Flight before Wright

While Rebel and Union soldiers still fought it out with bayonets and cannons, a Confederate designer had the foresight to imagine flying machines attacking Northern armies. He couldn’t implement his vision during the war, and the plans disappeared into history, until resurfacing at a rare book dealer’s shop 150 years later.

Now those rediscovered designs have found their way to the auction block, providing a glimpse at how Victorian-era technolgy could have beaten the Wright Brothers to the punch.

The papers of Dr. R. Finley Hunt, a dentist with a passion for flight, describe scenarios where flying machines bombed Federal troops across Civil War battlefields. Hunt’s papers went up for sale at the Artifacts auction during the week of Sept. 15-22, 2011, and gave one lucky collector a piece of an alternate technological history that never came to pass.

“It’s incredible for someone who loves early aviation, because it poses the great question of ‘What if?'” said Bobby Livingston, vice president of sales and marketing with RR Auction. “What if planes had appeared above the wilderness when (Union Gen. Ulysses S.) Grant began his campaign in the Shenandoah Valley?”

The hardback collection includes pencil drawings of wings, propellers and a multicylinder steam engine. Hunt’s design drew inspiration from his love of studying any and all flying methods found in nature, despite his own lack of professional expertise.

But Hunt found it difficult to find an engineer willing to build the device, despite getting the help of Confederate President Jefferson Davis to have the proposal considered. Letters between Hunt and a Confederate review board show that other engineers had strong doubts about the “steam flying machine”.

First, the engineers said Hunt had dramatically overestimated the engine’s power and ability to keep the machine flying. They also described another error in Hunt’s reasoning as being “so obvious on reflection that no discussion is required.”

“When they turned him down, it was over the science of it,” Livingston told InnovationNewsDaily. “But they considered it, and considered it a lot.”

Hunt refused to take no for an answer. The papers include another letter to Davis, wherein Hunt tries to defend his flying theories and asks for assistance from a machinist. In the end, the Confederates decided against spending money to fund the project.

Still, the Confederates did deploy several other innovative war machines. Their ironclad steamship, the CSS Virginia, fought against the USS Monitor in the world’s first duel between ironclads. A Confederate submarine called the H.L. Hunley also made its mark in history as the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship.

Both the Union and Confederate sides also flew manned balloons to scout different battlefields.

As for Hunt, he went to Washington, D.C., and got patent a on his device after the Civil War ended in 1865. He also built several working models and was still attempting to get financing in 1872. Yet he never saw his vision take flight.

“It looks to me like he’s 40 years before the Wright brothers with a rotary engine driving propellers, but I don’t know how close he was,” Livingston said. “He never got the money to do it.”

Attribution: Air & Space, InnovationNewsDaily

Joke of the Day

A plane was taking off from Kennedy Airport. After it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Flight Number 293, non-stop from New York to Los Angeles. The weather ahead is good and, therefore, we should have a smooth and uneventful flight. Now sit back and relax – OH, MY G-D!”

Silence followed, and after a few minutes the captain came back on the intercom and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier, but while I was talking, the flight attendant brought me a cup of coffee and spilled the hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!”

A passenger in Coach said, “That’s nothing. He should see the back of mine!”

Miracle Find

He was hundreds of miles from civilization, lost in the burning heat of the desert.

Second World War Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping took what little he could from the RAF Kittyhawk he had just crash-landed, then wandered into the emptiness.

From that day in June 1942 the mystery of what happened to the dentist’s son from Southend was lost, in every sense, in the sands of time.

But 70 years later, the ghostly remains of his battered but almost perfectly preserved plane has been discovered.

Like a time capsule that could provide the key to his disappearance, it has laid intact alongside a makeshift shelter Dennis appears to have made as he waited, hopelessly, for rescue.

Now a search is to begin for the airman’s remains – as aviation experts and historians begin an operation to recover and display the P-40 aircraft in his memory.

The chance find was made by an oil worker exploring a remote region of the Western Desert in Egypt. It is more than 200 miles from the nearest town in a vast expanse of largely featureless terrain.

Flight Sergeant Copping, part of a fighter unit based in Egypt during the North Africa campaign against Rommel, is believed to have lost his bearings while flying the damaged Kittyhawk to another airbase for repair. All that is known is that he went off course and was never seen again.

Remarkably, the plane remained almost untouched for the next seven decades – right down to the guns and ammunition found with it. Most of the cockpit instruments are intact, and the twisted propeller lies a few feet from the fuselage.

Crucially, the P-40’s identification plates are untouched – allowing researchers to track its provenance and service history.

There is flak damage in the fuselage, which is consistent with documents on the aircraft. Historian Andy Saunders said: ‘It is a quite incredible time capsule. It’s the aviation equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb. This plane has been lying in the same spot where it crashed 70 years ago. It hasn’t been hidden in the sand, it has just sat there.’

‘He must have survived the crash because one photo shows a parachute around the frame of the plane and my guess is the poor bloke used it to shelter from the sun. The radio and batteries were out of the plane and it looks like he tried to get it working.’

‘If he died at the side of the plane his remains would have been found. Once he had crashed there, nobody was going to come and get him. It is more likely he tried to walk out of the desert but ended up walking to his death. It is too hideous to contemplate.’

The RAF Museum in Hendon, North London, has been made aware of the find and plans are already under way to recover it before anyone tries to strip it for scrap or souvenirs. Efforts have also been made to trace any immediate members of Flight Sergeant Copping’s family in the UK, but it is believed that there are none.

Captain Paul Collins, British defense attaché to Egypt, confirmed a search would be mounted for the airman’s remains but admitted it was ‘extremely unlikely’ it would be successful. The spot could be marked as a war grave after the aircraft is recovered.

Captain Collins added: ‘The scene is close to a smuggling line from Sudan and Libya.

‘We will need to go there with the Egyptian army because it is a dangerous area.’

Ian Thirsk, of the RAF Museum, confirmed staff are working with the MoD to recover the plane.

The P-40 was a US-made fighter and ground attack aircraft. It was outclassed by later German fighters and saw little combat in Europe but performed a key role in North Africa and Asia where high-altitude performance was less critical. Around 20 are still airworthy.

Attribution: Mail Online

Joke du Jour

A businessman boarded a flight and was lucky enough to be seated next to an absolutely gorgeous woman.

 They exchange brief hellos and he noticed she is reading a manual about sexual statistics. He asks her about it and she replied, “This is a very interesting book about sexual statistics.

Intrigued, the businessman asked her to cite a few examples.

The woman says that the book identifies that American Indians are the most passionate lovers and Polish men have the most stamina in bed. “By the way, my name is Jill. What’s yours?”

The businessman said, “Tonto Kowalski, nice to meet you.”

Joke du Jour

So bad it’s funny!

A frog walks into a bank. He goes to the only open teller, and sees that her name is Paddy Whack. “Hey, listen” says the frog. “I really need a loan! I’m out of work, and my wife and tadpoles are at home starving! I need money so I can feed them and provide for them!”

Now Paddy feels very sorry for the poor frog and asks him if he has any collateral. He holds up a small glass elephant.

Paddy is a little surprised by this, and quite unsure, but she feels so sorry for the the poor frog that she takes the elephant to her manager.

“Mr. Manager, sir,” Paddy begins “there is a frog out there who deperately needs a loan. He’s out of work and he has a wife and tadpoles who are at home starving. He needs some money so he can provide for them! But all he has for collateral is this little glass elephant. What should I do?”

Well, Mr. Manager takes a good hard look at that elephant, thinks about it a little, and then replies, “It’s a knick-knack, Paddy Whack, give the frog a loan!”

Joke of the Day

A young man at this construction site was bragging that he could outdo anyone based on his strength. He especially made fun of one of the older workman. After several minutes, the older worker had enough. 

“Why don’t you put your money where you mouth is?” he said. “I’ll bet a week’s wages that I can haul something in a wheelbarrow over to the other building that you won’t be able to wheel back.” 

“You’re on, old man,” the young man replied. “Let’s see what you’ve got.” 

The old man reached out and grabbed the wheelbarrow by the handles.

Then nodding to the young man, he said with a smile, “All right. Get in.”