Flying Machines...

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M E Wolf

Colonel
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 9, 2008
Location
Virginia
Southern Historical Society Papers.
Vol. XXXVII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1909.
Tells Story Of Flying Machine Of Confederacy
Was Designated by Richmond Inventor and Partly Built, Scheme Was to Drop Explosives from Air Into Washington--Destroyed by Gale.
From Richmond, Va., News Leader, September 22, 1909.​
Inspired by recent pictures and articles published in The News Leader regarding the flying machine being built by George Bebout, of this city, the following letter has been received, which throws light upon a little known incident of the Confederate war:
"The notice of the aeroplane of Mr. Bebout given in a late issue of your paper reminds me of the trite saying that there is nothing new under the sun. At the same time we hope that Mr. Bebout will not feel badly under the circumstances when he is informed that he is not the first projector of a flying machine in Richmond.
"During the war between the States a machine was commenced which was to take President Davis and his cabinet, together with some ordnance officers, to the upper air of Washington.
"The officers were to be supplied with an abundance of large hand grenades, and when these argonauts of the air were at a point immediately over the top of the White House, perchance during a session of Lincoln's cabinet, combustibles, as if aerolites, were to be dropped.
"It would then proceed to the upper air in the neighborhood of the capital during a session of congress and compel incontinent adjournment. Needless to write that if the mortars in Washington could not have been successfully trained upon this new power in the air, before the executive and legislative branches had been killed or demoralized, the North would have petitioned for peace.
The yard in which this early flying machine was in progress of manufacture was at the east corner of Seventh and Main Street, a lumber yard. No modern war engine can compare with the potentialities for destruction which was to have been possessed by the Confederate device. Hence, during its construction many spectators observed it.
"It is not known to the writer whether these persons saw only the model, or the parts of the final machine. There was an extensive framework composed of rectangular bars of light, white pine. So far as my recollection goes no canvas for wings or balloon appointments were seen; no motor and no wheels to furnish the machine with a start.
"Doubtless wheels were sufficiently numerous in the inventor's head.
"I regret that I do not know the name of the would-be inventor. For one of its purposes the machine was an eminent success, even before it was completed, for it was made to fly. Indeed it flew into pieces. One night a strong wind came up and relieved the inventor of all embarrassment. There was a rattling of pine bars of an inch in diameter, and splinters filled the air, and thus fled the hope of the Confederacy to appeal to Washington from high heaven.
"It is improbable that President Davis encouraged such diabolism as was intended to be carried out by the promoters of that enterprise.
"In return of the idea the people in Richmond often surveyed the heavens at night and sometimes thought they saw a Yankee balloon ready to drop explosives on the city.
"Had invention progressed as far as it will in the near future, the Federal government of the sixties would not have hesitated to have used air machines for the destruction of the South, or until it should have surrendered. This it would have sought to have justified by the well-worn plea of 'war measure.'"
'THOMAS R. EVANS."
 

gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Me thinks it was Professor Richard Davidson's artisavis. I've an article that was published by The Company of Military Historians on it - Champion of Confederate Airpower or Charlatan?
 
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ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
Interesting speculation. Sounds like he had the right idea: light frame covered over with cloth.

I get stuck on the power plant, and the idea that he'd need a co-pilot to feed the fire under the boiler.
 

Scribe

Cadet
Joined
May 9, 2008
Location
St. Louis, Mo
Southern Historical Society Papers.
Vol. XXXVII. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1909.
Tells Story Of Flying Machine Of Confederacy

Was Designated by Richmond Inventor and Partly Built, Scheme Was to Drop Explosives from Air Into Washington--Destroyed by Gale.​

From Richmond, Va., News Leader, September 22, 1909.
Inspired by recent pictures and articles published in The News Leader regarding the flying machine being built by George Bebout, of this city, the following letter has been received, which throws light upon a little known incident of the Confederate war:
"The notice of the aeroplane of Mr. Bebout given in a late issue of your paper reminds me of the trite saying that there is nothing new under the sun. At the same time we hope that Mr. Bebout will not feel badly under the circumstances when he is informed that he is not the first projector of a flying machine in Richmond.
"During the war between the States a machine was commenced which was to take President Davis and his cabinet, together with some ordnance officers, to the upper air of Washington.
"The officers were to be supplied with an abundance of large hand grenades, and when these argonauts of the air were at a point immediately over the top of the White House, perchance during a session of Lincoln's cabinet, combustibles, as if aerolites, were to be dropped.
"It would then proceed to the upper air in the neighborhood of the capital during a session of congress and compel incontinent adjournment. Needless to write that if the mortars in Washington could not have been successfully trained upon this new power in the air, before the executive and legislative branches had been killed or demoralized, the North would have petitioned for peace.
The yard in which this early flying machine was in progress of manufacture was at the east corner of Seventh and Main Street, a lumber yard. No modern war engine can compare with the potentialities for destruction which was to have been possessed by the Confederate device. Hence, during its construction many spectators observed it.
"It is not known to the writer whether these persons saw only the model, or the parts of the final machine. There was an extensive framework composed of rectangular bars of light, white pine. So far as my recollection goes no canvas for wings or balloon appointments were seen; no motor and no wheels to furnish the machine with a start.
"Doubtless wheels were sufficiently numerous in the inventor's head.
"I regret that I do not know the name of the would-be inventor. For one of its purposes the machine was an eminent success, even before it was completed, for it was made to fly. Indeed it flew into pieces. One night a strong wind came up and relieved the inventor of all embarrassment. There was a rattling of pine bars of an inch in diameter, and splinters filled the air, and thus fled the hope of the Confederacy to appeal to Washington from high heaven.
"It is improbable that President Davis encouraged such diabolism as was intended to be carried out by the promoters of that enterprise.
"In return of the idea the people in Richmond often surveyed the heavens at night and sometimes thought they saw a Yankee balloon ready to drop explosives on the city.
"Had invention progressed as far as it will in the near future, the Federal government of the sixties would not have hesitated to have used air machines for the destruction of the South, or until it should have surrendered. This it would have sought to have justified by the well-worn plea of 'war measure.'"
'THOMAS R. EVANS."


One more evidence of why some consider the Southern Historical Society as the "Southern Hysterical Society" and see all its works as requiring a healthy sprinkling of salt.
 
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captainrlm

Sergeant
Joined
Jun 10, 2009
Location
Northern Kentucky
Interesting - an attempt to assassinate Lincoln, his cabinet & Congress by an air attack. It almost sounds like Dalhgren's plans that many southerners found so uncivilized.

Edit: Maybe they could test this on Mythbusters like they did with the "Confederate Rocket" a couple years ago...
 

K Hale

Colonel
Annual Winner
Joined
Aug 10, 2009
Location
Texas
I have a hard time believing the part about Davis and his cabinet intending to go along for the ride.

Or am I supposed to have a hard time believing any of it? I'm not sure what to think.
 

Scribe

Cadet
Joined
May 9, 2008
Location
St. Louis, Mo
I have a hard time believing the part about Davis and his cabinet intending to go along for the ride.

Or am I supposed to have a hard time believing any of it? I'm not sure what to think.
If you don't know what to think about this could I then interest you in buying some stock in my tapioca mine in Canada or, perhaps, that bridge I own on Brooklyn. :laugh2:
 
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TerryB

Major
Joined
Dec 7, 2008
Location
Nashville TN
There is a lot of good, hysterically funny silent film footage of early attempts to fly. People on bicycles flapping wings, covered with feathers. . .you name it. I can't help but feel that Mr. Davis and his argonauts of the air would have been glad that no motion picture camera was around to record the hilarity, should they actually have attempted such a hair-brained scheme.
 

K Hale

Colonel
Annual Winner
Joined
Aug 10, 2009
Location
Texas
If you don't know what to think about this could I then interest you in buying some stock in my tapioca mine in Canada or, perhaps, that bridge I own on Brooklyn. :laugh2:
Well, at first I thought the writer meant to be humorous, and then I thought maybe he was serious and just unintentionally funny because it's in the SHSP...
 

Battalion

Banned
Joined
Dec 30, 2005
There is a lot of good, hysterically funny silent film footage of early attempts to fly. People on bicycles flapping wings, covered with feathers. . .you name it. I can't help but feel that Mr. Davis and his argonauts of the air would have been glad that no motion picture camera was around to record the hilarity, should they actually have attempted such a hair-brained scheme.
Interesting story. Don't know how much is true or hoax. I've read one account where the thing supposedly flew.

Davidson sought support from the Confederate gov't but don't believe he ever received any.
 
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Baggage Handler #2

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 6, 2008
Location
Old Northwest Territory
Interesting story. Don't know how much is true or hoax. I've read one account where the thing supposedly flew.

Davidson sought support from the Confederate gov't but don't believe he ever received any.
I've seen lawn furniture grab a cool hundred feet of air in a decent New Mexico thermal. Have seen garbage bags (empties) at 10,000 ft and change, and known of 4x8 sheets of celotex to sky out (disappear from sight)
'Tis not the same as flying on purpose, however.
For it to have flown would have required 1) a working ignorance of physics, 2) prodigious quantities of alcohol, and 3) freakish weather.
Probably all three :D
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
Flash visualization: Five strong men towing it like a kite from Richmond to Washington City. I doubt that the five guys would have been stopped on the bridge; they'd just have to avoid stepping on the guards' lower jaws.
 
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Baggage Handler #2

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 6, 2008
Location
Old Northwest Territory
The Wright Brothers are only forty years after the Civil War. Closer than you think.
It may have been 40 years on a calendar, but the Pharoah's Egyptians were just as close technology-wise. Possibly closer, now that I think about it.

For a similar perspective, the Wright's wind tunnel was only 45 years from the first supersonic flight, but the two are not anything alike, technology-wise.

As an aside, the first entry in my log book is from an instructor whose license was signed by one of the Wrights.

[Edit: things that came in the late 1800's: Bowden cable, internal combustion engine, wind tunnel, roller bearing chain - without any of which the Wright brothers would have had the coolest yard art imaginable, but no aeroplane. Their huge contribution was in the understanding of stability and control, IMO]
 

ole

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Near Kankakee
If there's any truth to the account, I'd have to believe it was to be on the order of a dirigible rather than a fixed-wing aircraft, but I did like BH's requirements.
 

gary

Captain
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Davidson's first design (1840s) entailed using springs and gears. The springs were compressed like a watch spring and would provide the motive power for the gears that would operate the wings. Not one to ignore emerging technology, Davidson claimed to have developed a 1 HP steam engine that would power the wings. He never mentioned how the operator, as he called the pilot, could stoke the fire box, monitor the water level and pressure gauge while piloting and navigating the aircraft and proceed to bomb his target with pinpoint accuracy. I think the infallible accuracy of our Air Corps' Norden Bomb Sight can't be matched by the Civil War era's MK I bi-occular sighting system (eyeball).

Davidson never got funding from the Confederate gubmint. They passed him off to the Confederate Engineer Corps which let it die a quiet death. Thus Davidson appealed directly to the public and later to the soldiers and officers for money to finish his heavier-than-air craft.
 
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TerryB

Major
Joined
Dec 7, 2008
Location
Nashville TN
Jules Verne wrote in the 1860s, and yet, as has been pointed out, a lot of tech stuff had to come online before the plausible became possible. "Stand back Professor, I need to engage the endiotronic de-gaussifier!"
 
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