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Swedenborg Ornithopter

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    컴컴컴컴컴 *                                         * 컴컴컴컴컴
                *    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           *
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                 -= P R O U D L Y    P R E S E N T S =-

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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