(p. C7) “Dirigibility” means the ability to navigate through the air by engine power, unlike balloon flight, which is captive to the wind. Beginning and ending with the Hindenburg vignette, C. Michael Hiam gives in “Dirigible Dreams” a concise but comprehensive history of the airship and its evolution. With style and some flair, Mr. Hiam introduces a cast of dogged visionaries, starting with Albert Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian whose exploits from 1901 onward usually culminated in our hero dangling from a tree or a high building, shredded gas bags draped around him like a shroud. For all of these pioneers, problems queued up from the outset: Insurance companies, for example, refused to quote a rate for aerial liability. (Try asking your broker today.) And to inflate the craft the engineers were stuck with hydrogen, since non-flammable helium was too scarce and hot air has insufficient lifting force.
. . .
In 1929, British engineers pioneered a giant dirigible–at 133 feet in diameter, Mr. Hiam notes, it was “the largest object ever flown”–powered by six Rolls-Royce Condor engines. But too many died as the still-flimsy crafts plunged to the ground in flames. His Majesty’s secretary of state for air perished in a luxurious airship cabin on the way to visit the king’s subjects in India. One by one, nations gave up their dirigible dreams, especially after 35 souls burned to death on the Hindenburg in Lakehurst, N.J., one of the first transport disasters recorded on film. After that tragedy, commercial passengers never flew in an airship again, and by the start of World War II just two years later “the airship had become entirely extinct.”
For the full review, see:
SARA WHEELER. “Inflated Hopes; Early airship experimenters found that insurance companies refused to quote rates for aerial liability.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 18, 2014): C7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review was updated on Oct. 23, 2014.)
The book under review, is:
Hiam, C. Michael. Dirigible Dreams: The Age of the Airship. Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2014.