After those last couple of interviews about hot air balloons, let’s find out how they tackle the business of air travel in Numoeath. Their technology (remember, they call it “techne” here) level has only developed as far as lighter-than-air equipment within the last decade or so. Your Intrepid Correspondent suspects that some of that progress only occurred because of access to surviving technology from the time of the Settlers, who were considerably more scientifically advanced. Anyway, we won’t upset the natives by questioning too much or probing too deeply.
Ascar’s blimp workshop is situated within the inner city along with other industrial buildings for manufacturing, processing and so on. As previously mentioned, electricity is limited to what can be generated by watermills on the River Ascar as well as human-pedalled generators (colloquially known as “working the battery”). Heavy goods are shifted along roads on handcarts, pedalcarts and sometimes on engine-powered vehicles. Although engineers know about steam power, fuel supplies are preferentially allocated for other purposes. I suppose one consequence is a remarkable lack of smog and pollution around the city. There’s also a canal system of sorts which they use for moving very heavy items. However, such use is infrequent these days since the waterway mainly serves to remove… noisesome matter from households and discards from fishmongers, poultry butchers etc. The waterway carries such biodegradable materials outside the city and it eventually ends up as fertiliser.
Anyway, I’m getting off track (off track, geddit!?)(Editor’s note: Assign someone else to Ascar next time) here with my ramblings about transport systems. We’re here to talk about the blimp workshop. It’s a fair size, relatively speaking, and when I visited there were a couple of dozen people at work. Inside, it’s almost like a big warehouse with a high ceiling and open-plan floor so the supervisors can keep an eye on all the projects. Some of the gadgets look pretty… experimental. There are a few offices to the side. One belongs to Chief Blimp Engineer Haslett, although he wasn’t around the day I visited. Instead, I had a chat with one of the senior blimp engineers.
IC: Thanks for chatting with me at such short notice today. Can I have your name, please?
IC: Thanks, Gus. Now, I’ve never seen anything like this workshop before. Could you maybe give me a quick rundown of the history of blimps?
Gus: Sure, though it’s a fairly short history. Over twenty years ago, Chief Engineer Haslett—his background is in general engineering—wondered if it was possible for techne to lift items, or even people, into the air. That is, without a supporting frame such as a pulley or crane. At King Frederick’s suggestion, he scoured the historical archives for information from the time of the Settlers.
IC: Ah, the famed Settlers. How long ago did they settle here?
Gus (scratches behind his ear with a pencil): Dunno. Hundreds of years? I mean, it’s not like any of us remember, and I’ve never seen any books—
IC: Sorry, I’m getting distracted. Never mind. I take it Chief Engineer Haslett was successful?
Gus: Sure, though it took him a while to get everything together. The principle of filling a bag with lighter-than-air gas was all very well, but then getting the right kind of fabric, never mind the right kind of gas…
IC: I can see that would take some doing. So what was the first one like?
Gus: This was all before I started here, although I’ve heard about it and seen sketches. He came up with a balloon that got its lift from hot air, but the problem was fuelling the heater. Obviously, having lots of firewood in the gondola weighs it down.
IC: And I gather that more energy-efficient fuels like oil are rare.
Gus: Exactly. So although hot air balloons worked fine, they couldn’t stay in the air for very long before the heat ran out, so to say.
IC: What then?
Gus: Well, there’s some equipment in the basement of the Keep that we believe was installed by the original Settlers. It produces various types of gas.
IC: Various types? Such as?
Gus: Not sure, but we don’t have free access to it, since other industries need it for their own work. I guess. The machine has several controls, but the problem has been finding out which settings yield what type of gas. Researchers are working their way through all the settings, making notes on the useful ones.
IC: Wow. What powers such an old piece of equipment? And what resources does it use?
Gus (frowns): Huh?
IC (hastily): Never mind. So it produced a lighter-than-air gas for you.
Gus: Yep. We called it flight gas, but there was a major problem: flight gas is highly flammable.
IC: I can imagine that being a major problem indeed.
Gus: Fortunately, the first accident was on the ground and there were no serious casualties. Since then, they’ve identified a new setting which produces a non-flammable gas. We call it levium.
IC: That sounds a lot safer. So, you fill a balloon with levium and it lifts the balloon and gondola, right? How about steering?
Gus: Steering wasn’t a requirement originally, since the blimps were just used for surveying the adjacent land. So they’d be tethered to the launch pad on the Keep’s rooftop rather than used for travelling. But over the last couple of years, and with the help of the regular engineers, we’ve added propellor units to the gondola. They’re pretty good, but it’s still safer not to fly on windy days.
IC: That makes sense. And do enjoy going up in the blimp?
Gus: Who, me? Uh, no. I don’t like heights. Bad enough being on the Keep’s rooftop, never mind any higher. No way!
IC (laughs): I see, and I can’t blame you. Thank you for your time.