JF Ptak Science Books Post 2025
This magnificent and mega-heavy beast-aeroplane (a "steam aeromotive machine") appears in the pages of Engineering, and is the creation of Joseph M. Kaufmann of Glagow, and makes a splashy show of itself back there in 1868 when not-too-many airplanes were gracing the pages of technical journals. But here it is, a very heavy dream of a Scottish engineer, a massive and underpowered vehicle of questionable design and imponderable consequence. One thing is for sure--it certainly looks pretty.
The plan for the aircraft measured 12' from stem to stern (plus another few feet including the tail), with the body about 5'x6', and with wings that spread out 35'--each. The aircraft weighed in at an extraordinary 7,000 pounds and was supposed to be powered by a 40 horsepower steam engine that looked like a locomotive boiler that in theory would keep The Beast afloat at 40 mph for an extraordinary four hours.
As surprising as these images look from the modern perspective, perhaps the most unexpected aspect can be seen in the detail under the wing in the drawing on the right (below)--it seems that the motive power was that the wings "flapped", like a bird's. This was asking a lot from those wings. And that engine.
There was a lot of "flapping" going on in the experimental thinking for flight at this period, though many of these designs were human-powered ornithopters (like those of Bourcart in 1863, Trouve in 1870, and Wenham from 1858), and which in general didn't last much past the 1870's. There was another class of proposed flying vehicle that adopted bird-wing qualities though the wings didn't flap, like the Le Bris glider of 1868 and the beautiful and graceful patent of the Du Temple monoplane. These designs seemed to last much longer, perhaps most famously in the designs of Otto Lillienthal's gliders of the 1890's and the Vuia machine of 1906.
[The du Temple aeroplane, via Wright Brothers.org.]
What the Kaufmann aircraft had that these others didn't was its guiding principle of stability, a 40-foot cable with an 85-pound weight on the end of it--a "pendule" of motion and stability.