ELECTRIC FLYING MACHINES: Thomas Townsend Brown

Tom began gathering information in order to embellish his thoughts in this avenue. The information came in the many “collections” left by Victorian electrical experimenters. Were there yet other unthought “electrical” means by which to propel ships through the air and space? Why stop at using electrically fired chemicals or gases? Could electricity indeed propel a craft by some strange interaction between fields?

Tom had seen high voltage static machines in operation. Surmounted by bent metal pinwheels, these produced violet flames while propelling the wheels around at rapid rates. Here was a real “electrical thrust”. Could pure electrical discharge be used to make a ship move without any other propulsive mass?

The real moment, where dream and reality were about to merge came in school. Tom witnessed a very high vacuum electrical discharge tube in operation during a physics class demonstration. Very high voltage impulses of direct current were applied to the X-Ray tube. The heavy wire lines connecting the tube to the induction coil were loose enough to move. Whenever the electricity was applied to the tube, Tom noticed that both wires “jumped” up. In addition, each time a spark suddenly discharged to the tube, the wires “jumped”. What was this? When the wires moved did the tube also move? He asked the instructor to do it again.

Tom was not looking at the tube at all. He was focusing his attentions on the free mass, on the wires. The wires jumped each time the impulse was applied to the tube. The sudden jump ceased after he current continued. When the current was removed suddenly, he also noticed a slight wire-jump. This latter jump was not as strong as the initial one, but it was there nonetheless. For an instant, his mind soared out toward black radiant space. Was this exactly what he had been thinking about, right there in front of class?

The electrical discharge inside this very high vacuum tube was pure … a discharge of pure cathode rays. This was pure electricity without any gas molecules to contaminate its progress. The cathode rays were traveling at the very highest velocity to which any particle could be accelerated in such a short space. And here, outside the tube, was a propulsion effect. It was happening exactly where he thought it would be found, in direct line with the free vacuum discharge.

Tom thought deeply on this idea. If electrical discharges of this kind could be made to impulse into free space from a special “gun”, then the entire projecting system would move “upon” the extending electrical field. The reaction would be a combined thrust produced, not by mass explosions, but by a charge explosion into free space. The reaction would be a propulsive reaction based on electrical field interactions. Cathode rays held the key … the key to space travel!

ELECTRO-REACTIONS

So … the jumping effect only worked when impulses were first applied. Was the motion simply magnetic in action? Texts said they were, but only an experiment would solve the noise in his head. He was desperate to try this out for himself, at home in his shop. He needed an induction coil of some strength. This was easy. Truck ignition coils were plentiful. Complete with vibrating interruptive switches, these units could produce quite a spark for any young experimenter. He also needed a high vacuum discharge tube, an X-Ray tube.

There might be many reasons for the “jumping wire” phenomenon, which he observed. Applied wire current might be straightening out because of magnetic field lines. But, how could these be strong enough to move the heavy wires, being small. The high voltage wires of the induction coil were barely conducting current at all. In fact, within the X-Ray tube, there was practically no current!

Maybe this was some little-known electrostatic effect; something, which happened when, wires were charged against a dielectric. Vacuum was a dielectric. Maybe the effect happened with greater power in more perfect vacuum. Maybe the effect was a simple electric rocket effect in which light, ultraviolet, X-Rays, or some unknown particles were flying in the opposite direction. Maybe the wires jumped because the tube was propelled for an instant by reactive particles flying from the wire to the air as invisible sparklets.

There were more thoughts on which his mind took defined paths. Like the invisible cathode rays shooting along invisible lines, young Tom’s thoughts soared through space all around the experiment he had seen the day before. The glorious power in these new thoughts lifted him to such a height of inspiration that it was difficult for him to do anything else. Just imagine! A rocket effect in metal conductors! Would the whole unit, tube, spark coil, and wires, move through space? So many possibilities. So many thoughts. There was only one way to find out for sure.

Electrical discharge tubes could be obtained commercially in various forms, being the popular science art forms of the century’s turn. Geissler Tubes were low-pressure gas tubes of sparkling beauty. These could be ordered and obtained from hardware stores. These bulbous glassmaker’s wonders were curiously bent and coiled, containing various phosphorescent chemicals. High voltage electric streams produced brilliant colorations in these; a true wonder to watch.

Another variety of the Geissler Tube was truly marvelous to see in the dark. These tubes were the miniature electrical “textbooks” of a more elegant age. These tubes were often used as curious centerpieces, the variety being truly Victorian and exquisite in design. Specially treated flowers were poised on a single wire electrode. Each flower was treated with special phosphorescent chemicals. When voltage was applied the flowers glowed in haunting reds, violets, blues, yellows, and oranges. The stems and leaves sparkled with the most wonderful green, extending their thorny sparks to the blue-gray glass tube walls.

While both of these varieties were beautiful phosphorescent display tubes, what Tom wanted was something, which matched that which he witnessed in class: a “hard vacuum” tube. The higher the vacuum, the stronger the effect. He was now sure of this. The effect did not occur in Geissler tubes or neon lights. As dangerous as it sounds (and it is EXTREMELY dangerous!), young Brown obtained a small “Coolidge-type” X-Ray tube.

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