My Airships Part 16

"Come and choose a place to land," they said; "we will mark it out for you in any case." And, as I continued to insist on my uncertainty of being present, they very courteously picked out and marked a place for me themselves, opposite the spot to be occupied by the President of the Republic, in order that M. Loubet and his staff might have a perfect view of the air-ship's evolutions.

"You will come if you can," the officers said. "You need not fear to make such a provisional engagement, for you have already given your proofs."

I hope I shall not be misunderstood when I say that it may be possible that those superior officers did good work for their army and country that morning--because, in order to begin, one must make a beginning--and I should scarcely have ventured to the review without some kind of invitation.

Venturing to the review, as I did in consequence, a whole train of events followed.

In the early morning of 14th July 1903, as the "No. 9" was weighed and balanced, I was nervous lest some unforeseen thing might happen to it in my very grounds. One is often thus on great occasions, and I did not seek to conceal it from myself that this--the first presentation of an air-ship to any army--would be a great occasion.

On ordinary days I never hesitate to mount from my grounds, over the stone wall and the river, and so on to Bagatelle. This morning I had the "No. 9" towed to the railing of Bagatelle by means of its guide rope.

At 8.30 A.M. I called: "Let go all!" Rising, I found my level course at an alt.i.tude of less than 100 metres (330 feet), and in a few moments was circling and manoeuvring above the heads of the soldiers nearest to me.

Thence I pa.s.sed over Longchamps, and arriving opposite the president I fired a salute of twenty-one blank revolver cartridges.

I did not take the place marked out for me. Fearing to disturb the good order of the review by prolonging an unusual sight I made my evolutions in the presence of the army last, all told, less than ten minutes.

After this I steered for the polo grounds, where I was congratulated by numbers of my friends.

[Ill.u.s.tration: "No. 9." AT MILITARY REVIEW, JULY 14, 1903]

These congratulations I found the next day repeated in the Paris papers, together with conjectures of all kinds concerning the use of the air-ship in war. The superior officers who came to me at "The Cascade" that morning had said: "It is practical, and will have to be taken account of in war."

"I am entirely at your service!" had been my answer at the time; and now, under these influences, I sat down and wrote to the Minister of War, offering, in case of hostilities with any country save those of the two Americas, to put my aerial fleet at the disposition of the Government of the Republic.

In doing this I merely put into formal written words the offer which I certainly should feel bound to make in case of the breaking out of such hostilities at any future time during my residence in France. It is in France that I have met with all my encouragement; in France and with French material I have made all my experiments; and the ma.s.s of my friends are French. I excepted the two Americas because I am an American, and I added that in the impossible case of a war between France and Brazil I should feel bound to volunteer my services to the land of my birth and citizenship.

A few days later I received the following letter from the French Minister of War:--

REPUBLIQUE FRANcAISE, PARIS, _le 19 Juillet 1903_.


MONSIEUR,--During the Review of the Fourteenth of July, I had remarked and admired the ease and security with which the balloon you were steering made its evolutions. It was impossible not to acknowledge the progress which you have given to aerial navigation. It seems that, thanks to you, such navigation must, henceforward, lend itself to practical applications, especially from the military point of view.

I consider that, in this respect, it may render very substantial services in time of war. I am very happy, therefore, to accept the offer which you make, of putting, in case of need, your aerial flotilla at the disposition of the Government of the Republic, and, in its name, I thank you for your gracious proposition, which shows your lively sympathy for France.

I have appointed Chief of Battalion Hirschauer, commanding the Battalion of Balloonists in the First Regiment of Engineers, to examine, in agreement with you, the dispositions to take for putting the intentions you have manifested into execution.

Lieutenant-Colonel Bourdeaux, Sous-Chef of my Cabinet, will also be a.s.sociated with this superior officer, in order to keep me personally aware of the results of your joint labours.

Recevez, Monsieur, les a.s.surances de ma consideration la plus distinguee.

(Signed) General Andre.

A Monsieur Alberto Santos-Dumont.

On Friday, 31st July 1903, Commandant Hirschauer and Lieutenant-Colonel Bourdeaux spent the afternoon with me at my air-ship station at Neuilly St James, where I had my three newest air-ships--the racing "No. 7,"

the omnibus "No. 10," and the runabout "No. 9"--ready for their study.

Briefly, I may say that the opinions expressed by the representatives of the Minister of War were so unreservedly favourable that a practical test of a novel character was decided to be made. Should the air-ship chosen pa.s.s successfully through it the result will be conclusive of its military value.

Now that these particular experiments are leaving my exclusively private control I will say no more of them than what has been already published in the French press. The test will probably consist of an attempt to enter one of the French frontier towns, such as Belfort, or Nancy, on the same day that the air-ship leaves Paris. It will not, of course, be necessary to make the whole journey in the air-ship. A military railway waggon may be a.s.signed to carry it, with its balloon uninflated, with tubes of hydrogen to fill it, and with all the necessary machinery and instruments arranged beside it. At some station a short distance from the town to be entered the waggon may be uncoupled from the train, and a sufficient number of soldiers accompanying the officers will unload the air-ship and its appliances, transport the whole to the nearest open s.p.a.ce, and at once begin inflating the balloon. Within two hours from the time of quitting the train the air-ship may be ready for its flight to the interior of the technically-besieged town.

Such may be the outline of the task--a task presented imperiously to French balloonists by the events of 1870-1, and which all the devotion and science of the Tissandier brothers failed to accomplish. To-day the problem may be set with better hope of success. All the essential difficulties may be revived by the marking out of a hostile zone around the town that must be entered; from beyond the outer edge of this zone, then, the air-ship will rise and take its flight--across it.

Will the air-ship be able to rise out of rifle range? I have always been the first to insist that the normal place of the air-ship is in low alt.i.tudes, and I shall have written this book to little purpose if I have not shown the reader the real dangers attending any _brusque_ vertical mounting to considerable heights. For this we have the terrible Severo accident before our eyes. In particular, I have expressed astonishment at hearing of experimenters rising to these alt.i.tudes without adequate purpose in their early stages of experience with dirigible balloons. All this is very different, however, from a reasoned, cautious mounting, whose necessity has been foreseen and prepared for.

To keep out of rifle range the air-ship will but seldom be obliged to make these tremendous vertical leaps. Its navigator, even at a moderate alt.i.tude, will enjoy a very extended view of the surrounding country. Thus he will be able to perceive danger afar off, and take his precautions. Even in my little "No. 9," which carries only 60 kilogrammes (132 lbs.) of ballast, I could rise, materially aided by my shifting weights and propeller, to great heights. If I have not done so it is because it would have served no useful purpose during a period of pleasure navigation, while it would but have added danger to experiments from which I have sought to eliminate all danger. Dangers like these are to be accepted only when a good cause justifies them.

The experiments above named are, of course, of a nature interesting warfare by land. I cannot abandon this topic, however, without referring to one unique maritime advantage of the air-ship. This is its navigator's ability to perceive bodies moving beneath the surface of the water. Cruising at the end of its guide rope, the air-ship will carry its navigator here and there at will at the right height above the waves. Any submarine boat, stealthily pursuing its course underneath them, will be beautifully visible to him, while from a warship's deck it would be quite invisible. This is a well-observed fact, and depends on certain optical laws. Thus, very curiously, the twentieth century air-ship must become from the beginning the great enemy of that other twentieth century marvel--the submarine boat--and not only its enemy but its master. For, while the submarine boat can do no harm to the air-ship, the latter, having twice its speed, can cruise about to find it, follow all its movements, and signal them to the warships against which it is moving. Indeed, it may be able to destroy the submarine boat by sending down to it long arrows filled with dynamite, and capable of penetrating to depths underneath the waves impossible to gunnery from the decks of a warship.



After leaving Monte Carlo, in February 1902, I received many invitations from abroad to navigate my air-ships. In London, in particular, I was received with great friendliness by the Aero Club of Great Britain, under whose auspices my "No. 6," fished from the bottom of the bay of Monaco, repaired and once again inflated, was exhibited at the Crystal Palace.

From St Louis, where the organisers of the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition had already decided to make air-ship flights a feature of their World's Fair in 1904, I received an invitation to inspect the grounds, suggest a course, and confer with them on conditions. As it was officially announced that a sum of 200,000 dollars had been voted and set apart for prizes it might be expected that the emulation of air-ship experimenters would be well aroused.

Arriving at St Louis in the summer of 1902, I at once saw that the splendid open s.p.a.ces of the Exposition Grounds offered the best of racecourses. The prevailing idea at that moment in the minds of some of the authorities was to set a long course of many hundreds of miles--say, from St Louis to Chicago. This, I pointed out, would be impracticable, if only for the reason that the Exposition public would desire to see the flights from start to finish. I suggested that three great towers or flagstaffs be erected in the grounds at the corners of an equal-sided triangle. The comparatively short course around them--between 10 and 20 miles--would afford a decisive test of dirigibility no matter in what way the wind might blow; while as for speed, the necessary average might be increased 50 per cent. over that fixed for the Deutsch prize compet.i.tion in Paris.

Such was my modest advice. I also thought that, out of the appropriation of 200,000 dollars (1,000,000 francs), a grand prize for dirigible aerostation of 100,000 dollars should be offered; only by means of such an inducement, it seemed to me, could the necessary emulation among air-ship experimenters be aroused.

While never seeking to make profit from my air-ships, I have always offered to compete for prizes. While in London, and again in New York, both before and after my St Louis visit, compet.i.tions with prize sanctions were suggested to me for immediate effort. I accepted all of them to this point, that I had my air-ships brought to the spot at considerable cost and effort, and had the prize funds been deposited I would have done my best to win them. Such deposits failing, I, in each case, returned to my home in Paris to continue my experiments in my own way, awaiting the great compet.i.tion of St Louis.

Prize or no prize, I must work, and I shall always work in this my chosen field of aerostation. For this my place is Paris, where the public, in particular the kindly and enthusiastic populace, both knows and trusts me. Here, in Paris, I go up for my own pleasure day by day, as my reward for long and costly experiment.

In England and America it is quite different. When I take my air-ships and my employees to those countries, build my own balloon house, furnish my own gas plant, and risk breaking machines that cost more than any automobile, I want it to be done with a settled aim.

I say that I want it to be done with a settled aim, so that, if I fulfil the aim, I may no longer be criticised, at least on that particular head. Otherwise I might go to the moon and back and yet accomplish nothing in the estimation of my critics and--though, perhaps, to a less extent--in the mind of the public which they sway.

Why have I sought to win prizes? Because the most rational consecration of such effort and its fulfilment is found in a serious money prize. The mind of the public makes the obvious connection. When a valuable prize is handed over it concludes that something has been done to win it.

To win such prizes, then, I waited long in London and New York; but, as they never pa.s.sed from words to deeds, after having enjoyed myself very thoroughly, both socially and as a tourist, I returned to my work and pleasure in the Paris which I call my home.

And really, after all is said and done, there is no place like Paris for air-ship experiments. Nowhere else can the experimenter depend on the and State authorities to be so liberal.

Take the development of automobilism as an example. It is universally admitted, I imagine, that this great and peculiarly French industry could not have developed without the speed licence which the French authorities have wide-mindedly permitted. In spite of the most powerful social and industrial influences, and in spite of it being England's turn to offer hospitality to the James Gordon Bennett cup race of 1903, the English automobilists were not allowed to put their splendid roads out of the public use for its accommodation for a single day. So the great event had to come off in Ireland.

In France, and in France only, are not only the authorities, but the great ma.s.s of citizens, so much alive to their advantage in the development of this national industry that, day by day, year in and year out, they permit ten thousand automobiles to go tearing through the highroads at a really dangerous speed. In Paris, in particular, one sees a "scorching" average in its great Park and its very avenues and streets that causes Londoners and tourists from New York to stand aghast.

In this same order of ideas I may here state that, in spite of the tragic air-ship accidents of 1902, I have never once been limited or in any way impeded in the course of my experiments by the Parisian authorities; while as for the public, no matter where I land with an air-ship--in the country roads of the suburbs, in private gardens, even of great villas, in the avenues and parks and public places of the capital--I meet with unvarying friendly aid, protection, and enthusiasm.

From that first memorable day when the big boys flying their kites over Bagatelle seized my guide rope and saved me from an ugly fall as promptly and intelligently as they had seized the idea of pulling me against the wind, to the critical moment on that summer day in 1901 when, in my first trial for the Deutsch prize, I descended to repair my rudder, and good-natured working-men found me a ladder in less time than it takes me to write the words--and on down to the present moment, when I take my pleasure in the Bois in my small "No. 9"--I have had nothing but unvarying friendliness from the intelligent Parisian populace.

I need not say that it is a great thing for an air-ship experimenter thus to have the confidence and friendly aid of a whole population. Over certain European frontiers spherical balloons have even been shot at.

And I have often wondered what kind of a reception one of my air-ships would meet with in the country districts of England itself.

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