A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
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.
I came upon this small, rare item in the early aviation box here. Its the inaugural address establishing the Aeronuatical Society of Great Britain, the even held at the residence of the Duke of Argyll (Campden Hill) on 12 January 1866. The text is by James Glaisher, who was a significant experimentalist/balloonist in addition to running the Department of Meteorology and Magnetism at the Royal Greenwich Observatories for 34 years. The document is only 7x4 inches, but it winds up being quite dense (literalyl and figuratively), with about 800 words packed onto one side of this double-column sheet.
Gibbs-Smith, in his interesting and very useful Aviation, an Historical Survey states:
“One of the most important dates in flying history is the year 1866, when there was founded in London the Aeronautical Society (now Royal) of Great Britain. Although not the earliest society devoted to flying it was by far the most important and. influential . It soon attracted men who realized that mechanical flight was ultimately possible, and who were determined to study and solve its problems.. From then on the main development of aviation was to lie in the hands of scientifically or technologically trained men. The subject if flying…now took on a new seriousness…it now become a proper subject of investigation…”-- p. 41.
The object itself does not appear in the OCLC/WorldCat, and so is extremely uncommon in this format, so I thought it would be useful to report on it and reprint it here. The original is also available for purchase onthe store's blog.
The iconography of the Moon is certainly wide and vast, but I'm thinking that this may be a very good candidate for the first time that the Moon appears as an airplane. I found this lovely image depicting the champion of the air, the great and all-knowing height-highness, the Moon. In 1914, eleven years after the first powered heavier than air flight of the Wright brothers, the development of more sophisticated was appreciating at a high rate, and there were newer higher records for (fixed wing) altitudes. (In 1908 the altitude record was about 360'; in 1910, it stood at 8,000'--balloons had achieved loftier records, around 40,000' in 1912.) This was a sly way of pointing out that try as they may and try as they might, the inhabitants of Earth wouldn't come quite so close to the Moon as they would dream. And that was true until Apollo 8 found itself on the far side of the Moon, only 56 years later. [Source: The Day Book, Chicago, March 24, 1914. Image provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, Urbana, IL. Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045487/1914-03-24/ed-1/seq-31/]
This lovely image of the possibilities of future aerial flight was made by the celebrated caricaturist and illustrator George Cruikshank, and was printed in 1836. The aircraft at top is a massive affair (the selling of the "beautiful Castle in St. Cloud") offered great possibilities along with "no ground rent". It is absolutely a castle int he sky, literally and figuratively, and must've seemed to be something of a possibility to Cruikshank in the fifth decade following the first balloon ascension. Of course he was having a turn at aviation, but I think he also saw the bits of the feasible within his hopeful caricatures.
[Source: E. Seton Valentine, Travels in Space, a History of Aerial Navigation, 1902. Here.] Details below:
From the looks of it, this image from an 8 April 1933 issue of the Illustrated London News is not quite a "verbal bomb" as we might think of such a thing today. The cutaway drawing (by the sensational G.H. Davies, who produced hundreds of these images for the magazine over four decades)shows an acoustic device housed in a Vickers Victoria aircraft. As described in the descriptive text to the image, Sir Philip Sassoon ("speaking in the House of Commons on the Air Estimates last month") mentioned in May 1933 an attempt to induce forces hostile to the U.K. in Northern Kurdistan by flying over rebel strongholds and threatening an air attack if no surrender was forthcoming.
Evidently a translator would address the town at 2-4,000' elevation through an audio system that amplified the voice"1,600,000 times". An address was made to the leaders of the tribesmnen to surrender their position, else an air attack would occur after three days. Even though described in the title of the image as a "verbal bomb", it isn't anything like the directed energy/sonic/acoustic/infrasonics/pulse weapon performance degraders that are currently available. What was happening here was simply (or not so) an attempt to get an enemy to relieve their position via tangible threat, sort of an acoustic leaflet bombing prior to the real thing. Of course this was backed up by actual bombing, which was still a relatively new weapon for armies--several nations which possessed this newish facility of war practiced bombing civilian/military targets alike in extra-territorial possessions. (There was a hot debate over what constituted fair use of aerial bombs beginning in earnest in the 1920's, but much of that soon devolved into debates on what constituted "civilian populations", and there the definitions were wide and sloppy.) In any event, the loudspeakers did not emit high-powered sound that would disturb/puncture eardrums or cause dizziness or problems with eyesight by making the eyeballs vibrate--they were just loud conveyers of Bad Things to Come.
I've selected a few representatives of design for the covers of pamphlets and books published in the field of rocket development and space flight published in Germany in the 1920's and 1930's (with one from the 1951). They have a certain expectant sameness them, and, as leading publications in their field, have a remarkable similarity in their (black and white) design. The combined efforts of these works wound up in the engineering labs of Peenemuende and then int he V-1 and V-2 rockets that pulverized the United Kingdom during WWII. Later this same expertise, and some of the same engineers, "wound up" in the United States developing the American space program. The most famous of these Paperclipped scientists was Wernher von Braun, whose name is so intimately connected with the Vengeance Weapons as well as the Apollo space program. It is interesting to note that for many years if twas impossible to find von Braun's name on any exhibition description in the Air and Space Museum in D.C.--it just wasn't there, so far as I could tell, on no displays, even though I went looking for it pretty closely. On the 30th anniversary of the Moon landing, I went to von Braun's grave to see if it had been remembered in any way--there wasn't anything there, just his simple small slab, next-door to and within eyesight of a Jewish cemetery.
Rudolf Nebel (1894-1978), very early member of the Raketenflugplatz, assistant to Hermann Oberth and very nearly the first to successfully conduct an experiment with a liquid-fueled rocket, beaten to the finish line by a man whose work he was not familiar with, Robert Goddard. He defined right-wing in the Weimar era, and was part of a paramilitary organization called Stralheim; Wernher von Braun seems to have succeeded in the avenue that Nebel tried to travel along. Nebel published this work in 1932, a year before the Nazi party came into power, and before his crotchety problems with teh SA began.
Montague B. Black (b. 1884), an artist and illustrator, pulled the curtain back from the future back there in 1926 to what he thoiught might be the following scene of London in 2026:
A detail reveals an interesting airship:
The airship (of an undetermined power source) has an ad on the side of it reading "Overland Line, London-Sydney"--and by "overland" the artist is not thinking of the old-time "overland" as in prairie schooners and such, but quite literally "over the land". We can also see an ad on the side of a building for an "Underground to Scotland, Glasgow 2hrs 45 mins". There are also named buildings such as the London Bridge Air Depot and the Airtaxi Ltd. The skyscrapers really aren't all that enormous--I see one or two perhaps in the background that might be a hundred stories or so, but the buildings in the foreground are definitely of modest expectation.
There are however dozens of flying machines in the sky, though with the exception of the three large airships, a hundred years has not paid too many benefits to the other aircraft.
Black did create an interesting poster for the White Star line, featuring a certain famous luxury liner--of course the man was just like anyone else, and could not see into the future for the Titanic, nor could he imagine slightly accelerated designs for aircraft. He did manage to portray a transportation system that would be heavily dependent on air travel. That said, he left plenty of room for speculation on the future of the Underground, as we can see in all of this future-glory that no matter the amount of accomplishments in the sky, trains would still be running underground. Black got those two things right, at least.
I simply love infographics like this--especially big skies filled with airplanes. I've written about other similar descriptions of sky-filled aircraft here.
In October 1942 the war was shifting to the way of the Allies--the United States had come into the fight ten months earlier, Operation Barbarossa (begun in June 1941) was at this time being recognized as a complete failure (though the operation would continue on for two more years, costing 5 million German army lives, 20 million Soviet civilian lives, and 9 million Soviet army lives and more when all was said and done), and American military production was very well underway and unbeatable, and so on. The Battle of the Atlantic however was still very much underway, with action returned their, again, during the summer and autumn of 1942.
One way of defeating the U-Boot was to not sail the Atlantic much at all, and flying troops and supplies above it. As we can see in this compelling graphic from The Illustrated London News of 17 October 1942, the editors of that magazine made a case for the Mars flying boat. It was a theoretical case, as the 5,000 Mars planes depicted in the graphic never materialized--actually, it seems as though only seven were made.
The October 1945 issue of Popular Mechanics carried a story "Atomic Bomb for War / Atomic Bomb for Peace" as a reminder, I guess, to its readers that the vast destructive power of the atomic bomb was just one example of what nuclear power might be--and that there could be incredible and wide-reaching benefits of the process for peaceful uses. This work came about eight weeks after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and seems to be only the second post-use story on the weapon.
Half of the article's illustration is dedicated to military applications of atomic energy, and the other to the peaceful; and in the upper-middle of the military side we are told that if necessary that every city in Japan could be completely destroyed with "5,000 atomic bombs". The truth of the matter is that a great percentage of the major (and minor-major and major-minor) cities had already been pretty much decommissioned. (Just weeks before the bomb came the massive firebombing of Tokyo--334 of General Curtis LeMay B-29's were loaded to utmost capacity with the newly-conceived M-69s bomb, an incendiary so vicious that the fires it produced were all but inextinguishable. The B29's bombed Tokyo for hours, killing 100,000+ people and making over a million homeless.) And so I'm not sure what the message was, here, except to establish that the complete destruction of a city with weapons dropped from planes was now a possibility. It was probably right at about this point that this idea became a real possibility--and so to for its extension, that given enough of these weapons, that the entire world could be bombed out of existence.
In today's quick dose from Dr. Odd we find the "United Air Line" (so close to the name that actually came into being), ca. 1900, featuring an enormous and extraordinarily heavily-bodied airship of a construction of pure speculation. It is gigantic and weighty, and it seems as though the thing is powered by pulsating awning-like wings and a series of covered propellers, all under what seems to be sail.
The crowds bustling beneath the behemoth seem as any other crowd waiting for the subway, or third class, or, well, whatever sort of mass transport would await and was taken for granted. There are no bands, no fireworks, no fanfare, just the arrival/departure of yet another airship leaving for London from New York City, as much a cause for attention as any airliner traveling overhead.
Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections, here.