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View Full Version : Earlier development of Balloon and Airship


Mars
November 17th, 2007, 03:41 PM
Im doing a Roman TL and i've always been fascinated by airships and such things, being an avid final fantasy player. :D
I've been thinking of making Romans in my TL invent balloons for the defense of the Limes and later that developing into airships. Is the development early balloons like this realistic, or did the romans just not have the tech level for such an advancement?

The Dean
November 17th, 2007, 04:53 PM
They could have made hot air balloons and airships. Even if modern knowledge was given to them whilst they could make a normal balloon of sorts the lighter than air gas would be unavailable.

Mars
November 17th, 2007, 05:42 PM
Yes i was thinking something like hot air balloons and later thermal airships and much later then hydrogen blimp like things. Maybe with sails to catch the wind and give them a speed boost. At first it would only be used for communication, recon and transportation, but later maybe they might begin to be used to fire down on enemies, drop some grenades and transport small forces over and behind enemy lines, etc.
Legionary Airship Corps just has such a nice ring to it:rolleyes:

037771
November 17th, 2007, 06:30 PM
Probably more rocks than grenades; explosives at the time of Constantine and after i think were a bit backward, even non-existant. Would it have even mattered in the end, bar huge communication advantages?

MrP
November 18th, 2007, 01:23 AM
There's some groundwork for ancient airships in this abandoned work (http://alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=70338).

Mars
November 18th, 2007, 01:27 AM
Thanks Mrp!
i missed that thread when i was searching the forum for topics such as these, i guess thats what you get when you just search for 'airship'.:rolleyes: Btw are you planning on following up on that TL you started in that thread, sounds like it could go places, its got me very interested!

The Dean
November 18th, 2007, 12:29 PM
You might like to look at this (http://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=58570) thread by Euio, a favourite of mine.

MrP
November 18th, 2007, 04:07 PM
Thanks Mrp!
i missed that thread when i was searching the forum for topics such as these, i guess thats what you get when you just search for 'airship'.:rolleyes: Btw are you planning on following up on that TL you started in that thread, sounds like it could go places, its got me very interested!

I dunno, old man. I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you, though. I've a bad habit of having an idea and then forgetting about it.

AirshipArmada
November 19th, 2007, 02:19 AM
You need a relatively airtight envelope which is also light weight. The earliest balloons were made of silk and were built by french condom manufactures (who had some experience with making impermeable membranes).
What are your Romans going to use?

If they do make balloons somehow I think they could be useful in sieges.
Unmanned "fire balloons" could be launched and allowed to drift over a city. The leaky balloon would sink and potentially start a fire in the town.

A manned tethered balloon might be a decent ballista platform.

Of course, balloons would make tempting target for enemy archers as well.

Thande
November 19th, 2007, 02:21 AM
You need a relatively airtight envelope which is also light weight. The earliest balloons were made of silk and were built by french condom manufactures (who had some experience with making impermeable membranes).
What are your Romans going to use?

Nice anecdote there :D

The Romans did have silk, imported from China - in fact Roman officials worried that Rome's coffers were being emptied as rich Romans bought up silk and trade was only flowing in one direction.

They did not know the secret of its origin, though, so getting enough to make balloons would have been difficult (unless they do find out in TTL).

MrP
November 19th, 2007, 02:24 AM
Nice anecdote there :D

The Romans did have silk, imported from China - in fact Roman officials worried that Rome's coffers were being emptied as rich Romans bought up silk and trade was only flowing in one direction.

They did not know the secret of its origin, though, so getting enough to make balloons would have been difficult (unless they do find out in TTL).

ISTR that the during the ECW our forebears (or p'raps not ;) ) made use of sheepgut condoms - which could be used over and over again. Unsettling thought, that. ;)

Thande
November 19th, 2007, 02:38 AM
ISTR that the during the ECW our forebears (or p'raps not ;) ) made use of sheepgut condoms - which could be used over and over again. Unsettling thought, that. ;)
I thought that practice started as early as Magna Carta days...

The Dean
November 19th, 2007, 09:06 AM
You need a relatively airtight envelope which is also light weight. The earliest balloons were made of silk and were built by french condom manufactures (who had some experience with making impermeable membranes).
What are your Romans going to use?

If they do make balloons somehow I think they could be useful in sieges.
Unmanned "fire balloons" could be launched and allowed to drift over a city. The leaky balloon would sink and potentially start a fire in the town.

A manned tethered balloon might be a decent ballista platform.

Of course, balloons would make tempting target for enemy archers as well.

Early aircraft used linen treated with "dope" as a skin this would be available to the Romans. Also would they be able to use paper as modelers do or papyrus?

HARRY
November 19th, 2007, 11:32 AM
A bloke called Jim Woodman build a hot air balloon with just the materials availible to pre-Incans to show how the Nazca line could have been viewed.
aerugoairship.wordpress.com/

Mars
November 19th, 2007, 01:32 PM
awesome info guys, thank you very much. I think I'll have them make it out of linen first, and later silk - when they are able to steal silkworm tech from china:cool:.

It'll start as a observation post along the Limes, sending messages along down line with flags, mirrors and carrier pigeons and so forth. Then they'll start creating better ones which they'll actually be able to maneuver well with, so they'll use it as recon into enemy areas. Then someone will get the bright idea of tossing a clay pot full of greek fire out of the side and will ruin it for peaceful skies as we know it. Romans will start using them like that in major battles, dropping amphorae with greek fire on enemy formations. Later gunpowder grenades taken from the chinese. Who knows where it will go from there:D

The Dean
November 19th, 2007, 05:39 PM
awesome info guys, thank you very much. I think I'll have them make it out of linen first, and later silk - when they are able to steal silkworm tech from china:cool:.

It'll start as a observation post along the Limes, sending messages along down line with flags, mirrors and carrier pigeons and so forth. Then they'll start creating better ones which they'll actually be able to maneuver well with, so they'll use it as recon into enemy areas. Then someone will get the bright idea of tossing a clay pot full of greek fire out of the side and will ruin it for peaceful skies as we know it. Romans will start using them like that in major battles, dropping amphorae with greek fire on enemy formations. Later gunpowder grenades taken from the chinese. Who knows where it will go from there:D

One of the greatest things about the Romans was they were businessmen, how about they use the revolutionary new means of transport for trade and exploration. Rare spices and gems could be economically transported. then as the machines became more efficient they could expand their use into more general transport.

Thande
November 19th, 2007, 06:13 PM
One of the greatest things about the Romans was they were businessmen, how about they use the revolutionary new means of transport for trade and exploration. Rare spices and gems could be economically transported. then as the machines became more efficient they could expand their use into more general transport.
Permission to tie this into the Roman India scenario, sir? :D

The Dean
November 19th, 2007, 06:26 PM
Permission to tie this into the Roman India scenario, sir? :D

Another virtue of the Romans was their fearless use of technology, if they had encountered lighter than air machines they would have methodically adopted their use without any qualms.

MrP
November 19th, 2007, 06:38 PM
Indo-Roman Mercantile Aeronautical Corps . . . that might be the coolest thing ever . . . :cool:

Admiral_Ritt
November 19th, 2007, 07:55 PM
Romans would need either a way to make large envelopes of non-porous
materials or a way to make lots of smaller ones. One way... see below

The only thing I think the romans MIGHT have accidetally stubled upon
is Petroleum distillation and refinement. With enough experimentation
they would have come across the method to create polyprolynene (plastics)
and plastics envelopes of modest sizes could have been built.

but They would never be able to develop commercially viable rigid airships IMO, just blimps with gondolas for a few passengers. A rigid airship with the material of the time would be too heavy and too Expensive in Metal Cost. Maybe usefull as scout ships & Ferrying VIP's around (if the have the guts to get into one)

The Dean
November 19th, 2007, 08:20 PM
Romans would need either a way to make large envelopes of non-porous
materials or a way to make lots of smaller ones. One way... see below

The only thing I think the romans MIGHT have accidetally stubled upon
is Petroleum distillation and refinement. With enough experimentation
they would have come across the method to create polyprolynene (plastics)
and plastics envelopes of modest sizes could have been built.

The problem with that is they were not going to have lighter than air gas. They were going to have to notice the lifting effect of hot air and "discover" the hot air balloon. This would make plastics impractical and linen would be the way forward, perhaps with some form of varnish or grease on the exterior.

but They would never be able to develop commercially viable rigid airships IMO, just blimps with gondolas for a few passengers. A rigid airship with the material of the time would be too heavy and too Expensive in Metal Cost. Maybe usefull as scout ships & Ferrying VIP's around (if the have the guts to get into one)

They could easily have made semi-rigid airships with a frame constructed using bracer's fabricated by laminating strips of wood in the manner of a bow. These could be placed in the envelope under tension to give it shape in the manner of a modern tent with fiberglass poles.

Ran Exilis
November 19th, 2007, 08:57 PM
Nice anecdote there :D

The Romans did have silk, imported from China - in fact Roman officials worried that Rome's coffers were being emptied as rich Romans bought up silk and trade was only flowing in one direction.

They did not know the secret of its origin, though, so getting enough to make balloons would have been difficult (unless they do find out in TTL).

Which reminds me; IIRC, the OTL Byzantines learnt the secret of silk production during the 6th century.

AirshipArmada
November 19th, 2007, 09:03 PM
From
http://www.nott.com/Pages/projects.php
Where some folks made balloons using inca tech (referred to up-thred).

Thick wood-smoke flows from a fire via a trench and pours into Condor I. It cures the fabric, filling its pores. "To our surprise," says Nott, "the quality of the smoke was crucial. Modern historians assume all that mattered was the heat and laugh at the Montgolfiers for believing what they burned was important. But this balloon showed the Montgolfiers were right: the nature of the smoke it critical."
and
And while I do not see any evidence that the Nazca civilization did fly, it is beyond any doubt that they could have. And so could the ancient Egyptians, the Romans, the Vikings, any civilization. With just a loom and fire you can fly! This raises intriguing questions about the development of science . . .

So - some experimenter figures smoke rises and if he can trap it in a bag then he might be able to fly. He makes a big linen bag and traps a lot of smoke, the bag fills but doesn't provide enough lift. He tries again with different smoke. This time he is lucky and uses a wood which produces the right type of smoke to seal the pores. Lift off!

But balloons are still far from airships. They would still be very useful. Here is a naval siege "tower" I mocked up over lunch break.
http://www.amateurgeek.com/AltHist/images/romanballoon.png