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Old 05-26-2021, 09:29 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Above the Clouds: Trollheart's Aviation Journal

I am, of course, a total nerd, as anyone knows, and while I never quite sunk to the level of being a trainspotter (freaks!) I was, for some time, a plane spotter. No, you’re right: I never had a girlfriend, and at this point am unlikely ever to. But I’ve always been interested in aircraft, from the days of my childhood when my family would go out for the day to nearby Dublin Airport, and one of my earliest memories is of going out onto the viewing balconies (long closed now) and inhaling the sweet smell of aviation fuel. I tell you, it was my drug. And when I got older I of course then gravitated towards the hobby, this getting even better for me when I started working at the airport.

But you don’t care about my obsessions. Or me. The only reason I tell you the above is to preface the opening of this, yet another journal. Even the most stoned or drunk among you (which probably covers most of you) will have realised by now what it’s about, and if you don’t then here’s a clue:

Slightly different this time around. Another history journal, yes, but in this one I’ll be combining a timeline with other entries, a little like, I guess, my to-be-returned-to History of Classical Music. I realise that, like many of my journals, this one will be of interest to few if any of you, unless Batty drops in to throw down some snide mic-dropping moments, which I’m sure he will, but I don’t care. Aviation is one of my hobbies, or was, and I always loved aircraft. So, like the doctor in Family Guy says: we’re doing this, whether you like it or not.

What are we doing, exactly, you say? Are you still here? Well that’s surprising. Ah, I see: door stuck, is it? Well, while you try desperately to pry it open, let me annoy you by explaining what will be happening here.

I’ll be talking at stultifyingly boring length about my favourite aircraft, famous and less famous, airlines, airports, aircraft manufacturers, perhaps even air crashes - anything to do with aircraft or flying. Running alongside that will be the chronological history of flight, from the very beginning up to now.

Legend would have us believe that the ancient Greek Icarus was the first man to attempt to fly. Unsuccessfully, it must be said, though he made some progress before he flew too high, got too close to the sun and the wax holding his makeshift wings to his body melted, leaving him to fall helplessly from the sky, plunging into the sea where, to nobody’s shock, he died.

Which event gives us that famous Greek phrase: “Always buy your wax from Honest Aristotle’s Mega Wax Emporium, just a short chariot ride from this forum.”

I’m going to kick this off as I mean to go on, with no regard for anyone else (as nobody is likely to be reading it) and to satisfy my own dark desires about aircraft. I suppose there’s some vague possibility that one or two other people might enjoy these articles, but I don’t expect a flood of replies or comments. Be nice if there were people here interested in aircraft who wanted to talk (cue NERD! Meme from Batty) but I’m not holding out much hope on that front.

Before I get into the history of aviation, then, an article or two. Russia has always been a boastful country, which is to say, its leaders have always been going on about how great their country is, how wonderful Communism is/was, and how Russians do everything so much better than the West.

Well, in this case, they’re right.
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Old 05-26-2021, 09:45 AM   #2 (permalink)
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In Soviet Russia, Aircraft fly you!
A Brief potted history of the Antonov Aircraft Company



Oleg Antonov (1906 - 1984)

Technically no longer actually Russian, the Antonov Aircraft Company was founded under the umbrella of the USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, controlled from Moscow by the Soviet government. Created by Oleg Antonov, who had worked with The Moscow Glider Company designing gliders (until one enterprising instructor hopped it to the West in one of their gliders, after which the factory was closed down and gliders banned in the USSR) and then in the Yakovlev Design Bureau where, during World War II, he designed military gliders (presumably the ban was lifted by Stalin in light of the war effort) including one which was apparently capable of lifting a tank!



Strictly speaking though, the AN-40 Krylya Tanka (tank wings) was not a glider, in fact it was not even properly an aircraft, being an actual tank with detachable wings and tail. Antonov did however go on from such experimental ideas to become one of the USSR’s biggest (literally) aircraft manufacturers. They would be known as the company that built the largest and heaviest planes, not only in the Soviet Union, but in the world, and remain so, with their AN-225 Mryia, a six-engined monster that holds the current record, behind one experimental flying boat built by millionaire entrepreneur Howard Hughes, and the more recent Stratolaunch, which was retired from service on the death of the founder of the company.

As you might expect from a Russian aircraft manufacturer (the same, I guess, as you would also expect from a British or American or German one) Antonov have been, and continue to be instrumental in producing military as well as civilian aircraft. Perhaps rather amazingly, their first proper production powered aircraft, the AN-2, prototyped in 1946, is still in service today. In fact, production only ceased in 2001. The AN-2 is a biplane, rather unique for the time being made entirely of metal when most other designs, including the likes of the Spitfire and Hurricane, were at least partially made of wood. It is used by the military as well as in the field (sorry) of crop-dusting and firefighting, as an air ambulance and even a small troop carrier. Its toughness, ability to take off and land on very short runways and its lifting power have kept it in service for over seventy phenomenal years.


The trend for large aircraft kicked off in 1957 when Antonov designed the AN-10 and AN-12, themselves based on the popular AN-8 passenger aircraft, but which replaced that model’s twin engines with two more, making four in all. Of course, this was not necessarily anything new - the American Douglas DC-4 and DC-6 had been in service since the 1940s, and Britain’s Vickers Viscount and Vanguard were plying routes for the likes of British European Airways and BOAC, and even tiny Aer Lingus by the time the AN-10 made its debut. It had competition within its own sphere from the Ilyushin IL-18, launched a year previous, and which had better cargo capacity. The IL-18 became one of the most popular soviet airliners of the decade, oddly enough though being involved in far more accidents than its rival.

Unlike the doughty AN-2, the AN-10 lasted a mere fifteen years in civil service, as Aeroflot, the Russian state airline, retired its fleet in 1972 following a fatal crash which was traced to metal fatigue in the wings. By comparison, the IL-18 is still in service today, even if the number of aircraft still around can be counted on the fingers of two hands. Perhaps not surprisingly, the AN-10 was only operated by Aeroflot, while its military equivalent, the AN-12, served in the Russian Air Force. However, as a transport aircraft and in many variants, it far outpaced its predecessor, being operated by over twenty countries for civilian purposes and in the air force of almost thirty. Again, unlike the luckless AN-10, some models are still in service today.


Bigger is better, could perhaps be the slogan of the Antonov Company, and they certainly live up to that, right up to today. Each aircraft designed by them is literally bigger than the last, and the first real monster to see service was the AN-22, which at the time was the world’s first wide-bodied aircraft and remains the largest ever turbo-prop aircraft in the world. Unlike the AN-12, the AN-22 did not develop from a civil version; in fact, the only civil airline to ever operate one remains Antonov Airlines themselves, and they have only the one, with one leased to Air Sofia. The AN-22 was specifically built as what is known as a strategic airlifter, basically an aircraft to get men and material to battlefields and airlift supplies in for humanitarian crises. They were used during the meltdown in Chernobyl in 1986, in the invasion of Afghanistan and Angola, and the war in Bosnia, and were kept busy flying troops in to various former territories of the Soviet Union after the collapse of communism and the breakup of the USSR.

The AN-22 was the first of their aircraft (perhaps the first Russian aircraft but I don’t know) to have a twin tail, which helped its stability and performance, and though a passenger version was planned which would have, if realised, carried almost twice as many passengers as a Boeing 747, nothing came of the idea and the aircraft remained an exclusively military one. It could be, perhaps paradoxically, due to this that the AN-22 only suffered nine crashes, compared to the many in which its predecessor was involved, or it could be the fact that it was not sold for use outside the Soviet Union. Either way, up to this point it remained the Antonov aircraft with the best safety record.

Like all major aircraft manufacturers, Antonov moved into the jet arena but was slow to do so. While British and American jet aircraft, both civil and military, had been flying since the late forties and fifties, and Antonov’s main rival Ilyushin had the IL-62 in service in 1960, it was 1972 before the first jet-powered aircraft rolled off Antonov’s production line, this being the AN-72. In contrast to many western aircraft being made at the time - and even differing from the IL-62, which had four engines mounted at the rear - the AN-72 sported two large turbofan engines which sat above the wing, one of the few aircraft ever to use this design. The Boeing YC-15, which utilised a similar design, was never put into production, and most aircraft manufacturers preferred to sling the engines below the wing (as in the well-known and successful Boeing 737/707/747 aircraft, the Douglas DC-8 and later the Airbus models) or on or beside the tail (Boeing 727/BAC 1-11, DC-9, Lockheed Tristar, DC-10).

The positioning of the engines above the wing however allowed the AN-72 to take advantage of something called the Coanda Effect, which helped make it a reliable STOL (Short Take-Off Or Landing) aircraft, and maintained Antonov’s reputation for building aircraft that could operate from the shortest, most remote, most rudimentary airstrips. Briefly, the Coanda Effect uses exhaust gases from the engines blown over the wing surface to boost lift, something impossible on lower-slung or tail-mounted engines. Like most of the heavier Antonov aircraft, the AN-72 saw service both as a military and civilian craft, and in many roles, including air ambulance, VIP transport, cargo, marine patrol and cold weather support. The AN-72 is still in service today.

Cementing their reputation as the builder of the world’s largest aircraft, Antonov rolled out the massive AN-124 in December 1982, although the world outside the USSR only got to see it at the Paris Air Show three years later. The first, to my limited knowledge admittedly, Antonov (possibly even first Soviet) aircraft to have a front-loading cargo system whereby the nose lifts up as a door, the AN-124 can carry up to 150,000 kilos (by comparison, a 747 freighter can manage 140,000 ) and has a wingspan of 240 feet or 73 metres (that’s equivalent to having three Boeing 737s lined up, one behind the other, on both wings), the aircraft’s length being almost equivalent to its wingspan, at 226 feet or 69 metres. The AN-124 is also the first, possibly only Antonov aircraft to see service with UK operators, although any who operated this behemoth have since closed down, perhaps evidence that the demand for such a giant of the skies is not there.

The AN-124 remains the largest military transport in service, and is still being manufactured today with approximately twenty aircraft still in service. Not surprisingly, due to its massive size and niche requirements, there were no huge numbers of the aircraft ever built, but even with the one-off appearance of its intended successor, the AN-225, it is still the second heaviest cargo aircraft ever built, at 214,000 kilos fully loaded and 180,000 empty. This makes it almost twice as heavy as variants of the old reliable 747.

Interestingly, while most western manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus, McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace now concentrate almost exclusively on jet aircraft, Antonov continue to produce turboprop models, with the AN-132, a twin turboprop military version of the AN-32 first flying as recently as 2017, the AN-142, designed to take over from the ageing AN-30 making its maiden flight in 1997 and even the venerable AN-2, Antonov’s first real aircraft which originally saw service in 1946 being redesigned in 2013. Still, it can’t be questioned that their focus lies, like most aircraft manufacturers and as you would expect, in jets, and to that effect, as already mentioned, and as our last look at this company, they have built the largest aircraft in the world.
The largest. In. The world. No contest.

Its wingspan is a staggering 290 feet or 88 metres, almost fifty feet longer than the AN-124, and even unladen it’s heavier by far than its predecessor at full weight (295,000 kilos) while when fully loaded it struggles into the air dragging a weight of 640,000 kilos with it. Yeah, that’s over THREE TIMES the weight of the AN-124 at full capacity! They call it the AN-225 and it is a beast in any man’s language. Powered by six - count ‘em: six! - turbofan engines, three under each wing, it was built specifically to transport the Buran Spaceplane, Soviet Russia’s answer to the American Space Shuttle, and only one was ever built.

The geopositioning of Antonov has worked against it recently, as the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014 led to hostilities between the two nations, and as a consequence Antonov no longer worked alongside Russia. Over the period 2014-15, they produced a total of four aircraft, with none in 2016. In 2017 the state-owned arms manufacturing company Ukroboronprom announced the formation of the equally state-owned Ukrainian Aircraft Corporation, and Antonov was absorbed into this, effectively ceasing to exist as a separate entity.

While other Soviet manufacturers such as Ilyushin and Tupolev may have gone on to create the more popular and well-known Russian aircraft (including the workhorse Tupolev TU-154 and the supersonic Concorde equivalent the Ilyushin IL-86) Antonov always were and always will be known as the people airlines turn to when they want the biggest, the heaviest, the most rugged and the most reliable transport aircraft in the world.

And it all started with gliders…
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Old 06-06-2021, 07:36 PM   #3 (permalink)
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The Man Who Won the Battle of Britain. Sort of.

Winston Churchill once famously said “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. He could technically have replaced the last word with “one”, for without the man whom I’m about to profile in this article, we could all have been speaking German now. Well, not me: I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it, as the Nazis had some very firm ideas about anything seen as other than perfection, so I guess I’m lucky. Along with the other few billion people in the world. But while I don’t in any way wish to take anything from nor minimise or cheapen the sacrifices made by the brave men who gave their lives in the skies over England in the summer of 1940, as they endeavoured to keep their island free of the Nazi invasion and prevent the war coming to a sudden and decisive end, it’s nevertheless true that without this man their task would have been that much harder, perhaps even insurmountable.


Reginald Joseph Mitchell, more commonly known by his initials, R.J., was an aircraft designer who had a passion for racing seaplanes, but who is remembered for the design and development of one of the crucial fighter aircraft of World War II, the Supermarine Spitfire. Beloved of pilots, the terror of the Luftwaffe, in partnership with the Hawker Hurricane this nimble and deadly aircraft waged war against Hitler between July and October of 1940, as the fate of the Second World War hung in the balance. Its superior design, speed and manoeuvrability allowed its pilots to outfly and outfight the Messerschmidt BF-109s and Focke-Wulf FW190s of Goerring’s Luftwaffe and, despite being outnumbered, enable the RAF to hold out against the Germans until the invasion of England was eventually postponed by Hitler.

Through one of those nasty quirks of fate, Mitchell would not live to see his finest creation earn its reputation and take its place in history, as he died two years before the outbreak of war, but he has been rightly celebrated as one of the greatest aircraft designers of his time, and a man without whom the war might not have been won.

A keen engineer from an early age, Mitchell served his apprenticeship at 16 in a locomotive works, later gaining a position in the Supermarine Aviation Works in Southampton, where he would remain for the rest of his career. Supermarine were a company that serviced the seaplane and flying boat industry popular at this time (1917) and so the bulk of Mitchell’s projects were of that nature, with aircraft such as the Walrus, Sea King, Sea Eagle and Stranraer. Some of these were built to military specifications, some for the private sector. Some, like the Stranraer, when retired by the military went on to be sold to embryonic airlines and served as passenger aircraft, with the Stranraer and the Walrus flying up to the end of the 1950s.




Supermarine also specialised in designing racing seaplanes, and were well known for producing models which performed well at the annual Schneider Trophy, a race for seaplanes and flying boats. Mitchell designed the S6 and S6B, both of which won the race in 1929 and 1931, the latter breaking the airspeed record when it attained a speed of 407.5 MPH (655.6 KPH). an astonishing achievement in an era where “fast” aircraft typically reached speeds in the low to high two hundreds of miles per hour, and even the Spitfire, which was based on the S6B, could only manage around 370 mph.

After this though Supermarine were tasked by the British government to design a “modern, all-metal, land-based fighter aircraft”. With an eye on developments in Europe, and especially Germany, the British Air Ministry worried that its ageing fleet of Hawker Hurricanes would not be enough to repel an expected/feared German invasion of England. Mitchell’s offering, the Type 224, was not accepted by the Ministry. It was big and bulky, with fixed undercarriage and an open cockpit, gull-like wings similar to the later Grumman F4U Corsair, which saw action in the Pacific and proved something of a mainstay of the USAF, and could only attain a top speed of 228 mph, which was well below the Ministry’s required target of 245. The final indignity for Mitchell was, perhaps, the fact that the design chosen was a biplane, the Gloster Gladiator, which though it saw service throughout World War II and acquitted itself well, was well outmatched by the more modern designs flown by the Luftwaffe. As a consequence, it became the last biplane the RAF ordered.

Disappointed, Mitchell turned to working upon a private project which had been commissioned by Supermarine for an updated Type 224, and adding retractable landing gear and also shortening the wingspan led to the Type 300. This was submitted to the Air Ministry but rejected again. However with the addition of an enclosed cockpit, even shorter and thinner wings and the new Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, the Air Ministry approved its development and with finance secured Mitchell produced the prototype of what would become known and loved as the Spitfire.

Three months after its maiden flight in March 1936, the Air Ministry ordered 310 of the aircraft. It was to prove pivotal in the fight to maintain air superiority in the skies over Britain as the famous Battle of Britain played out from June to October of 1940, denying the Nazis the opportunity to launch Operation Sealion, the planned invasion of England. Some examples are still flying, maintained by enthusiasts, and the Spitfire is a regular and welcome sight at most British and other airshows.

Although he was able to watch the test flights of his new aircraft, Mitchell was diagnosed with rectal cancer and died in 1937, never to see the long-term effects his design would have not only on the coming war, but history itself. He was survived by his son Gordon until 2009, when he too passed away, aged 88.

Various monuments were erected to the memory of R.J. Mitchell, one of which stands in London’s Science Museum, another, this a sculpture of his finest work, the Spitfire, takes pride of place in Southampton Airport, although Gordon Mitchell’s efforts to have the airport renamed in honour of his father failed. Mitchell’s high school, however, was renamed as the Reginald Mitchell High School, while the primary at which he was taught also took his name. The Mitchell Arts Centre in Stoke-on-Trent, his hometown, was constructed in his honour and opened twenty years after his death, in 1957.
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Old 06-13-2021, 02:39 PM   #4 (permalink)
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There’s no two ways about it: flying can be a very dangerous business. While aircrew are of course well trained and professional, and probably ninety-nine out of every hundred flights lands safely (I don’t know the actual figures) there is always the chance that something will go wrong. And there’s so much that can go wrong, from weather conditions to mechanical failure to sloppy maintenance and of course human error. Wind shear, wake turbulence, downspouts are only a tiny fraction of the phenomena that pilots have to contend with, and while they’re of course trained to watch for these things, it only takes a split-second’s lapse in concentration, the merest moment of distraction or an inability to realise how serious things are before they’re fighting for control of the aircraft as it dives, twists and turns, and tries to head towards the ground.

So unfortunately, though they’re still rare enough not to stop most of us boarding that plane, air accidents are relatively common, and in this section I’ll be looking at some of the worst and most famous. I’m a big fan of the show Air Crash Investigation which I believe goes under other names in the US, notably Mayday, so I know quite a bit about the various crashes and accidents, and while they can be hard to watch or write about (these are real stories, after all, of real people who lost their lives, and the ones left behind) it is nevertheless interesting to see the many and varied causes of the crashes, and, more importantly, how these things being brought to the attention of the authorities end up making air travel that little bit safer.


Date: October 4 1992
Location of crash: Bijlmermeer district, near Schiphol, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Airline: El Al (Israeli Airlines)
Flight: EA1862
Aircraft: Boeing 747-200
Planned destination: Tel Aviv, Israel
Crew: Captain Yitzhak Fuchs, First Officer Arnon Ohad, Flight Engineer Gedlaya Sofer
Cause of crash: Engines detached from aircraft causing a loss of lift
Deaths: 43-47

En route from New York back to their homebase in Tel Aviv, El Al flight 1862, carrying suspected weapons for the Israeli military, takes off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport at 1830 and flies east, the suburbs of Amsterdam below them. Suddenly there is an almighty bang and the aircraft lists out of control. Fighting against the plunging, twisting 747, Captain Fuchs manages to get it back under control, but his First Officer tells him that two of the Jumbo’s four engines are out of commission, and they head back to the airport for an emergency landing. The mayday call has emergency responders scrambling to meet the stricken aircraft as it struggles back.

Before it can reach the airport, however, the 747 starts to bank to the right again, and this time the captain is powerless to prevent it plunging towards the ground, where it impacts with the apartments in Bijlmermeer, taking out the building and showering others with white-hot jet fuel. All three crew are killed on impact, as well as one other El Al employee, who had been hitching a ride to Tel Aviv, where she was to be married. As the aircraft was only carrying cargo and no passengers, the largest number of casualties occur on the ground, where over forty residents are known to perish, some on impact, some due to smoke inhalation when the apartment blocks burst into flame.

As is often the case though with such tragedies, ordinary people display the selfless courage of movie star action heroes, rushing to the scene and rescuing anyone they can. Andre Bos, a resident whose flat is untouched, miraculously, risks his life in the fire kicking doors open and carrying out people who have been overcome by the smoke, and who otherwise would have died. Firefighters are quick to respond with the first fire engine arriving a mere five minutes after the crash. Hard on its heels come the inevitable news crews, anxious to cover the tragedy.

As the investigation begins, the fear is initially that a bomb or a missile may have taken out the 747. Given that it is an Israeli airline, Palestinian terrorists are suspected, and given that two engines failing at once is unlikely at best, this theory seems to hold water. However, an off-duty police officer reveals that he saw the two engines actually fall off the wing. Both were on the right wing, but when recovered by divers neither engine shows signs of bomb damage. Metal fatigue, combined with a freak set of circumstances, turns out to be to blame. The metal fuse pins holding the engines to the wings broke on one engine - the inner one - which then spun out and hit the outer engine, ripping it off the wing and so depriving the 747 of both the engines on the right.

Conclusions: Microscopic fractures in the fuse pins holding the inner engine to the right wing fail due to metal fatigue. They break and the engine plummets off the wing, hitting against the outer engine and ripping it off, along with a good section of the wing’s leading edge. This in turn disrupts the control surfaces that allow the plane to be manoeuvred through the sky. At his current speed, Captain Yitzhak is able to hold the 747 level, but when he has to slow down for landing and raises the nose, he loses control and the aircraft tips over, spiralling helplessly to the ground, where it crashes into the apartment block, exploding on impact.

Measures taken: Boeing strengthens all engine-to-wing fixtures, and initiates stringent checks for metal fatigue, ensuring such an accident is unlikely to ever happen again.

Unanswered questions: While air crash investigators of course do all they can to uncover the reasons behind every crash, and try to answer every questions, often there are gaps in their knowledge, facts left out of the report because they can’t be corroborated or sometimes even guessed at, or perhaps because they’re not directly pertinent to the investigation. Certainly, in what could certainly be termed a freak, perhaps even unique, accident of this sort, there are bound to be outstanding issues, questions that remain to be answered, doubts and possibly even the sense of a cover-up, as we’re dealing here with one of the world’s most belligerent military powers. And once military authorities of any sort are involved in a crash which involves civilians, you can bet they’re not going to give you the full story.

What exactly was the cargo? Originally it’s mentioned as having been for the war effort, though the report doesn’t specifically say it’s weapons. The Dutch Minister of Transport confirmed the 747 had been carrying fruit, perfumes and computer components, and that there were no weapons or dangerous chemicals aboard. Whether she got this information from the Israeli government or military is uncertain; she may just have gone from the aircraft’s cargo manifest, which could have been falsified or fudged (we all remember Matrix Churchill, don’t we?) Later it was however admitted, as more and more people from the crash site began to come forward complaining of various medical and mental problems, that there was a quantity of dimethyl methylphosphonate, which can be used in the manufacture of the deadly Sarin gas, though the El Al spokesman who made the revelation in 1998 claimed it was “non-toxic”. Well of course he did.

Perhaps more worrying though was the revelation that the tail of the aircraft had been loaded with depleted uranium, to serve as trim weight. This, apparently, was standard practice for Boeing among its fleet of 747s. Why did they use a dangerous radioactive element? Guess you’d have to ask them, but it did raise concerns that radioactive isotopes could have been released on impact and disseminated into the air, something Boeing hotly denied. But again, you’d expect that.
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Old 06-13-2021, 04:41 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Trollheart..still trying to catch up on Irish History and now Flying...do you ever move from your very good. no doubt, on story telling position... that pen and paper is busy as a bee...me buzzing off now..
well almost just had a ponder

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Old 06-13-2021, 05:16 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
I am, of course, a total nerd, as anyone knows, and while I never quite sunk to the level of being a trainspotter (freaks!) I was, for some time, a plane spotter. No, you’re right: I never had a girlfriend, and at this point am unlikely ever to. But I’ve always been interested in aircraft, from the days of my childhood when my family would go out for the day to nearby Dublin Airport, and one of my earliest memories is of going out onto the viewing balconies (long closed now) and inhaling the sweet smell of aviation fuel. I tell you, it was my drug. And when I got older I of course then gravitated towards the hobby, this getting even better for me when I started working at the airport.

But you don’t care about my obsessions. Or me. The only reason I tell you the above is to preface the opening of this, yet another journal. Even the most stoned or drunk among you (which probably covers most of you) will have realised by now what it’s about, and if you don’t then here’s a clue:

Slightly different this time around. Another history journal, yes, but in this one I’ll be combining a timeline with other entries, a little like, I guess, my to-be-returned-to History of Classical Music. I realise that, like many of my journals, this one will be of interest to few if any of you, unless Batty drops in to throw down some snide mic-dropping moments, which I’m sure he will, but I don’t care. Aviation is one of my hobbies, or was, and I always loved aircraft. So, like the doctor in Family Guy says: we’re doing this, whether you like it or not.

What are we doing, exactly, you say? Are you still here? Well that’s surprising. Ah, I see: door stuck, is it? Well, while you try desperately to pry it open, let me annoy you by explaining what will be happening here.

I’ll be talking at stultifyingly boring length about my favourite aircraft, famous and less famous, airlines, airports, aircraft manufacturers, perhaps even air crashes - anything to do with aircraft or flying. Running alongside that will be the chronological history of flight, from the very beginning up to now.

Legend would have us believe that the ancient Greek Icarus was the first man to attempt to fly. Unsuccessfully, it must be said, though he made some progress before he flew too high, got too close to the sun and the wax holding his makeshift wings to his body melted, leaving him to fall helplessly from the sky, plunging into the sea where, to nobody’s shock, he died.

Which event gives us that famous Greek phrase: “Always buy your wax from Honest Aristotle’s Mega Wax Emporium, just a short chariot ride from this forum.”

I’m going to kick this off as I mean to go on, with no regard for anyone else (as nobody is likely to be reading it) and to satisfy my own dark desires about aircraft. I suppose there’s some vague possibility that one or two other people might enjoy these articles, but I don’t expect a flood of replies or comments. Be nice if there were people here interested in aircraft who wanted to talk (cue NERD! Meme from Batty) but I’m not holding out much hope on that front.

Before I get into the history of aviation, then, an article or two. Russia has always been a boastful country, which is to say, its leaders have always been going on about how great their country is, how wonderful Communism is/was, and how Russians do everything so much better than the West.

Well, in this case, they’re right.
not that I am focussed on your comment it just hit me..never had a girlfriend ...so what...women can be a pain...and maybe your senses are tuned in to femmes as aliens, does it matter so much as long as you have some fulfilled in life in general, nothing is written in stone how life turns out for us. Your writing is superb in my books and the subject almost becomes irrelevant, the words just are quite electric..my daughter said that and I did have to agree....
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Old 06-13-2021, 05:17 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Yep, well, I got a lot of interests. Current journal topics include:

History of progressive rock
Serial killers
History of Ireland
Vampires
History of Animation
History of Exploration
Aviation
The American West
The Devil
The Life of Prince
The Twilight Zone
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coming soon....

Pirates
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In development

History of Movies
Anything else that occurs to me and piques my interest!
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Old 06-13-2021, 06:43 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by DianneW View Post
I had
not that I am focussed on your comment it just hit me..never had a girlfriend ...so what...women can be a pain...and maybe your senses are tuned in to femmes as aliens, does it matter so much as long as you have some fulfilled in life in general, nothing is written in stone how life turns out for us. Your writing is superb in my books and the subject almost becomes irrelevant, the words just are quite electric..my daughter said that and I did have to agree....
Hey thanks for your kind words, Dianne. You might be surprised at how much of a difference it makes. Hope you continue to enjoy my journals. I think I'll award you the never-before-won status of Reader Extraordinaire! You certainly give me an incentive to keep going. Thanks!
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Old 06-13-2021, 07:14 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Okay then, it's time to get down to serious business. As promised, we're beginning


I should make it clear that here I only intend to concentrate on vehicles which carried men or women into the sky, so balloons are included as long as they had pilots, kites too, under the same proviso, and I think (though I may change my mind) I’m going to confine my efforts to Earth, so in other words I don’t intend at this point to cover space exploration. I will however, where I can, try to include failed as well as successful attempts at flight, for the early pioneers of aviation who failed to realise their dream nevertheless provided research, encouragement and pointed the way for those who came after and who did succeed.

Of course, we can go all the way back into antiquity, even look into legends for the genesis of man’s fascination with flight, and as I mentioned in the introduction, the tale of Icarus and Daedelus has come down to us from mythology, but whether that’s true or not can’t be proven and is moot anyway, as the parable (if it is one) is more concerned with not overstretching your limits, being overconfident and essentially listening to your damn parents and doing what you’re told than it is with the mechanics of flight. Similarly, the imaginings and drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci, while amazingly ahead of their time, never led to any actual models being built let alone tested, so they don’t really concern us here either. There are tales of men jumping off towers, way back in times before Christ, but that’s their business, and although the Chinese were apparently flying man-carrying kites in the early years of the first millennium, such stories can’t really be corroborated and even if they can, they’re basically snippets which give me nothing to expand on and write about.

I will mention, however, for no other reason than that I think it’s both cool and hilarious, that the Indians did develop what became known as “fighter kites”, which were kites with sharp, abrasive cord which would dive at other kites, slice their lines and knock them down to the ground. Got to love those guys! Air warfare at a time when the Romans were just getting to grips with chariot races and still worshipping gods who lived on a high mountain.

So our first real stop then is a form of transport which became, for a time, a real fashion and led to some very colourful flights indeed - and surely, too, some very lethal failures. Up, up and away, in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon! If you don’t get that reference you are too young and therefore I hate you on general principles.

What a Gas! Balloons and the Beginnings of Manned Flight

Timeline: 1783-1913

While the Chinese (yes, them again!) seem to be credited as having been the first ones to understand the principle of lighter-than-air flight, realising that hot air rises and making what became known as sky lanterns (and are today called Chinese or Paper Lanterns), which consist of a paper balloon with a lamp inside it, and while apparently they are even recorded as having used them in a military role, to scare off enemy troops, and this all in the third century BC, the credit for the first real manned balloon flight goes to the French.

On November 21 1783, Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes travelled from Paris for eight kilometres or five miles at a height of 900 feet, while scant weeks later, on December 1, Jacques Charles flew from Paris in a hydrogen-filled balloon (the previous one having been powered simply by hot air). Within two years the English bettered this, Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries crossing the channel and flying the flag (possibly, but not likely, literally) for king and country.


The Montgolfier Brothers (1740/1745-1810/1799)

Sons of a French paper manufacturer, and from a large famuily (the twelfth and fifteenth child respectively) Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier (whom for the sake of ease we’ll hereafter refer to as Joseph and Jacques) ran their father’s business on the sudden death of their older brother, and Jacques ran it successfully for ten years. Joseph, however, was more a dreamer and inventor, and on seeing laundry billow out as it dried over a fire, he began experimenting with parachutes and balloons, bringing in his brother and leading to their first test flight, which though successful went out of control and crashed. It wasn’t manned though, so no harm done, and the concept was proven.

After several test flights before audiences, and eager to claim the honour of being the men to have discovered the science of flight, the brothers conducted a royal performance before King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette on September 19 1783. While it was not a manned flight, as such, it was a sheep/duck/roostered one, as these three animals were sent up in the balloon, in order to confirm there would be no ill effects on living beings ascending into the sky to such a height. The balloon rose to 1,500 feet (you know what? I’m not going to keep converting to metric: you work it out) and flew two miles from the Palace of Versailles, landing safely. No ducks, roosters or sheep were reported to have been harmed in the attempt.

The next step was of course for the brothers to send up humans, and so the flight already spoken of was undertaken, and as a result Pierre, their father, was made a noble by the king and the brothers’ fame spread far and wide. As already noted though, other advances were even then on the way, and a month later the first hydrogen-filled balloon made its own historic flight, as Jacques Charles attained a height almost three times the 1,500 feet managed by the Montgolfiers, and a year later Elisabeth Thible becme the first ever woman aeronaut as she rode with M. Fleurant at Lyon in June 1784, oddly enough, both of them singing opera arias.

Jacques Alexandre César Charles (1746-1823)


A professor who had studied Boyle’s Law as well as Henry Cavendish and Joseph Black, Charles worked out that hydrogen would be a better propellant than air, and consequently designed and had the Robert Brothers, Anne-Jean and Nicolas-Louis, build the world’s first hydrogen balloon. Amid great excitement they launched it on August 27 1783 and it flew for 45 minutes, landing almost 21 kilometres away in a small village where it was attacked by superstitious peasants, who killed it with pitchforks, believing it sent by the devil. Yeah. The next effort was manned, and Charles himself went up, along with Nicolas, flying for over two hours to a height of 1,800 feet and covering over 35 kilometres. This was, however, Charles’s only flight; whether the experience unnerved him or not I don’t know, but he never flew again.

He did partner with the Robert Brothers on La Caroline, a rigid balloon which would become known as a dirigible, although he did not ride in it himself. The brothers did, with two passengers on July 15 1784 and for 45 minutes, while two months later they completed the first manned flight over 100 kilometres, staying in the air for more than six hours. This record did not stand long though, lasting a mere three months before being broken by yet another Frenchman.


Jean-Pierre Blanchard (1753-1809)

While the Robert Brothers were collaborating with Jacques Charles and conducting flights in hydrogen balloons, Jean-Pierre Blanchard also made his first flight, five months before them. He then moved to England, as the phenomenon of “balloonmania” gripped Europe, a surging interest in balloons and flight, resulting in everything from furniture to clothing - as well as, presumably, balloons - being produced in balloon-like shapes. After several flights in the company of surgeon John Sheldon - a keen balloonist whose previous two attempts had ended in his balloons going up in flames (sounds painful!) - the two quarrelled and Blanchard enlisted the aid of another doctor, this time an American called John Jeffries, with whom he performed the first ever crossing of the English Channel by air, on January 7 1785.

After this momentous and historical feat, Blanchard became a celebrity and travelled around Europe demonstrating his balloons, taking the first balloon flights in Holland, Germany, Poland and Belgium. The invention of the parachute in 1783 allowed him to show how it could be used to escape from a balloon if required, and ten years later it saved his life when his balloon ruptured and he had to abandon it. That same year (1783) he expanded his ballooning exploits to the Americas, where he flew from Philadelphia to New Jersey before an appreciative audience which included many of the Founding Fathers of the United States - Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and George Washington.

Perhaps fittingly, it was in a balloon he died, or at least, had a heart attack from which he never recovered. His wife, now a widow, continued his legacy until ballooning also became the death of her.
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Old 06-13-2021, 07:42 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Brother, Where You Bound? Finding Direction and Taming the Wind

Flying in balloons was all well and good, and as James Onedin once remarked, the wind blows free for any man. But that was the trouble: the wind tended to obey no rules but its own, and any intrepid balloonist who ventured up into the big blue was at its mercy. There was originally no way to steer a balloon, and so they literally drifted on the wind, perhaps going the way the pilot intended, perhaps not: witness Blanchard’s original plan to fly northeast to La Vilette in Paris but being blown by the wind across the Seine instead westward towards Billancourt. In that case, it surely didn’t necessarily matter which way he went, once the flight was successful. But as ballooning became more widespread and more popular, people wanted to choose the direction in which they flew, and to make sure they went that way.

The only possible way to achieve this was to be able to control the trajectory of the balloon, and to this end people like Henri Giffard (1825-1882) began to experiment with steam engines, but these proved too heavy to be effective, while German Paul Haenlin (1835-1905) did fly in a dirigible powered by an internal combustion engine, and utilising a propellor driven by the engine. His experiments were limited to tethered flight though, due to a shortage of capital. Lack of funds also proved to be the stumbling block which prevented Charles Renard (1847-1905) and Arthur Krebs (1850-1935) from furthering their work on La France, the first powered dirigible, or any aircraft of any sort, including balloons, to return to its place of take-off, after a 23-minute flight around the Eiffel Tower.


Alberto Santos-Dumont (1873-1932)

Often cited by his countrymen as the father of aviation, this Brazilian engineer managed to conduct the first ever manned and untethered flight of a powered balloon. Heir to the huge Santos-Dumont coffee empire, Alberto moved with his parents to France when his father was paralysed after falling from a horse. Seeking treatment in Europe they arrived in Paris, where young Alberto fell in love with the idea of ballooning, and thereafter dedicated his life to the pursuit of aviation. He was heavily involved in heavier-than-air flight too, but here we will concern ourselves only with his ballooning and dirigible exploits.

After several flights in balloons in Paris, Santos-Dumont decided to build his own, and had a purpose-built factory erected. His efforts bore fruit, as he won the Deutsche de la Muerthe Prize for being the first to make it from the Parc Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back, though in the run-up to the attempt he did lose one balloon when it started to sink due to a loss of hydrogen, leaving him stranded on the side of a hotel. When he won the prize, to his credit, already being very wealthy he donated the money to Paris’s poor. This, along with his fame as a balloonist and love for the city, made him a favourite among Parisians, and they would often watch him float down the streets in his balloon, on his way to lunch in some fashionable cafe.

Like Blanchard before him, Santos-Dumont soon looked to America to further his reputation, and to enhance the interest in ballooning, when he entered his balloon in a competition in St. Louis, however though he did get to meet President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, his ambitions were thwarted as his balloon was damaged - sabotage was suspected but could not be proven - and he returned to Paris, where he inadvertently contributed to the invention of the wristwatch, after he pointed out to Louis Cartier how difficult it was to check one’s pocket watch during flight.

And here is where we will leave our friend from Brazil for now, but he does figure prominently in the later history of early aviation, and we will return to him in due course.

Ballooning Outside France

Though it can’t be denied that France was both the birthplace and the mecca of ballooning, and that anyone interested in the sport came there to test, fly or design their balloons, the interest had spread and there were balloonists in England, Scotland, Ireland and elsewhere around the same time that the French were taking all the headlines.

BRITAIN

Naturally, England was the next biggest hotbed of ballooning. We have already related how Jean-Pierre Blanchard moved there to conduct his own tests and flights, but essentially these were still French-driven. However it was a Scot, James Tylter, who made the first true British attempt, flying a modest 350 feet for ten minutes on August 27 1874, a month after Jacques Charles and the Robert Brothers had made their historic flight, and, amazingly, exactly one year to the day after their first-ever hydrogen balloon met its fate at the hands of angry peasants in a French village.

Vincenzo Lunardi (1754-1806)

Arriving in London as the attache to the Neapolitan Ambassador, Italian aeronaut Vincenzo *Vincent” Lunardi tackled the doubt and suspicion among Englishmen about ballooning, demonstrating (in company with a cat, a dog and a bird in a cage - what is it with these people and animal passengers?) that balloons could fly safely. He flew 24 miles in a hydrogen-fuelled balloon on September 15 1784, one month after the Scot Tytler had made his ascent. The successful flight made him a celebrated figure in England, though Doctor Johnson was less impressed: “In amusement, mere amusement, I am afraid it must end, for I do not find that its course can be directed so as that it should serve any purposes of communication; and it can give no new intelligence of the state of the air at different heights, till they have ascended above the height of mountains, which they seem never likely to do”

Lunardi then flew again in June 1875, this time inviting a woman on board, making Leticia Ann Sage the first Englishwoman to fly, and proving the second time a man, intended to fly as a passenger, stepped down in favour of the lady. This time it was Colonel Hastings who had to gallantly relinquish his place in the balloon as it would have been too heavy with all three of them, while Count Jean-Baptiste de Laurencin had been the gentleman a year earlier in Lyon, who gave up his seat to Elisabeth Thible. Chivalry, huh? Wouldn’t happen today! Not so chivalrous, however, was the farmer in whose field Lunardi’s balloon landed, ruining his crops, who, despite the presence of a woman, threatened them both till they were rescued.

The Lunardi ballooning tour then moved on to Liverpool before crossing the northern border and heading for Scotland, where he gave demonstrations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, proving as much of a hit here as he had been in England. These things are of course though ever fraught with danger, and the threat of death, and just before Christmas 1785 Lunardi was blown by bad weather into the North Sea, where he remained for some time before being rescued. Perhaps ironically, his take-off spot had been from the local hospital! This experience led him to invent and develop a miniature lifeboat for the victims of shipwrecks.

The next year, disaster struck again when, in Newcastle, spilled vitriol (acid) caused the men holding down Lunardi’s balloon to scatter, and one of them became entangled in the ropes as it ascended ahead of time. Dragged up into the air, he fell from a height and died. Lunardi decided it was time to bid farewell to the shores of merry old England, and struck out for pastures new. He travelled to Portugal, Spain and Italy, where he conducted the first ever ascent over the dormant Mount Vesuvius.

Two other attempts in England ended in disaster, with one, a Mr. Arnold, coming down in the River Thames, while the appropriately-named Major John Money, attempting to raise funds for a hospital, was blown, like Lunardi, into the North Sea and, like the Italian pioneer, only survived by being rescued by a small boat.


James Sadler (1753-1828)

The first English balloonist though was James Sadler, a pastry cook by trade, and he made his first ascent only two months after James Tytler, however his flight achieved a height of ten times as high as his Scottish contemporary, over a distance of six miles. He attempted to emulate Jean-Pierre Blanchard in 1875 but was unable to cross the Channel, landing instead in the Thames, and he was another who seemed to prefer the company of the feline sort, as a cat (not sure if it was his pet or not) accompanied him on one of his later flights. Another to realise the dangers inherent in his chosen sport, Sadler was badly injured after having been thrown from his balloon and dragged along for some distance before the balloon disengaged and flew off without him. A further trauma ensued in 1824 when his son died in a ballooning accident.

During his time as a balloonist, Sadler set a speed record by flying over a hundred miles in an hour in the teeth of a gale, attempted to cross the Irish sea from Ireland in 1812 and almost died in the effort, and was asked to travel to London in 1815 to open the Jubilee celebrations for that year. Despite being a celebrity in his own time, Sadler’s low social status meant that he was virtually ignored by history, as men who were rich and noble took all the plaudits, but nobody can take from him the title of having been the first Englishman to fly in a balloon on his home soil.


Charles Green (1785-1870)

Undoubtedly the most famous English balloonist, Green was another man of humble origins, being the son of a fruit grocer, but while James Sadler is all but airbrushed from the history of ballooning Green is celebrated. He undertook both the longest flight and the one with the most passengers, the latter amounting to at one point eleven people not including himself, so twelve in one balloon, the great Nassau Balloon he built himself, and the former an epic journey from England to Germany, covering a distance of over 500 miles in just over eighteen hours. Tragedy again struck in 1837, though not for Green: one of his passengers, a painter called Robert Cocking, decided to test a parachute he had made by, well, jumping out of the balloon. Obviously the QA Department were less than effective. Unsurprisingly, he died on impact. Should have stuck to painting.

Green certainly flew the highest of the balloonists at the time, reaching at one point in 1838 the ceiling of almost five miles, and he seems to have been victim of quite some misfortune, having at one point to take refuge on the balloon itself when sabotage or vandalism caused the basket or car to separate from the balloon, the ensuing journey causing him and his passenger many injuries. For some reason he decided to take a deaf and dumb guy up in a storm (!) and in 1841 was almost thrown out of the balloon along with his passenger. He was responsible for some major strides forward in the technology, including the invention of a guide rope which allowed the balloon to be steered, and the discovery that coal-gas could be used in place of hydrogen, the latter being very expensive to use and time-consuming to inflate balloons with. On his retirement from ballooning in 1852 he had made over 500 ascents and flights.

IRELAND (Yes, Ireland! Don't look so surprised!*)

Richard Crosbie (1755-1824)

The first Irishman to fly, Crosbie emulated his peers by sending balloons piloted by animals, notably a cat, which had to be rescued from where it landed near the Isle of Man (hey, at least it wasn't the Isle of Dogs!), before attempting the flight himself. No doubt the cat wished him luck! And luck he did indeed have. On January 15 1875 he rose from Ranelagh Gardens in Dublin in a hydrogen balloon he called his “aeronautic chariot” or “flying barge” and flew to Clontarf, a distance of about six miles. Obviously a showman, like every other balloonist, Crosbie’s ascent was witnessed by an excited crowd of onlookers, his mode of dress described as “a robe of oiled silk, lined with white fur, his waistcoat and breeches in one, of white satin quilted, and morocco boots, and a montero cap of leopard skin.”

His intention had been to cross the Irish Sea, but due to the early fall of darkness he decided instead to land at Clontarf. However he did try again six months later, this time making it halfway across before having to be rescued by a barge which had been shadowing him. The Lord Mayor of Dublin was not best pleased, having instigated a ban on ballooning as too many people were wasting time staring up at the sky instead of working. Spoilsport.


*Hell, I know I was!

USA

Thaddeus S.C. Lowe (1832-1913)

One of the foremost balloonists of the US, Lowe’s career would be interrupted by the American Civil War (see further) in which he would serve as the very first ever observational balloon pilot, helping the Union war effort tremendously, despite receiving little or no recognition for his efforts. Coming from pioneer stock, Lowe was a respected politician and scientist, and developed an abiding interest in and love for the new sport of aviation, building his own balloons and even inventing a system whereby hydrogen could be synthesised from charcoal and steam.

A keen adherent of the possibility of transatlantic travel by balloon, Lowe constructed a huge specimen which he named City of New York, later renaming it to the Great Western, but though he successfully travelled from Philadelphia to New York, his first attempt to cross the ocean ended in disaster when the balloon was ripped open by the wind, and the repair made to the balloon did not satisfy his sense of safety for a second attempt, so he opted to wait till the spring of the next year. April 1861 saw him fly from Cincinnati, but rather than land at his chosen destination he was blown off-course and landed in South Carolina, where Confederates took him to be a spy and placed him under arrest. Having established that he had nothing to do with the Union Army, he was allowed to go free, but on his return to the North was summoned to Washington by the President, where he would later form and run the Union Army Balloon Corps (see further). The outbreak of the Civil War ended his attempts to fly across the Atlantic.

After the war, Lowe was in great demand for his expertise, but refused all offers to head any more military ballooning operations. He helped all he could though, particularly aiding (but not taking part in) the Brazilian Balloon Corps and speaking to Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who would of course later be famous for giving his name to one of the all-time classic rock bands. Oh, and also for designing airships, apparently.

Lowe went on to invent many things, including the already-mentioned process for making hydrogen from charcoal, and ice-making machines, and in fact he became extremely rich, but he never returned to ballooning after the war, perhaps dispirited by his reception by the Union Army, or maybe his brush with malaria had taught him to value his life more than he had done.


John Wise (1808-1879?)


Unlike his contemporary above, and other balloonists in America and elsewhere, Wise was purely in it for the sport and enjoyment, and the scientific gain. He was not particularly interested in making money from commercial ventures, and though he joined the Union Air Balloon Corps under Lowe when his country called him, he fell out with the commander and was forever at loggerheads with him. He pioneered the first airmail delivery in 1859, and in 1838 constructed a balloon that would, when ruptured, convert into a parachute, thus allowing the pilot and passengers to descend to the earth safely. He was however badly burned in an accident when the gas in his balloon exploded, and he was also thrown from the basket on another occasion, sustaining injuries that time too, while his balloon ascended without him.

He invented the rip panel, which allowed descending balloons to be gradually deflated, whereas prior to this deflation had to be accomplished by hand, as in a dangerous - and often fatal - manoeuvre the balloonist would have to climb up onto the balloon as it bounced along the ground, to release the valve and let the air out. He is credited with discovering the jetstream, and also the effects of the sun on heating the gas in the balloon, and built a black balloon to take advantage of this fact. He too tried to cross the Atlantic, but, as related in the section on military balloons, coming up, while attempting this with John LaMountain the balloon was caught in a windstorm and badly damaged, putting paid to his ambitions. An ally of LaMountain, he was later reunited with him in the Union Army Balloon Corps, which spelled trouble for Thaddeus Lowe as the two joined forces against him.

In true ballooning and adventurer style, John Wise vanished on a trip from east St. Louis, September 28 1879, and though the body of his passenger was found in Lake Michigan, his own was never recovered, nor was the balloon. This is the last that was ever heard of John Wise.
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