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Friday, August 01, 2014

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Great Dirigibles

Extraordinarily interesting.  John Toland melds personal recollections and experiences with sound historical research to alway provide for a hard-to-put-down-read.

Did you know that a Dr. Andrews had invented a dirigible that could fly against the wind with no ostensible form of propulsion? He claimed he sailed it like a sailing vessel and it had to do with the shape of the balloon.  He made several demonstration flights but was unable to interest the War Department during the Civil War, his requests for an audience being lost, all sorts of silly reasons. Following the Civil War he tried to form a company that would provide transportation between Washington and New York and to that end formed a company with stock to defray the cost of the Hydrogen. Again he made several very successful flights (he called his device the Aereon) but the company failed along with many others during a stock market crash.  No one has since been able to fly a dirigible with a source of propulsion.  His secret went with him to the grave.

Each of the major advances in airship flight is examined. Most of the record is filled with disasters as inexperience coupled with over-enthusiasm and wild optimism resulted in a lethal combination. But some heroic stories as well:  the efforts of General Nobile to reach the North Pole and his extraordinary survival on ice floes after the crash of the Italia; the tragic loss of the Shenandoah, plus the time when the Los Angeles went vertical while moored (picture included.) These things were immense, stretching over 800 feet in length, longer than any battleship at the time.  Indeed, the military considered them as potent weapons.  Several carried small airplanes that could be lowered and flown off from the airship and then recovered by the pilot flying on to a hook hanging from the airship’s hangar.

The U.S., as virtually the sole producer of helium, a non-explosive, lighter-than-air gas, used airships to good advantage patrolling the east coast during WW II where they were effective in protecting convoys from U-Boats.

Everyone knows the story of the Hindenburg including the near insanity that disaster caused in the radio announcer.  (You can watch the explosion on Youtube).  Few realize the amazing around-the-world trip of the Graf Zeppelin, his (in German the zeppelins took the masculine article) trip that averaged over seventy mph and went through several storms.

For a more detailed account of Zeppelin history, I recommend Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel  (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/68162182)

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