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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Airship Design Contest!

Full Rules Here http://www.we-be-smart.org/~afrodri/HQC_Design_Contest.pdf

The Mustang Class Aerolyth Torpedo Flyer forms the backbone of United States Army coastal defense forces. Original design by Terry Sofian. 3D drawings by Arun Rodrigues and Mateen Greenway did the 3D rendering

HQC Aerolyth Ship Design Contest
Ship Designers Needed!
The Aerial Forces of the Hive, Queen and Country universe are locked in an arms race! Each nation seeks to field the best aerial vessels possible. New designs are constantly being sought and each ship makes all those that came before it obsolete relics.

Hive, Queen and Country is opening a design contest for would be aerial architects. The design rules are included below as are weblinks to examples of other designs. The prizes will include a rapid prototyped model of your ship and inclusion of the design in an upcoming Hive, Queen and Country product. You will receive full credit for the design in the product and a complimentary copy when it reaches print.
Good Luck and Good Hunting!

1 Submission
Contest participants will design an aerolyth ship (or class of ships) in the HQC setting using simplified design rules. Submissions should consist of:
• Drawings of the ship (top and side exterior view plus any additional pictures you want to include, such as drawings of the ship in action, floor plans, etc…)
• Ship design (see attached design rules)
• Description of the ship and how it fits in the HQC universe. This could include:
o Which nation built the ship, and which use it
o The ship’s design process and operational history
o Fictional accounts of the ship in action
o Adventure ideas
o Anything else you think might help!

The drawings do not need to be of schematic quality – i.e. don’t worry about getting the measurements and dimensions exactly right, concentrate on making it look cool.

Submissions are due by October 15, 2011 and should be posted to the Hivequeen mailing list or emailed to hive.queen@aol.com. Submissions will be judged by Terry Sofian and Arun Rodrigues.
2 Prizes

The top 5 winning entries will receive a 3D printed model of your ship and their ship design may be included in future HQC publications. The scale of the ship model will depend on the size of the ship (see Section 3 on page 3). Ships will be modeled by Objects May Appear (http://shpws.me/CxJ).
3 Fine Print
By entering, the entrant gives permission to use the submitted material in an upcoming Hive, Queen and Country product. Winners will receive full credit for the design in the product and a complimentary copy when it reaches print.
Entrants also grant a non-exclusive license to produce a 3D printed copy of the winning design.
The contest reserves the right to change submitted material before inclusion in final product to fit with the setting.
You may enter and win multiple times.
If you have any questions, feel free to email hive.queen@aol.com for clarification.
3.1 Key Dates
Submission due date: October 15, 2011
Award Announcements: October 31, 2011
Prizes: November 18, 2011 (estimated. Exact date will depend on modeling, production and shipping time)

Quick Aerolyth Flyer Design Rules
1 Background
The end of the nineteenth century saw huge strides in the science of aeronautics. The most obvious example of this is the discovery of aerolyth – the miraculous anti-gravity mineral. The late Victorian Era saw constant improvement in aerolyth anti-gravity flyers. Before the turn of the century, aerolyth was being used to conquer the skies of Earth, Mars, and Venus.

1.1 The Greatest Inventions of the Age.
Flight has been one of Mankind’s oldest dreams. For as long as men have had legends heroes and Gods have taken to the skies. But this ability existed only in legend until John Lubbock, later Lord Avebury, discovered, (or perhaps rediscovered) the secret of Aerolyth and became the first modern man to achieve those heights.
“It was during the most frightful thunderstorm that the amazing properties of the Stonehenge bluestone and the amazing knowledge of our ancient ancestors were revealed to me. My workmen were preparing to shift a large slab of bluestone, which they had carefully rigged to a jib with heavy wire rope. The most terrific bolt of lightning struck the gyn. For a moment I was rendered blind and when my sight finally returned I thought it had been permanently damaged. The huge block of stone was trying to pull the boom and steam traction engine skyward. I felt certain it was all some trick of the lightning until I heard my foreman begin swearing next to me. With a loud crack the thick wire parted and the immensely heavy boulder hurtled skyward. The front wheels of the Aveling splashed onto the muddy ground, being driven some many inches into it. Off into the low clouds the massive block sailed, disappearing completely from our view.

The workmen and I ran forward, foolishly in retrospect. We stood next to where the block had lain these uncounted centuries, staring alternatively at the innocent seeming depression that had formerly housed it and into the gray clouds a few hundred feet above us into which it had disappeared. Rain splashed unheeded against our upturned faces.

Suddenly we could hear a low whistle coming from within the overcast. For a second I did not know what to make of it. Then with wild fear I understood what the sound was! The whistle grew to gigantic proportions, seeming to us far louder than any of the thunder had been. We stood rooted in place, knowing not where the savage rock would land, but that if it struck us we would be smashed to jam. With the clouds so low I knew that it would strike almost as soon as it appeared, leaving no time for us to evade it. I did the only thing a sane man could do. I dropped to my knees in prayer. No sooner had my legs buckled than the rock plummeted to Earth landing with an almost subdued ‘thump’, which still threw us about like boats on the ocean. The great stone landed no more than a village green from where we huddled. With a mix of curiosity and caution, the second perhaps a little late, we slowly walked over to the stone. It appeared none the worse for its trip, save for some marks of burning left by the wire rope (of which there was nearly nothing left) and a coating of frost, which I surmised, must have indicated a very high flight indeed.”
Skyward 1882 John Lubbock, Baron of Avebury

Aerolyth, as Lord Lubbock called his discovery, was perhaps the most important breakthrough of the later 19th Century. Upon this one discovery has been built the entirety of aerial navigation. Without it space travel would never have become a possibility. It first made the World smaller and then made it no longer unique. Soon after the events of that spring afternoon in 1865 Lubbock began experimenting with samples of bluestone at his family’s estate. Although he was never able to determine the underlying scientific principals that cause the stones to resist gravity he was able to determine its properties and how they could be harnessed. By applying a current across the stone the force of gravity was not only neutralized but also actually opposed. The force of that opposition depended upon many things. Lubbock tested many samples of bluestone, as well as other rocks and minerals. Only bluestone, and not even every sample of it, would propel objects against the force of gravity. In his laboratory he quickly discovered the shape and surface finish of the stone had a great affect on its lifting capabilities. The polished bluestone, when cut into plates much wider and longer then they were thick, produced the greatest lifting force. Fixed into a rigid frame they could produce a lifting force many times their own weight. The ideal slab was no more then three inches thick. Lesser slabs had a disconcerting habit of shattering explosively; thicker one produced no additional lift. Explosions were also provoked if two slabs were mounted above each other in a gravitational field. A certain amount of current had to be supplied; increasing the current appeared to provide no additional lift but later experiments showed greater current allowed greater heights to be reached. Reducing it below a critical level meant that no lift at all was generated. It was certainly very perplexing and all the information had to be determined by experimentation, since no theory existed. In his laboratory, a converted stable Lubbock learned by trial and error. . It proved tremendously important for the plates to stay nearly flat to the surface of the Earth. Any change in angle of the plates from perpendicular to the flow of gravity would result in immediate lose of force from them. Above an angle of fifteen degrees force became negligible. Experiments also showed that placing one charged plate directly above another would result in both plates shattering violently. The larger the plates, the more dramatic the explosion would be.

Within a matter of months nations the world over were seeking to build their own vessels. Lubbock’s patents were strong and he soon grew wealthy beyond even the dreams of the Rothschilds’. Other men grew rich mining the bluestone, from those rare deposits that could be provoked to lift. Flying ships became the rage of the era. The wealthy wished to own them, the armies and navies of the world experimented with them, and the great lines sought to supplement their huge steamship with smaller, faster “aeroliners”. It was considered the height of fashion to be able to say, “Why yes, I’ve seen the coastline from 5,000 feet. Haven’t you?”

1.2 The Mechanics of Aerolyth
Aerolyth is a naturally occurring form of igneous rock, related to dolerite. The special circumstances of its formation and its mineral composition are what give it unique contragravitational properties. Only magma that cooled underground in dikes has the correct crystal size and orientation to be useful. The crystals themselves are composed of an unknown element, which has so far defied analysis. These characteristics make the material so rare.

Even after the mineral has been located and mined it still has to be carefully cut and polished, to the same standard as the finest marble, for it to be most effective. The stone panels are most efficient when they are cut into plates between one and two inches thick. Each plate, after trimming and polishing, is carefully wrapped with heavy gauge copper wire. The copper wire is connected to a powerful direct current source. As soon as the current is applied the contragavitational effects begin. There is no discernable time lag. British engineers and stone masons quickly began cutting panels to a common size to ease the manufacture of ships and simplify lift calculations. These standard panels are eight feet by four feet in extent and provide a force of 48,912 Newtons. This means that depending upon the amount of load connected to the panel it will not just float above the planet’s surface but will accelerate away from it. The amount of dead weight that the panel is carrying greatly affects this acceleration. Experiments showed that Aerolyth, which so confounds Newtonian physics on one level obeys it rigorously on another, the acceleration is precisely as would be predicted by the Newtonian equation of F=M*A. Standard panels have a weight of 889 pounds (404 kilograms). The panel can accelerate materials up to somewhat more than ten times its own mass away from the planet. At loads greater than that the force is unable to completely counteract the force of gravity.

The maximum altitude to which an aerolyth craft can climb is determined by the amount of electrical power supplied to the panels and the planet one which the vehicle is located. The greater the electrical field that is applied the higher the panel may fly. There are four critical power levels. On Earth if the minimum power of one kilowatt is applied, the panel and its cargo can rise to a height of 2,000 feet above sea level. If additional power is applied the vessel will raise no higher until two kilowatts of energy have been input, at which time the vessel will accelerate upwards to 12,000 feet. The next altitude barrier is 45,000 feet which requires four kilowatts and finally a vessel can reach lower orbital altitudes of 600,000 feet or slightly over 100 miles above sea level. This altitude level requires tremendous electric energy. Sixteen kilowatts must be applied to every panel to reach this altitude. Once a vessel has crossed above the critical altitude its panels will cease to provide any force at all. This has proven very disconcerting to inexperienced travelers who find themselves suddenly plunged into freefall after being under substantial acceleration just an instant before.

Aerolyth appears to function on all bodies with a perceivable gravitational field. Sea level has become a rather malleable term now, with three different planets having oceans and Luna with neither ocean nor atmosphere. On Venus, the gravitation and sea level are similar to Earth and the effects of Aerolyth identical. Mars is much smaller, and the four levels are much lower being 1,000, 6,000, 22,500 and 300,000 feet respectively. Luna, being a tiny world, has levels set at 500, 3,000, 12,250 and 150,000 feet. Since Aerolyth in no way interacts with an atmosphere it functions as well on airless orb, such as Luna or perhaps Mercury. On alien worlds the force appears to be relative to that planet’s gravitational forces, not those of Earth’s. For all practical purposes the force on Venus is equal to that of those panels on Earth. On Luna the force is 8,152 Newtons and on Mars 16,304 Newtons.

Steampunk Days Out, Riding an Airship!

Eureka on her Morring Mast

What is more Steampunk than riding on an airship? Riding on an airship as it travels over some of the most historic Victorian buildings in the United States, that’s what! I had that experience this weekend as New Technology met old dreams over St Louis, Missouri.

Rebirth of the Zeppelin Airship
In middle school I wrote a research paper on rigid airships. It was the beginning of a lifelong love for, and interest in, Lighter than Air (LTA) craft and technologies.

This is the house in which I wrote my middle school paper. I never dreamed all those years ago I would see it from a real Zeppelin!

For decades I followed the trials and tribulations of the various proponents of the technology as they tried to renew interest in LTA and produce designs that would be economically viable in the realities of the late twentieth century and now into the twenty-first. It was a long and uphill road. Ten years ago the Zeppelin was reborn in Germany. Zeppelin began building NT (for New Technology) ships http://www.zeppelinflug.de/seiten/E/default.htm. They have so far produced three vessel. One flies out of Germany, the second flew out of Japan for several years and in 2008 the third ship was built and sold to Airship Ventures http://www.airshipventures.com/ out of California. It was loaded aboard a ship and sailed to Texas and then flown to Sunnyvale California to be based out of Moffet Field. This was the USS Macon’s homeport before she crashed off Point Sur. Named Eureka to honor her home state’s motto she is a marvel of modern technologies mated to the most venerable of all human flight methods.

Eureka was built by ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH & Co KG a modern day descendant of Count Zeppelin’s original company. For many decades a trust fund set aside for Lighter than Air craft had been slowly growing. By 1988 it was large enough to provide funding for a research craft and initial studies on the technological feasibility of rigid framed airships using advanced methods and materials was begun. By 1991 proof of concept models were showing great promise and work begins in earnest for development of 75 meter (246 feet) long craft. In 1997 the first of the Zeppelin NT craft has its maiden flight before a crowd of 30,000 onlookers. It has been almost 60 years since Friedrichshafen has seen a new airship take to the sky. Since then the company has begun serial production of these 246 foot long craft. Three have been built and additional ships are on order. This spring Goodyear has rejuvenated its long standing relationship with companies bearing the Zeppelin name and heritage by ordering three Zeppelin NT ships to replace its aging fleet of blimps.

Technological Advances
These new craft make use of the great technological advances during that time. The frame is of carbon fiber and aluminum, the envelope serves as both external skin and gas cell, using a three layer sandwich of advanced materials. The cockpit is ultramodern, looking like something from a jet fighter, with almost all instruments being computer displays. Controls are fly by wire and the pilot uses a joystick rather than wheels or yokes. The use of computers, improved instrumentation and fly by wire controls allows a single pilot to operate the airship, rather than the larger number of crewmen needed during the classical age of airships. The use of a single pilot did rob me of one thing I had particularly looked forward to. Lars, a highly skilled Zeppelin pilot from Germany, did not give the traditional command of Up Ship! This was my single disappointed of the entire experience though, so I can well live with it.

Complex tail rotor assemply aids in Eureka's amazing agility

One of the greatest improvements is in propulsion. The last classical Zeppelins LZ 130 and 131 both used diesel engines mounted in external pods. The propellers were fixed bladed and the pods could only apply thrust directly forwards or backwards. The US Navy’s two largest rigids ZRS4 Akron and ZRS 5 Macon had both been fitted with engines housed within the hull and propellers on outriggers that allowed for the airscrews to be swiveled. Macon was also fitted with variable pitch propellers as well. Variable pitch propellers allow the angle the propleeor blades “bite” the air to be changed. If the pitch is totally reversed the engine can continue to run in the same direction and so can the spinning propeller blade but the force is now directed in the opposite direction. This allows much more rapid deceleration. The combination of swiveling propellers and variable pitch blades allowed tremendous flexibility in how the thrust was directed and how quickly an engine could change from forward to reverse thrust. The 784 foot long Macon was able to rise vertically, like a helicopter. The new ships are even more capable in this ability. They have three engines. The two forward engines each drive a single airscrew capable of 120 degrees of play, and fully variable pitch to the propellers. The aft engine drives a propeller on the centerline axis of the ship and a side thrusting rotor as well. The ship can use vertical thrust to take off even when in a somewhat heavy condition. The variable pitch allows the props to push a light ship down towards the ground for a landing. This allows the engines to do the work that previously had to be done by dropping ballast or valving precious lifting gas.

Finding a Flight
As I said I had watched Airship Ventures success in California with great enjoyment. While looking ov er their web page I found that the usually west coast based airship was making a national tour of the U.S. and would be flying out of St. Louis Downtown Airport. I was lucky enough to get a reservation for a flight on Friday August 19th. After a week of anticipation, which I shared with my coworkers and anyone else that couldn’t escape from me in the few second it took me to bring up the subject I drove from work to Cahokia, Illinois. This small town is the location of the airport hosting Airship Ventures flights while in St Louis. As I took the small side streets that led to the airport gate I turned a corner and there it was! The first time in my life I saw a real honest to gosh Zeppelin! I had seen a blimp before but Oh-My-God a Zeppelin! It was amazing. I stopped and shot a couple of pictures of the ship on her mobile mast.

Eureka as I first saw her!

St Louis Downtown Airport is small but has a big history http://www.stlouisdowntownairport.com/history.htm. First opened in 1929 the field was once the home to some of Curtiss Wright’s operations. Now it serves as home to a number of charter services. There is also a small air museum, the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum http://www.airandspacemuseum.org/.

Reminders of the airports history

This highlights the varied aviation history of St. Louis. Curtiss-Wright, McDonnell, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Ozark Airlines and TWA were all part of the aviation heritage of St. Louis. The museum is small but has some very nice exhibits. It is located in one of the old Curtiss Wright hangers. I found the museum while I waited for my preflight check-in time (I had arrived very early). This also gave me a chance to look over the Farmers Airship. She was there by the fence and I shot a number of pictures of her graceful shape as she windsocked around her truck-mounted mast. Several other enthusiasts were there as well looking Eureka over as she gently rotated with the changing breeze. Her very simple ground handling arrangements contrast with the so much more complex methods used in the 1920s and 30s with such things as high masts, vast ground crews, railcars to hold down tail fins and huge mooring out circles located near enormous hangers. The Eureka travels around the country light, a ground crew of twenty or so and a handful of vehicles. The most important is the truck mounted mast system. This allows mooring in any grass field large enough to allow the 246 foot long ship to get in and out and to swing with the wind. Compared to the efforts to ground handle the big ships during the airships’ first heyday it is simplicity itself.

A very disappointing Friday!
After looking over the ship from afar (thanks to TSA’s regulations against being out on the field) and a visit to the museum I drove around the fence to the Jet Aviation terminal. If this is any indication of the facilities used by Airship Ventures I can only say bravo. The lounge was really comfortable. The ground crewmembers could not have been more enthusiastic. They were amazingly friendly and they knew they are part of the coolest aerial endeavor in decades. The two flight attendants Karen and Jen were very knowledgeable and both exhibited real interest in Eureka and LTA history. Jen’s favorite ship was Graf Zeppelin LZ 127. Her discussion of the differences between Graf Zeppelin’s around the world flight in 1929 and the current tour of Eureka was detailed and insightful.

Friday afternoon was hot with about 2/10 cloud cover. I was slated for the second flight of the day. The first set of passengers got their preflight briefing and the van took them off to the ship. We stood and watched them from the windows. We watched them sit in the van for a long time. We watched the van come back. The hydraulic sensor in the tail propeller unit failed and needed to be replaced. This required accessing the assembly, which was over twenty feet above the ground. This necessitated the cancelation of several flights, including mine. The ground crews were extremely capable in rescheduling us on to flights later. I was rescheduled for Sunday morning.

A Dinner to restore my spirits
To drown my disappointment I met my wife at The Scottish Arms http://www.thescottisharms.com/ in St Louis City. This establishment serves excellent food and has a huge selection of single malt scotches. We selected a meal of all appetizers, scotch eggs, haggis fritters, puff pastries, a cheese plate and a very nice lamb terrine. Since we were both driving we skipped the scotch (so maybe drown is the wrong word). As always the food was excellent. We’ve been going to this restaurant since it first opened and have enjoyed many of the great items off their menu. The tin ceiling, vast amounts of polished wood and Scottish décor give a Victorian and Old World charge to the place. Service is good and prices are reasonable, although not cheap.

Sunday, Sunday! SUNDAY!
Saturday seemed to go on forever. Because I had waited since I was but a wee lad one more day shouldn’t have been more than I could handle. I was almost too excited to sleep. I woke well before the alarm. Off we went, again arriving well before the time we were required to be there. Good thing to. It turned out my flight was at 10AM rather than 11. Even better the 10 AM flight was 1 hour instead of 30 minutes. We got our preflight briefing and the van took us out to the ship. This time we lifted without a hitch. Eureka seemed to jump upwards with a smooth and pleasant acceleration. It wasn’t anything like any other aircraft I’ve ever been in. Not the powerful takeoff of a jet or the laborious thrashing of a helicopter. It seemed effortless, if it was like anything it was like an elevator, an amazing glass elevator that offered stunning and changing views as it climbed skyward. In less than two minutes Jen told us we were free to move about the cabin. If the previous day had moved with glacial slowness the next hour was one of the fastest I have ever experienced. We flew north and west making for the St Louis downtown area. We quickly reached our cruising altitude of between 1000 and 1400 feet and cross the Mississippi. I’ve flown over the area many times approaching Lambert in commercial jets and in a helicopter (piloted by the late Alan Barklage, one of the greatest aviators to ever fly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsBv5SIICIY). None of those experiences can hold a candle to riding in a Zeppelin.

The ship is nearly without vibration and even with its windows open (try THAT in a jet airliner) is extremely quiet. I wondered if the passengers moving about the cabin would affect the trim but it didn’t appear to. The ride was smooth and steady. Stately would be a good term. There were a couple of bumps, but they seemed so less annoying than turbulence in a fixed wing aircraft does. We rushed around the cabin enjoying my home town from an entirely new vantage. Lars, the pilot, guided his ship and its excited cargo of eager site seers all across the bright August sky.

Right on Target

With great precision he flew us in front of the Gateway Arch http://www.stlouisarch.com/experience/the-gateway-arch/ so that our shadow was within the arch and the shadow of the arch. This made for a great photo opportunity. The path was perfect and he centered the ships shadow right between the legs of the arch.

Eads Bridge

Eads Bridge http://bridgepros.com/projects/eads/ the first bridge to cross the Mississippi below its confluence with the Missouri River was right below us. Its graceful steel arches still span the “Father of Waters” More than 135 years after they were completed. This is one of the most famous bridges in the United States and holds a place equal to some of Brunel’s greatest works. Its three arches each span more than 500 feet and the total length of 6,442 feet was the longest in the world at the time of completion. The great piers were driven all the way to bedrock at a terrible toll to the workers as they faced “caisson disease”, which we now know as decompression sickness. Fifteen workers died and numerous others were injured by the then poorly understood condition. The bridge still stands as a lasting tribute to its designer and to the men who labored under such dangerous conditions to complete his vision.

The reflecting basin located below the Art Museum

From there we drove north and west. Below the whole city was laid out like an amazing scale model. The huge water works, originally dating from just before the 1904 World’s Fair glittered bright blue in the late morning sunlight http://www.stlwater.com/history2.php.

The Bissell and the White Water Towers

Also part of the St Louis City water system were a number of water towers. Three of them still stand http://www.builtstlouis.net/watertowers/watertowers1.html and we passed over the two most northern ones, the Bissell and the White Towers. We got excellent view of these structures, which encase standpipes used to regulate water pressure in the steam driven system of the late 19th century. Only seven such towers still exist in the United States and three of them are in St Louis! The view from above is stunning.

Union Station's Clock Tower

Union Station completed in 1894 was at one time the largest railway station in the world http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Station_(St._Louis). Its tower and red tile roof still dominate Market Street. After a period of decay and abandonment (during which time it served at a set for Escape from New York). Now a shopping and entertainment center with an attached hotel the vast train sheds no longer see the daily arrivals and departures. The station was enlarged to handle the massive influx of passengers for the 1904 World’s Fair.

There are many relics of the Fair visible from the Zeppelin. Recently refurbished is the main reflecting basin. Located at the base of “Art Hill” http://www.forestparkforever.org/ this is one of the largest bodies water in the park. It shone brightly in the summer sun as we flew over it.

We landed safely but all too soon. Debarking was interesting. We didn’t moor to the mast but were in flight with the wheels touching the ground. Two new passengers would embark, making the ship heavier and two of us that had completed their flight would debark. In this way the ship never became lighter or more buoyant than she had been when we touched down, so no gas had to be valved. I do not believe that any of the ships from the 20’s or 30’s could have achieved this level of control so close to the ground. It was absolutely stunning when compared to the many stories of ships being damaged while being walked out a hanger or before they could be fully moored in a mooring out circle. It just shows the amazing progress that has been made in airship technology. It seems like a small thing but vastly increases the safety and usefulness of these new ships. It will prevent damage during landings and preserve valuable helium, which will not need to be valved off for landings.

Airship Ventures Company and Crew
I have only great things to say about the experience and in particular about the wonderful people who work for Airship Ventures. Their handling of the flight cancellation on Friday was polite and pleasant. Almost every commercial airline could learn a valuable lesson in customer service from how they dealt with the issue. I was rebooked on the Sunday flight rapidly. The employees all truly believe in what they are doing and the technology they represent and it is obvious from the moment you meet them. Their excitement is visible and contagious.

The flights cost from $299.00 plus tax for half an hour and go up from there. Longer flights are more expensive. When flying out of their home State they offer flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco. These are 6 to 10 hours long and include catering. The price tag of $1500.00 per seat is certainly not inexpensive but for what would be a once in a lifetime experience has more than a little appeal to any Zeppelin enthusiast. It might take us a long time to save up that sort of money for a vacation but I can see that as the perfect tenth anniversary gift (isn’t the tenth one the Helium anniversary?).

In summing up my experience I think the most telling thing I can write is this. I waited 36 years to ride on a Zeppelin. The experience was everything I had dreamed it would be and more. Years of built up expectations were exceeded in every way. I can’t recommend this experience highly enough. If you get the chance take a flight.

Eureka in her element!

Steampunk Days Out-Gosport and Explosion!

Gatling Gun on naval mounting

The greater Portsmouth area has a wealth of sites to visit in terms of great Victorian history and technology. I’ve already mentioned both Fort Nelson and various sites in Southsea. Let’s deal with Gosport now. Gosport is on the western side of the Solent and is reached from Portsmouth by a water taxi http://www.explosion.org.uk/visitor-info/waterbus-service.html. For hundreds of years the area served as a major supply base for the Royal navy and as such has been heavily fortified as well. These centuries of occupation and activities have left a huge amount of buildings used during the Victorian and before across the landscape. Some of these have been converted into museums.

There are at least three sites worth visiting in Gosport. I have been to two of them, sadly one wasn’t open. I’ll cover the third most quickly. The submarine service of the Royal navy has its own museum, just as the Fleet Air Arm does. That museum is in Gosport http://www.submarine-museum.co.uk. Of particular interest to VSF is the Royal Navy’s first submarine Holland 1. This vessel was built in 1901 and after many years of service sank while being towed to the breaker in 1913. The wreck was found in 1981 and she was raised in 1982. Since then she has undergone a number of chemical treatments to preserve and restore her metal hull and is currently on display at the museum. I am not a fan of submarines in general so I have so far not gone to visit the museum, I do plan on breaking my prohibition when next I am in the south of England. The price for admittance is 10 pounds. A dual ticket for the submarine museum and Explosion! is 12.50 and are good for 60 days.

The second museum was sadly closed when I attempted to visit, Fort Brockhurst. It is open only on select days and unfortunately I wasn’t there on such a day. It is open on the second Saturday of every month. Admission is free. This is owned by English Heritage. The image of me on the drawbridge across the moat into the keep, with my face pressed against the bars of the gate was certainly one the cabby found amusing.

11 inch anti submarine howitzer

OK, let us discuss a place I’ve actually been, Explosion! Explosion! Is the Museum of Naval Firepower http://www.explosion.org.uk/. Admission for the museum is 10 pounds, but package deals are available with the other museums around Portsmouth. The public areas of the museum are excellent. Exhibits trace not only British naval ordnance history, from the beginning of gunpowder cannons to nuclear weapons and modern guided missiles but also Priddy’s Hard the Royal Navy ordnance facility, whose buildings now how the museum. Many of those buildings are Victorian in date and are excellent examples of structures constructed to support the operations of the Royal Navy. Priddy’s Hard was a critical facility during the Victorian era (as well as before and after). The museum gift shop has a number of excellent books on that history. Not only was Priddy’s Hard a base that stored ammunition and refilled the magazines of H.M.’s warship but it also developed important technologies and served as a testing facility as well.

Minesweeping pravane-Which I have used at the image for the Brennan Aerial Torpedo

One of the exhibits traces the daily lives of ordnance plant workers during wartime. It shows their lockers and describes their occupations. From there are a number of galleries with a vast array of British naval ordnance. Everthing from the guns of Henry VIII to the most modern guided weapons are here to be viewed. The level of interpretation is excellent as well.

Nordenfelt multi-barrel machine gun being restored to prime condition in Explosion's! workshop

Some of things of particular interest to the Steampunk visitor include weapons from the Victorian period. Many of the weapons from more modern eras have a Victorian look about them. I use a picture of a 20th century mine sweeping pravane as a Brennan Aerial Torpedo. Its basic shape and brass construction make it a perfect image for such a device.

Light Quick firing Ordnance, typical of smaller ordance on many Victorian warships

I’ve been to the museum twice and both times was lucky enough to get a behind the scenes look into their restoration shop. This includes some very Victorian weapons, such as small 6 pdr quick firing guns first introduced in the 1880s. One of the most remarkable weapons is an 11 inch anti submarine howitzer. Although from the First World War this would also be a weapon that was within Victorian technologies. It is a strange weapon and the example at Explosion! Is almost certainly the last in existence. It was used as a test device, which explains both its survival and the excellent condition it currently exhibits. For some reason this peice of ordnancxe has really caught my attention. Perhaps because one of them formed part of the armament of HMS Vindictive when she was part of the force that attacked Zeebrugge on St George’s Day in 1918. I have never determined if the weapon was able to fire any rounds during the attack. Still the howitzer is an interesting weapon and seeing one in what must be close to operational condition is an absoulte treat.

Gosport Itself offers a large number of places to eat and shop on the walk from the water-taxi to the museum. John Roberts and I stopped in one to get a late breakfast and dry out from the pouring rain when I was there last. I can’t recall the name of the little shop but without a doubt most tastes can be catered to in the area. Again we stayed at Gunwharf Quays at the Holiday Inn there. Not the greatest spot but well located and clean.

Steampunk Days In-More primary source reprints

Since not everyone wants to play outside all the time I’m going to review some things to do inside. These will showcase books and movies. I’ll start off reviewing some items from D,P & G publications. If you look through the archives you’ll find that I have reviewed some of their high end publications. This time I’ll be reviewing some of their more affordable products.

DP &G Publications was nice enough to send me three of their Technical Publications for review. This series of small booklets are reprints from various service journals originally published in the 19th and 20th century. The three titles they sent all deal with coastal artillery. Each of these booklets is a facsimile reprint of the original article. These appear to have originally been articles that went with lectures at the various service institutes. The books are physically digest size. The text from the original documents has been enlarged between 10 and 20%. Even with that the text is small and a bit difficult to read (especially for those of us getting older who don’t have the eyesight we once did) but is certainly a great improvement over the original. As usual with the DP and G products the reproduced plates are very nice. They have often been greatly enlarged from the originals. Costs vary between five pounds and fifteen, plus shipping. The cost might seem a bit high for non glossy reprints but the material is generally unavailable elsewhere and if the subjects are of interest to the researcher the works are well worth the price. The original journals are available at some research libraries and occasionally originals go on sale. When they do the prices for original articles (which of course have not been enlarged) are generally far more than the costs of the reprints. The topics are wide ranging indeed and cover a period nearly 100 years. The series which now runs to almost 250 titles include artillery, coast defense, military engineering subjects and more. The good thing about how these are printed and marketed is that since they are individual articles an enthusiast need only purchases titles in which they are interested and doesn’t pay for ones they don’t need. Again, although these might seem a bit steep compared to other larger print run booklets they provide extremely valuable primary source period information at reasonable “bite size” prices. If the topic is of interest to a researcher picking these up is a great way to get the data without breaking the bank. They can be bought over a period of time as resources allow.

The first is a reprint of Major Dalton’s article “Coast Defense by means of Curved Fire” from The Royal artillery Institute in 1889. Dalton references Major Ordonez of the Spanish Artillery’s original article from 1888. The use of “curved” or more familiarly high angle fire was a major topic at the time. This will be a subject well known to those familiar with U.S. coastal artillery of the period. It is interesting to see the thoughts of other services, in this case the British and Spanish ones. The merits of high angle fire against capital ships were hotly debated during this period and many nations made some investment is howitzers or mortars. Others, such as Great Britain built a few batteries and went back to conventional guns. This paper is from a critical period when it wasn’t obvious which type of weapon system would be most effective. The arguments by the Spanish officer are similar to ones used in the U.S. Army. The system under discussion also includes smaller weapons, mortars of around 6 inch caliber, as well as the larger weapons favored by the U.S. and in those few batteries actually built for Imperial batteries. Detailed drawings of many of these weapons are included with statistics including costs. This is a very useful period document, especially for those of us with an interest in high angle fire, and more so as it differs from the more widely known American system.

The second booklet is from the Royal United Service Institution in 1893 by Col Richardson RA. This covers the then neglected subject of effective practice for batteries in British service. The writer discusses the doldrums that had held coastal defense for a long period in the Empire. He then writes about the need for change due to the advances in technology. He then expressed his opinions on a system of target practice to use the newest technology to best effect. This includes new targets and scoring systems, as well as command and control for the various fortress elements. It has a number of illustrations of targets and even a large fold out showing the various battery elements on parade. The document has a series of notes from other concerned officers. This leads to some very interesting insights in the social and technical position of coast defense in British service at the time, as well as ideas for technical and tactical growth of coast artillery in the near term.

The third book is Lt Col Walford’s article on The Tactics of Coast Defense as written in 1889 for the Royal United Service Institution. This article discusses the interaction between all elements of coast defense, heavy light and field guns, mines, torpedoes, range finding and electric lights. The meat of the document deals with command and control issues, organization and other details of the defense. The author concentrates on allowing individual element commanders to fight their commands using “Commander’s intent” as their primary controlling principal. The interplay between the various tactical elements is critical to the success of a defended location.

Steampunk Days Out-Southsea

Spinnakar Tower at Gunwharf Quays

I’ll be keeping to the county of Hampshire, and to the greater Portsmouth area in particular for the next few weeks. We’ve already talked about Fort Nelson, but the area around the Solent has a lot of other interesting places for the Steampunker to visit. Southsea is on the south coast of England and is just to the east of the Solent. It has been an area of military importance since the earliest times.

There are two museums with direct Victorian connections in Southsea and another, that although not Victorian is still a lot of fun. The Royal marines Museum and Southsea castle both have numerous exhibits from the period and the Blue Reef Aquarium is just a great place to spend some time.

Again, when in Portsmouth we stay at the Gunwharf Quays Holiday Inn http://www.holidayinn-expressportsmouth.co.uk/. Even though the hotel is what you would expect from an international chain (clean, comfortable but without any individual style or personality) it is well positioned to the many attractions of Portsmouth. It is also right in the Gunwharf Quays shopping and dining area. This area, formerly part of the Royal Navy’s base, has been converted to a commercial center. There are numerous shops and restaurants. Indian Palace http://www.gunwharf-quays.com/store_profile-4523.htm has been quite serviceable the several times we have gone there, although the vindaloo proved too hot for one of our friends!

HMS Vernon's crest now is above a very congenial restuarant The Custom's House

The Old Custom’s House is an excellent place to get traditional English food http://www.gunwharf-quays.com/store_profile-4572.htm. Even better the building is the former headquarters of HMS Vernon. It is amazing to eat in the building that housed Jackie Fisher’s office! We hoisted several pints of beer and cider there in his memory.

Now in terms of places in Southsea that entice the Victorian scholar the Royal Marines Museum should be the first place to go http://www.royalmarinesmuseum.co.uk/. It is on an active military post so be prepared for a bit of security to get in. Parking was free when we visited. Admission is 7.50 for adults. The exhibits date from the founding of the Royal marines to current actions in Afghanistan and other troubled parts of the world. The many engagements of the Victorian period, when Gunboat Diplomacy was the order of the day are well represented. Weapons, decorations and uniforms of the period are all showcased as are the campaigns and the men involved. I was lucky to be accompanied by John Roberts on the trip (he also went with me to Explosion! In Gosport, more on that later). The museum had a serviceable tea room and a very nice gift shop.

We did make the mistake of being in the area during the annual marathon. Traffic was badly disrupted. To make matters worse it was pouring down rain. My lovely wife had decided to explore the area on her own and was nearly trampled or drowned while trying to cross the streets. Luckily she survived to meet me at the aquarium after John and I parted company after the Royal Marines Museum.

The Blue Reef Aquarium http://www.gunwharf-quays.com/store_profile-4523.htm has no specific Victorian or Steampunk appeal but is well worth a visit. Adult admission is 9.40. We walked there but it appears that plenty of parking is available in nearby pay and display lots. The undersea tunnel is great and they have a large otter display. It was feeding time for these frisky mammals and they were extremely excited. The Victorians certainly enjoyed watching animals and sea-life. The museum has a nice gift shop with numerous aquatic related toys and books available.

Field Gun at Southsea Castle

Finally right near the aquarium is Southsea Castle http://www.southseacastle.co.uk/. Admission is free and there are a number of large pay and display car parks within an easy walk (even in a howling gale). This was originally a Henrician coastal defense artillery fort. Henry the VIII stood in this fortress and watched as Mary Rose, his flagship, sank with huge loss of life. The fort was partly destroyed and rebuilt several times. During the Victorian it served as a military prison and was not declared surplus until 1960. The artillery collection has several Victorian guns, from field guns to large muzzle loading rifles used in coastal defense. Off period but still very well done is the Tudor gun room, showing dress of the era and service of the piece from that time. It is an excellent exhibit. Views for the battlements are good as well, when we could see between the periods of heavy rain. Since our visit the museum has changed services for their café and now it is a company that highlights local produce and foods. This sounds excellent and we look forward to going back and trying their fare.

Steampunk Days Out-Fort Nelson

By popular request I will now describe another excellent museum in the United Kingdom.

Fort Nelson (http://www.royalarmouries.org/visit-us/fort-nelson) is located near Portsmouth and is part of the landward defenses of that Naval Base. The ring of fortresses, built in the 1860s under the direction of the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston consisted of a number of large permanent works. Fort Nelson has been preserved and converted into an artillery museum. It contains the Royal Armourie’s artillery collection. Both naval and military weapons are on display here. The weapons represent ancient pre gun powder engines to weapons of the 21st century. The museum and its car park are both free of charge, although certain special events or exhibits require the purchase of a ticket.

The fort can be a little tough to get to. It is located a good drive from Portsmouth itself, but can be reached by bus. There is little in the way of hotels or eaters nearby. When we are in Portsmouth we generally stay at the Holiday Inn on Gunwarf Quay. This is a modern soulless edifice without any character or charm. The continental breakfast is not terribly exciting. Rooms are adequate. The sole two redeeming features of the hotel are it huge car park and it location within walking distance of many of the great things in Portsmouth. I’ll talk more about the other Steampunk joys of Portsmouth and Gosport later.

We drove from the Holiday Inn to Fort Nelson. We’ve been to the fort twice. Both times we got there either before the museum opened or just as they opened. The car park is located across a B road from the museum entrance. Be careful crossing but the car park itself has an excellent view of Portsmouth Habour. The ring of forts were on the ridge of high ground around the port, facing outwards, defending the Royal Navy’s most important facilities from land attack by an Army. When built the threat was France or Russia. The forts were, of course, never tested by combat and have been called Palmerston’s Follies. They were built to protect several naval bases, Chatham, Plymouth and most specifically Portsmouth and Gosport. Several of the forts have become museums, Nelson at Portsmouth Brockhurst at Gosport and Crownhill at Plymouth are open for visitors.

Fort Nelson is not only a showplace of the period military architecture but also has a huge number of exhibits in the art of the artillerist and gun founder.

Outside the entrance to the fort are two large pieces of ordnance. One is a 20th century 14 inch gun, as used aboard battleships of the King George V class and as counter-bombardment weapons at Dover (guns Winnie and Pooh). Of much more interest to the Victorian historian is one of two of Mallet’s great mortars. These 36 inch weapons were built to reduce the Russian fortress of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. They were not completed in time for action and somehow both have managed to survive into the 21st century (the other is at Woolwich). The amazing size of the ball fired by these is driven home by the pyramid of shot sitting next to the weapon. In the alternate history of Hive, Queen and Country these weapons were used during the Chritsmas Day Assault on the Devon Hive and their massive shells collapsed many of the galleries in the alien nest.

The fort is entered through the original gate and visitors are directed into a gift shop. The Palmerston Forts Society (http://www.victorianforts.co.uk/) produces a number of interpretive documents including a series call “The Solent Papers” (http://www.victorianforts.co.uk/publications.php) that detail forts in the Portsmouth/Gosport area. In addition some of their other small booklets are on ordnance (including very useful ones on Brennan Torpedoes and Mallet Mortars. I’ve picked up most of the society’s publications and have not been unhappy with any of them. In terms of British Victorian era fortifications and ordnance these are well worth adding to your personal library.

The artillery collection includes a large number of really interesting guns. They date from the beginning of gunpowder artillery to the Gulf War. There are a number of weapons of particular interest to VSF fans. These include a number of decorative guns cast in the shape of dragons or other animals. These are from nations that fought against the British Empire in the 19th century. Also from such a country is the Bira machine gun from Nepal. This is a local version of the Gardner Gun.

Also used in the Victorian are several period field guns displayed in the main gun hall. A Hotchkiss Rotating cannon on a field carriage is there (see picture above)They also have a few sections of something much more modern but still with a Victorian bent. Verne would have understood the Iraqi Super Gun. A far lesser weapon served to inspire his novel about shooting men to the moon.

The fort itself has a number of weapons from the era, including a 110 pdr Armstrong Breech Loading Rifle. This weapon was one of the first generation of breech-loading weapons developed in the aftermath of the Crimean War. The Armstrong breech system was a failure. It was complex and fragile. The 110 pdr at Fort Nelson is on a garrison carriage in a Haxo Casemate. The carriage is an excellent reproduction. The knowledgeable staff was able to fully explain this interesting weapon and the casemate designed to protect it. The Portsdown Artillery Volunteers provide a cadre of talented re-enactors to the forts (http://www.victorianforts.co.uk/arming.htm).

There are a number of 64 pdr Rifled Muzzle Loaders which were converted from smoothbore 32 pdrs. These tend to be mounted on open barbettes. All these weapons are designed to fire across the outside surfaces of the fortified areas and sweep the cleared slopes.

Another type of defensive structure called a caponier contains a number of 32 pdr smoothbores that have been drilled out to make them into breechloaders. These are mounted to cover the ditch with rapid close range fire using large canister rounds.
The museum, like so many in the UK has a serviceable tea shop.
Fort Nelson is good for at least half a day. If there are special events in progress it may require far longer. Enjoy the views of Portsmouth, enjoy the history of the fort but mostly revel in the ancient traditions of the artillerist and the art of the gun founders.