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
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.
Shooting Down the Nuclear Plane, by W. Henry Lambright, (Inter-University Case Program #104, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1964), is an interesting and nicely-documented history of an idea whose firm grasp on reality night not be terribly firm. Of course it would be possible to prodce such a thing (at about this same time in 1961 appeared a cover for Popular Mechanics for an atomic-powered car from which two cowboys went a-hunting) if there was the collective will to do so, and there almost was. Let's just say then that the atomic-poweredness of our domestic defense was limited to aircraft carriers and submarines, and the atomic-powererd aircraft were left to science fiction .
In general though it was at this time, from about 1946 thorugh the late 1950s', that people were thinking of refitting standard power systems with atomic energy.
Here are a few ideas for alternative approaches to flight, provided by the happy folks known as Atomic Energy:
Another possibility for a nculear powered aircraft, by Northrup:
[Source] Another interesting design--a nuclear-powered prop plane, X-6, "derived from the Corvair B-36":
Once upon a time, engineers could do anything, especially in the first third or so of the 20th (American) century. The hopes for technological superstar were often on display in popular and illustrated magazines, though much of the times the dreams were more dreamy than they were engineering possibilities. Some of my favorites among these hopeful projections of the future involve Big Thinking, and floating above these images of great possibilities and reluctant possibilities are thoughts on flight and of luxurious flight, or perhaps even continuous-flight-living. These three images were covers on some of the most popular of the popular sci-tech mags for this period: Science and Mechanics, Popular Mechanics, and Popular Science Monthly.
All three of these examples show (in insets) some sort of large, encapsulated, living section that exists somewhere in the superstructure of the aircraft. The first example comes from Popular Science (15 June 1937), and depicts what I think is a large living area under a grid of 54 large glassy roofs—it is not possible for me to estimate the proportions of the craft, though I think it pales in comparison to the next two examples.
In both instances the encapsulated areas have trees and roads. In the case of the Science and Mechanics contribution there seems to be six (?) of these large enclosures, the detail of which shows a large swimming pool, a club house, two tennis courts, and some other sporting area, all of which are surrounded by trees. Multiply this structure by six and what you’ve got is one really really big aircraft, which is somehow jet/atomic powered--in any event it is a gigantic craft and it is somehow staying aloft.
Well, what is really was, or what this was intended to be in this memory of a possible aviation future--or naval future, as this airship was really a flying boat, an "amphibian, a dirigible, a gyrocopter ....an airplane". A ship, really, trying to judge the size of the thing by the position of the portholes/windows--the thing was big, and the "single wing, rotating disk-shaped affair filled with gas or hot air" was even bigger. We read here that the disk was "turned by a gasoline engine" which was located in the center of the ship, leaving still plenty of room for "quarters" for the crew and passengers, making for what the inventor thought was an easy ascent and then, using the lifting device as a parachute, and then having a parachute-y descent, soft and simple.
Its hard to judge the size of the machine, but it looks like there are 40-50 portholes or windows running the length of the ship, and so I'd guess that the fuselage of the craft was 150 feet long, which was about half of its overall length, making it about 300 feet overall. The disk then could be 150-200 feet in diameter, giving it an area of close to one acre. Big.
Lecture Manual for Air Raid Warden Instructors is in its way a remarkable document revealing some of the thinking and interpretation on the chances for the invasion of the American west coast just a few months (March 9, 1941) following Pearl Harbor. Undertaken and published by the Workers of the Writers' Program ('of the Works Projects Administration in Northern California") it was a product of one of the number of the Roosevelt administration's social engineering programs that had a long lasting effect.
The first chapter, "It Can Happen Here" is more about the mechanics of responding to an enemy aerial attack than qu8estioning whether the attack might occur--the writer assumes that such an event was possible, and so precautions and preparations must be made--there is no question mark at the end of the chapter's heading.
Overall I think that this was an excellent organizational effort for at least dealing with controlling the situation on the ground--providing a grid in which actions could be interpreted and responded to. [The original is available at our blog bookstore.]
I am not an architectural historian nor a historian of aviation, but I have looked at a lot of images relating to these fields over the past 30+ years, and so when I find something unusual it makes me pause. One developing category in this area are rooftop/elevated inner city/downtown airports (I've done two earlier posts about this sort of design, including airports designed to be constructed over the Thames and Central Park NYC in Rooftop & Floating Airports -and- Rooftop Airports in a Levitating NYC, 1929 and Elevated, Rooftop Inner City Circular Airports. I'm not at all certain about what these planners (above) were thinking except that the locations of the airports were central and would save on driving town from the hinterlands to central city--and the "central city" here was London, with the "aerodrome" hosted above King's Cross and St. Pancras station, and might even have reached Regent's Park, though I'm not sure. Evidently there wasn't much of a concern of the planes missing their runways, or coming in too low, or too fast, or just having an accident--any one of which would wind up in the lap of a busy city rather than in a field somewhere or on a large piece of ground devoid of buildings and a population (where airports are normally situated. True, there are many airports in this country that are located in urban and suburban sprawls--there was calculated room for error and they were not located right on top of error-proof zones in the middle of a vastly populated areas. So, in the "what were they thinking" department, I clearly do not understand what they were thinking.
In addition to being a not-very-good-idea, it was also unwholesomely unpretty. And big.
In what he gives to thee, this Paradise And thy faire Eve; Heav'n is for thee too high To know what passes there; be lowlie wise: Think onely what concernes thee and thy being; Dream not of other Worlds, what Creatures there [ 175 ] Live, in what state, condition or degree, Contented that thus farr hath been reveal'd Not of Earth onely but of highest Heav'n.
--J Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 8 (The Argument), line 175 ff
This is another in a series of posts (starting here with an introduction) on the great J.J. Grandville, a visionary artist of high imagination with good strong claims to being an 1840's proto-Surealist. This small collection of flying machines appears in his Un Autre Monde, published 1844.
I was wondering how early aerial warfare was used as the basis for a child's structured entertainment, and so passed a little time in the U.S. patent archives for a quick overview of patented games. I was more interested in games than simple toys
The first is an ingenious military game that included playing chits for "aerial mines", which in 1913/1915 was a forward-thinking defensive device, though not much tested. (The the full text and explanation of the game is here.)
Next is a magnetic game--which again was patented during WWI--in which aircraft were supposed to seek out and destroy forts, naval ships, and other tools of war.
With the beginning of the aviation age in warfare came the anti-aircraft era. In the first years of WWI opposing forces knew that aircraft would be coming but didn't quite yet know how to deal with them. Some of the results of thinking about how to stop marauding aircraft can be seen below in a few examples of patents taken from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All of the following examples employed balloons--balloons that stationary and rigged in one way or another so that a passing plane that snagged this line would cause the explosive device that moored the balloon to swing up and detonate on or near the aircraft. That means that a great many of these devices were needed to be an effective deterrent against aircraft. (I had written earlier in this blog about barrage balloons proposed for use in/around London in 1938, here. This mode of anti-aircraft balloon was static, though, and at least in this circumstance the balloons were meant to snag and not necessarily try to blow up anything caught in its cable.)
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: