A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
This lovely design occurs on a pamphlet written by Albert Ritter v. Miller-Hauenfels (1818-1897), Der mühelose Segelflug der Vögel und die segelnde Luftschiffahrt als Endziel hundertjährigen Strebens, or, roughly “The effortless gliding of birds and the sailing airships as the ultimate goal for the end of the century”). The booklet was presented 18 January 1890 by the Polytechnischen Club in Graz, and published in Wien by Spielhagen & Schurich later that year.
In his lectures at Graz Miller-Hauenfels looks at the possibility of human (non-powered, gliding) flight via forward-progression bird flight, basing his work on that of Marey, Lilienthal and Parseval. It is a sky-above-mud-below moment, as Miller-Hauenfels was a mining engineer and supervisor, spending much of his time with his mind in and under the earth. And then there, in the not-so-backish-background, was his other thinking, which place him far above the ground.
There's a pair of short notices in two consecutive issues of Nature (September 22 and 29, 1910) that brings up a probably mostly-overlooked bit of thinking by Charles Darwin's (and Francis Galton's) grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802). Way before Charles (born 1809) and Francis (born 1822) Erasmus was a powerhouse Darwin, and a powerhouse-in-general. He was primarily a physician, but was also an inventor, physiologist, abolitionist, botanist, and inventor, among other things. He famously speculated on evolution, and less-famously on the coming of the steam age.
In the first article here, pointing out a piece in The Times by R. Meldola, it is shown that Darwin saw the coming of steam from a good distance away: “As the specific levity of air is too great for the support of great burthens by balloons, there seems to be no probable method of flying conveniently but by the power of steam, or some other explosive material, which another half-century may probably discover”.) The editors of Nature included the notice to provide a bit more evidence of Darwin's vision via his poetry, stating that he “foretold, in the following lines, the advent of aerial navigation”:
Soon shall thy arm, UNCONQUER'D STEAM! afar Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car; Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear The flying-chariot through the fields of air. -- Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above, Shall wave their fluttering kerchiefs as they move; Or warrior-bands alarm the gaping crowd, And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud.
In the next issue of Nature there's a short notice by Arthur Platt, “Erasmus Darwin on Flying Machines”, (page 397 of September 29, 1910), where he quotes Dawin on the coming of powered flight: “As the specific levity of air is too great for the support of great burthens by balloons, there seems to be no probable method of flying conveniently but by the power of steam, or some other explosive material, which another half-century may probably discover”.
That's pretty good. Over at the Erasmus Darwin House site is another interesting side of Darwin's interest in flight, where it is found in hi snotebooks a good and early understanding of teh mechanics of bird flight:
"In the 18th century there was still no satisfactory explanation for the mechanics of flight and, inquisitive by nature, Darwin appears to have set himself to the task. Sketched out in his commonplace book in 1777 at the height of the 18th century quest for automata and artificial life, the bird (technically a goose) will be brought to life in a steam punk style reminiscent of the era. Using a small reservoir of compressed air as the in-flight rewinding mechanism in the book, Darwin’s description of a bird’s flight is very close to reality, and appears to be the first complete account of a power-plant and the necessary cycle of the wings’ movement..."--Erasmus Darwin House, here.
This is perhaps the earliest image of a flying observatory, appearing rapidly in print in the same year as the revolutionary first flight by the Montgolfier brothers. It isn't a "space" station, of course, but it was close to being one in the 18th century. (The title of the work:Lettre à M. de ***. Sur son projet de voyager avec la sphere aërostatique de M. de Montgolfier. Avec figure, which was printed in Paris by Marchands de Feuilles Volantes in 1783.) From what we can see of the platform there is an astronomer, someone taking notes, barrels of provisions, and five crew members operating an air pump, as well as two sheds.
The interesting quote at the bottom from Virgil's (Aeneid vi) "sed revocure gradum hoc opus hic labor est" and in English, "It is easy into Hell to fall, but to get back from thence is all".
It does remind me some of the Nadar "le Geant" balloon, which was a six-bedroom monster that saw only two flights before crashing--it was however the largest thing ever to fly up to that point. (Nadar was the first person to make aerial photographs among many other photo-firsts--and outside that he was the first to host an Impressionist exhibit of art.)
These Air Wonder Stories magazine covers are just absolutely delightful--full of abolute hope and belief in the possibilities of what the future might bring i the forms o fair travel. THe first shows an enormous jet-powered craft that is breaking through a waterspout, seemingly undisturbed.
(I'm back to the blog after a two-week hiatus for moving to our new house--that is the longest period by far of not writing in the 5.5 years of this blog. This is just a quick post on an interesting and newly-found image--writing should start very soon...)
Beginning to unpack from our move, the very first thing to emerge from the very first ("desk") box out in the studio was a clutch of cut-away aviation images. And the first of those was this beautiful 1948 two-parter from LIFE magazine of the new PanAm B-377 Stratocruiser. The Stratocruiser was first flown in 1947 and was a derivative of the B-29 (troop transport) Superfortress via the C-97 Stratofreighter. Aside from the general opulence, the dark-blue background of this image is just lovely.
The The Great Nassau ballooned ascended from Vauxhall Gardens on 24 July 1837 under the control of aeronaut Charles Green (1785-1870) along with a small crew. Also included was Robert Cocking, another aerial explorer who was in tow of the balloon with an experimental parachute of his own design and construction. He was taken aloft, and at 5000 feet was released into disaster--the parachute failed, and Mr. Cocking was dead.
This lovely broadside (found via Bibliodyssey) describing the even exists on the Smithsonian Institution website (here).
Superweapons have been used against cities for quite some time in the
new world of speculative fiction, and there had been real-life aerial
bombings from hot-air balloons, but the first time that a bomb was
dropped from a heavier-than-air airplane on anything happened just
months earlier, on 1 November 1911, when Lt. Giulio Cavotti dropped a
hand grenade from his Etrich Taube
on the oasis of Tagiura, in North Africa during the Italo-Turkish War.
He dropped four parcels of hand grenades on the
not-necessarily-military population at the oasis, injuring no one. The
attack was one of attempted vengeance, a payback by the Italians against
the Arabs of Tripoli, in general, for having joined forces with the
Turks to fight against them.
Five years later (including two years of World War) advertisers were feeling quite enough at home with the idea of aerial bombing to use it on a growing basis to sell stuff to people. The idea of bombing people with cigarettes--"munitions of peace"--was another in a developing series of dropping-what-you-want-to-sell-to-people-from-aeroplanes. Murad is striking, but it is far from the first ad to employ airplane bombing--a good candidate for that occured four years earlier and only a year after the practice of dropping real bombs from planes was established. That would be in this 12 May 1912 ad for Purgen,
"the Ideal Aperient" dropped on military-style tents of "Ill Health", "Loss of
Appetite", Lack of Energy", and so on, all within the possibility of
cure by this Purgen product.
Lt. J.W. Seddon (R.N.) designed this incredible two-aeroplane aeroplane in 1910, composed of molded steel tubes in the place of wires for its framework. As the caption states, there wasn't another plane like it in existence--it was massive for the time,weighed 2000 pounds, had 1000 sqft of wing, and was powered by two 80 hp engines. And in a number of ways it was a picture of the future. [Source: The Illustrated London News, 10 September 1910.]
There is no official "Well, I'll be Damned Department" on this blog but if there was one this small discovery would certainly be an excellent candidate. I don't know enough about the aerodynamics of first-decade powered flight aircraft, but it seems as though this could be an alternative way of landing. It seems not to be the desired way to bring in your plane, though, looking way more problematic than is necessary. That said, I've never seen flight instructions like this before.
[Source: the ever-fascinating Popular Mechanics, February 1912, page 373.]
Nothing exceeds like excess, and the excessful is not often successful. Victor Lougheed saw this in the first decade of powered heavier-than-air flight in a homey and sensible article in Popular Mechanics in 1912. He had a nice touch in trying to reign-in the impossible stuff that was happening in imagining flight, saying "it is safe to give to fancy only when fact is far away"--and that imagination is perfectly fine, but now that "human flight is a thing accomplished" that the issue of future aircraft should be one of engineering. Thinking big is fine just so long as you have those tools in the box.
Lougheed offers the above illustration as an example of big-and-bad thinking, though he unfortunately does not credit the thinker or the artist. Too bad--it would have made a nice follow-up. That said, as a casual reader in early flight I have rarely seen someone taking on what are clear excesses of expectation--Lougheed is an interesting exception.
He does go on to give an example of possibly-flyable future aircraft and presents the remarkable New Antoinette--a fantastic and prescient design for a plane only nine years removed from the Wrights' flight, a streamlined monoplane that seems to come from reasonable future, which it sort-of does. This plane evidently was too heavy for the 100-h.p.engine, but the engineering was at least definitely "there".
Here's a very long and very illustrated thumbnail site for French pre-WWI aircraft: http://flyingmachines.ru/Site2/Arts/Art4743.htm
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.
A post ("Nuclear Everything") over at Dark Roasted Blend that featured a magnificent and stodgy atomic-powered zeppelin pushed me into this short visual note on differentially-powered airships, and then in general about airships with airports on them. (There's a whole other category for planes-of-tomorrow that were so enormous that they had landing strips on their wings, but that's another story.)
And they remind me of things that just aren't "right", because these things just weren't. I'm not sure why, but I'm drawn into an old story about the legendary Charlie Goodnight, Texas pioneer, one of the creators of the idea of the cattle drive (the Goodnight-Loving Trail), a man who lived an extraordinary and powerful life. He lived for a long time, too, from 1836 to 1929 (almost to the year of the birth of Larry McMurtry, who told a version of Goodnight's story so spectacularly well in Lonesome Dove), well into a future so far advanced from the year of his birth that he could scarcely have imagined it. Anyway, towards the end of his life, in 1916, Goodnight had the idea of making a movie of the Old West that included a "final" Indian buffalo hunt. I've seen the film, and it is a fascinating, heartbreaking, wonderful/awful thing, that somehow might appeal to almost no one. It certainly didn't appeal to the folks at the time looking for a cowboy film, because much like Mr. McMurtry's cowboys, Goodnight's reality didn't much resemble the cowboys that the public wanted to see. In a sense Goodnight lived beyond the history that he so much helped to create, and that his old, passed "present" was something that the people in his future really didn't want to recognize. Then of course one of the things that made it all seem "not right" to me was seeing a vignette of Goodnight entering into one of the scenes, in a car, making the whole thing a little spooky.
First up is this mammoth flying advertisement to both peace and war, a nuke-powered dirigible proposed by Eisenhower in 1953 as part of the Atoms-for-Peace push, a move which by this point was already entirely too late.
For some reason it was seen as a good idea to have a detachable convention hall built for the airship. \
And of course there is no greater element of a Something-for-Peace anything unless there was a competing idea, as seen in this mammoth Soviet atomic zeppelin, a ship completely absorbed in being bigger than the big thing that it already was:
At 300 metres this monster had room enough for virtually anything, though it didn't have the retractable/detachable convention hall--it did however have a small airport.
Another dirigible approached the airport-on-board idea, but preferred solar power for its energy source.
The magnificent possible, 1924, saw another kind of airborn airport:
Guido Tallei's 1932 Diri-Disk was a combination airplane/dirigible, and looked as though it could harbor an expansive airport on its NCC-1701-like wing, but didn't, alas:
Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (1857-1835), the Russian/Soviet space pioneer who was nearly without peer (and who somehow survived the bloodlust of Stalin which sucked up and murdered so many of his scientific colleagues), stepped outside his spaceflight bubble to write about this monster with collapsing sheathing:
The Kueperle dirigible, planned in 1909, was nothing if not pretty, and pretty is pretty much what the whole thing consisted of:
And lastly, this example of the tracked airship--this must have been a popular notion because I've seen perhaps 15 different plans and I don't spend much time at all reading in this area. But harnessing the power of the balloon or dirigible or (kite!) whatever to a track system seemed to be a good idea, once upon a time:
Question: What is 150’ in diameter, weights 80 tons, carries 60 scientists,
a cannon, a big rooster, an escape pod for women, and makes transcontinental
And so: what is ten times bigger, and carries ten times more people? Bigger but still the same nothing--though a more-magnificent nothingness.
The first example did however live in print as the great balloon La Minerve, theprankish gesture of the Belgian optico-magician,
physics experimenter/exhibitionist and
general experimenter (and probable
crumbun)“Dr. Roberston”, who was
actually Étienne-Gaspard Robert (1763-1837).Robert did have vast experience with balloons—he was Commandant des
Aerostiers during the war, serving under General Jourdain in Belgium and Holland
in 1803/4, providing valuable observations on the enemy troops and movements
from tethered (and not) balloon observing stations; he is also regarded by some as the inventor of
the parachute.He had a wide interested
in optics and toys, making a very profitable tour with Brewster mirrors,
demonstrating all manner of specters and floating bodies and such for a paying
He came up with this sci-fi-ish idea
in the early 19th century, and published his dream broadsided swipe
at other aeronauts in 1820 under the title of La Minerve, vaisseau aérien, destiné aux découvertes et
proposé à toutes les Académies de l'Europe par le physicien Robertson.There was nothing about this balloon that
would’ve worked, and Robertson knew it, intending his pamphlet to be more of
caricature of existing attempts in flight than as a science fiction
creation.(The pamphlet reads a little
mean-spirited to me regarding the Minerve; other sections, which dealt with
single-occupant air-transport devices of imaginative construction, seem less
In any event, Roberston provided large creature comforts for his travelers,
not the least of which was a ship (which seems to be 175 feet long) holding 60
scientists and providing enough space for long-distance sleeping arrangements,
laboratories, observation decks, a kitchen, food supplies, water and the
like.There is a (large!) cannon in the
bow of the Minerve, which is also topped by an enormous cock (I figure it to be
50 feet from tail to beak), a gigantic and heavy symbol for vigilance (at what
price?) .There are several small out buildings,
as well as a smaller balloon that housed the women who accompanied the all-male
crew on these long distance jaunts.
There is an enormous anchor where the power source for forward motion should
be.Alas!Roberston has provided no means of thrust,
trusting the winds to take the massive balloon to-and-fro.
(“Minerva” is the Roman goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce and crafts,
as well as the goddess of warriors.She also
And the next example of the magnificent nothing, the Great Monster, appeared in 1837. It was supposed to support 80 houses, steam powered with a large coalhouse and raintanks; it supported gardens and other ammenities, and was to support upwards of 1,000 people--it would be crowded, though, even though the thing was supposed to be 14,000 feet in diameter and 682' high. It was huge, tall, and travelled at 100 mph
Even though the Minerve was a smaller undertaking, its 19th-century Baroque crenulations and insistence upon levels of dangling laddered bits make it a peculiar favorite in spite of the 2.5-mile diameter of the monsterosu Great Monster.
I was prepared to just list this for sale in the books for sale section of this blog and be done with it--until I semi-realized that this famous (or at least significant) report is not to be found available online. Von Braun is far from being of interest to me--I don't need to know his part of the space program from 1946-1977, though I am interested in his what he was doing from 1936-1945 when he was trying to kill London.
Again, I'm no expert on this man, but reading between the lines of his politically whitewashed account of German/Nazi flying bomb program makes me wonder about his enforced/codified forgetfulness and suggestive memory.
The paper in hand is his "Survey of Development of Liquid Rockets in Germany and their Future Prospects", a six-page effort that appeared in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society on March, 1951. It is a reprint of a reprint of a report that he wrote for his Anglo-American interrogators in the summer of 1945, when he and the Allies were scurrying around and trying to figure out what to make of the post-war world with all of that valuable German technology-ops out there in the wind.
In any event, von Braun wrote out this history and prognostication (as there is a big chunk of the paper devoted to future space travel and such) for them in 1945 which then found itself in print by at least 1946. There are many glosses. For example, his use of the A.-prefix determination throughout the course of the document to refer to the V-weapons though it is noted in the first sentence of the report (and no doubt by an editor), that the A.4 "is known to the public as the V.2". (Perhaps that has the scent of freshness to it, to rid the report of a small part of its scrubbiness...or not.)
He writes occasionally in the third person, and also makes the case that the development of the rocket complex at Peenenemunde was for research in high-flight/super-fast travel, when the place had always been intended for military applications. He does mention that the A.4 had severe problems with the guidance system, but that was acceptable since they were given large-target areas to bomb--such as "London".
It is an interesting read for what it says about the future of vast fast travel, as well as for what it does not say about defeat and responsibility and the use of slave labor and bombing large civilian areas. But that's not what he was talking about, here. Or basically ever.