Model of the Ressel airship project, built in 1871

© Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
While Heinrich Ressel’s airship was patented, it literally never got off the ground. It exists only in model form, and for a very long time Heinrich Ressel was forced to repay the costs involved.

On 24 September 1852 Henri Giffard flew his cigar-shaped airship from Paris to Elancourt at an average speed of 8 km/h. The 44 m long buoyancy element, 12 m in diameter, was powered by a 3 hp steam engine.

Josef Ressel’s son Heinrich Ressel (1829 - 1884) looked for a way of dispensing with these large, dimensionally unstable balloons, which were characterised by poor aerodynamics and explosive contents.
His “steam airship” consisted of a spheroid made of thin brass sheet metal that tapered at its extremities and acted as a condenser. The nacelle housed the 5 hp steam engine, which operated an air pump.

The aspirated atmospheric air was compressed and expelled via the angled nozzles of a horizontal and vertical reaction wheel, causing the blades to rotate and generate the lift and forward propulsion. A propeller shaped like a ship’s screw was also provided for the horizontal movement. By contrast the steam circuit was enclosed. The steam used to drive the air pump flowed into the pointed balloon, which was designed as a condenser. This was meant to provide part of the lifting force. The condensate was used in turn as feed water.

Heinrich Ressel hoped that his design would significantly reduce the integral mass. In fact the idea went no further than the patent specifications of 1871 and the construction of the model by W. J. Hauk, mechanical engineer to the imperial court. The repayment of 3,000 florins advanced for the model haunted Ressel for the rest of his life:
“Once I am undone and have starved to death, do tell the people who cause me such unspeakable torment that I was more than just the insignificant son of Josef Ressel.” (Heinrich Ressel, quoted from Louis Zels).

Inv.Nr. 1998

Member of