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Br T. W. MATHER.
HE subject of my paper-flying-machines—in a general way, is of interest to everybody. But, to those who have given it more particular attention, it is not only interesting but fascinating, and a little dangerous. The pathway has been strewed with wrecks; and I fear there is a feeling prevalent that, after all, it leads nowhere in particular, unless it be to the almshouse or lunatic asylum.
Still, there are times when we heartily envy the birds their wonderful power. I remember in reading, I think, Mr. Wallace's book on the Amazons, that he was once standing on the shore of the mighty river, confronted by an impenetrable wall of green, concealing within itself doubtless no end of new plants and beetles; and when a gayly painted macaw came sailing lazily along and disappeared behind the tree-tops without any sort of trouble, he gave vent emphatically to the general wish to fly, and to a feeling of surprise that apparently so simple a problem should have remained so long unsolved.
I propose here to give an account of some of the attempts to fly that have been made in the past, and are now being made; and to try to explain the principles involved, and why success has not been achieved.
The old Greeks and Romans very sensibly appear to have been content to give the gods and birds and butterflies a monopoly of the air; for, excepting the story of Dædalus and Icarus, little mention has been made by classical writers of attempts to fly, or of flyingmachines.
Dædalus, it seems, had killed a man in Athens, and with his unfortunate son fled to Crete, where King Minos very properly detained
him; but, determined to escape, he made wings of feathers cemented with wax, and, instructing Icarus to fly neither too high nor too low, but to closely follow him, launched himself into the air, and took a bee-line for Greece. The young man, however, was ambitious, and, flying too near the sun, the wax melted, and he perished in the sea—a warning to future generations.
After Dædalus, we next hear of Archytas of Tarentum in Sicily, a famous geometrician who lived about 400 years B. C. He is credited with a dove made of wood, so contrived, we are told, "as by certain mechanical art and power to fly; so nicely was it balanced by weights and put in motion by hidden and inclosed air." One is surprised at the amount of talk and speculation that these few words have caused. If the dove were put in motion by inclosed air, then probably it was constructed on the principle of a balloon. If so, then of course the air must have been heated; or, better, since wood will crack and warp from heat, not unlikely a light gas was used; and since hydrogen is light, possibly hydrogen; and if so, how did Archytas prepare it? Others seriously try to throw ridicule on the whole affair, saying that a wooden dove could not possibly get support in such a way-that necessarily it would be too large and heavy, and that the material would not stand the strain, and so on.
For my own part, however, I think that old Lauretus Laurus had the true theory and explanation. He says that "the shells of hen's eggs, if properly filled, and well secured against the penetration of the air, and exposed to the solar rays, will ascend to the sky, and sometimes suffer a natural change; and if the eggs of the larger description of swans, or leather balls, stitched with fine thongs, be filled with niter, the purest sulphur, quicksilver, or kindred materials, which rarefy by their caloric energy; and if they externally resemble doves they will easily be mistaken for flying animals.
"If we should desire to give aërial motion to a wooden and ponderous machine, we must apply fire. Should there be any apprehension of the dove being burned, it can be covered over with some incombustible coating, and tubes of tin introduced, so that the fire may be kept alight in its bosom without injury to it. . . . To prevent the crackling of flames, and the emission of sparks, the powder may be deprived of force by the mixture of ochre and butter. . . . An artificial throat may be formed to change the crackling of the flames into an imitation of the cooing of a dove. Tubes could have been easily" (and probably were) "constructed to ascend one after the other at convenient intervals, so that the bird would apparently be endued with life."
After Archytas, we hear little or nothing of flying-machines until the middle ages. Then the astrologers and alchemists and witches, in league with the evil-one on the one hand, and the friars and monks helped by good spirits on the other, did many wonderful things. The competition was strong. To simply fly was a mere bagatelle, a ready