JOHN WILLIAM DUNNE was more than a pioneer aviator. His D.5 aeroplane displayed the extreme innovation of a flying wing, almost a century before Northrup’s B-2 stealth bomber. And his philosophical musings went beyond the space-time continuum of modern physics.
The Dunne D.5 Powertrain. The D.5’s water-cooled inline-four manufactured by London’s Green Engine Company spun dual pusher propellers through chain drives. Steel tubes were used to support this propulsion. The rest of the D.5’s airframe was constructed of ash, spruce, and pine, with bleached linen covering.
Its top wings had what we’d now call elevons, movable surfaces acting as elevators controlling pitch and ailerons controlling roll. These “hinged wing tips” were actuated by the pilot’s two levers, the right one for pitch, the left for roll.
Note, the D.5 had no movable rudder invoking yaw. (Its wingtip panels were fixed for stabilization, not any maneuverability function.) Turns were achieved by coordinated roll and pitch.
Hands-off Flying. The D.5’s stability was noteworthy, especially at a time when aeroplanes (especially the Wrights’) were known for being difficult to control. According to Wikipedia, Dunne “was able to take both hands off the controls and make notes on a piece of paper.”
Munson wrote about Commandant Félix of the French Army, who flew the Dunne D.8, an evolution of the D.5: “… he gave an outstanding demonstration which included allowing the aircraft to fly itself while he climbed out on the wing to illustrate how perfectly stable it was.”
The authoritative Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft—1913 reported that the D.8 “has been flown completely uncontrolled in a 20-mph wind, carrying a R. Ae. C. [Royal Aeronautical Club] observer as passenger.”
The American Burgess-Dunne. Commandant Félix’s exploits encouraged the American manufacturer W. Starling Burgess to obtain license to build the Dunne design. Variants included 2-seat seaplanes, one of which became Canada’s first military aircraft, delivered in the early autumn of 1914.
Dunne’s Philosophizing. Heart problems forced Dunne to retire from aeronautical affairs. He turned to publishing, his first book a 1924 study of dry fly fishing. Another book, An Experiment With Time, 1927, philosophized on precognition, consciousness, and the concept of time.
Dunne later called his theory “Serialism,” in which consciousness functions on different dimensions of time: There is t1, an observer’s physical timeline; t2, time experienced by the observer’s consciousness; t3, “in which a third-level observer could experience not just the mass of events in t2, but the passage of those experiences in t2, and so on in the infinite regress of time dimensions and observers that give the theory its name.”
Wikipedia observes, “Mainstream scientific opinion remains that, while Dunne was an entertaining writer, there is no scientific evidence for either dream precognition or more than one time dimension and his arguments do not convince.”
On the other hand, Dunne’s aeronautic exploits with flying wings were certainly convincing. ds
Following construction at Leysdown, the D.5 was taken to Eastchurch, the new site of the (now Royal) Aero Club and the Syndicate. Early trials were not encouraging, with the machine in its original form proving too heavy. The D.5 first flew, piloted by Dunne himself, in the summer of 1910. Dunne taxied to the top of a rise in the ground which lay downwind, turned the machine and took off downhill and into the wind. Dunne later recalled in his book