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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
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This lovely image of the possibilities of future aerial flight was made by the celebrated caricaturist and illustrator George Cruikshank, and was printed in 1836. The aircraft at top is a massive affair (the selling of the "beautiful Castle in St. Cloud") offered great possibilities along with "no ground rent". It is absolutely a castle int he sky, literally and figuratively, and must've seemed to be something of a possibility to Cruikshank in the fifth decade following the first balloon ascension. Of course he was having a turn at aviation, but I think he also saw the bits of the feasible within his hopeful caricatures.

Aviation of the future[Source: E. Seton Valentine, Travels in Space, a History of Aerial Navigation, 1902. Here.]
Details below:Aviation of the future--house in sky

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1926

From the looks of it, this image from an 8 April 1933 issue of the Illustrated London News is not quite a "verbal bomb" as we might think of such a thing today. The cutaway drawing (by the sensational G.H. Davies, who produced hundreds of these images for the magazine over four decades)shows an acoustic device housed in a Vickers Victoria aircraft. As described in the descriptive text to the image, Sir Philip Sassoon ("speaking in the House of Commons on the Air Estimates last month") mentioned in May 1933 an attempt to induce forces hostile to the U.K. in Northern Kurdistan by flying over rebel strongholds and threatening an air attack if no surrender was forthcoming.

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Evidently a translator would address the town at 2-4,000' elevation through an audio system that amplified the voice"1,600,000 times". An address was made to the leaders of the tribesmnen to surrender their position, else an air attack would occur after three days. Even though described in the title of the image as a "verbal bomb", it isn't anything like the directed energy/sonic/acoustic/infrasonics/pulse weapon performance degraders that are currently available. What was happening here was simply (or not so) an attempt to get an enemy to relieve their position via tangible threat, sort of an acoustic leaflet bombing prior to the real thing. Of course this was backed up by actual bombing, which was still a relatively new weapon for armies–several nations which possessed this newish facility of war practiced bombing civilian/military targets alike in extra-territorial possessions. (There was a hot debate over what constituted fair use of aerial bombs beginning in earnest in the 1920's, but much of that soon devolved into debates on what constituted "civilian populations", and there the definitions were wide and sloppy.) In any event, the loudspeakers did not emit high-powered sound that would disturb/puncture eardrums or cause dizziness or problems with eyesight by making the eyeballs vibrate–they were just loud conveyers of Bad Things to Come.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1901

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I've selected a few representatives of design for the covers of pamphlets and books published in the field of rocket development and space flight published in Germany in the 1920's and 1930's (with one from the 1951). They have a certain expectant sameness them, and, as leading publications in their field, have a remarkable similarity in their (black and white) design. The combined efforts of these works wound up in the engineering labs of Peenemuende and then int he V-1 and V-2 rockets that pulverized the United Kingdom during WWII. Later this same expertise, and some of the same engineers, "wound up" in the United States developing the American space program. The most famous of these Paperclipped scientists was Wernher von Braun, whose name is so intimately connected with the Vengeance Weapons as well as the Apollo space program. It is interesting to note that for many years if twas impossible to find von Braun's name on any exhibition description in the Air and Space Museum in D.C.–it just wasn't there, so far as I could tell, on no displays, even though I went looking for it pretty closely. On the 30th anniversary of the Moon landing, I went to von Braun's grave to see if it had been remembered in any way–there wasn't anything there, just his simple small slab, next-door to and within eyesight of a Jewish cemetery.

Rudolf Nebel (1894-1978), very early member of the Raketenflugplatz, assistant to Hermann Oberth and very nearly the first to successfully conduct an experiment with a liquid-fueled rocket, beaten to the finish line by a man whose work he was not familiar with, Robert Goddard. He defined right-wing in the Weimar era, and was part of a paramilitary organization called Stralheim; Wernher von Braun seems to have succeeded in the avenue that Nebel tried to travel along. Nebel published this work in 1932, a year before the Nazi party came into power, and before his crotchety problems with teh SA began.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1867

Montague B. Black (b. 1884), an artist and illustrator, pulled the curtain back from the future back there in 1926 to what he thoiught might be the following scene of London in 2026:

A detail reveals an interesting airship:

London 2026 detail
The airship (of an undetermined power source) has an ad on the side of it reading "Overland Line, London-Sydney"–and by "overland" the artist is not thinking of the old-time "overland" as in prairie schooners and such, but quite literally "over the land". We can also see an ad on the side of a building for an "Underground to Scotland, Glasgow 2hrs 45 mins". There are also named buildings such as the London Bridge Air Depot and the Airtaxi Ltd. The skyscrapers really aren't all that enormous–I see one or two perhaps in the background that might be a hundred stories or so, but the buildings in the foreground are definitely of modest expectation.

There are however dozens of flying machines in the sky, though with the exception of the three large airships, a hundred years has not paid too many benefits to the other aircraft.

Black did create an interesting poster for the White Star line, featuring a certain famous luxury liner–of course the man was just like anyone else, and could not see into the future for the Titanic, nor could he imagine slightly accelerated designs for aircraft. He did manage to portray a transportation system that would be heavily dependent on air travel. That said, he left plenty of room for speculation on the future of the Underground, as we can see in all of this future-glory that no matter the amount of accomplishments in the sky, trains would still be running underground. Black got those two things right, at least.

London titanic

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

I simply love infographics like this especially big skies filled with airplanes. I've written about other similar descriptions of sky-filled aircraft here.

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In October 1942 the war was shifting to the way of the Allies–the United States had come into the fight ten months earlier, Operation Barbarossa (begun in June 1941) was at this time being recognized as a complete failure (though the operation would continue on for two more years, costing 5 million German army lives, 20 million Soviet civilian lives, and 9 million Soviet army lives and more when all was said and done), and American military production was very well underway and unbeatable, and so on. The Battle of the Atlantic however was still very much underway, with action returned their, again, during the summer and autumn of 1942.

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One way of defeating the U-Boot was to not sail the Atlantic much at all, and flying troops and supplies above it. As we can see in this compelling graphic from The Illustrated London News of 17 October 1942, the editors of that magazine made a case for the Mars flying boat. It was a theoretical case, as the 5,000 Mars planes depicted in the graphic never materialized–actually, it seems as though only seven were made.

But the case looked very compelling.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1861

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The October 1945 issue of Popular Mechanics carried a story “Atomic Bomb for War / Atomic Bomb for Peace” as a reminder, I guess, to its readers that the vast destructive power of the atomic bomb was just one example of what nuclear power might be–and that there could be incredible and wide-reaching benefits of the process for peaceful uses. This work came about eight weeks after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and seems to be only the second post-use story on the weapon.

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Half of the article’s illustration is dedicated to military applications of atomic energy, and the other to the peaceful; and in the upper-middle of the military side we are told that if necessary that every city in Japan could be completely destroyed with “5,000 atomic bombs”. The truth of the matter is that a great percentage of the major (and minor-major and major-minor) cities had already been pretty much decommissioned. (Just weeks before the bomb came the massive firebombing of Tokyo–334 of General Curtis LeMay B-29′s were loaded to utmost capacity with the newly-conceived M-69s bomb, an incendiary so vicious that the fires it produced were all but inextinguishable. The B29′s bombed Tokyo for hours, killing 100,000+ people and making over a million homeless.) And so I’m not sure what the message was, here, except to establish that the complete destruction of a city with weapons dropped from planes was now a possibility. It was probably right at about this point that this idea became a real possibility–and so to for its extension, that given enough of these weapons, that the entire world could be bombed out of existence.

JF Ptak Science Books Daily Dose of Dr. Odd 2

In today's quick dose from Dr. Odd we find the "United Air Line" (so close to the name that actually came into being), ca. 1900, featuring an enormous and extraordinarily heavily-bodied airship of a construction of pure speculation. It is gigantic and weighty, and it seems as though the thing is powered by pulsating awning-like wings and a series of covered propellers, all under what seems to be sail.

The crowds bustling beneath the behemoth seem as any other crowd waiting for the subway, or third class, or, well, whatever sort of mass transport would await and was taken for granted. There are no bands, no fireworks, no fanfare, just the arrival/departure of yet another airship leaving for London from New York City, as much a cause for attention as any airliner traveling overhead.

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Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections, here.

Source: New York City Digital Collection, here.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1810

Shooting Down the Nuclear Plane, by W. Henry Lambright, (Inter-University Case Program #104, Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1964), is an interesting and nicely-documented history of an idea whose firm grasp on reality night not be terribly firm. Of course it would be possible to prodce such a thing (at about this same time in 1961 appeared a cover for Popular Mechanics for an atomic-powered car from which two cowboys went a-hunting) if there was the collective will to do so, and there almost was. Let's just say then that the atomic-poweredness of our domestic defense was limited to aircraft carriers and submarines, and the atomic-powererd aircraft were left to science fiction .

In general though it was at this time, from about 1946 thorugh the late 1950s', that people were thinking of refitting standard power systems with atomic energy.

Here are a few ideas for alternative approaches to flight, provided by the happy folks known as Atomic Energy:

Another possibility for a nculear powered aircraft, by Northrup:

[Source] Another interesting design--a nuclear-powered prop plane, X-6, "derived from the Corvair B-36":

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1807 [Part of the History of the Future series]

Blogaugust_16bigflying_wing_detail3Once upon a time, engineers could do anything, especially in the first third or so of the 20th (American) century. The hopes for technological superstar were often on display in popular and illustrated magazines, though much of the times the dreams were more dreamy than they were engineering possibilities. Some of my favorites among these hopeful projections of the future involve Big Thinking, and floating above these images of great possibilities and reluctant possibilities are thoughts on flight and of luxurious flight, or perhaps even continuous-flight-living. These three images were covers on some of the most popular of the popular sci-tech mags for this period: Science and Mechanics, Popular Mechanics, and Popular Science Monthly.


All three of these examples show (in insets) some sort of large, encapsulated, living section that exists somewhere in the superstructure of the aircraft. The first example comes from Popular Science (15 June 1937), and depicts what I think is a large living area under a grid of 54 large glassy roofs—it is not possible for me to estimate the proportions of the craft, though I think it pales in comparison to the next two examples.


In both instances the encapsulated areas have trees and roads. In the case of the Science and Mechanics contribution there seems to be six (?) of these large enclosures, the detail of which shows a large swimming pool, a club house, two tennis courts, and some other sporting area, all of which are surrounded by trees. Multiply this structure by six and what you’ve got is one really really big aircraft, which is somehow jet/atomic powered–in any event it is a gigantic craft and it is somehow staying aloft.


JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

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Well, what is really was, or what this was intended to be in this memory of a possible aviation future–or naval future, as this airship was really a flying boat, an "amphibian, a dirigible, a gyrocopter ….an airplane". A ship, really, trying to judge the size of the thing by the position of the portholes/windows–the thing was big, and the "single wing, rotating disk-shaped affair filled with gas or hot air" was even bigger. We read here that the disk was "turned by a gasoline engine" which was located in the center of the ship, leaving still plenty of room for "quarters" for the crew and passengers, making for what the inventor thought was an easy ascent and then, using the lifting device as a parachute, and then having a parachute-y descent, soft and simple.

Its hard to judge the size of the machine, but it looks like there are 40-50 portholes or windows running the length of the ship, and so I'd guess that the fuselage of the craft was 150 feet long, which was about half of its overall length, making it about 300 feet overall. The disk then could be 150-200 feet in diameter, giving it an area of close to one acre. Big.

And so:

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