To the modern reader used to visualizing the frail pioneering aircraft of the Wright brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and others, the Red Cloud from the Tom Swift series seems utterly fantastic — the stuff of science fiction.

However, as was often the case, the descriptions were not pure fantasy but rather extensions of concepts and inventions described in magazines and newspapers. Tom Swift had several aircraft in the Red Cloud class.

tom swift airship
Tom Swift and His Airship (1910)

His second one was the Black Hawk which he took to Africa when he hunted elephants with his electric rifle. This new airship was smaller and more maneuverable than its predecessor since the adventurers might want to land in a small clearing. It had a smaller gas bag which required a “more powerful gas” with greater lifting ability than that used in the Red Cloud.

 “Victor Appleton” seems to have forgotten the propeller arrangement of the Red Cloud by the time he wrote this volume. Here is his full description of the Black Hawk and how it differed from the Red Cloud:

As we have described in detail, in the former books of this series, the construction of Tom Swift’s airship, the Red Cloud, and as the Black Hawk was made in a similar manner to that, we will devote but brief space to it now.

As the story proceeds, and the need arises for a description of certain features, we will give them to you, so that you will have a clear idea of what a wonderful craft it was. Sufficient to say that there was a gas bag, made of a light but strong material, and capable of holding enough vapor, of a new and secret composition, to lift the airship with its load.

This was the dirigible-balloon feature of the craft, and with the two powerful propellers, fore and aft (in which particular the Black Hawk differed from the Red Cloud which had two forward propellers);—with these two powerful wooden screws, as we have said, the new ship could travel swiftly without depending on the wing planes.

But as there is always a possibility of the gas bag being punctured, or the vapor suddenly escaping from one cause or another, Tom did not depend on this alone to keep his craft afloat.

It was a perfect aeroplane, and with the gas bag entirely empty could be sent scudding along at any height desired. To enable it to rise by means of the wings, however, it was necessary to start it in motion along the ground, and for this purpose wheels were provided.

There was a large body or car to the craft, suspended from beneath the gas bag, and in this car were the cabins, the living, sleeping and eating apartments, the storerooms and the engine compartment. This last was a marvel of skill, for it contained besides the gas machine, and the motor for working the propellers, dynamos, gages, and instruments for telling the speed and height, motors for doing various pieces of work, levers, wheels, cogs, gears, tanks for storing the lifting gas, and other features of interest.

There were several staterooms for the use of the young captain and the passengers, an observation and steering tower, a living-room, where they could all assemble as the ship was sailing through the air, and a completely equipped kitchen. This last was Mr. Damon’s special pride, as he was a sort of cook, and he liked nothing better than to get up a meal when the craft was two or three miles high, and scudding along at seventy-five miles an hour.

In addition there were to be taken along many scientific instruments, weapons of defense and offense, in addition to the electric rifle, and various other objects which will be spoken of in due time.

The airship used in Tom Swift and His Wizard Camera (1912) was called the Flyer. No mention is made of the Black Hawk and Tom says that this airship is in need of an overhaul, suggesting that it has been used on at least one adventure. In this story Tom and his friends travel around the world in the Flyer to take exciting motion pictures with his new electric movie camera. Mr. Appleton does indicate that it is of the combined design:

The craft was a sort of combined dirigible balloon, and aeroplane, and could be used as either. There was a machine on board for generating gas, to use in the balloon part of it, and the ship, which was named the Flyer, could carry several persons.

Tom had several aircraft in the Red Cloud class but the details are less specific in later volumes and after a certain point in the series he quietly abandons this design and focuses on more conventional aircraft.