90th Anniversary of Hamza Home-Made Blimp

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90th Anniversary of Hamza Home-Made Blimp

Postby Tone » Thu Aug 03, 2017 10:33 pm

1927. Lucky Lindy's solo flight dominated aeronautical history, symbolizing the field's dramatic growth. One event occurred that history has forgotten. On August 3, Anthony A. Hansler flew a home-made blimp designed and built by Morris F. Hamza, of Union City, New Jersey.

While homebuilt airships enjoyed popularity when exhibited across North America before 1910, examples from the 1920s are rare. A quick internet search of census records reveals Hamza was born in Austria "about 1884" and he manufactured draperies. He spent over a decade researching, designing, and building his airship, and he wished to perfect an airship that could remain aloft indefinitely.

The result was a 94-foot long cylindrical envelope of 15,000 cubic feet, with a conical nose, and a tail section with a creased or pinched appearance, like a bell pepper. A tubular metal frame attached to the tail end of the envelope contained four small cruciform control surfaces. The rectangular open gondola suspended underneath was made of bamboo, and featured a two-cylinder, nine-horsepower Henderson engine driving a two-blade tractor propeller. Two silent movies from British Pathe News show a crew of people rigging the airship in an open field near Union City, inflating it with hydrogen gas contained in cylinders. Hansler tested the engine and control surfaces and the crew let go of the ropes. The airship yawed and pitched in the air, barely controllable. A story that many newspapers across the US carried the following day described Hansler's flight over New York City in detail; how he ascended to 6,000 feet, how chafing caused a rent in the envelope, and how he shut the engine down to prevent escaping hydrogen gas from exploding. Hansler dropped the drag rope and strapped on his parachute. Finally, the ship alighted near Flushing Meadows.

A rare photo published in the Brooklyn Eagle shows the envelope "jack-knifed" in the middle because of pressure loss. In the 1930s, Hansler related how a female airplane pilot named Thea Rasch, flying nearby, was able to create a slipstream that succeeded in turning the airship around. I have not read this in any contemporary newspaper article, and it might have been an embellishment.

Footage from the British Pathe News appeared in an episode of PBS Nova, "The Blimp is Back." Hamza's blimp is misidentified as a Santos-Dumont airship. Excerpts from the footage may have been featured in other documentaries, as well as in the introduction to the 1975 Hindenburg movie, where it is described as a "semi-rigid airship with a light metal frame supported by...oops!"

Film Sources:

British Pathe News, "Home Made Blimp," August 18, 1927, Media URN 33295, Film ID 694.23, 1.54 minutes long, and Media URN 33296, Film ID 694.24, 1:10 minutes long.

Nova, "The Blimp is Back," 5:46-5:56 into the film.

Print Sources:

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, Thursday, August 4, 1927, p. 18 M1, "Pilot and Home-Made Blimp Safe After Crash in Queens."

Cold Spring (MN) Record, "Floyd Gibbons' Adventurers' Club" column entitled "Two Kinds of Death," August 30, 1939, p. 2 of 8.

Popular Science Monthly, "New Phases in Aero Progress," November 1927, p. 54.

Search, Ancestry.com, "Hamza."
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