by Jacob Abbott.
|First attempt at military aeronautics|
The obstacle for man in the way of his acquiring the art of flying is not the difficulty of constructing wings, but that of obtaining the necessary force to work them. Birds are provided with muscles of large size, packed in their breasts, which are capable of exerting an enormous force—that is, enormous in relation to the size and weight of the body of the bird. By means of these muscles she can strike the air with her expanded wings so energetically as to lift herself from the ground by them, and then to impel herself through the air. If the arms of a man could be invested with an equal power in proportion to the weight of his body, any respectable mechanician could easily adapt an arrangement to them for expanding the surface, so that he could raise and propel himself as easily as any bird.
Thus the trouble is not, as many people have supposed, in making wings, but in obtaining the strength to work them.
Perhaps the most ingenious of the plans devised for furnishing man with wings was that of Besnier, a dextrous locksmith who lived in the province of Maine, in France, nearly a century ago, and who was quite distinguished in his day for his mechanical skill. His contrivance consisted of a double pair of wings, as seen in the engraving, to be worked by both hands and feet. The wings on each side were connected together by a stiff though slender bar of wood, the center of which rested on the shoulder, as its pivot, in such a manner that the two ends, with the wings attached to them, could be brought down alternately by the action of the hands and feet. Each wing was formed of two leaves, which were hinged to the bar in such a manner as to cause them to open and present a large surface to the air in coming down, and then close again in going up.
|Besnier’s System of flying|
The contrivance is ingenious enough, and might have succeeded were it not for the want of strength in the arms and legs of any man to work it with force and rapidity enough to make it effective. If we simply look at the figure, and make a mental estimate of the weight of the man, and of the prodigious power and rapidity of the impulses with which such wings must strike the air to lift and propel him, we shall see at once how totally inadequate the human strength must be to perform such a work.
It is said that Besnier did not really expect that he could raise himself from the ground and fly at will through the air by means of this mechanism, but only that, by starting from some elevated place, he could make a kind of fluttering which would have the effect of protracting a little the time of his descent to the ground so as to amuse spectators at a fair or at other country gatherings. At any rate this was all that he accomplished by his contrivance, and it is very probable that it was all that he aimed at.
The difficulty in the way of navigating the air by means of balloons is substantially the same as in the case of wings—the want of power to propel the balloon. Many persons have imagined that the difficulty is in steering it; and a great many inventions and contrivances have been brought forward, from time to time, for overcoming this imaginary obstacle. But the difficulty is not in the want of means to direct, but of force to propel. If there were a force at our command adequate to drive such a mass as a balloon in any manner through the air there would be no difficulty whatever in giving its course any direction that might be desired. But if we had such a force at our command in the air the balloon would be of no use. The best thing that could be done in that case would be for the operator to cast off the immense encumbrance of the bag of gas, and force his way forward, wherever he wished to go, by means of compact and appropriate mechanism.
|Blanchard’s flying balloon|
It is probable, however, that the, schemers who have been endeavoring to discover a mode of navigating the air, when they speak of steering the balloon, really mean, not merely putting the head of the machine, so far as it has any bead, in the right direction, but to include also the making it move on in that direction—which last is really a very different thing. A boat may be headed in any direction by means of an oar at the stern, but whether she will move forward in the line on which she is placed depends not at all upon such steering, but upon there being a propulsive force—whether of wind, or water, or oars, or steam—to drive her forward in the direction determined by the oar.
The attempts made to contrive some means to enable man to fly were long anterior to the invention of the balloon, and amidst innumerable failures there were some cases of what might be considered partial success. The famous Blanchard, whose name is so celebrated in the history of aeronautics, after many fruitless attempts to construct wings, by means of which he could raise himself from the ground, determined at last to contrive the means of measuring the degree of approximation that he attained. So he constructed an apparatus for taking off a portion of the weight of his body, by means of a counterpoise, and then undertook to overcome the gravitation of the rest by the action of wings, formed like parachutes, to move vertically, and to be worked by the combined action of his legs and his arms.
The two pulleys over which the cord passes, as seen in the engraving, were supported at a great height by means of a tall mast, not shown. By means of this arrangement, and a counterpoise of twenty pounds, Blanchard succeeded in raising himself eighty feet from the ground. Of course, what he really lifted was the excess of the weight of his own body over that of the counterpoise.
As soon as the discovery of the balloon was made, in 1783, Blanchard at once thought that the whole question was solved. The great difficulty, as he understood it, had been the work of lifting the aeronaut from the ground—in other words, the overcoming of the force of gravitation. This work could now be readily accomplished by the balloon. The navigator being once lifted into the air by this means, he supposed that it would be very easy to produce motion in any required direction by means of wings.
He forgot, it seems, that though the balloon might lift the navigator into the air, its vast bulk would occasion an enormous resistance to his motion through it after he was lifted In a calm the attempt of a man to draw a balloon after him through the air, with any wings which he would have the strength to manage, would be something like his undertaking to tow a ship by swimming before it, and paddling with his hands; and in a gale his power to control the force with which it would be swept along the sky, or even to retard its motion, would be about equal to his ability to stop the progress of a ship going before the wind with all sails spread, by such resistance as he could make in a small boat at the stern, by flapping an umbrella!
The cases would be very different, it is true, in relation to the nature of the antagonistic forces, but much the same in regard to the proportion between them.
Blanchard, however, not taking this view of the case into account, concluded that, although he had found that he could not lift himself from the ground by means of wings, yet if he had a balloon to lift him he could make them effectual in enabling him to fly. He studied the subject carefully, and some of his drawings are still extant, though all his attempts to carry his plans into effect resulted in absolute failure.
The adjoining engraving of one of his plans illustrates his ideas. The wings by which the whole apparatus, balloon and all, was to be propelled, were to be worked from the car—or as it was then called "the boat"—which was suspended below. Between the balloon and the ear was the parachute—a contrivance in the form of an umbrella, which was intended as a safeguard, to let the car down gently to the ground in case of any accident to the balloon.
The history of the origin of the parachute, and of the gradual development of the idea, is very curious. The invention was one of the results of that prodigious intellectual activity in the search for novelties of every kind, which so strongly characterized the people of France, and especially of Paris, in the years immediately succeeding the first French Revolution. The chief inventor of the parachute is generally considered to be Sebastian Lenormand, then residing in Montpellier, a city in the south of France, near the mouths of the Rhone. He had read in books of travels that in some part of the world there were performers among the people who were accustomed, for the amusement of the king, to jump from heights, with an instrument like an umbrella held over their heads to retard their fall. He determined to try the experiment. His first trial was made with two umbrellas, one held in each hand. He chose umbrellas of the largest size, and strengthened them by additional ties within, to prevent their being turned inside out by the resistance of the air. With these in his hands he leaped from the second story of a house, in Montpellier, and came to the ground in safety.
Someone who witnessed this experiment reported it to the Abbe Bertholon, who was at that time a professor of Natural Philosophy at Montpellier. He was much interested in the idea, and sent for Lenormand. Lenormand proposed to repeat the experiment in a new form. He obtained a large umbrella, one about thirty inches in diameter, and suspended a number of animals to it, one after another, and let them fall from the top of the observatory. They all came to the ground in safety.
Lenormand then made a calculation, from the weight of the heaviest animal that he let fall in safety from the tower of the observatory, compared with the size of the umbrella, to determine what must be the magnitude of an expanded surface sufficient to sustain a man. He found that an umbrella about fourteen feet in diameter would be required to retard sufficiently a weight of 200 pounds, which was his estimated weight of the man and of the apparatus, which last would of course be pretty heavy, on account of the necessity of giving great strength to all the parts. He concluded to give the name of parachute to his contrivance. Parachute is a word of French construction, equivalent in signification—so far as it can be expressed in an English fashion—to counterfoil.
When his parachute was finished Lenormand, after some minor trials, leaped with it himself from the top of the tower of the observatory in the presence of a vast crowd of spectators, and came down safely to the ground.
Among the spectators who witnessed the experiment was Montgolfier, the inventor of hot-air balloons, which for a long time were greatly used, and were called by his name, though the hot air has since been almost entirely superseded by hydrogen gas. He at once perceived the importance of this invention as a means of adding interest to the aeronautic exhibitions that he was accustomed to make for the amusement of the people of Paris, and he immediately adopted it. Blanchard also, who used balloons filled with gas, exhibited the parachute in his performances, by letting small animals, such as dogs, rabbits, hens, and cats, fall from great heights in the air.
|Public ascensions in Paris|
There were a great many of these public exhibitions of the balloon in its various forms in Paris in those days. The invention itself being novel, and the spectacle being very imposing, it was very natural that the attention of the people of Paris should be greatly excited by the ascensions whenever they took place. Then, besides, very great expectations were entertained in those days in respect to the benefit to be derived from the invention when it should be matured, and multitudes of schemers and projectors appeared with plans by which all difficulties could be removed, and the art of navigating the air made practically useful.
The engraving represents one of these scenes. The balloon is one of the kind called a Montgolfier, that is, one filled with rarefied air, as is evident from the large orifice below, and the smoke issuing from it. In balloons of this class the place for the persons ascending was in a little gallery formed around the orifice.
Whenever an inventor conceived a new idea his first object was to make a public exhibition of his plan, partly in order to obtain funds to aid him in perfecting it. Thus the parachute was exhibited as a new invention; at first, however, only animals were entrusted to it; but in all cases it let them down gently and in safety to the ground.
Among the spectators who witnessed these performances were two men of considerable political standing, who afterward, being sent at different times to the army of the Republic, on the northern frontier, with commissions from the Convention, were each taken prisoner by the allied armies then fighting against France, and confined in fortresses, and who conceived the idea of escaping from the walls of their prison by means of some sort of parachute similar to those which they had seen exhibited in Paris. One of these, whose name was Jacques Garnerin, and who was confined in Hungary, was betrayed by the persons whom he employed to procure the materials for his parachute, and his design was thus discovered before he was ready for his attempt. The other, whose name was Drouet and whose prison was the castle of Spielberg, in Moravia, attempted to manufacture a parachute out of the curtains of his bed. He succeeded in finishing it, and when the time came he leaped with it from a lofty embrasure. But he broke his leg in the fall, and was thus retaken and returned to his confinement. Both these prisoners were, however, exchanged before a great while; and one of them, Jacques Garnerin, afterward distinguished himself by some remarkable performances with real parachutes, as we shall presently see.
It is a curious fact that almost all great inventions are preceded by imperfect, partial, and more or less abortive attempts, involving the same principle, which seem to foreshadow the discovery, as it were, and often give rise to protracted disputes in relation to the true origin of it. This was strikingly the case in regard to the parachute; for a prisoner did actually make his escape by means of a large umbrella to lighten his fall more than twenty years before the time of Lenormand's experiments.
His name was Lavin. He was confined, however, not as a prisoner of war, but as a criminal. His crime was forgery.
He was a remarkably skillful penman, and his extreme dexterity in the use of his pen, and the facility with which he could imitate any writing or printing, tempted him, it seems, to counterfeit certain Treasury certificates—the greenbacks, in fact, of those days. He was convicted of the crime and imprisoned, and he occupied himself in his prison in executing certain specimens of penmanship so wonderful that they were afterward publicly exhibited as almost worthy of being considered works of art. They consisted of portraits of public men, and of high officers of state, whom he hoped in this way to interest in his favor, so as to procure his release and pardon. These performances were the more remarkable from the fact that they were executed with pens which he made from stalks of the straw furnished him in his cell.
These ingenious efforts failing to procure his release, he determined to release himself. The window of his room in the tower in which he was confined overlooked a river, on the banks of which the castle was built, and he determined to make his escape by leaping from the window into the water with an umbrella in his hand. He concluded that the umbrella would materially check the rapidity of his descent, and that if he should acquire too great a velocity, the water would break the force of his fall.
The experiment succeeded. He fell to the water and sank into it without injury. As soon as he rose to the surface he swam to the shore and escaped. The poor man was, however, afterward retaken, and was kept in close confinement for the rest of his life. It is difficult not to experience a feeling of regret at his recapture. And yet the counterfeiter attacks the most vital interests of society by weakening the confidence of men in the authenticity of the written signature, and thus undermining the foundation on which all the great transactions of civilized life are based. He is, moreover, in one sense the greatest of criminals; for he has not either of the two great pleas which may be offered in mitigation of crime—urgent want or sudden passion. He must act calmly and deliberately, for his work requires it. He must have talent, and ability to earn a livelihood in an honest way. His work proves it.
Although Jacques Garnerin, the first of the two prisoners already referred to, was prevented from carrying out his design of escaping from his prison by means of a parachute, he did not dismiss the subject from his mind, but resolved that as soon as he was released he would make the experiment on a grand scale, to show what he would have done in his prison if he had not been betrayed.
He was released in 1797. In the fall of that year he carried his plan into execution. He caused a balloon to be constructed and a parachute to be attached to it. The parachute was folded, but so arranged that, the resistance of the air should open it as soon as it should commence its descent.
The place chosen for the experiment was a large open piece of ground on the outskirts of Paris. A large number of spectators assembled to witness the daring feat of a man's letting himself drop from the clouds, and come down to the ground, with only a big umbrella over his head to lighten his fall.
The people gathered around the spot, and looked on in solemn silence while the preparations were made. The balloon was inflated, the parachute, folded, was attached to it. A small car was beneath. There was a cord which descended from the balloon to the car, by cutting which the aeronaut could sunder his connection with it, and let himself and the parachute fall. There was also an arrangement by which the gas should be liberated from the balloon at the same time, so that it might also descend to the ground and be recovered.
The fearless adventurer allowed the balloon to ascend until it reached a height of about 3000 feet, more than half a mile. The people below watched the progress of it with intense interest and in solemn silence. At length they saw the parachute separate itself from the balloon, and begin to fall. It soon expanded, and at once began to sway to and fro from one side to the other in frightful oscillations, which, when it had descended far enough to bring the little car in sight, were seen to jerk the car so violently from side to side as to make it very difficult for the man to retain his place. At the same time the balloon turned over on its side, began to collapse, and to follow the parachute in its fall. Both together drifted away before the wind, and so descended to the ground. The balloon reached the ground first.
The car struck the ground with some violence, but without doing Garnerin himself any injury. His balloon had, however, drifted so far by the wind that he was now at some distance from the place where he made the ascent. So he at once mounted on horseback, and rode back with all speed to carry to the crowds of spectators the intelligence of his having accomplished the descent in safety. He was very fortunate in having escaped so well; and, considering the vast height from which he fell, the absolute novelty of his situation, and the terrific surgings of the car as it swung to and fro in the air, we may perhaps consider this descent as one of the most frightful voyages ever made by any human being.
Garnerin obtained great celebrity by this and by some other aeronautical exploits, and as balloon ascensions became soon after this objects of such general interest among the people that some spectacle of the kind became almost an essential part of the celebration on all days of public rejoicing, the government created an office for the superintendence and management of these spectacles, and Garnerin was appointed to fill it. He retained the position of government aeronaut for many years.
A great number of ascensions were made by different performers during those years in safety, bat in some cases they led to the most disastrous results. One of the most terrible of these accidents was that which resulted in the death of Madame Blanchard. Her husband, who has been already referred to in this article, was one of the most intrepid and most successful aeronauts of his day. Indeed, he acquired a large fortune by his public exhibitions. He made more than sixty ascensions in all, one of which took place in New York. He received large rewards from the government for certain discoveries and improvements that he made.
At last, however, he became involved in some political complications, in consequence of which he lost all his property, and was reduced to such a state of destitution that he told his wife on his death-bed that she could have her choice of hanging herself or drowning herself after he was gone, but that that seemed to be all the choice that would be left to her.
She, however, after his death found that she was not inclined to accept either alternative. Instead of this she resolved to adopt and carry on her husband's profession, which she did with great success. She made a great many ascensions and acquired extraordinary skill; and she became at last so intrepid that she exposed herself to the greatest dangers. This of course only increased the interest which the public felt in her ascensions and added to her profits..
|Death of Madame Blanchard|
She met with many extraordinary adventures, and made several hair-breadth escapes.
At one time she lost the control of her balloon and it came down with her into a bog, where it got caught among the trees and was dashed about with great violence, while there was no firm ground on which she could stand. It was thought that she must have perished if some of the country people living near had not come to her aid
She made between fifty and sixty ascensions, varying them by a great number of different exploits which she performed in connection with them, until at length, in 1819, she conceived the idea of letting off fire-works in the skies for the amusement of the people at a fair in Paris. The fire-works were what are called Bengal lights. They were attached to the balloon in such a manner that Madame Blanchard from her car below could reach them by means of a long pole with a torch at the end of it, and then detach them so that they might fall burning through the air watched by the people below.
That any person should conceive the idea of ascending several thousand feet into the air by means of an immense volume of one of the most combustible substances known, and contained in the thinnest possible envelope formed of a substance scarcely less combustible, there to set off fire-works by means of a torch at the end of a pole, and that person a woman, would seem to be one of the most desperate conceptions that could possibly enter a human brain.
As might have been anticipated, by some want of steadiness in hand in holding the long pole, or by some sudden and unexpected swaying of the balloon or of the car, the fire, either from the torch or from the fire-works, reached the hydrogen, and the lower portion of the balloon was immediately enveloped in flames.
The balloon began immediately to descend very rapidly. The cords by which the car was attached to it were burned off, and Madame Blanchard was thrown out and fell upon the roofs, and from the roofs to the ground. She was killed upon the spot.
In some respects the most remarkable ascension that ever took place was one made by an apprentice boy of twelve years old named Guerin, who was taken up by the action of the balloon itself without his consent, and without any intention that he should go up on the part of any other person. It was a rarefied air balloon. The car was in the form of a boat, and was to be suspended from the balloon by cords attached to each end of it when the balloon was filled. There was also an anchor suspended by a cord from the bottom of the boat, which was intended to catch upon the ground and hold the balloon when it should come down.
After the balloon was filled and was ready to go up some of the assistants held it by cords, while others went to work to attach the car to it. They had secured one end, and were then going to secure the other, when, by some means or other, the balloon broke away from those holding it and began slowly to rise, and at the same time to drift along with the wind, dragging the car and the anchor over the ground. It happened that, as the anchor was thus drawn along, and was beginning to rise, it passed so closely over this boy—who was sitting quietly nearby with his companions, not dreaming of being anything but a spectator of the proceedings—as to catch the fluke in the waist band of his pantaloons, and as it continued to ascend it took him up with it.
The boy uttered piercing screams and cries and calls for help; and there was, perhaps, no harm in this so long as be held on bravely. Of course no help was possible except calls to him from below to hold on. He found that the waistband began to give way, and he instinctively grasped the rope above his head with both hands, and so sustained himself. The strength of his hands, without the aid of the hook in his waistband, would not have been sufficient to sustain his weight many minutes; and the waistband was not strong enough without the hands. Both together, however, answered the purpose.
|Young Guerin taken up|
It was very fortunate for Guerin that it was a Montgolfier, that is, a rarefied air balloon and not one filled with hydrogen, that was running away with him; for in the latter case the gas within would have continued to expand as the outside pressure upon it diminished by the increasing elevation; and as there would have been no possibility of opening the valve, as is usually done, to relieve it, the balloon would have burst and collapsed, and the poor boy would have fallen a thousand feet or more to the ground with full force But being a Montgolfier, the ascending power gradually diminished as the air grew cool, until at length, after floating a moment in equilibrium, it began slowly to descend. As the balloon descended, the rope which had begun to untwist under the influence of the boy's weight, turned more and more rapidly; and inasmuch as a person suspended from a balloon is never conscious of his own motion—the illusion which makes the motion seem to be in the earth and not in the balloon being perfect—as it is indeed on a smaller scale to a person going up in the elevator of a hotel—it appeared to Guerin that the earth was spinning round beneath him in a vast and most frightful gyration. Guerin was more terrified than ever. As he drew near the ground, or rather, as it appeared to him, as the ground and the concourse of spectators upon it came whirling up to him, he cried out to the people to save him. They called to him in reply not to be afraid, that he was all right; and, receiving him in their arms as soon as he came within reach, they at the same moment stopped the spinning of the earth and unhooked him from the anchor.
The incident of course created a great sensation at the time; and, as the account of it became a part of the history of aerostation, the story will be repeated in all coming time. Guerin found himself very suddenly famous. As he was only in the air about fifteen minutes, it is very probable that this boy acquired historical immortality at an earlier age, and in a shorter time, than, any other human being.
Notwithstanding the high hopes which were entertained at the first invention of the balloon, that the system, when developed, would become the means of rendering great service to mankind, and which are still entertained by many people, no results have yet been realized of any serious importance; nor is there any present prospect that any ever will be realized. The balloon has been from the beginning little more than a philosophical toy, although it must be confessed that it is a very grand and imposing one. The difficulty is simply the want of power, and the seeming hopelessness of obtaining the means of procuring, in the air, any great power with little weight in the appliances to furnish it and employ it. Where we see that we have power, or have a source at our command from which we can procure it, there is no limit to the hopes we may entertain in respect to the objects, however complicated or difficult, which may be accomplished by it. Man can and does make fire sew. Fire is power, and through the inter-medium of the steam-engine and the sewing-machine he can make it sew, or do anything else, however intricate, for which he can devise the proper means of applying it. But he cannot make the lightest wheel turn itself, or one force overcome another, in the smallest degree greater.
|Philosophy in the air|
When man can contrive a way to take heat enough into the air, in connection with mechanism so light that the power of the heat can lift and operate it, then, and not till then, so far as we can now see, will he be able to navigate the air.
Many attempts have been made to derive some practical benefit from the use of the balloon in various ways. Among these the one which has most nearly attained success is the use of it as a means of making reconnaissance’s in time of war. Attempts to employ the balloon in this way were first made by the French Government, in the time of the first republic. A regular aeronautic corps was organized, and a system of drill and of signals established, and other arrangements devised by means of which ascensions could be made by a reconnoitering party, information communicated to the commanders below, and the balloons, ready charged, be transported from place to place, wherever they might be required. The engraving at the head of this article represents a body of men in those days maneuvering a balloon in the field.
The operation of the system was, however, attended with so many practical difficulties, and the results were so uncertain, that it never became established as a regular element in the art of war. One of the chief sources of embarrassment was the trouble of transporting so cumbrous a mass as an inflated balloon across the country. To empty the balloon when it required to be moved, with a view of refilling it where the next ascension was to be made, would have very partially remedied the difficulty, as it would have rendered it necessary to transport the chemical apparatus and materials for producing the gas, and involved the difficulty, uncertainty, and delay of a tedious chemical process at every station from which a reconnaissance was to be made.
The use of the balloon was attempted to some extent in the late war in this country, but with no very conspicuous success.
The balloon has, however, been made practically useful in a certain sense—or, rather, it has been made practically conducive to the attainment of theoretic ends—by being employed as an instrument of scientific investigation. The engraving opposite represents an ascension made by Gay Lussac and Biot, two distinguished French philosophers. The special object of this expedition was to determine certain questions in respect to certain phenomena of electricity and magnetism, as affected by distance from the surface of the earth. The nature of these questions, and the results which the philosophers obtained, cannot be here explained. The results were somewhat unexpected, and were of great importance, and the ascension formed a memorable event in the history of science. It was one of the first of its kind, though many others of a similar character have since been made.
Everyone is familiar with the toy hydrogen balloons, so common at the present day, formed by inclosing hydrogen in a globular bag, consisting of a thin film of caoutchouc. The defect of this arrangement arises from a difficulty which greatly embarrassed the French engineers in their attempts to employ the balloon for purposes of war, and that is, the incapacity of the film of caoutchouc to prevent the transpiration of the gas through its pores. Hydrogen is of so extremely subtle and tenuous a nature that it is impossible to find any thin and flexible substance which will long contain it. The balloons of the French army were made of silk or cotton textures, and thoroughly varnished; but the gas would ooze through. It was said that they at last discovered a remedy for the difficulty, but that the remedy was afterward lost.
It is not difficult for any ingenious young persons to construct a toy Montgolfier, or hot-air balloon, to be filled by the heated air ascending from a lamp or from a gas flame, and made to ascend to the ceiling. The best material for a balloon of this size is tissue paper. It ought to be nearly or quite three feet in diameter, which would make the circumference nine feet, and the gores on each side four and a half feet. But as the gores, instead of coming to a point at the lower end, may be shortened there, and made square, to allow for the opening for the admission of the hot air, four feet will be long enough. About this length can be obtained by dividing each sheet of paper into two parts, and pasting them together, end to end.
From the long sheets thus obtained the gores can easily be cut, a pattern being first made in stiff paper. The general form of the gores is shown in the engraving. The precise form, except so far as having them all alike is concerned, is not material, unless it is desired to make the balloon perfectly spherical, or to give it some other precise determinate character.
When the gores are cut the first is to be placed upon a table, and the second laid upon it in such a manner that the edge of the lower one on one side, say upon the right side, may project about half an inch beyond that of the one above it. This edge is then folded over and pasted down upon the other. The third gore is then to be laid on, and placed in such a manner as to leave the right-hand edge of the second projecting beyond that of the third, and this edge must then be folded down and pasted. In the same manner all the gores in succession are to be laid on and pasted, alternately, on the two sides. When the last gore is reached, which must be one to be pasted on the right side, and must be made somewhat wider than the rest, the left-hand edge, after the right-hand edge is pasted, must be carried around under all the other left-hand edges, and pasted to the left-hand edge of the first one.
Thus the balloon will be completed, and as thus completed it will lie folded upon the table. During the process of pasting, however, a short piece of twine, or narrow tape, should be inserted in each seam, at the top of the balloon, in such a manner that the ends may project about six inches or more above, to be afterward tied together to form a loop by which the balloon may be suspended. A continuous tape is also to be put along the lower edges of the gores, and pasted there by folding the edge over it. This tape is to strengthen the border of the orifice left at the bottom for the admission of the hot air.
The balloon, when thus complete, is to be held suspended by means of a pole, and then opened a little by inserting the hand under it below. It is then to be cautiously held over the lamp or gas flame, or other source of heat, taking care to hold it at such a distance above as not to endanger it. As the hot air ascends into it the top, supported by the pole, must be gradually lowered, to allow of the swelling out of the sides of the balloon. When it is found to be sufficiently full to sustain itself the pole is to be withdrawn, and the balloon held by means of the tape forming the circumference of the orifice, or by cords previously attached to it for this purpose. When it is released it will mount to the ceiling, if the experiment is made in a room, and a great deal higher if it is tried, on a calm day, in the open air.
Its flight may indeed be considerably protracted by attaching to it, below the orifice, by means of wire, a sponge saturated with alcohol, and then setting the alcohol on fire just as it is about to commence its ascent.
We close this discussion by narrating an incident which occurred in London in 1824, and which belongs rather to the realm of sentiment and romance than to that of science and philosophy. There was an exhibition of a balloon ascension to be made by an English aeronaut named Harris, at Vauxhall, a celebrated public garden. Harris, to give greater eclat to the spectacle, invited a young woman to whom he was engaged to be married to accompany him. The departure and the ascent were accomplished without any difficulty; but when high in the air the cord communicating with the valve at the top of the balloon, used for discharging any excess of hydrogen, or the valve itself, became disarranged, so that Harris, after opening it when he had reached the proper altitude, in order to prevent any farther ascent, found, to his consternation and horror, that he could not close it again. Of course, as the gas continued to issue from the opening, the balloon descended with greater and greater rapidity every instant. Harris threw out all his ballast, and everything else that he could lay, hand upon, to arrest the descent. He took off his own and the lady's outer clothing, and threw it over. All was in vain. He finally concluded that by throwing himself over he might save her, as the balloon might perhaps have buoyancy enough left to sustain the weight of one. He accordingly kissed her farewell, and leaped into the air. She saw him go down, and immediately fell fainting into the bottom of the car.
When she came to herself she found herself in the midst of a crowd of eager spectators, some pressing around her to see, others doing all in their power to revive and to support her. She soon recovered sufficiently to be taken home, and she sustained no permanent injury from her awful adventure.
It is needless to say what was the fate of her devoted and heroic lover.
From Harper’s New Monthly Magazine – July 1869.
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