Ballooning, the New Hobby


Ballooning, the New Hobby


Ballooning, the New Hobby


The writer contends that ballooning is no longer dangerous or expensive. He computes the cost of a ballo n, capable of máking 200 ascents, to be about ¿£150 and the expense connected with an ascension about ¿612. He further explains the method of inflating a balloon and gives information about the Aero Club.

UNTIL the last year or so, few people have thought seriously of taking up ballooning as a hobby. The reason for this has probably been twofold. First and foremost was the deep-rooted popular belief and of all forms of travel sailing in the air involves the maximum of risk; and secondly, that to become the owner of a balloon, and to command the wherewithal of its inflation, repairs, transport, etc., necessitates a very considerable outlay of hard cash.

To-day, however, the outlook has undergone a change as complete as it is sudden. People are beginning to understand that ballooning is neither especially dangerous nor prohibitively expensive—that, when compared with motoring, for instance, it has much to recommend it on both scores. If we take first the question of cost, most people will be surprised to learn that a really serviceable balloon, fully equipped and capable of carrying four persons, may be purchased for £150. If the “skin” be constructed of pure silk, the cost will run to £200. This additional outlay, however, is not to be regarded as in any ivay necessary, as the less expensive balloon will answer all practical purposes, and will prove capable of outlasting, V7xi the average, some 200 ascents. In other words, the capital depreciation of the balloon after each trip is only about 15s. or £1, according to its original cost.

But to become the proud owner of a balloon does not, of course, put an

end to expense. Gas is the sine qua non of each trip to cloudland, and 45,000 cubic feet will be required to lift your balloon with its four passengers. Wherever possible, ordinary coal gas will be employed— hydrogen gas, which can be made on the spot by steeping iron filings in dilute sulphuric acid, being much more costly. Assuming, therefore, that a supply of coal-gas is drawn from the main of the local company, we may put the average cost of inflating the balloon at about 2s. per 1,000 feet. —that is, £4 10s. The actual cost may be more or less according tothe current gas rate of the district.

Another item of expense is the expert’s fee for inflation. Messrs. Spencer Brothers will undertake responsibility as a cost of £5 5s. and although the parsimonious amateur may imagine that it will be possible for him to avoid this particular outlay, he will soon discover his mistake. To inflate a balloon successfully calls for very considerable experience ; without it, waste of gas and injury to the fabric—not to mention much shame and confusion of face—will inevitably result. So that for every trip, unless you happen to be a thoroughly seasoned “old hand,” expert assistance should be retained. A certain amount of money will be required for tips and labor, a few strong men being absolutely indispensible to cope with the heavy work of moving sand-bags, attaching the car, etc. If, too, the wind should happen to be a little playful, quite a young army of helperb may be required just prior to the ascent—otherwise your balloon may run away with you, and blunder into a tree or a building. Moreover, when the voyage is over, helpers are generally required. They come running from all points of the compass, even in the most thinly populated districts, and are usually quite willing to lend a hand without thought of payment. Still, tips must certainly be reckoned, as an item of expense in every trip. There is, too, the cost of carting, which may be considerable if your voyage ends in a field many miles from the nearest railway station. The clever aeronaut, however, takes this point into consideration when deciding how and where he shall descend to earth. As for the cost of carriage by rail, it may be pointed out that this may be nil —the balloon, if of ordinary size, passing as “passenger’s luggage” if a. party of three or four travel with it.

All things considered, it seems that the average cost per voyage in a balloon of the size mentioned above works out at about £12 or £13 ; and if the expense were borne equally by the four passengers who took part in the trip, it is claimed that a greater amount of healthful pleasure is obtained for one’s outlay than in the case of most other fashionable hobbies.

We may follow in imagination the preparations which precede a voyage into cloudland. The balloon arrives upon the ground in the form of a bundle—carefully rolled into small compass, and packed in a stout canvas wrapper. With her comes the car and her complement of sandbags. First the canvas wrapper is spread upon the ground, and on it, by means of much deft pulling, the

great deflated silk bag is arranged It is here that the knowledge of the expert begins to manifest itself. To the onlooker, the balloon is a mysterious pile of tough yellow silk, with innumerable wrinkles and folds. But Mr. Spencer directs a little pulling here and a little smoothing out there» until at' length he satisfies himself that all is as it should be.

The next operation is the fitting of the valve which will ride upon the summit of the inflated balloon. Here, too, the presence of the expert is invaluable. The valve allows the voyagers to deflate by degrees the balloon when they desire to descend to earth ; and if, through any carelessness, it should refuse to work, very grave consequences might result.

Next comes the covering of the procumbent balloon with its vast net" work and when this has been done, all is ready for admitting the gas. A canvas pipe connects the gas main with the neck of the balloon, and despite the enormous inrush, the spec" tators will have time enough to 11 cool their heels” ere the great yellow bag will be completely filled. During its early stages of inflation, the balloon lias a quite laughable appearance. It puffs up from the ground like giant soap-suds at first. Fifteen minutes or so later it will have the appearance of an enormous mushroom emerging from the soil. Another interval, and it will have assumed what has been aptly termed the “suet pudding stage.” And at last, when it rises completely from the ground within its controlling net, it will exhibit the familiar pear-shaped form.

But the balloon must be most carefully watched and tended during the whole process of inflation. It must be neither unduly cramped, nor must it have excessive liberty. A circle of weighty sand-bags surround it, attached to the net; and as these are lifted by the puffing silk from the ground, they are in turn adjusted. When the balloon is filling rapidly, two or three men will be kept busy in this way, the while Mr. Spencer keeps constant watch in order that no part of the silk may become creased. A large crease once formed cannot be shaken out, but will entail a considerable loss in the capacity of the balloon and consequently in its lifting power.

The balloon being successfully inflated, the strong wickerwork basket, or car, is attached. The network is now liberated from the circle of sandbags, and the balloon is only prevented from soaring aloft by the strong arms of the men who hold the basket. The time has now come for the voyagers to take their seats. Old hands scramble in with perfect nonchalance, but the novice is beset with many fears, nor are these allayed by the jolting which he is likely to experience during the few seconds which precede the start. It is often neecssary to drag the balloon across the ground, in order that a fair start, without risk of encountering trees or buildings may be assured. A very little wind will often make this maneouvring a somewhat difficult matter—reducing it, in fact, to a struggle between the balloon and the men who hold her, the accompanying sensations to the voyagers the car strongly resembling those experienced in an open boat on a choppy sea. However, this discomfort is always short-lived. Immediately the. order “Hands off” has been given, all unpleasant sensations cease. The earth seems to sink rapidly away from beneath one’s feet, and the novice begins, almost immediately, to pluck up courage and to ask him-

self what he can possibly have feared. Mr. Spencer has said that in all his experience (which is a wide one, by the way) he never met a person whose nervousness had not completely vanished before he or she had been up in the air a quarter of an hour.

Besides the meets of the Areo Club at Ranelagh, which have done teo much to popularize ballooning, and have come to be recognized almost as society 'functions;, several races have already been run in different parts of the country. There can be no doubt that the next two or three years will see quite a number of balloon races, and that ballooning as a hobby will become more popular.

Moreover, the Areo Club exists for a more serious purpose than the mere popularising of ballooning. In a recent conversation with the writer, its secretary insisted strongly upon this point. At the present time, balloons are little more than big toys. True, one may go “up in a balloon” with safety and comfort, thanks to the perfect equipment of these modern air ships. But there is still one thing lacking. The ship is without a rudder. By exercising his judgment, and rising or falling in the hope of striking a favorable current of air, the experienced aeronaut sometimes contrives to reach the port which he had in mind when he set sail. But this is purely a matter of luck as things stand at present. The chief object of the Areo Club, then, is to discover some contrivance that will render a balloon dirigible. They are ready to investigate any theory aimed at a solution of this problem, and to assist any inventor whose ideas, in their opinion, are practical and to the point. Funds are held in readiness for this purpose, and the club lias the authority of subscribers to “ask for more” should occasion demand. Ere long the existing balloon, blown hither and thither at the mercy of the wind, may be a thing of the past, its place being taken by a navigable air ship—one that may, to some extent at least, be steered through the atmosphere as a vessel is steered across tlie ocean. Such, at all events, is the ideal of the Areo Club.

The attention of all and sundry has lately been attracted to ballooning by the contest for the Gordon Bennet ( up. The efficiency of modeln balloons of the best type has been put to a most interesting test, but although it was hoped that much good would result to aeronauts, both as a science and a hobby, the final opinion in expert circles is that “nothing new' has been learnt.” In fact the results of the contest were rather disappointing. Several of the balloons that started from Paris succeeded in crossing the Channel, but none of these came near breaking the record of 1,200 miles established by Count de la Yaulx. Lieutenant Lahm (United States), the victor, covered little more than 400 miles as the crow flies. He reached a point near Whitby in Yorkshire, and did considerably better than Signor Yonv'iller (Italy), who covered about 370 miles, from point to point. One of Great Britain’s representatives, the Hon. C. S. Rolls, has been placed third in tlie contest, and not fourth as was originally stated in the press. The mystery which surrounded this gentleman’s whereabouts at first favored the hope that he might have beaten Lieutenant Lahm’s distance. That he did not do so implies no defect in his ability as an aeronaut, nor in his balloon. The three British balloons, each of the umwuU capac-

ity of 77,000 ft., were equal in every way to any of the others wTiich took part in the contest. In fact, the result of a balloon race, as matters stand, must inevitably depend almost entirely upon chance. The contestants are at the mercy of the current of air in which they find themselves. Still, the race cannot fail to have given a very useful impetus to aerial navigation by attracting public attention thereto, and stimulating the inventive faculty of those who are actively interested in the science. Before next year’s race, someone may have hit upon a device for steering balloons—for overcoming, in some measure, the influence of fickle winds. In any case, it is highly probable that even greater interest will be taken in next year’s race than was evinced in the one which has just been contested.

In conclusion, it may be said that many ladies have recently bestowed their patronage upon ballooning. Americans are very keen aeronauts, and it is said that Mrs. Harold Gould, the wife of the millionaire, was the first lady to “go aloft.’* Be this as it may, it is certain that Mrs. Gould made her trip above English soil, travelling from Wandsworth to Ashford in Mr. Frank Hedges Butler’s balloon, and being carried at one part of the trip to a height of 7,000 feet. President Roosevelt’s daughter, during her stay in England, received several pressing invitations to follow Mrs. Gould’s example. Mrs. Longworth, however, made an ascent some years ago in America, when something went wrong with the balloon ; and although it was brought safely to earth, it is not difficult to realize why the lady has declined ever since to renew her experiences of voyaging in cloudland. Mrs. Manville is a lady balloonist of considerable experience ; so, also, is the Hon. Mrs. Asslieton Harbord. So far, royalty has not ventured skywards, though the King

of Spain has yearnings towards ballooning, while Princess Teano is likewise reputed to be a devotee of aeronautics.