By Professor Leonidas Grymm
While all of us are familiar with the use of balloons during the
War Between the States, it may come as a surprise to know that had
things gone a little differently there may well have been a very
different kind of air war between 1861 and 1865.
The story starts as far back as 1799 when Sir George Cayley
of Yorkshire came up with the idea of a craft that would
have stationary wings to give lift and flappers to give thrust.
The craft also had a moveable tail that would give control. Cayley
was so impressed by this concept that he engraved a drawing of the
machine on a small, silver disc thus recording for prosperity the
worlds first fixed wing aircraft. He also wrote a series of articles
which were published in Nicholson’s Journal of Natural Philosophy.
Cayley built a miniature glider in 1804, but it was not until 1809
that he built a full size glider with a wing surface of 300 feet.
Between 1810 and 1840 Clayley’s attempts to organise interest from
an aeronautical society into the problems of flight met little interest,
but his enthusiasm went on to inspire others. Amongst these new
‘flight engineers’ were William Samuel Henson and John
Stringfellow. In 1842 Henson had a complete draft (patent No.
9478) for a steam powered aeroplane. The vision of some poor soul
stoking a boiler on an ‘Aerial’ is hard to behold but the machine
was, in fact, designed to take liquid fuel in the form of alcohol
and naphtha These two remarkable gentlemen went so as to propose
an ‘Aerial Transport Company’ oddly enough the idea was rejected
amidst hysterical laughter from the House of Commons!
the years Henson and Stringfellow continued to file articles for
the ‘Aerial Transit Company’; had there been the backing
this would have been the world’s first air transport service! Henson’s
1843 ‘Aerial Steam Carriage’ was the first propeller driven
fix winged aircraft and the pamphlet for ‘Ariel’ claims “...which
is intended to convey passengers, troops and government dispatches
to China and India in a few days” – a most remarkable ambition if
ever there was one!
In 1848 a model of the steam powered aircraft was ready for testing.
This monoplane with its 10 foot wingspan (One source gives the wingspan
at 20 feet) had two propellers and managed to fly a short distance
before crashing. The world's first heavier-than-air powered flight
had been achieved. Sadly Henson and his wife Sarah left England
shortly after for the United States where they lived in Newark,
New Jersey and his research into flying machines stopped.
A rather witty article in Scientific American read as follows:
“An Air Navigator. A series of experiments have been made beneath
an immense tent in Cremorne Gardens, London, by a Mr. Stringfellow
– a fine name for suspension. The inventor marches through the air
by a machine which sustains and propels itself through the cicumambient
[sic] fluid. The machine excited considerable attention and surprised
all the spectators by its wonderful performance. The next expedition
that is fitted out by the British government to explore the Niger
and the country through which it winds its sluggish and pestilential
way, should employ this Mr. Stringfellow with a number of his machines
to make a flying exploration, untrammelled with their heels in mud
or water.” (Scientific American. Volume 4, Issue 1, p.4 Scientific
American, inc. etc. September 23, 1848 New York)
During the years that Henson and Stringfellow worked on ‘Ariel’
Sir George Cayley’s experiments continued and, in 1849 he made a
small glider capable of carrying a small person. With the aid of
a team of people running downhill a 10 year old boy was launched
into the air to become the first person to glide in a machine. Another
first for this year was the aerial bombardment of Venice by balloons.
Improvements to Cayley’s ‘Boy Glider’ continued and in 1853 he
managed to convince his, no doubt long suffering, coachman to man
the machine and glide over four hundred feet across Brompton Dale,
Yorkshire. The coachman had just become the world’s first adult
pilot and while his name is lost his last words on the subject are
reportedly: "I wish to give notice, sir -- I was hired to drive,
not to fly."
In 1855 Joseph Pline had became the first person to use
the word "aeroplane" in a paper that proposed a gas filled dirigible
glider with propellers. But despite all these experiments the balloon
remained king of the air having already been used for bombing, the
first aerial photographs were taken in 1858 and during the American
Civil War balloons were extensively used for observation and artillery
direction. The American Army Balloon Corps was formed under
the direction of Thaddeus Lowe who, in 1861, sent out the
first telegraph message from the balloon ‘Enterprise’. The
balloon barge ‘USS George Washington Parke Curtiss’ became
the first warship dedicated to aerial reconnaissance, towing and
transporting balloons along the Potomac River.
Although Hensen had left the country and retired from aeronautics,
Stringfellow went on to develop a model of a tri-plane in 1868.
Imagine the world by the late 19th C. had some of these ideas born
fruit, but it was be quite a few years in the future before men
took their battles into the air.
of aviation - 19th century