Believers in heavier-than-air flying machines the world over are at present enjoying a good laugh at the discomfiture of the French over the loss of their first government dirigible "La Patrie," which, despite the efforts of 200 men who were holding it while some repairs were being made to the machinery on November 30 last, was driven aloft by a sudden gust of wind: and went on a voyage to Great Britain on its own account. Only the week before, the airship, which has been maneuvering about Paris successfully all summer, was driven from Paris to Verdun, on the French frontiera distance of about 147 milesin seven hours and five minutes (21 miles an hour) ; and it was intended to use it for the protection of the French frontier. The easy way in which it broke loose from the trained soldiers of the aeronautic corps who had charge of it, was laughable in the extreme. Despite the fact that one of the valves is said to have been opened just before the airship ascended, it does not seem to have come to earth in less than four days. The start was made on Saturday morning, and on Sunday it was reported as being seen passing over the northeast coast of Ireland. The following day it was sighted above Scotland; while on Wednesday, according to cable dispatches, it had drifted back above the Emerald Isle, where it is said to have come to earth, knocked off some of the machinery, and again ascended immediately. This rather improbable story is verified in a way from the fact that the loss of a propeller, when the airship was making a trip on October 26 last, caused it to immediately rise a distance of 1,200 feet, after which, in this instance, the men on board were able to drive the airship, by means of its single propeller, back to its shed. Whether the airship will come to earth or will land in the ocean, is at present a matter of conjecture. As far as is known, at the time of our going to press, it is still floating about with the windsa derelict of the air. The demolishment of the British military airship by a storm last October, and the easy loss by the French soldiers of their first national military dirigible, has strongly brought out the fact that any nation which is to have a fleet of dirigible balloons, or airships, must provide suitable sheds to house them at all places where they are likely to stop, and also that they must be well protected when undergoing repairs. The fact that "La Patrie" remained aloft for four days speaks well for the tightness of its envelope. Had there been anyone on board the airship, it could, of course, have been brought to earth at once. With an aeroplane or other heavier-than-air machine such a mishap could not occur; for although the machine might possibly start and soar aloft, as soon as the power gave out it would come to earth. The loss of "La Patrie," therefore, has brought out another distinct advantage of the flying machine over the dirigible balloon. It is gratifying to note that our War Department expects to experiment with both types in the near future.
This article was originally published with the title "The Loss of the French Airship “La Patrie”" in Scientific American 97, 24, 438 (December 1907)