Friday, 28 May 1909

This post is part of a series post-blogging the phantom airship scare of 1909. See here for an introduction to the series, and here for a conclusion.

There was nothing about phantom airships in yesterday's papers. Nor is there anything in today's, for that matter. But there is a curious story in the Globe concerning the 'Wokingham airship' (p. 11):

A mysterious and closely-locked shed near the large public school at Wokingham has for some time past given rise to rumours of an airship under construction, and now investigation has confirmed the report.

This sounds like exactly the sort of home-grown airship some have argued were the cause of the scareship sightings! But don't get too excited, because it's not actually an airship, but an aeroplane -- of sorts:

The airship, however, proves to be a flying machine, controlled by rudder. It has no gas bag, and is driven by an 80-h.p. petrol engine, weight 5½ cwt, while its propeller is capable of 1,200 revolutions a minute. The shape is that of an elongated cigar, with the ends telescoping upon the centre. When extended the length of the machine is 140ft. long, 20ft. wide, and 31ft. high. Electric light is generated from the petrol motor, and among its features are self-balancers and hammocks.

On second thoughts, it does sound a bit like a scareship, with its cigar shape and electric lights. Then again, it hasn't actually flown yet:

The trials will shortly commence, and the inventor is understood to be in touch with the military authorities.

And while I'm not an aeronautical engineer, but I'd wager a very large sum of money on it never flying. This must be the Wokingham Whale, a very ambitious but completely misguided attempt to build an aircraft capable of long-distance travel (it was even to have toilets!) The fuselage was built, but that's as far as it got. But it does show the sort of thing people had in mind when they spoke of secretive inventors, and also reminds us just how unrestrained aeronautical designs (especially amateur ones) could be in the early years of flight.

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