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Balloons and Airships

  AIRSHIPS (1784-1900)

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:
5.23 Define airship.
5.24 Explain the importance of J.B.M. Meusnier and Henri Giffard to aviation.

An airship is a lighter-than­air vehicle that is steerable and powered. The problem with the hot­air, hydrogen, and helium balloons was that they were at the mercy of the wind. In 1784, a French general, J.B.M. Meusnier, made several suggestions which would eventually lead to successful airships. First, he suggested changing the shape of balloons from a sphere to the shape of a football. This would reduce air resistance and also establish a front and rear for the balloons. He also suggested an envelope made of several compartments and a passenger car shaped like a boat attached to the bottom of the airship. The one problem Meusnier did not solve was how to power the airships. He did, however, suggest that 80 men could turn a large propeller.

The next breakthrough came in 1852 by another Frenchman, Henri Giffard. He built a cigar shaped balloon 114 feet long and 39 feet In diameter. The airship was powered by a three­horsepower steam engine which propelled it at a speed of about five mph. The airship is generally considered as being the first successful one in the world. However, it was not until the invention of the gasoline engine in 1896 that airships became a real success.


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Updated: 12 March, 2004