Friday, September 22, 2017

Sonora Series 4500 Aero Trump

airminded |  The 'aeros' themselves look not much like any real airships that flew later; they are more spherical than elongated and so not streamlined. (It's tempting to read the image at the top of this post as showing an airship from the front and below, but comparing it with his other paintings in fact it's a side, or 'Flanck' in Dellschau's idiosyncratic English, view.) Then there's the 'Lifting Fluid', suppa, with its wonderful properties. There are only a few possible lifting gases, and the only ones not discovered by the 1850s are neon (which is only just viable) and (much better) helium, both of which are very rare on Earth and difficult to extract. It's conceivable that they could have been discovered earlier than we currently believe, but it would require a substantial of resources to produce enough for use in airships (as is well known, Germany was forced to use hydrogen for its airships in the 1930s due to a US embargo on helium exports). And again, we would then have to accept that this discovery was then forgotten for decades, like the secret of the aeros themselves. The improbabilities are piling up alarmingly.

[Dellschau] illustrates a remarkable number of designs -- maybe as many as 100 -- for airships with names such as Aero Mio, Aero Trump, Aero Schnabel and Aero Mary. (There's even an Aero Jourdan.) All were powered by a secret formula that Dellschau called both "supe" and "suppe"; it could both negate gravity and drive the ships' wheels, side paddles and compressor motors.
One drawing tells the story of Adolf Goetz's Aero Goeit, recklessly commandeered by an unskilled pilot; the airship got tangled in a Sequoia tree, and the interloper died of a broken neck. Another cautionary tale involves Jacob Mischer, a pilot who went down in flames in the Aero Gander; Dellschau hints that he was sabotaged by other club members, who suspected him of using the aircraft to make money by hauling cargo.
But most of the airships' flights were safe -- and great fun. Dellschau depicts his aviators enjoying hot breakfasts, and delights in enumerating the ships' clever gadgets. He often bedecked his watercolor paintings with little press clippings -- from Scientific American, the Houston Chronicle and an unidentified German-language newspaper -- that recount air disasters; Dellschau called them "press blooms." Against paintings of the Sonora club's successes, the clippings seem intended as an ironic counterpoint.
Dellschau never seems to explain why the club worked so hard to protect its secrecy, but he shows the members going to great lengths to do so. By day, the Aero Goeit was disguised as a gypsy wagon, so it could travel open roads undetected. Dellschau writes that a club member was banned from developing a machine because he'd talked to outsiders. And of course, even years after the club disbanded, many of Dellschau's own comments are rendered in code. Apparently, whatever it was that he had to say was too private even for his own notebooks.
The first and most obvious thing to note is that the capabilities of these aircraft are far in advance of the technology of the day. The first airship flight was made by Henri Giffard in France in 1852; with only three horsepower and a speed of about six miles an hour it was unable to fly into the wind. His subsequent attempts to build bigger and more powerful airships failed. A decade later, in what is perhaps the closest known parallel to Dellschau's Aeros, Solomon Andrews flew the Aereon, a weird balloon/airship hybrid with three gas envelopes, over Perth Amboy, New Jersey. At about the same time, according to Dellschau, the Sonora Aero Club had perfected controlled, powered, lighter-than-air flight and many of its machines were secretly flying in California's skies -- after which they disappeared, leaving no trace in the documentary record. This is incredible and in fact not credible.