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Curiosities from 150 years of The Engineer archive

While the age of powered flight began in earnest with the 1903 achievements of the Wright brothers, the preceding century was littered with examples of heroic yet ultimately doomed efforts to conquer the skies.

One such creation, the Aerial Chariot, was announced with great aplomb in the pages of The Engineer with the immortal words: ’I, Godwin Meade Pratt Swift Viscount Carlingford of Swift’s Heath, county of Kilkenny, Ireland, do hereby declare that I am the iventor of the aerial chariot’.

Carlingford’s design, which provoked a storm of derision from readers in later issues, outlines a catapult-launched vehicle that is ’made in the shape of a boat, extremely light, with one wheel in front and two behind, and having two wings’. These silk-coated wings are covered with ’a network of a lengthened square shape’ which, according to the inventor, mimic the aerodynamic properties of birds’ feathers and enable the chariot to ’float on the air’ for several miles, ’perhaps 50 or 60’, he adds optimistically.

Featuring a tail that can be raised or lowered “for the purpose of giving an elevating or declining position”, the entire body of the chariot is made of very light wood, allegedly ’weighing no more than six stone and covering a surface area of up to 30 sq ft.’

The inventor goes on to explain that the primitive aircraft could be scaled up to carry heavier weights without any changes to the size of the wings. He cites examples from nature as proof that this is possible: ’We see the eagle weighing 80 pounds and upwards while the rook weighs one pound, yet the eagle has only four times the floating mass of the rook.’

Alas, like so many of man’s early attempts at winged flight, the history books suggest that Godwin Meade Pratt Swift’s creation never quite took off.

John Excell

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