Have you heard of the Magnus effect? Of course you have. Anyway, just in case you’ve forgotten, the Magnus effect is a phenomenon that affects spinning circular or spherical objects in motion. The spin causes the object to behave in a way that it would not if spin were not present, the most commonplace examples of this effect occur in sport, a spinning football arcs or swerves through the air due to the Magnus effect. Vertically mounted spinning cylinders have been used to power ships (they are known as Flettner rotors). Turn the cylinder 90 degrees and the same effect means that top spin causes a downward arc but back spin effectively generates lift.
In 1910 Butler Ames, a serving member of the US Congress, built a machine he called the Aerocycle that featured two rotating drums powered by a V-8 engine. This was sufficiently promising to have been mounted on to a platform on the USS Bagley but it is unclear if it worked in any meaningful fashion.
Back in 1910 aviation was still very new and Ames could always use the valid excuse that no one knew what an aeroplane was supposed to look like back then.
However by 1930 literally thousands of aircraft were flying about supported by conventional wings which, you would think, might make the development of a weird new aircraft supported by spinning cylinders seem potentially redundant. Nonetheless three inventors, their identities sadly lost to posterity, decided that that was exactly what the aviation world needed and built the Plymouth A-A-2004. It is alleged to have made more than one successful flight but evidence is scanty though there is no particular reason to discard the claim out of hand. Nonetheless the Plymouth A-A-2004 was a dead end. The obvious and compelling reason why the world is yet to fully embrace the Magnus effect aircraft is that in the event those cylinders stop spinning due to engine failure (a relatively common occurrence in 1930), they stop producing any Magnus effect lift at all and the aircraft would simply plummet to the ground due to the Gravity effect.
Fancy a longer read on interesting moments in aeronautical design? Try this
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