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Baldwin California Arrow
Upon hearing about the first dirigible flights in France in 1898, Thomas Scott Baldwin traveled across the Atlantic to learn more. Unlike a hot-air balloon, which flies, literally, whichever way the wind takes it, a powered dirigible moves under its own power, and can therefore be taken exactly where you want it to go and can also return to where you start. Baldwin also sought the insight of the aviation pioneer and professor at Santa Clara College, John J. Montgomery, whose propeller designs were adopted by Baldwin, and August Greth, a French doctor living in San Francisco who had become fascinated by military observation balloons while serving in the French army in Algeria.
Baldwin began experimenting and ultimately built a non-rigid aircraft featuring a 52-foot-long, 17-foot-diameter gas bag of oiled Japanese silk that tapered to a point at both ends. The silk gas bag contained 8,000 cubic feet of hydrogen to keep the California Arrow aloft. It was a completely "basic" design, a suspended triangular frame catwalk as a "control car" under a set of square-mesh nets of strong cord which, upon inflation of the the gas bag, contain and held the gas bag captive. Baldwin constructed a 30-foot-long, triangulated-framed control car suspended from the gas bag by an extensive rope net. The control car had enough space for one man, the pilot, who could move fore and aft to shift himself as ballast as needed. The rudder was attached to this frame. The Gas-bag envelope was 54 feet long, the control "car" was made up of square cedar struts (painted a silver color resulting in an "aluminum" appearance) and piano wire cross bracing making the entire frame very rigid. The gas bag is cigar-shaped, made of Japanese silk "painted" with linseed oil to seal the silk and make it both impervious to gas, and relatively waterproof, had a capacity of 8,000 cubic feet of hydrogen.
What Baldwin did not have, and what he could not fabricate himself, was the appropriate engine. He found the right powerplant being made by a young motorcycle manufacturer in Hammondsport, New York, by the name of Glenn Hammond Curtiss. The compact and lightweight V-twin “Hercules” made between five and seven horsepower, enough to move the 520-pound dirigible under its own power, the output shaft of which was connected to a rudimentary propeller. The Curtiss engine weighed only 60 pound, and was located in the control car frame just forward of the center of gravity, and so geared as to generate 150 revolutions per minute at the propeller shaft. Though this was Curtiss's first brush with the aviation industry, it would not be his last, as he would go on to found the very successful Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, a leading U.S. aircraft manufacturer in the 1920s and early 1930s.The total weight of the airship was only 520 pounds, and had an estimated life capacity of about 500 pounds over the airship's weight.
The altitude of Baldwin's early airships was not regulated by means of a gas valve attached to the balloon. They had no valve. When the gas-bag is filled with hydrogen the neck of the gas inlet was simply tied-off with a piece of rubber. Elevation was provided by the volume of gas in the gas-bag, and the payload weight. Then after rising to a certain height the gas, which expanded due to the decrease in atmospheric pressure, would exert pressure against the constraint of the rubber tie around neck of the gas inlet. Overcoming the tie-off, some gas volume would be release allowing the machine to settle and stabilize at altitude. Of course, as the sun further heated the gas, the whole process would repeat, limiting the vehicle's altitude and endurance.
Ascent and descent was affected by a weight which could be shifted from bow to stern, or vice-versa and permits the nose of the airship to be raised or lowered. The pilot could also scramble forward or aft on the gondola's framework, thus subtracting of adding to the tilt of the nose. Using the thrust of the propeller alone, the airship was then "pulled" in the desired direction, though the pilot also had the luxury of reversing the rotation of the propeller if need. Directional turns were provided by a 5 by 3.5 foot rudder, which could be activated by the pilot from anywhere along the frame. Only about 20 pounds of ballast was carried for emergencies.
Constructors (left to right): Eugene Godet, Thomas Scott Baldwin, —, Glenn H. Curtiss.
Baldwin first flew the California Arrow in August of 1904, successfully completing a 20-block round trip in Oakland, California. With Lincoln Beachey as his pilot, the Arrow underwent the first controlled circular flight in America on August 3, 1904 at Idora Park in Oakland, California. But the real goal was to bring it to St. Louis for the Louisiana Exposition World's Fair held that year. Organizers had secured sponsors for a $100,000 prize to be given to the first aircraft that could successfully navigate a predefined course and return to the start. A now overweight Baldwin hired another aviation pioneer, the much thinner and lighter Augustus Roy Knabenshue, to pilot the Arrow. Knabenshue won the prize for Baldwin, who garnered instant acclaim for creating the first successful self-propelled dirigible in the U.S. A 1905 Pope-Toledo touring car was the object of a "race" between the car and the airship.
First flown at Hammondsport, N.Y. on June 28, 1907 by Glenn Curtiss, Capt. Baldwin's Curtiss-powered machine was driven by an a 4-bladed propeller and sported a rudder emblazoned with the "Stars and Stripes". Often referred to as Baldwin Airship No.4, the dirigible was entered in the St. Louis airship races in October and finished a distant third behind the Strobel airships of Lincoln Beachey and Jack Dallas.
Baldwin and Knabenshue crisscrossed the country demonstrating the California Arrow, including racing Barney Oldfield across Los Angeles, with Oldfield confined to the ground in an automobile. Not long after, Baldwin secured contracts from both the Army and Navy to build their first dirigibles, based on what he had learned building the California Arrow.
Eventually, Baldwin and the crowds grew tired of this act as well, though Baldwin continued to work with hot-air balloons, even fabricating them in San Francisco.
On April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake struck San Fransisco. This was the great quake of 1906, and Thomas Baldwin's manufacturing facility on Market Street was destroyed. He lost five airships including the California Arrow.
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