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Early Dirigeables - Lebaudy

The interest evidenced by the German War Department in Zeppelin's airship was more than duplicated by that aroused in French military circles by the success of the Lebaudy Brothers. Experiment began with the Lebaudy brothers, originally sugar refiners, who turned their energies to airship construction in 1899. Since 1900 these two brothers had been experimenting with dirigible balloons, having constructed them together with a balloon manufacturer named Surcouf and an engineer, Julliot.

The Lebaudy airships were what is known as semi-rigids, having a spar which ran practically the full length of the gas bag to which it was attached in such a way as to distribute the load evenly. The car was suspended from the spar, at the rear end of which both horizontal and vertical rudders were fixed, while stabilising fins were provided at the stern of the gas envelope itself.

Their first dirigible was named the 'Jaune'; built by the engineer Juillot, it made thirty flights in 1902, in all but two of which it succeeded in returning to its starting point. The length was 183 feet and its maximum diameter 30 feet, while the cubic capacity was 80,000 feet. This machine was somewhat similar to the later types built by Santos-Dumont, and carried a 40-horse-power Daimler motor driving two propellers. A speed of 3G feet per second, or about 25 miles per hour, was obtained. During tests in the summer of 1904, the balloon was dashed against a tree and almost entirely destroyed.

The next year the "Lebaudy 1904" appeared. This was 190 feet long, 7 feet longer than the first, and had a capacity of 94,000 cubic feet of gas. The air bag was divided into three parts and contained 17,600 cubic feet of air. It was supplied with air from a fan driven by the engine, and an auxiliary electric motor and storage battery were carried to drive the fan when the gas engine was not working. The storage battery was also used to furnish electric lights for the airship. A horizontal sail of silk was stretched between the car and the gas bag. This had an area of something over 1,000 square feet, and a sort of keel of silk was stretched below it. A horizontal rudder, shaped like a pigeon's tail, was used at the rear, and immediately behind it were two V-shaped vertical rudders. A small vertical sail was carried, which could be used to assist in guiding the airship. The car was 16 feet long, and was rigidly hung 10 feet below the bag. It was provided with an inverted pyramid of steel tubes meeting at an apex below the car to prevent injury in alighting. Sixtythree ascents were made in 1904 with this balloon, all of them comparatively successful, the longest being a journey of 60 miles in two hours and forty-five minutes. It was then turned over to the War Department as a school ship. The vessel was taken over by the French Government and may be counted the first dirigible airship considered fit on its tests for military service.

Later vessels of the Lebaudy type were the 'Patrie' and 'Republique,' in which both size and method of construction surpassed those of the two first attempts. The next year a new and larger balloon, equipped with a more powerful motor was used. Many flights were made in tests for the French War Department. In some of these, the Lebaudy Brothers were accompanied by the minister of war.

La Patrie was then built for the French government by the Lebaudy Brothers, and was of the same design as their earlier airships. In speed it was nearly equal to Zeppelin's, and its dirigibility was nearly perfect. It was 198-200 feet long, greatest diameter of 34 feet, and the 70-horse-power engine drove two propellers for a speed of 28 miles an hour, and capable of a maximum speed of 34 miles an hour. The vessel had a radius of 280 miles. It could carry seven people and one-half ton of ballast. It carried four people at a speed of 30 miles per hour. On its last trip it covered made 174 miles from Paris to its station on the German frontier in about seven hours.

Various expedients had been resorted to for the purpose of anchoring a dirgible in the open and keeping its head into the wind, but at best it will always be a decidedly hazardous undertaking. In November, 1907, the French dirigible 'La Patrie' was anchored at Verdun, caught away from its house, and encountered a gale which broke her hold on her mooring-ropes. She broke loose in the storm, and in spite of the two hundred soldiers holding on, she drifted derelict westward across France, the Channel, and the British Isles, Ireland and Scotland, floated over the North Sea and disappeared in the Atlantic.

Another French dirigible, the Ville de Paris, has a length of 203 feet, greatest diameter 34 feet, engines 70 horsepower. It has made a successful flight of 140 miles and made a speed of 26 miles per hour. This air ship was taken over by the French army for station at Verdun in place of Le Patrie, which was lost.

Two more airships of the same type, La Republique and Le Jaune, followed this. These were tried by the French government in 1908, and both proved successful. The 'Republique' had an 80 horse-power motor, which, however, only gave her the same speed as the 'Patrie.' She was launched in July 1908, but came to an end which constituted a tragedy for France. In September 1909, a propeller blade broke and one of its flying blades passed like a missile through the hull. What happened was practically an explosion. The internal pressure of the air balloonets on the single envelope holding the gas tore the wound larger than the puncture made by the blade; the entire volume of gas blew off like steam from a bursting boiler, instantly leaving the heavy car and frame stomach without any support. It crashed to earth like a rock, and the two officers and two non-commissioned officers who were in the car were instantaneously killed. At the time of the accident the ship was so low (300-500 feet) that its crew might have had time for a reasonably safe landing, even in case of fire.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2012 19:26:36 ZULU