Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/February 1876/Flying-Machines and Penaud's Artificial Bird

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591291Popular Science Monthly Volume 8 February 1876 — Flying-Machines and Penaud's Artificial Bird1876Alfred Marshall Mayer





NUMEROUS attempts have been made at different times to construct a machine capable of propelling itself through the air. All kinds of aërial propellers have in turn been tried; such as screws, beating wings, umbrellas which open and shut during their reciprocating motion, inclined planes, aërial wheels. But though many of these projects called forth considerable inventive ability, yet, until quite recently, the helicopteron (from έλικός any thing spiral or twisted, and πτερόν, a wing—that is, a machine furnished with an aerial screw-propeller) was the only type of machine which had succeeded in raising itself in flight. Several of these helicopterons have been constructed since 1784, at which date Bienvenu made the first that flew. The best known and the most perfect was that which Ponton d'Amécourt constructed in 1864, and which raised itself for a moment by a sudden motion to a height of two and a half metres. It was formed of two superposed right and left handed screws, put in motion by a watch-spring. All other methods of artificial flight, including those of propellers with wings beating the air like those of a bird, remained ineffective, and were the subjects of conflicting hypotheses as to the nature of flight.

In beginning our studies, we have thought that the best means of getting rid of the multiplicity of hypotheses and of conflicting opinions would be to divide the flying-machines that have been invented into a small number of general types; then to reduce each of these types to its essential elements, and finally to design a flying-machine of each of these simplified types possessing all the really essential parts, and easy to construct.

Leaving out of consideration the inventions which are evidently defective, we have thought it possible to divide the majority of the systems of artificial flight into helicopterons, areoplanes, and orthopterons (from ὸρθός, straight, and πτερόν, a wing). The helicopterons sustain themselves by the aid of screws whose axes of rotation are nearly vertical. They may be made to progress either by these vertical screws or by special screw-propellers. The areoplanes have propelling surfaces which are nearly plane and slightly inclined to the horizon. A horizontal motion is given to these surfaces generally by means of screws. Finally, in the orthopterons, the propelling organs are surfaces moving in vertical directions, and generally having reciprocating motions. In this system are embraced the wings of birds and the moving surfaces of the tails of fishes.

The knowledge of the resistance of the air appeared to us the only guide by which we could arrive at a thorough understanding of the manner in which a machine could sustain itself by the actions of its propelling surfaces on this fluid. We entered upon an attentive study of several imperfectly-understood points appearing to us of capital importance; such as the sustaining screw, the aerial inclined plane, and the theory of the equilibrium of flying-machines. The screw-propeller was well understood from its effects in propelling vessels. These researches, which led us to a small number of very simple general laws, permitted us to determine the manner of action and the proportions of the machines which we desired to construct.

It remained to find a motor the easiest of application. Wood, whalebone, and steel, give forces which are at a minimum when referred to their weight; caoutchouc is much more powerful, but the framework necessary to resist its violent tension is necessarily quite heavy. We then conceived the idea of using the elasticity of the torsion of caoutchouc, which finally led to an easy, simple, and effective method of constructing the models of flying-machines.

We applied the new motor first to the helicopteron, after having previously investigated the curious and valuable actions of caoutchouc when subjected to various successive torsions. In April, 1870, we presented models to M. de la Landelle which rose in flight to more than fifteen metres, hovering and fluttering through large inclined circles, and sustaining themselves during more than twenty seconds.

The great superiority of these results over those obtained with preceding helicopterons encouraged us to apply our motor to other systems of artificial flight. On the 18th of August, 1871, in the presence of the Society of Aërial Navigation, we succeeded in making an areoplane fly with various velocities and in different directions, around one of the circles of the garden of the Tuileries. The success of this machine in its ascending motions and in its perfect equilibrium gave the first successful exhibition of a machine on the areoplane type.

Measured directly, and irrespective of any hypothesis, the force required to sustain and propel the areoplane and the helicopteron proved to be relatively moderate, and did not approach the fabulous estimations previously given by Navier. This experiment demonstrated that the muscular strength of birds, although notably greater, for equal weights, than that of mammals, did not exceed a reasonable estimation.

Our helicopterons and areoplanes which performed with success on the 2d of July, 1875, before the Physical Society, have a numerous offspring. They have been imitated with various success by Crocé-Spinelli and MM. Montfallet, Pétard, and Tantin.

The action of these machines, in fully confirming our ideas and calculations on the resistance of the atmosphere, encouraged us to attempt the construction of a mechanical bird with flapping wings. The diversity of the hypotheses as to the nature of flight, proposed in France and in England, though bearing witness to the difficulties to be met with in the construction of this mechanism, yet rendered the problem peculiarly interesting.

The experiments heretofore made with mechanical birds had been very discouraging. M. Artingstall and M. Marey had alone obtained effective results. M. Artingstall states that, some thirty years since, he had an artificial bird which flew at the end of a tube jointed on to a steam-boiler. M. Marey, whose beautiful physiological experiments are so well known, constructed, in 1870, artificial insects which, attached to a radial tube carrying a counterpoise equal to two-thirds of their weight, rose and flew in a circle by the aid of their wings. The compressed air which set the wings in motion was conveyed to them through the radial tube from a compression-pump worked by hand.[2] It remained to gain the two-thirds of the weight of the insect and to cause the latter to carry with it its motor instead of having the wings moved by a force conveyed to the insect from without.

Encompassed by the divers hypotheses of the action of the wing given by Borelli, Huber, Dutrochet, Strauss-Durckeim, Liais, Pettigrew, Marey, d'Esterno, De Lucy, Artingstall, etc., and in view of the very complicated motions they had assigned to that organ and to each of its quills—motions which are, for the most part, inimitable in a mechanical bird—we decided to reason out for ourselves, by relying on the laws of the resistance of the air and on some of the most simple facts of observation, what are the motions of the wing really necessary to flight. We found—1. A double oscillation, a depression, and an elevation of the wings transverse to the path of flight. 2. The change of the plane of the same during this double motion; the lower surface of the wing facing below and behind during its depression, so as to sustain the bird, the same surface of the wing facing below and in front during its elevation, so that the wing is raised with the least resistance by cutting the air with its edge while the bird flies. These movements, moreover, were admitted to be correct by a large number of observers, and have been concisely demonstrated by Strauss-Durckeim, Liais, and Marey.

But, in considering the difficulty of the construction of our mechanical bird, we were obliged, notwithstanding our desire to make a machine which should be simple and easy to understand, to try to perfect those actions we have somewhat summarily described. It is evident that the different parts of the wing, from its base to its extremity, act on the air under very different conditions. The interior part of the wing, having small velocity, produces little propelling effect at any moment of its beat; but it is far from being useless, and one may imagine how, by presenting its lower face downward and slightly facing the front, it acts during the rapid translation of the bird, like a kite, as well while the wing is being elevated as during its downward motion, and thus sustaining in a continuous manner a portion of the weight of the bird. The middle portion of the wing has a junction intermediate between that of the interior and that of the outer portion, or end, of the wing; so that the wing, during its action, is twisted on itself in a continuous manner from its base to its extremity. The plane of the wing at its base varies but little during flight; the plane of the median part of the wing is very much displaced on one and the other side of its mean position; finally, the outer part of the wing, and especially its tip, experiences considerable change of plane. This warping of the wing is modified at each instant during its elevation and depression, in the manner just indicated; at the extreme points of its beat the wing is nearly plane. The action of the wing is thus seen to be intermediate between that of an inclined plane and that of a screw with a very long and continually variable pitch.

Notwithstanding the differences found to exist in the hypotheses of various authors when compared with one another and with the one just given, still one or the other of these writers confirms the greater portion of the ideas just advanced. Thus the torsion of the wing had already been pointed out by Dutrochet, and especially by Pettigrew, who long maintained this opinion; only he has taken, according to our view, the change of form occurring during the elevation of the wing for that of the form occurring during its depression, and vice versa. These authors clearly saw how the articulations of the bones, the ligaments of the wing, the imbrication and elasticity of the quills, bring about the above result. M. d'Esterno had explained the continuous effect, like that of a kite, of the interior portion of the wing during its depression and elevation; and M. Marey had very appropriately designated that portion of the wing as "passive," at the same time, however, maintaining that the most important action of the wing during flight is due to a general change of its plane produced by the rotation of the humerus on itself.

According to our view there is a sharp distinction to be made between hovering and the ordinary flight of progression, while the amplitude of the changes in the plane of the extremity of the wing is essentially a function of the velocity of translation of the bird. At the extremity of the wing, where the most considerable changes of plane takes place, these changes equal 90°, and even more, during hovering; but then displacements of plane are far less in the flight of progression. According to our calculations the extreme portions of the surface of the terminal feathers of the crow's wing are, during free flight, inclined forward during the depression of the wing only from 7° to 11° below the horizontal, and from 15° to 20° above the horizontal plane during the elevation of the wing. The plane of the wing at its base acts during the above motions like a kite inclined at an angle only of from 2° to 4°.

It is easy to verify the slight inclination of the wing, and consequently the smallness of its angles of action in the air, by observing a flying bird moving in an horizontal line of sight, for we then see only the edges of the wings. It is, in short, inexact to say that the wing changes its plane; we can barely say that it changes its planes. The truth is, that it is gradually more and more warped in going from its base to its extremity. It was so understood, indeed, by an English author, whose labors we became acquainted with after we had constructed our bird, and to him we are indebted for having saved us several researches. The theory of Sir G. Cayley, published in 1810, differs from ours but in a few particulars. He is of the opinion that the outer portion of the wing in ascending exerts always a propulsive action, and he attributes to the propelling parts and to the sustaining, kite-like parts of the wing, proportions which are relatively the reverse of those to which we have been led by our calculation.

It was with these ideas, favorably judged of by the Academy in September, 1871, that we undertook the application of the torsion of caoutchouc to the problem of the mechanical bird. The wings of our bird are made to beat in the same plane by means of a crank and connecting rods. After several rough trials, we found out that the transformation of motion in the machine required a mechanism very solid relatively to its weight, and I requested M. Tobert, an able mechanist, to construct out of steel a piece of mechanism designed by my brother, E. Pénaud. The accompanying figure represents the apparatus so constructed; C C' is the motor of twisted caoutchouc placed above the rigid rod, P A, which is the vertebral column of the machine; from this rod, at A and A, ascend two rigid forks, which serve below as supports for the crank, C R, which is attached to the twisted caoutchouc; and above, at the ends of the forks at O and O, are the pivots on which the wings oscillate. The links, R S, convert the motion of rotation of the crank into the reciprocating motion of the arms, O M L, O M L. At Q is a steering-tail, which we found by experience was best made from one of the long feathers of a peacock's

tail, and which can be inclined upward, or downward, or to one side, and be loaded with wax so that the centre of gravity of the machine can be brought to the proper position.

The warping of the wings, O L, is obtained by the mobility of the wing and of the little fingers, M N, supporting them on the large rods, O M L, which do not partake of this rotation, A little ligament of caoutchouc, D B, connects the posterior interior angles of the wings with the middle of the central rod of the machine. This ligament, whose function is similar to that of the posterior paws of the bat, plays the part of an elastic sheet to our wing, so closely resembling the topsail of a schooner. The torsions of the wing are thus automatically regulated, as required, by the combined action of the pressure of the air and of this elastic ligament. The interior third of the surface of the wing acts like a kite during the elevation as well as during the depression of the wing. The external two-thirds, corresponding to the primary and secondary quills of birds, propel and sustain the machine during the downward motions of its wings. The little drawing in the corner shows the wings just about to begin their downward beat. During the elevation of the wing the terminal feathers conform to the sinusoidal track along which they progress in the air; it thus only cuts the atmosphere without acting against it. To start the machine, we simply abandon it to itself in the air.

This machine was exhibited before the Society of Aërial Navigation on the 2d of June, 1872, and flew several times more than seven metres—the length of the public hall raising itself in a continuous manner, with an accelerated velocity, along a line of flight inclined 15° to 20°. In an open space, the artificial bird flew over twelve to fifteen metres, elevating itself during this flight to about two metres. Another model, exhibited before the same society in October, 1874, flew in an horizontal line, vertically upward, and also ascended obliquely.

On the 27th of last November, at a public exhibition, this model flew from one end to the other of the hall of the Horticultural Society (see Aéronaute, February, 1875). On the 2d of July, 1875, it performed with success before the French Physical Society. The velocity of its flight is from five to seven metres per second.

The birds of twisted caoutchouc have been a great success.

M. Hureau de Villeneuve, whose zeal in the study of aërial navigation is well known, and who in his many contributions to the theory of flight since 1868 has discussed the inclination to the horizon of the axes of the scapulo-humeral articulations and their posterior convergence, exhibited, on the 20th of June, 1872, a bird moved by twisted caoutchouc, which, he states, elevated itself vertically to a height of nearly one metre. Continuing his researches with perseverance, he again exhibited his apparatus before the Society of Aërial Navigation on the 13th of January, 1875, after having supplied it with wings similar to those of my bird, and after having adopted several of the peculiarities which had made my machine successful. He then succeeded in giving sustained flight to his machine, which we have ourselves seen fly horizontally nearly seven metres, after having been started by a slight impulse from the hand. M. Tatin, also, in 1874, made two very curious artificial birds, using twisted caoutchouc as a motor. M. Marey has told us that he saw the first named fly in his garden, last November, from eight to ten metres. We have seen the second, nearly identical with our bird, fly in a still more satisfactory manner.

  1. The Academy of Sciences of Paris, at its meeting in June, 1875, awarded to M. Pénaud a prize for the discoveries and inventions described in this article.
  2. See Fig. 87, on page 202 of Marey's "Animal Mechanism," published in the "International Scientific Series."