Balloons And Airships: A Tale Of Lighter Than Air Aviation by Anthony Burton (book review).

October 23, 2019 | By | Reply More

In steampunk stories, it’s inevitable that airships are used even if they started much earlier than the Victorian era. So a look at Anthony Burton’s book, ‘Balloons And Airships: A Tale Of Lighter Than Air Aviation’, fills in the actual history on the subject. Although the Montgolfier brothers achieved the first manned balloon flight, it was in the hands of others that records of height and distance came. There was also a matter of which was more effective, hydrogen or hot air?

We all know the flammable problems with hydrogen but it was a lot easier to manufacture than helium back then. It certainly became a need to achieve records if you wanted to be noticed. Interestingly, if you thought crowd-funding was a new thing that people contributed half a crown to some to be in the audience to watch first take-offs before they even flew.

The 17th century was also a period of discovery and adventure with various people wanting to try and experiment and be the first. The number of firsts before moving into military use for observation of battlefields, delivering bombs and so forth was showing applications far beyond needs. The move to dirigibles and some controlled flight, still using hydrogen as fuel wasn’t deterred. If you thought the Zeppelin fire was the only one, the number that Anthony Burton gives will make you wonder why they persisted. Reading here, the number of successes outweighed these. I was surprised that one dirigible was used as a flight deck for a Sopwith Camel biplane, although it couldn’t carry it home.

It would have been interesting if Burton had devoted some pages for quick reference of all the records achieved with balloons and dirigibles because they did achieve so many before those aeroplane thingies. As the final chapter shows, ballooning is still popular today. Very occasionally, in the spring, it is possible to see early morning balloon flights away from the town where I live as they drift across the sky in the distance. There is a sort of majestic beauty to them so I can understand why the earlier generations were enthralled by them.

If you are planning to use them in your own stories, books such as this are a must. As always disasters are remembered far more than successful flights and there were many of these.

From knowing little on the subject, I came away from this book thinking that these pilots were a cross between bravery and crazy but you do have to admire their willingness to risk their own lives and even that of others to achieve passage in the air.

GF Willmetts

October 2019

(pub: Pen & Sword, 2019. 208 page illustrated indexed medium hardback. Price: £25.00 (UK), $49.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-52671-949-2)

check out website: www.pen-and–

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Category: Books, Science, Steampunk

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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