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THE LORE of flying saucers is rich, and in fact there have been a few real aircraft with saucer-shape wings. Technically, such a wing is said to have a low aspect ratio. A square wing would qualify with its ratio of span to breadth of 1:1, as does one of circular shape.
I know of no square-wing aircraft, proposed, flying or otherwise. However, those with circular wings have appeared since the beginning of human flight and continued into the modern era of UFOs. Here are five circular-wing aircraft that caught my interest; and there’s also a hint of (ta-da) conspiracy theory.
Podiatrist Dr. Cloyd Snyder claimed the shoe heel insert as a model for his Arup S-1 and S-2 aircraft. Each had quasi-circular wing shape, with a straight leading edge and rounded trailing edge. The name Arup, short for Air and Up, grew from the aircrafts’ ability to take off and land in extremely short distances.
The 780-lb. S-2 needed only 37 hp to reach 97 mph. It could lift off at a 35 degree angle and land from a speed of only 23 mph. Both it and the earlier S-1 were test-flown by Glen Doolittle, cousin of Jimmy Doolittle. Charles H. Zimmerman, designer of the Vought XF5U (see below), is said to have been influenced by the Arup.
The June 1934 Modern Mechanix had a story headlined “Novel Parachute Plane is Built to Land in the Back Yard.” Its designer, Steven P. Nemeth, was listed as a former aeronautics instructor at McCook Field, an aviation experimental station operated by the U.S. Army Air Service in Dayton, Ohio. The Nemeth had a circular wing perched parasol-style, i.e., on struts above a conventional aircraft fuselage, perhaps borrowed from a 1929 Argo biplane.
The Nemeth is a first cousin of an autogyro. Its 110-hp engine could propel it to a speed of 135 mph. Take-off angles of 45 degrees were demonstrated, as were landing speeds at 25 mph and harmless stalls in between.
The mid-1940s Vought XF5U was a Navy fighter proposal derived from Charles H. Zimmerman’s earlier V-173 concept. Its nickname Flying Pancake was suggested by the aircraft’s near-circular shape in top view.
Other innovative features included a pair of oversize props located on pencil-like nacelles thrusting forward from the wingtips. These counter-rotating props had adjustable pitch, to an extent giving exceptionally short take-offs and landings. Only the advent of turbojet fighters precluded the Flying Pancake’s development.
In 1952, Alfred C. Loedding was awarded U.S. Patent No. 2,619,302 for “Low Aspect Ratio Aircraft.” Loedding was a 1930 graduate of the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aeronautics and an expert in aircraft of this sort. One of his proposals had an ovoid-shaped wing with teardrop side profile, small control surfaces aft and propulsion through side airfoil-gills.
Loedding’s patent claimed “great stability, high lift characteristics that can be efficiently utilized for vertical or near vertical take-off and rapid climb and at the same time adapted for high speed propulsion.”
There’s no record that a Loedding craft ever flew, but a near relative, the Avro Canada VZ-9AV Avrocar did, sort of. The Avrocar had a perfectly circular top view, its lift, propulsion and control depending on the Coandă effect, named for Romanian aerodynamics pioneer Henri Coandă.
This tendency of fluid flow to be attracted to a nearby surface can be easily demonstrated by a stream of water seemingly attracting itself to the back of a spoon.
And, in fact, the Avrocar was capable of motion, if not exactly flight. Estimated performance data versus real test results make interesting reading: maximum speed, 300 mph vs. an actual 35 mph; range, 995 miles vs. a tested 79 miles; and, most telling, service ceiling, 10,000 ft. vs. a real 3 ft.
That is, the Avrocar could hover slightly above the ground, but would lose control when attempts were made to rise any higher.
The possible conspiracy theory I promised? At the onset of flying saucer reports in the late 1940s, prior to his own patent Alfred C. Loedding had been appointed a member of Project Sign, an initial U.S. Air Force investigation of UFOs set up in 1948. The project’s final report said some UFOs appeared to be actual craft, though their origins could not be determined. However, earlier Project Sign documents suggested an extraterrestrial hypothesis, that somehow alien life might be involved.
The USAF rejected the report in 1948, withheld its full files from the public until 1961 and set up Project Grudge, generally considered a debunking activity. Project Grudge issued its report in August 1949, removing any of Project Sign’s extraterrestrial hypothesis. However, Project Grudge was not without its own questionable data management and in 1952 the USAF replaced it with Project Blue Book.
Active one way or another until January 1970, Project Blue Book was generally considered a balanced assessment of UFOs. The USAF-sponsored Condon Report, issued in 1968, concluded that UFO study was unlikely to yield major scientific discoveries.
However, J. Allen Hynek, the only scientist involved through Sign, Grudge and Blue Book, eventually said “In my many years association with Blue Book, I do not recall ever one serious discussion of methodology, of improving the process of data gathering or of techniques of comprehensive interrogation of witnesses.”
“Blue Book,” wrote Hynek, “was a ‘cover-up’ to the extent that the assigned problem was glossed over for one reason or another.” Professor Hynek died of a brain tumor, age 75, in 1986. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015