Monday, November 28, 2011

Five Thousand Balloons Descending from the Clouds

In terms of air travel, a lot has happened since 1783, when the first big balloons went up at well-attended demonstrations in France (such as the one pictured above). 

I took a heavier-than-air-ship tonight and traveled many hundreds of miles, in fact, over the course of a few hours, from a height of many thousands of feet above the land. Is this something to take for granted?

Here's what Ben Franklin observed about balloons (i.e. Luftballons) in a letter to Jan Ingenhousz, a Dutch scientist, dated January 16, 1784:

It appears, as you observe, to be a discovery of great importance, and what may possibly give a new turn to human affairs. Convincing sovereigns of the folly of wars may perhaps be one effect of it; since it will be impracticable for the most potent of them to guard his dominions. Five thousand balloons, capable of raising two men each, could not cost more than five ships of the line; and where is the prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defence, as that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not in many places do an infinite deal of mischief, before a force could be brought together to repel them?*

*(Franklin, letters; this one came to my attention via Jack Fruchtman, Jr.'s Atlantic Cousins: Benjamin Franklin and His Visionary Friends, 2005, page 217).

Of course, airships have not convinced sovereigns of the folly of war at all. Nor have zeppelins, dirigibles, blimps, aeroplanes, jets, rockets, missiles or remotely-piloted drones. They've simply made more things possible from greater distances, at greater velocity. 

At least one government in 2011 -- that of the USA  -- can launch some form of airstrike anywhere in the world within sixty minutes of initiation, or so it has been said.

What next?

Today's Rune: The Self.  


Anonymous said...


jodi said...

Erik, sounds like fun. I've always wanted to go up in an air balloon!

Charles Gramlich said...

I enjoy the steam punk stuff that's popular right now for all the cool airship stuff.