Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Passarola

An adventure in the skies of Lisbon

300 years ago, the jesuitic priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão was the first to attempt the rise of an object heavier than the air. That took place in Lisbon, in 1709. The priest was a student at the Coimbra University, only 24 years old.

He started raising acclaim of an important audience – King, Queen, Rome Church representative – when he successfully left rising up to the ceiling a balloon filled with hot air.

Then he built a large manned version called “Passarola”. Launched from the St Jorge Castle, on the top of a hill in Lisbon, Gusmão drived his Passarola flying about 1 Km before landing at the city’s main square.
Known since then as “The Flying Priest”, he deserves a place among the airship flying pioneers.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Kajaani - a castle in the far North

Kajaanin Linna, as the finns say, is nowadays just a ruin; but once it was a fine, strong and fearful castle at 64° 13' N, in the remote wilderness of north Finland, not far from the the arctic circle.

By 1666 the castle, although not a perfect fortification, presented a formidable obstacle to any invasion from the east. Kajaneborg, as the castle was known in Swedish, took the form of a long rectangle with a circular tower at each end.

Its purpose was to protect Northern Ostrobothnia from Russians and oversee movements on the inland waterway. It also functioned as an administrative centre and a prison.

It was so formidable that throughout the 1600s the Russians did not even attempt an attack. Only during the Great Northern War and after a long siege did the castle fall to Russian forces. On taking the castle the Russians proceeded to blow it up in March of 1716.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

a quote for Thule

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, thats all.

Oscar Wilde

Monday, 11 May 2009

Tales from the far North : Kiviuq

Kiviuq came across a woman bathing. He thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. However, he noticed that on the shore lay her clothing. It was all feathers. The beautiful lady was actually a goose-woman! Kiviuq decided that he did not care if she was a bird woman. He wanted her for his wife, so he stole her feather clothing. Kiviuq then asked the goose-woman to marry him. She agreed.

Time passed and the goose-woman grew to love Kiviuq. Eventually, they had children. She liked being a goose. However, she was unhappy. She liked to eat her own food that consisted of grass and sand instead of people food like caribou and seal meat. Kiviuq insisted that she eat people food because that is what he hunted. One day, the goose-woman decided that she should be able to eat whatever food she wanted, so she did. Kiviuq got angry with her.

The goose-woman did not think it was right for Kiviuq to insist that she eat human food. One day when he was away hunting she found her feather clothing from where Kiviuq had hidden it. She put her feathers back on, gathered her children and flew with them far away to the south. Before she met Kiviuq she flew south every winter, like many birds do.

When Kiviuq returned his family was gone. He did not know where they went, so he searched everywhere for them. Searching everywhere takes a long time. One day he met a big man chopping wood. His name was Eqatlejok. With his axe, the man created fish from pieces of wood. Kiviuq begged Eqatlejok to help him. The fish-maker decided to help Kiviuq because he felt sorry for him. Eqatlejok made Kiviuq a large fish to carry him over the sea to where his family was living. He climbed on the fish and it carried him through the water.

At the end of the journey, Kiviuq found his goose-family. His goose-wife decided that she liked it better when Kiviuq was around and Kiviuq decided that he did not care if she ate goose-food. They decided to live together again and let each other be who they really were.

Image: Qiviuq’s Journey, by William Noah

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Ny Ålesund and the adventure of the Norge
- part II

From Ny Ålesund to the North Pole

The main historic event connected with Ny Ålesund is the flight of the airship "Norge", the first expedition to reach the North Pole.

The "Norge" (Norway) was an Italian-built airship that was the first aircraft to fly over the North Pole and the polar ice cap between Europe and America. The expedition was under the leadership of Roald Amundsen and the airship's designer and pilot Umberto Nobile.

The "Norge" was specially designed by Umberto Nobile for Arctic conditions: reinforced by metal frames at the nose and tail, connected by a flexible tubular metal keel connecting the two, driven by three engine gondolas, these were the main characteristics:

- Lifting gas: hydrogen
- Length: 106 m
- Gas capacity: 19,000 m³
- Performance: 115 km/h
- Payload: 9,500 kg
- Engines: 3 Maybach total power of 780 Hp/582 kW

The flight started off from Rome on 29 March 1926, then went via Oslo and Leningrad to Vadsø in northern Norway, where the airship mast is still standing today. The expedition then crossed the Barents Sea to reach Ny-Ålesund, on the Svalbard islands. On the 7th of May the dirigible moored in King's Bay, Ny Ålesund, to make its final preparations.

The airship left Ny-Ålesund for the final stretch across the polar ice on May 11 at 9:55.
The 16 man expedition included Amundsen, the airship's designer and pilot Umberto Nobile, and polar explorer and expedition sponsor Lincoln Ellsworth.

On May 12 they reached the North Pole, at which point the Norwegian, American and Italian flags were dropped from the airship onto the ice. Amundsen wrote in his notebook that, at 02:20 in the morning, they were at the North Pole, 200 metres high with a temperature of -11 Celsius.

After crossing the pole ice encrustations kept growing on the airship to such an extent that pieces breaking off would be blown by the propellers and make holes in the hull. Nobile reported they had many holes to repair. Battered by the fog and bad weather, the Norge only managed to land on 14 May, in Alaska.

The airship was later sold to the Norwegian Aero Klubb and renamed.

Besides the still standing mooring mast, a monument to the successful crossing over the North Pole stands at Ny Ålesund.