Problems of the Air
The World, the Air, and the Future. By Commander Sir Dennis Burney. (Knopf. 21s. ) IN spite of the surface similarity between these books, they deal with unrelated subjects ; the first with commercial aviation, chiefly as it concerns airships ; the other for the most part with the defence of London • from aerial attack.
Sir Dennis Burney, in his bold and broad-minded contribution to the linked questions of world peace and air development,
repeatedly emphasizes the need for a sane internationalism in aviation. By internationalism Sir Dennis means no more and no less than that nowadays no nation can any longer hope
to develop itself independently of, or at the expense of, its neighbours ; it means more collaboration and broader horizons, especially in aviation, which is " slowly but surely breaking down the barriers of separation all over the world and preparing the way for a United States of Europe."
" Every improvement [he -writes] in our method of communication means a speeding up in the tempo of life, and thus creates a demand for its own intensive development. We are, as it were, in the grip of our own inventions, and each great technical triumph gained over the obstacle of distance exercises a dynamic influence over the whole movement of civilisation. Now if, as is manifest, the aeroplane and airship provide the quickest mode of covering distance that has yet been devised, it means that they are going to be a dominating factor in determining the trend of the contemporary world. It means that they are going to create the conditions of their own develop- ment. Indirectly and without our altogether realising it, they will dictate policies, transform issues, solve old problems in new ways."
It is not surprising, perhaps, that Sir Dennis should be an enthusiastic advocate of international control for aviation, nor that he should see in flying vast possibilities for peace ; but we were at first surprised by his very frank avowal of the difficulties that airship construction has had and still has to meet. Sir Dennis admits that neither his airship, the R. 100, nor the Government's R. 101 will come up to the original expectations of their designers. Their speeds will be about eighty and seventy miles an hour respectively and that is not enough to meet the various weather conditions that are to be expected
on Empire air-routes. To increase the speed up to ninety miles an hour or more, larger ships will be required—probably
weighing 850 tons as against the present 150 tons—and this increase in size would render them even more unmanageable than at present, unless various revolutionary changes in design and handling were introduced. Already the R. 100 (whose size is roughly that of Northumberland Avenue) requires a crew of 200 men to manager her on the ground, and R. 101 is doubtless no easier to control. It would seem at first sight, therefore, as if the tax-payer has received very little for the £2,000,000 of public money expended on these two airships. If this were all• Sir Dennis would indeed be a prophet of woe, but he makes it abundantly clear that we have by no meang heard the last of the airship. The R. 100 and R. 101 claim to be stronger and safer than the Graf Zeppelin, and the experience gained in their construction, and to be gained in their operation, will stand us in good stead in the future. If an initial setback were now to discourage us, we should be untrue to everything in our national temperament.
During the building of R. 100 Sir Dennis has been concen- trating on three problems of the future, to be embodied in the next airship : increasing the cruising speed from seventy to ninety miles an hour ; inventing some mechanical device for docking, independent of man-power ; and designing an airship that can alight at places at which no special preparation has been made.
Sir Dennis is confident, from experiments with working models, that there is an answer to each of these difficulties. His " Howden Propulsion System " gives a 65 per cent. increase of propulsive efficiency, without increase of weight. His " Mooring and Docking Raft " is an ingenious device whereby the airship is clasped in rotating jaws along its horizontal equator. The mast then folds up, and the whole raft slides on rails into dock. But neither of these improvements would be of any avail as long as the airship has to be tethered, as at present, to a mooring mast. So Sir Dennis has made an " Elliptical Ship," which will be oval instead of cigar-shaped- more like a sole than a pike—and provided with self-filling floats. She will be driven down to sea-level under her engine power and giant scoops will flood each of her tanks with 120 tons of water, holding her securely. By these means both " valving gas " and the discarding of large quantities of ballast will be avoided. The ship will be more economical to operate, more laterally stable and possess greater dynamic lift. It will, further (and this is the great point), be able to land anywhere upon water and therefore enable us to operate by air over our sea-routes.
The technical difficulties in the way of airship operation are many, but there is no reason why they should not be overcome. We may become the carriers of the world by air as we are to-day by sea : in that lies our hope of keeping our place in the world of the future. The vexed question of the aeroplane versus airship is one that laymen are not qualified to discuss ; and we shall not attempt to do so here ; we can, however, recommend our readers to the chapter by Mr. N. S. Norway, on heavier-than-air craft. The aeroplane and the airship are necessary for our future trade. The one will complement the other. " Flying with us is still an adventure. In other countries it has become a habit . . . As usual we are waiting on events, while other countries arc anticipating them."
General Ashmore was responsible for the defence of London during the last two years of the Great War and invented the wonderful system of control known as the " L.A.D.A." which still exists at the present day ; his book, therefore, is entitled to most respectful • consideration.
All but the last chapter, however, deals with the past, and is, therefore, of somewhat specialized interest, but in " Now and Hereafter " he reviews the lessons of the bomb-raids and urges that the proportion between offensive and defensive machines envisaged by the Air Ministry—thirty-four bombing to eighteen fighting squadrons—is altogether wrong and dangerous. General Ashmore's arguments appear unanswer- able. " London would suffer terribly," he says, " —perhaps intolerably, long before any counter-bombing could save her." Moreover, we agree with him that great offensive armaments are out of date in modern times. He concludes with a neat summing-up " That we are exceptionally vulnerable to air attack has been proved. If we maintain an efficient air defence we may never be attacked ; if we have no air defence . . . THE END."
We must hope that disarmament will eventually extend to the air as well as the land and sea. But that day is not yet, and all improvements in our flying defences, both in the air and on the ground, will result in a training and technique far more readily convertible to the purposes of peace than the manoeuvres of battleships or the parades of battalions.