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Swedenborg Ornithopter

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     ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ *                                         * ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ
                 *    L I T E R A R Y   F R E E W A R E    *
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                 *           F O U N D A T I O N           *
     ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ *                                         * ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ
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                  -=ð P R O U D L Y  í  P R E S E N T S ð=-
 The following is an article from the June '95 (Vol. 3, #6) issue of The
 REALL News.  It may be reprinted by other skeptics organizations as long as
 proper credit is given. REALL also requests that you please send a copy of any
 publication that reprints one of our articles for our files.  This article may
 also be cross-posted onto other appropriate conferences.
 This article represents the opinions of its author, and does not necessarily
 represent the opinions of REALL or its officers.
        The Sociocultural Genesis of the Flying Saucer
                   by Wesley R. Smith, Ph.D.
    Among the most badly handled, most interesting, most
 distorted, and most eclectic of aerospace history subjects
 is the origin of the use of the circular, elliptical and
 annular wing planforms (shapes) in aircraft design.
    A quick review of the writer's memory and library reveal
 that more than 50 aircraft have been designed, and/or built,
 using an ellipse or circle as a wing configuration. However,
 this listing is by no means a complete survey, only a brief
 overview of what can be located at hand. In fact, there is
 an entire U.S. Patent subclass (Class 244, Aeronautics;
 Subclass 21.2 Airplane, circular) dealing with aircraft
 using a circular wing planform. Likewise, a number of
 lighter-than-air or hybrid designs have appeared in the
 course of aeronautical history which also use the disc shape
 as a basis for the gas envelope.
    What is undoubtedly the first recorded circular aircraft
 was the product of the fertile imagination of an 18th
 Century Swedish scientist, philosopher and noted theologian
 named Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).
    Born in Stockholm on Jan. 29, 1688, he was the second
 son of Jesper Swedenberg. The family surname was transformed
 to "Swedenborg" after being enobled by the King of Sweden in
 1719 and following Jesper's appointment as the Bishop of
 Skara. From 1710 to 1714 Emanuel Swedenborg traveled
 extensively throughout Europe following his education at
 Uppsala University; visiting England, Holland, France and
 Germany. An avid student of astronomy and mathematics, he is
 known to have met with John Flamsteed and Edmund Halley.
 While he is known to have studied the works of Isaac Newton,
 there is no evidence to support the contention that
 Swedenborg ever knew him. Nevertheless, it was during this
 period in his life that Swedenborg developed many ideas
 which were as far ranging as a method to calculate longitude
 based on the position of the moon, to plans for a submarine
 and a practical design for an aeroplane.
    On Sept. 8, 1714, Swedenborg first wrote of his idea for
 an aircraft to his brother-in-law, Erik Benzelius. This was
 later followed by a complete written description which
 appeared in the fourth edition of Sweden's first scientific
 journal, _Daedulus Hyperboreus_, founded by Swedenborg in
 the same year (1716). During this time, Charles XII of
 Sweden also appointed Swedenborg as Assessor Extraordinary
 at the Royal College of Mines, which enabled him to have
 significant impact on Sweden's metal-mining for the next 30
 years, during which he was elevated to the position of
 Assessor. Moreover, his work is of great historical
 significance, for _Daedulus Hyperboreus_ contains the first
 detailed technical description of a flying machine of any
    Fortunately, the Stifts-och Landesbibliotek at Linkoping
 (codex 14a, 1714) has Swedenborg's original manuscripts
 which include a sketch of Swedenborg's "Flying Saucer." The
 design is oval in shape; however, circular, square and
 rectangular planforms are also suggested in the 1716 text.
 The dimensions [*] of Swedenborg's aircraft are given as:
 32' x 24' (603.2 sq') for an oval, 28' diameter (615.75 sq')
 for a circle, 25' x 25' (625 sq') for a square, and 20' x
 30' (600 sq') for a rectangular surface. In all cases the
 central thesis of the Swedenborg ornithopter comprises of a
 central pilot's station measuring 6' wide, 4' long and 2'
 deep. Suggested materials for the pilot's basket include
 cork, leather and birch bark; nevertheless, both the main
 wing and secondary flapping wings were to be covered with
    On both sides of the basket area are a pair of flapping
 wings operated by the would-be pilot. These are described as
 having a length of 5' and a chord of 1.5' (7.5 sq' each). A
 coiled spring was also to be attached to the spars of the
 flapping wings to enable the pilot to operate the wings with
 greater ease.
    Furthermore, like a design suggested by Da Vinci, the
 flapping wings were intended to function as valves with
 hinges at the center of the chord, folding on the up-stroke
 and opening on the down-stroke. With aid of what he refers
 to as "the power of the wind," Swedenborg believed that the
 muscular weakness of the pilot would be more than
 compensated for by this system, and that by being able to
 alter the incidence angle of the flapping wings, they would
 also provide sufficient thrust for horizontal flight. While
 not entirely complete, there is at least a partial divorce
 of the lift and thrust components of flight, as the flapping
 wings are clearly not intended as the primary means of
 aerodynamic lift. A complete separation of these two systems
 would not come for another 85 years when Sir George Cayley
 designed his first fixed-Ying aircraft in 1799.
    The oval wing of Swedenborg's machine is comprised of a
 wooden framework with eight lateral ribs. Both lateral and
 longitudinal camber are employed, the curvature being
 maintained by four beams spaced in pairs at right angles to
 each other. After carefully balancing the craft to ascertain
 its center of gravity, Svedenborg suggested that a vertical
 beam measuring about 8' in length be attached to the bottom
 of the pilot's basket. At the bottom end, a weight of 1
 lispund (18.75 lbs) was to be attached to ensure pendulum
 stability.To support the entire machine, and presumably
 prevent the central beam from piercing the bottom of the
 basket, four diagonal beams were apparently attached to the
 sides of the pilot's basket. Swedenborg states that it
 "would do no harm" to attach wheels to the ends of the
 quadruped struts, but he does not specifically indicate they
 were necessary.
    Alas, Swedenborg's flying saucer was never to be built.
 He did, however, wisely suggest that the aircraft first be
 tested as a ballasted glider, and that it be launched from a
 high place. Looking across the chasm of 280 years we can see
 the practical, as well as the impractical, aspects of his
 design. His work apparently influenced no one and is all but
 forgotten by most aerospace historians; but since his day, a
 number of successful circular planform aircraft have been
 built and flown. Although the idea was not to be taken up
 again for many years, it is worth noting that there were at
 least a dozen circular, elliptical or annular shaped
 aircraft designed and/or built in the United States and
 Canada prior to the First World War. Among them, Dr. Bell's
 Ring Rite of 1908, Ringert Jongewaard's flying disc of the
 1880s, Robert B. Taylor's 1842 design for a convertiplane,
 George Francis Myers' 1904 annular quadruplane, and the
 interesting McCormick-Romme "Umbrella Plane" tested at
 Cicero Field near Chicago from 1912 to 1914.
    Last year a disc-shaped airship was displayed at
 Washington, D.C., by a team of Russians for the first time,
 so it would seem that the idea is far from permanently
 disappearing from the polymorphic annals of aerospace
 despite the high aerodynamic drag penalty of circular
 planforms, particularly at transonic speeds.
    The flying saucer, like the "flying house" stories of
 the late 19th Century and the "Great Airship Flap" of
 1896-1897, is based on historical fact which has evolved
 into distorted cultural mythology. Yes, there are flying
 saucers, and I for one, am open minded enough to admit that
 it is entirely possible for life to have arisen on a planet
 orbiting a distant star. But of all the flying saucers that
 can be positively identified, they are definitely the
 products of imaginative human beings, and among those humans
 is one by the name of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th Century
 man who designed the progenitor of what has become a 20th
 Century icon.
 * According to _The Prehistory of Flight_, p. 233, footnote
   5, Sweedenborg's unit of measurement, the ell, is about
   2' (24n). However, _Webster's Third New International
   Dictionary_, p. 736, states that an ell is 2.25' (27").
   Based on the latter, the overall dimensions and areas
   would be as follows: Oval, 36' * 27', 763.4 sq'; circle,
   31.5' dia, 779.3 sq'; square, 28.125', 791 sq';
   rectangle, 22.5' * 33.75', 791 sq'. Additionally, the
   dimensions of the pilot's basket would be 6.75' * 4.5' *
   2.25'. The wings would measure 5.625' * 1.6875', 9.5 sq'
   (ea), and the rod for the pendulum weight would be 9' in
 Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 21 (Spelman-Timmins).
   Chicago, etc.; William Benton, 1968. pp 503-504.
 Gibbs-Smith, Charles Harvard. Sir George Cayley's
   Aeronautics 1796 - 1855. London; Her Majesty's Stationary
   Office, 1962. pp 7-10.
 Hart, Clive, Ph.D. The Dream of Flight: Aeronautics From
   Classical Times to the Renaissance. London, 1972.
 ibid. The Prehistory of Flight. Berkeley, California;
   University of California Press, 1985. pp 146-151, 223.
 Swift, E. Swedenborg, The Man and his Works. 1932.
 Sigstedt, C.S. The Swedenborg Epic. 1953.
 Tafel, R.L. Documents Concerning the Life and Character of
   Emanuel Swedenborg, 3 Vol. 1875-1877.
 Trobrigdge, G. Swedenborg, Life and Teaching. 1944.
 Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Chicago,
   London, Toronto, Geneva, Sydney, Tokyo, Manila;
   Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1966. p 736.
 Acton, Alfred. "The Mechanical Inventions of Emanuel
   Swedenborg." Philadelphia, 1939. pp 20-26.
 "Machine att Flyga i Wardet Enlight Utkast av Emanuel
 Swedenborg." Stockholm, 1960.
 Odhner, Carl Th. "Swedenborg's Flying Machine." New Church
   Life, October 1909, pp 582-591.
 Odhner, Carl Th. and Hugo Lj. Odhner. "Suggestions for a
   Flying Machine." Aeronautical Journal, July 1910, pp
 Swedenborq, Emanuel. "Utkast til en Machine at Flyga i
   Wadret." Daedulus Hyperboreus. 4, October-December 1716,
   pp 80-83.
 Transactions of the International Svedenborg Congress.
   London, 1910, pp 45-46.
 Illinois State Library. Patent Classification Index.
 Stifts-Och Landesbiblioteck. Linkoping, codex 14a, 1714.
 Swedenborg, Emanuel. Opera quaedam aut inedita aut obsoleta
   de rebus naturalibus I, ed. Alfred H. Stroh (Holmiae
   1907), p 226.
 NAME                CONFIGURATION                 COUNTRY    YEAR
 Emanuel Swedenborg  elliptical, etc. h-t-a        Sweden     1714
 Robert B. Taylor    circular, h-t-a               US/Britain 1842
                          convertiplane design
 Muzio Muzzi         circular (upright)            US/Italy   1844
                     l-t-a propelled balloon
 Leteur              circular, h-t-a               France     1852
                     controllable parachute
 John Wooton         annular, h-t-a                US,        1866
                     flying machine patent         New Jersey
 Ringert Jongewaard  elliptical, h-t-a             US, Dakota 1883
                     flying machine patent Territory
 F.R. Geshyenda      elliptical, h-t-a             Tsarist    1887
                     "Proekt Paraleta"             Russia
 John Buegger        circular, l-t-a               US?        1888
 William Augustus    annular, l-t-a                US?        1891
 Fyers               balloon
 William N. Riddle   circular (domed)              US, Texas  1892
                      l-t-a propelled balloon
 William Eddy        circular, h-t-a               US         1892
 Laurence Hargrave   annular (upright)             Australia  1893
                      h-t-a tandem kite
 Estanislao          elliptical, h-t-a             US, New    1895
 Caballero de Los    flying machine patent         York
 George F. Myers     circular, h-t-a               US, Ohio   1897
                     multiplane and patent                   -1904
 Percy Pilcher       circular, h-t-a               Britain    1897
                     "Umbrella Boat/cyclone sail"
 Rev. Burrell Cannon           semi-elliptical,    US, Texas  1880s
                     h-t-a "Ezekiel Airships"                 1902,1913?
 A.G. Bell           annular, h-t-a                Canada     1908
                     "Ring Rite"
 D'Equevilley        annular, (upright)            France     1908
 Givaudan            annular, (upright)            France     1908
                     h-t-a tandem ring
 Vermorel            annular, (upright)            France     1908
                     h-t-a "Givaudan II n
                     hybrid tandem ring triplane
 Cappazza            elliptical, l-t-a              France    1909
 Unknown             annular, h-t-a                Britain    1909
                     "Safety" annular biplane
 Lt. J.W. Seddon,    elliptical, h-t-a             Britain    1909
 RN and A.G Hackett
 Steel hoops used in construction of tandem biplane
 A.G. Ufnmstev       annular, h-t-a                Tsarist    1909
                     "Sfyeroplan No.1 &            Russia     -1910
                     Sfyeroplan No.2"
 William P. Gary     annular (upright)             US, New    1910
                      h-t-a "Flying Barbell n      Jersey
 Butler Ames         annular wings                 US         1910
                     h-t-a, magnus effect
 Amos Wyckoff        circular, 1-t-a/              US         1910
                     h-t-a hybrid flying machine             -1914
 Two patents, one built. Destroyed by fire.
 Lee-Richards        annular, h-t-a                Britain    1911
 William P. Gary annular (upright)                 US, New    1911
                     h-t-a tractor triplane hybrid  Jersey
 Edwards             diamond-shaped                Britain    1911
                      h-t-a "Rhomboidal" pusher biplane
 Lee-Richards        annular, h-t-a                Britain    1912
                     biplane glider
 McCormick-          annular (hexagonal)           US,Illinois 1912
 Romme               h-t-a "Umbrella Plane"                   -1914
 Lee-Richards        annular, h-t-a                Britain    1913
                     tractor monoplane
 J. Robertson        annular, h-t-a                 Britain   1913
 Porter              "Gyropachute" air cushion vehicle
 Paul Malwurm        annular fuselage,             US         1929
                     h-t-a "Flyworm"
 L.C. Popper and     annular lift rotors           US         1932
 John B. Guest       using magnus effect, h-t-a
 Snyder              square, 1-t-a/                US         1932
                     h-t-a hybrid
 Unknown             circular, l-t-a               Italy      1932?
                     "Whirling Gasbag n
 Nicholson           square, h-t-a                 US         1932
 Carl N. Hall        annular, h-t-a                US         1933
                      propeller enclosed in a huge ring
 Jonathan E.         rectangular blades            US         1933
 Caldwell            rotating laterally, h-t-a
 Luigi Stipa-        annular fuselage               Italy     1933
 Caproni             enclosing buried engine, h-t-a
 Nemeth              circular, h-t-a               US         1930s
 Lamer               circular, h-t-a               US         1930s
 Aarup               semi-elliptical,              US         1935
                     h-t-a tractor monoplane
 Moskalyev           semi-elliptical,               USSR      1936
                               SAM-9 "Strela",               -1937
                     h-t-a tractor monoplane
 Flettner            annular wings                 Germany    late
                     using magnus effect, h-t-a               1930s
 Vought              semi-elliptical                US        1942
                     V-173, h-t-a "Flying Pancake"
 Vought              semi-elliptical               US         1947
                     XF5U-l, h-t-a tractor monoplane         -1948
 Miles               annular fuselage              Britain    1947
                     M-52, h-t-a                             -1948
 Leduc               annular fuselage,             France     1949
                     0.10/0.16, h-t-a
 Leduc               annular fuselage              France     1953
                     0.21/0.22, h-t-a
 Hiller              annular rotor duct            US         1955
                     XONR-l flying platform, h-t-a
 Convair             circular wing                 US         1950s
                     design studies, h-t-a
 Doak                annular propeller             US         1958
                     ducts VZ-4DA, h-t-a
 SNECMA              annular fuselage              France     1959
                     Coleopetre C.450-01, h-t-a
 Avro tCanada)       annular, h-t-a                Canada/US  1960
                     VZ~9Z "Avrocar n
 Piasecki            semi-annular, h-t-a           US         1962
                     VZ-8P n Airgeep II n
 Aero Rinetics       annular, h-t-a                US         1963
 Northrop            elongated cone                US         1966
                     HL-10 lifting body, h-t-a
 Northrop            elongated cone                US         1965
 M2-Fl/2 lifting body, h-t-a   -1966
 Bell                annular rotor ducts           US         1966
                     X-22A, h-t-a
 NORD                annular rotor ducts           France     1968
                     500, h-t-a
 Boeing/Grumman      circular radome               US         mid-1960s
                     AWACS, h-t-a                            -current
 Martin Marietta     elongated cone                US         1970
                     X-24A lifting body, h-t-a
 Martin Marietta     elongated cone                US         1973
                     X-24B lifting body, h-t-a
 Skyship Enterprises           circular, 1-t-a     Britain    1974
 Lockheed            annular wing                  US         late
                     design for an airliner                   -1970s
 Mr. Six?            annular, h-t-a                US?        1980?
 Model seen at Oshkosh n Flymart n
 Unknown             circular, 1-t-a               Russia/CIS 1994
 Displayed in Washington! DC
 Howard Menger       circular UFO model            US         1951?
                     HMX-l-l951 designed by 1950s alien
 "contactee"         Howard Menger
 Cayley      "Governable Parachute"      1852-1853
 Convair     circular, n-t-a GEM         1960
             Ground Effect Machine
 Avro        circular, h-t-a             1960
 NC Price 1  U.S. Patent #3,103,324      1963
 Lockheed    09-10-63, Circular
             High Altitude, High Velocity
             VTOL Aircraft
 Sikorsky    annular, "cypher"           1988
             h-t-a                       -present
 Paul Moller multiple annular            1980s
             "skycar" u200x              -present
 Jesse A. Bird? elliptical reconstruction 1897
             of Swedenborg's original design
 Lockheed    modified elliptical         Mid-
             GTD-21B hypersonic rpv      1960s
 [Wesley Smith is a Springfield native with a Ph.D. in American History
 from George Washington University.  He is an aerospace historian who
 has received two fellowships at the National Air and Space Museum, is the
 Chief Archivist for the Wright Brothers Foundation, and was recently
 appointed to the Congressional Committee for the 2003 Wright Brothers
 Centennial.  Smith is currently doing research for a forthcoming book
 cataloging early American heavier-than-air flying machines.]

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