19th Century Airships and Balloons
In the 1800s, we saw advances in ballooning, subsequent to the flight of the
Montgolfier in 1783. Thus, it was popular all over the world by mid century.
Jean-Pierre Blanchard was famous for his balloon flights all over Europe and
America even though he failed at innumerable attempts to create the ornithopter.
In 1785, John-Pierre with John Jeffries, a physician crossed the English
Channel. They also did the exhibition ascent in Philadelphia in 1793, no less
than George Washington was there to witness the event.
John Wise is the first balloonist in America and had the privilege of being
trained by Jean-Pierre. John Wise went on to train many others in America. This
spurred the interest of the whole of America in ballooning. Jean-Pierre died in
an experimental parachute jump from his balloon in 1809. During the civil war,
the four balloons were placed in strategic places to enable to observe below and
communicate telegraphically with the rest of the balloons. The confederacy
realized the potential of ballooning for reconnaissance; they tried to put up a
program but never succeeded. To make the balloon an observation area is Thaddeus
Lowe’s idea and it was used as a pivot in telegraph mail between the White House
and the balloon.
Balloons with propellers were developed after Jean-Pierre and John Jeffries
crossing of the English Channel. The English Channel also became famous and
found its mark in the history of aviation.
The art of aerial photography high up in a balloon was credited to Felix
Tournachon (Nadar) of France. A whole photographic laboratory was even brought
on a huge balloon. Felix was more known during the siege in the year 1870, where
he ballooned mail and passengers out of Paris.
During the end of the 19th century, an attempt was made to balloon pass the
North Pole. Attempt was made July 11, 1897 by Salomon August Andree and two
others, launching from Spitzbergen. The trio never came back until an expedition
in 1930 found their frozen bodies. It was realized that the balloon crashed on
ice and that they froze while attempting to walk back to civilization.
Propeller systems for balloons enabled a balloon to be controlled to where it
has to go. Many engineers saw it fit to put propellers and started work right
away. This gave birth to the dirigible. First successful flight was on September
24, 1852. Henri Giffard conceptualized the cigar shaped design. It is filled
with hydrogen and possesses a steam engine. As expected, it runs at gentle
speeds of 5 miles per hour.
Thaddeus Lowe built the initial balloons that were used for observation during
the Civil War at Virgina in Fair Oaks. The LZ4 was Germany’s pride but during an
attempt to break an endurance record it got destroyed. During this Civil War, an
army general from Germany known as Ferdinand von Zeppelin had noticed the
extensive use of balloons. The Count von Zeppelin along with chief engineer
Ludwig Durr, created a 420-feet airship, it is designed to carry multitudes of
A number of victorious dirigible flights happened towards the end of the 1880s.
This moved the Germans to thinking of the possibility of using the airship as a
means of traveling. Experiments went on with two models, one with gasoline
engine and the other covered with aluminum sheet. Unfortunately, both crashed
while doing test flights in 1897.