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On Aerial Navigation

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Sir George Cayley's triple paper in full

BROMPTON, Sept. 6, 1809.

(Reprinted from Nicholson's Journal, November, 1809.)

SIR, I observed in your Journal for last month, that a watchmaker at Vienna, of the name of Degen, has succeeded in raising himself in the air by mechanical means1. I waited to receive your present number, in expectation of seeing some farther account of this experiment, before I commenced transcribing the following essay upon aerial navigation, from a number of memoranda which I have made at various times upon this subject. I am induced to request your publication of this essay, because I conceive, that, in stating the fundamental principles of this art, together with a considerable number of facts and practical observations, that have arisen in the course of much attention to this subject, I may be expediting the attainment of an object, that will in time be found of great importance to mankind; so much so, that a new aera in society will commence, from the moment that aerial navigation is familiarly realized.

It appears to me, and I am more confirmed by the success of the ingenious Mr. Degen, that nothing more is necessary, in order to bring the following principles into common practical use, than the endeavors of skilful artificers, who may vary the means of execution, till those most convenient are attained.

Since the days of Bishop Wilkins the scheme of flying by artificial wings has been much ridiculed; and indeed the idea of attaching wings to the arms of a man is ridiculous enough, as the pectoral muscles of a bird occupy more than two-thirds of its whole muscular strength, whereas in man the muscles, that could operate upon wings thus attached, would probably not exceed one-tenth of his whole mass. There is no proof that, weight for weight, a man is comparatively weaker than a bird; it is therefore probable, if he can be made to exert his whole strength advantageously upon a light surface similarly proportioned to his weight as that of the wing to the bird, that he would fly like the bird, and the ascent of Mr. Degen is a sufficient proof of the truth of this statement.

The flight of a strong man by great muscular exertion, though a curious and interesting circumstance, in as much as it will probably be the first means of ascertaining this power, and supplying the basis whereon to improve it, would be of little use. I feel perfectly confident, however, that this noble art will soon be brought home to man's general convenience, and that we shall be able to transport ourselves and families, and their goods and chattels, more securely by air than by water, and with a velocity of from 20 to 100 miles per hour.

To produce this effect, it is only necessary to have a first mover, which will generate more power in a given time, in proportion to its weight, than the animal system of muscles.

The consumption of coal in a Boulton and Watt's steam engine is only about 5 1/2 lbs. per hour for the power of one horse. The heat produced by the combustion of this portion of inflammable matter is the sole cause of the power generated; but it is applied through the intervention of a weight of water expanded into steam, and a still greater weight of cold water to condense it again. The engine itself likewise must be massy enough to resist the whole external pressure of the atmosphere, and therefore is not applicable to the purpose proposed. Steam engines have lately been made to operate by expansion only, and those might be constructed so as to be light enough for this purpose, provided the usual plan of a large boiler be given up, and the principle of injecting a proper charge of water into a mass of tubes, forming the cavity for the fire, be adopted in lieu of it. The strength of vessels to resist internal pressure being inversely as their diameters, very slight metallic tubes would be abundantly strong, whereas a large boiler must be of great substance to resist a strong pressure. The following estimate will show the probable weight of such an engine with its charge for one hour.

The engine itself from 90 to 100
Weight of inflamed cinders in a cavity presenting about 4 feet surface of tube 25
Supply of coal for one hour 6
Water for ditto, allowing steam of one atmosphere to be 1/1800 the specific gravity
of water

I do not propose this statement in any other light than as a rude approximation to truth, for as the steam is operating under the disadvantage of atmospheric pressure, it must be raised to a higher temperature than in Messrs. Boulton and Watt's engine; and this will require more fuel; but if it take twice as much, still the engine would be sufficiently light, for it would be exerting a force equal to raising 550 lb. one foot high per second, which is equivalent to the labor of six men, whereas the whole weight does not much exceed that of one man.

It may seem superfluous to inquire farther relative to first movers for aerial navigation; but lightness is of so much value in this instance, that it is proper to notice the probability that exists of using the expansion of air by the sudden combustion of inflammable powders or fluids with great advantage. The French have lately shown the great power produced by igniting inflammable powders in close vessels; and several years ago an engine was made to work in this country in a similar manner, by the inflammation of spirit of tar. I am not acquainted with the name of the person who invented and obtained a patent for this engine, but from some minutes with which I was favored by Mr. William Chapman, civil engineer in Newcastle, I find that 80 drops of the oil of tar raised eight hundred weight to the height of 22 inches; hence a one horse power many consume from 10 to 12 pounds per hour, and the engine itself need not exceed 50 pounds weight. I am informed by Mr. Chapman, that this engine was exhibited in a working state to Mr. Rennie, Mr. Edmund Cartwright, and several other gentlemen, capable of appreciating its powers; but that it was given up in consequence of the expense attending its consumption being about eight times greater than that of a steam engine of the same force.

Probably a much cheaper engine of this sort might be produced by a gas-light apparatus, and by firing the inflammable air generated, with a due portion of common air, under a piston. Upon some of these principles it is perfectly clear, that force can be obtained by a much lighter apparatus than the muscles of animals or birds, and therefore in such proportion may aerial vehicles be loaded with inactive matter. Even the expansion steam engine doing the work of six men, and only weighing equal to one, will as readily raise five men into the air, as Mr. Degen can elevate himself by his own exertions; but by increasing the magnitude of the engine, 10, 50, or 500 men may equally well be conveyed; and convenience alone, regulated by the strength and size of materials, will point out the limit for the size of vessels in aerial navigation.

Having rendered the accomplishment of this object probable upon the general view of the subject, I shall proceed to point out the principles of the art itself. For the sake of perspicuity I shall, in the first instance, analyze the most simple action of the wing in birds, although it necessarily supposes many previous steps. When large birds, that have a considerable extent of wing compared with their weight, have acquired their full velocity, it may frequently be observed, that they extend their wings, and without waving them, continue to skim for some time in a horizontal path. Fig. I, in the Plate, represents a bird in this act.

Let a b be a section of the plane of both wings opposing the horizontal current of the air (created by its own motion) which may be represented by the line c d, and is the measure of the velocity of the bird. The angle b d c can be increased at the will of the bird, and to preserve a perfectly horizontal path, without the wing being waved, must continually be increased in a complete ratio, (useless at present to enter into) till the motion is stopped altogether; but at one given time the position of the wings may be truly represented by the angle b d c. Draw d e perpendicular to the plane of the wings, produce the line e d as far as required, and from the point e, assumed at pleasure in the line d e, let fall e f perpendicular to d f. Then d e will represent the whole force of the air under the wing; which being resolved into the two forces e f and f d, the former represents the force that sustains the weight of the bird, the latter the retarding force by which the velocity of the motion, producing the current c d, will continually be diminished. e f is always a known quantity, being equal to the weight of the bird, and hence f d is also known, as it will always bear the same proportion to the weight of the bird, as the sine of the angle b d e bears to its cosine, the angles d e f, and b d c, being equal. In addition to the retarding force thus received is the direct resistance, which the bulk of the bird opposes to the current. This is a matter to be entered into separately from the principle now under consideration; and for the present may be wholly neglected, under the supposition of its being balanced by a force precisely equal and opposite to itself.

Before it is possible to apply this basis of the principle of flying in birds to the purposes of aerial navigation, it will be necessary to encumber it with a few practical observations. The whole problem is confined within these limits, viz. To make a surface support a given weight by the application of power to the resistance of air. Magnitude is the first question respecting the surface. Many experiments have been made upon the direct resistance of air, by Mr. Robins, Mr. Rouse, Mr. Edgeworth, Mr. Smeaton, and others. The result of Mr. Smeaton's experiments and observations was, that a surface of a square foot met with a resistance of one pound, when it traveled perpendicularly to itself through air at a velocity of 21 feet per second. I have tried many experiments upon a large scale to ascertain this point. The instrument was similar to that used by Mr. Robins, but the surface used was larger, being an exact square foot, moving round upon an arm about five feet long, and turned by weights over a pulley. The time was measured by a stop watch, and the distance traveled over in each experiment was 600 feet. I shall for the present only give the result of many carefully repeated experiments, which is, that a velocity of 11.538 feet per second generated a resistance of 4 ounces; and that a velocity of 17.16 feet per second gave 8 ounces resistance. This delicate instrument would have been strained by the additional weight necessary to have tried the velocity generating a pressure of one pound per square foot; but if the resistance be taken to vary as the square of the velocity, the former will give the velocity necessary for this purpose at 23.1 feet, the latter 24.28 per second. I shall therefore take 23.6 feet as somewhat approaching the truth.

Having ascertained this point, had our tables of angular resistance been complete, the size of the surface necessary for any given weight would easily have been determined. Theory, which gives the resistance of a surface opposed to the same current in different angles, to be as the squares of the sine of the angle of incidence, is of no use in this case; as it appears from the experiments of the French Academy, that in acute angles, the resistance varies much more nearly in the direct ratio of the sines, than as the squares of the sines of the angles of incidence. The flight of birds will prove to an attentive observer, that, with a concave wing apparently parallel to the horizontal path of the bird, the same support, and of course resistance, is obtained. And hence I am inclined to suspect, that, under extremely acute angles, with concave surfaces, the resistance is nearly similar in them all. I conceive the operation may be of a different nature from what takes place in larger angles, and may partake more of the principle of pressure exhibited in the instrument known by the name of the hydrostatic paradox, a slender filament of the current is constantly received under the anterior edge of the surface, and directed upward into the cavity, by the filament above it, in being obliged to mount along the convexity of the surface, having created a slight vacuity immediately behind the point of separation. The fluid accumulated thus within the cavity has to make its escape at the posterior edge of the surface, where it is directed considerably downward; and therefore has to overcome and displace a portion of the direct current passing with its full velocity immediately below it; hence whatever elasticity this effort requires operates upon the whole concavity of the surface, excepting a small portion of the anterior edge. This may or may not be the true theory, but it appears to me to be the most probable account of a phenomenon, which the flight of birds proves to exist.

Six degrees was the most acute angle, the resistance of which was determined by the valuable experiments of the French Academy; and it gave 4/10 of the resistance, which the same surface would have received from the same current when perpendicular to itself. Hence then a superficial foot, forming an angle of six degrees with the horizon, would, if carried forward horizontally (as a bird in the act of skimming) with a velocity of 23.6 feet per second, receive a pressure of 4/10 of a pound perpendicular to itself. And, if we allow the resistance to increase as the square of the velocity, at 27.3 feet per second it would receive a pressure of one pound. I have weighed and measured the surface of a great many birds, but at present shall select the common rook (corvus frugilegus) because its surface and weight are as nearly as possible in the ratio of a superficial foot to a pound. The flight of this bird, during any part of which they can skim at pleasure, is (from an average of many observations) about 34.5 feet per second. The concavity of the wing may account for the greater resistance here received, than the experiments upon plain surfaces would indicate. I am convinced, that the angle made use of in the crow's wing is much more acute than six degrees; but in the observations, that will be grounded upon these data, I may safely state, that every foot of such curved surface, as will be used in aerial navigation, will receive a resistance of one pound, perpendicular to itself, when carried through the air in an angle of six degrees with the line of its path, at a velocity of about 34 or 35 feet per second.

Let a b, fig. 2, represent such a surface or sail made of thin cloth, and containing about 200 square feet (if of a square form the side will be a little more than 14 feet); and the whole of a firm texture. Let the weight of the man and the machine be 200 pounds. Then if a current of wind blew in the direction c d, with a velocity of 35 feet per second, at the same time that a cord represented by c d would sustain a tension of 21 pounds, the machine would be suspended in the air, or at least be within a few ounces of it (falling short of such support only in the ratio of the sine of the angle of 94 degrees compared with radius; to balance which defect, suppose a little ballast to be thrown out) for the line d e represents a force of 200 pounds, which, as before, being resolved into d f and f e, the former will represent the resistance in the direction of the current, and the latter that which sustains the weight of the machine. It is perfectly indifferent whether the wind blow against the plane, or the plane be driven with an equal velocity against the air. Hence, if this machine were pulled along by a cord c d, with a tension of about 21 pounds, at a velocity of 35 feet per second, it would be suspended in a horizontal path; and if in lieu of this cord any other propelling power were generated in this direction, with a like intensity, a similar effect would be produced. If therefore the waft of surfaces advantageously moved, by any force generated within the machine, took place to the extent required, aerial navigation would be accomplished. As the acuteness of the angle between the plane and current increases, the propelling power required is less and less. The principle is similar to that of the inclined plane, in which theoretically one pound may be made to sustain all but an infinite quantity; for in this case, if the magnitude of the surface be increased ad infinitum, the angle with the current may be diminished, and consequently the propelling force, in the same ratio. In practice, the extra resistance of the car and other parts of the machine, which consume a considerable portion of power, will regulate the limits to which this principle, which is the true basis of aerial navigation, can be carried; and the perfect ease with which some birds are suspended in long horizontal flights, without one waft of their wings, encourages the idea, that a slight power only is necessary.

As there are many other considerations relative to the practical introduction of this machine, which would occupy too much space for any one number of your valuable Journal, I propose, with your approbation, to furnish these in your subsequent numbers; taking this opportunity to observe, that perfect steadiness, safety, and steerage, I have long since accomplished upon a considerable scale of magnitude; and that I am engaged in making some farther experiments upon a machine I constructed last summer, large enough for aerial navigation, but which I have not had an opportunity to try the effect of, excepting as to its proper balance and security. It was very beautiful to see this noble white bird sail majestically from the top of a hill to any given point of the plane below it, according to the set of its rudder, merely by its own weight, descending in an angle of about 18 degrees with the horizon. The exertions of an individual, with other avocations, are extremely inadequate to the progress, which this valuable subject requires. Every man acquainted with experiments upon a large scale well knows how leisurely fact follows theory, if ever so well founded. I do therefore hope, that what I have said, and have still to offer, will induce others to give their attention to this subject; and that England may not be backward in rivaling the continent in a more worthy contest than that of arms.

As it may be an amusement to some of your readers to see a machine rise in the air by mechanical means, I will conclude my present communication by describing an instrument of this kind, which any one can construct at the expense of ten minutes labor. a and b, fig. 3, are two corks, into each of which are inserted four wing feathers from any bird, so as to be slightly inclined like the sails of a windmill, but in opposite directions in each set. A round shaft is fixed in the cork a, which ends in a sharp point. At the upper part of the cork b is fixed a whalebone bow, having a small pivot hole in its centre, to receive the point of the shaft. The bow is then to be strung equally on each side to the upper portion of the shaft, and the little machine is completed. Wind up the string by turning the flyers different ways, so that the spring of the bow may unwind them with their anterior edges ascending; then place the cork with the bow attached to it upon a table, and with a finger on the upper cork press strong enough to prevent the string from unwinding, and taking it away suddenly, the instrument will rise to the ceiling. This was the first experiment I made upon this subject in the year 1796. If in lieu of these small feathers large planes, containing together 200 square feet, were similarly placed, or in any other more convenient position, and were turned by a man, or first mover of adequate power, a similar effect would be the consequence, and for the mere purpose of ascent this is perhaps the best apparatus; but speed is the great object of this invention, and this requires a different structure.


P. S. In lieu of applying the continued action of the inclined plane by means of the rotative motion of flyers, the same principle may be made use of by the alternate motion of surfaces backward and forward; and although the scanty description hitherto published of Mr. Degen's apparatus will scarcely justify any conclusion upon the subject; yet as the principle above described must be the basis of every engine for aerial navigation by mechanical means, I conceive, that the method adopted by him has been nearly as follows. Let A and B, fig. 4, be two surfaces or parachutes, supported upon the long shafts C and D, which are fixed to the ends of the connecting beam E, by hinges. At E, let there be a convenient seat for the aeronaut, and before him a cross bar turning upon a pivot in its centre, which being connected with the shafts of the parachutes by the rods F and G, will enable him to work them alternately backward and forward, as represented by the dotted lines. If the upright shafts be elastic, or have a hinge to give way a little near their tops, the weight and resistance of the parachutes will incline them so, as to make a small angle with the direction of their motion, and hence the machine rises. A slight heeling of the parachutes toward one side, or an alteration in the position of the weight, may enable the aeronaut to steer such an apparatus tolerably well; but many better constructions may be formed, for combining the requisites of speed, convenience and steerage. It is a great point gained, when the first experiments demonstrate the practicability of an art; and Mr. Degen, by whatever means he has effected this purpose, deserves much credit for his ingenuity.

1Webmaster's note: Degen made a short "hop" off the ground with a pair of strapped-on wings. The published reports neglected to mention an important fact: Most of Degen's weight was supported by a balloon, so it is not surprising he was able to leave the ground. Fortunately this misleading report spurred Cayley to publish his thoughts on heavier-than-air flight. The British seem too reserved to publish their brilliant insights without some external prod.


Part 2

(From Nicholson's Journal, February, 1810.)


HAVING, in my former communication, described the general principle of support in aerial navigation, I shall proceed to show how this principle must be applied, so as to be steady and manageable.

Several persons have ventured to descend from balloons in what is termed a parachute, which exactly resembles a large umbrella, with a light car suspended by cords underneath it.

Mr. Garnerin's descent in one of these machines will be in the recollection of many; and I make the remark for the purpose of alluding to the continued oscillation, or want of steadiness, which is said to have endangered that bold aeronaut. It is, very remarkable, that the only machines of this sort, which have been constructed, are nearly of the worst possible form for producing a steady descent, the purpose for which they are intended. To render this subject more familiar, let us recollect, that in a boat, swimming upon water, its stability or stiffness depends, in general terms, upon the weight and distance from the centre of the section elevated above the water, by any given heel of the boat, on one side; and on the bulk, and its distance from the centre, which is immersed below the water, on the other side; the combined endeavor of the one to fall, and of the other to swim, produces the desired effect in a well-constructed boat. The centre of gravity of the boat being more or less below the centre of suspension is an additional cause of its stability.

Let us now examine the effect of a parachute represented by A B, Fig. I, Pl. III. When it has heeled into the position a b, the side a is become perpendicular to the current, created by the descent, and therefore resists with its greatest power; whereas the side b is become more oblique, and of course its resistance is much diminished. In the instance here represented, the angle of the parachute itself is 144, and it is supposed to heel 18, the comparative resistance of the side a to the side b, will be as the square of the line a , as radius, to the square of the sine of the angle of b with the current; which, being 54 degrees, gives the resistances nearly in the ratio of 1 to 0.67; and this will be reduced to only 0.544, when estimated in a direction perpendicular to the horizon. Hence, so far as this form of the sail or plane is regarded, it operates directly in opposition to the principle of stability; for the side that is required to fall resists much more in its new position, and that which is required to rise resists much less; therefore complete inversion would be the consequence, if it were not for the weight being suspended so very much below the surface, which, counteracting this tendency, converts the effort into a violent oscillation.

On the contrary, let the surface be applied in the inverted position, as represented at C D, Fig. 2, and suppose it to be heeled to the same angle as before, represented by the dotted lines c d. Here the exact reverse of the former instance takes place; for that side, which is required to rise, has gained resistance by its new position, and that which is required to sink has lost it; so that as much power operates to restore the equilibrium in this case, as tended to destroy it in the other: the operation very much resembling what takes place in the common boat.1

This angular form, with the apex downward, is the chief basis of stability in aerial navigation; but as the sheet which is to suspend the weight attached to it, in its horizontal path through the air, must present a slightly concave surface in a small angle with the current, this principle can only be used in the lateral extension of the sheet; and this most effectually prevents any rolling of the machine from side to side. Hence, the section of the inverted parachute, Fig. 2, may equally well represent the cross section of a sheet for aerial navigation.


The principle of stability in the direction of the path of the machine, must be derived from a different source. Let A B, Fig. 3, be a longitudinal section of a sail, and let C be its centre of resistance, which experiment shows to be considerably more forward than the centre of the sail. Let C D be drawn perpendicular to A B, and let the centre of gravity of the machine be at any point in that line, as at D. Then, if it be projected in a horizontal path with velocity enough to support the weight, the machine will retain its relative position, like a bird in the act of skimming; for, drawing C E perpendicular to the horizon, and D E parallel to it, the line C E will, at some particular moment, represent the supporting power, and likewise its opponent the weight; and the line D E will represent the retarding power, and its equivalent, that portion of the projectile force expended in overcoming it: hence, these various powers being exactly balanced, there is no tendency in the machine but to proceed in its path, with its remaining portion of projectile force.



The stability in this position, arising from the centre of gravity being below the point of suspension, is aided by a remarkable circumstance, that experiment alone could point out. In very acute angles with the current it appears, that the centre of resistance in the sail does not coincide with the centre of its surface, but is considerably in front of it. As the obliquity of the current decreases, these centers approach, and coincide when the current becomes perpendicular to the sail. Hence any heel of the machine backward or forward removes the centre of support behind or before the point of suspension; and operates to restore the original position, by a power, equal to the whole weight of the machine, acting upon a lever equal in length to the distance the centre has removed.

To render the machine perfectly steady, and likewise to enable it to ascend and descend in its path, it becomes necessary to add a rudder in a similar position to the tail in birds. Let F G be the section of such a surface, parallel to the current; and let it be capable of moving up and down upon G, as a centre, and of being fixed in any position. The powers of the machine being previously balanced, if the least pressure be exerted by the current, either upon the upper or under surface of the rudder, according to the will of the aeronaut, it will cause the machine to rise or fall in its path, so long as the projectile or propelling force is continued with sufficient energy. From a variety of experiments upon this subject I find, that, when the machine is going forward with a superabundant velocity, or that which would induce it to rise in its path, a very steady horizontal course is effected by a considerable depression of the rudder, which has the advantage of making use of this portion of sail in aiding the support of the weight. When the velocity is becoming less, as in the act of alighting, then the rudder must gradually recede from this position, and even become elevated, for the purpose of preventing the machine from sinking too much in front, owing to the combined effect of the want of projectile force sufficient to sustain the centre of gravity in its usual position, and of the centre of support approaching the centre of the sail.

The elevation and depression of the machine are not the only purposes, for which the rudder is designed. This appendage must be furnished with a vertical sail, and be capable of turning from side to side, in addition to its other movements, which effects the complete steerage of the vessel.

All these principles, upon which the support, steadiness, elevation, depression, and steerage, of vessels for aerial navigation, depend, have been abundantly verified by experiments both upon a small and a large scale. Last year I made a machine, having a surface of 300 square feet, which was accidentally broken before there was an opportunity of trying the effect of the propelling apparatus; but its steerage and steadiness were perfectly proved, and it would sail obliquely downward in any direction, according to the set of the rudder. Even in this state, when any person ran forward in it, with his full speed, taking advantage of a gentle breeze in front, it would bear upward so strongly as scarcely to allow him to touch the ground; and would frequently lift him up, and convey him several yards together.

The best mode of producing the propelling power is the only thing, that remains yet untried toward the completion of the invention. I am preparing to resume my experiments upon this subject, and state the following observations, in the hope that others may be induced to give their attention towards expediting the attainment of this art.

The act of flying is continually exhibited to our view; and the principles upon which it is effected are the same as those before stated. If an attentive observer examines the waft of a wing, he will perceive, that about one third part, toward the extreme point, is turned obliquely backward; this being the only portion, that has velocity enough to overtake the current, passing so rapidly beneath it, when in this unfavorable position. Hence this is the only portion that gives any propelling force .

To make this more intelligible, let A B, Fig. 4, be a section of this part of the wing. Let C D represent the velocity of the bird's path, or the current, and E D that of the wing in its waft: then C E will represent the magnitude and direction of the compound or actual current striking the under surface of the wing. Suppose E F, perpendicular to A B, to represent the whole pressure; E G being parallel to the horizon, will represent the propelling force; and G F, perpendicular to it, the supporting power. A bird is supported as effectually during the return as during the beat of its wing; this is chiefly effected by receiving the resistance of the current under that portion of the wing next the body where its receding motion is so slow as to be of scarcely any effect. The extreme portion of the wing, owing to its velocity, receives a pressure downward and obliquely forward, which forms a part of the propelling force; and at the same time, by forcing the hinder part of the middle portion of the wing downward, so increases its angle with the current, as to enable it still to receive nearly its usual pressure from beneath.

As the common rook has its surface and weight in the ratio of a square foot to a pound, it may be considered as a standard for calculations of this sort; and I shall therefore state, from the average of many careful observations, the movements of that bird. Its velocity, represented by C D, Fig. 4, is 34.5 feet per second. It moves its wing up and down once in flying over a space of 12.9 feet. Hence, as the centre of resistance of the extreme portion of the wing moves over a space of 0.75 of a foot each beat or return, its velocity is about 4 feet per second, represented by the line E D. As the wing certainly overtakes the current, it must be inclined from it in an angle something less than 7, for at this angle it would scarcely be able to keep parallel with it, unless the waft downward were performed with more velocity than the return; which may be and probably is the case, though these movements appear to be of equal duration. The propelling power, represented by E G, under these circumstances, cannot be equal to an eighth part of the supporting power G F, exerted upon this portion of the wing; yet this, together with the aid from the return of the wing, has to overcome all the retarding power of the surface, and the direct resistance occasioned by the bulk of the body.

It has been before suggested, and I believe upon good grounds, that very acute angles vary little in the degree of resistance they make under a similar velocity of current. Hence it is probable, that this propelling part of the wing receives little more than its common proportion of resistance, during the waft downward. If it be taken at one-third of the whole surface, and one-eighth of this be allowed as the propelling power, it will only amount to one twenty-fourth of the weight of the bird; and even this is exerted only half the duration of the flight. The power gained in the return of the wing must be added, to render this statement correct, and it is difficult to estimate this; yet the following statement proves, that a greater degree of propelling force is obtained, upon the whole, than the foregoing observations will justify. Suppose the largest circle that can be described in the breast of a crow, to be 12 inches in area. Such a surface, moving at the velocity of 34.5 feet per second, would meet a resistance of 0.216 of a pound, which, reduced by the proportion of the resistance of a sphere to its great circle (given by Mr. Robins as 1 to 2.27) leaves a resistance of 0.095 of a pound, had the breast been hemispherical. It is probable however, that the curve made use of by Nature to avoid resistance, being so exquisitely adapted to its purpose, will reduce this quantity to one half less than the resistance of the sphere, which would ultimately leave 0.0475 of a pound as somewhat approaching the true resistance. Unless therefore the return of the wing gives a greater degree of propelling force than the beat, which is improbable, no such resistance of the body could be sustained. Hence, though the eye cannot perceive any distinction between the velocities of the beat and return of the wing, it probably exists, and experiment alone can determine the proper ratios between them.

From these observations we may, however, be justified in the remark -- that the act of flying, when properly adjusted by the Supreme Author of every power, requires less exertions than, from the appearance, is supposed.

1 A very simple experiment will show the truth of this theory. Take a circular piece of writing paper, and folding up a small portion, in the line of two radii, it will be formed into an obtuse cone. Place a small weight in the apex, and letting it fall from any height, it will steadily preserve that position to the ground. Invert it, and, if the weight be fixed, like the life boat, it rights itself instantly.


(From Nicholson's Journal, March, 1810.)
BROMPTON, Dec. 6, 1809.

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 in vessels for aerial navigation: yet, when we consider the many hundred 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 1/10-th of a pound upon each square foot, it must exceed the velocity of the current 7.5 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 40' 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 pound pressure per square foot at this velocity, probably a waft of little more than 4 feet per second would produce this effect; one tenth part of which would be the propelling power. The advantage in favor of this mode of application, compared with the former, is rather more than ten to one.

In combining the general principles of aerial navigation for the practice of the art many mechanical difficulties present themselves, which require a considerable course of skillfully 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.

The first impediment I shall take notice of is the great proportion of power, that must be exerted previous to the machine's acquiring that velocity, which gives support upon the principle of the inclined plane; together with the total want of all support during the return of any surface used like a wing. Many birds, and particularly water fowl, run and flap their wings for several yards before they can gain support from the air. The swift (hirundo apus Lin.) is not able to elevate itself from level ground. The inconvenience under consideration arises from very different causes in these two instances. The supporting surface of most swimming birds does not exceed the ratio of 4/10-ths of a square foot to every pound of their weight: the swift, though it scarcely weighs an ounce, measures eighteen inches in extent of wing. The want of surface in the one case, and the inconvenient length of wing in the other, oblige these birds to aid the commencement of their flight by other expedients; yet they can both fly with great power, when they have acquired their full velocity.

A second difficulty in aerial navigation arises from the great extent of lever, which is constantly operating against the first mover, in consequence of-the distance of the centre of support in large surfaces, if applied in the manner of wings.

A third and general obstacle is the mechanical skill required to unite great extension of surface with strength and lightness of structure; at the same time having a firm and steady movement in its working parts, without exposing unnecessary obstacles to the resistance of the air. The first of these obstacles, that have been enumerated, operates much more powerfully against aerial navigation upon a large scale, than against birds; because the small extent of their wings obliges them to employ a very rapid succession of strokes, in order to acquire that velocity which will give support; and during the small interval of the return of the wing, their weight is still rising, as in a leap, by the impulse of one stroke, till it is again aided by another. The large surfaces that aerial navigation will probably require, though necessarily moved with the same velocity, will have a proportionally longer duration both of the beat and return of the wing; and hence a greater descent will take place during the latter action, than can be overcome by the former.

There appears to be several ways of obviating this difficulty. There may be two surfaces, each capable of sustaining the weight, and placed one above the other, having such a construction as to work up and down in opposition when they are moved, so that one is always ready to descend, the moment the other ceases. These surfaces may be so made, by a valve like structure, as to give no opposition in rising up, and only to resist in descent.

The action may be considered either oblique, as in rotative flyers; alternately so, without any up and down waft, as in the engine I have ascribed to Mr. Degen; by means of a number of small wings in lieu of large ones, upon the principle of the flight of birds, with small intervals of time between each waft; and lastly by making use of light wheels to preserve the propelling power both of the beat and the return of the wings, till it accumulates sufficiently to elevate the machine, upon the principle of those birds which run themselves up. This action might be aided by making choice of a descending ground like the swift.

With regard to another part of the first obstacle I have mentioned, viz. the absolute quantity of power demanded being so much greater at first than when the full velocity has been acquired; it may be observed, that, in the case of human muscular strength being made use of, a man can exert, for a few seconds, a surprising degree of force. He can run up stairs, for instance, with a velocity of from 6 to 8 feet perpendicular height per second, without any dangerous effort; here the muscles of his legs only are in action; but, for the sake of making a moderate statement, suppose that with the activity of his arms and body, in addition to that of his legs, he is equal to raising his weight 8 feet per second; if in this case he weighs 11 stone, or 154 pounds, he will be exerting, for the time, an energy equal to more than the ordinary force of two of Messrs. Boulton and Watt's steam horses; and certainly more than twelve men can bestow upon their constant labor.

If expansive first movers be made use of, they may be so constructed, as to be capable of doing more than their constant work; or their power may be made to accumulate for a few moments by the formation of a vacuum, or the condensation of air, so that these expedients may restore at one time, in addition to the working of the engine, that which they had previously absorbed from it.

With regard to the second obstacle in the way of aerial navigation, viz. the length of leverage to which large wing like surfaces are exposed, it may be observed, that, being a constant and invariable quality, arising from the degree of support such surfaces give, estimated at their centers of resistance, it may be balanced by any elastic agent, that is so placed as to oppose it. Let A and B, Pl. IV, fig. 1, be two wings of an aerial vehicle in the act of skimming; then half the weight of the vessel is supported from the centre of resistance of each wing; as represented by the arrows under them. If the shorter ends of these levers be connected by cords to the string of a bow C, of sufficient power to balance the weight of the machine at the points A and B, then the moving power will be left at full liberty to produce the waft necessary to bend up the hinder edge of the wing, and gain the propelling power. A bow is not in fact an equable spring, but may be made so by using a spiral fusee. I have made use of it in this place merely as the most simple mode of stating the principle I wished to exhibit. Should a counterbalancing spring of this kind be adopted in the practice of aerial navigation, a small well polished cylinder, furnished with what may be termed a bag piston (upon the principle made use of by nature in preventing the return of the blood to the heart, when it has been driven into the aorta, by the intervention of the semilunar valves) would, by a vacuum being excited each stroke of the wing, produce the desired effect, with scarcely any loss by friction.1 These elastic agents may likewise be useful in gradually stopping the momentum of large surfaces when used in any alternate motion, and in thus restoring it during their return.

Another principle, that may be applied to obviate this leverage of a wing, is that of using such a construction as will make the supporting power of the air counterbalance itself. It has been before observed, that only about one third of the wing in birds is applied in producing the propelling power; the remainder, not having velocity sufficient for this purpose, is employed in giving support, both in the beat and return of the wing.

Let A and B, fig. 2, be two wings continued beyond the pole or hinge upon which they turn at C. If the extreme parts at A and B be long and narrow, they may be balanced, when in the act of skimming, by a broad extension of less length on their opposite sides; this broad extension, like the lower part of the wing, will always give nearly the same support, and the propelling part of the surface will be at liberty to act unencumbered by the leverage of its supporting power. This plan may be modified many different ways; but my intention, as in the former case, is still the principle in its simplest form.

A third principle upon which the leverage of a surface may be prevented is by giving it a motion parallel to itself, either directly up and down, or obliquely so. The surface A I, fig. 3, may be moved perpendicularly, by the shaft which supports it, down to the position K C: or, if it be supported upon two shafts with hinges at D and E, it may be moved obliquely parallel to itself into the position B L.




A fourth principle upon which the leverage may be greatly avoided, where only one hinge is used, is by placing it considerably below the plane of the wing, as at the point D, fig. 3, in respect to the surface A. It may be observed in the heron, which is a weak bird with an extended surface, that its wings curve downward considerably from the hinge to the tip; hence the extreme portion, which receives the chief part of the stroke, is applied obliquely to the current it creates; and thus evades in a similar degree the leverage of that portion of the supporting power, which is connected with the propelling power. These birds seldom carry their waft much below the level of the hinge of the wing, where this principle, so far as respects the supporting power, would vanish.

By making use of two shafts of unequal length, the two last mentioned principles may be blended to any required extent. Suppose one hinge to be at F, and the other at G, fig. 3, then the surface, at the extent of its beat, would be in the position of the line H M. If the surface A 1, fig. 3, be supported only upon one shaft, N E, be capable of being forced in some degree from its rectangular position in respect to the shaft, and be concave instead of flat as here represented; then the waft may be used alternately backward and forward, according to the principles of the machine I have ascribed to Mr. Degen. This construction combines the principles of counterpoising the supporting power of one part of the surface, by that of an opposite part, when the machine is in the act of skimming; and likewise the advantages of the low hinge, with the principle of leaving little or no interval without support.

All that has hitherto appeared respecting Mr. Degen's apparatus is, that it consisted of two surfaces, which were worked by a person sitting between them. This statement communicates no real information upon the subject; for scarcely any one would attempt to fly without two wings; without these being equally poised by placing the weight between them; and also, without these surfaces being capable of receiving motion from his muscular action. I may be altogether mistaken in my conjecture; my only reason for ascribing this structure of mine to Mr. Degen's machine is, that, if it were properly executed upon this principle, it would be attended with success. The drawing, or rather diagram, which is given of this machine in the first part of my essay, is only for the purpose of exhibiting the principle in a form capable of being understood. The necessary bracings, etc., required in the actual execution of such a plan, would have obscured the simple nature of its action; and were therefore omitted. The plan of its movement is also simply to exhibit, in a tangible form, the possibility of effecting the intended alternate motion of the parachutes. The seat is fronted lengthwise for the purpose of accommodating the mode of communicating the movement.

A fifth mode of avoiding leverage is by using the continued action of oblique horizontal flyers, or an alternate action of the same kind, with surfaces so constructed as to accommodate their position to such alternate motion; the hinge or joint being in these cases vertical. In the construction of large vessels for aerial navigation, a considerable portion of fixed sail will probably be used; and no more surface will be allotted, towards gaining the propelling power, than what is barely necessary, with the extreme temporary exertion of the first mover, to elevate the machine and commence the flight. In this case the leverage of the fixed surface is done away.

The general difficulties of structure in aerial vehicles, (arising from the extension, lightness, and strength required in them; together with great firmness in the working parts, and at the same time such an arrangement as exposes no unnecessary obstacles to the current,) I cannot better explain than by describing a wing, which has been constructed with a view to overcome them.

Fig. 4 represents the shape of the cloth, with a perspective view of the poles upon which it is stretched with perfect tightness. Upon the point where the rods A and B intersect is erected an oval shaft; embracing the two cross poles by a slender iron fork; for the purpose of preserving their strength uninjured by boring. To this shaft are braced the ends of the pole B, so as to give this pole any required degree of curvature. The pole A is strung like a common bow to the same curve as the pole B; and is only connected with the upright shaft by what may be called a check brace; which will allow the hinder end of this pole to heel back to a certain extent, but not the fore end. The short brace producing this effect is shown in fig. 4. Fig. 5 exhibits the fellow wing to that represented in fig. 4, erected upon a beam, to which it is so braced, as to convert the whole length of it into a hinge. The four braces coming from the ends of this beam are shown: two of them terminate near the top of the centre of the other shaft; the others are inserted into the point C, fig. 4, of the bending rod. A slight bow, not more than three eighths of an inch thick, properly curved by its string, and inserted between the hinder end of the pole A, and the curved pole C, completes the wing.

This fabric contained 54 square feet, and weighed only eleven pounds. Although both these wings together did not compose more than half the surface necessary for the support of a man in the air, yet during their waft they lifted the weight of nine stone. The hinder edge, as is evident from the construction, being capable of giving way to the resistance of the air, any degree of obliquity, for the purpose of a propelling power, may be used.

I am the more particular in describing this wing, because it exemplifies almost all the principles that can be resorted to in the construction of surfaces for aerial navigation. Diagonal bracing is the great principle for producing strength without accumulating weight; and, if performed by thin wires, looped at their ends, so as to receive several laps of cordage, produces but a trifling resistance in the air, and keeps tight in all weathers. When bracings are well applied, they make the poles, to which are attached, bear endwise. The hollow form of the quill in birds is a very admirable structure for lightness combined with strength, where external bracings cannot be had; a tube being the best application of matter to resist as a lever; but the principle of bracing is so effectual, that, if properly applied, it will abundantly make up for the clumsiness of human invention in other respects; and should we combine both these principles, and give diagonal bracing to the tubular bamboo cane, surfaces might be constructed with a greater degree of strength and lightness, than any made use of in the wings of birds.

The surface of a heron's wing is in the ratio of 7 square feet to a pound. Hence, according to this proportion, a wing of 54 square feet would weigh about 7 3/4 pounds: on the contrary the wings of water fowl are so much heavier, that a surface of 54 square feet, according to their structure, will weigh 18 1/2 lb. I have in these instances quoted nearly the extreme cases among British birds; the wing I have described may therefore be considered as nearly of the same weight in proportion to its bulk as that of most birds.

Another principle exhibited in this wing is that of the poles being couched within the cloth, so as to avoid resistance. This is accomplished by the convexity of the frame, and the excessive lightness of the cloth. The poles are not allowed to form the edge of the wing, excepting at the extreme point of the bow, where it is very thin, and also oblique to the current. The thick part of this pole is purposely conveyed considerably within the edge. In birds, a membrane covered with feathers is stretched before the thick part of the bone of the wing, in a similar manner, and for the same purpose. The edge of the surface is thus reduced to the thickness of a small cord, that is sown to the cloth, and gives out loops whenever any fastening is required. The upright shaft is the only part that opposes much direct resistance to the current, and this is obviated in a great degree by a flat oval shape, having its longest axis parallel to the current.

The joint or hinge of this wing acts with great firmness, in consequence of its being supported by bracings to the line of its axis, and at a considerable distance from each other; n fact the bracings form the hinge.

The means of communicating motion to any surfaces must vary so much, according to the general structure of the whole machine, that I shall only observe at present, that where human muscular action is employed, the movement should be similar to the mode of pulling oars; from which any other required motion may be derived; the footboard in front enables a man to exert his full force in this position. The wings I have described were wafted in this manner; and when they lifted with a power of g stone, not half of the blow, which a man's strength could have given, was exerted, in consequence of the velocity required being greater than convenient under the circumstances. Had these wings been intended for elevating the person who worked them, they should have contained from 100 to 150 square feet each; but they were constructed for the purpose of an experiment relative to the propelling power only.

Avoiding direct resistance is the next general principle, that it is necessary to discuss. Let it be remembered as a maxim in the art of aerial navigation, that every pound of direct resistance, that is done away, will support 30 pounds of additional weight without any additional power. The figure of a man seems but ill calculated to pass with ease through the air, yet I hope to prove him to the full as well made in this respect as the crow, which has hitherto been our standard of comparison, paradoxical as it may appear.

The principle, that surfaces of similar bodies increase only as the squares of their homologous lines, while their weights, or rather solid contents, increase as the cubes of those lines, furnishes the solution. This principle is unanimously in favor of large bodies. The largest circle that can be described in a crow's breast is about 12 square inches in area. If a man exposes a direct bulk of 6 square feet, the ratio of their surfaces will be as 1 to 72; but the ratio of their weight is as I to 110; which is 1 1/2 to 1 in favour of the man, provided he were within a case as well constructed for evading resistance, as the body of the crow; but even supposing him to be exposed in his natural cylindrical shape, in the foreshortened posture of sitting to work his oars, he will probably receive less resistance than the crow.

It is of great importance to this art, to ascertain the real solid of least resistance, when the length or breadth is limited. Sir Isaac Newton's beautiful theorem upon this subject is of no practical use, as it supposes each particle of the fluid, after having struck the solid, to have free egress; making the angles of incidence and reflection equal; particles of light seem to possess this power, and the theory will be true in that case; but in air the action is more like an accumulation of particles, rushing up against each other, in consequence of those in contact with the body being retarded. The importance of this subject is not less than the difficulties it presents; it affects the present interests of society in its relation to the time occupied in the voyages of ships; it will have still more effect when aerial navigation, now in its cradle, is brought home to the uses of man. I shall state a few crude hints upon this point, to which my subject has so unavoidably led, and on which I am so much interested, and shall be glad if in so doing I may excite the attention of those, who are competent to an undertaking greatly beyond my grasp.

Perhaps some approach toward ascertaining the actual solid of least resistance may be derived from treating the subject in a manner something similar to the following. Admit that such a solid is already attained (the length and width being necessarily taken at pleasure). Conceive the current intercepted or disturbed, by the largest circle that can be drawn within the given spindle, to be divided into concentric tubular laminae of equal thickness. At whatever distance from this great circle the apex of the spindle commences, on all sides of this point the central lamina will be reflected in diverging pencils, (or rather an expanding ring,) making their angles of incidence and reflection equal. After this reflection they rush against the second lamina and displace it: this second lamina contains three times more fluid than the first; consequently each pencil in the first meets three pencils in the second; and their direction, after the union, will be one fourth of the angle, with respect to the axis, which the first reflection created. In this direction these two laminae proceed till they are themselves reflected, when they (considered as one lamina of larger dimensions) rush against the third and fourth, which together contain three times the fluid in the two former laminae, and thus reduce the direction of the combined mass to one fourth of the angle between the axis and the line of the second reflection. This process is constant, whatever be the angles formed between the surface of the actual solid of least resistance at these points of reflection, and the directions of the currents thus reflected.

From this mode of reasoning, which must in some degree resemble what takes place, and which I only propose as a resemblance, it appears, that the fluid keeps creeping along the curved surface of such a solid, meeting it in very acute angles. Hence, as the experiments of the French Academy show, that the difference of resistance between the direct impulse, and that in an angle of six degrees, on the same surface, is only in the ratio of 10 to 4, it is probable, that in the slight difference of angles that occur in this instance, the resistances may be taken as equal upon every part, without any material deviation from truth. If this reasoning be correct, it will reduce the question, so far as utility is concerned, within a strictly abstract mathematical inquiry.

It has been found by experiment, that the shape of the hinder part of the spindle is of as much importance as that of the front, in diminishing resistance. This arises from the partial vacuity created behind the obstructing body. If there be no solid to fill up this space, a deficiency of hydrostatic pressure exists g within it, and is transferred to the spindle. This is seen distinctly near the rudder of a ship in full sail, where the water is much below the level of the surrounding sea. The cause here, being more evident, and uniform in its nature, may probably be obviated with better success; in as much as this portion of the spindle may not differ essentially from the simple cone. I fear however, that the whole of this subject is of so dark a nature, as to be more usefully investigated by experiment, than by reasoning; and in the absence of any conclusive evidence from either, the only way that presents itself is to copy nature; accordingly I shall instance the spindles of the trout and woodcock, which, lest the engravings should, in addition to the others, occupy too much valuable space in your Journal, must be reserved to a future opportunity.

1 I have made use of several of these pistons, and have no scruple in asserting, that for all blowing engines, where friction is an evil, and being very nearly airtight is sufficient, there is no other piston at all comparable with them. The most irregular cylinder, with a piston of this kind, will act with surprising effect. To give an instance, a cylinder of sheet tin, 8 inches long and 3 1/2 in diameter, required 4 pounds to force the piston down in 15 minutes; and in other trials became perfectly tight in some positions, and would proceed no farther. The friction, when the cylinder was open at both ends, did not exceed 1/2 an ounce.



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