1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 65
“About one hundred and fifty miles. Not even that.”
Bonnie pursed her lips. “That’d be well out of range for a hot air dirigible but not for a hydrogen one. Are there are other lakes, Heinz?”
He nodded. “There are a number of other lakes in the USE that would be big enough for an airship hangar — a number of hangars, in fact. The closest one to Munich in our territory that I can think of is the Hopfensee near Füssen. Not much farther away, there is also a lake near Immenstadt. But those are not big towns, so I don’t think they’d have the skills and resources we’d need. There are some other lakes that I think are even closer to Munich but they are in Bavaria and currently under Duke Maximilian’s control. Outside of Bavaria, other than the Bodensee…”
Heinz fell silent for a moment while he searched his memory. “There’s the Steinhuder Meer in Brunswick. It’s very shallow, though — I think it averages no more than three or four feet deep. That might be a problem. And in any case it’s farther away from Munich than the Bodensee. The same’s true for the Lake District in Mecklenburg and Mummelsee and the Schluchsee in the Black Forest. None of them are closer than the Bodensee and most of them are much farther away.”
“The Bodensee it is, then,” said Rita. “Are there any big towns right on it, where a hangar could be assembled?”
“I think the best site would probably be Bregenz. It’s in our territory, now that Tyrol joined us. It’s on the side of the lake closest to Munich and I think it’s a big town. But I’ve never visited the area so I’m not sure.”
“Why we’ve got a radio. If the deal goes through, we’ll have our people back home start to work on it.” Rita started walking toward the nearby buildings near the shore where the headquarters of the consortium were located. “Speaking of which, it’s time to negotiate. Hear me roar. Okay, I’ll probably be sweet-talking most of the time. Figure of speech.”
Bonnie and Heinz actually did most of the talking, since they knew a lot more about airship construction than Rita did.
“…engine we finally bought is a Chrysler 3.8 which can produce a little over 200 horsepower.” The Dutch engineer rattled off the specs as if he were native born to the late twentieth century. “Of course, we have to use a 2.5 to 1 gear reduction…”
Rita ignored the rest of it. She’d never been much interested in automobile engines even up-time, and most of the discussion between her two companions and the Dutch airship builders might just as well have been in Greek. She was pretty sure the term “3.8” referred to the size of the engine in… liters? Something like that. And she knew that when car engines were used for aeronautical purposes the RPM usually had to be reduced using one or another type of gearing system. Beyond that, she was lost.
But the details weren’t her job. Her job was to keep her mouth shut so she didn’t goof up anywhere, look solemn and parsimonious, and — most of all; essential! — look like she was the sister of one Michael Stearns, former prime minister of the USE and now one of its leading generals and often known by the informal title of the Prince of Germany.
That was the hardest part, actually. Memories kept coming to her of her brother As Only A Sister Knew Him. Mike at… what had he been? Fifteen years old, if she remembered right. Coming home from school with a black eye and a split lip and badly skinned knuckles.
Their mother had given Mike a proper chewing out, with their father glowering at him. Then, after she left, Jack Stearns had leaned over and whispered to his son — but she’d heard! — “Next time, Mike, don’t swing for the bastard’s head with your fist. You’ll just cut yourself up. The way to do it –”
He’d spotted six-year-old Rita listening with interest and had shooed her off.
Then there was the time Mike came home —
Belatedly, she realized Bonnie had now called her name twice. “Ah… Yeah. Yes. What… Ah, yes?”
“We need a decision here. Do we want a crew of between twelve and fifteen people — that would be optimum — or do we want to cut back on the crew in order to expand the fuel tanks? We could go as low as a crew of six if we really needed to, although they think going below eight starts being problematic.”
Rita would have been delighted to fob off on this question too, but it fell within the parameters of “operational issues.” Technically, that was her bailiwick.
She spent some time pondering the matter. Partly that was to enhance the image of Big Shot’s Sister, thinking deep thoughts. Mostly, though, it was because she actually had to think about it.
“What’s the range the way it is?” she asked. “Let’s assume a full crew of fifteen.”
The Dutch engineer who’d been doing most of the talking — Maarten Kortenaer was his name — waggled his head. “It can vary quite a bit, you understand, depending on the wind and other factors. You would also need to specify the speed and the fuel load. But figure that your range will be somewhere between six hundred and nine hundred miles.”
She went back to pondering. She was tempted to go for the full crew option, because a range of six hundred miles between refueling was already far better than the hot air dirigibles could manage. A round trip distance of three hundred miles — no, make it two hundred and fifty to allow sufficient loiter time over the target…
She tried to visualize a map of central Europe. Assuming for the moment that the home base of the dirigible was on the Bodensee, they could possibly even reach Vienna. Come close, for sure — and cover all of Bavaria. Then, once Mike squashed Maximilian, they could shift the base to one of the lakes in Bavaria and they’d easily be in range to cover Vienna itself and its surroundings.
The problem wasn’t the fuel itself so much as the hydrogen. By now the USE had a lot of facilities that were able to handle gasoline and kerosene. Producing large quantities of hydrogen, though, was a new challenge.
“How much hydrogen leaks out?” she asked. “Let’s say, over a one-week period.”
The answer was long-winded and convoluted, with lots of qualifications and variables, but the gist of it seemed to be we don’t really know yet.
“All right,” she said, finally. “Let’s split the difference. We’ll figure on a crew of ten which can be expanded if need be. I’m assuming most of the weight of the fuel is the actual fuel weight, not the weight of the fuel containers.”
“Oh, yes,” said Kortenaer. “The weight of the containers is about fifteen percent of the weight of the fuel itself.”
Rita nodded. “And they don’t take up a lot of space — certainly measured against what’s available.”
That was one of the big differences between hydrogen and hot air dirigibles. Hydrogen was comparatively stable and you didn’t have to keep heating it up. That meant that you could locate the vessel’s cargo space, engine compartments, crew quarters, fuel tanks, radio station — almost everything — on the keel, inside the envelope, instead of having to place it on an external gondola. You still wanted a control car hanging down from the envelope, but that was just for the sake of greater visibility. All you needed there was room for one or two pilots, a navigator, and some navigation equipment.
Rita had been astonished when she got inside the airship being built in Hoorn and was given a tour of the interior. The area available for people, equipment and cargo was huge. It was more like being on a cruise ship than an aircraft.
Of course, space was one thing; lifting capacity, another. Still, the rigid airship being built in Hoorn was far superior to anything the USE military currently had in service.
“How soon will the ship be ready?” she asked.
They’d already negotiated the terms of the lease — and lease it would be, not a sale. The Dutch weren’t admitting anything openly, but it was by now obvious to Rita and her two companions that the real power behind the consortium was the King in the Netherlands, Fernando. He wanted the airship to stay in his possession in case he needed against…
Whichever enemy might show up. The most likely one would be his older brother, King Philip IV of Spain. The airship would make a splendid bombing platform that could throttle the English Channel if another Spanish Armada should happen to show up.
Fernando was willing to lease it to the USE for the time being, though. First, because there really didn’t seem to be any immediate threat to the Netherlands coming from any quarter. Both the Spanish and the French had other and more pressing problems on their hands and the USE was on reasonably friendly terms — which stood to get even friendlier because of the airship arrangement.
And, second, because leasing the airship to the USE would give the vessel and its crew what amounted to a baptism by fire. They could learn what the ship could and couldn’t do in a real war without having to actually declare war on anybody.
“We could have the ship operational in…” The Dutch engineers spent a couple of minutes in quiet consultation. Then Maarten Kortenaer looked up and said: “Two months. At the beginning of September.”
Rita nodded. “That should do.”
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
There was a radio message from Mike Stearns waiting for them when they got back to their hotel rooms.
Ottoman army has reached Vienna. They have airships. At least three. We need that Dutch ship ASAP.
“Big brothers are such a pain in the ass,” said Rita.