The joy of fully realizing and knowing the bond of our friendship had deepened over the last three years made my heart sing that fateful morning. Seen from a distance, the early rays of dawn glistened against the silhouette of The Zephyr exiting the barn. The Zephyr existed was a triumph of the bond shared between Philip and me. Through trials, tribulations, and victories of our endeavors as our shared vision took shape, so too did our relationship grow from friendship to brotherhood.
Our combined skills in engineering and electrical sciences produced this magnificent airship. While not as large as its successors would be, this ship would be the proof of concept that would change the world, ushering in a new commerce and transportation age. This maiden flight would test and confirm our theories shining as a beacon of hope for the future.
Preflight checks all seemed to be in order. The rudder and planes responded well to the controls from gleaming brass and polished wooden controls in the wheelhouse. The small Donkey engine aft generated a good head of steam as it spun the two dynamos up to speed. Dials spun as they engaged both in the engine compartment and their duplicates in the wheelhouse. They reflected the steady pressure of the Donkey engines chug-chug and the current flow from the dynamos. A third dial held a constant vigil as the batteries held their charge. In contrast, four smaller dials below read the amperage fed to each of the powerful electric motors ready to spin the propellers.
A steam engine required to power even a ship this size weighed more than the ship could lift. Its cargo capacity being negated by the requirement to carry enough fuel to feed the monster. Our concept used a one-cylinder donkey engine to charge batteries. It was lightweight and could be turned off for extended periods while the ship was powered by its batteries, requiring much less fuel. At least that was the idea.
The coin toss went to Phillip. It would be he who piloted our craft as I operated the engine and tended the batteries. Our six backers and their wives would occupy the small but well-appointed, passenger cabin and we would carry 250 pounds of mixed cargo. Our future plans would aim for up to 100 passengers or as much cargo as a large freighter. Other designs might allow for a mix of passengers and cargo. Yes, our optimism was high.
The ground crew loosed our bonds to the earthly realm. With hardly a bump, our beautiful craft with its crimson and gold gas bag adorned by the saw-toothed stabilizer fins bore us heavenward.
We circled the town, checking our systems and operations, allowing our backers too, “ooh and ahh,” as we dipped low enough to view landmarks. A tight circle of the town’s clocktower confirmed the trim crafts maneuverability. All conducted in silence.
The intent was we would fly northward to our capital, showing our invention to the government. Surely after such a prolonged period of devastation, a design such as ours might inspire them to back us as well. The possibilities were endless. Our dreams were of the pie in the sky variety. Our heads and our invention were in the clouds.
Our Backers were ecstatic. Fortunately, the weather was good, and they gushed over how comfortable the travel. Even the best trains were loud and smelly. This was almost as comfortable as sitting in their own parlors. Their schemes at attracting passengers soon outstripped Phillips and mine most grandiose of plans. The only sound the occasional chug-chug of the Donkey engine to keep up the charge.
As the batteries charged, two things happened. First, they generated heat, and this in itself could cause them to boil out, exposing the plates seated in the sulfuric acid, potentially causing a spark. This results in the second problem of an explosion. As the batteries charged, they generate not only heat but hydrogen gas. This gas is the very thing suspending our craft between heaven and earth. A spark could ignite it.
Phillip solved these problems in two ways. Each battery resided inside a glass housing. Ingeniously a stopcock attached to each of these housings allowed the hydrogen to be siphoned off and stored for future use. This would solve one of the questions posed in obtaining a supply for our ships. A creative system of ductwork flowed over the batteries removing the oxygen produced as part of the process, which had the effect of cooling both batteries and the engines. The controls to open these ducts resided in the wheelhouse. The siphoning process could be controlled manually at the batteries or from the wheelhouse.
We made the trip from Texas to Washington, D.C., in less than 14 hours. A three-day journey by train is reduced to less than a day. The trip was a complete success for our vision of the future.
Well, mine at least, for I noticed the temperature of the batteries rising. This had occurred a couple of times during the flight, but Phillip had opened the ducts rapidly cooling things down each time. There was no cool down.
The speaking tube engendered no response. Worried, I went to the wheelhouse only to find the door locked. My knocks produced no more response than the speaking tube. Concern for Phillip led me to break open the door. In the interest of lightweight, the doors and nonstructural components were made of the lightest materials, the door collapsed under a determined assault.
“Phillip, what is wrong?” stunned as he seemed to be piloting the craft normally. I could just see the capitol through the front windows of the wheelhouse.
“There is nothing wrong, Emmet. I aim to repair history. We should never have lost that war, and now carpetbaggers steal our ways of life. Take our property and our lands. Do you really think those men back there are not plotting to take every cent from our toil? When this ship crashes into the capitol, our brethren will rise again, throw off the shackle of these northern oppressors.” Madly throwing controls, The Zephyr abruptly canted downward. If action were not taken swiftly, our dreams would turn from an optimistic vision to a thunderbolt of Zeusian vengeance.
“Phillip, after all, we have come to understand each other how can you dash our dreams? The war was lost, slavery was on the way out as machinery changed the economics. Ours is a time to look to the future, rebuild from the ashes, and create new things like the Zephyr. Please, Phillip, step away from the controls.”
“I knew you had gone soft Emmet when you mourned Lincoln. I knew it then. You are a good man, but you just do not understand. The idea came to me as we flew. I knew you would never understand what this chance represented.”
“I understand, Phillip. I understand too well. Some cannot accept times change. There will always be those who want to hold dearly to old ideas, will fight to prevent change. Even change for the better where all mankind might learn to live as one brotherhood. How can I convince you this is not the course to take? Only evil can come of it.”
With a glance at the controls, Phillip spun to face me.
“I can’t let you do this, Phillip.”
“I can’t let you stop me, Emmet.”
Without further word, we launched at each other.
Thank you for reading,