By Chris Bennett
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Extra resources for Baden Sollingen. The Hornet's Nest
Although the German General Staff had considered Zeppelin a quack for attempting such huge rigid airships and had begun developing smaller nonrigid dirigibles, the German Army suddenly became interested in Zeppelin’s design after the LZ-3 completed a nonstop flight of 208 miles, purchasing the LZ-3 and ordering another. Despite the fiery crash and destruction of LZ-4 upon landing after a 24-hour test flight on 4 August 1908, the German government had seen enough to see potential in the airship.
As secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Langley brought a high profile to his efforts to solve the problem of heavierthan-air flight. After conducting exhaustive tests with a whirling arm, Langley constructed and successfully launched a series of steam-powered model aircraft from a houseboat anchored in the Potomac River. His most successful model, Aerodrome No. 5, had a 13-ft wingspan, was powered by a 1 hp steam engine, and on 6 May 1896 flew approximately 90 seconds in a circular pattern for almost 3,300 ft.
Deprived of the benefit of taking off into a constant headwind, the Avion III lost what little chance it might have had and its 14 October 1897 trial was an absolute failure. Although the tail lifted from the ground, the front failed to lift. Furthermore, the Avion III was heavily damaged after being blown off course by crosswinds—an adverse result of the faulty runway configuration. Even on a straight runway, however, the Avion III would not have flown. Although Ader attempted to gloss over the Avion III’s failure, blaming the adverse weather conditions of the trial, and appealed for additional government funding, the French government, which had been discredited by the Panama Scandal and was now mired in the Dreyfus Affair, had little time or political standing to provide further funding for what Ader’s contemporary, Samuel Langley, director of the Smithsonian Institute, described as an enormous bat.