With regards to the "Lowe Airship"
timeline, in case it wasn't obvious, I made it as if it was a pamphlet on the subject, supposedly produced by L.A.C.C. as a handout for people taking a tour of its Newport facilities sometime in the late 1980's/early 1990's. I tried to capture the "show the exciting bits, gloss over the bad bits" air of such a pamphlet.
I got inspired with this new AH since last zine
. Dirigible what-ifs are, of course, very popular, and we've had several of them here (including trying to get one during the Civil War). So I thought I'd try and build an AH where they get an earlier start – and immediately pegged Professor Lowe to do it. He had the knowledge – heck, he was all ready to take a balloon across the Atlantic when the Civil War interfered (I don't know what the odds were he'd have made it, mind, but he
seemed pretty confident) – the interest, and, most importantly, the blind stubbornness to give all
his effort (and money) to a project if he really, really believed in it.
Lowe actually did
start a "Lowe Airship Construction Corporation" in 1911 to build his "Planet Airship," but by that time, following the bankruptcy and his loss of control of the Mt. Lowe Railway
(plus a few other business failures), he couldn't really round up any investors. It's probably just as well, because by then his "Planet Airship" was way
behind the times (I used the image of it as my "original design for the LPA 1"
in the AH).
for a html conversion of his actual pamphlet on the project.
Mind, he had his faults. He was a lousy day-to-day businessman (his companies tended to go bankrupt as often as they made money) and if something of his failed, he tended to state that it was because it was "before its time" rather than because he did something silly like forget to check harbor depths before he sent a ship there. His biggest "fault" – from the point of this what-if – was that he did almost nothing
with balloons (or airships), between the Civil War and that 1911 "Planet Airship" idea.
Researching, it seems to me that the struggles with higher-ups during the war and his complete failure to get the Balloon Corps made an actual military unit (yes, it remained civilian the whole three years of its existence - had Lowe or any of the other members of the Corps been shot down in CSA territory, they could have been shot as spies...) probably just turned him off of the whole idea
of balloons for decades to come. The fact that after he left (they wanted to a) cut his pay and b) cut his control while at the same time c) keep it "civilian") the Corps basically just faded away couldn't have helped either. Most of the Union Generals saw no reason to have
a balloon corps, even though it had proved its usefulness repeatedly during its existence.
(This kind of criminal stupidity and blind stubbornness to adapt and make changes on the part of Union Generals, in spite of evidence literally shoved in their faces, is why I didn't have any real problem with them "acting so stupid" in Turtledove's How Few Remain.
IMHO, they were
This immediately suggested the POD to me, so La Mountain, obviously, had to die. Note: Hard to believe as it is, everything described about Lowe's life up to this point actually happened
on OTL! And the incident described with La Mountain happened pretty much as written here, I just changed the aim on one of the bullets a bit...
...and one of Lowe's biggest critics bites it.
From this change, pressures on Lowe drop and with one less critic he actually does
convince them to make the Balloon Corps part of the army. He also stays with the Corps slightly longer (though exhaustion and malaria are still going to force his retirement sooner or later) and has an altogether more "pleasant" experience than on OTL.
Also, thanks to staying with the Corps slightly longer, he meets the guy (I handwave in a person) who later comes by and points out what would have been his little boo-boo with the Texas harbors (them being too shallow for the ships he sent there) and thus Lowe ends up considerably richer than OTL (though in spite of his lack of business sense, he did pretty darn well OTL anyway) and with a couple less business failures. This may not be necessary – should Lowe get excited about building airships, it's a good bet he would at least try
to do it with the money he did
have – but airship design was a tricky business and I wanted to give him some slack in the financing department.
Most importantly, since he actually gets
to be made Colonel, the Balloon Corps doesn't
just fade away, Lowe doesn't become soured on the whole idea of balloons and flight, so when he retires his thoughts almost immediately return to what was his favorite subject before the war.
As an aside, you'll note that the Wright's success comes a few years later on this AH than OTL. While I'm doing a bit of hand waving here, it's not unreasonable that a successful "airline" running about the country would tend to slow their development of their airplane: Why build a one-person airplane when twenty-person dirigibles are already flying overhead? I put in the delay mostly so that Lowe wouldn't latch onto the idea of heavier than air flight too soon (that quote/prediction of his on the subject is authentic – he made it while trying to drum up support in New York for his trans-Atlantic balloon trip) and thus abort a successful American airship company.
From what I can tell, "Lowe's" airships are within the tech-level of there/then, so I don't think
I'm stretching things too much here. Basically, you'll note that we only get a classic "dirigible" type airship less than a decade early with this POD. While I haven't taken this AH past Lowe's death, I suspect that airships might still go nearly extinct by the end of WWII, even though "L.A.L." (unlike the Germans) is going to be able
to use helium when it arrives.
change in this POD is that it starts the U.S. (and Californian) aircraft industries a couple of decades early. And unless L.A.C.C. fumbles the ball big time, the U.S. is going to be the number-one aircraft producing company starting right off at the beginning of the century. U.S. Military aviation also gets a jump-start here.
Questions abound, though. Does Zeppelin still produce his
dirigible – or does he just buy them from L.A.C.C. (at least, at first).? Will there still be a German airship bombing fleet during WWI (will there still be a WWI – at least, like OTL)? Airships will be more advanced at the beginning of the war, but airplanes might be too. Will the British have an airship fleet of their own during WWI (they only built two, badly, OTL), either "knock-offs" of American airships, or simply by buying from L.A.C.C.? Do we get to see the spectacle of airship "dogfights"
– and do observers of the period ironically note that all the combatant's vehicles were produced by the same company?
All and all, this was a fun AH!