Hi, everyone, and welcome to another instalment of Tech of the Town! In the world of The Star-Runner Chronicles, magic and technology are tightly intertwined. Nowhere is this more evident than in air travel technology. So, sit back, relax, and get ready to learn all about airships!
Early Air Travel
The first attempts at air travel were made during the Age of Coal and Oil, circa 790 P.W.D. Everyone and their mother knew that hot air rises and a cloth or paper bag-like object that fills with hot air floats. This knowledge had been used to send Starlight Festival lanterns up into the heavens for millennia. However it wasn’t until this time that someone crazy enough to try and use it to get a person airborne had come along.
This crazy individual was Harley Wrenchworthy, a gremlin scientist absolutely obsessed with flight. Her initial attempts at manned flight had included a hang-glider (which flew for a little while before she crashed into a windmill) and a primitive helicopter-like device (which never got off the ground because the engine was too heavy and the technology did not exist to make it any lighter). Then, one Starlight Festival, she was watching the lanterns as they ascended into the sky and the idea struck her to construct a hot air balloon!
Oh, sure, everyone laughed at her and thought she was nuts…until she actually got the thing off the ground and was able to make a successful, crash-free, trip in it from one end of town to the other. After that, she had people lining up to take a ride in her miraculous flying machine and investors riding in from far and wide to get in on the action. Harley Wrenchworthy became an overnight celebrity…but her invention never made it past the novelty amusement stage. As it turned out, making a hot air balloon which would be big enough to serve as mass transit was just not feasible.
Luckily for the history of flight, however, human chemist and alchemist Dr. George Kenner had been doing research into lighter-than-air gasses. Most people thought that his research was nice, but not particularly applicable to the real world…well, until Miss Wrenchworthy’s hot air balloons came along.
In the summer of 810, when the dream of hot air-based lighter-than-air flying machines started to fall apart, Dr. Kenner got into contact with Miss Wrenchworthy to illuminate her on his own research. He managed to spark her interest and the two began working closely together on the very first helium-based airship not much later (they had considered hydrogen at first, but scrapped the idea due to its flammability problem). Their invention, the Wrenchworthy-Kenner blimp, started out with a small prototype consisting of the gas bag, a gondola which could comfortably seat six, a rudder for steering, and twin gasoline engines for propulsion.
The blimp was a success…such a success that it spawned many imitators. Most of these imitators just used the same or almost the same design as Wrenchworthy and Kenner, but others actively added new features and improvements on the original design. The very first dirigibles—or rigid airships, so named for the metal framework within the balloon—were born of this very wave of imitators, as a matter of fact.
Lighter-than-air ships never ran into the problem of helium scarcity thanks to the ability to use alchemy to manufacture the gas as needed. In fact, the only real changes to lighter-than-air craft from the early days to the present have been the replacement of gasoline with magicels and the introduction of the use of air magicels in order to prevent gas loss due to natural airbag leakage.
Sailing Ships in the Sky
With the advent of the magicel, many new experimental aircraft designs began to appear. The most popular gasless design type among these is the flying sailing ship. The first of these, the Sky Schooner, appeared in the 940’s. Powered by two 56 inch air magicels, this ship was the very first machine to use magic to defy gravity. Of course, the magic to make an inanimate object fly or hover already existed, but no one had the power to make anything any heavier than a carpet or a broom fly for any useful length of time at a decent speed. Only with the power of magicels was it finally possible to lift an object as heavy as a wooden sailing ship fully loaded with cargo, passengers, and crew into the sky and propel it at speeds of up to ninety miles per hour.
Considering the speeds and altitude—they are perfectly capable of sailing above the clouds—at which these sky ships travel, special considerations had to be made to keep passengers and crew onboard comfortable. In this case, special air shield spells are used to keep the air at an appropriate thickness for comfortable breathing and filter the wind speeds on the exposed decks down to a pleasant breeze. Another special set of shield spells is used as a safety measure to keep people from falling overboard…because, you know, that’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen otherwise. Like normal ocean-going vessels, they also have fully functioning life boats so that passengers and crew can escape safely in the event of an emergency.
These days, most sailing ship-type airships are made of metal instead of wood and range from small clipper ships to luxury cruise vessels measuring nearly five hundred feet (one hundred and fifty two point four meters) in length. While some models use sails and masts to channel the air magic which powers them, others use rune-covered wheels or arches, wings (flapping or stationary), and even oars in their propulsion systems. People love watching these ships as much as they love riding them because the different companies make it a point to make them as decorative and colorful as possible. Some ships even have special lights which flash different colors or leave color trails behind them as they fly, panels on the side which flow slowly from one color to the next, and even gears and wheels that are good for nothing at all except looking cool by constantly moving.
Today, airships are the dominant form of air travel overall and the only form of mass air travel in the world. Though airplanes, autogiros, and helicopters all tried to make a mark in the late 990’s and early 1000’s, the fact that they become veritable deathtraps if their engines fail turned lots of people off when they compared them to the relatively much harder to crash dirigibles and the much more failsafe-heavy sailing ship-types. No doubt, someone from the world of The Star-Runner Chronicles would think that we in our world were completely nuts for having chosen the airplane over the dirigible just because of one horrible freak accident in two decades of safe operation, even though airplanes crash much more frequently than dirigibles ever did…
Well, that does it for this week, folks. I’ll be very busy with personal stuff in the coming weeks, but I’ll be back as soon as possible with another great blog post! Until then, go on ahead and check out The Star-Runner Chronicles at Amazon.com (print and ebook), Smashwords (ebook in .epub, .mobi, .pdf, .rtf, .lrf, and html formats), Barnes & Noble (print and ebook), Kobo (ebook), iTunes (ebook), and other fine online retailers or ask your local book store about the paperback edition! Also, if you liked this article, be sure to check out others under the Tech and History sections.
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