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A History of Aeronautics by Marsh and Vivian

Taking with him an American doctor named Jeffries


These considerations tended to turn the minds of those interested in aerostation to consideration of the hydrogen balloon evolved by Professor Charles. Certain improvements had been made by Charles since his first construction; he employed rubber-coated silk in the construction of a balloon of 30 feet diameter, and provided a net for distributing the pressure uniformly over the surface of the envelope; this net covered the top half of the balloon, and from its lower edge dependent ropes hung to join on a wooden ring, from which the car of the balloon was suspended--apart from the extension of the net so as to cover in the whole of the envelope, the spherical balloon of to-day is virtually identical with that of Charles in its method of construction. He introduced the valve at the top of the balloon, by which escape of gas could be controlled, operating his valve by means of ropes which depended to the car of the balloon, and he also inserted a tube, of about 7 inches diameter, at the bottom of the balloon, not only for purposes of inflation, but also to provide a means of escape for gas in case of expansion due to atmospheric conditions.

Sulphuric acid and iron filings were used by Charles for filling his balloon, which required three days and three nights for the generation of its 14,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas. The inflation was completed on December 1st, 1783, and the fittings carried included a barometer and a grapnel form of anchor. In addition to this, Charles provided the first 'ballon sonde' in the form of a small pilot balloon which he handed to Montgolfier to launch before his own ascent, in order to determine the direction and velocity of the wind. It was a graceful compliment to his rival, and indicated that, although they were both working to the one end, their rivalry was not a matter of bitterness.

Ascending on December 1st, 1783, Charles took with him one of the brothers Robert, and with him made the record journey up to that date, covering a period of three and three-quarter hours, in which time they journeyed some forty miles. Robert then landed, and Charles ascended again alone, reaching such a height as to feel the effects of the rarefaction of the air, this very largely due to the rapidity of his ascent. Opening the valve at the top of the balloon, he descended thirty-five minutes after leaving Robert behind, and came to earth a few miles from the point of the first descent. His discomfort over the rapid ascent was mainly due to the fact that, when Robert landed, he forgot to compensate for the reduction of weight by taking in further ballast, but the ascent proved the value of the tube at the bottom of the balloon envelope, for the gas escaped very rapidly in that second ascent, and, but for the tube, the balloon must inevitably have burst in the air, with fatal results for Charles.

As in the case of aeroplane flight, as soon as the balloon was proved practicable the flight across the English Channel was talked of, and Rozier, who had the honour of the first flight, announced his intention of being first to cross. But Blanchard, who had an idea for a 'flying car,' anticipated him, and made a start from Dover on January 7th, 1785, taking with him an American doctor named Jeffries. Blanchard fitted out his craft for the journey very thoroughly, taking provisions, oars, and even wings, for propulsion in case of need. He took so much, in fact, that as soon as the balloon lifted clear of the ground the whole of the ballast had to be jettisoned, lest the balloon should drop into the sea. Half-way across the Channel the sinking of the balloon warned Blanchard that he had to part with more than ballast to accomplish the journey, and all the equipment went, together with certain books and papers that were on board the car. The balloon looked perilously like collapsing, and both Blanchard and Jeffries began to undress in order further to lighten their craft--Jeffries even proposed a heroic dive to save the situation, but suddenly the balloon rose sufficiently to clear the French coast, and the two voyagers landed at a point near Calais in the Forest of Gaines, where a marble column was subsequently erected to commemorate the great feat.


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