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May 6, 2009

Ruining it for the rest of us
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:07 AM *

this is why we cant have nice blimps

The Luftschiff Zeppelin #129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed near the Lakehurst Naval Station on May 6, 1937, killing 36 people and the passenger airship industry.

Comments on Ruining it for the rest of us:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:27 AM:

"No boom today," Ivanova corrects them. "Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow."

#2 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:33 AM:

But how would we know that books are alt-history if *we* had zeppelins?

#3 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:40 AM:

Too soon.

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:51 AM:

Doug @ #2, never fear, there's always the anachronistic weaponry.

#5 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:03 AM:

There's a zeppelin company that flies over the Googleplex regularly; it adds nicely to the Prisoner-like surrealism of the place.

#6 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:05 AM:

And flying boats.

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:07 AM:

xeger, Kip:

I presume your comments mean that it's still May 5 wherever you are? It's certainly May 6 for me, and it's May 6 in New York, which is the Prime Meridian of Making Light.

In other words, you're living in the past. ;)

#8 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 04:16 AM:

I believe Kip is making a reference to Gilbert Gottfried, originator of the phrase "Oh, the humanity!"

#9 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:04 AM:

Kevin Marks @5,

Yes, Airship Ventures, headquartered at NASA, close to my usual haunts. It is delightful to be going about ordinary activities--gardening, working, walking to the store--and have it quietly sneak into view*. I still remember the first time I saw it. One morning I was chatting with B. while going outside to get the paper. I suddenly froze on seeing the zeppelin.

"What's wrong?" asked B. from the porch behind me.
"Nothing, just a zeppelin."
"A Zeppelin. Uh-huh. Zeppelin."
"Sure- up there" I nodded. "You don't see it?"
"No, not seeing a zeppelin..." He moves a few steps. "Oh, that zeppelin. Interesting. I wonder why they chose a phone number instead of an URL for the side?"

* "Laptop, plug, table, milk, tea. Yawn.
The word zeppelin wandered through her mind for a moment in search of something to connect with."

#10 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:28 AM:

Maaaan. Don't get me started again. Having recently run a session of Spirit of the Century, the bestest pen and paper rpg ever, I did... too much research into zeppelins. I mean, Hugo Eckener was an NPC in that session. Okay, so I will try (and probably fail) to be brief.

Two reasons why there is no wide-spread Zeppelin industry today: the Nazis and the Americans.

First of all, YOU GUYS are to blame for the whole Hindenburg thingie. Well, mostly. You see, the Hindenburg was the first Zeppelin built to run on Helium, which has the marked advantage of not going up in a fireball when you sneeze. They made it bigger because you need more Helium than Hydrogen (I'm not sure why I'm capitalizing element names, except maybe because they're cool) to achieve the same sort of lift. Thing is, back then America was the only place on earth that could come up with enough Helium to fill the monstrously huge Hindenburg. You want numbers? Of course you want numbers. The LZ129 Hindenburg was big enough to contain 200,000 m³ of gas when fully filled. It was 246.7m long and its largest diameter was 41.2m. Sorry for the sciencey units, I'm pulling these numbers from the German wikipedia page.

So, America was the only place that could have supplied us with this much Helium, and originally, they were going to. (I'm saying "us" because achievements in science and engineering are the only thing that fill me with patriotic pride.) Now at some point, America changed its mind. You see, filling a zeppelin with helium instead of hydrogen would have made it less likely to go down in a giant ball of fire (kind of the idea here), which would have made it much more valuable in war.

What? War? Really? Turns out, yeah, really. Germany built a ridiculous amount of zeppelins for World War 1: 84 or thereabouts. The thing they were best at was reconnaissance, particularly at sea, but they were also used for bombing runs due to their awesome ability to carry a LOT of bombs. If we look the amount of crewmen tied up in defending against zeppelins, we could even argue that these raids were somewhat effective. For every man working on a zeppelin, the other side had to use... I forget the number, but way more people to effectively defend against the zeppelin. Beyond this, they weren't effective at all in war though.

Interesting aside: turns out just strafing a zeppelin with conventional aircraft guns didn't do much good. The hull design was such that holes self-sealed; not perfectly, but good enough that the escape of gas only meant a very gradual descent, usually slow enough that it allowed the zeppelin to fly home. (Linguistic aside: the verb you use with zeppelins in German is "fahren", not "fliegen". Apparently lighter than air crafts are considered ships, not planes, and so we use the verb you'd use with ships. In English they "fly" though, don't they?) However, incendiary ammunition could make short work of zeppelins.

All this was rather irrelevant by the time we were building the Hindenburg. Aviation had moved on. Zeppelins were so very obsolete in war. Still, America would not supply us with helium. So we used the additional space inside the hull to build a second level of passenger accomodations and make the whole thing truly luxurious. Here's pictures of the sitting room and the dining room.

No Helium, big boom at Lakehurst. Now, why do I hate the Nazis?

Well, we have to look at Eckener's DELAG to understand my hate for the nazis. (And possibly at the holocaust.) The Deutsche Luftschifffahrts AG was based on a certain philosophy. They wanted the world to be a smaller place. They wanted affordable long distance travel. They wanted us all to be friends. The Nazis didn't.

On that subject, the LZ 129 was named after this gentleman with the fetching moustache in an act of truly inspired political maneuvering. The Nazis tolerated the whole zeppelin business because it was good propaganda. There's a good chance the biggest zeppelin ever built would have been named the LZ 129 Adolf Hitler, and in order to prevent that, Eckener chose a much less politically charged name, but one that at the same time the Nazis could hardly reject. Hindenburg was essentially the guy who helped put Hitler in power (even though this is a difficult subject; he might have been senile, or outwitted, or pressured), and even though Germany lost WW1, Hindenburg's military achievements in that war somehow counted for something.

And so, after Lakehurst, even though the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was perfectly alright, it was brought home to Friedrichshafen and put in long term storage. Eventually the Nazis had her dismantled and ended the era of awesome giant floating vessels.

Other countries tried building zeppelins too. Of particular interest are the USS Akron and the British R38. The Akron was actually filled with Helium and almost as big as the Hindenburg, and I must hand it to you: launching aircraft from a zeppelin? Fucking bad-ass. Unfortunately, she went down. (Do you use female pronouns with airships?) The R38 was the biggest airship in the world when launched, but she broke in half and ended the short flirtation the British admirality had with airship technology.

Uh. I guess that wasn't brief.

#11 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:07 AM:

As a literary footnote, Nevil Shute was Deputy Chief Engineer of the R100 airship project under Sir Barnes "Dambusters Bouncing Bomb" Wallis. The private R100 was cancelled when the government-funded R101 crashed in 1930.

Shute became a fixed-wing aircraft designer in the 30s and later a novelist and his No Highway (filmed with James Stewart) involved a metal-fatigue-downs-new-airliner story that prefigured by a few years what happened in real life to the first jet airliner, the Comet, in the early 50s. His post-nuclear-apocalypse On The Beach was also filmed.

The Comet recovered, after a fashion (my father flew them in the mid-60s) and a development of it is still going in the form of the Nimrod, the British version of AWACs.

#12 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:37 AM:

Niall McAuley at #8 writes:

> I believe Kip is making a reference to Gilbert Gottfried, originator of the phrase "Oh, the humanity!"

Though he was misquoted. What he actually said was:

#13 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:40 AM:

#10 - Not brief, but beautiful :).

#14 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:46 AM:

I'm still hoping that rising energy prices will encourage a return to Zeppelins for long-range air transport. Yeah, yeah, I know. But I still hope.

#15 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:47 AM:

If someone were to start a zeppelin company right now with affordable prices and the slogan "Keep your shoes on--fly zeppelin!" I imagine they could get a fair customer base right off the bat.

(Thank goodness for preview--I spelled it "costumer" first time around. Though they'd get that too, now that I think about it.)

#16 ::: John l ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:03 AM:

There is a German company that is building Zeppelins right now, though. They offer flights over London for aerial sightseeing trips, and a few years ago considered intercontinental flights over to the US.

I know this because one of the locations being considered for a US base was just outside of Elizabeth City, NC, right next to one of my highway projects. We got all the specs for the airbase, including how much room the zeppelins would need when they came in to dock at the mooring mast and the size of the hangar.

Basically, the hangar would have been about a 1000' long and over 300' high, and the mooring mast would have been about 350' high as well. I would have loved to have seen one of those behemoths come in to dock, but they couldn't get enough backers and the deal fell through.

#17 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:16 AM:

Minor correction to my post #16; the company that was trying to build a zeppelin port a few years ago at Elizabeth City was Cargolifter. Their zeppelin would have been the largest ever built, capable of hauling 160 tons of cargo across the Atlantic, but they failed to get enough funding and went bankrupt.

It still would have been cool to have seen such a huge object coming in to dock, though.

#18 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:36 AM:

I've always been fond of the idea of docking Zeppelins to mooring masts at the top of buildings. Sad that, in practice, it turned out to be totally unworkable. I also suspect that having to use a swinging gangway between the top of the Empire State Building and the zeppelin would have a significant impact on ridership. If the gangway was completely enclosed like a jetway the movement would be harder to deal with due to lack of visual reference.

#19 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:46 AM:

Daniel Klein:
Just cause I'm curious (and you're a native German speaker):
On a moving sidewalk, Gehe ich oder fahre ich?
Possible followup - even if I'm walking on it?

And I apologize, my German is so minimal that I probably screwed up the grammar on that short sentence.

#20 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:01 AM:

Some recent analysis on the Hindenburg disaster speculates that the fire started on the highly flammable doped-fabric skin, and with a fire-resistant surface the disaster wouldn't have happened.
How much different the 20th century would have looked. The historical impact is much harder to determine, but speculation is fun.

#21 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:10 AM:

John @19, no worries, it was fine. I'm interested to hear the answer. I'm guessing it's "fahren", because a moving sidewalk (i.e. people mover such as you might find in an airport) is a "Fahrsteige". (cf. here at the Otis site; I did some translation for them last year.) Since a sidewalk is a "Gehsteige", this probably answers your question, but since I have no native intuition to guide me, this is just logic talking.

I'm thinking that if you walk on the Fahrsteige, you're both gehing and fahring simultaneously.

#22 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:12 AM:

@20 "highly flammable doped-fabric skin"

I saw a TV documentary that said it was material similar to what's in a shuttle solid rocket booster.

#23 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:16 AM:

John Houghton @20 - Mythbusters did that one! (Answer: if they'd painted on enough of the stuff to actually react, the ship would have been too heavy to lift off.)

But they did burn up a lovely model of the Hindenburg that *was* covered with whatever that one researcher said it was. Very impressive. I recommend searching for it on YouTube.

#24 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:26 AM:

Oh, the enormous dugong!

#25 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:37 AM:

Doug #2: Then the alt-history books would either have rocket-planes or pulseurs.

#26 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:41 AM:

For me, since my childhood was in England, the iconic exploding airship is not the "Hindenburg" but the "R-101" which blew up seven years earlier. Americans, for some reason, have never heard of it.

#27 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:43 AM:

out in tillamook, oregon you can still see a hangar built for u.s. navy blimps. it's currently in use as an aircraft museum. fine museum. terrific hangar. vast building. claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world. (?)

blimps is big big big.

and thanks, daniel klein, for a good tutorial.

#28 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:44 AM:

The audio commentary is here.

#29 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:51 AM:

John L at #16: Yeah, I was going to mention those guys as well. The company you can find at right now offers flights around the Friedrichshafen area, which is the historical centre of all Zeppelin development. They offer zeppelin tours of the area for atrocious prices. Basically prices range from 200 euro per person for the half hour tour around Friedrichshafen, which is a really beautiful city by the way, to 730 euro per person for a two hour flight up the Rhine and back. Which is, to put it mildly, INSANELY EXPENSIVE.

Their Zeppelin NT (Neue Technologie, meaning, as you can probably guess, New Technology) is a semi-rigid airship, somewhat heavier than air. It's about ten times smaller than the Hindenburg, but I am still trying to find the money to go on one next time I'm in Germany to visit my parents (who live only, uhm, about 300km from Friedrichshafen, so that's practically next door!)

Cargolifter is indeed bankrupt. Much as I hate to admit it, zeppelins don't seem financial viable these days.

John Houghton at #18, #19 and Michael Roberts at #21: Fahrsteig! That's the word! I asked a friend to confirm my intuition about which verb to use here and tried to make a word for these contraptions in German, ending up with the unsatisfying Rollsteig. We agree that there's not really a verb for movement on these things (whereas "riding" an escalator I believe would be a generally accepted verb), but if you put a gun to my head and asked me to pick a verb, I'd use fahren. In actual usage you'd say you're standing on one, as in "Ich stehe auf dem Fahrsteig." And your sentences were indeed correct.

And re: docking on buildings. My Spirit of the Century session started with the characters boarding the LZ 127 from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building.

Landing a zeppelin was a major undertaking, by the way. It required a large ground crew which held on to ropes thrown down from the zeppelin. The Zeppelin NT has fancy schmancy modern technology on board that automatically stabilizes it etc reducing the required ground crew to 3 people. As if that was a GOOD thing.

#30 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 08:58 AM:

There is an even bigger wooden blimp hangar at the former Tustin marine corps air station*. The Good Year blimp was parked in one corner of it looking small and lonely when I peeked in.

*I like the fact that the US Navy's army has its own airforce.

#31 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:17 AM:

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has the Hindenburg III docking at the Empire State Building.

#32 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:17 AM:

The Weeksville Naval Air Station, just east of Elizabeth City, NC, used to have the world's largest wooden structure. It was a blimp hangar and had 7 acres of covered space inside it. Unfortunately it completely burned back in 1995 when a welder's sparks ignited one of the doors.

There's still a steel clamshell blimp hangar there, owned by a company making aerostats (tethered surveillance blimps). I got a tour of the interior several years ago but they refused to let me take photos of the amazing structure, for fear of me getting some of their precious aerostats in the pictures.

#33 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:23 AM:

Blimps were also thought to be fairly fragile in the face of nuclear weapons, as indicated by this series of tests.

#34 ::: philsuth ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:40 AM:

On the subject of airship hangars, I'm pleased to find (with a little light Googling) that Hangar One is still in existence at Moffett Field, CA, though apparently under threat. It was built during the Depression to house the (helium filled) USS Macon, the last of the US rigid dirigibles.

#35 ::: kidbitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:42 AM:

your mention of mooring reminds me about the Zeppelin bend, one of my favorite knots.

#36 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:19 AM:

The only thing I can contribute to this conversation is a recommendation for John McPhee's The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed.

#37 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:25 AM:

Nevil Shute's autobiography is well worth reading, particularly for the story of the R100 and the R101.

#38 ::: fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:33 AM:

A good friend of mine is pretty obsessed with the Hindengburg and has an interesting blog about it (if you're into that sort of thing):

#39 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:53 AM:

11: minor quibble, but the Nimrod is the British version of the P-3 Orion subhunter. There was a plan to build a Nimrod AEW, but it fell through. The British version of the AWACS is, er, buying some AWACS. We are now engaged on the hugely expensive task of trying to update Nimrod for the new generation of submarine threats... don't get me started.

#40 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 11:01 AM:

Steve Taylor (12): LOL! (literally)

#41 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 11:22 AM:

Want a sad story? A really sad story? There's a guy who dreamed up an ultralight, extremely strong girder system because he wanted to make it possible to build lighter, cheaper dirigibles (the prototype weighed 3 lb and could support 800lbs). Since then he's promoted the concept (although not in airships) and used the system over and over and his companies have gone bust every time.
Give it a look. The patents are long dead, and if I had some cash I'd be doing some prototyping of girders using polycarbonate ribs and aramid fibers, ideally to use them in a geodetic structure similar to the one Barnes-Wallace used in the R100. (Ever tried to get information on the girder spacing in the R100? Good freaking luck.) I recommend (if you can find it: I paid a hunk for mine) a copy of "The R100 in Canada" in which you'll learn a lot about an extremely successful design that was bulldozed flat after the embarrassing and fatal R101 crash. (I have a book on the public space interiors of the R101. Luxurious doesn't even cover it.)

Daniel Klein: the name you're looking for is James F. "Jimmy" Byrnes. As Secretary of State he refused to ship Helium to Germany. I understand he was certain that if he did the USA would end up under airship attack...

#42 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 11:52 AM:

Daniel Klein @ 10: Brief? No. Interesting? Very much so. Thanks.

Nicholas Waller @ 31: I see you beat me to the Sky Captain reference. Good film.

#43 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:01 PM:

Problem with rigid airships is rigid + big + wind shear = oops. The Zeppelin Company had the engineering figured out; seems nobody else did. Non- Zeppelin airships tended to break.

I saw some cable show about the Hindenburg (not Mythbusters*) where they claimed to have an actual piece of the skin of the Hindenburg. They lit it off with a spark (like you'd get with static electricity) and it went up like a flare. Iron oxide + powdered aluminum = thermite. Not what you'd want on your airship skin.

The whole helium** fetish is odd. Why not use hydrogen for things like weather and atmospheric balloons where you don't have to worry about tracer bullets?***

* Mythbusters is a lot of fun, but I don't trust their results one little bit. They're mindbogglingly sloppy and don't seem to be able to do the simplest engineering calculations.

** "helium" (lower case) is the element. "Helium"(cap) is the city on Barsoom.

*** Not that I'm complaining. I own a part interest in a couple of helium wells.

#44 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 12:50 PM:

There were a couple of problems with the R100. First, the shape was a bit wrong, leading to nasty aerodynamic loads on the tail, which forced a rebuild.

Second, the geodesic structure was a bit sparse, and didn't adequately support the outer fabric, which had a tendency to flap.

There was another company building wooden-framed airships, but a large, lightweight, structure is difficult. The Count, and the company he founded, built 114 airships by the end of WW1. Nobody else had the experience of building airships, and nobody else really came close to having the experience of flying them.

#45 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:10 PM:

Abi, I'm surprised you didn't save this for Open Thread #129, which is coming up soon.

Ah, well, the storied Graf Zeppelin, predecessor of the Hindenberg, is LZ127, so it still has a shot at an Open Thread.

#46 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:26 PM:

This reminds me that it's been quite some time since I last watched The Rocketeer.

#47 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:33 PM:

Nicholas Waller writes in #11:

The Comet recovered, after a fashion (my father flew them in the mid-60s) and a development of it is still going in the form of the Nimrod, the British version of AWACs.

Ajay writes in #39:

11: minor quibble, but the Nimrod is the British version of the P-3 Orion subhunter.

That turns out not to be the case. Nicholas is perfectly correct.

#48 ::: Jan(TM) ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:40 PM:

Sorry, but the LZ129 Hindenburg was a rigid airship not a blimp.

#49 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:41 PM:

There is a little more to the "whoompf" of the hindenberg. Mythbusters did a test, and the paint seems to have contributed, not to the ignition, but the speed with which it burned. Cat: what I recall was that they tried a number of things, one of which was the "layers" theory which would have been to heavy to fly).

When they made one, and coated it with thermite paste it 1: floated, and 2: burned with great speed. When they made one without any thermite, the speed of burn was much slower. Now, I don't know that it was so much slower as to make a real difference, once the bag started to burn, a factor of something like 2, maybe 3, but slower, and less brightly.

lightning: I like Mythbusters (and I know they are sloppy, there are several places I know they were flat out wrong; and a little research would have pointed them in the right direction. Any time they make a device for testing swords I want to cry, but I digress).

That sloppy is part of why it works. They are doing science. They are showing how science is done. They have a question. They design an experiment, they test the results.

All the rest is issues of precision. Which is nice, but not the crucial thing. The method is the crucial thing, and they are making the method obvious to a lot of people.

I'll even forgive them the "splinters aren't lethal" result; even though it is completely wrong. If ships were built the way their model was, the conclusion would have been correct.

Which is a lesson too.

#50 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:00 PM:

Here's an interesting Graf Zeppelin story: An aid for smokers.

#51 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:12 PM:

Daniel 29: Fahrsteig! That's the word! I asked a friend to confirm my intuition about which verb to use here and tried to make a word for these contraptions in German, ending up with the unsatisfying Rollsteig.

In English, I call them slidewalks. I'm sure I must have gotten this from some skiffy I read in the 70s, but I have no idea what or where.

#52 ::: Andrew L. ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:19 PM:

Bill Higgins @47: I must respectfully disagree. See here:

That more or less matches what I know of the aircraft. The Nimrod AEW3 project was ultimately cancelled before it saw service, and the UK bought E-3 Sentries from the US instead. The primary service role of the Nimrod has always been as a maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, fulfilling much the same purpose as the USN's P-3 Orion.

#53 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:22 PM:

Has anybody read Airborn and its sequels by Kenneth Oppel? YA alternate-history adventure books. At the beginning of the first book, the hero is a cabin boy on a luxury airship. There's a rich girl and pirates; adventures and light romance ensue. I enjoyed it in many respects, but I stubbed my brain on his version of unobtainium, a naturally occurring gas called "hydrium" that is used to fill the airships and is described as being lighter than hydrogen.
[stupid question, in an I-should-know-this kind of way]
That's not physically possible, is it?
[/stupid question]

#54 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:30 PM:

Hmm. I suppose if you carefully refined all the deuterium and tritium out of a supply of hydrogen, it might be slightly lighter than hydrogen you hadn't done that to...but it would still be hydrogen.

I don't think it's really possible to have an element with fewer than one proton, no neutrons, and one electron. But obviously that wasn't just alt-history, but alt-universe.

But IANAPhysicist. There are folks on here who are, and maybe they can come up with some possible way gas could be more expansive than hydrogen or something. Physicists continually amaze me, and I wouldn't be shocked if they did it again on this issue.

#55 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:37 PM:

Xopher @ 54:

You'd just have to fill it with vacuum, right? No gas involved. I'm having a very hard time seeing how you can get a gas lighter than hydrogen.

#56 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:40 PM:

The Nimrod is a derivative of the Comet design. A new-build batch wouldn't be the same maintenance problem as the current aircraft, but a next-gan maritime recce aircraft is going to be expensive, whatever the starting point is.

The Nimrod AEW was prototyped and tested, and some ground facilities appeared at RAF Waddington. The airframe seems to have been OK, but the radar never came close to promises, and the RAF bought the AWACS. This wasn't a bad move, in terms of NATO operations.

The Nimrod and the P-3 Orion fulfil the same general role. which, in war, includes flying at low level over ocean, looking for submarines. The Nimrod airframe has also come to be used for other duties, including electronic warfare support over Afghanistan.

Bill, ajay's wording is definitely misleading, but I wouldn't call him wrong. And Nicholas had got it wrong about the AWACS business.

#57 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:43 PM:

Terry @ 49 - You're right - I think I was conflating several of the tests.

That sloppy is part of why it works. They are doing science. They are showing how science is done. They have a question. They design an experiment, they test the results... The method is the crucial thing, and they are making the method obvious to a lot of people.

This is why MythBusters is the one show my daughter's allowed to watch as much of as she wants. (We don't have cable, but both grammas LOVE to let her watch tv, and she loves MythBusters - everyone's happy!)

The other really important thing is that they're willing to go back and reinvestigate when someone points out some factor they should have considered. Two valuable messages for the price of one: a) always be willing to consider new data and b) science isn't static. (And for my wee perfectionist, we've also got c: you don't have to know the answer before you start - that's what research and experimentation are FOR.)

#58 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:45 PM:

If you stripped the electrons out of a lot of your hydrogen, the resulting static charge would cause the stuff to expand. You'd need some system in your envelope to keep that charge positive -- and I'm thinking a equal and opposite negative charge on the envelope to keep birds from sticking to your dirigible -- but the end result would be a gas lighter than uncharged hydrogen.

#59 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:46 PM:

OtterB @ 53: Um. Stabilized monoatomic hydrogen?

#60 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:51 PM:

Of course, stabilizing the monoatomic hydrogen would be more elegant.

#61 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:08 PM:

#53 ::: OtterB

Not stupid at all. Elementary, yes. Stupid, no.

The mass of a given volume of gas depends on its molecular mass. At one atmosphere and zero degrees C, 22.4 liters of hydrogen (molecular mass 2) has a mass of 2 grams. The same volume of helium (molecular mass 4) has a mass of 4 grams. Air has an average molecular mass of about 29. So in air, a balloon with 22.4 liters of hydrogen has a "mass" of -27 grams and would balance a mass of 27 grams. The same balloon filled with helium would balance 25 grams.

The best you could get would be a "molecular mass" of zero (for example, a vacuum), which would have a "mass" of -29 -- not much better than hydrogen or helium.

The only gas that would be lighter than hydrogen would be monatomic hydrogen (hydrogen with one atom per molecule instead of the normal two). This is, BTW, the "single-H" that Heinlein used for rocket fuel in "The Rolling Stones". Problem is that it is wildly unstable -- if you were to use it for rocket fuel, the nuclear reactor Heinlein used to heat it up would be superfluous -- it has enough energy on its own. Not the sort of thing you'd want filling your airship.

#62 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:26 PM:

Thanks, all. That's what I thought, that once you were down to one proton you couldn't go further in any simple way.

Wish he'd just specified the stuff as a naturally-occurring gas lighter than air instead of lighter than hydrogen. Since there are other aspects of the book (I originally wrote other elements, but that's ambiguous in this context) that are also more alternate-universe-like, perhaps it shouldn't matter. But it jarred my suspension of disbelief in ways that the other things didn't.

#63 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:33 PM:

Michael Roberts @ 58 - equal and opposite negative charge on the envelope to keep birds from sticking to your dirigible...

Ok, now this image is going to be randomly popping into my head and making me giggle for the rest of the week. Hee!

#64 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:35 PM:

Almost forgot: this link is appropriate to the thread.

#65 ::: Matthew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:40 PM:

It's worth noting that the Hindenburg disaster had a lower death toll than might be supposed; approximately two-thirds of passengers and crew survived. That's partly because hydrogen rises so rapidly; most of the burning happened above the craft itself (it obviously couldn't burn until mixed with enough air, for one thing).

Most of the people aboard stayed aboard till it hit the ground then escaped. Many of the dead were either trapped inside the ship after it crashed and died in the subsequent fire or were caught in the nose, which being uppermost as the craft burned was essentially above a lot of the burning material. Some died from jumping.

I believe most of the flames we see in the pictures are from the skin burning, not the hydrogen, since hydrogen burns pretty clear.

#66 ::: Kristi Wachter ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 03:47 PM:

Seconding albatross's recommendation for The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed. I read it a couple of months ago (I'm reading through the entire McPhee oeuvre) (although I had to put off The Curve of Binding Energy until later - it looks like a good book, but I wasn't up for reading about nuclear weapons at the moment).

Deltoid is great - full of fascinating tech nerds spending all their time (and money) trying to make a hand-crafted airship fly. Interesting motivations, great back stories, gripping suspense, seasoned with at least a handful of really wonderful classic John McPhee sentences.

#67 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 04:46 PM:

OtterB@62: "Wish he'd just specified the stuff as a naturally-occurring gas lighter than air instead of lighter than hydrogen." (on _Airborn_)

If I recall correctly, the story has scenes that aren't plausible with hydrogen. The author *shows* the stuff as being lighter than hydrogen (or, indeed, than vacuum). It's an interesting question of technique whether the reader's suspension of disbelief suffers more if the author admits that explicitly, or dodges the question.

(A suspension of 1.2 grams per liter of disbelief...)

#68 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 04:55 PM:

Or perhaps a suspension of -1.2 grams per liter of disbelief.

#69 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:02 PM:

Cat Meadors @ #57

Yep. We're a Mythbusters house, too. Don't forget the fun of engaging in one's own predictions about how things will go, and critiquing the experiments, and arguing about how they might have designed it another way.

We're hoping to raise two girls who think science is seriously cool. At least as cool as pink tutus and sparkly tiaras. (Hey, they're currently 3 1/2 and 1 1/2...they've got time.)

#70 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:14 PM:

"Hydrium" is obviously not a gas at all, it's the local Eighth Ray. Or maybe it's a gas of fossil carbon nanotech skeletons.

#71 ::: Zed Lopez ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:31 PM:

Berkeley was a pioneer in airship disasters back in aught-8.

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:50 PM:

Niall McAuley @ 70... What about gaseous cavorite? Or upsidaisium?

#73 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:08 PM:

Serge, "Cavorite" is exactly what the Qeng Ho named the fossil carbon nanotech stuff as soon as they realized what it did. I assume you mean the original element from the works of that dude composed of cells.

I had never heard of Upsidaisium until just now, which shows a distinct gap in my education in re Moose and Squirrel.

#74 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:08 PM:

Dear deity, abi (#64), you should have posted a warning to go with that link. A sinister floating menace indeed.

#75 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:29 PM:

Sarah S. @ #69: I highly, highly recommend the UK series 'Rough Science' to scratch the same itches, plus as a stellar example of what Reality TV *could* be if it were aimed squarely at MY demographic, instead of focussing obsessively on the kind of interpersonal Drama (capital letter very intentional) that made my middle-school years a total hell.

Netflix has two 'series' of it (6 eps each) in a single multi-DVD set. Also viewable online streaming from them.

Their resident chemist's unholy glee at the sorts of things he's allowed to do in pursuit of various goals (squeezing mercury through leather while extracting gold from ore, for example) puts Bill Nye to shame.

#76 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:31 PM:

Serge @ #72: Or what Tom Swift Jr. found in craters on the Moon, serptilium.

Which he used to make an antigrav monorail of sorts.

#77 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:37 PM:

Fleury's Ray, from Kipling's With The Night Mail, is an explanation so elaborate you don't notice it doesn't make any sense.

#78 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:10 PM:

The question of whether hydrogen is the lightest possible gas is foundering on the fact that people are using "lightest" in two different senses.

In a molecular weight sense, folks are absolutely right. Hydrogen has as low a molecular weight as one can get.

But molecular weight isn't everything. Simple example: ice is lighter than water (it floats in it) because it has a lower density due to structural considerations. This is hard to imagine in gases -- but Michael Roberts came up with one way, electrostatics. Perhaps there are others.

Another few examples -- IIRC, osmium is the densest element, but doesn't have the highest molecular weight. Xenon has a much higher atomic weight than water, but gaseous xenon doesn't sink in liquid water.

#79 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:15 PM:

Oh yes -- and helium has more uses than just making things float (supercooling, for example) and is about as irreplaceable a natural resource as we have (even if fusion plants start working well) -- once it's in the atmosphere, it heads for space without combining with anything, unlike hydrogen.

I still like the Oppel books, despite at least one other glaring flaw; they're classic boy's-adventure books of a type we don't see very often. Airborn is only the second book I've read as an adult where I turned around and re-read it immediately after finishing it (the other was Nine Princes in Amber, and I haven't hit a third one).

#80 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:48 PM:

Tom Whitmore said: I turned around and re-read it immediately after finishing it

The Anubis Gates. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The Scar. There are books with careful foreshadowing and puzzly bits which only become clear at a second read, and books I just love so much that I can't let them be over.

The last book I read three times in a row first time (which means it's true) was A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge.

#81 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:01 PM:

Daniel @29: Life is short, the search is long. Can't find reference or link to footage (seen in tv doco) of ground crew holding ropes who were swept up by a loose airship. Several injured. One held on too long & died when he fell.

There's more material on R101 crash in France – overnight 4/5th October 1930. Altho' 48 died (36 at Hindenburg) & a huge fuss in Britain, there's no dramatic vision or audio, probably other factors. Took over six years before Hindenburg 'ended the airship era'.

#82 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:06 PM:

Elliott Mason @ 76... And let's not forget flubber.

#83 ::: Nancy C. Mittens points up at the spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 09:41 PM:

Matthew Brown @65

I used to work for an industrial gases company, and what I picked up was that hydrogen flared up, oxygen flared out.

#84 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:22 PM:

Way back in the Tom Swift Sr. days he used a gas "much more powerful even than hydrogen".

#85 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:32 PM:

I read all the Tom Swifts I could get my hands on, they belonged to my best friend's brother.

Maybe the gas is phlostogen? (sp?_

#86 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:39 PM:

Paula Helm Murray @ 85:


Before Lavosier figured out that oxygen was involved in combustion, it was hypothesized that phlogiston, which had to have a negative weight, was responsible for things burning.

#87 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:47 PM:

It's not impossibly large. There's at least one zeppelin hanger still in existence, and it's nearly that big: the Akron-class Hangar One at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, CA. Frisbie went to an airshow there, and said the static displays were in one end, and the other end had hot-air balloons giving people rides. Inside the hangar.

#88 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 10:51 PM:

Keith, Thanks! Making Light (and the Internets) are the source of endless answers.

And some days I'm full of endless questions.

#89 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 11:33 PM:

Xopher@54: there's no significant tritium in nature; it has a half-life of 12.35 years.

Michael@58: insignificantly. Protons are ~1750 times as massy as electrons. (The idea did give some cute visions, though....)

Nancy@83: that sounds plausible (allowing for the fact that oxygen \supports/ combustion rather than burning by itself); oxygen is ~10% denser than typical air at the same temperature. I suspect that loose oxygen would have boiled off from liquid oxygen, which could make it enough colder to be a larger factor than the difference in standard density, where even seriously cold hydrogen gas would be lighter than room-temperature air.

Yes, I was a chemist a long time ago....

#90 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 12:35 AM:

Niall McAuley @ 80: The last book I read three times in a row first time (which means it's true) was A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge.

I loved that book, too. This baffled my husband, as I'm quite phobic about spiders.

#91 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 12:36 AM:

Niall @8, Gilbert Gottfried or Herbert Morrison?

BTW, That enormous dugong picture is quite popular.
(Hello, towers of steel & glass <g>)

#92 ::: Simon W ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 12:38 AM:

The town I grew up in (Walsall; not to be confused with Warsaw) was bombed by Zeppelins during the Great War. There is still a small amount of damage preserved on one of the buildings in the town centre.

#93 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 12:40 AM:

Um. Was expecting comment supra to be held, hence last line. Went straight thru' instead.

#94 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 01:28 AM:

Tom Whitmore #79
where I turned around and re-read it immediately after finishing it

I did this for Anathem, having been warned I'd want to do so. At the Long Now talk/launch, Stewart Brand said that the last chapter would reveal something that entirely changed the meaning of the book. He was right.

#95 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 01:46 AM:

Tom Whitmore #79
where I turned around and re-read it immediately after finishing it

I did this for Anathem, having been warned I'd want to do so. At the Long Now talk/launch, Stewart Brand said that the last chapter would reveal something that entirely changed the meaning of the book. He was right.

#96 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 01:50 AM:

CHiP @#89 -- again, it wouldn't reduce the molecular weight significantly, but I'm not convinced that the electrostatic forces that Michael invokes wouldn't have a significant effect on the density. The mass of the electron is completely irrelevant to that discussion.

#97 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 02:17 AM:

Regarding Nimrods, the second sentence of the Wikipedia article is "It is an extensive modification of the de Havilland Comet, the world's first jet airliner."

Nicholas had asserted that the Nimrod is descended from the Comet. It is a jet aircraft.

Ajay's statement that "the Nimrod is the British version of the P-3 Orion subhunter" raised a red flag for me. The Nimrod was developed in the UK, not the US, and is not derived from the Lockheed plane. Also, no propellers. That seemed important.

(The RAF has often operated aircraft of US design, so "the British version of" to me meant an Orion in RAF colors, er, colours.)

Frankly, I failed to pay attention to the dispute over whether the Nimrod had served in an airborne early warning role, a point which seems to have interested everybody else. The reliable Dave Bell has straightened me out in #56. When I said that Nicholas was perfectly correct, I was incorrect, because Nicholas was less than perfectly correct: the Nimrod, which is indeed a development of the Comet, has not served as an "AWACS" (Airborne Warning And Control System) aircraft.

In #52, I presume Andrew L. is respectfully disagreeing with me about Nimrods as AEW planes, not about whether Nimrods have propellers.

The Nimrod, like the P-3 Orion, has most often been used as a submarine hunter. In the sense that H.G. Wells is the British version of Jules Verne, the two aircraft are comparable.

#98 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 02:29 AM:

Regarding Epacris's wish at #81.... Look here:

Following the conclusion of those trial flights, Akron departed Lakehurst on 8 May 1932 and set out for the west coast of the United States. The airship proceeded down the eastern seaboard to Georgia thence moved across the gulf plain and continued on over Texas and Arizona. En route to her base at Sunnyvale, Calif., she reached Camp Kearny, Calif., on the morning of 11 May, and attempted to moor. Since neither the trained ground handlers nor the specialized mooring equipment needed by an airship of Akron's size were there, the landing at Camp Kearny was fraught with danger. By the time she started the evolution, the heat of the sun's rays had warmed her, and her engines had further lightened the airship by using 40 tons of fuel during her voyage across the continent. As a result, Akron became uncontrollable.

Her mooring cable cut to avert a catastrophic nose-stand by the errant airship, Akron headed up. Most men of the mooring crew, predominantly "boot" seamen from the Naval Training Station at San Diego, let go their lines. However, one man was carried 15 feet into the air before he let go and suffered a broken arm in the process. Three others were carried up even farther. Two of these men—Aviation Carpenter's Mate 3d Class Robert H. Edsall and Apprentice Seaman Nigel M. Henton—lost their grips and fell to their deaths. The third, Apprentice Seaman C. M. "Bud" Cowart, clung desperately to his line and made himself fast to it before he was hoisted on board Akron one hour later. Nevertheless, Akron managed to moor at Camp Kearny later that day and proceeded thence to Sunnyvale.

#99 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 03:23 AM:

Terry @ 49: If the "Splinters Aren't Lethal" is wrong---which as it happens I agree with you, but I'm not an engineer--- then you should send them a note about the wood. Like others have said, they do revisit items. Sometimes a second look reverses their earlier results.

#100 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 03:30 AM:

#15 - If someone were to start a zeppelin company right now with affordable prices and the slogan "Keep your shoes on--fly zeppelin!" I imagine they could get a fair customer base right off the bat.

I keep hoping that idea will occur to Amtrak's marketing department.

(I have friends back home who, when told about the lack of TSA arches and X-rays and Dump Your Liquids Here bins in train stations, reacted with "Oh, gee, that makes me feel safe, NOT" - and I had to refrain from giving them the Security Theater Is Not Keeping You Safe lecture because, well. Politics.)

#101 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 04:08 AM:

Wyman: I looked into it. I ought to revisit it, and see if the means to contact them have gotten any less onerous.

The real thing is, a small amount of research (though perhaps requiring more work than they are used to) with the Royal Navy (which has excellent records) and the records from the Sick and Hurt Board, would answer the question.

But they didn't build a desne enough cross-section. I've seen the cutaways at the USS Constitution, and there is a lot of wood between the men and the metal.

#102 ::: Wayne Fox ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:41 AM:

I am the photographer of the picture used on here earlier...

I don't want to sound like a stick in the mud, but could you PLEASE ask before using one of my images again in the future. I put the copyright/rights message on there for a good reason.

Thanks and sorry to sound so "official", I just feel it's only common courtesy to ask first.

Have a great day.


#103 ::: antukin ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:47 AM:

I'm rereading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and the zeppelins make such a striking picture in my mind. too bad we can't have nice blimps!

(I'm also remembering the final scene in Kiki's Delivery Service, but then that involves a blimp accident, so I guess it just proves the point hehehe.)

#104 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:53 AM:

97: sorry for inadvertently starting a spat. I should have said that Nimrod is the British aircraft that does the same job as the P-3. It is indeed based on the Comet jet airliner.

51: slidewalk, I think, is from the Caves of Steel?

#105 ::: Andy Wilton ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 06:47 AM:

The BBC's Horizon back in the 70s had some pretty striking demonstrations of how safe hydrogen flames are compared to (say) burning petrol: there's basically no IR coming off the flame itself, so as long as the hydrogen can escape upwards, it's pretty much harmless. This gave me something of a face-palm moment watching Un long dimanche de fiançailles, according to which (it would seem) WWI French barrage balloons were all filled with propane or similar.

#106 ::: Nicholas Waller ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 07:06 AM:

@97 and others - "Nicholas was less than perfectly correct"

Yes, I didn't mean to start a subthread with my sloppy lack of research. What I was getting at was essentially that an airframe design (with the engines in the wings) that first flew in 1949 and suffered some bad crashes in the early 50s is still going 60 years later, albeit much developed, and in some high-end military capacity, not simply as an old heritage DC-3 (a type my father also flew, in the 50s).

Nimrods have been doing non-submarine stuff in Afghanistan, which is where one of them blew up and crashed a few years ago.

#107 ::: Will ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 07:29 AM:

@#102 Hello,
"I am the photographer of the picture used on here earlier...

I don't want to sound like a stick in the mud, but could you PLEASE ask before using one of my images again in the future. I put the copyright/rights message on there for a good reason.

Thanks and sorry to sound so "official", I just feel it's only common courtesy to ask first.

Have a great day.


Erm, A direct link to the flickr page containing the photo is not 'use of your image' - rather [i would humbly suggest] it is the courteous way of giving credit - you get the traffic and recognition from people clicking on the link. The link in this comment thread hasn't infringed your copyright in any way.

#108 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 08:13 AM:

Tom Whitmore @79 I still like the Oppel books, despite at least one other glaring flaw; they're classic boy's-adventure books of a type we don't see very often.

I enjoyed the books too; if I hadn't, the lighter-than-hydrogen thing wouldn't have been so jarring. And now you've made me wonder what the other glaring flaw is. But in any case, I was pleased to discover while checking on the book for my earlier post that there was a second sequel out in February, and I will go hunting it.

Airborn is only the second book I've read as an adult where I turned around and re-read it immediately after finishing it

I did this with Bujold's The Mountains of Mourning when I first read it in Analog. And I did it with Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief

Oh, and abi @64 - Thank you! That was the best laugh I've had in a long, long time.

#109 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 08:27 AM:

Late to the party, but I'd still like to recommend Hindenburg: An Illustrated History, text by Rick Archbold, paintings by Ken Marschall as a bonanza of images and history not just of the titular zeppelin, but of all dirigibles leading up to it. Not only historic pictures and contemporary illustrations but a complete floorplan of the Hindenburg.

My favorite fact, gleaned from it: the Hindenburg had a smoking room -- it was windowless and negatively pressurized to make sure that no sparks could escape.

Also, pictures of the Hindenburg rooms look strangely modern, partly because most of the furniture was built from aluminum, for the weight savings.

Reading this book, I realized that truly, zeppelin research was the NASA of its day. And also, THAT was the model that early SF extrapolated that spaceships would be like. (And the fact that we call them spaceSHIPS is indeed the same concept that leads the Germans to use FAHREN instead of FLIEGEN.)

#110 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 08:33 AM:

Bruce E. Durocher II @ #41: Wow. I used to collect all these neat structural things that never got used. And I spent some time trying to get people interested in a company I had run across that was injection molding tiny octet truss sections for structural cores. I was able to stand on one of their half-inch-thick samples which looked flimsier than a toothpick model.

OtterB @ #53, and others, down to at least
Erik Nelson @ #77: "Fleury's Ray, from Kipling's With The Night Mail, is an explanation so elaborate you don't notice it doesn't make any sense."
Really good handwaving, as we say, and one of my favorites. The story is available on the net, with the illustrations and the original fake ads designed to run with it, from the same "universe".

Bucky Fuller calculated that you could build workable super-light vacuum-filled structures, if you had a technology that let you make them out of vast numbers of nanoscale geodesic elements. So the actual limit seems to be slightly-heaver-than-vacuum, with trade-offs for making implosions less likely. Maybe lots of vacuum-filled microballoons?

Tom Whitmore @ #78, #79: I am always apalled by the way we throw away helium. I shall avoid ranting here. (Arrrrg!!!!!)

#111 ::: Wayne Fox ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 09:06 AM:

@#92 @#107 yes Will, thanks for the reminder. I do know that and I am indeed grateful but I think my point(s) really here are that I would've liked to have been asked, the answer would've been "Yes!" ofcourse.

My point is perhaps not that I am upset it's perhaps more that in being asked, I could have also added my thoughts to this thread about the damage, etc.

I am not in a grump about this at all, it's just I liked chatting about stuff and if people refer to my images and like using them, I kind-of hoped that they'd reciprocate by at least making contact.

That's all.

#112 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 10:17 AM:

Wayne Fox @111: Conversation moves fast enough that if most authors/artists needed to be contacted first for permission to link to what they have put on the web (and a reply was needed first), by the time the point could have been made, the conversation would have moved on.

It occurred to me that a post-notice would have satisfied the same desire to be included ("Wayne, we were talking about zeppelins over here, and I linked to your photo..."), but even that seems overly fastidious. I get your interest in the topic, hence wanting the join the conversation (and here you are!), but I don't see why this should be the standard.

I have a small portfolio page of animations with links to YouTube (where the actual animations are hosted). Most of the animations are 'public'; most viewings come via YouTube, and not my portfolio page — one has got more than thirty thousand views.

I have a few animations marked 'private'. They are based on tutorial projects, and it is generally considered bad form to demo tutorial projects. I have a specific reason for wanting to do so, and the only way those animations can be viewed is to follow the links from my portfolio page.

I don't know if Flickr supports the same kind of access control.

#113 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 10:49 AM:

Wayne Fox: At the risk of seeming a trifle absolutist... Why did you post the photos if not to be seen?

It's not as if someone had copied it, or somehow hidden the link (I assume you found it because you had a sudden jump in stats for a photo you posted six months ago). Flickr is a public part of the web.

It's not as it if you found someone using it to make money, or as happens to me on occaision (some of my photos have been used on a birdwatching website; I'm not sure how I feel about it, but they are using a Flickr API, and it links back so it's in keeping with the Flickr ToS).

I guess what I don't understand is why someone telling other people, "here's a neat picture" is bothersome. As a photographer I think it's flattering when someone does that.

#114 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 03:44 PM:

Feorag and I had a Gernsback Continuum moment about five years ago, changing planes at Frankfurt.

We were just on our way from one terminal to another when, in a gap between crowds of travellersm we passed a glass picture window overlooking the airport apron. Terminals to either side, with 747s and airbusses drawn up ... and taxi-ing between them was a Junkers-52 trimotor!

Then I looked past it. In the distance, another gleaming terminal building; there was a rapid transit people-carrier moving along its roof in front of the domes of the doppler weather radar (which at that distance looked exactly like a monorail running in front of the geodesic domes), and, circling gracefully over it on final approach, a Zeppelin!

It only lasted about thirty seconds: then the Ju-52 taxi'd out of sight, the Zeppelin vanished behind the terminal, and the ordinary folks reappeared.

No photographs, but I've got a fellow witness.

#115 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 03:54 PM:

Moments later, Charlie is surrounded by black-clad eerily pale men with glowing monocles, one of whom taps Charlie on the forehead with a silver wand and say "forget."

#116 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 05:54 PM:

Would you believe that I've never seen "The Island at the Top of the World"? So much for my being a connaisseur of Silly Cinéma. This film appears to have an exploding zeppelin, Vikings, and an orca. What more could I ask for?

#117 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 07:07 PM:

Don Simpson @ 110

Someone in the early days of nanotechnology research1 computed that you could use vacuum for lighter-than-air craft if the container2 were made of diamondoid. Then Neal Stephenson used the idea in The Diamond Age.

Even if someone developed a viable business model for helium zeppelins, the current world-wide shortage of helium might drive the price up enough to make it non-viable again. With luck that problem will be alleviated in the next few years with more production capacity coming on line.

But there is a whole class of elements lighter than hydrogen: the low-mass positronia such as positronium itself and muonium (the other basic type, tauonium, is a little heavier than monatomic hydrogen). These can exist in monatomic or diatomic forms, though I doubt that anyone has investigated the chemical stability of the monatomic form. Positronium consists of an electron and a positron, muonium consists of an electron and a muon).

Of course, there's a catch. Positronium decays in a very short time when the positron and the electron annihilate, creating 2 very energetic gamma ray photons. So not only will the gas bag collapse, it will also be turned to hot plasma by the gamma rays. Muonium is a little better: it's central muon decays after a couple of microseconds into (usually) an electron and a neutrino/anti-neutrino pair, so the decay products aren't quite as destructive as the positronium gamma rays are, but still, using it in a zeppelin would result in a very short ride.

Handwavium: of course if we postulate some mechanism for stabilizing muonium, we'd have a useful lifting gas, as it has 1/9 the mass of monatomic hydrogen, and approximately the same chemistry.

1 Either Eric Drexler or John Storrs Hall, I forget which, and haven't the will power to go googling to find out just now.
2 Is it a container if there's nothing to contain?

Added in preview: Well, crap, superscripts (e.g., <sup>1</sup>) don't seem to be working. I know they used to, and abi just used them in the original post for Open Thread 123. So what gives?

#118 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 08:28 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 117: The entities "&sup1;", "&sup2;", and "&sup3;" produce superscripted 1, 2, and 3 respectively.

#119 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 08:52 PM:

Serge #116: I'd expect you to ask for an exploding Viking, a flying orca, and a mediaeval zeppelin... One of them will be making a pun.

#120 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 10:43 PM:

Fragano @ 119... an exploding Viking, a flying orca, and a mediaeval zeppelin

Now that would be way too silly even for Phil Foglio.

#121 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 01:42 AM:

Bruce @117:

I can use more complex HTML in writing posts than we get in comments.

We mods tell the masses that it's because the people with the passwords are less likely to use those tags for evil, but really it's just to inflate our tiny, shriveled egos. That's why even quite innocuous things are barred. The power differential allows us some tiny slice of the joys of the mad scientist*.

* Mad scientists are the happiest people on earth. They laugh all the time and they have a driving purpose that keeps them from getting bored. What more, really, does anyone seek?

#122 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 02:13 AM:

OtterB @108 -- It's when our hero is in the cavern full of natural floating-gas. Think about how he breathes.

#123 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 02:32 AM:

abi @ 121 ...
* Mad scientists are the happiest people on earth. They laugh all the time and they have a driving purpose that keeps them from getting bored. What more, really, does anyone seek?

"Wuv... twoo wuv...."

#124 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 02:34 AM:

Abi @ 121... Mad scientists are the happiest people on earth

"For the record, my limit is one mad scientist at a time."
- Peter, son of scientist Walter on TV series Fringe

#125 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 02:39 AM:

"Fire up the electron microscope!"
- Walter, crazy scientist, on Fringe

#126 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 02:41 AM:

"I'm sure Agent Dunham knows what a penis looks like."
- Walter, crazy scientist on Fringe, after his son Peter chides him for not wearing any underwear along with his bathrobe.

#127 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 08:35 AM:

"I ... see. You don't meet many mad social scientists." - Agatha Heterodyne

#128 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 12:46 PM:

Wouldn't a problem with having large numbers of commercial zeppelins in this century be that they're really big, they're pretty slow and they're right up there in the sky where everyone can see them from some distance in good weather, which would make them ideal targets for small, determined groups of people who got themselves RPGs somewhere?

#129 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 01:56 PM:

Raphael writes: ideal targets for small, determined groups of people who got themselves RPGs somewhere?

You mean the scary bands of terrorists who roam the US with truckloads of anti-aircraft missiles?

No, not much of a problem. There are a hundred and one targets terrorists could attack which would get them more bang for their buck than downing Zeppelins.

#130 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 02:04 PM:

I really, honestly read 'RPGs' as "Role Playing Games." Yes, zeps are a GREAT target for people with RPGs! Maybe I'll put them in my GURPS campaign...if I restart it.

#131 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 02:33 PM:

Nial McAulay: As a gedanken experiment, downing a zeppelin wouldn't be all that hard. I can think of a few ways; of the top of my head.

1: It assumes they use hydrogen for lift.

After that, there are a few, off the shelf ways, and a few which require modern machining.

A couple require the use of radios.

I think most of them can be done remotely. If one is certain of the timing several can be done with delays/timers.

All things being equal, an actual RPG (and yes Xopher, when I first started encountering them that's what I thought too. I built a pretty complex context map to avoid that confusion continuing), is both harder (they have some interesting ballistics problems; as well as needing something solid to hit, or they won't go off.) Since the rocket is pretty short lived (maybe the first 150 meters), and the terminus is fixed (900 meters, +/- about 25), at which point they detonate, I'd go for something 1: less flashy (people know where an RPG came from), and 2: with a longer burn time (that, or a shell with an ignited element, as with a tracer; again you have limits. The .50 Caliber Browning has a flying distance of more than 2,500 meters, but an, "effective range" of 800; because the tracers used to control the fall of shot expire about that far, which makes it a lot harder to tell where the slugs are going).

Ok, enough weapons wanking; the short answer is, they are vulnerable, comlex systems aren't needed to exploit that.

#132 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 02:57 PM:

Terry Karney writes (On Zeppelins): they are vulnerable, com(p)lex systems aren't needed to exploit that.

Well yes, but drinking water supplies, gasoline storage depots, train tracks, gas pipelines, crowded venues like sports arenas or megachurches: these are all vulnerable too. The horrible cost of the 9/11 attacks has made people supersensitive to terrorist/flying machine combos, hence all the security theatre at airports, but Zeppelins would not increase the real risk of terrorist attacks. In fact, if the terrorists can be duped into continuing to attack only air transport, blimps would make pretty good cover.

#133 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 03:46 PM:

Niall McAulay: The point of terrorism isn't to kill people; it's to scare them. Balls of flame falling from the sky are more dramatic than a dusting of uranium hexaflouride (and to link to previous comments about John McPhee, The Curve of Binding Energy is a scary book) on a city street.

The latter (like the anthrax) is insidious. Its scary, but it's not dramatic. It doesn't excite the imagination.

#134 ::: Dan Boone ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 04:31 PM:

Wayne Fox in #111 wrote: "I would've liked to have been asked, the answer would've been "Yes!" of course."

Since Wayne sounds like a pretty nice guy, I'll depersonalize this as much as I can. But it's always struck me that any expectation of being asked before people link to one's web resources is a manifestation of a form of mild insanity, or at least severe eccentricity.

Linking to stuff is what the web is for. It's built right into the design. It's what makes one chunk of the internet the World Wide Web, instead of something else.

I'd argue that permission to link -- freely and without prior contact -- is not implicit but rather is explicit in the act of making something available on a server that responds to http requests. In fact, it's not just permission, but solicitation. Putting it on the server is asking "Please link to me." Objecting when somebody does just that? It's like yelling at the people who stop to look at your lawn ornaments. They're lawn ornaments, people looking at them (casually, freely, without prior arrangement or subsequent notification) is why they're in the middle of your lawn instead of, say, your basement.

#135 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 05:46 PM:

Dan Boone @ #134, when I put up a team history of a long-gone AAA baseball team from Hawai'i, here's what I said in my introduction:

While surfing the web one day, I thought of those days [when attending games at Aloha Stadium in 1978], and went looking for some information about the team and its players. To my surprise, there was very little. It was as though a franchise with nearly 30 years of history hadn't existed, and that seemed wrong, so I decided to build a page or two about it. This is the result.

If you were kind you could say I was being altruistic; if not so kind you could say I was being narcissistic. The impetus was partly the former and partly a desire to use HTML and learn how to create web pages.

#136 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 06:01 PM:

Linkmeister, #135: ISTM also that you were putting up those pages in order to fill a perceived gap -- so that if other people were looking for information about that team, now they would be able to find some. Which in turn suggests that you were thinking in terms of creating a web resource.

#137 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 06:48 PM:

Lee @ #136, well, that's true. I used to get an e-mail every other month saying thanks; once I even got photocopies of the original stock certificates for the parent company (which I'm reminded I haven't scanned and uploaded).

#138 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 07:52 PM:

Bill Higgins @98, sorry, I meant to say 'Thanks' before for finding that information.
Again, something remembered more presently because it was filmed, perhaps.

#139 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 10:08 AM:

Daniel Klein@10: it wasn't brief but it was informative, in the way only someone passionate can be.

Too bad it started with utter and complete lies. This is the bestest pen and paper rpg ever (forget about the setting, it's all about the rules).

I'll cordially await for a duel time of your aproval.

(Or we can conclude that Houses of the Blooded has the better system, and Spirit of the Century is the better game as in "better fluff and rules equilibrium", and share some coffee. Damn it, I off-dueled myself again !)

Xopher@130: I once had a whole conversation start based on this qui pro quo. Felt awkward ("RPGs' main interrest is that they are cheap and easily available due to mass production".)

#140 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 02:03 PM:

It sounds like fanfic for Houses of the Blooded could be extraordinary. Has the game spawned any apazines?

#141 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 04:06 PM:

#131 ::: Terry Karney --

Actually, I'd think an airship would be pretty much immune to conventional terrorist attacks.

Explosives? You'd just rupture a gas cell or two, and the whole thing would settle to the ground. Structural elements? Ditto.

Bullets? Calculate how long it would take a significant amount of gas to leak through a little round hole. Remember, the gas pressure is only a tiny bit above atmospheric. Bullet holes would probably only get noticed at a regular examination.

Using hydrogen as a lifting gas complicates things. While hydrogen burns like crazy, IIRC the hydrogen/oxygen mixture to get an explosion is pretty critical -- not the sort of thing you'd get with a terrorist device. Still, if a hydrogen gas cell ruptured and the hydrogen caught fire, you'd want to be far, far away. Fortunately, the traditional weapon for doing this (a biplane firing tracer bullets) is not a big favorite of terrorists. (It also violates the "far, far away" restriction.)

Overall, I'd say that an airship (even one using hydrogen as a lifting gas) would be more resistant to terrorist attack than a conventional aircraft. (Against *military* attack, as opposed to terrorist attack, they're both toast.)

The biggest defense against terrorism, of course, is the "sexiness factor". Bringing down a passenger airship in a huge ball of fire would be a major terrorist coup; bringing down an industrial heavy- lift airship (the main application I've seen described), much less so.

#142 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 05:16 PM:

lightnig: Yes, with helium, no worries.

But with hydrogen... it only took a couple of rounds of tracer to get the balloons of WW1 burning. It seems that H+Air, at the point of entry = Whoomph, if there is spark.

For Balloons this wasn't a big deal Hydrogen burns up, and gravity pulls down. Static Shoots and the observers were fine (assuming they weren't hurt by stray bullets in the attack).

All of the methods which came to mine, have open flame, or some other ignition source at the point of breach. The hardest thing is to puncture the bag. Given the contraints (hydrogen can only lift so much), it's not likely they will be all that armored.

For drama, it's hard to beat things going up in sudden flames.

#143 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 06:41 PM:

Prof. Fragano writes in #116:

Serge #116: I'd expect you to ask for an exploding Viking, a flying orca, and a mediaeval zeppelin... One of them will be making a pun.

The flying orca is easy.

As for Exploding Vikings... well, wouldn't Alfred Nobel have been descended from Vikings? And he exploded a lot (granted, in the transitive, not intransitive, sense of the verb).

And, finally, from Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis:

And there was something decidedly medieval about Led Zeppelin, with their velvet clothes, the lizard boots, the fur jackets, their pointed English noses,and long flowing hair.

#144 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 07:04 PM:

#142 ::: Terry Karney --

The WWI observation balloons were, near as I can tell, simple cloth bags filled with hydrogen. I'd imagine that it should be fairly straightforward* to engineer a structure that wouldn't go up in a fireball from a tracer bullet.

Did anybody ever shoot tracer bullets at a Zeppelin? They were used as bombers, after all.

* Not that I expect anybody to try. The picture at the start of this post is all any politician will ever be interested in seeing.

#145 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 08:48 PM:

lightening: That engineering is the trick, in't?

There was quite a bit of effort made to shoot them down,even though the effect of the zeppelin raids was more emotional than really destructive.

The first one "shot down" was destroyed by dropping bombs into it.

The next was detroyed over England, with tracers: (excerpt from the patrol report)Remembering my last failure, I sacrificed height (I was at about 12,900 feet) for speed and nosed down in the direction of the Zeppelin. I saw shells bursting and night tracers flying around it. When I drew closer I noticed that the anti- aircraft aim was too high or too low; also a good many shells burst about 800 feet behind-a few tracers went right over. I could hear the bursts when about 3,000 feet from the Zeppelin. I flew about 800 feet below it from bow to stem and distributed one drum among it (alternate New Brock and Pomeroy). It seemed to have no effect; I therefore moved to one side and gave them another drum along the side - also without effect. I then got behind it and by this time I was very close - 500 feet or less below, and concentrated one drum on one part (underneath rear). I was then at a height of 11,500 feet when attacking the Zeppelin.

I had hardly finished the drum before I saw the part fired at, glow. In a few seconds the whole rear part was blazing. When the third drum was fired, there were no searchlights on the Zeppelin, and no and-aircraft was firing. I quickly got out of the way of the falling, blazing Zeppelin and, being very excited, fired off a few red Very lights and dropped a parachute flare.

Having little oil or petrol left, I returned to Sutton's Farm, landing at 2.45 a.m. On landing, I found the Zeppelin gunners had shot away the machine-gun wire guard, the rear part of my centre section, and had pierced the main spar several times.

I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
(Signed) W. Leefe-Robinson, Lieutenant
No. 39 Squadron, R.F.C.

Leefe-Robinson survived the war, but died of influenza in Jan., 1918.

After that, both air and ground defenses got the hang of it, and the zeppelins were pretty regularly shot down. The last raid on London was in 1917, of the 11 zeppelins sent out, five were lost (four definitively shot down, the last lost; presumed shot down).

They were really vulnerable to incendiary/tracer ammunition. Had the equipment to fly at night been better, they'd have been in even less effective than they were.

#146 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 09:15 PM:

Terry Karney @142: "for drama, it's hard to beat things going up in sudden flames."

Which brings us back to the Hindenburg. There was more than one film camera present. The newsreels and the radio commentary were all over America the next day and the world within a week or so. This happened before our grandparent's eyes. (the present-day equivalents are too obvious to spell out) That's probably why it completely scuppered all civilian Zeppelin work for fifty years or more.

The commentary dubbed onto the film makes a spectacular and scary 75 seconds. I'm sure we've all seen it on TV or YouTube multiple times. It all happens so fast. "Oh, the humanity".

But that had never happened before. We have live recordings from the period from staged events like state funerals or the Oscars, but this was the very begining of live recording of news as it happens - the cameras and the radio men were only there because the arrival was a staged event, it was meant to be part of a PR campaign for the Zeppelin company.

And as someone said upthread the amazing thing is that most people on board survived. The fire actually shows how *safe* airships are.

#147 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 09:29 PM:

I used to think 'Led Zeppelin' was a mistake, and intended as one of those heavy-metal juxtapositions of the heavy and the light, like 'Iron Butterfly'.

But recently I've realized the meant it exactly as they said. As opposed to a self-powered Zeppelin wandering aimlessly, you see.

#148 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 09:43 PM:

Lightning writes in #141:

Bullets? Calculate how long it would take a significant amount of gas to leak through a little round hole. Remember, the gas pressure is only a tiny bit above atmospheric. Bullet holes would probably only get noticed at a regular examination.

Tullio Proni once talked to some airshipmen in Florida, where blimps often winter.

According to them, bullet holes appear in commercial blimps all the time.

They represent a slow loss of helium, and don't affect the lift much.

I do find the story discouraging. It caused me to lose a little of my faith in human nature.

Regarding hydrogen:

Long ago, I observed an attempt to levitate human beings with a cluster of large hydrogen-filled plastic bags.

At the end of the (partially successful) afternoon, it was decided to dispose of these bags by tethering them to a weight, and shooting bottle rockets into them.

Flaming bottle rockets would pierce the bag, bounce off the inner surface, and burn themselves out. The 100% hydrogen atmosphere within the bag had no interest in ignition.

Only when a bag was opened, air forced in with a reversed vacuum cleaner, and the bag resealed again, did we have a mixture which would make a satisfying BANG! when struck by a bottle rocket.

#149 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 09:53 PM:

Bill Higgins @ #148, you don't have to look to zeppelins with bullet holes to get discouraged about human nature. Look at any Stop sign in a semi-rural area for bullet markings, and in any urban area for graffiti on similar signs.

#150 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 09:54 PM:

Xopher @ 147: It's self-deprecating humor, as in "will go over like a lead balloon."

#151 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 10:01 PM:

My observation is that the taggers will mark anything that moves slower than they do: trees, signs, sidewalks and curbs, newspaper boxes, chain-link fences, bridges with drops that would probably result in death (either from hitting concrete, or from being run over).

I tend to think of them as the two-legged version of stray dogs.

#152 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 10:30 PM:

Ken@146: your description of the spread of visuals reminds me of another way that the disaster became a referent: in Runthrough
(the first volume of his autobiography) John Houseman wrote that the actor playing the on-site announcer early in the War of the Worlds broadcast played the tapes of someone narrating the Hindenberg disaster to get the feel of choked horror that Welles was looking for.

#153 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 10:38 PM:

Retrieving from thread-drift: can anyone who agrees with the above comments about Anathem say \why/ the last chapter makes a difference? The only significant change in perspective that I recall came rather earlier, and wasn't much. I admit I was underimpressed by the work -- I didn't quite believe the society, and the info-dumps seemed clumsier than usual -- but I'm curious to know what others found impressive. Please rot-13 if you think it will spoil others' enjoyment.

#154 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 10:40 PM:

P J Evans @151: My observation is that the taggers will mark anything that moves slower than they do [..]

Or faster: I got sprayed passing a group of kids on a bicycle.

I think it was a can of Lysol. My theory was that they wanted to be taken to be a gang that was tagging; but they didn't actually want to get into any trouble.

#155 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 11:04 PM:

re human nature: The the LAPD reports that they have shots fired at the choppers on a regular basis.

#156 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 11:53 PM:

#145 ::: Terry Karney --

Fascinating! Thanks! Seems that it took a lot of tracers to bring down a Zeppelin.

Of course, engineer a hydrogen- filled airship that's immune to tracer bullets and somebody'd find another way to start a fire. In a war zone, an airship is just a big, fat, slow, juicy target.

Nobody sell SPADs to Al Qaeda, OK?

#157 ::: JHomes ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 12:58 AM:

Terry Karney @155:

It can be worse. The incident that got public use of rocket fireworks banned here in New Zealand was someone firing them at a helicopter, while said helicopter was engaged in fire-fighting duties with a monsoon bucket (which I suppose ties back to spoiling it for the rest of us).


#158 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 05:00 AM:

Reading Leefe-Robinson's report, up-thread.

He's using a Lewis Gun. The standard infantry drum magazine was 47 rounds. Ought to check, but aircraft Lewis Guns used 97-round magazines. And at least one pilot, while trying to change the drum in flight, rolled inverted and discovered his seat-belt wasn't fastened. Luckily the recalcitrant drum stayed attached to the gun.

.(Sounds like a grade-A line-shoot, doesn't it.)

"Brock" and ""Pomeroy" were early types of explosive bullet. It wasn't until 1940 that the RAF had a really effective incendiary bullet, but the "Buckingham" bullet worked well enough.

Some good info is towards the end of this page.

On fighter aircraft, the Lewis Gun was mounted over the top wing, clear of the propellor arc, on a mount which allowed it to be pulled within reach to change drums. Unlike a synchronised Vickers, you got the full cyclic rate.

Here, read part of a manual

Or buld your own..

You can find your own link for the Stormtrooper with a Lewis Gun in the original Star Wars movie,

#159 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 05:24 AM:

"I ... see. You don't meet many mad social scientists." - Agatha Heterodyne

ObSF: "The Snowball Effect", about a sociologist who formalises the drivers for organisational growth, and - after they LAUGH AT HIM at the University - decides to SHOW THEM by inculcating them into the Watashaw Ladies' Sewing Circle, which rapidly expands into a world government.

#160 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 05:53 AM:

lightning @ #156 writes: Nobody sell SPADs to Al Qaeda, OK?

[insert Sopwith Camel joke here]

#162 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 08:14 AM:

ajay @ 159 ...
ObSF: "The Snowball Effect", about a sociologist who formalises the drivers for organisational growth, and - after they LAUGH AT HIM at the University - decides to SHOW THEM by inculcating them into the Watashaw Ladies' Sewing Circle, which rapidly expands into a world government.

Y'know, I can't read "Sewing Circle" without finishing "and terrorist society"...

#163 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 08:18 AM:

The Nimrod MR-2 is the Maritime Reconnaissance one, which has since grown various overland recce capabilities with radars and cameras. The R-1 is like a British RIVET JOINT, which is presumably why we're taking them out of service...

MRA-4 is the upgraded version once known as "Nimrod 2000".

One of the reasons why the last point is funny is that the MRA4s are not new build, but remanufactured. Part of the rework included a new wing. BAE looked up the old De Havilland and Hawkers drawings, designed the new wing to fit on their computers, and cut the alloy. When they came to attach the first new wing to an airframe, trouble. Doesn't fit.

What? Try another airframe. It still doesn't fit, but it doesn't fit in a different way. So on and so forth with all 18 jets.

Explanation: Back in 1968, Hawkers used to shape the wing panels and for that matter the fuselage elements as well on wooden formers, with HAMMERS. Every aeroplane was very much unique:-)

Meanwhile, the R101 didn't blow up - it flew into a hill. And no discussion of airships is complete without R34, the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic from East to West, and only the second aircraft to cross the Atlantic at all. Major E.M. Pritchard became the first man to arrive in the New World by air, parachuting into Long Island to make the complicated arrangements for docking an airship.

I hope he said "Take me to your leader!"

The arrangements were indeed complicated, and a few years later they went wrong one dark and stormy night in Yorkshire, and the R34 was wrecked at her moorings.

#164 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 10:42 AM:

lightning: I don't know how many rounds it took. At most he fired 300 (assuming the aircraft drum (97 rouds, instead of 47 was in use). What the ratio of Brock (and explosive round) to tracer was I don't know (and that's assuming there was no standard ball in the mix).

Assuming (and it's not the best assumption) he had a 100 percent hit rate, and it was a 50-50 mix, that' between 50-150 rounds (beacuse in his full report he says he made two other passes; but they didn't seem as likley, when I read it, to have been all that productive of hits).

#165 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2009, 06:27 PM:

#164 ::: Terry Karney --

It was more than one. Point I'm getting at is that a hydrogen filled airship isn't going to go all Hindenburg without a great deal of help.

#166 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 12:29 AM:

I'm way behind on reading stuff here... nonetheless....

The Hindenburg was a dirigible, not a blimp, in case no one mentioned that before--dirigibles have rigid structure, blimps have non-rigid gasbags.

The US military operated blimps for a number of years, including for reconnaissance platforms, and throughout the 1980s at least kept, er, floating ideas for unattended large airships (which category includes both dirigible and blimps) for long-duration reconnaissance, for "airborne restoral relay" communications platforms, and I forget what else--I did some research on it in the early 1980s. Lockheed had designs and was willing to build if/when funding came through, which of course wasn't happening, the fixed wing piloted by people on-board lobby pilots' benevolent club, was very much against unattended air vehicles, because it threatened their status as pilots.... it also threatened I surmise thinking back, the fixed wing very high priced military aircraft business manufacturers business models and ways of doing business.

So, over the years I got ever more cynical about the prospects of airships--it wasn't a technical issue, it was a social one, and an installed base issue also, and hysteresis issue. Once the airships were gone, trying to bring them back... the support structure wasn't there, the advocacy wasn't there, the infrastructure wasn't there.....

It occurred to me a few months back, that if I ever became filthy rich, I would -commission- a large airship, and have it be the airborne equivalent of the Tucker Hotel... and I'd go about the world traveling in it, inviting friends to come along and have a continuously running convention....

This is not likely to happen. But still....

#167 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 12:51 AM:

#131 Terry

I'm fairly certain that your assumptions are off regarding airship vulnerability analysis.


I seem to recall that Nimrods performed some of the functions that E-2C Hawkeye aircraft perform in the US military, though I could be wrong about that.

#168 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 02:31 AM:

A related "despairing of human nature" item -- green laser pointers are becoming a serious issue for airports, given the number of people who think it's funny to target the cockpit windows of incoming and outgoing aircraft. It appears to be the same mindset behind the bulletholes in commercial blimps, and it appears to be in at least some cases in full awareness of the possible consequences.

#169 ::: Antonia T. Tiger ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 07:35 AM:

I managed to get a Zeppelin into my NaNoWriMo effort.

Well, a rigid airship. Wood framed and built in an AH version of British Columbia.

For sundry plot reasons, it carried a flight of scout biplanes, a motor-torpedo-boat, and a bunch of Commando-types across the Pacific, tracking a bunch of Chinese pirates to their lair.

(Terry will know why the MTB happens to be named "Mongoose".)

It turns out that the pirates are backed by the IJN, think Chinese warlords. And the pirates aren't even trying to conceal their business from the officers and crews of the two destroyers which happen to be there.

Add the British diplomat who used to be in the Indian Army, and who, in the guise of a pathan, leads a very undiplomatic[1] boarding party, and I think I managed to tick most of the boxes in the pulp adventure fiction category.

Pre-WW2, airships are the only aircraft around which can shadow a suspicious freighter across the Pacific.

[1] Cut down the handle of a spade, and sharpen the edges. British soldiers on trench raids were doing this before the Spetsnaz ever thought of it.

#170 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 09:47 AM:

Earl Cooley III@140: It sounds like fanfic for Houses of the Blooded could be extraordinary. Has the game spawned any apazines?

Not that I know, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't eventually the case. The community's still barely burgeoning though.

#171 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 10:54 AM:

I wonder if I still have the tape of that documentary about modern airships. I seem to remember that the problem with large airships was solved by using ballonets instad of a single envelope.

#172 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 11:21 AM:

Non-rigid airships use a ballonet to compensate for pressure changes. Back in the '14-'18 war the British non-rigids had a scoop catching some of the prop-wash to pretty-well automatically maintain the ballonet at the right pressure.

Don't forget semi-rigids, which usually had a keel-structure, and possibly stiffening for the nose and tail to deal with the aerodynamic loads which can do nasty things to a non-rigid if you try to go too fast, or make them too long.

#175 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 12:13 PM:

Julia #168:

Yep. Also, it's not uncommon for hobbyists/vandals to impersonate air traffic control on the radio. I gather that sometimes, they manage to keep a pilot believing they're talking to ATC for quite a while before being found out.

An important thing to understand here involves different parts of the distribution of personalities or tendencies or whatever in the population. For elections, you care about the middle of the distribution, the averages. For markets, you mostly care about averages, but also about reasonably large slices of the market. But for crime/vandalism, and much more so for assassination/terrorism, you care about outliers. (A lot of innovation in science and technology also has this kind of pattern.) The folks at the one in a million level of commitment and crazy will almost never be in position to change an election outcome, but they're often important because of their willingness to do crazy sh-t like assassinate abortionists or blow themselves up on crowded busses.

ISTM that the green laser pointer, phantom controller, bullet through the airplane/airship people are somewhere in the range of serious outliers, but maybe not far enough out there to actually blow up a building or shoot up an airport or whatever.

#176 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 12:21 PM:


At first I read "was solved by using bayonets instad of a single envelop".

Giant airships made of knives (and, oviously, made to be fitted on giant cannons !).

Good Lord.

#177 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 12:25 PM:

MD² @: "Giant airships made of knives "

..well, clearly, that's how one circumcises the world.

#178 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 12:50 PM:

Ginger @ 177... that's how one circumcises the world

In a (b)limp?

#179 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2009, 12:57 PM:

Serge #179: One certainly wouldn't be rigid in those, ahem, circumstances.

#180 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2009, 09:07 AM:

177: certainly an improvement on Magellan, who, as we all know, used a clipper.

#181 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2009, 09:11 AM:

It occurred to me a few months back, that if I ever became filthy rich, I would -commission- a large airship, and have it be the airborne equivalent of the Tucker Hotel... and I'd go about the world traveling in it, inviting friends to come along and have a continuously running convention...

Paula, that's a fine idea, and my only criticism is that you have missed a great opportunity to make a reference to the Permanent Floating Riot Club.
(Also that letting your average con committee near the controls of an immense aircraft might be... interesting. They'd need moderation. Making Lighter Than Air.)

#182 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2009, 10:13 AM:

ajay @ 181... Making Lighter Than Air

That would explain the background in this photo of Patrick.

#184 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2009, 03:12 PM:

Dave @183, Zeppelins versus Pterodactyls! (from August 2007 Particles)

#185 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2009, 01:20 PM:

I see that Pixar has engaged the Airship Ventures zeppelin to advertise their new* lighter-than-air adventure film Up.

* I almost said "upcoming..."

#186 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2009, 07:45 PM:

For more information about the
Hindenburg and the Hindenburg disaster.

#187 ::: Ernest Adams ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 01:46 PM:

After considerable thought, I have concluded that Fleury's Gas is better than hydrogen not because it is less dense -- it cannot be -- but because it offers anti-gravity when in gaseous form.

We know that in liquid form Fleury's Gas -- which really should be called Fleury's Liquid or just Fleury's Substance -- flows downhill. In gaseous form, however, it provides lift. It can do this even when under high pressure, as we know. Any other gas under high pressure does not provide lift, because its density increases until it's greater than that of air. Fleury's Gas does not behave this way, and that suggests that its lift derives from another source, and I think this is antigravity.

Ordinarily, Fleury's Gas, like helium, rises and departs the atmosphere, never to return. Like helium again, Fleury's Gas is probably to be found in underground pockets near radioactive minerals. This keeps it in liquid form and permits extraction. Once it has been pumped away from the radiation, it turns to gas and rises of its own accord, where it can be conveniently captured and stored for use in airships.

Fleury's Gas may be related to Cavorite.

#188 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 02:30 PM:

Now that's an obscure reference! I certainly didn't remember it as the substance from Kipling's "With the Night Mail." And it's a weird bit just to drop into conversation, even about dirigible airships.

Are you trying to alert us to Mr. Kipling's status as a proto-Steampunk author?

#189 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2010, 02:55 PM:

Ernest Adams @ 187...

Speaking of cavorite, the recent BBC version of "First Men in the Moon" seems rather dull. Of course all I saw was the coming attraction, but... Those usually make a story look better.

That being said...
Welcome to these parts.

#190 ::: Ernest Adams ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 07:13 PM:

Well, I don't really know when "steampunk" is supposed to end. "With the Night Mail" is set in the year 2000, and includes electric lights and radio telephony (not just radio Morse code). Not a whiff of steam.

Someone else mentioned Fleury's Ray, so I thought it would be OK to talk about it. I'm considering writing a short essay analyzing Kipling's method of propulsion, which seems to violate at least three scientific laws. Fleury's Gas is apparently anti-gravitational; Fleury's Ray causes the gas to condense instantaneously to a liquid by putting energy into it; and the entire system, barring the trivial amount of energy put in, seems to be a perpetual motion machine. The science is so imaginatively, wonderfully wrong that I think it deserves a closer look, which is more than the august members of the Kipling Society have bothered to give it.

I'm rather a fan of airships; a couple of years back I designed a video game for mobility-impaired people which was an airship combat flight simulator.

#191 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 08:43 PM:

Ernest Adams #190: I haven't read the book, but I'm not sure your second item actually breaks any laws... if the liquid form is a higher-energy state (which would admittedly be exotic in its own right) that would work. Also, there would be other side-effects to that oddity -- the liquid would be unstable, and prone to explosions.

Commenting on your third item: Perpetual-motion machines are easy to build with a carelessly conceived anti-gravity machine! most people don't realize just how much energy is implied by lifting large weights to great heights.

#192 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2010, 11:04 PM:

Well, Ernest Adams, this would certainly be a place to talk about it! And, as others might say, do you write poetry? Aside from the local connection, any good Kipling fan should try his hand at doggerel now and again....

#193 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 12:52 PM:

And the WSJ reports an attempt to have a blimp race around the world this morning, so perhaps it is time to revive this thread.

#194 ::: Ernest Adams ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 08:05 PM:

I have written very little poetry in my life and I would be reluctant to reveal it in public.

I can write pastiches of other authors' fiction if they have a distinctive enough style; I've had some success with Patrick O'Brian and Arthur Conan Doyle. Kipling, though, is beyond me. The man won a Nobel Prize for a reason.

I don't know any way to make a gas condense to a liquid besides cooling it or putting it under pressure. Fleury's Ray doesn't seem to do either one. On the other hand, my knowledge of these things begins and ends with high school chemistry. The only reason I dare write about it at all is that I think I know more high school chemistry than Kipling did.

#195 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2010, 09:33 PM:

Well, what's taught in high schools has changed a great deal since the Victorian days anyway!

Actually, there are situations where a vapor liquefies without either a pressure or temperature change happening at the time the liquefaction starts -- a supersaturated vapor (like a supersaturated liquid) will liquefy at nucleation sites without a change of temperature or pressure. This is what leads to the formation of rain when a cloud is seeded by adding powder to it (and pretty much what happen in clouds all the time). So let's postulate a gas that is somewhat like water transitioning from liquid to solid, in that water is at its densest in a liquid form; if the gas would liquefy when a particular wavelength of light caused the potential nucleation centers to become activated in terms of their ability to grab the molecules of Fleury's gas, that might have the effect you're looking for. Assume the gas isn't at all uniform when considered at the molecular level, and all sorts of things become possible.

All speculation on my part.

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