In the mid-1 800s the belief in flight without the assistance of a balloon was dismissed as completely mad. So when Somerset lace
manufacturer William Samuel Henson floated a bold scheme to found the world’s first intercontinental airline in 1843, he faced considerable ridicule. Formed with his friend John Stringfellow, the Aerial Transit Company was intended “for conveying letters, goods and passengers from place to place” aboard a steam powered airliner. To tempt financial hackers, fanciful engravings were published in various magazines depicting this splendid machine soaring above the Egyptian pyramids and other exotic locations.
The fatal flaw in Henson’s imaginative project was that his Aerial Steam Carriage existed only on the drawing hoard and if it had been built, would never have flown. No steam engine could have been at once light enough and powerful enough to lift the aircraft and its passengers into flight. And yet the Aerial Steam paniage was an amazingly prophetic design.
It was a monoplane, its wire-braced wing formed by main spars and ribs covered with “strong oiled silk”. The steam engine drove two pusher propellers on the wing’s trailing edge. The pilot, accommodated with the passengers in an enclosed nacelle, was to
control the aircraft via a moveable tailplaiie and rudder. Unable to raise the necessary cash. Henson soon abandoned his aviation projects. But the seeds of a great idea had been sown.