They Sailed the Skies: U.S. Navy Balloons and the Airship Program

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Naval Institute Press, 2005 - History - 159 pages
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Between the two world wars, free ballooning was practiced for sport and science. Each year aeronauts (lighter-than-air pilots) from the United States and Europe would compete in an international race to determine who could fly the farthest. The U.S. Navy eagerly participated in these events, and one of its officers, Thomas G. W. "Tex" Settle, would become world famous for his wins. The only airman in his time qualified to pilot a free balloon, blimp, glider, and airplane, and to command a rigid airship, Settle was also the first American to fly a pressurized cabin into the stratosphere. This book tells the story of Settle and Navy ballooning during the Golden Age of Flight against the backdrop of the American naval airship program. J. Gordon Vaeth captures the excitement, enthusiasm, and tragedies of this little-known aspect of naval aviation and the colorful personalities who pioneered the program. It is a story that lapses during the war years, but resumes full force in the mid-1940s when two Lakehurst air station officers, Harris F. Smith and William J. Gunther, revived it with their flights. M. Lee Lewis and Malcolm D. Ross followed. Taking advantage of the new plastic balloon technology, they initiated a series of manned scientific flights into the stratosphere. For the armchair reader the author vividly conveys what it was like to fly in a wicker basket under a bag filled with flammable gas in all kinds of weather. An excellent collection of photographs illustrate the text.

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