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Air Ministry Kite balloon Manual (1921)

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AIR MINISTRY, London, 1921

A very rare original WW1-era Air Ministry Kite Balloon Winch Manual, covering the various different winches and associated equipment used by the RAF at the end of WW1. The manual covers the use and maintenance of RAF winches, for both land based and naval operations. Subjects covered include: the history of naval and military kite balloons, kite balloon installation in H. M. Ships, hydraulic wincjes, winding units, standard steam engines, transferring winch, electric winch, gears, wire-leading units, snatch blocks, instruments, Royal Air Force Balloon winches: Scammell and Caquot types. The book is well illustrated with 48 photographs and diagrams of RAF kite balloons, winches and engines. There is an ink stamp of 'No. 901 Squadron, A.A.F., Kidbrooke' on the front cover

Kite Balloons: were tethered balloons, shaped to help make them stable in low and moderate winds, and to increase lift. They typically comprised a streamlined envelope with stabilising features and a harness or yoke connecting it to the main tether, and a second harness connected to an observer's basket. Kite balloons were able to fly in higher winds than ordinary round balloons which tended to bob and spin in windy conditions. They were extensively used for military observation during World War I, and similar designs were used for anti-aircraft barriers, as barrage balloons in both World Wars.

Developed in Germany from 1893 by Parseval and Sigsfeld, the main component of a kite balloon was its tubular-shaped envelope, giving it its British and French nicknames of "sausage". This was inclined at a nose up angle to about 30-40° from the horizontal, which resulted in it producing some aerodynamic lift to augment the lift from the hydrogen used, and which helped reduce the up and down pitching common with spherical balloons. As with a blimp, the envelope was also the main lifting gas bag. Later versions of the Drachen used wind pressure to inflate a stabilising ballonet or sock at the rear, which acted as a tail fin and kept it pointed into the prevailing wind. A yoke or harness connected the balloon to the tether and was arranged to aid stability. Early versions of the Parseval had fixed fins, which were later replaced with the sock mounted on the underside that was inflated by the prevailing wind. Sizes of early examples varied but two main sizes became common - 600 and 1,200 m, and large scale production was carried out at the August Riedinger Balloon Plant in Augsburg. The observer was given a parachute which was attached to the outside of the basket, and, when necessary, while the winch was pulling the balloon down, he could jump clear. Parseval balloons most often operated at an altitudes between 1,000 and 2,000 m, and could handle winds of up to 65 km/h (40 mph), and were equipped with an engine driven winch to lower them quickly in the event of an attack. To further dissuade attacks, they were often ringed with anti-aircraft batteries, making attacks on them extremely hazardous. Despite this, during WW1 they were the target of frequent attacks.

Initially the French and British used copies of the German Parseval Drachen balloons until a French officer, Capitaine Albert Caquot, developed a much improved design that replaced the tubular sausage shaped envelope with a more aerodynamic teardrop shape, and replaced the sock with three fins. Like the Parseval, the Caquot could be hauled down in an emergency, at speeds up to 6 m/s (20 ft/s). Until 1916 a Saconney type winch was used, powered with a Delhaye motor, but from 1917, a winch of their own design was used, powered with a 70 hp de Dion-Bouton motor.

The kite balloon had a parachute in a flat container attached to the observation basket, with the observer wearing a harness around his waist, with lines attached to the parachute. If the balloonist jumped, the parachute was pulled from the container.The Parseval was in widespread use from the end of the 1800s in large numbers by the German Army to direct gunfire from heavy artillery batteries, and report on the results. The French continued to operate spherical balloons, until deciding to abandon them in 1912, when reconnaissance aircraft started becoming practical. By 1914, they too realized, along with the British, the usefulness of captive balloons, which could remain on station for hours, at a time when most aeroplanes had an endurance limited to about two hours. The French Army at one point had 76 companies operating Caquot balloons.

The first aircraft on aircraft rocket attack was made on 22 May 1916 when a group of eight French aces including made a dawn attack armed with eight Le Prieur rockets. They downed six balloons, which panicked the German high command into lowering all their balloons along the entire front and blinding their Army to a French counter-attack onFort Douamnont. During WW1, aces on both sides who specialised in going after the kite balloons became known as "balloon busters". Although their primary use was by the Army to spot the fall of artillery shells and observe enemy movements, cruisers and battleships of several nations were also equipped to operate Parseval kite balloons to direct gunfire like their army counterparts.

RAF Kidbrooke: During WW2 the base was expanded to include a barrage balloon depot, providing balloons to defend London against low-flying enemy aircraft. This was also the base for the No. 1 Balloon Centre and 901 Squadron (a barrage balloon squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force) and No 2 Installation Unit, responsible for constructing and repairing radar station masts.


In very good condition. The boards are in good condition, with general signs of use and some marks. The binding and hinges are very good and secure. The text, photographs and illustrations are in very good condition. There is an ink stamp of 'No. 901 Squadron, A.A.F., Kidbrooke' on the front cover

Published: 1921
Illustrated with photographs and diagrams
Khaki boards, with black titling
Dimensions: 140mm x 210mm
Pages: 91