1902 Encyclopedia > Aeronautics > Most of the Subsequent Attempts Undertaken for Pleasure, and No Permanent Value. Substitution of Coal Gas for Hydrogen by Charles Green.

(Part 17)

Most of the Subsequent Attempts Undertaken for Pleasure, and No Permanent Value. Substitution of Coal Gas for Hydrogen by Charles Green.

We have now given a brief account of all the noteworthy voyages that took place within the first two or three years after the discovery of the balloon by Montgolfier. Ascents were multiplied from this time onwards, and it is impossible to give even a list of the many hundreds that have taken place since: this omission is, however, of slight importance, as henceforth the balloon became little better than a toy, let up to amuse people at fetes or other public occasions. When the first ascents were made in France, the glow of national vanity was lighted up, and the most brilliant expectations were felt with regard to aerostation, and the glory to the nation that would accrue therefrom. These anticipations have not been realized, and the balloon at this moment has received no great improvement since the time of Charles, except the substitution of ordinary coal-gas for hydrogen, which has rendered the inflation of a balloon at any gas-works a comparatively simple matter, bearing in mind the elaborate contrivances required for the generation of hydrogen in sufficient quantities. But in one respect the balloon has been of real service, viz., to science, in rendering the attainment of observations in the higher strata of the atmosphere not only possible but practicable. In regard to such matters the balloon is unique, as the atmosphere is the great laboratory of nature, in which are produced all the phenomena of weather, the results of which we perceive on the earth; and no observations made on mountain-sides can take the place of those made in the balloon, as what is required is the knowledge of the state of the upper atmosphere itself, free from the disturbing effects of the contiguity of the land. Although, therefore, in what follows, we shall notice any particularly remarkable ascents, we shall chiefly confine ourselves to the few that have been undertaken for the sake of advancing science, and which alone are of permanent value. It will be necessary to make one exception to this rule, however, in the case of the parachute, the experiments with which require some notice, although they have been put to no useful purpose. The balloon has also been used in warfare as a means of observing the movements of the enemy; and the applications of it to this purpose deserve notice, although we think not so much use has been made of the balloon in this direction as might have been.

The substitution of coal-gas for hydrogen is due to Mr Charles Green, the veteran aeronaut, who made several hundred ascents, the first of which took place on July 19, 1821, the coronation day of Goerge IV. In this ascent ordinary coal-gas was first used; and every balloon, with very few exceptions, that has ascended since this date has been so inflated. Pall Mall was first lighted by gas in 1807, and at the end of 1814 the general lighting of London by gas commenced; so that coal-gas could not have been a available for filling balloons long before it was actually used.

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