With the Night Mail


Rudyard Kipling

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Tonight, we’ll read the opening to “With the Night Mail” an early sci-fi novella set in the year 2000, written by Rudyard Kipling, and published in 1905.

This story describes an airship postal worker making a routine night run from London to Quebec. In this universe, the Aerial Board of Control (or A.B.C.), a fictional supranational organization dedicated to the control and aid of airship (also known as dirigible) traffic across the entire planet.

In our age of commonplace intercontinental air travel, one needs to bear in mind that Kipling wrote this story at a time when the first successful powered flight, which lasted a total of 12 seconds, took place only two years prior.

An airship, or dirigible is a type of lighter-than-air aircraft that can navigate through the air flying under its own power. They use buoyancy from a lifting gas that is less dense than the surrounding air to achieve the lift needed to stay airborne.

In early dirigibles, the lifting gas used was hydrogen, due to its high lifting capacity and ready availability, but the inherent flammability led to hydrogen airships being rendered obsolete. The alternative lifting gas, helium gas is not flammable, but is rare and relatively expensive. Significant amounts were first discovered in the United States and for a while helium was only available for airship usage in North America.

Airships were the first aircraft capable of controlled powered flight, and were most commonly used before the 1940s; their use decreased as their capabilities were surpassed by those of aeroplanes.

From the 1960s, helium airships have been used where the ability to hover for a long time outweighs the need for speed and maneuverability, such as advertising, tourism, camera platforms, geological surveys and aerial observation.