A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 4 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,200+ total posts
Here's an unusual (semi-rigid) airship designed by Enrico Forlanini (13 December 1848 – 9 October 1930, an Italian engineer, inventor and aeronautical pioneer), appearing in Technical World Magazine for May, 1915, and bearing the fetching caption "Another Type of Aircraft". It certainly was different, referred to here as the "flying cucumber", though I doubt the Italians thought that. In any even the airship went down in 1914 and was not a factor in the war.
And so it came to pass that in looking in the Scientific American for the earliest mention of battlefield tanks in WWI (appearing in April 1917) that I came upon these fine airship-related barometers. I've written a short bit on the first appearance of the tank in Popular Mechanics just weeks after its battlefield inauguration and so I thought to look around a bit in some of the other popular places that this coverage should be found--Illustrated London News, Illustrirte Zeitung, and Scientific American. I made it through the end of July of the weekly Sci Am without a peep on the "landship", but then got completely distracted by several other items of great interest along the way, and so I need to stop and report.
And so from"landship" to "airship"--no tanks, but there was this fine, simple, and ingenious construction to alert the civilian that a change in the atmospheric pressure could be favorable to zeppelin attacks. This simple apparatus is made of twisted jewelers (gold?) foil, one side of which is treated with varnish; the strips are so cut that when there is a change in the weather from damp to dry that the torsion would twist the foil a half turn, revealing the "ZEPPS". Pretty neat.
[Source: Scientific American, May 12, 1917, p. 472.]
There was a second instrument in that same short article that was a little more contrived and inventive, though I am particularly drawn to the simple ZEPPS above.
I am certain that the airship folks will like these...
The marks in each of the squares below represents one aircraft--and as a matter of fact if you click on one of the 25-square squares you will be able to zoom in and see the detail, which is basically missing at this level. Germany lost (meaning destroyed or damaged beyond repair) "76,875 aircraft, of which 40,000 were total losses and the remainder significantly damaged. By type, losses totaled 21,452 fighters, 12,037 bombers, 15,428 trainers, 10,221 twin-engine fighters, 5,548 ground attack, 6,733 reconnaissance, and 6,141 transports" (According to the "Equipment Losses" for WWII on Wiki.) The aircraft graphic uses images of German aircraft--I would much rather have display U.S. and/or U.K. aircraft losses, but that could not be done using the German plane images. (The U.K. lost more than 42,000 planes, and the U.S. 95,000.) So for right now, we'll just have the German graphic, the source of which is the 7 September 1940 issue of the Illustrated London News, which displayed one thousand destroyed German aircraft brought down over Great Britain in 28 days (see here):
This was a bit of a speculative peep into the future by someone who actually may have been able to see into it--Glenn Martin was on the scene immediately following the Wright Brothers, and would go on to create an aviation company that would become Martin Marietta, and then Lockheed Martin. The article appeared in the September 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics. The plane was a beast, though a pretty one--it was also very restrictive, carrying 100 passengers in spite of its size. Packing people on wasn't the priority at this point (especially at a conceived round-trip ticket of $400 to Europe, real money in those days)--luxury was. When you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator for that $400, it turns into about $6,000, which is something you might pay for your first-class accommodation to Europe, except with this plane you get a shower or bath, a lounge car, a ping pong table, and a LOT of leg room.
This creative vision of the future appears in Popular Mechanics (May 1932) and while picturing zeppelin-like space ships with stubby retractable wings traveling at 15,000 mph, it also depicts pilots in a very informal attitude of dress...they're also in a relatively cavernous command center with big gleaming instruments, including a very large compass and a very impressive graphical printout of some sort. Anyway it looks like a lot of big and heavy stuff in a big and bulky command center, which means the ship would've been bigger and bulkier, and who knows what was going to get it to the desired altitude of 600 miles for it to make its 15-minute Paris-Chicago flight. I think the sleeveless underwear deserved an explanation, but it found none.
An indulgence: I've posted a few things on this site of old and/or found tech that reminds me of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D). Here is one that popped up in the pages of Popular Mechanics for May 1932--an airship designed by Guido Tallei that was effectively a flying saucer, a dirigible-disk. There was another design from him from 1931 that was similar to this except that it looked a LOT like a sleek underwater-swimming penguin.
The use of aircraft in bombing was relatively new in WWI, and not terribly effective. And then, so was the defense against raiding aircraft--anti-aircraft, massed riflemen, searchlights, listening devices, all very new to the conduct of warfare, as were the airplanes and airships that ground forces were protecting themselves against. I was thinking about this just now after having seen the (following) short notice in the April 1918 issue of Popular Mechanics (with the text following the images, below). The diagram shows a version of an early warning system against incoming aerial assault, which was quite a good idea, complete with a central directorate to coordinate a response to the attack.
The "listening posts" were exactly that, a sort of biological-analog to RADAR--large bellow-like acoustic imaging objects that would collect distant sound and "download" themselves into the ear of the listener:
It is extraordinary that from the time of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight in 1903 that just 15 years later a casual reader could find an article on how to construct your own airplane at home, which is a long leap from a first-in-history to building-your-own-in-the-garage. And that's really not fifteen years--development was rather incremental until about 1908 or so, so the tremendous growth period was probably about a decade. Of course, developments in aviation were accelerated during the war, and that in general revolutions in thought were occurring within nearly every discipline (in that magical period of 1895-1920), but still, it stopped me to see this five-page article ("A Scout Monoplane, Built in the Home Workshop" by George D. White) in the pages of Popular Mechanics for June, 1918.
The article starts off with a very useful dictum, announcing one of the "prime necessities" for building any type of airplane is "first, the greatest simplicity without weakness". which can be applied over many areas. Then in short order the author gives instructions on construction for a 35 h.p., 575-pound load aircraft 10' long with a 30' wingspan.
This mammoth German aircraft appeared in the pages of the Illustrated London News on 31 March 1928,a sneak-peak into the future. It may have been a shock to British aviation sensibilities--it was supposed to dwarf the largest such plane that the Brits had (the Calcutta) : 158' to 93' wingspan; 44 tons to 9 fully loaded wright; engine power, 6000hp to 1500hp, with twelve very impressive 500 hp fore-and-aft engines.
The plane made an appearance in real-life in the air in July 1929 as the Dornier Do X, the largest and heaviest flying boat in history, with pretty much the stats that appeared on it a year earlier. (Stuff happens) and the Dornier is broken up for scrap by 1937.
Specs (via Wiki): "Crew, 10-14; capacity, 66-100 passengers; length, 40 m (131 ft 4 in); wingspan, 48 m (157 ft 5 in); height, 10.25 m (33 ft 7 in); wing area, 450 m2 (4,844 ft2); empty weight, 28,250 kg (62,280 lb); max takeoff weight, 56,000 kg (123,460 lb); powerplant, 12 × Curtiss Conqueror water-cooled V12, 455 kW (610 hp) each; maximum speed, 211 km/h (131 mph; cruise speed, 175 km/h (109 mph); range, 1,700 km (1,056 mi); service ceiling, 3200 m (10498 ft); wing loading, 94 kg/m2 (19.3 lb/sq ft) (at 46 tons weight)."
[My apologies for the formatting issues on this--Typepad wouldn't allow me to get rid of the italics and bold]
This short shelf-lived idea was that of Edward R. Armstrong (1880-1955), who in 1927 first published his plan for a series of ocean-moored 1200’x200’ floating platforms standing 100' above the waves for refueling and whatnot for transcontinental flights. These five-acre stations—named the “Langley” in honor of Samuel Pierpont Langley1-- would be placed every 375 miles across the ocean. Or perhaps there would be just five of these floating emplacements--the data changes. It doesn’t look like a very practical (or good) idea, but Armstrong received a $750,000 piece of development change from du Pont and GM, which was major dollars in 1929.
Capt. Paul-Nicholas Lucas-Girardville of the Military Aviation Park, Vincennes, an interesting inventor and early aviator (and author of aÉtude sur la navigation aérienne in 1899) came up with this idea for a "gyroscopic" aeroplane, or flying machine. Initially I thought that there was no gyroscopic action and that the idea was being used for static stability, as a different body for the aircraft. But as it turns out there was some sort of gyroscope being employed here, though I do not understand how it functioned--I have to say though that it seems like an interesting experiment, especially given how early this came in the history of airplanes. In any event, I bumped into this evocative photo in the pages of the June 22, 1911 issue of Scientific American Supplement and thought to share them.
[Source for the two images, above and below: Scientific American Supplement, July 22, 1911 For the full text of the article in a raw-ish OCR format, see: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abstracts-from-current-periodicals-1911-07-22/]
There are two interesting and remarkable techno-military suggests in this October, 1916 issue of Popular Mechanics. First is the cover story, a ("destroyer") aircraft bomber is to be launched from a "battleship" aircraft for a one-two punch of carpet and strategic bombing. The large "mother ship" was to have a 143' wingspan, making it a monster of a plane for the time. It would enough fuel and oil to keep it aloft for 48 hours, and also have a 1000-pound payload "of bombs", and a crew of five, two of whom would be wingwalkers firing machine guns. And another plane. The smaller aircraft was "equipped with bomb-dropping devices" and was to be launched for a special raid and/or to ward off enemy attack planes. But the fly in the ointment, says the article, was getting the smaller aircraft back to the larger one--launching was no problem; landing was. And I can see why.
The second article in the issue--the so-called underwater lighthouse (appearing under the far less amusing but much more informative title of "Mine Control Protects Neutral Shipping")--was a defensive and offensive buoy-structure that would provide a very claustrophobically-unwantable job for someone. The buoy was made to control an undisclosed-number field of mines in/near shipping lanes and differentiate friendly from unfriendly ships.
The buoy would have an observation area from which our unlucky guardian would scan the seas; once a ship was spotted, the buoy would submerge to periscope depth, and after some time the nationality of the ship would be identified; at that point if an enemy ship is recognized the operator could submerge the buoy further (being anchored to the sea floor) via a winch to 50 or 60 feet beneath the surface, and then when the mine made contact (proximity or otherwise?) the buoy operator could detonate the mine. It was thought in this way that you could mine an area of sea and not have to worry about ships being damaged by friendly fire. The whole thing seems highly problematic to me--not the least of which would probably be a very jostling ride to the buoy operator.
And so two adventures in speculative military technology in one single war-time issue of Popular Mechanics.
The beautiful aircraft was being built primarily on high hopes and a sleepless night, but that's okay. This was a vision for a transatlantic aircraft, and appeared int he September 1927 issue of Popular Mechanics, and was an interesting and in some ways remarkable insight to the coming prospects of long-distance passenger flight. The Wright flight was only 24 years before this, and the Lindbergh solo crossing of the Atlantic occurred just a few months prior to this publication, an event which no doubt added fire to the speculation of future transatlantic flights. The artist imagines a massive aircraft with a 400' wingspan, the wings offering room enough for sleeping quarters for the passengers. The Transatlatic flight was technically difficult, and outside of crossings by the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg in the late 1920's, passenger service really wasn't instituted on any large scale until after WWII. There were crossings by aircraft in the early 1930's, but there (as with the famous flight by Dornier in the DO-X seaplane in 1931) the majority of those flights were over the ocean to South America, and then continued to North America. A notable exception is the Yankee Clipper. which was a luxury flight (carrying 74 and sleeping 36) and which was a massive aircraft, though the real plane's wingspan was less than half (at 150') of the visioneered aircraft below. In any event, recognition is in order to the designer who thought about flight in this manner just 10 weeks1 after Charles Lindbergh made his NYC-Paris flight.
A newsreel of the parade held in Lindbergh's honor in NYC on June 13, 1927 showing the enormous reception of the new world-wide hero:
1. The September issue of Popular Mechanics would have been issued in early August (as we can see in the stamp on the cover, this issue being received by the Brooklyn Public Library August 8.
The news of the Wright Brothers and their historic powered flight in December 1903 was a monumental deal, though the report of the success was buried in middle of the Scientific American issue that first covered it. Eleven years later heavier-than-air powered aircraft went from being from non-existent but with potential/possibility to machines used in war. It took eight years from the Wright plane for an aircraft to be used in combat dropping bombs on people, a role that would of course be exploded beyond all recognition just a few years later. During the first few months of WWI aircraft were used but mostly for surveillance and mapping--aerial combat existed, sort of, though without any firepower. The first air victories were results of aircraft ramming one another (the first seems to have been August 25, 1914), while the first instance of one plane shooting down another didn't occur until the war was in its second month, a French plane shooting down a German aircraft with a machine gun and a rifle.1
These notes are simple background for the image that I found in The Illustrated London News (September 19, 1914) showing aerial combat between a British Bristol and a German Taube. What is striking of course is that the Royal Flying Corps aircraft was attacking with the co-pilot firing a pistol at the German plane--a little unexpected. The description of the image identifies the pilot of the German aircraft ("Sergeant Werner, the first German to fly over Paris and drop bombs") and that he had been on a reconnaissance flight mapping allied positions--how that information was known I do not know. In any event the British aircraft pursued the German and nearly had it within rights--that is until German soldiers on the ground returned fire on the British aircraft, forcing it to retire.
Luckily I own the war years for the ILN and I do believe that this was the first image in that journal showing air-to-air combat. The ILN does have earlier images showing the first bombing raids from aircraft and also of air-to-ground machine gun attacks, but at this point this may be the first of its kind. It all seems very removed--quaint,even--given how quickly things developed over the next year.
"On October 5, 1914, Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault of Escadrille VB24 scored the first air-to-air kill (not involving ramming - see Pyotr Nesterov) of the war, shooting down a German Aviatik B.II with machine gun fire. Quénault fired two 48-round magazines at the Germans. The Germans returned fire with rifles. When the Frenchman's 8 mm Hotchkiss M1909 machine gun jammed, he successfully returned fire with his rifle. Oberleutnant Fritz von Zangen and Sergeant Wilhelm Schlichting of FFA 18 fell to their deaths. This is believed to be the first air-to-air kill in any war."--a good Wikipedia contribution on the Voisin III, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voisin_III
There were a number of interesting/unusual/bizarro ideas for air travel int he heady aeroplane decade of the 1920's (search for "airport" in the google search box at right to find some of this blog's posts on the subject). This one appeared in Popular Mechanics for July, 1927--a 14-story "Air Garage" that would serve to launch 14 planes from its 14 floors, times four, I guess. I reckon that the interior of each floor would function like a garage/taxi/pre-flight area, and the planes would use the areas closest to the exterior of the structure as a runway. No doubt the writer was envisioning the need for this as the popularity of the airplane was, well, soaring, and the vision may have inched the airplane close to the ubiquity of the Model A. I commend the writer for thinking Big.