Lighter than Dream…
I’ve long been fascinated by airships, and not just because I both like and fear flight in general, but because of the slender window of time in which these (sometimes giant) ships of the skies made their mark on the imaginations of the world.
From early experiments, to the bombings of WWI, to the heyday of the luxury travel and the tragedy of the Hindenburg — which heralded something of a halt to the grand dream. (Only natural, really.) Hydrogen lifts more effectively that Helium, but its very combustibility finally turned folks away from airships, especially as – in the post WWII world – jets were taking over the commercial air traffic.
However, the dream did not die completely…
By the time we begin to see what we might recognize as a ‘classic’ airship (better known as a dirigible – a rigid frame filled with lifting cells, and skinned) balloons had been in development for centuries, and powered flight in such devices for at least a hundred years, off and on before the critical moment was reached.
In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers took to the skies for the delight of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, heating the air inside a taffeta balloon with a ground based fire to send a sheep, a duck, and a rooster on a two mile flight across the grounds of the Palace of Versailles.
The basic hot air balloon, the design of which remains much the same today – so much so that that they are known, as a class as – ‘Montgolfiers’.
However, this was not sufficient for those who wished to steer flight in a better direction (bad pun intended).
This necessitated an alteration in the shape of the balloon sack itself as, without some streamlining and steering veins, round sacks were at the mercy of the breeze, no matter that they might have been fitted with engines or not. For, even though steering itself was not an issue, without a reliable, long-term power source no airship could be seen as anything but a toy.
Pedals, wings, paddle-wheels, and even oars were trialed as methods of propulsion. However, nothing really worked in the long term, as all relied, to a great degree, on human muscle power.
Until the first engines, light enough to be hauled aloft, were invented, the airship remained an experimental dream.
However, by 1852 Henri Giffard broke the game by installing 3-horsepower steam engine into his own airship (a little risky, considering, but it served as a proof of concept). This device was taken to the next step by Paul Haenlein in 1872, when a line-secured dirigible, fitted with a light internal combustion engine, was trialed.
However, in both these cases, even these light engines – steam and petrol – were so heavy that the airships barely cleared the ground, so it was not until the turn of the 20th Century that reliable, free flights began, with both single sack airships, and early true dirigibles – the first of which were powered by ingenious electric motors to save weight.
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin
Ferdinand von Zeppelin is the name all seem to remember when it comes to ‘classic’ airships. Zeppelin’s first experience with airships was an ascent in Montgolfier pattern balloon, inflated with coal gas, which had previously been used as an observation balloon by the Union Army in the US Civil War. Piloted by John Steiner, the balloon reached over 600 feet in a line tied flight and his mind was forever changed.
On his return to Europe, the potential of airships to do more than spotting for armies gnawed at the Count, and he began drawing up the concepts for steerable, gas-fueled and self-propelled rigid framed airships which could carry effective (military) payloads. However, it was not until his retirement from the Army in 1890 that the count was able to devote himself more fully to the problems of lighter-than-air flight.
Within 10 years he would build his first airship, Luftschiff Zeppelin 1 (LZ-1).
At four hundred and twenty feet in length and thirty-eight feet in diameter, the LZ 1 was then the largest thing ever built to fly and was the first of the rigid airships: dirigibles built with internal, aluminum skeletons that didn’t depend on pressure to maintain their shape and so could be made larger, travel at greater speeds, and withstand more inclement weather conditions.
Zeppelin and his men had the ship towed out of its hanger on the water by a steam launch while the locals looked on. The inaugural flight carried five people, reached an altitude of thirteen hundred feet, and flew a distance of three and a half miles. But after eighteen minutes the craft was forced to return to the hanger due to engine trouble and a bent frame – not the flawless debut Zeppelin was hoping for.
Nevertheless, the maiden voyage of the LZ 1 proved to be a groundbreaking event, leading eventually to the development of the most successful airship in the history of LTA travel, the Zeppelin, and ushering in the glorious era of air transportation.
And all our Laputian dreams…
Straight off the bat we have a good start. Though the interior detail is scant, it is obvious through the cockpit windows, and all the moldings are clean, and sharp.
Further details which hint at the real beauty of this kit…
Suddenly, we see it. The kit has all the crew cabins: the Captain’s lounge, galley, crew’s quarters, and engine room.
The parts can be push fit with ease, so that it can be disassembled and displayed with interiors exposed should one desire.
And the detail extends to the Flapter bay (including four tiny flapters).
The rear props are fixed using a brass rod and space tubed to ensure correct positioning.
NOTE: There are two sets of counter rotating propellers, so be sure you get the right ones in the correct place.
And Captain Dora
It is not as big as I would like (a 1/32 would be nice 😉 ), but it is the best Finemolds Ghibli kit to date.
The molds are good, detail is fine, and the features nicely done.
It also is, as the saying goes, ‘the only game in town’ when it comes to the Tiger Moth ATM, and there is no point moaning about the air when there is nothing else to breathe.
Still… all misgivings aside, I can’t help but be pleased with this little beauty…