Burnelli - Smithsonian Correspondence

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Evidence of Suppression and Official denial is overwhelming

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March 6, 1991

 

Dear Mr. Larson,

Thank you for your response to my letter of 2-21-91. I had hoped for some comments on the things I brought to your attention and was sorry that you elected, instead, to continue with the Burnelli denigration.

"I think Burnelli himself may have been sincere when he came to the belief that he originated so many diverse ideas." You suggest with that silly statement that Burnelli lived in a dream world. Since over a dozen of the Burnelli "diverse ideas" actually flew, flew well, and were documented in a positive manner, and at least 72 of his ideas (last count) were reflected in patents around the world, you may be the one that has a problem with "belief".

I really became interested when you began to explain relationships twixt lift and flow fields and a "body of rotation". I immediately envisioned the golf ball and expected you to tear off into the Magnus Effect and a dissertation on the Van Dusen skyship. I was most disappointed to find that your reference was to the rigid airship and that you were really speaking of what my text books call a surface of revolution, or the three dimensional shape that watched a model airplane whose wing was a cedar shingle, blunt end forward, fly by wire (U-control) so your sharing of the effect of a positive angle of attack was no revelation to me.

I was not sure how you got to the Deltoid Pumpkin Seed since it hardly had the axial symmetry of the "wingless" zeppelins of your reference. I wished for the delightful cartoons the artist David Clark added to your article about things in wings. As you know, John McPhee included not a single drawing or photograph in his informative book… at least in the 1973 printing I have seen. Perhaps that is why I had trouble finding the book in the Dallas Library years ago, they had it filed as 'fiction'. Were it not for the fact that a search turned up a real 'N' number for the craft, and a respected local aviation historian held me enthralled for a couple of hours as he told of his participation and that of Admiral Rosendahl, I would have a hard time believing the story. May I suggest that you get some of the "best minds" you mentioned to put together a story about the Deltoid Pumpkin Seed. And yes, I knew that pilot Olcott was an editor. If you could get photographs from him to include in the article it would [be] of interest to at least a few.

Your use of the word 'rotation' in place of the word I was more comfortable with, 'revolution', simply points out the semantics problems we have with our language, I will dwell for a moment or two on the word "body". Your reference to the series of experiments performed by the Air Force and NASA led me to believe that you were drawing information from the same report I have concerning the "wingless" craft generally called a lifting body. Just as William Miller seemed to feel that it was necessary to generate a name for the Aereon Pumpkin Seed work, and 'aerobody', you seem to feel that NASA and others were able to create the term LIFTING BODY and copyright it as a unique trademark for a specific happening at a selected point in time. Your reference did however stop short of the culmination of the efforts which included the building and flight testing of hardware, the M-2, the HL-10, the X-24, and the final X-24B. I quote the description that precedes the log of flights beginning 7-12-66 and ending 10-25-74. "The X-24B is a double-delta shaped craft with a flat bottom and rounded top. It has small blended wings and three vertical tails". My goodness, the admission of wings on your "wingless" machine?

As a little boy playing with toy airplanes, I am sure my hands caressed model airplane BODIES long before I knew that they were FUSELAGES. My first formal introduction to the airplane was in high school, 1944, when I took a course in Aeronautics. I still have the text and I quote for your examination, their definition of the word 'fuselage'. "fuselage: the body of approximately streamline form, to which the wings and tail unit of an airplane are attached"; Later, at the University of Kansas, my 1947 text used both 'body' and 'fuselage' to describe the thing in question. Semantics be damned, I can show you that Vince Burnelli elected to call that thing of approximately streamline form to which the wings and tail unit of an airplane are attached, a lifting fuselage, and did so even before a bunch of us were born. I can also show you technical publications as early as 1931 where the Burnelli 'body' was referred to as an "airfoil fuselage". Today, the high technology world speaks of the lifting body or lifting fuselage as a blended-wing-body shape. I have no trouble accepting that term for what Burnelli did to an airframe. I hope you can.

Mr. Larson, others might have their own ideas about just what "only reflects badly on the proponents" and your personal opinions are not necessarily the criterion for judgment. If you are truly a student of aviation history, I have a hard time understanding the anti-Burnelli campaign.

Your opening comments put me in the category of "loyal adherents" and I took that as a compliment. Your later suggestion that I may be a "proponent" sounded less like a compliment but I am happy to also accept that identity regarding Burnelli history. You should be made aware that there is a forever increasing group of aviation professionals with proven track records that are joining the ranks of adherent and proponents. Though I cannot reach the readership that you have available, the Burnelli fan club spans the globe and a communication network does exist. For that reason, I look forward to sharing your viewpoints and mine with those that show interest. Feel free to continue the debate if you wish.

Sincerely,

[signature]

R. M. Johnson (Dick)

 

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