[from Wikipedia]
The ancient peoples of Babylon and Egypt have presented us with many valuable scientific and technical innovations. In the fields of arithmetic, geometry and astronomy they made major contributions and in the art of erecting barehanded buildings from huge stone blocks they are unsurpassed to this day. But as far as I know they did not get involved in the theory of gases, nor did they build machines to conquer the sky.

The history of the balloon starts with Greece, where Archimedes (287-212 B.C.) formulated the principles of sinking, rising and floating and Hero (20? A.D.) invented the plunger type water pump. In our own seventeenth century there was Torricelli (1608-1647), who demonstrated the phenomenon of a vacuum by upending a long glass tube filled with mercury and Von Guericke (1602-1686) who adapted Hero’s pump to pump air. In this way he could evacuate his famous Magdeburger Half Spheres and demonstrate the surprising force exerted by the pressure of the column of air above us.

One result of all these experiments with vacuum was that the idea that air had weight became generally accepted.
Magdeburger balls emptied of their inside air were somewhat lighter than air-filled ones. Giovanni Alfonso Borelli (1608-1679, see my previous post), Italian physiologist, mathematician and friend of Galileo, speculated that if one would make very light spheres, for instance out of very thin copper plate and draw all the air from their insides, they would float in the air according to the law of Archimedes. Unfortunately spheres formed out of very thin plate would not be able to withstand the atmospheric pressure from outside and would be flattened by it.

[from Wikipedia]
Undaunted by considerations like these the Jesuit father Lana de Terzi (1631-1687), who longed to go to heaven, made the same fatal flaw in his thinking. In his book ‘Prodromo Overo Saggio de Alcune’ of 1670 he describes a true ship of the air, an open gondola lifted by four copper spheres of almost 25 feet diameter that have no air inside. The ship is drawn forward by a span of twelve geese. De Lana was probably the first to be concerned that this invention, like all other man made instruments, could be misused for war. An airship such as this would make war even more brutal and horrifying than de Lana had experienced in his own lifetime. He therefore concluded that God would prevent the construction of this sort weapons. He certainly was he a naive optimist.

Of course his idea of the twelve geese was endearing. In flight it must have looked somewhat like the picture hereafter, which shows the Canadian Joseph Duff flying southward with a flock of cranes that have as much trust in their pilot as de Lana had in his god.

[from link below]
Do read:





On Sunday July 5th, while enjoying my time at the beach, Daniel Boria, age 26, was floating over the Calgary stampede grounds carried aloft  by 110 helium filled balloons while sitting in a lawn chair.
Our fascination with balloons goes back a long time, to Francisco Lana-Terzi [1631-1687] or maybe even earlier, to Giovanni Alfonso Borelli as decribed by that famous science (fiction) writer Isaac Asimov [1920-1992]:[1]


BORELLI,  Giovanni Alfonso
Italian mathematician and physiologist
Born: Naples, June 28, 1608
Died: Rome, December 31, 1679

“Borelli was a professor of mathematics and a friend of Galileo. His life, though not characterized by the controversies of his great friend, was not entirely smooth. In 1674 he had to leave Messina, the Sicilian city in which he was then teaching, and retire to Rome, where he remained under the protection of Chris­tina, former queen of Sweden. (This was the queen whose eccentric habits had brought on the death of Descartes [1596-1650]. She abdicted in 1654 and was received into the Roman Catholic Church the following year, after which she settled in Rome.)

Borelli corrected some of Galileo’s overconservation. Galileo [1564-1642] had neglected Kepler’s [1571-1630] elliptical or­bits, but now Horrocks [1618-1641] had extended them even to the moon, and Borelli rescued the ellipses, publici­zing and popularizing them.

He tried to extend the vague notions of Galileo and Kepler concerning the attractive forces between the sun and the planets, but was not successful. He tried also to account for the motion of Jupiter’s satellites by postulating an attractive force for Jupiter as well as for the sun. In this he (and Horrocks also at about this time) made a tentative step in the direction of universal gravitation, but the theory had to wait a generation for Newton [1642-1726].

Borelli suggested (under pseudonym) that comets tra­velled in parabolic orbits, passing through the solar system once and never returning. (The parabola, like the ellipse, was first studied by Apollonius [261-190 BC]. A parabola is an open curve something like a hairpin.) Any body following a parabolic path would approach the sun from infinite space, round it, and recede forever. Such an orbit would explain the erratic behavior of comets, without completely disrupting the orderliness of the universe.

Borelli understood the principle of the balloon, pointing out that a hollow copper sphere would be buoyant when evacuated, if it were thin enough, but that it would then collapse under air pressure.
It did not occur to him that collapse could be avoided if a lighter-than-air gas were used to fill the sphere as, in essence, the Montgolfier brothers [1740-1810 and 1745-1799] were to do a century and a half later.”
[1] Isac Asimov: Biographical Encoclopedia of Science and Technology (chronically ordered); 805 p. Avon Books, 1976

2015; spring – WORK IN PROGRESS

McDonnell_Douglas_Long_Beach YC-15The McDonnell Douglas YC-15 under construction at Long Beach CA
(this was some time ago).

Also some time ago:
Sikorsky S-38 at OshkoshPhotographed at Oshkosh: the Sikorsky S-38

castawayMarch23 f

I wonder if she can land at Newport Beach and pick us up.
We’ll climb aboard and  fly with her for ever west into the setting sun

Meanwhile we are working on an update of the Willy Fiedler story
(see: From Fledermaus to Polaris). Anybody who has memories of Willy or documents about his work is invited to contact us.


Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow. Langston Hughes
Huntington Beach,  California

The Ocean,

the beginning and the end.

Consolidated B-24 Liberator

I wonder who will be coming to pick us up.

This big boy from San Diego?

It has a wonderful wing.  Its hull is from a flying boat.

It can’t land here. Just casing the place, I suppose.

Flugzeug Blohm & Voß BV 238 V1
Blohm & Voss BV-238 (100 tons)

The biggest one built in Germany, in Bremen, during the war.  It might be able to land here.

Rumor had it that Der Führer was planning to escape with it to Argentina.

I bet its designer, Dr. Vogt, never thought he would end up close by here, in Santa Barbara.

Martin M130
Glenn-Martin M-130 Clipper

The best one ever built.
It conquered  the Pacific

Latecoere 521 Flying Boat12A

As Boeing knows: never underestimate the French

Hughes / Kaiser HK-1 Spruce Goose

This one is retired now in Oregon.

Pity it never really flew.


This one still flies.

May it outlive us all.

Au Revoir!



Revolutionary Sikorsky S-42 (1934)
Revolutionary Sikorsky S-42 (1934)

Sikorsky’s factory in Stratford Connecticut completed its first S-42 airliner/flying boat in March 1934 and Igor Sikorsky took at the earliest opportunity the mail boat to Southampton to promote his revolutionary clean looking flying machine in the Old World. His first stop was London where he delivered a glowing lecture with epidiascope projections to the Royal Aeronautical Society. His new ship was fast and it could move passengers far. In fact in the years that followed, Pan American Airways bought ten of them and used them to conquer the Pacific Ocean. The British aviation bigwigs and tech wizards listened in polite astonishment. Igor gave a glowing account of his breakthrough in the design dilemmas that had for thirty years produced only ugly-looking mechanical flying things with a multitude of wings, struts and wires.

Ugly Short S-14 Sarafand (1932)
Ugly Short S-14 Sarafand (1932)

Sikorsky had now created a roomy airplane with a single sleek small wing and four beautifully mounted engines. It carried 12 passengers with ease over 2000 miles and it could alight gently at 65 mph on the tops of the rolling waves. Its cruising speed was 160 miles per hour and Igor repeatedly pointed out how this speed in combination with the high wing load made for a comfortable ride, relatively insensitive to wind gusts and sudden vertical up and down air drafts.

IGOR I. SIKORSKY (1889-1972)IGOR I. SIKORSKY    (1889-1972)

The British listened with polite amazement and suppressed skepticism. “We don’t really need speed”, said Mr. Horace Short, the builder of England’s famous double-breasted multi-wing lumbering patrol boats during the discussion afterwards.”When we need speed we’ll have Supermarine win the Schneider Cup or Messrs. de Havilland will build the Comet for winning the Melbourne race. We focus on other things.” He meant safety, a slow landing speed. And it must be said, his boats had an enviable safety record (but could not cross the ocean).
Mr. M.Langley inquired whether Mr. Sikorsky had used Imperial or US Gallons in his specifications. He apparently couldn’t believe the figures and the British ones were a good deal larger.
As to performance, Mr. W.O. Manning conceded frankly that Mr. Sikorsky had put the flying boats used by Imperial Airways completely out of date. He then proceeded to produce a global new design on the lines of the S-42 and showed its superiority.
Major R.E. Penney thought the secret of Mr. S.’s boat could be found in the enormous amount of detail work, the fairing up of the details so that the combined resistances had been reduced to an absolute minimum.

Phoebastria_albatrus (picture: Wiki)
Phoebastria_albatrus (picture: Wiki)

Mr. Scott-Hall mentioned in passing that albatrosses (the birds) had a large wing load but they had trouble getting themselves up in the air. And so there was a lot of back and forth talk about speed and small wings.
Until finally Major F. Green hit on the real issue: “Let’s not overlook the fact that a small wing saves a substantial amount of weight”. And here was of course the quintessence: instead of carrying wing, the airplane could now carry fuel and people. But even Igor did not seem to quite grasp the point. He came back to the subject of speed. “There is no doubt”, he stated, “that planes of great weight, capable of non-stop ocean flights, cruising between 150 to 200 miles per hour, can be designed at this time and be ready for service within two and a half to three years. Greater cruising speeds are possible, but the size of the earth does not warrant greater speeds. The progress of air transportation will benefit more if designers will give more attention to increased passenger comfort and ways and means to lower transportation costs rather than greater speed.”
Well now, would that really be possible Mr. Sikorsky? Are speed and economics independent quantities?
A cat is not a dog and a plane is not a ship.

for the full text of Igor Sikorsky’s lecture, click:  https://ritstaalman.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/sikorskya.pdf
see also Part III of Early Atlantic Airliners:  ATLAIRpart3
for books on the conquest of the Atlantic by air: http://www.Lindbergh-aviation.de atta12e9

1933: High Fashion in Wings

We exchanged some polite remarks while we heaved our bags in the rack above us and sought our proper place. We just fitted in our seats together: the blonde lady in sweater and jeans at the window, I in the middle and to my right the middle aged guy in safari jacket with long hair in a ponytail… Then we underwent in silence the start of the machine and the handout of some gorgeous delicacies like peanuts wrapped in tiny little plastic bags.

picture by Monica Staalman
picture by Monica Staalman

After a while the plane had climbed to cruising height and I bent forward to the left to look out of the window. I saw an elegant upward turned wing tip against the hard blue expansion of the universe and the faintly curved horizon of our planet.
“Isn’t it amazing?”  the lady smiled at me – “how we are sitting here crunching peanuts above the world?”
“It’s stunning,” I agreed. – “I was also observing the wing tip. There seems to be a fashion nowadays to bend them upward.”
“Well dear, it’s all about saving fuel you know. The proper shape may give you an extra 3 or 4 per cent range. It all counts with the present fuel prices.” (This conversation took place some years ago).
“How can that be?”
She explained: “The wings leave behind a corkscrew of whirling air, one at each side. It is an air vortex. In a way you may say that the airplane pulls the vortex forward. The bigger the vortex, the more energy it takes from the plane. With careful design of the wing tip the engineers try to make the generation of the vortex more gradual, less violent, see?” She looked at me and smiled.

this magnificent picture is from NASA, via Wiki. See note below
this magnificent picture is from NASA, via Wiki. See note below

“Yeah,” the man to my right added -“and these vortices are bloody dangerous for the little guy who is flying behind them. You better stay out of the wake of the big ones…”
And so it turned out to be a pleasant flight for all of us. The safari chap ordered a meal and offered me his dessert because he was, as he explained, a diabetic. The lady at the window knew more about airplanes than any of us. And I told them about Willy Fiedler who had built and flown a sailplane in 1933 with vertical wing tips and no fin at the tail. I even showed them a picture on my i-phone.
They were properly impressed.

We spent the rest of the flight with pleasurable chitchat. However, as always when flying, I lost my new friends at the Luggage Claim.  If we had traveled by steamship we would probably still be in contact now.

1933: Aka Flug Stuttgart F-1 Fledermaus, design Willy Fiedler

1933: Aka Flug Stuttgart F-1 Fledermaus, design Willy Fiedler

See also:



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wake_turbulence where you will find:

DescriptionAirplane vortex edit.jpg (see earlier picture)
Date  4 May 1990
English: Wake Vortex Study at Wallops Island
The air flow from the wing of this agricultural plane is made visible by a technique that uses colored smoke rising from the ground. The swirl at the wingtip traces the aircraft’s wake vortex, which exerts a powerful influence on the flow field behind the plane. Because of wake vortex, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires aircraft to maintain set distances behind each other when they land. A joint NASA-FAA program aimed at boosting airport capacity, however, is aimed at determining conditions under which planes may fly closer together. NASA researchers are studying wake vortex with a variety of tools, from supercomputers, to wind tunnels, to actual flight tests in research aircraft. Their goal is to fully understand the phenomenon, then use that knowledge to create an automated system that could predict changing wake vortex conditions at airports. Pilots already know, for example, that they have to worry less about wake vortex in rough weather because windy conditions cause them to dissipate more rapidly.


June 1919 Crowd awaiting departure of Alcock and Brown from St John's NFL
June 1919 Crowd awaiting departure of Alcock and Brown from St John’s Newfoundland  (source Wiki)

Found in the unsurpassed archives of FLIGHT magazine April 17 1919:    (http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/index.html)

    By A. W. BROWN

    ” A KNOWLEDGE of at least the elements of navigation is necessary to  the  pilots  of  modem  aircraft  undertaking  long  journeys. whether  over  land  or  ocean.    On  recognised  air-routes  over the  land,  his  task  will  be  made  easier  by  the  provision  of land marks   and   lighthouses,   but   over  the  ocean,   his  only guides  will   be the  wireless  telegraph,  or  the  SUN  and   stars. Wireless  telgraphy  provides  an  efficient  and  rapid  means  of locating the positions of  an aircraft during a moderately long journey,  but  its reliability  has yet  to be  proved  over greater distances, such  as  will obtain  in the  Atlantic flight.   On  the other hand,  observation  of  the sun  or stars provides a reliable and   never-failing   means  of   position-finding,   for  it   will   be seldom  indeed  that  aircraft  will  be  unable  to rise  above  any clouds obscuring the sky.    It is not necessary  for  the pilot  to know  every  detail  of  the  methods  of  navigation   in  use  on shipboard ;   aircraft  are  in no  danger  from  rocks  or  shoals, and  have  a  large  radius of  vision,  so  that  a  high  degree  of accuracy  is not essential. At the same time, the great speed of  aircraft, and  the  extent to  which  they  are affected  by  the wind, render  necessary  a system  of  navigation  by  which  the position   may  be  found   at  frequent  intervals  with  rapidity and  a minimum  of  calculation. “

  • Captain Brown
    Lieutenant A.W. Brown (1885-1948)
  • From the same splendid Archives: FLIGHT magazine, June 19, 1919:
    THE FIRST NON-STOP FLIGHT ACROSS THE ATLANTIC   WITH a British-designed and British-built aeroplane and engine, piloted by British officers, rests the honour of having made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. In an .Vickers-Vimy-Rolls-Royce biplane. [This] has won for them the Daily Mail prize of 10,000 pounds, the 2,000 guineas from the Ardath Tobacco Co., and 1.000 pounds from Mr. Lawrence R. Phillips for the first British subject to fly the Atlantic.….”
    MESSAGE from Capt. Alcock and Lieut. Brown to the Royal Aero Club, sent off from the wireless station at Clifden :—
    Landed at Clifden, Ireland.at 8.40 a.m., Greenwich mean-time, June 15; Vickers-Vimy Atlantic machine, leaving Newfoundland Coast 4.28 p.m. (G.M.T.), June 14. Total time 16 hours 12 minutes. Instructions awaited.”
    AS SOON AS the formalities were completed Capt. Alcock and Lieut. Brown dismantled the instruments from their machine and prepared to make for London as quickly as possible.…
    [after many celebrations in Ireland they finally arrived at the Royal Aero Club in London:]…
    They were welcomed by Gen. Holden, who said:
    “…It was one of the most remarkable feats of this century, and one which would be remembered as long as the world lasted. It was nine years since Bleriot crossed the Channel, a distance of 20 miles. Everybody thought that a magnificent exploit at the time ; but here they were welcoming men who had crossed nearly 2,000 miles.”
    Three cheers having been given for the airmen, there were repeated calls upon them to speak.Captain William Alcock 1892-1919

    Captain John William Alcock (1892-1919)

    CAPT. ALCOCK, standing on a chair, said :—
    ” I should like to thank Gen. Holden for the kind words he has said about Lieut. Brown and myself. I must say the flight has been quite straightforward. Although we had a little difficulty in keeping our course, Lieut. Brown did very well and steered a wonderful course. With regard to the flight itself all the credit is due to the machine, and particularly the engine—that is everything. If the engine went well there was nothing to prevent us getting across so long as Lieut. Brown was able to get his sights, and here we are.”
    Lieut. Brown, who also was loudly cheered, [spoke in similar vein]
    AFTERWARDS Capt. Alcock and Lieut. Brown stepped out on to the balcony, where they were greeted with loud cheers by the crowds still waiting outside, Lieut. Brown ultimately driving off to Ealing where a further reception by the local authorities was gone through.
    Meanwhile Capt.Alcock, after dinner at the Club, went to Olympia to witness the great boxing match.

    Vickers Vimy at the ready in St John’s Newfoundland, June 1919

    THE FOLLOWING is the story of the crossing as given to the Daily Mail by Capt. Alcock :
    —” WE have had a terrible journey.The wonder is we are here at all. We scarcely saw the sun or the moon or the stars. For hours we saw none of them. The fog was very dense, and at times we had to descend to within 300 ft. of the sea.For four hours the machine was covered in a sheet of ice carried by frozen sleet; at another time the fog was so dense that my speed indicator did not work, and for a few seconds it was very alarming. We looped the loop, I do believe, and did a very steep spiral. We did some very comic  “stunts,” for I have had no sense of horizon. The winds were favourable all the way : north-west and at times south-west. We said in Newfoundland we would do the trip in 6 hours, but we never thought we should. An hour and a half before we saw land we had no certain idea where we were, but we believed we were at Galway or thereabouts. Our delight in seeing Eashal Island and Turbot Island (5 miles west of Clifden) was great. People did not know who we were when we landed, and thought we were scouts on the look-out for the ‘ Vimy.’

    We encountered no unforeseen conditions. We did not suffer from cold or exhaustion except when looking over the side ; then the sleet chewed bits out of our faces. We drank coffee and ale and ate sandwiches and chocolate.
    The only thing that upset me was to see the machine at the end get damaged. From above, the bog looked like a lovely field, but the machine sank into it up to the axle and fell over on to her nose.”

    Alcock and Brown: landing in a marsh at Clifden, Ireland

    It certainly was unfortunate that what looked like a good meadow from above should have turned out to be a bog. Not only did the ” Vimy ” bury her nose in it but a R.A.F.machine which flew over from Oranmore to render assistance also came to grief. Later advices indicate that the Vickers machine is not so seriously injured as was at first supposed.

    DURING  the greater part of the flight of 1,950 miles the machine was at an average altitude of 4,000 ft. but at one
    time—about 6 a.m.—in an endeavour to get above the clouds and fog, it went up to 11,000 ft. Lieut. Brown was only
    able to take three readings for position, one from the sun, one from the moon and one from the Pole Star and Vega.
    On passing Signal Hill, Lieut. Brown set out a course for the ocean on 124 deg. compass course and at 3 a.m. from an observation on Polaris and Vega he found he was about 2 deg. south. He then set a course of 110 deg.
    Between 4 and 5 a.m. the machine ran into a very thick fog bank, and the air speed indicator jammed, through sleet freezing on it, at 90 m.p.h. It was then that Capt. Alcock thinks the machine looped, at any rate it went into a steep spiral which only ended with the machine practically on its back about 50 ft. from the water. The machine was covered with ice, and it continually became necessary to chip ice off the instruments, etc.   Capt. Alcock says that he nursed the engines all the way, and had one-third of his petrol supply left when he landed. One of the exhaust pipes blew off, but otherwise there was no trouble from the engine installation.

    The Start from St John's
    The Start from St John’s, Newfoundland

    APPARENTLY the start from St. John’s provided an anxious time for the onlookers. The machine had a hard job to get away with her heavy load. The aerodrome level was only 500 yards long, but the machine took off at 300 yards, and just managed to clear the trees and houses. However she climbed steadily if very slowly, and when she passed over the harbour a t St. John’s had reached a height of 1,000 ft.
    THE FLIGHT has shown that the Atlantic flight is practicable, but I think it should be done not with an aeroplane or seaplane, but with a flying-boat. We had plenty of reserve fuel left, using only two-thirds of our supply.”

  • 773px-Salon_de_locomotion_aerienne_1909_Grand_Palais_Paris
    First “Salon_de_Locomotion_Aerienne”_1909_Grand_Palais_Paris
  • From FLIGHT Magazine, Deceember 25, 1919:
    IT is with most profound regret that we have to record the fatal accident to Sir John Alcock, which occurred on the afternoon of December 18,’ while he was engaged in taking a new Vickers machine to Paris in connection with the Salon. It appears that the machine when nearing Rouen had great difficulty in negotiating a strong wind. A farmer at Cote d’Evrard, about 25 miles north of Rouen, saw the machine come out of the fog, commence to fly unsteadily, and—it was then about 1 o’clock—it suddenly crashed to the ground.
    SIR JOHN ALCOCK  was taken from the wreck, but unfortunately there was considerable delay in getting medical assistance  as the farmhouse near where the crash occurred is out of the way. As soon as the accident was reported, doctors rushed from No. 6 British General Hospital, Rouen, but they were too late. It is probable that an enquiry will be held by the French authorities, at which the Air Ministry and Messrs. Vickers will be represented. Arrangements are being made for the conveyance of the body of Sir John Alcock to England for burial in Manchester, his native city. The death of Sir John Alcock is an irreparable loss to aviation. His great flight across the Atlantic is too fresh in the mind of readers of FLIGHT for further reference to be made to it here, while his previous work is recorded in the pages of past volumes of this paper.
  •  NOTE: After his record Atlantic flight, Sir Arthur Whitten Brown pursued a career in industry. He rejoined the RAF for a short period during the Second World War, but had to resign because of ill health. He died in his sleep in 1948.
  • [picture credits:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page]

airplane construction interbellum Rohrbach