Saturday, October 13, 2012

Round Wings

From time to time in the history of flight there has been some unusual designs.  None are more unusual than round disc-like wings.  If you google "round wing" or "disc wing" you get all kinds of images of planes in history with round wings.  Funny thing is that some of these planes are popularily known and were done in the open.  Others were secret projects, and their information is part of lore.  Let's look at some of them.

McCormick-Romme Umbrella Plane
Among the earliest ones I found was the 1911 McCormick-Romme Umbrella Plane.  The link goes to an obviously private site.  Yet the plane is listed in the Wikipedia page entitled "List of aircraft".  I find it fascinating that in 1911 people were coming up with all kinds of ideas for flight including a round wing.  We're often told that flying machines followed birds in the way they fly.  Have you ever seen a round wing bird?  I suppose the frisbee had something to do with the thought pattern of the design of this plane.  Throwing around a spinning cake pan is a fun toy, why not make it into a flying machine?

Johnathan Edward Caldwell came up with some fascinating ideas for flight.  One of them was a sort of autogyro with a disc on top.  The disc had four rotors coming out of it.  The idea was that the disc and rotor rotated and lifted the craft off the ground much like an autogyro.  Then as the craft sped up, the rotor would stop and the disc would provide lift acting as an airfoil.  Well, today this idea is being explored anew.  The DARPA DiscRotor project is trying to make a VTOL aircraft with this disc and rotor combination.

In the 1930's and 1940's Germans were doing much technological research.  Messerschmitt came up with the Me-600.  This was a propeller airplane with the main wing in a disc shape.  It had a tail with elevators and a vertical stabilizer. It seems this idea wouldn't go away.  I did find some evidence that Russians have built small aircraft similar to the Me-600. 

Ok, let's get back to baking.  Instead of a flying cake pan, this next one was named after America's favorite breakfast.  The V-173 Flying Pancake had two very large props which gave lots of power to the craft and solved the problem of airflow circulating around the sides of the wing form the bottom to the top and reducing lift.  It demonstrated near vertical lift.  The large propellers design showed merit enough to make its way into the tilt-rotor design.

There is a lore out there that the United States has or had bomber size aircraft with round wings.  Some people have claimed to have seen them.  Some computer generated pictures have been made of them.  They look pretty cool.  A round wing with a nice curve to it seems sexy.  So these things supposed to have been responsible for UFO sightings in the continental Unites States.

There is a guy that came up with a unique design for an aircraft.  The main wing and the elevators were merged into a round shape.  It was an idea that seemed similar to some earlier designs, yet it had its own characteristics.  He had it put through a wind tunnel and made an RC model of it.  The design seemed airworthy.  He was going to market it.  I'm not finding any reference to it on the web.  I did see an interview with the guy and a reporter.  He came up with the idea around the 1990's.  So people are still thinking about round wings even today.

So I detailed some designs of round wing aircraft.  Sure, you can call them flying saucers.  I like my saucers to hold my tea cup, and not fly me around.  Its a design that somehow entered our psyche and it won't go away.  Design ideas tend to feed on themselves.  New people pick up the idea and try to run with it.  They tend to have limited success until someone makes a breakthrough.  Makes you wonder if we own ideas or do ideas own us.