Tom Swift and his Airship

Or, the Stirring Cruise of the Red Cloud

By Victor Appleton    Book #3 ©1910

Review by JP Karenko, April 2005. Updated February 2007

Full-color image from the collection of James D. Keeline

White and Brown Quad images from the collection of Mark Snyder


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Summary: No official summary was ever provided with any of the old Tom Swift books. However, without giving too much away, the plot can be summed up as follows:

Note: some of the language, references & attitudes, while acceptable at the time they were written, are not Politically Correct and may be considered racist, today.

The book opens with a bang, or perhaps, more of a boom. Tom and his new friend, balloonist John Sharp, are expelled from their workshop by the explosion of a new volatile lifting gas that Tom has developed for an airship project. The Red Cloud, a luxurious combination dirigible/aeroplane is being built for comfortable long-distance travel.

The craft turns out to be quite speedy for its size and Tom wins a silver cup in an air race.

Happy Harry & Gang show up again and quite predictably, burgle the Shopton Bank.

Due to a red herring laid by red-haired Andy Foger, Tom & Mr. Damon are accused of the robbery. They go haring cross-country in their red ship on a test trip, not realizing that the law is red-hot on their tails, due to the tales Andy told. (Sorry, I couldn't resist the urge. It won't happen, again....I hope.)

The trip entails many adventures, and it is not until The Red Cloud alights in a small South Carolina village that Tom learns that they are wanted fugitives. He had suspected as much, earlier, when they were shot-at by police as they flew over another town. They turn for home and as incredible good luck would have it, cross paths with the bad-guys. You'll have to read the book to know the ending.

The first 25 books in this series are available on-line at the Project Gutenberg website:

Go to and search on "Tom Swift."




Cast of Characters (More or less in order of appearance)

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Tom Swift-Intrepid inventor & mechanic. Plucky, lively, resourceful, brave and clever. Home-schooled at a college level by his father, Barton Swift. Athlete and hunter. Familiar with how to stalk game and firearms. Loves all things mechanical. Is a decent cook, too.

John Sharp-Professional balloonist and trapeze artist. Among other bad habits, has been known to wear tights with spangles. He is rescued by Tom when his hot-air balloon gets a bit too hot and burns. Deputy Sheriff as a sideline. Co-designer with Tom, of the Airship, Red Cloud. Is Ždark of complexion' and speaks in short, choppy sentences.

Barton Swift-Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Not flashy or pretentious. Inventor master machinist and holder of numerous patents. In this episode, described as "aged," "nervous," "distracted" and sometimes "oblivious to his surroundings."

Mrs. Baggert-Housekeeper. Kindly, and "loves Tom like a son." Employed by the Swift family for 10+ years at the time of this story. She is short of stature and has to stand on a soap box to kiss Tom goodbye on one of his voyages.

Andy Foger-Red haired, squinty-eyed bully, who makes great trouble for Tom. "Poor little rich kid," son of wealthy family, born with a chip on his shoulder. Reckless, blustery and angry. Showoff. "Has money, and not much else." Lately has upped the ante to doing sabotage against Tom's Airship.

Sam Snedecker-Cohort of Andy Foger. Voice of reason to Andy's scream of rage. No description given.

Pete Bailey-Cohort and willing minion of Andy Foger. No description given.

Garrett Jackson-Aged (65+ years old) "engineer" who runs and maintains the steam plant and engine(s) used to power the Swift's belt-driven machine tools. Lives in a shack on the Swift property. Acts as a watchman and handyman around the Swift Estate.

Ned Newton-Chum & companion of Tom, currently employed in Shopton National Bank. Ned needs Mr. Swift's intervention to get time off to go adventuring with Tom.

Mr. Merton-NFN given. Proprietor of Merton's Machine Shop, a supplier of aluminum bolts to the Swifts. Passing mention, he does not appear.

Anson Morse-Snappy dresser who on occasion wears "kid" (leather) gloves. Member of Happy Harry Gang (See below.) Black moustache. Uses a false beard while playing the part of a bum. Sneak-thief who has stolen papers & tools from Swift property. Apparently well-educated.

Eradicate Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Sampson, A.K.A. Rad-Aged stereotypical Negro journeyman jack-of-all-trades. Chicken-coop cleaner and whitewasher. "Eradicates dirt." Also makes a living mowing grass, and sawing wood. Gives the appearance of being lazy, but is actually a hard worker and entrepreneur/wheeler-dealer. Heavy deep-south accent and Uncle Remus attitude. Caretaker of mule Boomerang. In this tome, he attacks Anson Morse with a broom and dumps whitewash on him.

Miss Perkman-NFN given. Principal of Rocksmond Young Ladies' Seminary. Astringent, bristling & bespectacled old-maid type. Seriously up-tight attitude.

Miss Mary Nestor -Described as a "young woman with flashing brown eyes and fair of face." Blushes easily, especially around Tom. Resides in Mansburg, with her father & mother. Meets Tom in this volume, at her school, the Rocksmond Young Ladies' Seminary. Now considered "very friendly" toward Tom.

Miss Delafield-NFN given. Teacher at Rocksmond Seminary, Young & pretty, but with a serious "know-it-all" attitude. Her B.S. degree is of the barnyard rather than academic type.

The Fussy Frenchman-Aeronaut, who pilots a small, speedy monoplane. Annoying manner, short stature and large ego. Challenges Tom to an air race. Loses poorly.

Mr. Wakefield Damon-Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person. In this tome, he "resides in nearby Waterford," (see errata) and suffers from liver ailments. Self-described as "too stout to walk," and "cannot run." In spite of this, he is also described as "nimble for his size." Apparently quite wealthy, he has graduated from cycles to automobiles, but has ongoing trouble controlling any conveyance he tries to control. So far, has crashed a horse, a motor-cycle, and lately, an automobile. His experience with airship(s) is as yet, un-chronicled.

Mr. Harrison- NFN given. Shopton hardware dealer who sells tools to John Sharp. Passing mention, only.

Chief Simonson- NFN given. Chief of Shopton Police. Able to leap to false conclusions at a single bound...

Con. Higby- NFN given. Shopton Constable. Star student of Simonson in conclusion-leaping department.

Isaac Pendergast-President of Shopton National Bank, Pompous & blustery. Ned Newton's boss.

The "Happy Harry" Gang-Now named as such. These guys show up singly and in groups throughout the story.

Jake Burke, A.K.A. "Happy Harry"-Ringleader & brains of the outfit. Educated, and plays the part of a tramp, poorly. Tattoo of a ring on the small finger of his left hand. In this story, graduates from industrial espionage to bank robbery.

Anson Morse-See above.

Wilson Featherton, A.K.A. "Simpson"- Thug / muscle for gang. Knows knockout techniques and drugs. Acts as chauffeur/driver for gang.

The Pretty Young Waitress-Resident of Berneau, SC, but only long enough to hook up with someone like Tom. Pretty, but no real name or other description is given.

The Grocer-Merchant in Berneau who sells provisions to who he thinks are "automobilists." No name or description is given.

Sheriff Durkin of Shagmon-NFN given. Proof that not all LEO's in these stories are useless. Helps Tom capture Morse & Burke. Never ridden in either an automobile or an airship before meeting Our Hero. No first name or description is given.

Mr. Foger- NFN given. Bank board member. Champion Conclusion Jumper. Role model for nasty son, Andy.



Major Inventions

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Tom Swift was a co-inventor (with John Sharp) of a combination aeroplane-dirigible in this book. He machine has conventional biplane wings and twin control rudders for extended aeroplane flight. A rigid, flat top, multi-cell "gas bag" made from aluminum and painted red, can be used to provide VTOL and buoyancy "when speed is not needed." The aircraft is powered by a 20-cylinder air-cooled engine running at 1500 rpm, invented by Tom's father. The motor drives two 8-foot diameter airscrews, laminated from wood and operated in a push-pull configuration. Top speed is listed as 80mph in a moderate wind. With only one propeller operating, speed is 50mph. Sustained cruise speed is listed as 30mph. The gas generator has sufficient capacity to sustain lift for up to two weeks. No external dimensions are given, except to intimate the craft is "large." In reality, it would have to be Hindenburg-sized to lift all the luxurious accoutrements Tom adds. More on this topic, later.

Accommodations include an observation car, forward, equipped with pilot gear, floor-mounted windows and easy chairs. There is enough room to sleep 5. There is a galley, with electric stove/space heater, and provisions for one week. An equipment room, with the engine and gas generating equipment is aft. Forward and rear observation platforms under the propellers allow for a less obstructed view and room to take some fresh air.

A rubber-tyred <sic> undercarriage for takeoff and landing is mounted below the cabin.

There are several intriguing scientific concepts here, one being the process of making "a powerful gas, partly Hydrogen" that has lifting power, greater than H2 alone. Containing it under pressure, in a rigid aluminum box sounds risky. This highly explosive gas seems to generate more lift as pressure is increased, and the chemical reactions that create it, slow down when the temperature is increased. (See errata.)

As almost an aside, Barton Swift is working on a "submarine device" that will revolutionize undersea travel. No details were given, except an admonishment to read the next book in the series.





Commentary On Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata

Duotone Dustjacket

It's amazing how much society and technology have changed in 95 years. Reading the old Tom Swift Sr. series has really given me an appreciation of all the modern gadgets that I've come to take for granted. It also has helped me to grasp how far and how fast we have come. It also gives me an appreciation as to how much society has changed. I wonder what people will be taking for granted 100 years from now, and what they will think of our times?

Attitudes and Prejudices-Racing for money is bad, but winning silver trophy prizes is OK. Assaulting trespassers is OK. Thrashing and splashing with paint are acceptable treatment. Thrashings (fistfights) are adequate redress for "getting even." Breaking and entering a commercial building is OK, if your motives are honorable, such as spying on criminals. New Yorkers "are desperate bent on reading the news," according to one Southerner. A letter with money for postage may be safely left for anyone to find with the expectation that it will be taken to the Post Office and mailed, rather than stolen. Accusing someone of grand theft means it is OK to declare open season on them and shoot them on sight. (As is true nowadays--at least in Divorce Court,--a good accusation is worth a thousand words of defense.) No proofs are necessary. There is mention for the first time of court litigation for slander and damage to reputation. Eradicate attacks Anson Morse with a broom and a bucket of whitewash, to save Tom from being assaulted. Even north of the Mason-Dixon Line, in that day, I suspect Rad would have been at risk of his very life for attacking a white man, regardless of his honorable motive. Police are still ineffective, and criminals and vagabonds roam the streets in broad daylight with impunity. Vigilante justice still rules, where capturing bad-guys is concerned.

Speculation As To Author's Identity- The running gag about Mr. Damon's home town (it keeps flip-flopping between Waterford and Waterfield during the series) begins in this volume. It has been concluded elsewhere that the first five volumes of this series were all written in toto by Edward Stratemeyer, their creator. Perhaps outlined would be a better descriptor. James Keeline states that specific documentation exists tying the first two volumes of this series firmly to Howard Garis, a ghost writer who is said by some to have penned most of these tales. Many later volumes appear to have been sub-contracted to several other ghost writers, who were contractually unable to communicate with one another. Their writing styles varied enough that no one author (such as Garis) could have penned them all. This volume, in particular, is a case in point:

This story chronicles a step up in inventive skill levels for "Our Hero." Albeit with the assistance of John Sharp, it involves a major design and construction project, The Red Cloud. This is not just a minor modification to a simple device using hardware store components, as in the first two stories. Unfortunately, the science used to describe the operating principles of the device are laughable. (More on that, later.) A major building is constructed on the Swift Estate to house this new device. This "shed" has to be the size of a football field! (What must the neighbors think?) Shopton has grown from a "small village" in the previous tome, to a "small town" and now sports a "national" bank. Eradicate, previously fairly mild-mannered and respectful, (as a proper "person of color" was expected to be in those days,) gets aggressive, albeit in defense of his employer. He attacks Anson Morse (a known violent criminal) with whitewash, and is said to carry a razor. The overall violence level in the story is up several notches. Tom gets mugged and police come out shooting at the Red Cloud willy-nilly in their best Fearless Fosdick style. For those readers who are under the age of 50, Old FF was a "shoot Žem all and let God sort them out" Pinkerton-style policeman from the Lil' Abner cartoon strip. (Since Fearless wasn't introduced until 1942-50, perhaps Al Capp, the strip's artist read TS as a child?) Fearless was especially noted for creating collateral damage amongst innocent bystanders when apprehending criminals and his own ability to recover from multiple gunshot wounds, unscathed. See illustration, below.

The general change in tenor of the environment, the ambitious, but limited "science" skills and the fact that the author could not keep Mr. D's home anchored in one place, lead me to think this writer is not the same one who penned the first two volumes. I'd hesitate to put any money on a bet that Ed Stratemeyer did anything but outline this story or possibly only cursorily review the finished product. I'll tentatively tag the author of this one with the nickname "Airship Art."


Errata- The running gag throughout this series about Mr. Damon's home flip-flopping between Waterfield and Waterford, NY, now requires a scorecard.

There will ultimately be 4 distinct categories of location. In this tome, Mr. D's home is listed in Waterford, NY, for the first time.

The tally for 3 volumes, to date is:

Waterfield-2, Both places-0, Waterford-1, and No mention-0.

Typos that were encountered: "Swift" is not capitalized on p.76, and Rad's mule is called "Boomerange" on p.88, and Tom is "becomming" an expert flier on p.119. On p.189 the "post Ofiice" is referenced. Actually, this level of proofreading skill is pretty decent for the series.


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Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy- In this volume, it is apparent that the limits of the engineering and scientific knowledge of the author(s) has been reached. Tom employs his own patented "device to keep rudders from jamming" on the Red Cloud. In spite of this, the rudders jam causing the schoolhouse wreck. The gas generator in the Red Cloud does not work as well when hot as it does when cold. (Most chemical reactions speed up when the temperature rise, making them more efficient, not less.) In spite of the claim that the craft will remain airworthy with "up to five cells of the gas bag" ruptured, a single punctured cell brings the craft down. In spite of the highly volatile and explosive nature of Tom's lifting gas, (and the fact that the aluminum "bag" apparently leaks like a sieve,) a lightning strike, gunshots, open flame and sparks from the motor exhaust do not cause the least concern. One of the biggest goofs is regarding the "rigid aluminum lifting bag." Tom makes it more buoyant by increasing the gas pressure inside. Lift is provided by displacing an increased volume of atmosphere with a gas of lesser molecular weight. Pressurization makes a rigid gas container heavier, not lighter.


The Red Cloud Airship - Estimated Dimensions

Another goof has to do with "altitude sickness." On p.49, at a height of 3000ft, Tom gets lightheaded and gasps from oxygen deprivation. Later, on p.144, dinner is consumed at an altitude of "3 miles" (15000+ft) and no one is the least bit bothered by the thin air.

Geography- Rocksmond, Blakefield and Shagmon are all population centers mentioned in the story within 100 miles of Shopton. Heavy forest cover is typical of upper NY State. While test-flying Red Cloud, at an altitude of only 500ft, Tom "can see neighboring cities and towns." In upstate New York, the topography routinely contains hills of up to 2500ft or more. At 500ft, the only view would be of shoreline villages around Lake Carlopa, and not many of them, considering the implied geometry and size of the lake. Below is a simulated view above "Shopton" at an altitude of 2500ft. At the altitude quoted in the story not even Waterfield, six miles distant, would be visible except as a small dot.

View of Lake Carlopa above Shopton at 2500ft

Photo courtesy of Google EarthŰ

Mansburg is previously said to be the nearest commerce center/town/city of any size. It would be "out of sight" to the Southeast even at an altitude of 2500ft.

Note also, that due to the hilly terrain, level real-estate on which the future Swift Construction Company and its' attendant airfield(s) will be constructed, is at a premium.


The proposed countryside, overview, below, is based on the supposition that Lake George, in upstate New York, is the real world pattern on which Tom Swift's Universe was built.

Proposed Layout of "Lake Carlopa" ca. Volumes 1 & 2

Photo courtesy of Google EarthŰ

JP Karenko 4/01/05 Updated and expanded 2/07


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