was a non-rigid airship
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or "lighter-than-air aircraft" that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust mechanisms...
built by Mutin Godard in France in 1906
This is a list of aviation-related events from 1906:- January :*17 January – The Zeppelin LZ2 makes its first flight, which ends in a forced landing.*18 January – The Zeppelin LZ2 is destroyed in high winds.- March :...
for Walter Wellman
Walter Wellman was an American journalist, explorer, and aëronaut, born at Mentor, Ohio, and educated in the public schools.- Biographical background :...
's attempt to reach the North Pole
The North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is, subject to the caveats explained below, defined as the point in the northern hemisphere where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface...
by air. Wellman had been inspired to fly to the pole during a failed overland attempt in 1893. When he saw a French dirigible at the Portsmouth Peace Conference in 1905, he believed that he had found his solution. He listed the Wellman Chicago Record Herald Polar Expedition as a public company to raise the $US 250,000 required for the expedition and ordered his airship (publisher Frank Noyes himself contributed $75,000).
As originally constructed, the America
was 165 ft (50.3 m) long and 51 ft 10 in (15.8 m) at its greatest diameter and enclosed a volume of 258,000 cu ft (7,300 m³) of hydrogen. The envelope was of three layers of fabric and three of rubber, and contained no internal formwork. The gondola could hold a crew of five, and power was supplied by three internal-combustion engines delivering a total of 80 hp (60 kW) to two propellers, one fore and one aft. It was delivered by ship to Spitsbergen
Spitsbergen is the largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. Constituting the western-most bulk of the archipelago, it borders the Arctic Ocean, the Norwegian Sea and the Greenland Sea...
on July 8, 1906 where Wellman and his team attempted to erect it. Their efforts met with failure when the engines fell apart. In September, the America
was dismantled and returned by ship to France.
Wellman returned to Spitsbergen with the America
in June the following year, 1907. The airship had a new centre-section sewn into it to increase its length to 185 ft (56.4 m) and volume to 272,000 cu ft (7,700 m³). The weather was very unfavourable, however, and it was 2 September before the America
could even leave the hangar. Wasting no time, Wellman launched later that day with mechanic Melvin Vaniman
thumb|200px|right|Drawing of the air ship Akron in which Vaniman lost his lifeChester Melvin Vaniman was an American photographer, adventurer and businessman who specialized in panoramic images taken from heights. Born to a farming family in Virden, Illinois, he was the eldest of four sons, and...
and navigator Felix Riesenberg
Felix Riesenberg was an American maritime officer and writer of maritime professional, historical, and fictional literature in the early 20th Century.-Biography:...
in an attempt to reach the pole. Unfortunately, more bad weather forced this to be abandoned after only a few miles and the America
was deflated to avoid a crash landing. America
once again returned to France for repairs.
She returned to Spitsbergen one more time in July 1909, and at 10 AM on 15 August, launched with Wellman, Vaniman, Russian balloonist Nicolas Popov and Vaniman's nephew Louis Loud on board. The flight began well enough, but two hours and 40 miles (64 km) later, a device Wellman called the "equilibrator" failed. This was a long, leather tube filled with ballast that was intended to help gauge and maintain a fixed altitude over the ice. America
gained altitude rapidly, until brought under control at 5,000 ft (1,500 m) and gradually lowered back to the ground by venting hydrogen. The crew was rescued by the Norwegian steamer Fram
Fram is a ship that was used in expeditions of the Arctic and Antarctic regions by the Norwegian explorers Fridtjof Nansen, Otto Sverdrup, Oscar Wisting, and Roald Amundsen between 1893 and 1912...
. Wellman began plans to extend the hangar so that he could return the following year with a larger airship, but on learning of Dr Frederick Cook
Frederick Albert Cook was an American explorer and physician, noted for his claim of having reached the North Pole on April 21, 1908. This would have been a year before April 6, 1909, the date claimed by Robert Peary....
's claim to have reached the pole, abandoned the adventure.
Instead, Wellman resolved to make the first aerial crossing of the Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...
. He had the America
enlarged again, now to 345,000 cu ft (9,760 m³). A spark gap
A spark gap consists of an arrangement of two conducting electrodes separated by a gap usually filled with a gas such as air, designed to allow an electric spark to pass between the conductors. When the voltage difference between the conductors exceeds the gap's breakdown voltage, a spark forms,...
radio set was added to the underhanging life boat and operator Jack Irwin used it during the flight, callsign "W", and with the frame of the airship as the antenna. Given the hydrogen used for lifting the craft this was a very dangerous system. The unit made some of the very first air-to-ground transmissions.
On 15 October 1910
This is a list of aviation-related events from 1910:- Events :*The first night flights take place.*Races between aeroplanes and cars are only won by racing cars....
takeoff was made from Atlantic City. Condensing water on the airship's skin added excess weight, and it was difficult to gain height. A passing storm also made forward navigation difficult. The engines failed 38 hours into the flight, apparently due to contamination by beach sand, and America
drifted. The crew jettisoned all excess weight, including one of the defunct engines. The ship had gone as far as a point east of New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state was named after the southern English county of Hampshire. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian...
and south of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the most populous province in Atlantic Canada. The name of the province is Latin for "New Scotland," but "Nova Scotia" is the recognized, English-language name of the province. The provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the...
before floating generally south.
After another 33 hours, and having now traveled a total distance of 1,370 miles (2,200 km) from launching, they sighted the Royal Mail steamship Trent
west of Bermuda
Bermuda is a British overseas territory in the North Atlantic Ocean. Located off the east coast of the United States, its nearest landmass is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, about to the west-northwest. It is about south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and northeast of Miami, Florida...
. After attracting the ship's attention by a signaling lamp using Morse code
Morse code is a method of transmitting textual information as a series of on-off tones, lights, or clicks that can be directly understood by a skilled listener or observer without special equipment...
, Irwin made the first aerial distress call by radio. The crew, and mascot cat "Kiddo", got into the lifeboat and, after opening the gas valves on the airship, abandoned the America
drifted out of sight and was never seen again. Trent
, having barely avoided running down the lifeboat in a high crosswind, was able to rescue the crew and returned them to New York. The first successful aerial crossings of the Atlantic came nine years later.