History Behind The Card: German Military Dirigible “Gross” Type
Card #18 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910
- Major Hans Georg Friedrich von Gross, 1860 – 1924, Samter, Poland
- Nikolaus Basenach – no information known of this engineer/designer/balloonist.
Regarding Basenauch, I read that he requested a patent in 1927 for a flying boat. There is also a patent request in 1922 (denied) for an improvement in anchoring devices for airships, and another in 1922 regarding airship improvements.
But other than that, people called him a famous balloonist… but I can’t find any personal data on him.
In 1895 and 1896 Hans Georg Friedrich von Gross supported David Schwarz in the development of his metal-clad airship. In 1906 Gross rose in rank to Major and became commander of the Royal Prussian Airship Battalion Number 2.
With Nikolaus Basenach in 1906 or 1907, he started construction of the first German military airship, an experimental keeled semi-rigid airship with a cigar-shaped envelope attached to a long T-shaped keel or framework of steel and aluminum tubing.
Called the Gross-type dirigible, it had a propeller mounted on each side of the keel in the center of the ship which was powered by a 25-horsepower Mercedes engine located in the car suspended from the keel, with the power transferred via belts.
This is not a zeppelin. The Germans were famous for three types of dirigible, the Parseval (see Wills’s card # 15), the Gross, and the Zeppelin—designed by Count Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin—the best-known example of the rigid system of construction. I’ll present a look at the zeppelin and von Zeppelin soon.
Depending on which historical aviation expert you talk to, the Gross dirigibles are either know by that moniker, or by the name Groß-Basenach. Groß utilizes the German spelling of ‘Gross’.
I don’t have a preference, except that writing ‘Gross’ is easier.
The Gross dirigibles are semi-rigid craft, and utilized the Parseval system of ballonets along with horizontal planes for longitude control.
A ballonet is an airbag situated inside the outer envelope of either a non-rigid or semi-rigid airship. Multiple ballonets can be used, but the Gross dirigibles only used a single ballonet.
The ballonet is used because air is denser than the lifting gas (helium is the most common nowadays, but in the pioneer days, hydrogen gas was the choice). The ballonets are deflated or inflated with air to maintain the external shape of the airship during ascent or descent. They can also be used to control the pitch of the airship.
These Gross dirigibles has utilized a rear extension of the keel that held a hinged rudder.
The first dirigible from Gross was the Versuchluftschiff, an experimental ship that had a volume of 1,800 cubic meters and had a keel directly under the balloon envelope. It was mostly constructed by the firm Siemens-Schuckert GmbH, a German electrical engineering company headquartered in Berlin, Erlangen and Nuremberg that was incorporated into Siemens AG in 1966, a company I often write about in my day job in the packaging industry.
The first flight took place on May 7, 1907, but its 24-25 horsepower Gaggenau car engine only gave it a top speed of 29-kilometers per hour (18-miles per hour).
While the results were poor, it was indeed an experimental craft, and Gross put the data to good use when he built a second dirigible in 1908, that was both larger with greater all-around ability than the first attempt.
Placed into military service and designated as ‘M I’ (M- One), in September 1908, the dirigible set a round trip record of traveling 283.24-kilometres (176-miles) in 13 hours. With four passengers, it reached a height of 1,219.20-metres (4,000-feet). This version of the ‘M I’ utilized a pair of 75-horsepower Daimler engines that enabled the dirigible to achieve a top speed of 43.45-kilometres per hour (27-miles per hour).
The M I was re-built again 1909 and in 1912, each time becoming larger. It set a flight endurance record of over 13 hours. In 1913 the hull was lengthened to 71.8 meters. In its lengthened state it first flew on March 26, 1913. The keel was changed three times and the volume increased to 5600 m³. Nevertheless the maximum speed remained unchanged at 47 kilometers per hour (29 mph).
The ‘M II’ launched in April 1909 while alterations were still being done to the M I and carried a wireless communication system. Powered by four 75-horsepower motors, it was able to reach a speed of 72.42-kilometers per hour (45-miles per hour).
The M III was built in 1909 and first for the first time on December 31, 1909.
- Volume: 7,800 m³;
- Length: 81.5 meters;
- enlarged in 1912 to 9,000 m³ and a length of 83.3 meters;
- Propulsion: two 75-horsepower Körting engines;
- Maximum speed: 59 kilometers per hour (37 mph); after rebuild: 68 kilometers per hour (42 mph)
At the time, the M III was the fastest airship on the planet.
The Körting engines on the M III were not the initial choice for the dirigible – that would be the petrol-paraffin engine.
A petrol-paraffin engine, also known as the gasoline-kerosene engine, is a dual-fuel internal combustion engine with spark-ignition. It was designed to start on gasoline and then to switch to run on paraffin/kerosene once the engine warmed up.
Gross also built other dirigibles, but the chief differences were the manner of mounting the propellers directly onto the car, or for the ‘M IV’, mounted to two separate cars.
I am unsure when the M IV first flew, but we do know that it performed fairly well…
M IV features include:
- Volume of 19,000 m³;
- fitted with a ballonet to regulate the pressure
- 1913 – rebuilt and equipped with 100-kilogram bombs;
- 1914 enlarged;
- Propulsion: three Maybach engines providing a total of 480 horsepower.
The M IV achieved a top speed of 82 kilometers per hour (51 mph). From December 28, 1914 until November 3, 1915 it performed 24 patrols over the Baltic Sea. On September 10, 1915, it attacked an enemy boat with its 100-kilogram bombs.
The Wills’s tobacco card reverse notes that a fifth dirigible may have been in the works… but perhaps it took into account the experimental dirigible, in which case, the card is correct.
Perhaps because the Gross balloons were constructed for Germany’s military, very little pertinent data was ever made public.
Still, these Gross aircraft were not as successful as Major Gross desired, regardless of the spin put on by the Wills’s card writers. Despite him not caring for the zeppelin, there is no denying how successful the zeppelin was – especially during World War I.
The Gross dirigible faded away, while the zeppelin ruled the commercial air until the unfortunate Hindenburg disaster of 1937.
As for Major Gross himself, in 1910 he had a street in Berlin-Köpenick named after him: Großstraße.
He toiled for the Luftschiffer Batallion #2 between 1906-1918, when he retired holding the rank of Major General. Luftschiffer means ‘aeronaut’.