Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Plane that flew...but never took off


In 1944 the Canada Car & Foundry built an aircraft in its Montreal shops designated the CBY-3, also called the Loadmaster. There were two units built. The CBY-3 was far superior to the planes of its day (its primary competition was the DC-3 - Dakota), but the CBY-3 got caught up in a web of controversy and was killed less than one year later.

One of the most interesting stories I stumbled into on the internet is from a website ( Mysteries of Canada) that promotes Canadian history with many fascinating stories. I guess I found the site when I was researching the questionof how planes fly. The average person perhaps never looked into or even knew of a controversy over how wings actually create a lift. The leading theory is called the Bernoulli principle. It is taught in most textbooks beginning in the primary grades through college. It basically says that air going over the top of the wing has to travel further than the air on the bottom of the wing and so it must travel faster in order to meet the air on the trailing side. High velocity creates low pressure. Well it is something like that. I had ten hours dual instruction in a Piper Cub back in the 40’s, so what do I know about aerodynamics? I do have however, a four hundred page book entitled, Airplane Aerodynamics, third edition published in 1961. The math in it would make Einstein wish he had gone into another occupation. If one needed to master that book before getting a ticket to fly, there would be no pilots. Just having it on my shelf makes me feel like an engineer and impresses other people when I talk about the theory of flying. Good thing the Wright brothers made a successful flight before the book came out. Of course their contemporary, Simon Newcomb, America’s greatest mathematician, did publish his calculations, and concluded in 1902, "Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible."

In any case it seems that Bernoulli was wrong according to many experts and lift is generated by the ‘angle of attack’, meaning the angle at which the wing cuts through the air. [See for example,] Every kid has held his hand out the window of a moving car and experienced what happens with a change in the angle of the hand meeting the air.

That is not the topic of this paper though I do plan to return it at a later time. I mention it here because after over a century of flight with hundreds of airplane designs the debate still goes on:How do airplanes fly?

This is the story of a plane designated CBY-3 , also called the Loadmaster and another designated US-14. Only two or three of the CBY-3s were ever built for reasons that will unfold. Its design was created by Vincent Burnelli, not to be confused with the Bernoulli just mentioned. In 1915, he and a friend, John Carisi, designed and built an open biplane (two wings). They tested the plane at Hempstead Plains Airfield which was later renamed Roosevelt Field. There is an irony in this as you will see later.

World War I created a demand for aviation designers and Bernelli established himself as one of the finest and he came up with a revolutionary design concept. His design was based on lift-body theory, a simple principle indeed. Conventional design ( a tubular body with wings) carries people or cargo with the lift coming from the wings alone, the body itself causing a drag. But how else could you do it?
Simple, lift-body design makes the body part of the wing,
(Not unlike the stealth aircraft of today, suspiciously looking like the Burnelli Transport of 1951). So the body creates lift as well as the wing.

Here is the kicker. Conventional aircraft gets its lift from the wings which make up only 15% of the structural weight, while lift-body design gets lift from 65% of the structural weight. So what, you say. With this design, airport runways could be cut in half and the planes would fly with 60% less fuel. Hello! We are not finished yet. The same planes would carry more cargo and/or people and cost less to manufacture. Moreover, it is claimed that the design is far safer and less prone to crashes.

The story of the history of this plane reads like a docudrama, as you will see if you go to the website I mentioned and get the full story. The story includes a shot fired in an assassination attempt on Roosevelt in Miami in 1934. We pick up on the story here from the website (

In 1939, the US Army Air Corp held a competition for a new bomber. The plane had to be capable of low and high level operations, carry a large load of bombs and be rugged enough to take a pounding and return to be repaired. Burnelli submitted his UB-14B design. (The UB-14B was a customized version of his UB-14 passenger design.)

The UB-14B could carry 2000 lbs. more bomb load than the design specification, it could take off and land on a smaller (half the length) runway (meaning that the Air Corp could get closer to the front without building big airfields) and the UB-14B was the cheapest to build.

The Army Air Corp, quite rightly, selected the Burnelli UB-14B design. In his 1939 report to the Secretary of War, General H. H. "Hap" Arnold stated... "In my opinion, it is essential, in the interest of national defence, that this Burnelli procurement be authorized."

After the competition in 1939, Burnelli was invited to the US White House to witness the signing of the UB-14B procurement contract by President Roosevelt. In idle chatter, prior to the signing, Roosevelt asked Burnelli who his major financial backers included. Burnelli replied... " A fellow Texan, Arthur Pew." This name sent Roosevelt ballistic. He refused to sign the contracts, threw his pen across the room and ejected Burnelli from the White House. (I warned you earlier that the Roosevelt name would become ironic.) Not only was Burnelli humiliated, for reasons unknown to him at the time, but Roosevelt also directed the Army to issue a new report denigrating the Arnold report.

What made Roosevelt go "postal"?

Arthur Pew was on the board of SUN Oil in Texas and was the major financial backer of Republican Wendell Wilkie, Roosevelt's opposition.
In February of 1933, the newly-elected President Roosevelt was giving a speech in Miami when six shots rang out. Roosevelt was not injured but the Mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, who was standing beside him, was hit in the stomach and later died.

The perpetrator, an Italian immigrant-turned-US-citizen, Giuseppe Zangara, blamed former President Hoover and, by association as newly minted President, Roosevelt for the poor treatment of the working class in the US during the depression years.

Roosevelt always thought that Zangara was acting on behalf of others in the crime and not alone as was the official story.

One year after the assassination attempt, in 1934, there was a failed attempt at a political coup against the US government of Roosevelt. [That too is a story for another time.] Little is known about the episode. Although the allegations were confirmed by a congressional committee, the findings were hushed up amid murmurs of a cover-up.

The Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 stated, "Sworn testimony showed that the (coup) plotters represented notable families -- Rockefeller, Mellon, Pew, Pitcairn, Hutton and great enterprises -- Morgan, Dupont, Remington, Anaconda, Bethlehem, Goodyear, GMC, Swift, Sun."

Aha! The Roosevelt-Pew-Burnelli connection. Pew plots to overthrow Roosevelt... Roosevelt hates Pew.. Pew backs Burnelli... Roosevelt throws a fit. Burnelli is toast!

Poor Burnelli, he went from flying his biplane at Roosevelt field to the flying pen in the Roosevelt Office and never knew what happened.

It is unfortunate. Today the only place you can see the only known CBY-3 is The New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, where it is decaying in the open air. In case you are wondering Burnelli kept designing up to the time of his death in 1964. If you go to the Mysteries of Canada website, be sure to see part 4, The Bomber That Could Have Been.

Given the price of fuel and the fact that airlines are being forced out of business by high costs, it would seem appropriate to revive interest in a design that would make flying practical again.


I cannot end this story without a reference to Tesla's turbine design. We mentioned earlier about drag, the resistence of the plane's body to the flow of air. Millions have been spend on ways to reduce that drag. Instead of it being a problem, Tesla used it to an advantage in his so-called boundary layer pumps and turbines. In a revolutionary design made with flat disks rotating at high speed, he created pumps that never have been equalled and that can do things no other pump can do. Because the drag principle keeps the materials going through the pump from actually touching the disks, the pumps almost never wear out. Air or liquid flowing over the spinning disks are pulled through the pump by the drag on the disks. The same principle is used in the turbines. Helicopters without flying blades overhead are a possibility.

The Tesla Turbine could far surpass the efficiency of the internal combustion engine. [from website]

Today, Tesla turbines can be used in a number of practical settings. Co-generation of electric power uses waste heat from conventional diesel generators to provide additional energy from the same fuel, which makes the entire process more efficient. They can also be used for generating electric power from hydro, thermal solar, and ocean-waves. (Saipan Tribune; May 13, 2005)

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