr Kress. A novel feature of the
machine was a device to render it of avail for Arctic travel.
In shape it might be compared to an iceboat with two keels and
a long stem, the keels being adapted to run on ice or snow,
while the boat would float on water. Power was to be derived
from a petrol motor.

At the same period M. Henry Sutor was busy on Lake Constance
with an air ship designed also to float on water. Then Mr.
Buchanan followed with a fish-shaped vessel, one of the most
important specialities of which consisted in side propellers,
the surfaces of which were roughened with minute diagonal
grooves to effect a greater grip on the air.

No less original was the air ship, 100 feet long, and carrying
18,000 cubic feet of gas, which Mr. W. Beedle was engaged upon.
In this machine, besides the propellers for controlling the
horizontal motion, there was one to regulate vertical motion,
with a view of obviating expenditure of gas or ballast.

But by this time M. Santos Dumont, pursuing his hobby with
unparalleled perseverance, had built in succession no less than
six air ships, meeting with no mean success, profiting by every
lesson taught by failures, and making light of all accidents,
great or small. On July 15th, 1901, he made a famous try for
the Deutsch prize in a cigar-shaped balloon, 110 feet long,
19,000 cubic feet capacity, carrying a Daimler oil motor of
15-horse power. The day was not favourable, but, starting from
the Parc d'Aerostation, he was abreast of the Eiffel Tower in
thirteen minutes, circling round which, and battling against a
head wind, he reached the grounds of the Aero Club in 41
minutes from the start, or 11 minutes late by the conditions of
the prize. A cylinder had broken down, and the balance of the
vessel had become upset.

Within a fortnight--July 29th--in favourable weather, he made
another flight, lasting fifteen minutes, at the end of which he
had returned to his starting ground. Then on August 8th a more
momentous attempt came off. Sailing up with a rapid ascent,
and flying with the wind, Santos Dumont covered the distance to
the Tower in five minutes only, and gracefully swung round;
but, immediately after, the wind played havoc, slowing down the
motor, at the same time damaging the balloon, and causing an
escape of gas. On this Santos Dumont, ascending higher into
the sky, quitted the car, and climbed along the keel to
inspect, and, if possible, rectify the motor, but with little
success. The balloon was emptying, and the machine pitched
badly, till a further rent occurred, when it commenced falling
hopelessly and with a speed momentarily increasing.

Slanting over a roof, the balloon caught a chimney and tore
asunder; but the wreck, also catching, held fast, while the car
hung helplessly down a blank wall. In this perilous
predicament great coolness and agility alone averted disaster,
till firemen were able to come to the rescue.

The air ship was damaged beyond repair, but by September 6th
another was completed, and on trial appeared to work well
until, while travelling at speed, it was brought up and badly
strained by the trail rope catching in trees.

Early in the next month the young Brazilian was aloft again,
with weather conditions entirely in his favour; but again
certain minor mishaps prevented his next struggle for the
prize, which did not take place till the 19th. On this day a
light cross wind was blowing, not sufficient, however,
seriously to influence the first stage of the time race, and
the outward journey was accomplished with a direct flight in
nine minutes. On rounding the tower, however, the wind began
to tell prejudicially, and the propeller became deranged. On
this, letting his vessel fall off from the wind, Santos Dumont
crawled along the framework till he reached the motor, which he
succeeded in again setting in working order, though not without
a delay of several minutes and some loss of ground. From that
point the return journey was accomplished in eight minutes, and
the race was, at the time, declared lost by 40 seconds only.

The most important and novel feature in the air ships
constructed by Santos Dumont was the internal ballonet,
inflated automatically by a ventilator, the expedient being
designed to preserve the shape of the main balloon itself while
meeting the wind. On the whole, it answered well, and took the
place of the heavy wire cage used by Zeppelin.

M. de Fonvielle, commenting on the achievements of Santos
Dumont, wrote:--"It does not appear that he has navigated his
balloon against more than very light winds, but in his
machinery he has shown such attention to detail that it may
reasonably be expected that if he continues to increase his
motive power he will, ere long, exceed past performances."

Mr. Chanute has a further word to say about the possibility of
making balloons navigable. He considers that their size will
have to be great to the verge of impracticability and the power
of the motor enormous in proportion to its weight. As to
flying machines, properly so called, he calculates the best
that has been done to be the sustaining of from 27 lbs. to 55
lbs. per horse power by impact upon the air. But Mr. Chanute
also argues that the equilibrium is of prime importance, and on
this point there could scarcely be a greater authority. No one
of living men has given more attention to the problem of
"soaring," and it is stated that he has had about a thousand
"slides" made by assistants, with different types of machine,
and all without the slightest accident.

Many other aerial vessels might be mentioned. Mr. T. H.
Bastin, of Clapham, has been engaged for many years on a
machine which should imitate bird flight as nearly as this may
be practicable.

Baron Bradsky aims at a navigable balloon on an ambitious
scale. M. Tatin is another candidate for the Deutsch prize.
Of Dr. Barton's air ship more is looked for, as being designed
for the War Office. It is understood that the official
requirements demand a machine which, while capable of
transporting a man through the air at a speed of 13 miles an
hour, can remain fully inflated for 48 hours. One of the most
sanguine, as well as enterprising, imitators of Santos Dumont
was a fellow countryman, Auguste Severo. Of his machine during
construction little could be gathered, and still less seen,
from the fact that the various parts were being manufactured at
different workshops, but it was known to be of large size and
to be fitted with powerful motors. This was an ill-fated
vessel. At an early hour on May 12th of this year, 1902, all
Paris was startled by a report that M. Severo and his
assistant, M. Sachet had been killed while making a trial
excursion. It appears that at daybreak it had been decided
that the favourable moment for trial had arrived. The
machinery was got ready, and with little delay the air vessel
was dismissed and rose quietly and steadily into the calm sky.
The Daily Mail gives the following account of what ensued:--

"For the first few minutes all went well, and the motor seemed
to be working satisfactorily. The air ship answered the helm
readily, and admiring exclamations rose from the crowd.... But
as the vessel rose higher she was seen to fall off from the
wind, while the aeronauts could be seen vainly endeavouring to
keep her head on. Then M. Severo commenced throwing out
ballast.... All this time the ship was gradually soaring higher
and higher until, just as it was over the Montparnasse
Cemetery, at the height of 2,000 feet, a sheet of flame was
seen to shoot up from one of the motors, and instantly the
immense silk envelope containing 9,000 cubicfeet of hydrogen
was enveloped in leaping tongues of fire.... As soon as the
flames came in contact with the gas a tremendous explosion
followed, and in an instant all that was left of the air ship
fell to the earth." Both aeronauts were dashed to pieces. It
was thought that the fatality was caused through faulty
construction, the escape valve for the gas being situated only
about nine feet from the motor. It was announced by Count de
la Vaulx that during the summer of 1901 he would attempt to
cross the Mediterranean by a balloon, provisioned for three
weeks, maintaining communication with the coast during his
voyage by wireless telegraphy and other methods of signalling.
He was to make use of the "Herve Deviator," or steering
apparatus, which may be described as a series of cupshaped
plates dipping in the water at the end of a trail rope. By
means of controlling cords worked from the car, the whole
series of plates could be turned at an angle to the direction
of the wind, by which the balloon's course would be altered.
Count de la Vaulx attempted this grand journey on October 12th,
starting from Toulon with the intention of reaching Algiers,
taking the precaution, however, of having a cruiser in
attendance. When fifty miles out from Marseilles a passing
steamer received from the balloon the signal, "All's well"; but
the wind had veered round to the east, and, remaining
persistently in this quarter, the Count abandoned his venture,
and, signalling to the cruiser, succeeded in alighting on her
deck, not, however, before he had completed the splendid and
record voyage of 41 hours' duration.


Clearly the time has not yet arrived when the flying machine
will be serviceable in war. Yet we are not without those
theorisers who, at the present moment, would seriously propose
schemes for conveying dynamite and other explosives by air
ship, or dropping them over hostile forces or fortresses, or
even fleets at sea. They go yet further, and gravely discuss
the point whether such warfare would be legitimate. We,
however, may say at once, emphatically, that any such scheme is
simply impracticable. It must be abundantly evident that, so
far, no form of dirigible air ship exists which could be relied
on to carry out any required manoeuvre in such atmospheric
conditions as generally prevail. If, even in calm and
favourable weather, more often than not motors break down, or
gear carries away, what hope is there for any aerial craft
which would attempt to battle with such wind currents as
commonly blow aloft?

And when we turn to the balloon proper, are chances greatly
improved? The eminently practical aeronaut, John Wise, as was
told in Chapter XII., prepared a scheme for the reduction of
Vera Cruz by the agency of a balloon. Let us glance at it. A
single balloon was to suffice, measuring 100 feet in diameter,
and capable of raising in the gross 30,000 lbs. To manoeuvre
this monstrous engine he calculates he would require a cable
five miles long, by means of which he hoped, in some manner, to
work his way directly over the fortress, and to remain poised
at that point at the height of a mile in the sky. Once granted
that he could arrive and maintain himself at that position, the
throwing out of combustibles would be simple, though even then
the spot where they would alight after the drop of a mile would
be by no means certain. It is also obvious that a vast amount
of gas would have to be sacrificed to compensate for the
prodigal discharge of ballast in the form of missiles.

The idea of manoeuvring a balloon in a wind, and poising it in
the manner suggested, is, of course, preposterous; and when one
considers the attempt to aim bombs from a moving balloon high
in air the case becomes yet more absurd. Any such missile
would partake of the motion of the balloon itself, and it would
be impossible to tell where it would strike the earth.

To give an example which is often enough tried in balloon
travel when the ground below is clear. A glass bottle
(presumably empty) is cast overboard and its fall watched. It
is seen not to be left behind, but to keep pace with the
balloon, shrinking gradually to an object too small to be
discerned, except when every now and then a ray of sunlight
reflected off it reveals it for a moment as it continues to
plunge downwards. After a very few seconds the impression is
that it is about to reach the earth, and the eye forms a guess
at some spot which it will strike; but the spot is quickly
passed, and the bottle travels far beyond across a field, over
the further fence, and vastly further yet; indeed, inasmuch as
to fall a mile in air a heavy body may take over twenty
seconds--and twenty seconds is long to those who watch--it is
often impossible to tell to two or three fields where it will
finally settle.

All this while the risk that a balloon would run of being
riddled by bullets, shrapnel, or pom-poms has not been taken
into account, and as to the estimate of this risk there is some
difference of opinion. The balloon corps and the artillery
apparently approach the question with different bias. On the
one hand, it is stated with perfect truth that a free balloon,
which is generally either rising or falling, as well as moving
across country, is a hard object to hit, and a marksman would
only strike it with a chance or blundering shot; but, on the
other hand let us take the following report of three years ago.

The German artillery had been testing the efficiency of a
quick-firing gun when used against a balloon, and they decided
that the latter would have no chance of escape except at night.
A German kite-balloon was kept moving at an altitude of 600
metres, and the guns trained upon it were distant 3,000 metres.
It was then stated that after the third discharge of the rapid
firing battery the range was found, when all was at once over
with the balloon; for, not only was it hit with every
discharge, but it was presently set on fire and annihilated.

But, in any case, the antique mode of keeping a balloon moored
at any spot as a post of observation must be abandoned in
modern warfare. Major Baden-Powell, speaking from personal
experience in South Africa, has shown how dangerous, or else
how useless, such a form of reconnaissance has become. "I
remember," he says, "at the battle of Magersfontein my company
was lying down in extended order towards the left of our line.
We were perfectly safe from musketry fire, as we lay, perhaps,
two miles from the Boer trenches, which were being shelled by
some of our guns close by. The enemy's artillery was
practically silent. Presently, on looking round, I descried
our balloon away out behind us about two miles off. Then she
steadily rose and made several trips to a good height, but what
could be seen from that distance? When a large number of our
troops were ranged up within 800 yards of the trenches, and
many more at all points behind them, what useful information
could be obtained by means of the balloon four miles off?"

The same eminent authority insists on the necessity of an
observing war balloon making short ascents. The balloon, in
his opinion, should be allowed to ascend rapidly to its full
height, and with as little delay as possible be hauled down
again. Under these conditions it may then be well worth
testing whether the primitive form of balloon, the Montgolfier,
might not be the most valuable. Instead of being made, as the
war balloon is now, of fragile material, and filled with costly
gas difficult to procure, and which has to be conveyed in heavy
and cumbersome cylinders, a hot air balloon could be rapidly
carried by hand anywhere where a few men could push their way.
It is of strong material, readily mended if torn, and could be
inflated for short ascents, if not by mere brush wood, then by
a portable blast furnace and petroleum.

But there is a further use for balloons in warfare not yet
exploited. The Siege of Paris showed the utility of free
balloons, and occasions arise when their use might be still
further extended. The writer pointed out that it might have
been very possible for an aeronaut of experience, by choosing
the right weather and the right position along the British
lines, to have skilfully manoeuvred a free balloon by means of
upper currents, so as to convey all-important intelligence to
besieged Mafeking, and he proved that it would have sufficed if
the balloon could have been "tacked" across the sky to within
some fifteen miles of the desired goal.

The mode of signalling which he proposed was by means of a
"collapsing drum," an instrument of occasional use in the Navy.
A modification of this instrument, as employed by the writer,
consisted of a light, spherical, drum-shaped frame of large
size, which, when covered with dark material and hung in the
clear below the car of a lofty balloon, could be well seen
either against blue sky or grey at a great distance. The
so-called drum could, by a very simple contrivance, readily
worked from the car, be made to collapse into a very
inconspicuous object, and thus be capable of displaying Morse
Code signals. A long pause with the drum extended--like the
long wave of a signalling flag--would denote a "dash," and a
short pause a "dot," and these motions would be at once
intelligible to anyone acquainted with the now universal Morse
Code system.

Provided with an apparatus of the kind, the writer made an
ascent from Newbury at a time when the military camps were
lying on Salisbury Plain at a distance of nearly twenty miles
to the south-west. The ground wind up to 2,500 feet on
starting was nearly due north, and would have defeated the
attempt; again, the air stream blowing above that height was
nearly due east, which again would have proved unsuitable. But
it was manifestly possible to utilise the two currents, and
with good luck to zig-zag one's course so as to come within
easy signalling distance of the various camps; and, as a matter
of fact, we actually passed immediately over Bulford Camp, with
which we exchanged signals, while two other camps lay close to
right and left of us. Fortune favouring us, we had actually
hit our mark, though it would have been sufficient for the
experiment had our course lain within ten miles right or left.

Yet a further use for the balloon in warfare remains untried in
this country. Acting under the advice of experts in the
Service, the writer, in the early part of the present year,
suggested to the Admiralty the desirability of experimenting
with balloons as a means of detecting submarine engines of war.
It is well known that reefs and shoals can generally be seen
from a cliff or mast head far more clearly than from the deck
or other position near the surface of the water. Would not,
then, a balloon, if skilfully manoeuvred, serve as a valuable
post of observation? The Admiralty, in acknowledging the
communication, promised to give the matter their attention; but
by the month of June the Press had announcements of how the
self-same experiments had been successfully carried through by
French authorities, while a few days later the Admiralty wrote,
"For the present no need is seen for the use of a captive
balloon to detect submarines."

Among many and varied ballooning incidents which have occurred
to the writer, there are some which may not unprofitably be
compared with certain experiences already recorded of other
aeronauts. Thunderstorms, as witnessed from a balloon, have
already been casually described, and it may reasonably be hoped
that the observations which have, under varying circumstances,
been made at high altitudes may throw some additional light on
this familiar, though somewhat perplexing, phenomenon.

To begin with, it seems a moot point whether a balloon caught
in a thunderstorm is, or is not, in any special danger of being
struck. It has been argued that immunity under such
circumstances must depend upon whether a sufficiently long time
has elapsed since the balloon left the earth to allow of its
becoming positively electrified by induction from the clouds or
by rain falling upon its surface. But there are many other
points to be considered. There is the constant escape of gas
from the mouth; there is the mass of pointed metal in the
anchor; and, again, it is conceivable that a balloon rapidly
descending out of a thunderstorm might carry with it a charge
residing on its moistened surface which might manifest itself
disastrously as the balloon reached the earth.

Instances seem to have been not infrequent of balloons
encountering thunderstorms; but, unfortunately, in most cases
the observers have not had any scientific training, or the
accounts which are to hand are those of the type of journalist
who is chiefly in quest of sensational copy.

Thus there is an account from America of a Professor King who
made an ascent from Burlington, Iowa, just as a thunderstorm
was approaching, with the result that, instead of scudding away
with the wind before the storm, he was actually, as if by some
attraction, drawn into it. On this his aim was to pierce
through the cloud above, and then follows a description which
it is hard to realise:--"There came down in front of him, and
apparently not more than 50 feet distant, a grand discharge of
electricity." Then he feels the car lifted, the gas suddenly
expands to overflowing, and the balloon is hurled through the
cloud with inconceivable velocity, this happening several
times, with tremendous oscillations of the car, until the
balloon is borne to earth in a torrent of rain. We fancy that
many practical balloonists will hardly endorse this

But we have another, relating to one of the most distinguished
aeronauts, M. Eugene Godard, who, in an ascent with local
journalists, was caught in a thunderstorm. Here we are
told--presumably by the journalists--that "twice the lightning
flashed within a few yards of the terror-stricken crew."

Once again, in an ascent at Derby, a spectator writes:--"The
lightning played upon the sphere of the balloon, lighting it up
and making things visible through it." This, however, one must
suppose, can hardly apply to the balloon when liberated.

But a graphic description of a very different character given
in the "Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society"
for January, 1901, is of real value. It appears that three
lieutenants of the Prussian Balloon Corps took charge of a
balloon that ascended at Berlin, and, when at a height of 2,300
feet, became enveloped in the mist, through which only
occasional glimpses of earth were seen. At this point a sharp,
crackling sound was heard at the ring, like the sparking of a
huge electrical machine, and, looking up, the voyagers beheld
sparks apparently some half-inch thick, and over two feet in
length, playing from the ring. Thunder was heard, but--and
this may have significance--only before and after the above

Another instructive experience is recorded of the younger Green
in an ascent which he made from Frankfort-on-the-Maine. On
this occasion he relates that he encountered a thunderstorm,
and at a height of 4,400 feet found himself at the level where
the storm clouds were discharging themselves in a deluge. He
seems to have had no difficulty in ascending through the storm
into the clear sky above, where a breeze from another quarter
quickly carried him away from the storm centre.

This co-existence, or conflict of opposite currents, is held to
be the common characteristic, if not the main cause, of
thunderstorms, and tallies with the following personal
experience. It was in typical July weather of 1900 that the
writer and his son, accompanied by Admiral Sir Edmund Fremantle
and Mr. Percival Spencer, made an evening ascent from Newbury.
It had been a day of storms, but about 5 p.m., after what
appeared to be a clearing shower, the sky brightened, and we
sailed up into a cloudless heaven. The wind, at 3,000 feet,
was travelling at some thirty miles an hour, and ere the
distance of ten miles had been covered a formidable thunder
pack was seen approaching and coming up dead against the wind.
Nothing could be more evident than that the balloon was
travelling rapidly with a lower wind, while the storm was being
borne equally rapidly on an upper and diametrically opposite
current. It proved one of the most severe thunderstorms
remembered in the country. It brooded for five hours over
Devizes, a few miles ahead. A homestead on our right was
struck and burned to the ground, while on our left two soldiers
were killed on Salisbury Plain. The sky immediately overhead
was, of course, hidden by the large globe of the balloon, but
around and beneath us the storm seemed to gather in a blue grey
mist, which quickly broadened and deepened till, almost before
we could realise it, we found ourselves in the very heart of
the storm, the lightning playing all around us, and the sharp
hail stinging our faces.

The countrymen below described the balloon as apparently
enveloped by the lightning, but with ourselves, though the
flashes were incessant, and on all sides, the reverberations of
the thunder were not remarkable, being rather brief explosions
in which they resembled the thunder claps not infrequently
described by travellers on mountain heights.

The balloon was now descending from a double cause: the weight
of moisture suddenly accurnulated on its surface, and the very
obvious downrush of cold air that accompanied the storm of
pelting hail. With a very limited store of ballast, it seemed
impossible to make a further ascent, nor was this desirable.
The signalling experiments on which we were intent could not be
carried on in such weather. The only course was to descend,
and though this was not at once practicable, owing to Savernake
Forest being beneath us, we effected a safe landing in the
first available clearing.

As has been mentioned, Mr. Glaisher and other observers have
recorded several remarkable instances of opposite wind currents
being met with at moderate altitudes. None, however, can have
been more noteworthy or surprising than the following
experience Of the writer on Whit Monday of 1899. The ascent
was under an overcast sky, from the Crystal Palace at 3 p.m.,
at which hour a cold drizzle was settling in with a moderate
breeze from the east. Thus, starting from the usual filling
ground near the north tower, the balloon sailed over the body
of the Palace, and thence over the suburbs towards the west
till lost in the mist. We then ascended through 1,500 feet of
dense, wetting cloud, and, emerging in bright sunshine,
continued to drift for two hours at an average altitude of some
3,000 feet; 1,000 feet below us was the ill-defined, ever
changing upper surface of the dense cloud floor, and it was no
longer possible to determine our course, which we therefore
assumed to have remained unchanged. At length, however, as a
measure of prudence, we determined to descend through the
clouds sufficiently to learn something of our whereabouts,
which we reasonably expected to be somewhere in Surrey or
Berks. On emerging, however, below the cloud, the first object
that loomed out of the mist irnmediately below us was a cargo
vessel, in the rigging of which our trail rope was entangling
itself. Only by degrees the fact dawned upon us that we were
in the estuary of the Thames, and beating up towards London
once again with an cast wind. Thus it became evident that at
the higher level, unknown to ourselves, we had been headed back
on our course, for two hours, by a wind diametrically opposed
to that blowing on the ground.

Two recent developments of the hot-air war balloon suggest
great possibilities in the near future. One takes the form of
a small captive, carrying aloft a photographic camera directed
and operated electrically from the ground. The other is a
self-contained passenger balloon of large dimensions, carrying
in complete safety a special petroleum burner of great power.
These new and important departures are mainly due to the
mechanical genius of Mr. J. N. Maskelyne, who has patented and
perfected them in conjunction with the writer.


Some fair idea of the conditions prevailing in the upper air
may have been gathered from the many and various observations
already recorded. Stating the case broadly, we may assert that
the same atmospheric changes with which we are familiar at the
level of the earth are to be found also at all accessible
heights, equally extensive and equally sudden.

Standing on an open heath on a gusty day, we may often note the
rhythmic buffeting of the wind, resembling the assault of
rolling billows of air. The evidence of these billows has been
actually traced far aloft in balloon travel, when aeronauts,
looking down on a wind-swept surface of cloud, have observed
this surface to be thrown into a series of rolls of vapour,
which were but vast and veritable waves of air. The interval
between successive crests of these waves has on one occasion
been estimated at approximately half a mile. We have seen how
these air streams sometimes hold wide and independent sway at
different levels. We have seen, too, how they sometimes meet
and mingle, not infrequently attended with electrical

Through broad drifts of air minor air streams would seem often
literally to "thread" their way, breakng up into filaments or
wandering rills of air. In the voyage across Salisbury Plain
lately described, while the balloon was being carried with the
more sluggish current, a number of small parachutes were dropped
out at frequent intervals and carefully watched. These would
commonly attend the balloon for a little while, until, getting
into some minor air stream, they would suddenly and rapidly
diverge at such wide angles as to suggest that crossing our
actual course there were side paths, down which the smaller
bodies became wafted.

On another occasion the writer met with strongly marked and
altogether exceptional evidence of the vehemence and
persistence of these minor aerial streamlets. It was on an
occasion in April weather, when a heavy overcast sky blotted
out the upper heavens. In the cloud levels the wind was
somewhat sluggish, and for an hour we travelled at an average
speed of a little over twenty miles an hour, never higher than
3,000 feet. At this point, while flying over Hertfordshire, we
threw out sufficient ballast to cause the balloon to rise clear
of the hazy lower air, and coming under the full influence of
the sun, then in the meridian, we shot upwards at considerable
speed, and soon attained an altitude of three miles. But for a
considerable portion of this climb--while, in fact, we were
ascending through little less than a mile of our upward
course--we were assailed by impetuous cross currents, which
whistled through car and rigging and smote us fairly on the
cheek. It was altogether a novel experience, and the more
remarkable from the fact that our main onward course was not
appreciably diverted.

Then we got above these currents, and remained at our maximum
level, while we floated, still at only a moderate speed, the
length of a county. The descent then began, and once again,
while we dropped through the same disturbed region, the same
far-reaching and obtrusive cross-current assailed us. It was
quite obvious that the vehement currents were too slender to
tell largely upon the huge surface of the balloon, as it was
being swept steadily onwards by the main wind, which never
varied in direction from ground levels up to the greatest
height attained.

This experience is but confirmation of the story of the wind
told by the wind gauges on the Forth Bridge. Here the maximum
pressure measured on the large gauge of 300 square feet is
commonly considerably less than that on the smaller gauge,
suggesting that the latter must be due to threads of air of
limited area and high velocity.

Further and very valuable light is thrown on the peculiar ways
of the wind, now being considered, by Professor Langley in the
special researches of his to which reference has already been
made. This eminent observer and mathematician, suspecting that
the old-fashioned instruments, which only told what the wind
had been doing every hour, or at best every minute, gave but a
most imperfect record, constructed delicate gauges, which would
respond to every impulse and give readings from second to

In this way he established the fact that the wind, far from
being a body of even approximate uniformity, is under most
ordinary conditions irregular almost beyond conception.
Further, that the greater the speed the greater the
fluctuations, so that a high wind has to be regarded as "air
moving in a tumultuous mass," the velocity at one moment
perhaps forty miles an hour, then diminishing to an almost
instantaneous calm, and then resuming." In fact, in the very
nature of the case, wind is not the result of one simple cause,
but of an infinite number of impulses and changes, perhaps long
passed, which are preserved in it, and which die only slowly

When we come to take observations of temperature we find the
conditions in the atmosphere above us to be at first sight not
a little complex, and altogether different in day and night
hours. From observations already recorded in this
volume--notably those of Gay Lussac, Welsh, and Glaisher--it
has been made to appear that, in ascending into the sky in
daytime, the temperature usually falls according to a general
law; but there are found regions where the fall of temperature
becomes arrested, such regions being commonly, though by no
means invariably, associated with visible cloud. It is
probable, however, that it would be more correct not to
interpret the presence of cloud as causing manifestation of
cold, but rather to regard the meeting of warm and cold
currents as the cause of cloud.

The writer has experimented in the upper regions with a special
form of air thermometer of great sensibility, designed to
respond rapidly to slight variations of temperature. Testing
this instrument on one occasion in a room of equable warmth,
and without draughts, he was puzzled by seeing the index in a
capillary tube suddenly mounting rapidly, due to some cause
which was not apparent, till it was noticed that the parlour
cat, attracted by the proceedings, had approached near the
apparatus. The behaviour of this instrument when slung in the
clear some distance over the side of the balloon car, and
carefully watched, suggests by its fitful, sudden, and rapid
changes that warmer currents are often making their way in such
slender wandering rills as have been already pictured as
permeating the broader air streams. During night hours
conditions are reversed. The warmer air radiated off the earth
through the day has then ascended. It will be found at
different heights, lying in pools or strata, possibly
resembling in form, could they be seen, masses of visible

The writer has gathered from night voyages instructive and
suggestive facts with reference to the ascent of air streams,
due to differences of temperature, particularly over London and
the suburbs, and it is conceivable that in such ascending
streams may lie a means of dealing successfully with
visitations of smoke and fog.

One lesson taught by balloon travel has been that fog or haze
will come or go in obedience to temperature variations at low
levels. Thus thick haze has lain over London, more
particularly over the lower parts, at sundown. Then through
night hours, as the temperature of the lower air has become
equalised, the haze has completely disappeared, but only to
reassert itself at dawn.

A description of the very impressive experience of a night sail
over London has been reserved, but should not be altogether
omitted. Glaisher, writing of the spectacle as he observed it
nearly forty years ago, describes London seen at night from a
balloon at a distance as resembling a vast conflagration. When
actually over the town, a main thoroughfare like the Commercial
Road shone up like a line of brilliant fire; but, travelling
westward, Oxford Street presented an appearance which puzzled
him. "Here the two thickly studded rows of brilliant lights
were seen on either side of the street, with a narrow, dark
space between, and this dark space was bounded, as it were, on
both sides by a bright fringe like frosted silver." Presently
he discovered that this rich effect was caused by the bright
illumination of the shop lights on the pavements."

London, as seen from a balloon on a clear moonlight night in
August a year ago (1901), wore a somewhat altered appearance.
There were the fairy lamps tracing out the streets, which,
though dark centred, wore their silver lining; but in irregular
patches a whiter light from electric arc lamps broadened and
brightened and shone out like some pyrotechnic display above
the black housetops. Through the vast town ran a blank, black
channel, the river, winding on into distance, crossed here and
there by bridges showing as bright bands, and with bright spots
occasionally to mark where lay the river craft. But what was
most striking was the silence. Though the noise of London
traffic as heard from a balloon has diminished of late years
owing to the better paving, yet in day hours the roar of the
streets is heard up to a great height as a hard, harsh,
grinding din. But at night, after the last 'bus has ceased to
ply, and before the market carts begin lumbering in, the
balloonist, as he sails over the town, might imagine that he
was traversing a City of the Dead.

It is at such times that a shout through a speaking trumpet has
a most startling effect, and more particularly a blast on a
horn. In this case after an interval of some seconds a wild
note will be flung back from the house-tops below, answered and
re-answered on all sides as it echoes from roof to roof--a
wild, weird uproar that awakes suddenly, and then dies out
slowly far away.

Experiments with echoes from a balloon have proved instructive.
If, when riding at a height, say, of 2,000 feet, a charge of
gun-cotton be fired electrically 100 feet below the car, the
report, though really as loud as a cannon, sounds no more than
a mere pistol shot, possibly partly owing to the greater rarity
of the air, but chiefly because the sound, having no background
to reflect it, simply spends itself in the air. Then, always
and under all conditions of atmosphere soever, there ensues
absolute silence until the time for the echo back from earth
has fully elapsed, when a deafening outburst of thunder rises
from below, rolling on often for more than half a minute. Two
noteworthy facts, at least, the writer has established from a
very large number of trials: first, that the theory of aerial
echoes thrown back from empty space, which physicists have held
to exist constantly, and to be part of the cause of thunder,
will have to be abandoned; and, secondly, that from some cause
yet to be fully explained the echo back from the earth is
always behind its time.

But balloons have revealed further suggestive facts with regard
to sound, and more particularly with regard to the varying
acoustic properties of the air. It is a familiar experience
how distant sounds will come and go, rising and falling, often
being wafted over extraordinary distances, and again failing
altogether, or sometimes being lost at near range, but
appearing in strength further away. A free balloon, moving in
the profound silence of the upper air, becomes an admirable
sound observatory. It may be clearly detected that in certain
conditions of atmosphere, at least, there are what may be
conceived to be aerial sound channels, through which sounds are
,momentarily conveyed with abnormal intensity. This phenomenon
does but serve to give an intelligible presentment of the
unseen conditions existing in the realm of air.

It would be reasonable to suppose that were an eye so
constituted as to be able to see, say, cumulus masses of warmer
air, strata mottled with traces of other gases, and beds of
invisible matter in suspension, one might suppose that what we
deem the clearest sky would then appear flecked with forms as
many and various as the clouds that adorn our summer heavens.

But there is matter in suspension in the atmosphere which is
very far from invisible, and which in the case of large towns
is very commonly lying in thick strata overhead, stopping back
the sunlight, and forming the nucleus round which noisome fogs
may form. Experimenting with suitable apparatus, the writer
has found on a still afternoon in May, at 2,000 feet above
Kingston in Surrey, that the air was charged far more heavily
with dust than that of the London streets the next day; and,
again, at half a mile above the city in the month of August
last dust, much of it being of a gross and even fibrous nature,
was far more abundant than on grass enclosures in the town
during the forenoon of the day following.

An attempt has been made to include England in a series of
international balloon ascents arranged expressly for the
purpose of taking simultaneous observations at a large number
of stations over Europe, by which means it is hoped that much
fresh knowledge will be forthcoming with respect to the
constitution of the atmosphere up to the highest levels
accessible by balloons manned and unmanned. It is very much to
be regretted that in the case of England the attempt here
spoken of has rested entirely on private enterprise. First and
foremost in personal liberality and the work of organisation
must be mentioned Mr. P. Y. Alexander, whose zeal in the
progress of aeronautics is second to none in this country.
Twice through his efforts England has been represented in the
important work for which Continental nations have no difficulty
in obtaining public grants. The first occasion was on November
8th, 1900, when the writer was privileged to occupy a seat in
the balloon furnished by Mr. Alexander, and equipped with the
most modern type of instruments. It was a stormy and fast
voyage from the Crystal Palace to Halstead, in Essex, 48 miles
in 40 minutes. Simultaneously with this, Mr. Alexander
dismissed an unmanned balloon from Bath, which ascended 8,000
feet, and landed at Cricklade. Other balloons which took part
in the combined experiment were two from Paris, three from
Chalais Meudon, three from Strasburg, two from Vienna, two from
Berlin, and two from St. Petersburg.

The section of our countrymen specially interested in
aeronautics--a growing community--is represented by the
Aeronautical Society, formed in 1865, with the Duke of Argyll
for president, and for thirty years under the most energetic
management of Mr. F. W. Brearey, succeeding whom as hon. secs.
have been Major Baden-Powell and Mr. Eric S. Bruce. Mr.
Brearey was one of the most successful inventors of flying
models. Mr. Chanute, speaking as President of the American
Society of Civil Engineers, paid him a high and well-deserved
compliment in saying that it was through his influence that
aerial navigation had been cleared of much rubbish and placed
upon a scientific and firm basis.

Another community devoting itself to the pursuit of balloon
trips and matters aeronautical generally is the newly-formed
Aero Club, of whom one of the most prominent and energetic
members is the Hon. C. S. Rolls.

It had been announced that M. Santos-Dumont would bring an air
ship to England, and during the summer of the present year
would give exhibitions of its capability. It was even rumoured
that he might circle round St. Paul's and accomplish other
aerial feats unknown in England. The promise was fulfilled so
far as bringing the air ship to England was concerned, for one
of his vessels which had seen service was deposited at the
Crystal Palace. In some mysterious manner, however, never
sufficiently made clear to the public, this machine was one
morning found damaged, and M. Santos-Dumont has withdrawn from
his proposed engagements.

In thus doing he left the field open to one of our own
countrymen, who, in his first attempt at flight with an air
ship of his own invention and construction, has proved himself
no unworthy rival of the wealthy young Brazilian.

Mr. Stanley Spencer, in a very brief space of time, designed
and built completely in the workshops of the firm an elongated
motor balloon, 75 feet long by 20 feet diameter, worked by a
screw and petrol motor. This motor is placed in the prow, 25
feet away from, and in front of, the safety valve, by which
precaution any danger of igniting the escaping gas is avoided.
Should, however, a collapse of the machine arise from any
cause, there is an arrangement for throwing the balloon into
the form of a parachute. Further, there is provided means for
admitting air at will into the balloon, by which the necessity
for much ballast is obviated.

Mr. Spencer having filled the balloon with pure hydrogen, made
his first trial with this machine late in an evening at the end
of June. The performance of the vessel is thus described in
the Westminster Gazette:--"The huge balloon filled slowly, so
that the light was rapidly failing when at last the doors of
the big shed slid open and the ship was brought carefully out,
her motor started, and her maiden voyage commenced. With Mr.
Stanley Spencer in the car, she sailed gracefully down the
football field, wheeled round in a circle--a small circle,
too--and for perhaps a quarter of an hour sailed a tortuous
course over the heads of a small but enthusiastic crowd of
spectators. The ship was handicapped to some extent by the
fact that in their anxiety to make the trial the aeronauts had
not waited to inflate it fully, but still it did its work well,
answered its helm readily, showed no signs of rolling, and, in
short, appeared to give entire satisfaction to everybody
concerned--so much so, indeed, that Mr. Stanley Spencer
informed the crowd after the ascent that he was quite ready to
take up any challenge that M. Santos Dumont might throw down."
Within a few weeks of this his first success Mr. Spencer was
able to prove to the world that he had only claimed for his
machine what its powers fully justified. On a still September
afternoon, ascending alone, he steered his aerial ship in an
easy and graceful flight over London, from the Crystal Palace
to Harrow.


The future development of aerostation is necessarily difficult
to forecast. Having reviewed its history from its inception we
have to allow that the balloon in itself, as an instrument of
aerial locomotion, remains practically only where it was 120
years ago. Nor, in the nature of the case, is this to be
wondered at. The wind, which alone guides the balloon, is
beyond man's control, while, as a source of lifting power, a
lighter and therefore more suitable gas than hydrogen is not to
be found in nature.

It is, however, conceivable that a superior mode of inflation
may yet be discovered. Now that the liquefaction of gases has
become an accomplished fact, it seems almost theoretically
possible that a balloonist may presently be able to provide
himself with an unlimited reserve of potential energy so as to
be fitted for travel of indefinite duration. Endowed with
increased powers of this nature, the aeronaut could utilise a
balloon for voyages of discovery over regions of the earth
which bar man's progress by any other mode of travel. A future
Andree, provided with a means of maintaining his gas supply for
six weeks, need have no hesitation in laying his course towards
the North Pole, being confident that the winds must ultimately
waft him to some safe haven. He could, indeed, well afford,
having reached the Pole, to descend and build his cairn, or
even to stop a week, if he so desired, before continuing on his

But it may fairly be claimed for the balloon, even as it now
is, that a great and important future is open to it as a means
for exploring inaccessible country. It may, indeed, be urged
that Andree's task was, in the very nature of the case, well
nigh impracticable, and his unfortunate miscarriage will be
used as argument against such a method of exploration. But it
must always be remembered that in Andree's case the rigours of
climate which he was compelled to face were the most serious of
all obstacles to balloon travel. The extreme cold would not
only cause constant shrinkage of the gas, but would entail the
deposition of a weight of moisture, if not of snow, upon the
surface of the balloon, which must greatly shorten its life.

It would be entirely otherwise if the country it were sought to
explore were in lower latitudes, in Australia, or within the
vast unknown belt of earth lying nearer the equator. The
writer's scheme for exploring the wholly unknown regions of
Arabia is already before the public. The fact, thought to be
established by the most experienced aeronauts of old times, and
already referred to in these pages, that at some height a
strong west wind is to be found blowing with great constancy
all round the globe, is in accordance with the view entertained
by modern meteorologists. Such a wind, too, may be expected to
be a fairly fast wind, the calculation being that, as a general
rule, the velocity of currents increases from the ground at the
rate of about three miles per hour for each thousand feet of
height; thus the chance of a balloon drifting speedily across
the breadth of Arabia is a strong one, and, regarded in this
light, the distance to be traversed is certainly not excessive,
being probably well within the lasting power of such a balloon
as that employed by Andree. If, for the sake of gas supply,
Aden were chosen for the starting ground, then 1,200 miles
E.N.E. would carry the voyager to Muscat; 1,100 miles N.E. by
E. would land him at Sohar; while some 800 miles would suffice
to take him to the seaboard if his course lay N.E. It must
also be borne in mind that the Arabian sun by day, and the heat
radiated off the desert by night, would be all in favour of the
buoyancy of the balloon.

But there are other persistent winds that, for purposes of
exploration, would prove equally serviceable and sure. From
time immemorial the dweller on the Nile has been led to regard
his river in the light of a benignant deity. If he wished to
travel down its course he had but to entrust his vessel to the
stream, and this would carry him. If, again, he wished to
retrace his course, he had but to raise a sail, and the
prevalent wind, conquering the flood, would bear him against
the stream. This constant north wind, following the Nile
valley, and thence trending still southward towards Uganda, has
been regarded as a means to hand well adapted for the
exploration of important unsurveyed country by balloon. This
scheme has been conceived and elaborated by Major B.F.S.
Baden-Powell, and, so far, the only apparent obstacle in the
way has proved the lack of necessary funds.

It will be urged, however, that for purposes of exploration
some form of dirigible balloon is desirable, and we have
already had proof that where it is not sought to combat winds
strongly opposed to their course such air ships as
Santos-Dumont or Messrs. Spencer have already constructed
acquit themselves well; and it requires no stretch of
imagination to conceive that before the present century is
closed many great gaps in the map of the world will have been
filled in by aerial survey.

But, leaving the balloon to its proper function, we turn to the
flying machine properly so called with more sanguine hopes of
seeing the real conquest of the air achieved. It was as it
were but yesterday when the air ship, unhampered by huge globes
of gas, and controlled by mechanical means alone, was first
fairly tried, yet it is already considered by those best able
to judge that its ultimate success is assured.

This success rests now solely in the hands of the mechanical
engineer. He must, and surely can, build the ship of such
strength that some essential part does not at the critical
moment break down or carry away. He may have to improve his
motive power, and here, again, we do not doubt his cunning.
Motor engines, self-contained and burning liquid fuel, are yet
in their infancy, and the extraordinary emulation now existing
in their production puts it beyond doubt that every year will
see rapid improvement in their efficiency.

We do not expect, nor do we desire, that the world may see the
fulfilment of the poet's dream, "Argosies of magic sails" or
"Airy navies grappling in the central blue." We would not
befog our vision of the future with any wild imaginings,
seeking, as some have done, to see in the electricity or other
hidden power of heaven the means for its subjugation by man;
but it is far from unreasonable to hope that but a little while
shall pass, and we shall have more perfect and reliable
knowledge of the tides and currents in the vast ocean of air,
and when that day may have come then it may be claimed that the
grand problem of aerial navigation will be already solved.


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