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"The idea I want to push next is that the United States should make Siberia a Protectorate. Pay the Russians off a hundred, two hundred billion dollars and simply run Siberia in an ecologically responsible way."
- Gregory Benford

Air-Ship (VTOL Airship)  
  A flying machine capable of vertical take-off and landing.  

In this forgotten novel of the late nineteenth century, the author imagines world war fought with great ships of the air. These great vessels were seen to be capable of speeds up to two hundred miles per hour.

Sprinkled about the bottom of this valley were a few wooden dwelling-houses and workshops, and in the centre was a huge shed, or rather an enclosure now, for its roof had been taken off.

In this lay, like a ship in a graving-dock, a long, narrow, grey-painted vessel almost exactly like a sea-going ship, save for the fact that she had no funnel, and that her three masts, Instead of yards, each carried a horizontal fan-wheel, while from each of her sides projected, level with the deck, a plane twice the width of the deck and nearly as long as the vessel herself.

They entered the enclosure and walked round the hull. This was seventy feet long and twelve wide amidships, and save for size it was the exact counterpart of the model already described.

...Colston made his first inspection of the interior of the air-ship, under the guidance of her creator. What struck him most at first sight was the apparent inadequacy of the machinery to the attainment of the tremendous speed at which Arnold had promised they should travel.

There were four somewhat insignificant-looking engines in all. Of these, one drove the stern propeller, one the side propellers, and two the fan-wheels on the masts. He learnt as soon as the voyage began, that, by a very simple switch arrangement, the power of the whole four engines could be concentrated on the propellers; for, once in the air, the lifting wheels were dispensed with and lowered on deck, and the ship was entirely sustained by the pressure of the air under her planes.

There was not an ounce of superfluous wood or metal about the beautifully constructed craft, but for all that she was complete in every detail, and the accommodation she had for crew and passengers was perfectly comfortable, and in some respects cosy in the extreme. Forward there was a spacious cabin with berths for six men, and aft there were separate cabins for six people, and a central saloon for common use.

On deck there were three structures, a sort of little conning tower forward, a wheel-house aft, and a deck saloon amidships. All these were, of course, so constructed as to offer the least possible resistance to the wind, or rather the current created by the vessel herself when flying through the air at a speed greater than that of the hurricane itself.

All were closely windowed with toughened glass, for it is hardly necessary to say that, but for such a protection, every one who appeared above the level of the deck would be almost instantly suffocated, if not whirled overboard, by the rush of air when the ship was going at full speed. Her armament consisted of four long, slender cannon, two pointing over the bows, and two over the stern.

...While the stores were being put on board, Arnold made a careful examination of every part of the machinery, and then of the whole vessel, in order to assure himself that everything was in perfect order. This done, he gave his final instructions to those of the little community who were left behind to await the arrival of the steamer, and as the sun sank behind the western ridges of the island, he went on board the Ariel with Colston, took his place at the wheel, and ordered the fan-wheels to be set in motion.

Colston was standing by the open door of the wheel-house as Arnold communicated his order to the engine-room by pressing an electric button, one of four in a little square of mahogany in front of the wheel.

There was no vibration or grinding, as would have been the case in starting a steamer, but only a soft whirring humming sound, that rose several degrees in pitch as the engines gained speed, and the fan-wheels revolved faster and faster until they sang in the air, and the Ariel rose without a jar or a tremor from the ground, slowly at first, and then more and more swiftly, until Colston saw the ground sinking rapidly beneath him, and the island growing smaller and smaller, until it looked like a little patch on the dark grey water of the sea.

From The Angel of the Revolution, by George Griffith.
Published by Pearson's Weekly in 1893
Additional resources -

This is the earliest description that I know about for what is now called a VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft. Note the description of how the output of a power plant is first applied to propellers that provide upward thrust, and then is transferred to propellers giving forward motion.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Angel of the Revolution
  More Ideas and Technology by George Griffith
  Tech news articles related to The Angel of the Revolution
  Tech news articles related to works by George Griffith

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