A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3 million hits| History of Science, Math & Tech | Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
In the early days of aviation aerial assault must have seemed incredible--and an abomination. Hurling stones and other offensive weapons by trebuchet and catapult is one thing, and launching balls and shot from cannons and mortars is quite another--but actually having your weapon flown over an enemy's position and dropped, remotely or via cable, must have been ab excruciating achievement, militarily speaking. To be able to direct an explosive charge over a position not reachable by an infantry (say in 1915) must've been a short-lived comfort on the offensive end, though the user of such a technology would also have to contend with the contrary, as the enemy would be able to do the same thing themselves.
This idea was not limited to just military purposes. Companies could now wage an advertising war war against competitors in a thee-sky's-the-limit campaign, hoisting their ads on balloons anchored over a city, making it possible for the first time to have your message so universally read, a pre-intertubes version of smoke signals.
And this, seeming more on the Orwellian/1984 side, or perhaps more contemporary as an instrument of the Dear Leader in North Korea (left, fromc Popular Mechanics, July, 1939).
Here's an interesting, pre-airplane, airship-delivered explosive device: floated over an enemy's position, the chord would be pulled at the desired time to create a tear in the balloon's top, sending the craft down, with the bomb exploding on impact:
Another sort of slow death from adove advertising scheme:
In this device patented by Steinmetz the explosive device is still actually attached to the aircraft when exploded--not a very common way of delivering your weapon. The airship would advance on the enemy, with the bomb attached to a cable just above an anchor at bottom; the anchor would grapple the target, and the bomb detonated from the gondola of the airship:
Hiram Maxim, Sir Hiram Maxim, an ex-pat Yank and a great inventor of things other than aircraft, certainly did not do his best on his early flying machine. He built an enormous monument to Steampunk Aerostation, and in that 8,000 pounds of steel wheels and smoke, he completely lost the idea of making a flying machine, concentrating solely on the idea of thrust and lift, consoling himself with the notion of raising a brick from the ground.
I'm not sure that you can disinvent many physical things, although I know that there have been many attempts to do just that , though usually in the fields of human beings doing horrible things to other human beings. The Soviets I know disinvented untold numbers of people in the plague years of the human stain, Joseph Stalin; so to with Adolf Hitler, who tried to disinvent the Jewish people and the Soviet Union.
Hiram Maxim (1840-1916) tried to build a monster that would leave the ground but not actually fly, and he basically did just that, very briefly with very heavy/crashy results. His flying machine was over 100' wide, had two 17.5' propellers, room of multiple crew members, weighed four tons, and traveled along guiding railroad tracks on steel wheels. In 1897 it powered down 1800' of track before accidently breaking free of its moorings and rizing briefly above them for a distance of about 100', which at 40mph would've been about 2 seconds of foot-tall "flight", causing the crew to shut the engines down and causing the whole thing to crash And that was that, the end of Maxim's adventure. It was remembered by him in strange and wonderfully terrible ways in his memoirs, where he claimed that his truly dreadful ideas were those that were used and copied by the pioneers who followed him and who actually created successful flying machines. That he could remember things in their imagined states with such hopeful clarity is to think of him as providing precisely the wrong blueprints at the right time.
In his book, Aviation, an Historical Survey from its Origins to the End of World War II (Science Museum, London, 1970), the insightful, opinionated and occasionally acerbic Charles H. Gibbs-Smith remarked on Maxim's outlandish maxims on his enormous failure, quoting him so:
"...the fact that practically no essential departure has been made from my original lines, indicates to my mind that I had reasoned out the best type of a machine even before I commenced a stroke of the work" (Maxim, Natural and Artificial Flight, 1908)
Gibbs-Smith writes: "it is hard to imagine anyone uttering more egregious nonsense", and when you look at the Maxim machine and see its specs and the nil-time spent on what to do with the thing if it ever actually lifted off the ground, you'd be hard-pressed not to agree. Had people followed his lead, Maxim would have been able to disinvent human flight. There, I said it. There's wrong, and then there's wrong--and then there is this.
This magnificent flying thing was perhaps among the earliest of its kind, at least according to shape, which as we can see really wasn't quite a flying saucer,, though it was a flying disk. And a big one, at that. From the ladder that led to the major axle we can infer that the aircraft was at least 60 feet high, which made its disk apparatus a very ferris-wheel-like 40' or 50' in diameter. If nothing else, the patent drawings are quite pretty.
JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post [Part of the Tech-Quiz series.]
Generally with these questions I provide a detail of a patent drawing and from that the application is supposed to be derived. Here, though, is the full drawing, and is seems pretty straightforward, I think, though the ultimate use of the contraption might not be so obvious. Or perhaps it is? What was the intended purpose of this object?
This is one of the most appealing sets of "flying" or manned aerostation patent drawings that I have seen in the USPTO collection for the 19th century. The machine is a human-powered ornithopter, applying the structure of a human against that of a bird, and outfitting the flyer accordingly to combat their human weaknesses as adapted to bird flight. Needless to say, and in spite of the beauty of the thought, this arrangement was destined to deep failure. (The patentee, Reuben Jasper Spaulding, of Rosita ("Little Rose"), Colorado (south of Pueblo), may have been the same Reuben J Spaulding who made the first gold strike on the Blue River on Colorado's Western Slope in 1859.) Spaulding's design is interesting also for the balloon device for getting the aero pioneer off the ground.
[Source: Google Patents (and also for the extensive annotations for the images).] I note that there was a model constructed for this patent--I'd love to see that.
And along this same vein of ornithopter-y thought is this, another American solution to the man-bird-mechanical-flight continuum, produced a dozen years earlier--it is similar, though not nearly as glorious (at least in presentation) as the later Spaulding effort:
The work really ins't quite as awesome as Spalding's beautiful Lazarusian resurrection, and not as detailed, but still quite interesting:
I think that there must have been a certain satisfaction for Mr. R.L. Downton when he had the idea for hydrogen-filled propellers--I mean, they must have made a lot of sense to him, sitting there in the Abbey, pondering the elegances of flight, while letting Maggie Smith walk away with all of the best lines. Well, I'm kidding of course about Maggie Smith and the Downton Abbey remark, but I can well imagine Mr. Downton feeling as though he came to some sort of breakthrough by making the propellers for his flying machine its lifting device as well. We can see in the first image that the "aerial ship" has side-by-side propellers and is driven by steam--the airship is still a little too refined and relatively light to fall into a classic "Steampunk" mold.
The second drawing shows a modification to the somewhat-large ship above, with the airship being a flying gondola, with the hydrogen-filled propeller being hand-cranked. It wasn't a great idea by any means, but it was very interesting, at least to me.
This remarkable flying machine was patented by N.H. Borgfeldt (of Brooklyn, NYC) on 1 October 1889. It really seems to be not that much more than the rowing-section part of a Roman galleon, except that it is in the air; there are five "rowers" int his aircraft, plus someone to operate the rudder. And a flag.
This certainly is not the most effective way of using human muscle, even in an odd application like this one:
Holes are of course everywhere--it just depends on how hard you look. This image, though, struck me very quickly as an unexpected hole (though of course once you allow yourself a moment to think about ti the whole thing makes sense). It is a very plain "observer's perch" in the tail of the great British airship, the "R 34", and appeared in the Illustrated London News in April, 1919, just before its first flight. The aircraft was massive--643 feet long1--and on one superficial level its hard to imagine holes in its structure of any sort, let alone an unprotected observation post. But there it is.
Here's a full view of the "R34", successor to the "R33":
This is an image of the (forward?) gondola of the airship, looking like it has come in for a landing, or touchdown, or whatever--there is something so very primal about this relatively small group of men reaching up for the railing on the gondola...a railing placed there specifically for that reason. Its hard to imagine that such a seemingly small effort would be enough to control any part of the airship's motion, though perhaps it was.
And the detail, showing the man in the middle clearly off the ground--clearly he must be weighing his options:
At least he seems to be wearing one glove, anyway
Then there's the image of the "bad" hole, the iconic image (photographic and motion picture) of the conflagration and crash of the Hindenburg, a result of a very quickly-spreading "hole" in the skin of the aircraft as it was coming in for a landing/mooring in Lakehurst, New Jersey, 1937.
Here's a cross-section of the Hindenburg as it appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1936:
[My apologies to my readers: in an earlier version of this post I calculated that the Verne space module would be traveling 129,000,000 mph exiting the space cannon--that was wrong, I'm very sorry to say. The figure should have been 129,000,000 feet per hour, which would be about 25,000 mph. Mea culpa.]
Earlier in this blog appeared a post on the Eiffel Tower Happy Bullet. It turned out to be a highly-circulated bit, what with the subject matter and all--describing a gigantic bullet filled with people and dropped from the interior heights of the Eiffel Tower and landing in a big watery hole at the bottom. The effect of impact I think would have made those folks suffer Massive Internal Complications.
Impressive as the Eiffel bullet idea was, it was absolutely nothing compared to what another Frenchman thought of at about the same exact time. Perhaps no human could have suffered more internal disruption in any science fiction story than those who would have been subjected to Jules Verne's (whose birthday is today, February 8, 1828 – March 24, 1905) space gun, an enormous Columbiad, the mode of propulsion for the travelers in his From the Earth the Moon/De la Terre a la Lune.
Verne's 20,000-lb projectile to the Moon would sit in a cannon-hole in the Earth that was 280 meters deep with a diameter of 2.7 meters, which would sit on the bottom of the hole capping off 200 feet of guncotton (!, weighing 400,000 pounds!). Somehow this mass would be ignited, and as Verne (or his brother) calculated would produce an initial velocity of 12,000 yards per second, which is 36,000 ft sec, or about 24,000 mph, which is a big enough number to attain the (more or less correct) escape velocity Ve of 11.2 km/sec. (Very high-velocity shells fired by tanks fitted for kinetic energy penetrator ammo attain a muzzle velocity of 5700 ft/sec.) And somewhere in there would be a crew greeting a rather-ncredible-to-write-down 22,000 gs. Astronauts in the Apollo program experienced something like 1g; dragster car drives who go from 0 to 100 mph in .86 seconds experience about 5.4g.
22,000gs is another thing entirely.
And difficult to imagine.
Jules Verne got a lot of stuff right in his long and lovely career--an there was quite a bit that he foretold correctly in this very story. Just not the take-off.
The further-funny thing about this space gun is that it made another appearance in another Verne story, The Purchase of the North Pole, 1889. During this period of human exploration there was a push to explore the Poles--in Verne's story, an attempt is made to simply this exploration. But not in the way you might think. Verne was going to employ the space gun, again, but this time to alter the axis of the Earth so as to make it easier to get to the Poles and exploit their natural resources. I must say that this answer was not at all clear to me, even with my best sci fi cap on: but Verne saw it, saw that it would be better for all concerned to move the Poles rather than moves towards them. And that's some pretty big thinking.
I've long been an admirer of the Boeing B-17 aircraft and have posted about it on this blog a number of times. Today I just wanted to share some images of the aircraft's production and assembly at the Boeing Seattle works in 1942. All photographs are from the Farm Security Administration series (Office of War Information) and can be found (with a hundred others) at the Library of Congress site, here.
(Our younger daughter, Tess, with here antique wooden model of the B-17, with the real thing (B-17G) in the background.)
Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives: B-17 Construction, 1942-1944
"Production. B-17F heavy bombers. A women worker, over 60 years old, does an expert riveting job on a B-17F bomber in the Long Beach, California, plant of Douglas Aircraft Company. Better known as the "Flying Fortress," the B-17F is a later model of the B-17, which distinguished itself in action in the South Pacific, over Germany and elsewhere. It is a long range, high altitude, heavy bomber with a crew of seven to nine men and with armament sufficient to defend itself on daylight missions."
Seeing this splendid image of the 1909 near-future forced a question into mind: what came first, aerial delivery of mail or aerial delivery of explosives? I suspected that "mail" would be the correct answer, but didn't know how much deeper that went into the past than the history of aerial bombing.
The first bits of mail were delivered among the first balloon flights ever made--in the U.S., the first quasi-official piece of airmail was a letter from president George Washington that went aloft in the first balloon flight (1793) in this country, deliverable to whomever it was that first came to greet the balloon in wherever it landed. The first semi-regular delivery of mail in the U.S. was again by balloon, beginning in 1859, which still precedes the first sustained use of explosives dropped from aerial vehicles by five decades.
This image was drawn by H. Janos for the Illustrated London News for 16 January 1909, and shows a futuristic balloon making its way from Dover to Calais with a cargo of mail and a dozen or two passengers (and whatever crew there was besides the captain, presumably belowdeck). The article reads: "1910 may seem a very early date at which to fix the coming of such vessels, yet aerial navigation is progressing at such a rate that none can call the date impossible".
And so true; it didn't take but a few years to begin experimental air service routes for the mails by biplane, and less than a dozen to have instituted long-range flights by heavy aircraft, with the mammoth mail-delivering airships sent to the not-good ideas department.
In any event I just happen to like this image by Janos--for what was a not-essential piece to the weekly magazine, the man did produce an admirable work, not the least of which is his unusual airborne oblique bird's-eye view to the shoreline.
D.G. Lloyds certainly had an interesting--if not unique--vision of non-stop or uninterrupted cross-country aerial service, writing about Non-Stop Landing of the Future (Illustrated World, May 1920.) And for Lloyds the future was soon, or tomorrow, because, frankly, the technology was there, if not the will. Or the inclination. Or the presence of a logic for creating such a service.
It seems to me that after floating along for days at 75 mph (or thereabouts?) that, after finally getting across the country, a traveler might want to simply disembark. But this behemoth envisioned by Lloyds wouldn't have to actually stop--it was outfitted, designed to release/accept passengers while in flight. Now of course take-offs and landings are the most dangerous parts of flying, and perhaps this is what Lloyds was trying to replace. But to me it looks like he replaced one significant danger with, well, several other significant dangers.
Look: it just seems to me that any time you have a giant airplane synchronizing flying with an enormous dirigible to transfer exceptionally heavy cargo at an altitude of one mile that there is some substantial room for pilot(s) error.(s) and other freak whatevers. Also, the issue of using dozens of men with shepherd hooks to grab a multi-ton object suspended from a moving platform to another moving platform seems to me, well problematic. But it does make for a pretty picture.
(I just added a few things to this post from three years ago. The image of Ms. Earhart's hand is fantastic--read the story here in the post Amelia Earhart: Her Physical Disappearance vs. Lindbergh's Moral Vanishing):
JF Ptak Science Books Post 1688 (Part of the series on the History of Blank, Empty and Missing Things--Upper Atmosphere Monsters.)
Illustrated World for July-August 1920 asks the question "Will Man Soar to Unknown Heights" and indeed, they answered in the affirmative, saying that the "heights of space instead if the depths of the seas or the distant poles are to beckon the adventurous, according to scientists who are making a specialty of the atmosphere". In what must seem to the modern reader to be an enormous and naive statement of the obvious, the future aviators would fly in "glass enclosed fuselages" in order to gain great heights.
There would however be no monsters--except for lack of oxygen and the cold. he editors did mention a Conan Doyle story in which monsters lived at high altitudes, monsters that were form-changers, much like the clouds they lived above. This was his "The Horror of the Heights"(1913), a short story about a flyer named Joyce-Armstrong who longed for great heights--and for the "something else" that was up there, something dark and sinister that lived in the stuff that we breathe, as the story is told through the pages of a recovered, blood-stained notebook found in a field. We learn that Joyce-Armstrong was a dreaming pragmatist, longing for the ethereal of great heights but loathe of it also, aware of a danger so great that he carried a shotgun along with him in flight. We read in the flight book that the aviator had an experience at 40,000 feet, meeting a new air-jungle world of semi-formed gelatinous creatures, one of which has a more solid form with tentacles and a beak, and does battle with them, surviving, returning to the ground. He vows to go back, at which point we assume he met his doom.
In 1913, an altitude of 40,000 feet was extreme, the record at the time being about 9,000', and that reached in a Wright biplane--quite an achievement I think for such an aircraft, By the time this article appeared in 1920, the record altitude was 33,000', which at least got a lot closer than the 9k' of 1913. The aircraft for this record--the LUSAC-11 (Lepère United States Army Combat) was much more considerable than the Wright plane, though it seems to me a work of fantastic skill/effort/courage to take such a thing so high.