Book Review “Solving the 1897 Airship Mystery”

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 20, 2004

By LEONARD GRAY – Staff Reviewer

GRETNA – It was the phenomenon of the age – an aerial marvel which stunned the nation. In the annuls of the unexplained, the 1897 airship was much more of a nine-day wonder.

For a century since those weeks when mysterious airships buzzed the skies in Texas and California, people have speculated about their origins.

Finally, Michael Busby says he has the answers to every question in his newly-published “Solving the 1897 Airship Mystery,” from Pelican Publishing Company in Gretna.

In April 1897, Texans were stunned to see a large object zipping over their heads at speeds in excess of 100 mph, with the ability to abruptly change direction and attain altitudes upwards on 10,000 feet.

More than 15 years before the Wright brothers skittered off the ground at Kitty Hawk, a secretive band of inventors experimented with these electrical-powered craft.

In the 1960s, these sightings were put down largely as UFO sightings and classified into those obscure back files. Other theories included mass hysteria, a carefully-crafted hoax by either the railroads or the newspapers or a secret military project.

Busby, a military veteran and electrical engineer, was intrigued by the stories in scores of old newspapers across the country and began using his research skills, searching census records, developing charts of flights on particular nights and came to his startling conclusion: the Airships were real!

So, with powered, high-speed flight available decades before commercial airplanes ever launched into the skies, why are we not all flying in lighter-than-air airships?

Busby also charts a number of crashes of these airships and suggests that the tragic loss of the inventors, plus skittish investors, put a premature end to commercial air travel before it was born.

The book is loaded with charts, graphs and tables, and includes patent sketches of several varieties of airships. Yet, even with the technical details, the book is entertaining, witty and a fascinating read.

“Solving the 1897 Airship Mystery,” priced at $25 and available in March in major bookstores, is a unique analysis of these pioneers of the skies.