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The Burnelli Conspiracy

The Address By Chalmers H. Goodlin on the occasion of his induction into the Niagara Frontier Aviation Hall of Fame May 15, 1987

The Vincent Justus Burnelli story started in Temple, Texas, in 1895. For the sake of brevity, I will pick it up in 1919, when young Vincent designed and built America's first great airliner, the 26-passenger Lawson [Ed.-- see picture on right]. This airliner was unique in its day and even flew a large number of congressmen around Washington in demonstration flights. But Burnelli considered it to be merely a streetcar with wings. Consequently, he designed and built the world's first lifting body in 1921, an airplane with an airfoil fuselage, the RB-1 , which could carry 32 passengers . In 1924, he built the RB-2 which, at that time, was the world's largest airfreighter. It could carry two automobiles and served as an Essex flying showroom for a time. The elevators and rudders were attached to the fuselage trailing edge, but it was learned that this arrangement did not provide adequate longitudinal and directional control. Therefore, when Burnelli built his next airplane, the CB-16 , in 1927 America's first multi-engined plush executive airplane with retractable landing gear he added twin booms to obviate the stability deficiencies of his first two lifting body airplanes. This airplane, incidentally, was the first twin engine airplane that could offer single engine capability at design gross weight.

Burnelli next built the amazing GX- 3 for the Guggenheim Safety Contest in 1929, in which he produced the first break-away leading edge in combination with high-lift trailing edge flaps. This feature is now quite common on most jet transport aircraft. Burnelli told me how the F.A.A. then called the C.A.A. ordered him to bolt the leading edges shut, as they were a hazard to safe flying.

Cover of the Burnelli Conspiracy Folder

Chalmers Goodlin at Muroc, California w/ Bell XS-1.