Insect Aircraft


This 1906 article is the lone reference I can find on the internet to this craft, and I suspect it never existed except on paper.

Posted By: Paul - Thu Oct 08, 2015
Category: Insects, Inventions, Air Travel and Airlines, 1900s, Europe

The picture seems more of an illustration than an actual photograph. I expect some artistic license here. Flapping wings were never a successful method of man-made flight.

Also the propellers mounted on the sides like that would be very inefficient for turning, as I assume their purpose is. If the propeller was meant to pull the end of the craft in that direction, the resulting backwash would be slamming into the body of the craft, effectively creating enough opposing force to make it inefficient. If it turned so as to push air away from the body and turn the craft to the side opposite the propeller, you've got a suction between propeller and aircraft body.

Also, to turn in the opposite direction would require a complete revering of the propeller spin. Think of how long it takes a spinning prop to wind down on a modern airplane, and how long it takes to spin up again. You'd have a couple of minutes wait between when you initiated a turn and it's execution.
Posted by Boyd fromNL on 10/08/15 at 07:57 AM
I note on the following page of the Popular Mechanics magazine, the article on the construction of the (then) highest office building. It's not named in the article, but would that be what became known as the Empire State building?
Posted by Boyd from NL on 10/08/15 at 07:59 AM
Disregard the previous post about the building. Should have done my research FIRST!

Empire State was constructed between 1030 and 1031, and was 1250 ft high with 103 floors.

Definitely NOT the building cited here.

So...any idea what this building IS? or was?
Posted by Boyd from NL on 10/08/15 at 08:05 AM
Was this 1st printed on April 1 by any chance?
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 10/08/15 at 10:16 AM
@Boyd: It looks like the Singer building,

It was demolished in 1968.
Posted by René on 10/08/15 at 11:31 AM
30,000 r.p.m. for a propeller? For 1906 that was certainly optimistic engineering. I don't think that a modern jet turbine reaches that speed.

I'm basing my comment on a peek into the cockpit of a jet powered car at a drag strip meet many years ago in Sacramento. IIRC the tachometer was marked up to 20,000 r.p.m. with the red line at 15,000 r.p.m. I assume that was the limit for compressor speed which is the largest part of the rotating assembly.
Posted by KDP in Madill, OK on 10/08/15 at 12:53 PM
@Boyd: I agree that this is fake. But flapping wing ornithopters do exist.
Posted by BMN on 10/08/15 at 01:08 PM
I don't have a problem with it being an illustration -- cameras of the time probably didn't do a good job of capturing details of scale models inside a building.

I don't have a problem with propellers on the side -- air moving over certain shapes generates lift, and the mechanics of the effect weren't well understood then. If the body was ovate rather than circular, it'd be like having the leading edge of a wing on both sides. It might have seemed logical that forcing air over it would allow the craft to hover (people are still trying to build flying saucers using the same principle). They might have thought the wings at the front would allow them to direct excess air backwards/at an angle to provide maneuverability. It appears ridiculous now that we know so much more about the mechanics of flight, but it might have seemed reasonable at the time.

But 30,000 RPM? Whoa, Nellie! If the drawing is to any kind of scale, those are at least 6' props, so tip speed would be close to Mach 10! Even if they had materials which could withstand that, 60 h.p. is a tiny, tiny fraction of the power needed to drive them. And that's at least 100 times engine speed. With the gearing of the time, I'd expect the transmission to weigh at least two tons and take up most of the space inside the body.
Posted by Phideaux in his own little world on 10/08/15 at 01:17 PM
@KDP -- without looking it up, I think the turbine of a typical airliner turbojet spins at 10,000 RPM, but the low pressure compressor (the big fan at the front) at about 2/3 that. RPM is a function of diameter, so for turbine speed in a small engine, 20,000 RPM with a red-line of 15,000 is perfectly reasonable.
Posted by Phideaux in his own little world on 10/08/15 at 01:28 PM
Great find, Paul!

Found another article about it, in the Minneapolis Journal - Oct 28, 1906. Says there that it was called an "orthoptere." Sounds like the inventors built a model which they claimed successfully flew. And promised that a public demonstration would happen soon. But obviously the thing couldn't fly, so the demonstration never took place.
Posted by Alex on 10/08/15 at 02:56 PM
Excellent catch, Alex!
Posted by Paul on 10/08/15 at 04:55 PM
Well the technology motioned did not exist or would not work. But a nice story of the times and they may have even sucked in a few foolish investors.
Posted by Gator Guy in The Great Swamp on 10/08/15 at 05:06 PM
LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! It's a .......pipe dream WAIT! Is that George Jetson ?
Posted by John on 10/08/15 at 06:55 PM
@Expat - that was my first thought as well. This is too good to BEE true!
Posted by Courtney in Florida on 10/08/15 at 08:39 PM
Anything is possible till you know the science. Besides, even if they made one and it worked I certainly would not ride inside a BUG. shock
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 10/09/15 at 05:47 PM
They were a little small for me, but VW bugs were very popular!

Maybe a good paint job could make it look like a butterfly.
Posted by Phideaux in his own little world on 10/09/15 at 08:25 PM
My aunt and uncle had a VW Bug in the early 60's. They were 6'3 and 6'4 and my two cousins were not quite yet 6'. when they would come over, it was fun to watch them all unfold out of that thing. Their next car was a Cadillac De Ville convertible. Took all the fun out of it.
Posted by GFnKS in near oz, ks on 10/12/15 at 12:05 PM
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