“My New Dirigible on Pontoons”

Modern Mechanics May 1930 cover
Cover of Modern Mechanics (May 1930)

In Modern Mechanics‘s May 1930 edition, Commander C.D. Burney, the designer of Britain’s R101 airship, proposed to put pontoons on dirigibles. The innovation, he argued, wasn’t so starting. The first zeppelins were, after all, designed to operate from water. Its designers just hadn’t “hit upon the elliptical shape which would seem necessary to give stability to such a vessel in the face of side wind pressure,” he wrote.

The conception, however, is a fascinating one. The idea of enabling dirigibles to land and take off from the water, makes a vivid appeal to the imagination. Too it also recommends itself by its inherent reasonableness and practical utility.

At the time of Burney’s writing, it wasn’t quite clear yet whether the airship was commercially viable. Indeed, he suggested, “The dirigible as at present designed does not fulfil all the requirements of a commercial vehicle.” Imagine something went wrong midair; an airship couldn’t very well land everywhere. The mooring and docking of airships was also an exceedingly difficult and expensive operation.

The obvious solution, then, was to put her down on water. You can read Commander Burney’s proposal in full here.

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