A HISTORY OF AERONAUTICS
by E. Charles Vivian
Although successful heavier-than-air flight is less than two decades old, and successful dirigible propulsion antedates it by a very short period, the mass of experiment and accomplishment renders any one-volume history of the subject a matter of selection. In addition to the restrictions imposed by space limits, the material for compilation is fragmentary, and, in many cases, scattered through periodical and other publications. Hitherto, there has been no attempt at furnishing a detailed account of how the aeroplane and the dirigible of to-day came to being, but each author who has treated the subject has devoted his attention to some special phase or section. The principal exception to this rule—Hildebrandt—wrote in 1906, and a good many of his statements are inaccurate, especially with regard to heavier-than-air experiment.
Such statements as are made in this work are, where possible, given with acknowledgment to the authorities on which they rest. Further acknowledgment is due to Lieut.-Col. Lockwood Marsh, not only for the section on aeroplane development which he has contributed to the work, but also for his kindly assistance and advice in connection with the section on aerostation. The author's thanks are also due to the Royal Aeronautical Society for free access to its valuable library of aeronautical literature, and to Mr A. Vincent Clarke for permission to make use of his notes on the development of the aero engine.
In this work is no claim to originality—it has been a matter mainly of compilation, and some stories, notably those of the Wright Brothers and of Santos Dumont, are better told in the words of the men themselves than any third party could tell them. The author claims, however, that this is the first attempt at recording the facts of development and stating, as fully as is possible in the compass of a single volume, how flight and aerostation have evolved. The time for a critical history of the subject is not yet.
In the matter of illustrations, it has been found very difficult to secure suitable material. Even the official series of photographs of aeroplanes in the war period is curiously incomplete' and the methods of censorship during that period prevented any complete series being privately collected. Omissions in this respect will probably be remedied in future editions of the work, as fresh material is constantly being located.
E.C.V. October, 1920.
Part I—THE EVOLUTION OF THE AEROPLANE I. THE PERIOD OF LEGEND II. EARLY EXPERIMENTS III. SIR GEORGE CAYLEY—THOMAS WALKER IV. THE MIDDLE NINETEENTH CENTURY V. WENHAM, LE BRIS, AND SOME OTHERS VI. THE AGE OF THE GIANTS VII. LILIENTHAL AND PILCHER VIII. AMERICAN GLIDING EXPERIMENTS IX. NOT PROVEN X. SAMUEL PIERPOINT LANGLEY XI. THE WRIGHT BROTHERS XII. THE FIRST YEARS OF CONQUEST XIII. FIRST FLIERS IN ENGLAND XIV. RHEIMS, AND AFTER XV. THE CHANNEL CROSSING XVI. LONDON TO MANCHESTER XVII. A SUMMARY—TO 1911 XVIII. A SUMMARY—TO 1914 XIX. THE WAR PERIOD—I XX. THE WAR PERIOD—II XXI. RECONSTRUCTION XXII. 1919-1920
Part II—1903-1920: PROGRESS IN DESIGN I. THE BEGINNINGS II. MULTIPLICITY OF IDEAS III. PROGRESS ON STANDARDISED LINES IV. THE WAR PERIOD
Part III—AEROSTATICS I. BEGINNINGS II. THE FIRST DIRIGIBLES III. SANTOS-DUMONT IV. THE MILITARY DIRIGIBLE V. BRITISH AIRSHIP DESIGN VI. THE AIRSHIP COMMERCIALLY VII. KITE BALLOONS
PART IV—ENGINE DEVELOPMENT I. THE VERTICAL TYPE II. THE VEE TYPE III. THE RADIAL TYPE IV. THE ROTARY TYPE V. THE HORIZONTALLY-OPPOSED ENGINE VI. THE TWO-STROKE CYCLE ENGINE VII. ENGINES OF THE WAR PERIOD
PART I. THE EVOLUTION OF THE AEROPLANE
I. THE PERIOD OF LEGEND
The blending of fact and fancy which men call legend reached its fullest and richest expression in the golden age of Greece, and thus it is to Greek mythology that one must turn for the best form of any legend which foreshadows history. Yet the prevalence of legends regarding flight, existing in the records of practically every race, shows that this form of transit was a dream of many peoples—man always wanted to fly, and imagined means of flight.
In this age of steel, a very great part of the inventive genius of man has gone into devices intended to facilitate transport, both of men and goods, and the growth of civilisation is in reality the facilitation of transit, improvement of the means of communication. He was a genius who first hoisted a sail on a boat and saved the labour of rowing; equally, he who first harnessed ox or dog or horse to a wheeled vehicle was a genius—and these looked up, as men have looked up from the earliest days of all, seeing that the birds had solved the problem of transit far more completely than themselves. So it must have appeared, and there is no age in history in which some dreamers have not dreamed of the conquest of the air; if the caveman had left records, these would without doubt have showed that he, too, dreamed this dream. His main aim, probably, was self-preservation; when the dinosaur looked round the corner, the prehistoric bird got out of the way in his usual manner, and prehistoric man, such of him as succeeded in getting out of the way after his fashion—naturally envied the bird, and concluded that as lord of creation in a doubtful sort of way he ought to have equal facilities. He may have tried, like Simon the Magician, and other early experimenters, to improvise those facilities; assuming that he did, there is the groundwork of much of the older legend with regard to men who flew, since, when history began, legends would be fashioned out of attempts and even the desire to fly, these being compounded of some small ingredient of truth and much exaggeration and addition.
In a study of the first beginnings of the art, it is worth while to mention even the earliest of the legends and traditions, for they show the trend of men's minds and the constancy of this dream that has become reality in the twentieth century. In one of the oldest records of the world, the Indian classic Mahabarata, it is stated that 'Krishna's enemies sought the aid of the demons, who built an aerial chariot with sides of iron and clad with wings. The chariot was driven through the sky till it stood over Dwarakha, where Krishna's followers dwelt, and from there it hurled down upon the city missiles that destroyed everything on which they fell.' Here is pure fable, not legend, but still a curious forecast of twentieth century bombs from a rigid dirigible. It is to be noted in this case, as in many, that the power to fly was an attribute of evil, not of good—it was the demons who built the chariot, even as at Friedrichshavn. Mediaeval legend in nearly every case, attributes flight to the aid of evil powers, and incites well-disposed people to stick to the solid earth—though, curiously enough, the pioneers of medieval times were very largely of priestly type, as witness the monk of Malmesbury.
The legends of the dawn of history, however, distribute the power of flight with less of prejudice. Egyptian sculpture gives the figure of winged men; the British Museum has made the winged Assyrian bulls familiar to many, and both the cuneiform records of Assyria and the hieroglyphs of Egypt record flights that in reality were never made. The desire fathered the story then, and until Clement Ader either hopped with his Avion, as is persisted by his critics, or flew, as is claimed by his friends.
While the origin of many legends is questionable, that of others is easy enough to trace, though not to prove. Among the credulous the significance of the name of a people of Asia Minor, the Capnobates, 'those who travel by smoke,' gave rise to the assertion that Montgolfier was not first in the field—or rather in the air—since surely this people must have been responsible for the first hot-air balloons. Far less questionable is the legend of Icarus, for here it is possible to trace a foundation of fact in the story. Such a tribe as Daedalus governed could have had hardly any knowledge of the rudiments of science, and even their ruler, seeing how easy it is for birds to sustain themselves in the air, might be excused for believing that he, if he fashioned wings for himself, could use them. In that belief, let it be assumed, Daedalus made his wings; the boy, Icarus, learning that his father had determined on an attempt at flight secured the wings and fastened them to his own shoulders. A cliff seemed the likeliest place for a 'take-off,' and Icarus leaped from the cliff edge only to find that the possession of wings was not enough to assure flight to a human being. The sea that to this day bears his name witnesses that he made the attempt and perished by it.
In this is assumed the bald story, from which might grow the legend of a wise king who ruled a peaceful people—'judged, sitting in the sun,' as Browning has it, and fashioned for himself wings with which he flew over the sea and where he would, until the prince, Icarus, desired to emulate him. Icarus, fastening the wings to his shoulders with wax, was so imprudent as to fly too near the sun, when the wax melted and he fell, to lie mourned of water-nymphs on the shores of waters thenceforth Icarian. Between what we have assumed to be the base of fact, and the legend which has been invested with such poetic grace in Greek story, there is no more than a century or so of re-telling might give to any event among a people so simple and yet so given to imagery.
We may set aside as pure fable the stories of the winged horse of Perseus, and the flights of Hermes as messenger of the gods. With them may be placed the story of Empedocles, who failed to take Etna seriously enough, and found himself caught by an eruption while within the crater, so that, flying to safety in some hurry, he left behind but one sandal to attest that he had sought refuge in space—in all probability, if he escaped at all, he flew, but not in the sense that the aeronaut understands it. But, bearing in mind the many men who tried to fly in historic times, the legend of Icarus and Daedalus, in spite of the impossible form in which it is presented, may rank with the story of the Saracen of Constantinople, or with that of Simon the Magician. A simple folk would naturally idealise the man and magnify his exploit, as they magnified the deeds of some strong man to make the legends of Hercules, and there, full-grown from a mere legend, is the first record of a pioneer of flying. Such a theory is not nearly so fantastic as that which makes the Capnobates, on the strength of their name, the inventors of hot-air balloons. However it may be, both in story and in picture, Icarus and his less conspicuous father have inspired the Caucasian mind, and the world is the richer for them.
Of the unsupported myths—unsupported, that is, by even a shadow of probability—there is no end. Although Latin legend approaches nearer to fact than the Greek in some cases, in others it shows a disregard for possibilities which renders it of far less account. Thus Diodorus of Sicily relates that one Abaris travelled round the world on an arrow of gold, and Cassiodorus and Glycas and their like told of mechanical birds that flew and sang and even laid eggs. More credible is the story of Aulus Gellius, who in his Attic Nights tells how Archytas, four centuries prior to the opening of the Christian era, made a wooden pigeon that actually flew by means of a mechanism of balancing weights and the breath of a mysterious spirit hidden within it. There may yet arise one credulous enough to state that the mysterious spirit was precursor of the internal combustion engine, but, however that may be, the pigeon of Archytas almost certainly existed, and perhaps it actually glided or flew for short distances—or else Aulus Gellius was an utter liar, like Cassiodorus and his fellows. In far later times a certain John Muller, better known as Regiomontanus, is stated to have made an artificial eagle which accompanied Charles V. on his entry to and exit from Nuremberg, flying above the royal procession. But, since Muller died in 1436 and Charles was born in 1500, Muller may be ruled out from among the pioneers of mechanical flight, and it may be concluded that the historian of this event got slightly mixed in his dates.
Thus far, we have but indicated how one may draw from the richest stores from which the Aryan mind draws inspiration, the Greek and Latin mythologies and poetic adaptations of history. The existing legends of flight, however, are not thus to be localised, for with two possible exceptions they belong to all the world and to every civilisation, however primitive. The two exceptions are the Aztec and the Chinese; regarding the first of these, the Spanish conquistadores destroyed such civilisation as existed in Tenochtitlan so thoroughly that, if legend of flight was among the Aztec records, it went with the rest; as to the Chinese, it is more than passing strange that they, who claim to have known and done everything while the first of history was shaping, even to antedating the discovery of gunpowder that was not made by Roger Bacon, have not yet set up a claim to successful handling of a monoplane some four thousand years ago, or at least to the patrol of the Gulf of Korea and the Mongolian frontier by a forerunner of the 'blimp.'
The Inca civilisation of Peru yields up a myth akin to that of Icarus, which tells how the chieftain Ayar Utso grew wings and visited the sun—it was from the sun, too, that the founders of the Peruvian Inca dynasty, Manco Capac and his wife Mama Huella Capac, flew to earth near Lake Titicaca, to make the only successful experiment in pure tyranny that the world has ever witnessed. Teutonic legend gives forth Wieland the Smith, who made himself a dress with wings and, clad in it, rose and descended against the wind and in spite of it. Indian mythology, in addition to the story of the demons and their rigid dirigible, already quoted, gives the story of Hanouam, who fitted himself with wings by means of which he sailed in the air and, according to his desire, landed in the sacred Lauka. Bladud, the ninth king of Britain, is said to have crowned his feats of wizardry by making himself wings and attempting to fly—but the effort cost him a broken neck. Bladud may have been as mythic as Uther, and again he may have been a very early pioneer. The Finnish epic, 'Kalevala,' tells how Ilmarinen the Smith 'forged an eagle of fire,' with 'boat's walls between the wings,' after which he 'sat down on the bird's back and bones,' and flew.
Pure myths, these, telling how the desire to fly was characteristic of every age and every people, and how, from time to time, there arose an experimenter bolder than his fellows, who made some attempt to translate desire into achievement. And the spirit that animated these pioneers, in a time when things new were accounted things accursed, for the most part, has found expression in this present century in the utter daring and disregard of both danger and pain that stamps the flying man, a type of humanity differing in spirit from his earthbound fellows as fully as the soldier differs from the priest.
Throughout mediaeval times, records attest that here and there some man believed in and attempted flight, and at the same time it is clear that such were regarded as in league with the powers of evil. There is the half-legend, half-history of Simon the Magician, who, in the third year of the reign of Nero announced that he would raise himself in the air, in order to assert his superiority over St Paul. The legend states that by the aid of certain demons whom he had prevailed on to assist him, he actually lifted himself in the air—but St Paul prayed him down again. He slipped through the claws of the demons and fell headlong on the Forum at Rome, breaking his neck. The 'demons' may have been some primitive form of hot-air balloon, or a glider with which the magician attempted to rise into the wind; more probably, however, Simon threatened to ascend and made the attempt with apparatus as unsuitable as Bladud's wings, paying the inevitable penalty. Another version of the story gives St Peter instead of St Paul as the one whose prayers foiled Simon—apart from the identity of the apostle, the two accounts are similar, and both define the attitude of the age toward investigation and experiment in things untried.
Another and later circumstantial story, with similar evidence of some fact behind it, is that of the Saracen of Constantinople, who, in the reign of the Emperor Comnenus—some little time before Norman William made Saxon Harold swear away his crown on the bones of the saints at Rouen—attempted to fly round the hippodrome at Constantinople, having Comnenus among the great throng who gathered to witness the feat. The Saracen chose for his starting-point a tower in the midst of the hippodrome, and on the top of the tower he stood, clad in a long white robe which was stiffened with rods so as to spread and catch the breeze, waiting for a favourable wind to strike on him. The wind was so long in coming that the spectators grew impatient. 'Fly, O Saracen!' they called to him. 'Do not keep us waiting so long while you try the wind!' Comnenus, who had present with him the Sultan of the Turks, gave it as his opinion that the experiment was both dangerous and vain, and, possibly in an attempt to controvert such statement, the Saracen leaned into the wind and 'rose like a bird 'at the outset. But the record of Cousin, who tells the story in his Histoire de Constantinople, states that 'the weight of his body having more power to drag him down than his artificial wings had to sustain him, he broke his bones, and his evil plight was such that he did not long survive.'
Obviously, the Saracen was anticipating Lilienthal and his gliders by some centuries; like Simon, a genuine experimenter—both legends bear the impress of fact supporting them. Contemporary with him, and belonging to the history rather than the legends of flight, was Oliver, the monk of Malmesbury, who in the year 1065 made himself wings after the pattern of those supposed to have been used by Daedalus, attaching them to his hands and feet and attempting to fly with them. Twysden, in his Historiae Anglicanae Scriptores X, sets forth the story of Oliver, who chose a high tower as his starting-point, and launched himself in the air. As a matter of course, he fell, permanently injuring himself, and died some time later.
After these, a gap of centuries, filled in by impossible stories of magical flight by witches, wizards, and the like—imagination was fertile in the dark ages, but the ban of the church was on all attempt at scientific development, especially in such a matter as the conquest of the air. Yet there were observers of nature who argued that since birds could raise themselves by flapping their wings, man had only to make suitable wings, flap them, and he too would fly. As early as the thirteenth century Roger Bacon, the scientific friar of unbounded inquisitiveness and not a little real genius, announced that there could be made 'some flying instrument, so that a man sitting in the middle and turning some mechanism may put in motion some artificial wings which may beat the air like a bird flying.' But being a cautious man, with a natural dislike for being burnt at the stake as a necromancer through having put forward such a dangerous theory, Roger added, 'not that I ever knew a man who had such an instrument, but I am particularly acquainted with the man who contrived one.' This might have been a lame defence if Roger had been brought to trial as addicted to black arts; he seems to have trusted to the inadmissibility of hearsay evidence.
Some four centuries later there was published a book entitled Perugia Augusta, written by one C. Crispolti of Perugia—the date of the work in question is 1648. In it is recorded that 'one day, towards the close of the fifteenth century, whilst many of the principal gentry had come to Perugia to honour the wedding of Giovanni Paolo Baglioni, and some lancers were riding down the street by his palace, Giovanni Baptisti Danti unexpectedly and by means of a contrivance of wings that he had constructed proportionate to the size of his body took off from the top of a tower near by, and with a horrible hissing sound flew successfully across the great Piazza, which was densely crowded. But (oh, horror of an unexpected accident!) he had scarcely flown three hundred paces on his way to a certain point when the mainstay of the left wing gave way, and, being unable to support himself with the right alone, he fell on a roof and was injured in consequence. Those who saw not only this flight, but also the wonderful construction of the framework of the wings, said—and tradition bears them out—that he several times flew over the waters of Lake Thrasimene to learn how he might gradually come to earth. But, notwithstanding his great genius, he never succeeded.'
This reads circumstantially enough, but it may be borne in mind that the date of writing is more than half a century later than the time of the alleged achievement—the story had had time to round itself out. Danti, however, is mentioned by a number of writers, one of whom states that the failure of his experiment was due to the prayers of some individual of a conservative turn of mind, who prayed so vigorously that Danti fell appropriately enough on a church and injured himself to such an extent as to put an end to his flying career. That Danti experimented, there is little doubt, in view of the volume of evidence on the point, but the darkness of the Middle Ages hides the real truth as to the results of his experiments. If he had actually flown over Thrasimene, as alleged, then in all probability both Napoleon and Wellington would have had air scouts at Waterloo.
Danti's story may be taken as fact or left as fable, and with it the period of legend or vague statement may be said to end—the rest is history, both of genuine experimenters and of charlatans. Such instances of legend as are given here are not a tithe of the whole, but there is sufficient in the actual history of flight to bar out more than this brief mention of the legends, which, on the whole, go farther to prove man's desire to fly than his study and endeavour to solve the problems of the air.
II. EARLY EXPERIMENTS
So far, the stories of the development of flight are either legendary or of more or less doubtful authenticity, even including that of Danti, who, although a man of remarkable attainments in more directions than that of attempted flight, suffers—so far as reputation is concerned—from the inexactitudes of his chroniclers; he may have soared over Thrasimene, as stated, or a mere hop with an ineffectual glider may have grown with the years to a legend of gliding flight. So far, too, there is no evidence of the study that the conquest of the air demanded; such men as made experiments either launched themselves in the air from some height with made-up wings or other apparatus, and paid the penalty, or else constructed some form of machine which would not leave the earth, and then gave up. Each man followed his own way, and there was no attempt—without the printing press and the dissemination of knowledge there was little possibility of attempt—on the part of any one to benefit by the failures of others.
Legend and doubtful history carries up to the fifteenth century, and then came Leonardo da Vinci, first student of flight whose work endures to the present day. The world knows da Vinci as artist; his age knew him as architect, engineer, artist, and scientist in an age when science was a single study, comprising all knowledge from mathematics to medicine. He was, of course, in league with the devil, for in no other way could his range of knowledge and observation be explained by his contemporaries; he left a Treatise on the Flight of Birds in which are statements and deductions that had to be rediscovered when the Treatise had been forgotten—da Vinci anticipated modern knowledge as Plato anticipated modern thought, and blazed the first broad trail toward flight.
One Cuperus, who wrote a Treatise on the Excellence of Man, asserted that da Vinci translated his theories into practice, and actually flew, but the statement is unsupported. That he made models, especially on the helicopter principle, is past question; these were made of paper and wire, and actuated by springs of steel wire, which caused them to lift themselves in the air. It is, however, in the theories which he put forward that da Vinci's investigations are of greatest interest; these prove him a patient as well as a keen student of the principles of flight, and show that his manifold activities did not prevent him from devoting some lengthy periods to observations of bird flight.
'A bird,' he says in his Treatise, 'is an instrument working according to mathematical law, which instrument it is within the capacity of man to reproduce with all its movements, but not with a corresponding degree of strength, though it is deficient only in power of maintaining equilibrium. We may say, therefore, that such an instrument constructed by man is lacking in nothing except the life of the bird, and this life must needs be supplied from that of man. The life which resides in the bird's members will, without doubt, better conform to their needs than will that of a man which is separated from them, and especially in the almost imperceptible movements which produce equilibrium. But since we see that the bird is equipped for many apparent varieties of movement, we are able from this experience to deduce that the most rudimentary of these movements will be capable of being comprehended by man's understanding, and that he will to a great extent be able to provide against the destruction of that instrument of which he himself has become the living principle and the propeller.'
In this is the definite belief of da Vinci that man is capable of flight, together with a far more definite statement of the principles by which flight is to be achieved than any which had preceded it—and for that matter, than many that have succeeded it. Two further extracts from his work will show the exactness of his observations:—
'When a bird which is in equilibrium throws the centre of resistance of the wings behind the centre of gravity, then such a bird will descend with its head downward. This bird which finds itself in equilibrium shall have the centre of resistance of the wings more forward than the bird's centre of gravity; then such a bird will fall with its tail turned toward the earth.'
And again: 'A man, when flying, shall be free from the waist up, that he may be able to keep himself in equilibrium as he does in a boat, so that the centre of his gravity and of the instrument may set itself in equilibrium and change when necessity requires it to the changing of the centre of its resistance.'
Here, in this last quotation, are the first beginnings of the inherent stability which proved so great an advance in design, in this twentieth century. But the extracts given do not begin to exhaust the range of da Vinci's observations and deductions. With regard to bird flight, he observed that so long as a bird keeps its wings outspread it cannot fall directly to earth, but must glide down at an angle to alight—a small thing, now that the principle of the plane in opposition to the air is generally grasped, but da Vinci had to find it out. From observation he gathered how a bird checks its own speed by opposing tail and wing surface to the direction of flight, and thus alights at the proper 'landing speed.' He proved the existence of upward air currents by noting how a bird takes off from level earth with wings outstretched and motionless, and, in order to get an efficient substitute for the natural wing, he recommended that there be used something similar to the membrane of the wing of a bat—from this to the doped fabric of an aeroplane wing is but a small step, for both are equally impervious to air. Again, da Vinci recommended that experiments in flight be conducted at a good height from the ground, since, if equilibrium be lost through any cause, the height gives time to regain it. This recommendation, by the way, received ample support in the training areas of war pilots.
Man's muscles, said da Vinci, are fully sufficient to enable him to fly, for the larger birds, he noted, employ but a small part of their strength in keeping themselves afloat in the air—by this theory he attempted to encourage experiment, just as, when his time came, Borelli reached the opposite conclusion and discouraged it. That Borelli was right—so far—and da Vinci wrong, detracts not at all from the repute of the earlier investigator, who had but the resources of his age to support investigations conducted in the spirit of ages after.
His chief practical contributions to the science of flight—apart from numerous drawings which have still a value—are the helicopter or lifting screw, and the parachute. The former, as already noted, he made and proved effective in model form, and the principle which he demonstrated is that of the helicopter of to-day, on which sundry experimenters work spasmodically, in spite of the success of the plane with its driving propeller. As to the parachute, the idea was doubtless inspired by observation of the effect a bird produced by pressure of its wings against the direction of flight.
Da Vinci's conclusions, and his experiments, were forgotten easily by most of his contemporaries; his Treatise lay forgotten for nearly four centuries, overshadowed, mayhap, by his other work. There was, however, a certain Paolo Guidotti of Lucca, who lived in the latter half of the sixteenth century, and who attempted to carry da Vinci's theories—one of them, at least, into practice. For this Guidotti, who was by profession an artist and by inclination an investigator, made for himself wings, of which the framework was of whalebone; these he covered with feathers, and with them made a number of gliding flights, attaining considerable proficiency. He is said in the end to have made a flight of about four hundred yards, but this attempt at solving the problem ended on a house roof, where Guidotti broke his thigh bone. After that, apparently, he gave up the idea of flight, and went back to painting.
One other a Venetian architect named Veranzio, studied da Vinci's theory of the parachute, and found it correct, if contemporary records and even pictorial presentment are correct. Da Vinci showed his conception of a parachute as a sort of inverted square bag; Veranzio modified this to a 'sort of square sail extended by four rods of equal size and having four cords attached at the corners,' by means of which 'a man could without danger throw himself from the top of a tower or any high place. For though at the moment there may be no wind, yet the effort of his falling will carry up the wind, which the sail will hold, by which means he does not fall suddenly but descends little by little. The size of the sail should be measured to the man.' By this last, evidently, Veranzio intended to convey that the sheet must be of such content as would enclose sufficient air to support the weight of the parachutist.
Veranzio made his experiments about 1617-1618, but, naturally, they carried him no farther than the mere descent to earth, and since a descent is merely a descent, it is to be conjectured that he soon got tired of dropping from high roofs, and took to designing architecture instead of putting it to such a use. With the end of his experiments the work of da Vinci in relation to flying became neglected for nearly four centuries.
Apart from these two experimenters, there is little to record in the matter either of experiment or study until the seventeenth century. Francis Bacon, it is true, wrote about flying in his Sylva Sylvarum, and mentioned the subject in the New Atlantis, but, except for the insight that he showed even in superficial mention of any specific subject, he does not appear to have made attempt at serious investigation. 'Spreading of Feathers, thin and close and in great breadth will likewise bear up a great Weight,' says Francis, 'being even laid without Tilting upon the sides.' But a lesser genius could have told as much, even in that age, and though the great Sir Francis is sometimes adduced as one of the early students of the problems of flight, his writings will not sustain the reputation.
The seventeenth century, however, gives us three names, those of Borelli, Lana, and Robert Hooke, all of which take definite place in the history of flight. Borelli ranks as one of the great figures in the study of aeronautical problems, in spite of erroneous deductions through which he arrived at a purely negative conclusion with regard to the possibility of human flight.
Borelli was a versatile genius. Born in 1608, he was practically contemporary with Francesco Lana, and there is evidence that he either knew or was in correspondence with many prominent members of the Royal Society of Great Britain, more especially with John Collins, Dr Wallis, and Henry Oldenburgh, the then Secretary of the Society. He was author of a long list of scientific essays, two of which only are responsible for his fame, viz., Theorice Medicaearum Planetarum, published in Florence, and the better known posthumous De Motu Animalium. The first of these two is an astronomical study in which Borelli gives evidence of an instinctive knowledge of gravitation, though no definite expression is given of this. The second work, De Motu Animalium, deals with the mechanical action of the limbs of birds and animals and with a theory of the action of the internal organs. A section of the first part of this work, called De Volatu, is a study of bird flight; it is quite independent of Da Vinci's earlier work, which had been forgotten and remained unnoticed until near on the beginning of practical flight.
Marey, in his work, La Machine Animale, credits Borelli with the first correct idea of the mechanism of flight. He says: 'Therefore we must be allowed to render to the genius of Borelli the justice which is due to him, and only claim for ourselves the merit of having furnished the experimental demonstration of a truth already suspected.' In fact, all subsequent studies on this subject concur in making Borelli the first investigator who illustrated the purely mechanical theory of the action of a bird's wings.
Borelli's study is divided into a series of propositions in which he traces the principles of flight, and the mechanical actions of the wings of birds. The most interesting of these are the propositions in which he sets forth the method in which birds move their wings during flight and the manner in which the air offers resistance to the stroke of the wing. With regard to the first of these two points he says: 'When birds in repose rest on the earth their wings are folded up close against their flanks, but when wishing to start on their flight they first bend their legs and leap into the air. Whereupon the joints of their wings are straightened out to form a straight line at right angles to the lateral surface of the breast, so that the two wings, outstretched, are placed, as it were, like the arms of a cross to the body of the bird. Next, since the wings with their feathers attached form almost a plane surface, they are raised slightly above the horizontal, and with a most quick impulse beat down in a direction almost perpendicular to the wing-plane, upon the underlying air; and to so intense a beat the air, notwithstanding it to be fluid, offers resistance, partly by reason of its natural inertia, which seeks to retain it at rest, and partly because the particles of the air, compressed by the swiftness of the stroke, resist this compression by their elasticity, just like the hard ground. Hence the whole mass of the bird rebounds, making a fresh leap through the air; whence it follows that flight is simply a motion composed of successive leaps accomplished through the air. And I remark that a wing can easily beat the air in a direction almost perpendicular to its plane surface, although only a single one of the corners of the humerus bone is attached to the scapula, the whole extent of its base remaining free and loose, while the greater transverse feathers are joined to the lateral skin of the thorax. Nevertheless the wing can easily revolve about its base like unto a fan. Nor are there lacking tendon ligaments which restrain the feathers and prevent them from opening farther, in the same fashion that sheets hold in the sails of ships. No less admirable is nature's cunning in unfolding and folding the wings upwards, for she folds them not laterally, but by moving upwards edgewise the osseous parts wherein the roots of the feathers are inserted; for thus, without encountering the air's resistance the upward motion of the wing surface is made as with a sword, hence they can be uplifted with but small force. But thereafter when the wings are twisted by being drawn transversely and by the resistance of the air, they are flattened as has been declared and will be made manifest hereafter.'
Then with reference to the resistance to the air of the wings he explains: 'The air when struck offers resistance by its elastic virtue through which the particles of the air compressed by the wing-beat strive to expand again. Through these two causes of resistance the downward beat of the wing is not only opposed, but even caused to recoil with a reflex movement; and these two causes of resistance ever increase the more the down stroke of the wing is maintained and accelerated. On the other hand, the impulse of the wing is continuously diminished and weakened by the growing resistance. Hereby the force of the wing and the resistance become balanced; so that, manifestly, the air is beaten by the wing with the same force as the resistance to the stroke.'
He concerns himself also with the most difficult problem that confronts the flying man of to-day, namely, landing effectively, and his remarks on this subject would be instructive even to an air pilot of these days: 'Now the ways and means by which the speed is slackened at the end of a flight are these. The bird spreads its wings and tail so that their concave surfaces are perpendicular to the direction of motion; in this way, the spreading feathers, like a ship's sail, strike against the still air, check the speed, and so that most of the impetus may be stopped, the wings are flapped quickly and strongly forward, inducing a contrary motion, so that the bird absolutely or very nearly stops.'
At the end of his study Borelli came to a conclusion which militated greatly against experiment with any heavier-than-air apparatus, until well on into the nineteenth century, for having gone thoroughly into the subject of bird flight he states distinctly in his last proposition on the subject that 'It is impossible that men should be able to fly craftily by their own strength.' This statement, of course, remains true up to the present day for no man has yet devised the means by which he can raise himself in the air and maintain himself there by mere muscular effort.
From the time of Borelli up to the development of the steam engine it may be said that flight by means of any heavier-than-air apparatus was generally regarded as impossible, and apart from certain deductions which a little experiment would have shown to be doomed to failure, this method of flight was not followed up. It is not to be wondered at, when Borelli's exaggerated estimate of the strength expended by birds in proportion to their weight is borne in mind; he alleged that the motive force in birds' wings is 10,000 times greater than the resistance of their weight, and with regard to human flight he remarks:—
'When, therefore, it is asked whether men may be able to fly by their own strength, it must be seen whether the motive power of the pectoral muscles (the strength of which is indicated and measured by their size) is proportionately great, as it is evident that it must exceed the resistance of the weight of the whole human body 10,000 times, together with the weight of enormous wings which should be attached to the arms. And it is clear that the motive power of the pectoral muscles in men is much less than is necessary for flight, for in birds the bulk and weight of the muscles for flapping the wings are not less than a sixth part of the entire weight of the body. Therefore, it would be necessary that the pectoral muscles of a man should weigh more than a sixth part of the entire weight of his body; so also the arms, by flapping with the wings attached, should be able to exert a power 10,000 times greater than the weight of the human body itself. But they are far below such excess, for the aforesaid pectoral muscles do not equal a hundredth part of the entire weight of a man. Wherefore either the strength of the muscles ought to be increased or the weight of the human body must be decreased, so that the same proportion obtains in it as exists in birds. Hence it is deducted that the Icarian invention is entirely mythical because impossible, for it is not possible either to increase a man's pectoral muscles or to diminish the weight of the human body; and whatever apparatus is used, although it is possible to increase the momentum, the velocity or the power employed can never equal the resistance; and therefore wing flapping by the contraction of muscles cannot give out enough power to carry up the heavy body of a man.'
It may be said that practically all the conclusions which Borelli reached in his study were negative. Although contemporary with Lana, he perceived the one factor which rendered Lana's project for flight by means of vacuum globes an impossibility—he saw that no globe could be constructed sufficiently light for flight, and at the same time sufficiently strong to withstand the pressure of the outside atmosphere. He does not appear to have made any experiments in flying on his own account, having, as he asserts most definitely, no faith in any invention designed to lift man from the surface of the earth. But his work, from which only the foregoing short quotations can be given, is, nevertheless, of indisputable value, for he settled the mechanics of bird flight, and paved the way for those later investigators who had, first, the steam engine, and later the internal combustion engine—two factors in mechanical flight which would have seemed as impossible to Borelli as would wireless telegraphy to a student of Napoleonic times. On such foundations as his age afforded Borelli built solidly and well, so that he ranks as one of the greatest—if not actually the greatest—of the investigators into this subject before the age of steam.
The conclusion, that 'the motive force in birds' wings is apparently ten thousand times greater than the resistance of their weight,' is erroneous, of course, but study of the translation from which the foregoing excerpt is taken will show that the error detracts very little from the value of the work itself. Borelli sets out very definitely the mechanism of flight, in such fashion that he who runs may read. His reference to 'the use of a large vessel,' etc., concerns the suggestion made by Francesco Lana, who antedated Borelli's publication of De Motu Animalium by some ten years with his suggestion for an 'aerial ship,' as he called it. Lana's mind shows, as regards flight, a more imaginative twist; Borelli dived down into first causes, and reached mathematical conclusions; Lana conceived a theory and upheld it—theoretically, since the manner of his life precluded experiment.
Francesco Lana, son of a noble family, was born in 1631; in 1647 he was received as a novice into the Society of Jesus at Rome, and remained a pious member of the Jesuit society until the end of his life. He was greatly handicapped in his scientific investigations by the vows of poverty which the rules of the Order imposed on him. He was more scientist than priest all his life; for two years he held the post of Professor of Mathematics at Ferrara, and up to the time of his death, in 1687, he spent by far the greater part of his time in scientific research, He had the dubious advantage of living in an age when one man could cover the whole range of science, and this he seems to have done very thoroughly. There survives an immense work of his entitled, Magisterium Naturae et Artis, which embraces the whole field of scientific knowledge as that was developed in the period in which Lana lived. In an earlier work of his, published in Brescia in 1670, appears his famous treatise on the aerial ship, a problem which Lana worked out with thoroughness. He was unable to make practical experiments, and thus failed to perceive the one insuperable drawback to his project—of which more anon.
Only extracts from the translation of Lana's work can be given here, but sufficient can be given to show fully the means by which he designed to achieve the conquest of the air. He begins by mention of the celebrated pigeon of Archytas the Philosopher, and advances one or two theories with regard to the way in which this mechanical bird was constructed, and then he recites, apparently with full belief in it, the fable of Regiomontanus and the eagle that he is said to have constructed to accompany Charles V. on his entry into Nuremberg. In fact, Lana starts his work with a study of the pioneers of mechanical flying up to his own time, and then outlines his own devices for the construction of mechanical birds before proceeding to detail the construction of the aerial ship. Concerning primary experiments for this he says:—
'I will, first of all, presuppose that air has weight owing to the vapours and halations which ascend from the earth and seas to a height of many miles and surround the whole of our terraqueous globe; and this fact will not be denied by philosophers, even by those who may have but a superficial knowledge, because it can be proven by exhausting, if not all, at any rate the greater part of, the air contained in a glass vessel, which, if weighed before and after the air has been exhausted, will be found materially reduced in weight. Then I found out how much the air weighed in itself in the following manner. I procured a large vessel of glass, whose neck could be closed or opened by means of a tap, and holding it open I warmed it over a fire, so that the air inside it becoming rarified, the major part was forced out; then quickly shutting the tap to prevent the re-entry I weighed it; which done, I plunged its neck in water, resting the whole of the vessel on the surface of the water, then on opening the tap the water rose in the vessel and filled the greater part of it. I lifted the neck out of the water, released the water contained in the vessel, and measured and weighed its quantity and density, by which I inferred that a certain quantity of air had come out of the vessel equal in bulk to the quantity of water which had entered to refill the portion abandoned by the air. I again weighed the vessel, after I had first of all well dried it free of all moisture, and found it weighed one ounce more whilst it was full of air than when it was exhausted of the greater part, so that what it weighed more was a quantity of air equal in volume to the water which took its place. The water weighed 640 ounces, so I concluded that the weight of air compared with that of water was 1 to 640—that is to say, as the water which filled the vessel weighed 640 ounces, so the air which filled the same vessel weighed one ounce.'
Having thus detailed the method of exhausting air from a vessel, Lana goes on to assume that any large vessel can be entirely exhausted of nearly all the air contained therein. Then he takes Euclid's proposition to the effect that the superficial area of globes increases in the proportion of the square of the diameter, whilst the volume increases in the proportion of the cube of the same diameter, and he considers that if one only constructs the globe of thin metal, of sufficient size, and exhausts the air in the manner that he suggests, such a globe will be so far lighter than the surrounding atmosphere that it will not only rise, but will be capable of lifting weights. Here is Lana's own way of putting it:—
'But so that it may be enabled to raise heavier weights and to lift men in the air, let us take double the quantity of copper, 1,232 square feet, equal to 308 lbs. of copper; with this double quantity of copper we could construct a vessel of not only double the capacity, but of four times the capacity of the first, for the reason shown by my fourth supposition. Consequently the air contained in such a vessel will be 718 lbs. 4 2/3 ounces, so that if the air be drawn out of the vessel it will be 410 lbs. 4 2/3 ounces lighter than the same volume of air, and, consequently, will be enabled to lift three men, or at least two, should they weigh more than eight pesi each. It is thus manifest that the larger the ball or vessel is made, the thicker and more solid can the sheets of copper be made, because, although the weight will increase, the capacity of the vessel will increase to a greater extent and with it the weight of the air therein, so that it will always be capable to lift a heavier weight. From this it can be easily seen how it is possible to construct a machine which, fashioned like unto a ship, will float on the air.'
With four globes of these dimensions Lana proposed to make an aerial ship of the fashion shown in his quaint illustration. He is careful to point out a method by which the supporting globes for the aerial ship may be entirely emptied of air; (this is to be done by connecting to each globe a tube of copper which is 'at least a length of 47 modern Roman palm).' A small tap is to close this tube at the end nearest the globe, and then vessel and tube are to be filled with water, after which the tube is to be immersed in water and the tap opened, allowing the water to run out of the vessel, while no air enters. The tap is then closed before the lower end of the tube is removed from the water, leaving no air at all in the globe or sphere. Propulsion of this airship was to be accomplished by means of sails, and also by oars.
Lana antedated the modern propeller, and realised that the air would offer enough resistance to oars or paddle to impart motion to any vessel floating in it and propelled by these means, although he did not realise the amount of pressure on the air which would be necessary to accomplish propulsion. As a matter of fact, he foresaw and provided against practically all the difficulties that would be encountered in the working, as well as the making, of the aerial ship, finally coming up against what his religious training made an insuperable objection. This, again, is best told in his own words:—
'Other difficulties I do not foresee that could prevail against this invention, save one only, which to me seems the greatest of them all, and that is that God would surely never allow such a machine to be successful, since it would create many disturbances in the civil and political governments of mankind.'
He ends by saying that no city would be proof against surprise, while the aerial ship could set fire to vessels at sea, and destroy houses, fortresses, and cities by fire balls and bombs. In fact, at the end of his treatise on the subject, he furnishes a pretty complete resume of the activities of German Zeppelins.
As already noted, Lana himself, owing to his vows of poverty, was unable to do more than put his suggestions on paper, which he did with a thoroughness that has procured him a place among the really great pioneers of flying.
It was nearly 200 years before any attempt was made to realise his project; then, in 1843, M. Marey Monge set out to make the globes and the ship as Lana detailed them. Monge's experiments cost him the sum of 25,000 francs 75 centimes, which he expended purely from love of scientific investigation. He chose to make his globes of brass, about.004 in thickness, and weighing 1.465 lbs. to the square yard. Having made his sphere of this metal, he lined it with two thicknesses of tissue paper, varnished it with oil, and set to work to empty it of air. This, however, he never achieved, for such metal is incapable of sustaining the pressure of the outside air, as Lana, had he had the means to carry out experiments, would have ascertained. M. Monge's sphere could never be emptied of air sufficiently to rise from the earth; it ended in the melting-pot, ignominiously enough, and all that Monge got from his experiment was the value of the scrap metal and the satisfaction of knowing that Lana's theory could never be translated into practice.
Robert Hooke is less conspicuous than either Borelli or Lana; his work, which came into the middle of the seventeenth century, consisted of various experiments with regard to flight, from which emerged 'a Module, which by the help of Springs and Wings, raised and sustained itself in the air.' This must be reckoned as the first model flying machine which actually flew, except for da Vinci's helicopters; Hooke's model appears to have been of the flapping-wing type—he attempted to copy the motion of birds, but found from study and experiment that human muscles were not sufficient to the task of lifting the human body. For that reason, he says, 'I applied my mind to contrive a way to make artificial muscles,' but in this he was, as he expresses it, 'frustrated of my expectations.' Hooke's claim to fame rests mainly on his successful model; the rest of his work is of too scrappy a nature to rank as a serious contribution to the study of flight.
Contemporary with Hooke was one Allard, who, in France, undertook to emulate the Saracen of Constantinople to a certain extent. Allard was a tight-rope dancer who either did or was said to have done short gliding flights—the matter is open to question—and finally stated that he would, at St Germains, fly from the terrace in the king's presence. He made the attempt, but merely fell, as did the Saracen some centuries before, causing himself serious injury. Allard cannot be regarded as a contributor to the development of aeronautics in any way, and is only mentioned as typical of the way in which, up to the time of the Wright brothers, flying was regarded. Even unto this day there are many who still believe that, with a pair of wings, man ought to be able to fly, and that the mathematical data necessary to effective construction simply do not exist. This attitude was reasonable enough in an unlearned age, and Allard was one—a little more conspicuous than the majority—among many who made experiment in ignorance, with more or less danger to themselves and without practical result of any kind.
The seventeenth century was not to end, however, without practical experiment of a noteworthy kind in gliding flight. Among the recruits to the ranks of pioneers was a certain Besnier, a locksmith of Sable, who somewhere between 1675 and 1680 constructed a glider of which a crude picture has come down to modern times. The apparatus, as will be seen, consisted of two rods with hinged flaps, and the original designer of the picture seems to have had but a small space in which to draw, since obviously the flaps must have been much larger than those shown. Besnier placed the rods on his shoulders, and worked the flaps by cords attached to his hands and feet—the flaps opened as they fell, and closed as they rose, so the device as a whole must be regarded as a sort of flapping glider. Having by experiment proved his apparatus successful, Besnier promptly sold it to a travelling showman of the period, and forthwith set about constructing a second set, with which he made gliding flights of considerable height and distance. Like Lilienthal, Besnier projected himself into space from some height, and then, according to the contemporary records, he was able to cross a river of considerable size before coming to earth. It does not appear that he had any imitators, or that any advantage whatever was taken of his experiments; the age was one in which he would be regarded rather as a freak exhibitor than as a serious student, and possibly, considering his origin and the sale of his first apparatus to such a client, he regarded the matter himself as more in the nature of an amusement than as a discovery.
Borelli, coming at the end of the century, proved to his own satisfaction and that of his fellows that flapping wing flight was an impossibility; the capabilities of the plane were as yet undreamed, and the prime mover that should make the plane available for flight was deep in the womb of time. Da Vinci's work was forgotten—flight was an impossibility, or at best such a useless show as Besnier was able to give.
The eighteenth century was almost barren of experiment. Emanuel Swedenborg, having invented a new religion, set about inventing a flying machine, and succeeded theoretically, publishing the result of his investigations as follows:—
'Let a car or boat or some like object be made of light material such as cork or bark, with a room within it for the operator. Secondly, in front as well as behind, or all round, set a widely-stretched sail parallel to the machine forming within a hollow or bend which could be reefed like the sails of a ship. Thirdly, place wings on the sides, to be worked up and down by a spiral spring, these wings also to be hollow below in order to increase the force and velocity, take in the air, and make the resistance as great as may be required. These, too, should be of light material and of sufficient size; they should be in the shape of birds' wings, or the sails of a windmill, or some such shape, and should be tilted obliquely upwards, and made so as to collapse on the upward stroke and expand on the downward. Fourth, place a balance or beam below, hanging down perpendicularly for some distance with a small weight attached to its end, pendent exactly in line with the centre of gravity; the longer this beam is, the lighter must it be, for it must have the same proportion as the well-known vectis or steel-yard. This would serve to restore the balance of the machine if it should lean over to any of the four sides. Fifthly, the wings would perhaps have greater force, so as to increase the resistance and make the flight easier, if a hood or shield were placed over them, as is the case with certain insects. Sixthly, when the sails are expanded so as to occupy a great surface and much air, with a balance keeping them horizontal, only a small force would be needed to move the machine back and forth in a circle, and up and down. And, after it has gained momentum to move slowly upwards, a slight movement and an even bearing would keep it balanced in the air and would determine its direction at will.'
The only point in this worthy of any note is the first device for maintaining stability automatically—Swedenborg certainly scored a point there. For the rest, his theory was but theory, incapable of being put to practice—he does not appear to have made any attempt at advance beyond the mere suggestion.
Some ten years before his time the state of knowledge with regard to flying in Europe was demonstrated by an order granted by the King of Portugal to Friar Lourenzo de Guzman, who claimed to have invented a flying machine capable of actual flight. The order stated that 'In order to encourage the suppliant to apply himself with zeal toward the improvement of the new machine, which is capable of producing the effects mentioned by him, I grant unto him the first vacant place in my College of Barcelos or Santarem, and the first professorship of mathematics in my University of Coimbra, with the annual pension of 600,000 reis during his life.—Lisbon, 17th of March, 1709.'
What happened to Guzman when the non-existence of the machine was discovered is one of the things that is well outside the province of aeronautics. He was charlatan pure and simple, as far as actual flight was concerned, though he had some ideas respecting the design of hot-air balloons, according to Tissandier. (La Navigation Aerienne.) His flying machine was to contain, among other devices, bellows to produce artificial wind when the real article failed, and also magnets in globes to draw the vessel in an upward direction and maintain its buoyancy. Some draughtsman, apparently gifted with as vivid imagination as Guzman himself, has given to the world an illustration of the hypothetical vessel; it bears some resemblance to Lana's aerial ship, from which fact one draws obvious conclusions.
A rather amusing claim to solving the problem of flight was made in the middle of the eighteenth century by one Grimaldi, a 'famous and unique Engineer' who, as a matter of actual fact, spent twenty years in missionary work in India, and employed the spare time that missionary work left him in bringing his invention to a workable state. The invention is described as a 'box which with the aid of clockwork rises in the air, and goes with such lightness and strong rapidity that it succeeds in flying a journey of seven leagues in an hour. It is made in the fashion of a bird; the wings from end to end are 25 feet in extent. The body is composed of cork, artistically joined together and well fastened with metal wire, covered with parchment and feathers. The wings are made of catgut and whalebone, and covered also with the same parchment and feathers, and each wing is folded in three seams. In the body of the machine are contained thirty wheels of unique work, with two brass globes and little chains which alternately wind up a counterpoise; with the aid of six brass vases, full of a certain quantity of quicksilver, which run in some pulleys, the machine is kept by the artist in due equilibrium and balance. By means, then, of the friction between a steel wheel adequately tempered and a very heavy and surprising piece of lodestone, the whole is kept in a regulated forward movement, given, however, a right state of the winds, since the machine cannot fly so much in totally calm weather as in stormy. This prodigious machine is directed and guided by a tail seven palmi long, which is attached to the knees and ankles of the inventor by leather straps; by stretching out his legs, either to the right or to the left, he moves the machine in whichever direction he pleases.... The machine's flight lasts only three hours, after which the wings gradually close themselves, when the inventor, perceiving this, goes down gently, so as to get on his own feet, and then winds up the clockwork and gets himself ready again upon the wings for the continuation of a new flight. He himself told us that if by chance one of the wheels came off or if one of the wings broke, it is certain he would inevitably fall rapidly to the ground, and, therefore, he does not rise more than the height of a tree or two, as also he only once put himself in the risk of crossing the sea, and that was from Calais to Dover, and the same morning he arrived in London.'
And yet there are still quite a number of people who persist in stating that Bleriot was the first man to fly across the Channel!
A study of the development of the helicopter principle was published in France in 1868, when the great French engineer Paucton produced his Theorie de la Vis d'Archimede. For some inexplicable reason, Paucton was not satisfied with the term 'helicopter,' but preferred to call it a 'pterophore,' a name which, so far as can be ascertained, has not been adopted by any other writer or investigator. Paucton stated that, since a man is capable of sufficient force to overcome the weight of his own body, it is only necessary to give him a machine which acts on the air 'with all the force of which it is capable and at its utmost speed,' and he will then be able to lift himself in the air, just as by the exertion of all his strength he is able to lift himself in water. 'It would seem,' says Paucton, 'that in the pterophore, attached vertically to a carriage, the whole built lightly and carefully assembled, he has found something that will give him this result in all perfection. In construction, one would be careful that the machine produced the least friction possible, and naturally it ought to produce little, as it would not be at all complicated. The new Daedalus, sitting comfortably in his carriage, would by means of a crank give to the pterophore a suitable circular (or revolving) speed. This single pterophore would lift him vertically, but in order to move horizontally he should be supplied with a tail in the shape of another pterophore. When he wished to stop for a little time, valves fixed firmly across the end of the space between the blades would automatically close the openings through which the air flows, and change the pterophore into an unbroken surface which would resist the flow of air and retard the fall of the machine to a considerable degree.'
The doctrine thus set forth might appear plausible, but it is based on the common misconception that all the force which might be put into the helicopter or 'pterophore' would be utilised for lifting or propelling the vehicle through the air, just as a propeller uses all its power to drive a ship through water. But, in applying such a propelling force to the air, most of the force is utilised in maintaining aerodynamic support—as a matter of fact, more force is needed to maintain this support than the muscle of man could possibly furnish to a lifting screw, and even if the helicopter were applied to a full-sized, engine-driven air vehicle, the rate of ascent would depend on the amount of surplus power that could be carried. For example, an upward lift of 1,000 pounds from a propeller 15 feet in diameter would demand an expenditure of 50 horse-power under the best possible conditions, and in order to lift this load vertically through such atmospheric pressure as exists at sea-level or thereabouts, an additional 20 horsepower would be required to attain a rate of 11 feet per second—50 horse-power must be continually provided for the mere support of the load, and the additional 20 horse-power must be continually provided in order to lift it. Although, in model form, there is nothing quite so strikingly successful as the helicopter in the range of flying machines, yet the essential weight increases so disproportionately to the effective area that it is necessary to go but very little beyond model dimensions for the helicopter to become quite ineffective.
That is not to say that the lifting screw must be totally ruled out so far as the construction of aircraft is concerned. Much is still empirical, so far as this branch of aeronautics is concerned, and consideration of the structural features of a propeller goes to show that the relations of essential weight and effective area do not altogether apply in practice as they stand in theory. Paucton's dream, in some modified form, may yet become reality—it is only so short a time ago as 1896 that Lord Kelvin stated he had not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation, and since the whole history of flight consists in proving the impossible possible, the helicopter may yet challenge the propelled plane surface for aerial supremacy.
It does not appear that Paucton went beyond theory, nor is there in his theory any advance toward practical flight—da Vinci could have told him as much as he knew. He was followed by Meerwein, who invented an apparatus apparently something between a flapping wing machine and a glider, consisting of two wings, which were to be operated by means of a rod; the venturesome one who would fly by means of this apparatus had to lie in a horizontal position beneath the wings to work the rod. Meerwein deserves a place of mention, however, by reason of his investigations into the amount of surface necessary to support a given weight. Taking that weight at 200 pounds—which would allow for the weight of a man and a very light apparatus—he estimated that 126 square feet would be necessary for support. His pamphlet, published at Basle in 1784, shows him to have been a painstaking student of the potentialities of flight.
Jean-Pierre Blanchard, later to acquire fame in connection with balloon flight, conceived and described a curious vehicle, of which he even announced trials as impending. His trials were postponed time after time, and it appears that he became convinced in the end of the futility of his device, being assisted to such a conclusion by Lalande, the astronomer, who repeated Borelli's statement that it was impossible for man ever to fly by his own strength. This was in the closing days of the French monarchy, and the ascent of the Montgolfiers' first hot-air balloon in 1783—which shall be told more fully in its place—put an end to all French experiments with heavier-than-air apparatus, though in England the genius of Cayley was about to bud, and even in France there were those who understood that ballooning was not true flight.
III. SIR GEORGE CAYLEY—THOMAS WALKER
On the fifth of June, 1783, the Montgolfiers' hot-air balloon rose at Versailles, and in its rising divided the study of the conquest of the air into two definite parts, the one being concerned with the propulsion of gas lifted, lighter-than-air vehicles, and the other being crystallised in one sentence by Sir George Cayley: 'The whole problem,' he stated, 'is confined within these limits, viz.: to make a surface support a given weight by the application of power to the resistance of the air.' For about ten years the balloon held the field entirely, being regarded as the only solution of the problem of flight that man could ever compass. So definite for a time was this view on the eastern side of the Channel that for some years practically all the progress that was made in the development of power-driven planes was made in Britain.
In 1800 a certain Dr Thomas Young demonstrated that certain curved surfaces suspended by a thread moved into and not away from a horizontal current of air, but the demonstration, which approaches perilously near to perpetual motion if the current be truly horizontal, has never been successfully repeated, so that there is more than a suspicion that Young's air-current was NOT horizontal. Others had made and were making experiments on the resistance offered to the air by flat surfaces, when Cayley came to study and record, earning such a place among the pioneers as to win the title of 'father of British aeronautics.'
Cayley was a man in advance of his time, in many ways. Of independent means, he made the grand tour which was considered necessary to the education of every young man of position, and during this excursion he was more engaged in studies of a semi-scientific character than in the pursuits that normally filled such a period. His various writings prove that throughout his life aeronautics was the foremost subject in his mind; the Mechanic's Magazine, Nicholson's Journal, the Philosophical Magazine, and other periodicals of like nature bear witness to Cayley's continued research into the subject of flight. He approached the subject after the manner of the trained scientist, analysing the mechanical properties of air under chemical and physical action. Then he set to work to ascertain the power necessary for aerial flight, and was one of the first to enunciate the fallacy of the hopes of successful flight by means of the steam engine of those days, owing to the fact that it was impossible to obtain a given power with a given weight.
Yet his conclusions on this point were not altogether negative, for as early as 1810 he stated that he could construct a balloon which could travel with passengers at 20 miles an hour—he was one of the first to consider the possibilities of applying power to a balloon. Nearly thirty years later—in 1837—he made the first attempt at establishing an aeronautical society, but at that time the power-driven plane was regarded by the great majority as an absurd dream of more or less mad inventors, while ballooning ranked on about the same level as tight-rope walking, being considered an adjunct to fairs and fetes, more a pastime than a study.
Up to the time of his death, in 1857, Cayley maintained his study of aeronautical matters, and there is no doubt whatever that his work went far in assisting the solution of the problem of air conquest. His principal published work, a monograph entitled Aerial Navigation, has been republished in the admirable series of 'Aeronautical Classics' issued by the Royal Aeronautical Society. He began this work by pointing out the impossibility of flying by means of attached wings, an impossibility due to the fact that, while the pectoral muscles of a bird account for more than two-thirds of its whole muscular strength, in a man the muscles available for flying, no matter what mechanism might be used, would not exceed one-tenth of his total strength.
Cayley did not actually deny the possibility of a man flying by muscular effort, however, but stated that 'the flight of a strong man by great muscular exertion, though a curious and interesting circumstance, inasmuch as it will probably be the means of ascertaining finis power and supplying the basis whereon to improve it, would be of little use.'
From this he goes on to the possibility of using a Boulton and Watt steam engine to develop the power necessary for flight, and in this he saw a possibility of practical result. It is worthy of note that in this connection he made mention of the forerunner of the modern internal combustion engine; 'The French,' he said, 'have lately shown the great power produced by igniting inflammable powders in closed vessels, and several years ago an engine was made to work in this country in a similar manner by inflammation of spirit of tar.' In a subsequent paragraph of his monograph he anticipates almost exactly the construction of the Lenoir gas engine, which came into being more than fifty-five years after his monograph was published.
Certain experiments detailed in his work were made to ascertain the size of the surface necessary for the support of any given weight. He accepted a truism of to-day in pointing out that in any matters connected with aerial investigation, theory and practice are as widely apart as the poles. Inclined at first to favour the helicopter principle, he finally rejected this in favour of the plane, with which he made numerous experiments. During these, he ascertained the peculiar advantages of curved surfaces, and saw the necessity of providing both vertical and horizontal rudders in order to admit of side steering as well as the control of ascent and descent, and for preserving equilibrium. He may be said to have anticipated the work of Lilienthal and Pilcher, since he constructed and experimented with a fixed surface glider. 'It was beautiful,' he wrote concerning this, 'to see this noble white bird sailing majestically from the top of a hill to any given point of the plain below it with perfect steadiness and safety, according to the set of its rudder, merely by its own weight, descending at an angle of about eight degrees with the horizon.'
It is said that he once persuaded his gardener to trust himself in this glider for a flight, but if Cayley himself ventured a flight in it he has left no record of the fact. The following extract from his work, Aerial Navigation, affords an instance of the thoroughness of his investigations, and the concluding paragraph also shows his faith in the ultimate triumph of mankind in the matter of aerial flight:—
'The act of flying requires less exertion than from the appearance is supposed. Not having sufficient data to ascertain the exact degree of propelling power exerted by birds in the act of flying, it is uncertain what degree of energy may be required in this respect for vessels of aerial navigation; yet when we consider the many hundreds of miles of continued flight exerted by birds of passage, the idea of its being only a small effort is greatly corroborated. To apply the power of the first mover to the greatest advantage in producing this effect is a very material point. The mode universally adopted by Nature is the oblique waft of the wing. We have only to choose between the direct beat overtaking the velocity of the current, like the oar of a boat, or one applied like the wing, in some assigned degree of obliquity to it. Suppose 35 feet per second to be the velocity of an aerial vehicle, the oar must be moved with this speed previous to its being able to receive any resistance; then if it be only required to obtain a pressure of one-tenth of a lb. upon each square foot it must exceed the velocity of the current 7.3 feet per second. Hence its whole velocity must be 42.5 feet per second. Should the same surface be wafted downward like a wing with the hinder edge inclined upward in an angle of about 50 deg. 40 feet to the current it will overtake it at a velocity of 3.5 feet per second; and as a slight unknown angle of resistance generates a lb. pressure per square foot at this velocity, probably a waft of a little more than 4 feet per second would produce this effect, one-tenth part of which would be the propelling power. The advantage of this mode of application compared with the former is rather more than ten to one.
'In continuing the general principles of aerial navigation, for the practice of the art, many mechanical difficulties present themselves which require a considerable course of skilfully applied experiments before they can be overcome; but, to a certain extent, the air has already been made navigable, and no one who has seen the steadiness with which weights to the amount of ten stone (including four stone, the weight of the machine) hover in the air can doubt of the ultimate accomplishment of this object.'
This extract from his work gives but a faint idea of the amount of research for which Cayley was responsible. He had the humility of the true investigator in scientific problems, and so far as can be seen was never guilty of the great fault of so many investigators in this subject—that of making claims which he could not support. He was content to do, and pass after having recorded his part, and although nearly half a century had to pass between the time of his death and the first actual flight by means of power-driven planes, yet he may be said to have contributed very largely to the solution of the problem, and his name will always rank high in the roll of the pioneers of flight.
Practically contemporary with Cayley was Thomas Walker, concerning whom little is known save that he was a portrait painter of Hull, where was published his pamphlet on The Art of Flying in 1810, a second and amplified edition being produced, also in Hull, in 1831. The pamphlet, which has been reproduced in extenso in the Aeronautical Classics series published by the Royal Aeronautical Society, displays a curious mixture of the true scientific spirit and colossal conceit. Walker appears to have been a man inclined to jump to conclusions, which carried him up to the edge of discovery and left him vacillating there.
The study of the two editions of his pamphlet side by side shows that their author made considerable advances in the practicability of his designs in the 21 intervening years, though the drawings which accompany the text in both editions fail to show anything really capable of flight. The great point about Walker's work as a whole is its suggestiveness; he did not hesitate to state that the 'art' of flying is as truly mechanical as that of rowing a boat, and he had some conception of the necessary mechanism, together with an absolute conviction that he knew all there was to be known. 'Encouraged by the public,' he says, 'I would not abandon my purpose of making still further exertions to advance and complete an art, the discovery of the TRUE PRINCIPLES (the italics are Walker's own) of which, I trust, I can with certainty affirm to be my own.'
The pamphlet begins with Walker's admiration of the mechanism of flight as displayed by birds. 'It is now almost twenty years,' he says, 'since I was first led to think, by the study of birds and their means of flying, that if an artificial machine were formed with wings in exact imitation of the mechanism of one of those beautiful living machines, and applied in the very same way upon the air, there could be no doubt of its being made to fly, for it is an axiom in philosophy that the same cause will ever produce the same effect.' With this he confesses his inability to produce the said effect through lack of funds, though he clothes this delicately in the phrase 'professional avocations and other circumstances.' Owing to this inability he published his designs that others might take advantage of them, prefacing his own researches with a list of the very early pioneers, and giving special mention to Friar Bacon, Bishop Wilkins, and the Portuguese friar, De Guzman. But, although he seems to suggest that others should avail themselves of his theoretical knowledge, there is a curious incompleteness about the designs accompanying his work, and about the work itself, which seems to suggest that he had more knowledge to impart than he chose to make public—or else that he came very near to complete solution of the problem of flight, and stayed on the threshold without knowing it.
After a dissertation upon the history and strength of the condor, and on the differences between the weights of birds, he says: 'The following observations upon the wonderful difference in the weight of some birds, with their apparent means of supporting it in their flight, may tend to remove some prejudices against my plan from the minds of some of my readers. The weight of the humming-bird is one drachm, that of the condor not less than four stone. Now, if we reduce four stone into drachms we shall find the condor is 14,336 times as heavy as the humming-bird. What an amazing disproportion of weight! Yet by the same mechanical use of its wings the condor can overcome the specific gravity of its body with as much ease as the little humming-bird. But this is not all. We are informed that this enormous bird possesses a power in its wings, so far exceeding what is necessary for its own conveyance through the air, that it can take up and fly away with a whole sheer in its talons, with as much ease as an eagle would carry off, in the same manner, a hare or a rabbit. This we may readily give credit to, from the known fact of our little kestrel and the sparrow-hawk frequently flying off with a partridge, which is nearly three times the weight of these rapacious little birds.'
After a few more observations he arrives at the following conclusion: 'By attending to the progressive increase in the weight of birds, from the delicate little humming-bird up to the huge condor, we clearly discover that the addition of a few ounces, pounds, or stones, is no obstacle to the art of flying; the specific weight of birds avails nothing, for by their possessing wings large enough, and sufficient power to work them, they can accomplish the means of flying equally well upon all the various scales and dimensions which we see in nature. Such being a fact, in the name of reason and philosophy why shall not man, with a pair of artificial wings, large enough, and with sufficient power to strike them upon the air, be able to produce the same effect?'
Walker asserted definitely and with good ground that muscular effort applied without mechanism is insufficient for human flight, but he states that if an aeronautical boat were constructed so that a man could sit in it in the same manner as when rowing, such a man would be able to bring into play his whole bodily strength for the purpose of flight, and at the same time would be able to get an additional advantage by exerting his strength upon a lever. At first he concluded there must be expansion of wings large enough to resist in a sufficient degree the specific gravity of whatever is attached to them, but in the second edition of his work he altered this to 'expansion of flat passive surfaces large enough to reduce the force of gravity so as to float the machine upon the air with the man in it.' The second requisite is strength enough to strike the wings with sufficient force to complete the buoyancy and give a projectile motion to the machine. Given these two requisites, Walker states definitely that flying must be accomplished simply by muscular exertion. 'If we are secure of these two requisites, and I am very confident we are, we may calculate upon the success of flight with as much certainty as upon our walking.'