Author Topic: Flight of the X-2  (Read 635 times)

LordWorthing

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Flight of the X-2
« on: July 21, 2021, 03:44:30 pm »
Flight of the X-2 (Part I)

Royal Airship Works, Cardington, Bedfordshire, Great Britain.

The sun had yet to raise up over the sleepy countryside in Bedfordshire. The Royal Airship Works at Cardington were however another matter, the grounds and associated buildings, barracks and worksites of the airship works were a teeming hive of activity, as work crews, airship handlers and mechanics were up and moving purposefully inside and outside the massive double airship hangers housing the four R.N.A.S. rigid airships of the Special Airship Reconnaissence Division.

The Special Airship Reconnaissence Division was the brainchild of both the Admiralty and Her Majesty's Secret Service. The Airship Service of the Royal Navy was divided into several commands, each with their own specialization. Technically the S.A.R. Division did not exist at least on the offical books of organization of the Royal Navy any way, and was hidden behind a wall of governmental bureaucratic and naval administrative red tape. This was hardly surprising, as the S.A.R's primary job was prying into the military affairs of other nations, particularly things those nations wanted to keep secret.

The X-class airships were themselves a top secret development within the British Airship establishments. They were larger, faster and possessed greater carrying power then any other British airships in existence. The X-class used a different lifting agent in their gas cells, then other British airships either military or civil, which used hydrogen gas. Hydrogen while highly effective at producing lift and being both easy and cheap to produce, had the highly dangerous property of being highly combustible when mixed with any amount of oxygen. Thus hydrogen filled airships had to carry out special safety procedures and rigid operational protocols to minimize the chances of accidental fires and explosions.

The X-class used Helium gas, which while a great deal more expensive to produce or obtain, and being less effective at producing lift then Hydrogen, was a great deal safer to operate with. Offically the only source of Helium was found within the state of Texas, which was part of the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy had placed strict limits on how much Helium it exported at any time to any one power. Speculation within the S.A.R. was that British authorities had discovered another source of Helium to exploit, although it was felt it was not a large source otherwise the whole of the R.N.A.S. airship fleet would have been converted to it.

Of the four X-class airships, HMS X-1 had been by far the most active. X-1 had already made several lengthy and successful research cruises over North America, Central America and South America as well as well several shorter trips over the North and South Atlantic Oceans. The X-1 had also been busy training the crews for the soon to be operational X-3 and X-4. The HMS X-2 had been moderately active compared to her sister ship, having made several full power trials and endurance test flights, and been used to test new outfits of spying equipement. X-2 had made only three operational flights, the first had been over the Mediterrean Sea, which had been quiet and uneventful enough. The second cruise had been over Austria-Hungary, which had been something in the nature of a diaster. The X-2 had been spotted early in the start of it's cruise after it had left from a secret base in the Kingdom of Greece. How, was still not known, but Austro-Hungarian air and sky ships had dogged it's flight path the momement it entered Austrian territory and persistently refused to be shaken off no matter what evasive action the X-2 had taken.

The captain of the X-2, Dame Marianne Turner, had decided on her own authority to call off the flight. A sensible decision given events, but not one welcomed by her superiors in the Admiralty, the Airship Command or the Foreign Office. After a refit at Malta, the X-2 had been sent out on another long-range reconnaissance, over the length and breath of the Ottoman Empire. This mission proved largely successful and was completed without serious mishap. Following both X-1 and X-2's return to Cardington, both airships had been taken in hand for massive refits and partial rebuilding to test new equipements, new engines and for the addition of two extra gas cells within their superstructures to increase their height climbing and weight carrying abilities.

X-1 was found to have suffered a major deterioration of several large sections of it's envelope covering, particularly just foreward of the tail fin assembly and just back of the airship's nose, wrapping around much of the hull. Both called for immediate and extensive refurbishing before the X-1 could fly again, particularly as the bow section which took the most stress when flying with dynamic lift and borne the brunt of rain or hail while in flight.

For Vice-Admiral Sir Alfred Wedgewood, who paced back and forth impatiantly outside the cavernous hanger door, which slowly rolled open to allow the airship entombed within to exit. This necessary delay was not a welcome development. The replacement of the affected envelope cover would take several weeks, including trials to see if the new cover was up to standard. Wedgewood had ordered all of the other X-class ships checked to see if they had suffered the same deterioration. So far, only X-1 and X-2 showed it this problem. The X-3 and X-4 were still in their respective double hanger under construction and while they were largely finished as far as their framework and internal structures and fittings were conscerned, their Gas cells had been fitted and test filled, neither had as of yet been sheathed in fabric.

In X-1 and X-2, the outer cover was linen fabric, silver doped on a red oxide base. Square section sample taken from both airships had revealed that much of the cover had been repaired or strengthened on it's inner surface with two-inch tapes that had then been stuck on with adhesive or doping. Wedgewood had wound up putting his hand through one of the samples, it was nearly as friable as scotched brown paper and broke up easily into flakes if even light pressure was applied to it. The Airship Technical Lab had anaylized the samples and discovered that several sections of outer cover had reinforcing patches applied to them with a rubber adhesive solution. The solution was found to have reacted with the doping agent and the linen cover to cause the fabric to deteriorate.

Vice-Admiral Wedgewood, now found himself in a difficult position, the X-1, the most experienced spy ship in the S.A.R. had been requested by the government to undertake a special intelligence mission in the Central Asian territories of the Russian Empire. There was no way, that the X-1 could be made ready in time to depart for British India to undertake the operation. Actually the engineers had informed the admiral, that the airship could be made ready but it would involve cutting corners on the repairs and cutting the needed speed, power and endurance trials necessary to confirm the X-1 was air worthy to the absolute minimum. Wedgewood, his airship works engineers and Captains Turner and Varley were all agreed, that was both dangerous and stupid.

That left him with only one other option, given the circumstances. The X-2 had to be assigned the job, and prepped to undertake the mission to India and beyond. Wedgewood was assured that the X-2 was ready for the mission, her refit and rebuilding had gone smoothly, all the previous trials and tests had also gone extremely well. True, X-2's captain and crew was less experienced then X-1 and it's captain, Sir Markus Varley. However, both he and Varley felt confident in Captain Turner's competence and discretion.
An Age of Steam, Steel and Iron

It is the year 1889 A.D., an age of enlightened discovery, of unrivalled and often fantastic scientific and technological progress: powered by coal, steam and electricity. It is also an age of empires and empire building, of fierce and often complex competition for wealth and material resources by both governments, corporations and private individuals. The Nations of Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia vie for power, prestige and prosperity on the world stage and across the solar system.

LordWorthing

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Re: Flight of the X-2
« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2021, 11:48:11 pm »
Flight of the X-2 (Part II)

Royal Airship Works, Cardington, Bedfordshire, Great Britain.

Wedgewood stopped his pacing as they bow of the rigid airship emerged from the gapping maw of the hanger. The X-2 was as big as a battleship, longer even. Cables attached to the airship's nose went taunt as the windless motors activated to them began to work and assist in drawing the airship out of the hanger. A small battalion of men, held fast to cables hanging from the airship's sides, others held on to brackets and handrails mounted on the command and engine cars. Handling crews were necessary to manovering airships safely in and out of their hangers, although they were sometimes derisively called ground floor acrobats by airship crews. Such contempt was unjustified in Wedgewood's opinion, considering the skill and persistence require by the handling crews to do their jobs, not to mention agility and sheer strength and endurance. An Airship leaving the safety of it's hanger was at it's most vulnerable, rigged to neutral buoncency, airships were at the mercy of air pressure and wind pressure while making the transit into open air. A cross wind across the mouth of a hanger, could smash the airship against the sides of the hanger mouth as it emerged, breaking or buckling structural or engine frames, tearing gas cells, rupture fuel or water tanks or worse, breaking the airship's back if it was a rigid airship.

Wedgewood, pulled the folded map out from his coat pocket to consult it. The X-2 would leave Cardington, today and fly to the Portuguese Azores on the first leg of it's journey to British India. At the Azores, it would take on additional fuel from a collier and then proceed to St. Helena island, from there the X-2 would proceed to the Cape of Good Hope. The Admiralty would have prefered, that the X-2 cut across Southern Africa from St. Helena, but this had been vetoed by the Foreign Office, with some reason, Wedgewood felt. That region was contested by three colonial powers: the British, the Portuguese and the Germans, and the presence of a spy airship would just be akin to throwing a lighted match into a barrel of parafin oil. The Admiralty may have thought it was worth the risks, the Foreign Office did not and had no intention of trying to clean up the political mess it would likely kick off. While the Portuguese were an ally and generally friendly, they could be touchy about anyone snooping around their colonial possessions. The Portuguese, were painfully aware that several of the other European powers, Great Britain included, looked covertously at their foreign holdings in Africa and Asia. The Foreign Office wanted no part of getting on the wrong side of the Germans, either. Kaiser Friedrich was as a rule friendly to Great Britain, and those in the Foreign Office wanted to keep it that way.

So the Admiralty had to accept a detour around the Cape of Good Hope, Madagasgar and the French colonial islands that surrounded it, into the Southern portion of the India Ocean, before the X-2 turned for the island of Ceylon. The X-2 would stay at Ceylon for a few days to effect any repairs or refits of equipement that might be required and top up it's supplies and fuel for the journey to the Indian Northwestern Frontier. A secure airship field and supply base had been prepared there to assist the X-2, for the crossing of the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains. That part of the trip, had Wedgewood geniunely worried, the Hindu Kush and Pamirs were formidble barriers and the weather over them could be bitter and treacherous in the extreme. Captain Varley had also been sufficiently worried about it, that he had offered to transfer members of his crew who had made previous flights in the region to assist Captain Turner's navigation staff. Both Wedgewood and Turner had been happy to accept the generous offer.

Captain Varley walked over to join, his Vice-Admiral, as the X-2 slowly emerged from the hanger, both men uncouciously held their breath and did not expel it till, the X-2 floated safely into the open air. Both men shared a rueful glance, Right, the first real hurdle of this mission, out of the way. Both men, then walked under the shadow of the great airship, it's envelope painted a dull, naval grey for the long voyage to India. British tricolour roundels decorated the nose and bow of the airship, along with the ship's name in large black lettering X-2. Captain Turner jumped down from the forward ventral control car, and came to meet them.