Why Burnelli's Safe Design
Vincent Burnelli, a Texan who did some of his best work on Long Island, developed his
"lifting-body" design in the 1920s and built a number of successful planes on this principle
throughout the 1930s.
The unusual safety features of the design were testified to by a test pilot who, because of some
faulty maintenance work, crashed one of Burnelli's planes, a UB-14, into the ground in New Jersey
at about 135 MPH on Jan. 13, 1935.
The pilot, Lou Reichers, reported that he flew the ship into the
ground from about 200-foot altitude . . . the right wing being nearly vertical and absorbing the
first shock. This impact caused the airplane to cartwheel . . . The body remained intact, and no
fuel leaked from the wing tanks . . . The box-body strength of this type . . . saved myself and
the engineer crew, and had the cabin been fully occupied with passengers with safety belts
properly attached, no passengers would have been injured. This crash landing . . . is an
extraordinary example of the crash safety that can be provided by the lifting body type of
The basic idea behind Burnelli's lifting-body theory is that the fuselage can contribute at least
50 per cent of the airplane's lift if it is shaped like an airfoil, providing all kinds of
advantages over conventional airplanes, particularly with regard to safety and performance.
Burnelli designed and built his first plane, an open biplane, with a friend, John Carisi, in a
shack in Maspeth (New York City) in 1915.
In 1920, Burnelli formed the Airliner Engineering Corp. in Amityville and built the RB-1, a biplane with a 74-foot wingspan and a wide airfoil-shaped
body providing 504 square feet of lifting area.
In subsequent years, Burnelli built another biplane and a series of monoplanes, culminating in
the UB-14B, which was used during World War II to carry freight in
In 1941, however, after Burnelli had won
three government competitions to build Air Corps planes, President
Roosevelt reportedly changed his mind about authorizing a go-ahead
for the Burnelli planes when he found out that the project was being
backed by Joseph Newton Pew, the chairman of the Sun Oil Co., who
had helped finance the political campaign of one of Roosevelt's
rivals, Wendell Willkie.