Saturday, January 10, 2015

Steampunk Saturday - A Flying Ocean Liner (1927)

In an era when the only way to travel across the Atlantic (or Pacific) was by ocean liner, the thought of intercontinental air travel seemed fantastic and far-off. In fact, the only thing designers could agree on was that air travel across the ocean would be facilitated by the ability to make a safe water landing. World War I had featured a few flying boats, showing that taking off and landing on water was a possibility and utilizing the ocean as a runway meant that the need for the construction of expensive infrastructure (like aerodromes, runways, roads, and so forth) could be avoided. Thus, the concept of trans-Atlantic tourism by flying ocean liner was born, but it was far from becoming a reality.

The first mock-ups looked a little like a cross between Nemo's Nautilus and a flying fish. The craft was a biplane (of sorts) with eight engines and two decks. The first real trial runs for trans-Atlantic flying boat service wouldn't take place until the 1930's when Pan AM and BOAC made runs between Newfoundland and Foynes and passenger service didn't start until the 40's.

The era of the flying boat was a short one, though. World War II stopped leisure travel almost as soon as the first successful passenger runs had been made. When the war came to an end and the mess it created had been cleared away, the availability of good air infrastructure meant there wasn't a big need for landing on water. The military had built runways and airports throughout continental Europe and the UK. Who wanted to take a flight to the coast, land offshore, take a tender to the port, and then catch a train to their final destination when you simply could fly there? We were entering the era of fast and air travel was fast. Ah, I guess there's no nostalgia when the thing you're nostalgic for hasn't been lost yet.

I know that this image from the January 1927 issue of Popular Science is more dieselpunk than steampunk, but it still gets my imagination going. It's got a real Hayao Miyazaki thing going, a style that makes me think of far-flung island kingdoms where diesel and feudalism coexist and adventure is on the air.

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