ELECTRIC FLYING MACHINES: Thomas Townsend Brown

Well then, he had all the information he needed. Several problems would present themselves, but that was the “fun” of engineering. Intense thrust was being developed in the welder’s arc, and intense heat. Any rocket reaction chamber, which employed electrical arcs, would have to be made from new materials. The problem was not impossible to solve. Ceramics might be the choice over metals however strange that seemed at the time. This was new territory, and Tom was designing something new.

According to the mathematical tables, which researchers had provided in texts, the velocities of gas molecules in electrical arcs increased with voltage. Higher voltage meant higher velocity components. The “thickness” and “brightness” of the arc depended on gas density and current. All three factors would produce an enormous thrust when properly arranged. These thrusts would do better than compare with those produced by chemical rockets. In a given volume of system space, an electric arc propulsion unit would deliver several more times the thrust of any chemical propulsion unit. This was a staggering thought. If this was true, why had no professional designer ever tried to build an electrical rocket?

Such an electro-engine could be small, compact, and efficient, exceeding the effectiveness of any chemical rocket. Such an engine could travel to the stars. This scheme could be produced with commonly available items. Local shops could supply the gases and arc electrodes. Such a powerful rocket would not be difficult to construct in a shop. The arc-flame of the small electrically powered spacecraft would be white … and small. It would offer aspects of control not dreamed by even Goddard.

That night he dreamed of space travel. Each story seemed closer to becoming real. He would build such an engine. He would both test it and fly it. He would produce an engine that would change the way the world thought of its upper space boundaries forever. Forever.

ELECTRICAL SPRINGS

His next thoughts were to devise the controllers for his magickal compact rocket engine. Electricity could be impulsed or continuously applied. Thrust levels could be controlled by “valving” both the electrical currents and gas volumes. Volumes of electricity could be raised or reduced by rheostats. Valves could control the gas “fuel” flow. Also, if normal pressure gases produced fabulous thrusts, and high-pressure gases continued to show thrust increase, what would liquid gases provide?

Liquid gases, preferably of a heavy molecular mass, would provide the very highest thrust levels. The scheme seemed perfect. It was based on sound thinking. Were there any “weak links” in his thinking? He examined every possible flaw, finding none. His tiny little engine might lift a ship effortlessly into the liquid black depths of sparkling space.

This strong response to a wall of textbook criticisms was one of many manifesting their presence across the world. Empirical researchers were already defying textbook restrictions on natural dynamics, producing phenomena, which were anomalous by textbook declarations. Tom had a design. His goal was now to develop variations of the system. The goal was to produce the very greatest thrust in the smallest system volume.

First in his awareness was the need to develop electrical power. What compact system could provide the same currents as the welder’s heavy arc transformers? No engine could have that much mass and fly aloft. Was there a way to store heavy currents and release them in bursts to provide an equivalent arc welding current? Yes. He would couple small high voltage induction coils to mica capacitors and let the arc explosively burn across a spark gap.

Gas would be injected into the arc space where it would literally explode into electrical plasma, being accelerated out of the reactive area. A more continuous acceleration along the arc channel would provide the most “complete” thrust. Small garage bench experiments with heavy battery discharges proved the spark’s ability to “shoot” little pieces of tinfoil across the table. Here was a tiny demonstration of the effect, which he sought.

The one problem which yet bothered his aesthetic sense, dealt with the actual power source for the engine. In chemical rockets, the fuels provide both the reactive explosion and the gaseous mass simultaneously. This was their simple beauty and essential advantage. An electrical rocket, a plasma rocket, relied on electrical sources, which the gases did not produce. The ideal situation would require a gas, or gaseous mixture, which could produce electrical current for him. Was there such a mixture, which he could find?

Here was no impasse. Here was an opportunity. The young dreamer was a fine student. He juggled the variables. Chemical rockets had most of their thrust coefficient on the mass side of the equation, producing heavy showers of molecules at high temperatures. Plasma rockets had most of their thrust coefficients on the velocity side of the equation. When considered from their volume and total unit mass, the preference seemed to fall toward the electrical rocket principle again.

As the increased need for thrust in chemical rockets increased, their total mass increased. With electrical rockets, the power generator reached a “fixed” unit mass. At a certain point in the size ratios, the electrical rocket would win out in terms of efficiency. The thrust equation swung back and forth toward each system in an intriguing way!

He now thought only of reaction velocities. How fast did electrically charged molecules actually travel? Much faster than the molecules impelled by chemical reactions. But, what would be the very highest achievable velocity when using the plasma rocket principle? It would be the velocity of light. No data table even given by J.J. Thomson gave values that high. Molecular velocities in chemical explosions ranged to about 3 kilometers per second, while those in explosive electrical discharges could range up to 3000 kilometers per second.

If high enough electrical velocities could be obtained, would mass cease being a necessary part of the thrust equation? Would a craft, which powerfully discharges an electrical impulse just, lift itself on its own field? Now this made him think beyond the ordinary concept of rocketry. And here is where our story really begins.

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