The Amazing 1897 Sky Cycle self-powered aircraft

The Amazing 1897 Sky Cycle self-powered aircraft

How about a trip on a self-powered aircraft?  This early heavier-than-air design combined cycling with balloon power. Successful flights were was still 6 years away when Carl Myers dreamed up this innovative sky cycle.

I, CARL EDGAR MYERS, aeronautical engineer, a citizen of the United States, and a resident of Mohawk, in the county of Herkimer and State of New York, have invented an Improvement in Sky-Cycles, of which the following is a specification.”

Photo of Carl Edgar Myers, inventor of the sky cycle

Edgar Myers

Carl Edgar Myers (March 2, 1842 – November 30, 1925) was an interesting person. Engineer, meteorologist, entrepreneur, balloonist and inventor, Myers is an unsung hero of American ingenuity and inventiveness. At the cusp of the 20th century, he explored ways to use recent technological breakthroughs in innovative ways.

One of his enduring passions was hot air balloons. Myers’ interest in ballooning appears to have arisen out of his involvement in meteorological measurements and a desire to further atmospheric studies. He built his first balloon in 1878, flying it later in 1880. He designed and manufactured various improvements for dirigibles, including improving the materials used. His home was called the Balloon Farm and is listed with the National Register of Historic Places. His contributions to early flight and meteorology are intriguing. Myers reminds me of great Otto Lilienthal and his experiments with flight.

The Aerial Velocipede Patent No. 581,218 April 20, 1897

My invention consists, first, of a new form of body possessing greater bulk or capacity with less proportional exposed surface, combined with less resistance to projectile movement through air, than any other form yet discovered or in use, and which I term a symmetrical wave line spindle shaped body, and, secondly, of certain connected devices for propulsion, more especially adapted to be operated in air, a special arrangement of which adapted to be operated by manual power I term the aerial velocipede for flying. Google Patent

The aerial velocipede was a hot air dirigible controlled by human pedal power. Myers envisioned a single seater balloon that combined elements of cycling and flight.

Self-powered aircraft with a twist

Schematic from 1897 patent showing basic outline of a self-powered aircraft with a dirigible instead of wings

Dirigible cycling for one.

The propulsion mentioned in the patent would be a unique combination of hot air balloon, wings, and pedal power for thrust and steering.

The operator seated upon the velocipede seat V grasps the hand-cranks K, attached to the gear-wheel O, while his feet may operate the foot-cranks attached to gear-wheel O, arranged to move simultaneously with C by means of gear-wheels C, attached to the hollow connecting shaft U, which revolves around the upright rod U. (Shown in detail in Fig. 3, similar letters referring to similar parts.) Gearwheel (1, attached to propeller-shaft Z, is driven by gear O, and the construction of the crank system thus permits the revolving of the screw S backward or forward by either one or both hands or feet, leaving one or both hands at liberty for other purposes when desirable. Paragraph 40 pg. 4

It’s not as complicated as it seems. The rider can use hands or feet, depending on what they are doing. The pedals are attached to a propellor shaft that gives the sky bike both a bit of lift and the ability to propel forward and backward. The design also considers the need for a rudder and wings for both stability and directional guidance.

To work the Wings, the operator grasps the … principal or secondary wing-arm at any point serving to give him proper control, the position varying advantageously by the special movement to be made. The Wing-shaft may be rotated like a crank or operated like a feathering-oar or simply move backward and forward or up and down.  Paragraph 115 pg. 5

The wings allowed the balloonist to move forward, back, and up/down.  It was, on paper, very maneuverable. But required an enormous amount of leg and arm strength to operate. For a short hop it might have been fine but exhausting for any lengthy trip.


Wills Cigarette Card from 1911 showing an Italian dirigible

Not a Myers balloon, but you can see the inspiration

The sky cycle never got off the ground. I could find no reference to it being built. Myers was no amateur dreamer. He knew his balloons. Myers continued his work building better balloons for nearly 2 more decades, including developing over 100 for the US Weather Bureau and 21 for the United States Army Signal Corps (USASC) for use in the Spanish American War. (rf: Smithsonian Institute – Carl Myers Balloon Farm Collection)

Sky Cycle self-propelled aircraft as a blueprint

I tidied up the original diagram and turned it into a clean schematic for a bit of fun. It came out surprisingly good. I tried tarting up the balloon a bit, but the design looked too busy, so I pulled back. Feel free to download the blueprint (or should I call it a black print) for your own use. The image is quite large so you might need to downsize it for your device. It’s a bit fun, and whimsical. So enjoy. Don’t forget to take a look at the details on the wings and pedals. They are impressive.

Patent drawing of the Sky Bike dirigible

Click on the image to see the full image

I used the schematic over at Bittergrounds.Redbubble store. The design worked well on several items and I had a lot of fun setting them up. If you go to the store, check them out in the Schematics & Blueprints category.

Sample of merchandise from Bitter Grounds store - 4 coffee coasters in black with white schematic of dirigible

They do make interesting coffee coasters. Good conversation pieces

Cheers for now.


Pen tools in Photoshop & a Penny Farthing

Pen tools in Photoshop & a Penny Farthing

For over a decade I’ve avoided Photoshop’s pen tools. The struggles I’ve encountered using them have been, well, monumental. And embarrassingly frustrating. You can do wonderful things with pen tool such as take a muddy, mundane sketch and create a beautiful image with sharp, clean lines.

I had a breakthrough last week ago. I finally figured out why I struggled with them. My problem turns out to be basic. I have no sense of left/right, horizontal/vertical, clockwise/counterclockwise. If you ask me to turn counterclockwise, I stop and envision a clock face first. My brain tells me the left is -> that way. You get the picture. I’ve always known this. But it wasn’t until last week that I realised this was the root of the problem.

Those mildly quirky bits of how my brain processes certain things turns into a hinderance when working onscreen. I can’t anticipate which direction a curved too will go. I struggle to flip things and end up going through all the options before hitting the correct one. It’s impossible to work on autopilot because I need to think through every move. So, I sat down and devised a solution.

Why was it such an issue? I’ve gotten along without figuring out how to use shapes and the pen tool until now. It boils down to this – I can’t stand not figuring out how something works. I did, in fact, fire up pen tools every now and then, over the years. Frustration was the result. When I began playing around with cleaning up old patents, so they were viewable, I realised now was the time to tackle pen tools. They offered the only way of getting the crisp lines I wanted.

The line tool is basic enough. I just get impatient and oft times don’t line things up correctly. It’s the old issue of horizontal vs vertical flip and nudge a little to the right or left.  So, I sat down with the Antoinette Flyer and used it to discipline myself into getting lines even and laid down properly. Old airplanes were wonders of straight lines and cables, so it was the perfect thing to work with. Wheels were easy – the shape tools took care of that.

The propeller was problematic. I initially thought I could fudge my way through using the freehand pencil tool. It was a disaster. I wandered over to YouTube and watched a couple videos on using pen tools and that’s when I had an epiphany. Pen tools are about understanding directions. I spent a frustrating hour trying to get the curves right for the propeller and thought this isn’t going to work without someone standing over my shoulder yelling “the other left”. Little post it notes turned into the next best thing. I often have left / right notes on my screen when I’m running through a tutorial with a customer. I stuck them back on, included notes on horizontal / vertical, etc. All the little directional indicators I needed.

The propeller looked ok.

Now I felt frisky and time for more lessons with pen tools

Original sketch from an 1886 patent for a Penny Farthing bike

Here’s the starting ground.

I found it in the form of a velocipede – bicycle for we mere mortals. they were nicknamed Penny Farthings. Getting all the bends correct and using different line thicknesses to create a shadow effect was a challenge. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, it took me around 8 hours to get them right. I drew them and erased over and over until I got the basics down on how the pen adjust lines.

Here’s the line drawing of the above Penny Farthing

Pen tools elevate a sketch - Line drawing of a Penny Farthing bike

Pen Tools and Shapes were ideal for this

Yes, it did take a lot of work to get the little curves correct but worth the effort. I looked at the sketch and thought it was time to elevate it to the next level.

Pen tools and a bit of colour

Final drawing of Penny Farthing with colours added

A bit of colour elevated the line drawing

I can already see ways of improving the image with a bit of free hand highlighting. That’ll take practice but will be fun.  This little patent sketch is now poster worthy. And yes, I turned this into merch. How could I not? I’m now trolling through old patents looking for other ideas to work with. This challenges my brain on so many levels. It’s exhausting but fulfilling.

The penny farthing on coasters


Wander over by clicking this link -> Bittergrounds.Redbubble to see how it looks on different things. When you get there, click on the Cycles category. I’ve been busy over at the store. Lots of things coming and going as I fuss with designs. So have fun, let me know what you think. Remember, anything you buy goes to supporting this website.


Check out my first pen tools sketch of the Antoinette Flyer mentioned above:

Cleaning up a magnificent 1908 Antoinette Flyer schematic