Encyclopaedia Caledonica–Airships

Note:  From time to time, I will be posting selections from what I’m writing, or entries from various fictional sources on background information on the world of my book series. (Are these blogs canon?  Sure.  For now, at least.)  I’ll denote them by using the Fiction tag and coloring the text blue.

The entry in the Encyclopædia Caledonica (1876 Abridged Edition for the British Public) for the “Airships” is as follows:

AIRSHIPS—The airship is the pinnacle of development of the art of air travel, having progressed past balloons (which lack the ability to travel in a desired direction, other than that provided by the caprice of the winds) and aerostats (which are merely tethered in place to the ground). Airships are thus equipped with means for both propulsion and navigation through the air.

History. It may be considered that the airship as a technological advance overcame many of the shortcomings of the simple balloons of the Montgolfier brothers and other early aeronauts. The pioneering work in developing a steerable (Fr., dirigibile) airship was undertaken by Count von Zeppelin (see), the German nobleman and war hero. An early inspiration for his interest in airships is widely believed to be his visit to the Union Army Air Corps during the American Civil War. Shortly after returning to Germany, he began devising a more capable ship which could be navigated at will through the air. Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, took interest in the airships and considered them a decisive military advantage, ultimately leading to war (See Air War). While the details of the conflict will not be provided here, it must be conceded that the rapid development of the capabilities of the military airships was fostered by the European conflict.

Airship Technology. Essential components of an airship are means of providing lift, means of propulsion, and means of steering or navigation. Lift is provided by airtight compartments filled with one of several gases with a density less than that of air.   Hydrogen, being the lightest gas, is the most efficient in providing lift, although its flammability is a potential danger. Coal gas, being a mixture of carbon monoxide and town gas is often used, even though it provides a less capable lifting power. The newly discovered gaseous element, Helium, may have some use as a lifting gas in future, although its rarity and cost presently limits its adoption.

Navigation through the air is accomplished by means similar to travel through water. A rudder at the aft of the airship provides means of steering. A similar vertical rudder or “elevator” enables the ship to pitch upwards or downwards.

Considerable advancement in the construction of lightweight engines has occurred over the past decade. While the very first airships were equipped with steam engines, their weight and limited power were a hindrance to the construction of larger airships. Petrol-burning engines made of light-weight aluminium were an improvement. However, it was not until alloys of lithium, an even lighter metal, were developed that airships had sufficient power to operate in headwind conditions. A two-cylinder engine made of this alloy, the so-called “dilithium chamber”, became the standard means of propulsion for British airships.

Her Majesty’s Airship Service. Organized shortly after the outbreak of the Air War, Her Majesty’s Airship Service at first flew airships designed along the lines of German airships that had been shot down and captured. British designers soon surpassed the German airships and gave superiority in battle to the airship service. Her Majesty’s Airship (HMAS) Phoenix was the first airship christened, and henceforth, all British military airships have been named for mythical flying creatures.

All-Empire Airship System. This organization operates commercial and civilian airships around the globe between the main London aerodrome in Croydon and such locations as Canada, India, and Australia. Besides carrying cargo and passengers, the airships transport Royal Mail throughout the Empire. Its airships are named for counties in Britain.

Design for the latest passenger airship for the All-Empire Airship System.

Design for the latest passenger airship for the All-Empire Airship System.

The Future of the Airship. While the early development of the airship was driven by war, it is clear that the commercial delivery of cargo and passengers will be the future of airships. Larger and faster airships will provide comfortable and affordable travel overland and across the seas. Some prognosticators even envision that personal airships will replace the horse and carriage, and will provide the means for a businessman to work in the City and travel daily to his bucolic home in the countryside. Airship travel has potential seemingly unlimited by physical or technical constraints.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s