Bitter Grounds - espresso fueled ramblings

Monday, December 18, 2017

I was amused by a discussion on-line not long ago where someone asked “what did people do before technology”, meaning back in the dark days of the 1980s.  I chuckled because of the assumption technology is shiny new and millennial. It often comes as a shock to people when you point out the wheel is technology and that  tech is nothing more than the “application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry” (Oxford dictionary).  

So … I thought it might be fun exploring tech – of all types. I often wander through Google’s Patent search engine looking for cool stuff. My favourites are proposals that never quite made it off paper. Not all were fails, some were simply ahead of their times. Some were a combination of too soon and too impractical. To wit: Theodor Gibon's, of Clarksville, Tennessee, aeroplane (Patented Sept 30, 1902):

image of the Theodore Gibon V wing aeroplane patent 1902

Look vaguely familiar? While everyone was mad for straight wing designs, in 1902 good old Theodore took a different approach. He created a sleek, single delta that was ahead of it's time in terms of wing design. This sweeping v resembles the modern B-2 Stealth bomber. Or rather, the B-2 looks like the T. Gibon aeroplane. Okay, yes I agree, the Gibon looks more like a paper airplane, but you get my point. 

Andreas Theodor Heinrich Gibon, born in Bremen, Germany, was living in the US around the turn of the century.  Although the records show he immigrated in 1895, he still identified himself as a German subject at the time of filing the patent – “Be it known that I, THEODORE GIBON, a subject of the Emperor of Germany, and a resident of Clarksville, in the county of Montgomery, State of Tennessee”.   The census records of 1910 ad 1920 show he had settled into a job as a tobacconist in a local factory so I guess, by 1910, he had given up hopes of developing aircrafts any further. Searching for any other patents in his name came up empty.

You can read the full patent here: https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/6d2fc0b7820fa0a52bcf/US710266.pdf It's 2 pages and filled with wonderfully sci fi sounding ideas. I read the patent but got lost in the babble about “motive fluids” that would drive the … engine? Come to think of it, he didn’t describe any engine, just a series of pipes carrying liquid air around the airplane. Flight would be achieved by opening and closing various valves and ultimately discharging the liquid through vents. Basically, he designed the ultimate glider, but included a mechanism to control wind currents to propel the airplane.

under the impulse of the reaction from the stern discharges and from any or all parts of the wing-sections, too, if desired, the machine will fly rapidly forward to the 45 positions km, &c., and continue on that tack as long as the engineer may deem expedient.. In like manner the aeroplane may be steered to the left or to the right by causing discharges of motive fluid from the right or the left side 50 of the wings or body, as will be readily un­derstood.
from Letters Patent No. 710,266, dated September 30, 1902.  Application filed April 24, 1901. Serial No. 57,229

Was it at all practical? Not a clue, I’m not even going to pretend to understand the basics of flight or mechanics. My knowledge of flight is limited to buying a ticket and getting to my seat.  I do suspect the entire fluid reaction mechanics are pretty pie in the sky stuff. But the wings … the wings!

It’s interesting to see a design we associate with the cutting edge sitting on a 100+ year old patent. Gibons ran contrary to the trend of straight wing designs, including multiple layers of wings. His single, swept back v, despite the rudimentary drawings, indicates an vision for aerodynamics that was ahead of his time.

Here’s the back view:

Back view of the Gibon flyer 1902Invert it and you have:

gibonVwinginverted

A forerunner of the B-2, although admittedly the Gibon does look more like an origami project on steroids. Or maybe one of those spaceships on Stargate - the flying pyramids. Regardless, when the Stealth was revealed, people were left breathless with the flying wing design. There is an element of a bold dreamer in Gibon's patent. Too bad he didn't live to see the B-2 fly. His mechanics may have been nonsense, but the wing design was spot on.

Oh yea, I love trolling through old patents. You just never know what you’ll find. 

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“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”

 ― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

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