FROM the earliest times bold men possessed with that spirit of adventure that led them to cross the seas, must have asked themselves whether it were not possible for man to imitate the bird, rise above the surface of the earth and soar in the air. Classical legends relating such attempts abound, of which those about Dædalus are best known.

Since the invention of balloons, which it must be conceded, have not yet yielded all the results one might expect from them, inventors in different parts of Europe have been engaged in devising flying-machines, heavier than the air and propelled by machinery combining great power with utmost lightness.

After numerous attempts in this direction there has been a general giving up of helicopteral machines, that is of the horizontal screw moving at great speed, and attention is mainly directed to aeroplanes, or inclined planes moved by vertical screws in a horizontal direction and maintaining themselves in the air as does the bird when soaring.

An Englishman, Mr. Philipps of Harrow, has just constructed a machine of this type that is worthy of notice. Its principle is similar to that in Mr. Maxim's aeroplanes, but instead of plane surfaces it uses curved ones for the elevator. Mr. Philipps' aeroplane is propelled by screws, it moves on the ground on a smooth surface with increasing swiftness and at length rises slightly in the air. A somewhat similar result had been attained by Mr. Tatin with the aeroplane constructed by him at Chalais-Meudon. Mr. Philipps is continuing his experiments, trying to secure lighter motive power. It is apparent that we are still very far from the desired apparatus, that shall move freely in the atmosphere carrying together with its motor the man to direct it.

Another investigator is Mr. Otto Lilienthal, who in his experiments has gone back to the flying apparatus. He has devised artificial wings which he fastens to his arms and with which is connected a light tail acting as a rudder. Mr. Lilienthal has erected near Berlin a wooden tower which he uses as a platform from which to leap into space. Instantaneous photographs seen by us show that he has succeeded in moving through space at a moderate height. The framework of his apparatus is of osier; its total surface is fourteen square meters and its weight does not exceed twenty kilograms. These experiments have excited considerable interest, but they are still very far from solving the problem of aviation. We have in them a simple fall, deadened or lessened by plane surfaces; there is nothing in them that can be called mechanical flight.

Aerial navigation is a big problem. We believe that balloons provided with light yet powerful motors and dirigible, offer more chances of success than methods of aviation, for which modern mechanics do not yet offer adequate means.

It has often been said that the elongated and dirigible balloon could not find a fulcrum in the atmosphere; that statement is wholly false; the air-immersed balloon finds there its fulcrum just as the submarine boat finds it in water. The only difference is one of density, and this necessitates for the balloon propellers of larger surface than the screw of the submarine boat. Balloons have already yielded important results; some have actually returned to the point of departure after an ascent of several kilometers. By devising powerful yet light motors, we are sure that elongated balloons can be given a speed sufficient to ascend air-currents of medium intensity­that is to work in almost all kinds of weather. The first aerial ship once constructed, progress would gradually but surely be made. We must keep on experimenting, for it is thus that great scientific conquests are made.

Gaston Tissandier

Originally appeared in Cosmopolitan, 16, January 1894, pp. 382-383.