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A tailless puzzle

steelpillow

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The test pilot and air historian Harald Penrose once met an old gentleman who had built and flown models of tailless aircraft up to 8 ft (2.5 m) before the Wrights flew. The old chap lived near Burton Bradstock in Dorset, on the Channel coast. During the project at Westland which produced the Pterodactyl series of tailless aircraft, one of the designers visited him. The Pterodactyl V sesquiplane subsequently bore a startling resemblance to the last and most successful of the models. The design had even been offered to the government in 1914 but had been turned down. Penrose test-flew all the later Pterodactyls, including the V, but only came across him later, perhaps in the late 1930s or even postwar, and the models were still hanging in an old barn. Penrose tells the story in his autobiography "Adventure with Fate", but gives the name of neither the Westland designer nor the old man.
The designer might have been either GTR Hill, father of the Pterodactyls, or someone else from his drawing office. The old gentleman himself does not fit the histories of any of the known tailless pioneers; JW Dunne, Handley Page or Jose Weiss. For a start he was reading the Koran when Penrose called, but he was also in the wrong place at the wrong time to be any of them. Anybody got any serious suggestions?
My best guess is EH Hankin, who had studied bird flight while in India, lectured to the Aeronautical Society on the subject, retired to the UK and begun experimenting with model planes. But I do not know where he came to live out his days. Some say East Anglia. Does anybody know anything more about his aeronautical experiments or where he lived either before or after his working life in India?
 

Apophenia

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Your Koran anecdote fits perfectly with Hankin's 1905 paper on "... methods of design employed in the Mohammedan art". And, of course, he was lead author with anatomist Prof. DMS Watson for "On the Flight of Pterodactyls" (The Aeronautical Journal 18: pp 324–335).

BTW, in the paper A short history of pterosaur research (Peter Wellnhofer, 2008, pg.13), Hankin is described as "an aeronautical engineer". AFAIK, that was not the case.

His obit starts here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2209548/?page=3 but, alas, no mention of where he retired to in 1922. His health took him to Torquay and Newquay later in life ... but no direct mention of Dorset.

For anyone who wants to dig around further, Dr. Hankin's full name was Ernest Hanbury Hankin, M. A., Sc.D.I.
 

steelpillow

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Thank you for the link and the reference.

Wikipedia has a fair amount of that information already.

Hankin was born in Hertfordshire and, in the pre-Wright period mentioned by Penrose, there is no mention of him living or flying models anywhere near Dorset.
He did join the Aeronautical Society, an early draft of his book was serialised in Flight in 1911, and he first lectured to the Society in 1912. He had come back from India, presumably for a brief visit although I can find no obvious record of what he did between that and his official retirement in 1922.
He co-authored a paper on soaring flight in 1924 and was seen flying model gliders around this time or later. So the description of "aeronautical engineer" was not wholly unjustified, though he was far from a practical or professional one. One assumes that Wellnhofer was unaware of his true profession.

When Hankin returned permanently to England in 1922 he is known to have settled first in Norfolk, then Torquay on the Channel coast of Devon, then Newquay in Cornwall (or possibly New Quay, a dying Devon village just upriver from the Channel coast?), then finally Brighton in Kent, another Channel port.

So yes, his age and his studies of Islamic tilings fit well with the Koran anecdote. But the Dorset location must still bring him into question. Might he have stayed there a while on his way to or from the far South West? And perhaps more significantly, where could his models of up to 8 ft (2.5 m) span have been stored while he was in India? Might Penrose's memory of the location have failed after half a century, by the time he wrote it down? Might there instead have been two old men with interests in both flight and Islam?
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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Burton Bradstock is exactly the place you'd find someone who was looking for Pterosaur fossils.
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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He was flying model gliders 'on a London Common' in 1923, according to Time Magazine so he certainly got around a bit :)

His books on animal flight are pretty good as a cure for insomnia...

https://archive.org/details/AStudyOfBirdFlight
http://www.archive.org/stream/cu31924003626110
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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From a 1923 presentation abstract in Flight:

https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1923/1923%20-%200704.PDF

Perhaps something might be learned about soaring flight by means of model gliders. The lecturer proposes to discuss this question. Having now made 45 small gliders, he hopes soon to be able to make them sufficiently well for scientific experiments, and is anxious to find someone expert in aeronautics to fly them for him.
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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I presume you have this article already?

King, R.; Penrose, H. "The Ptailless Ones" Aeroplane Monthly July 1973

If not I can upload.
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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Apparently Hankin had some seriously wacky ideas as to how birds soar:

"sun stores up energy in the air. The energised air, called " Ergaer," then has the property of " soarability." " Ergaer " " is a state of the atmosphere in which energy from the sun's rays becomes locked up in the molecular structure of the air, to be released by the passage of the bird's wing." It operates in a manner " something in the nature of chemical disintegration resulting in a continuous series of minute explosions."

https://www.j2mcl-planeurs.net/dbj2mcl/planeurs-biblio/fac-similes/Gliding_and_Soaring_Flight_(Weiss_1923).pdf

By 1923 he'd abandoned this theory and felt that experimentation with model gliders was the way to understand soaring.
 

steelpillow

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PaulMM (Overscan) said:
I presume you have this article already?

King, R.; Penrose, H. "The Ptailless Ones" Aeroplane Monthly July 1973

If not I can upload.

Funnily enough it is on my reading list for next week, when I intend to visit the National Aerospace Library. But yes, a softcopy would be wonderful.
 

avion ancien

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steelpillow said:
..... then finally Brighton in Kent, another Channel port.

I've never come across a Brighton in Kent, let alone one with a Channel port!
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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Here you go.
 

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steelpillow

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PaulMM (Overscan) said:
Apparently Hankin had some seriously wacky ideas as to how birds soar:

https://www.j2mcl-planeurs.net/dbj2mcl/planeurs-biblio/fac-similes/Gliding_and_Soaring_Flight_(Weiss_1923).pdf

By 1923 he'd abandoned this theory and felt that experimentation with model gliders was the way to understand soaring.

To his credit, at first many authorities thought that the soaring of birds was qualitatively different from that of gliders. Even Handley Page thought that the wings of large soaring were aerodynamically inefficient and they extracted energy from the wind in some unknown manner. Hankin was a biologist by profession not an engineer or physicist. He can be forgiven for going with the flow. Practitioners like Weiss, who realised the truth, were in a minority until the German gliders of the early 1920s blew their socks off.

Still no sign of the old gentleman - or anybody else in Dorset - though I have yet to read Son-of-Weiss's book cover to cover.
 

steelpillow

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avion ancien said:
steelpillow said:
..... then finally Brighton in Kent, another Channel port.

I've never come across a Brighton in Kent, let alone one with a Channel port!

"Kent" is of course my own spelling of "Sussex", ahem. Brighton is on the Channel, has been a fishing village and unofficial point of entry and departure across the Channel since antiquity so counts as a port in my book - it even has an entry at ports.co.uk - and I was obviously not confusing it with the Port of Brighton in Trinidad and Tobago (which even I do not spell as "Kent".)
 

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It doesn't add anything to the story but I checked on Ancestry and he does not appear in either the 1901 or 1911 census, as was to be expected
 

steelpillow

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J.C. Locke is another possible candidate. All I can find out about him and his tailless glider comes from a couple of letters he wrote to Flight:

Flight, April 9, 1910, pp.280-1:
MR. J. C. LOCKE'S MONOPLANE.
There are three pegs on which I wish to hang this letter.
First, the paucity of new ideas at Olympia, to which your correspondent refers in Letter No. 433; second, the fate of poor Le Blon; third, the report I recently saw in one of your contemporaries that Captain Dunn [sic] had flown in a biplane of novel design at Shellbeach. Now the connection between these seeming irrelevancies is this, that Captain Dunn's machine constitutes an absolute departure from any type existing at present, thus filling the void so needfully pointed out by yourselves and your correspondent, and that it is — if Captain Dunn's experiences have been similar to mine — the most perfect machine, so far, at least, as stability is concerned, of any now flying. Its gliding powers are marvellous, and had poor Le Blon's machine been a good glider he would have come safely to earth, so far as one can judge from the report.
The details of Captain Dunn's machine given by your contemporary are meagre, but sufficient to identify it as embodying the same theory as I have been working on myself for two and a half years past. The broad principle is that the main planes resemble in plan a wide V. There is no need to give away the details of the theory, but I strongly advise all your readers to go into it for themselves. I have worked it out for myself by means of various models, and the results have been so astonishingly good that I am now building, and have almost completed, a large monoplane glider, about 37 ft. in span from tip to tip of the V. I shall be surprised and disappointed if I do not produce better gliding results than any machine so far has given; and the fact should be plainly recognised, that gliding capacity constitutes the fundamental test of a dynamic flyer.
I shall hope to give you some account of the glider's performances later on, and in the meantime would once more urge your readers to work along these lines for themselves.
Chingford.
J.C. LOCKE.

Flight, August 20, 1910:
THE LOCKE GLIDER.
I promised some time ago, in a letter you published, to tell you about my experiments with a glider then in course of construction on lines which, unhappily for me, had been to some extent anticipated by Lieut. Dunne.
The glider is now more or less completed, after an annoying delay, and on Tuesday, July 26th, I attempted flight at Barking. The wind was not strong enough, however, and as the construction of the machine and the nature of the ground made a launch impracticable without the help of the wind, I have, unluckily, no success to report. But with time and patience great things may happen yet, and when they do you shall know of them.
The accompanying photo was taken at the time of the trial. It gives some idea of thу glider's chief characteristic - that is, its broad-arrow shape. The planes meet at an angle of 90°, and are 37 ft. across from tip to tip. I don't think I'll give you any further details now.
The tousled-looking person standing in the angle at the back of the glider is myself. Of the three people on the other side of the planes, those bareheaded are friends who underwent a vast deal of violent exertion and acute discomfort (Barking has many thistles) in order to help me fly. My associate in building the glider unfortunately does not appear. He was working the camera.
I hope to have something really interesting to tell you before very long.
Chingford.
J.C. LOCKE.

The second letter includes a poor quality photo showing a tailless swept monoplane with constant chord and angular wing tips. A central frame appears to accommodate a foot rest for a stand-up pilot, with the wings coming about shoulder-high.

The timing is about right, but Locke wrote from Chingford near London, while Penrose's gentleman had flown his models in Dorset and would later be found there in his old age. Also, the old gentleman made no mention of a pure monoplane following on from his sesquiplane model, and manned at that.

Um.
 

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