The anniversary was a few days ago: on 15 October 1910, airship America set off from Atlantic City, bound for Europe.
Owner Walter Wellman had already made three attempts to fly America to the the North Pole, none successful. The Atlantic crossing probably looked like a more attainable goal. Alas, it was not to be; the airship began losing altitude and by the third day, it was clear they'd have to abandon ship.
Calling for help on their radio -- a double first: the first two-way radio on an aerial vehicle and the the first distress call from the air! -- they were picked up by a passing surface vessel and returned to the U.S., receiving a hero's welcome.
It was nine years before the Atlantic Ocean was successfully crossed by air -- thanks in part to the lessons learned by America.
...Some lessons are never learned. The Wikipedia article tells us, "A spark gap radio set was added to the underhanging life boat and operator Jack Irwin used it during the flight, callsign "W", and with the frame of the airship as the antenna. Given the hydrogen used for lifting the craft this was a very dangerous system." Probably not. The airship had only a partial frame, at the bottom of the gasbag; the spark gap was down at the radio set, at the same level as the internal combustion engines that propelled the vehicle and almost certainly of the enclosed-gap type. Released hydrogen does not sink; it's still lighter than air and floats up, up and away. This is a bit of reading history backwards, in this case while looking through a porthole from the Hindenburg. (Quck, now, pop quiz: what proportion of those aboard died in that famous wreck? 95%, 37% or 64%?) . There are a lot of likelier ways to die in an airship; hydrogen fires are well down on the list.
The Wellman Expedition failed without loss of life, not even the airship's cat(!). And its failure was a learning experience.
5 months ago