Among the most badly handled, most interesting, most distorted, and most eclectic of aerospace history subjects is the origin of the use of the circular, elliptical and annular wing platforms (shapes) in aircraft design.

What is undoubtedly the first recorded circular aircraft was the product of the fertile imagination of an 18th Century Swedish scientist, philosopher and noted theologian named Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)

Swedenborg Hybrid Ornithopter of 1714

Since neither the British, the Americans nor the Russians are ever likely to reveal what, precisely, was discovered in the secret factories in Nazi Germany, it is worth noting that in 1945 Sir Roy Feddon, leader of a technical mission to Germany for the British Ministry of Aircraft Production, reported:

I have seen enough of their designs and production plans to realize that if they had managed to prolong the war some months longer, we would have been confronted with a set of entirely new and deadly developments in air warfare.

In 1956, Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, then head of the U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book, was able to state:

When World War II ended, the Germans had several radical types of aircraft and guided missiles under development. The majority of these were in the preliminary stages, but they were the only KNOWN craft that could ever approach the performance of the objects reported by UFO observers.

Whilst the flying wing and tailless configurations are moderately common, the lifting body designs did away
with wings entirely; it has merged with a strange fascination with the disc form as an airframe design.

The First Flying Saucer?

1911 Vought Disc-form aircraft

An early effort at disc-shaped design, the 'umbrella plane' of inventor Chance Vought
Whatever this design's merits may be, they lie more in the quantity of fabric and the quality of the joinery
than in any sound application of aerodynamic principles.
The aircraft, as far as we know, went nowhere; but Vought himself went on to produce a famous line of aircraft in the U.S.A.

The Rush To Develop A Craft With Saucer Performance

UFO mania was everywhere in the 1950. Saucer shaped craft had been sighted everywhere. Hollywood was churning out grade B flying saucer movies and even some that were considered quite good like the movie "The Day the Earth Stood Still". Not only people were wondering what those saucers in the sky were but secretly, governments were also wondering. There were reports that saucers had penetrated the radar over Washington D.C. and saucers were hovering over the White House. Pursuit jets had gone after saucers but it was like a Model T car trying to catch a modern Ferrari, no competition. As soon as the jets would get within sighting distance the saucers would then step on the gas and they were gone. It wasn't only Washington that had the saucer problem, but it existed all over the world. It was natural that governments would be interested and scared, even though they continued to say it was just misidentification of temperature inversions and the like. Secretly these government were investigating these phenomena while some were even trying to copy it.

Project Silver Bug, a 1950s operation designed to build what was, quite literally, a man-made Flying Saucer. To what extent the US military may have had actual success in this area is unknown; however, only a few years later, man-made Flying Saucers were once again the subject of official interest – and this time the plan was to make them nuclear-powered.

A report, dated October 1962, titled Environment Control Systems Selection for Manned Space Vehicles, and prepared by North American Aviation Inc., for the Air Force Systems Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, reveals the facts.

Although much of the text is highly technical, the description of the proposed Flying Saucer as the “Lenticular Reentry Vehicle” is eye opening.

According to the document:

The overall weapon system concept results in a requirement for three basic orbiting components. First, there is a requirement for a manned bombardment vehicle which houses the basic control function in space. Secondly, a weapon cluster is required. This is an unmanned weapon carrier which combines and integrates several weapons into a common orbiting package to facilitate handling and servicing. The third requirement is the weapon itself.


It seems that three countries were cooperating on the project to build a flying saucer. These countries were Great Britain, the United States and Canada. The project to build the saucer was known by various names but the most popular seems to be Project Y. In order to hide what they were really doing, they let it leak out that that were working on a saucer type aircraft, but the aircraft they showed was the AVRO Car. This was a silly looking, saucer shaped craft that had a large fan under it so it could hover (but not too well) and was a small craft. Pictures abounded of this thing swaying back and forth trying to hover and different laughing pilots sitting in the cockpit. The truth of the matter is they were really working on the AVRO plane, a vehicle that they hoped would fly over 2500 mph.

If the public would have ever know the truth at the time, they would have been astounded. The facts seem to indicate that the plane was being constructed in Canada by a British engineer named John Frost along with other engineers such as Ray Gibson of AVRO. The project was supposed to build a saucer aircraft with the best performance possible but it changed during experimentation into a sleek plane. AVRO was a British company that had a subsidiary in Canada. One of the things that was to make this plane revolutionary were small jet nozzles which were designed to give the aircraft increased thrust making the plane fly faster. The goal was Mach 5 or fives times the speed of sound. This seemed impossible in the early fifties. The plane would takeoff by standing on it tail. It is hard to see in the picture but notice the flat area on the tail.

AVRO had injected over five million dollars into a secret project including 2 million from the U.S..Today this would have been chump change, but in the early 1950s this was serious money. On December 3, 1954, The Leader Post, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, ran a front page headline declaring "Saucer project cost too large". The Canadian defence department had cancelled the project stating it was impractical at the time. Some of the engineers thought that the plane could have eventually attained at least some of its goals and were remorseful at the cancellation.

Were these engineers just disappointed at the cancellation of a project that they had invested years of their lives in or did the project actually show some promise? Some people have said that the AVRO plane has some similarities to our stealth aircraft. Of course the SR-71 Blackbird, a plane that even today holds many of the world's speed records did come out in the sixties but how many know that the A12 was a plane that looked almost exactly like the SR-71, was a little faster and first constructed in 1962 and had it's engine tested as early as 1958?

Was the A12 built from lessons learned in building the AVRO plane? We may never know the answer. The A-12's speed is classified but a speed over Mach 3 is admitted to, very close to the 2500 mph of the AVRO project.



A-12 (No its NOT an SR-71 Blackbird)
Source: US Air Force

The Central Intelligence Agency says it has finally come clean about UFOs. To absolutely no one's surprise, it knew more than it ever let on.

"Over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights," says Gerald K. Haines, a historian for the National Reconnaissance Office who studied secret CIA UFO files for an internal CIA study that examined the spy agency's involvement in UFOs through the 1990s.

Why lie about UFOs? "The Soviets could use UFO reports to touch off mass hysteria and panic in the United States and overload the U.S. air warning system so that it could not distinguish real targets from phantom UFOs," Haines says.

If Cold War hysteria seems to be a less than satisfactory explanation, perhaps it is because there really is more to the story.

POPULAR MECHANICS has learned from nonclassified sources that the United States had a serious reason for wanting the public to keep believing that the strange lights in the sky were of unearthly origin. The government kept the UFO myth alive to disguise the embarrassing fact that during the hottest days of the Cold War, America's two most secret intelligence gathering assets–the A-12 and SR-71 spyplanes–flew toward hostile terrain with the equivalent of cow bells dangling from their necks.

The deception of the public began in the early 1950s. It involved the then highly secret, and to this day little-known, A-12. If you think you saw an SR-71 Blackbird at an air and space museum, the odds are you were actually looking at an A-12. The idea for the plane was conceived in 1954 by CIA director Allen Dulles. The objective of this secret program, according to aviation historian Paul F. Crickmore, was to build a spyplane capable of flying higher and faster than the U-2.

The secret development program, which was originally called Project Aquatone, and then Gusto and then Oxcart, led to the first A-12 mockup. It became connected with UFO lore in late 1959 when, according to Crickmore, it was trucked from the famous Lockheed Skunk Works, in Palmdale, California, to Groom Lake, Nevada. (Also known to UFO enthusiasts as Area 51, this formerly secret test site is located about 100 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada.) Hidden in the desert and surrounded by then active Atomic Energy Commission testing grounds, the A-12 mockup underwent a series of tests to determine and then reduce its ability to deflect and absorb radar signals. The CIA liked what it saw and ordered a dozen.

Lockheed had built what to this day is considered the most amazing aircraft of all time. But before it could fly, it needed engines that could propel the plane to Mach 3.2 and an altitude of more than 97,600 ft. In February 1962, Pratt & Whitney announced its already overdue J58 engines could not be delivered anytime soon. As an interim solution, they offered less powerful J75 engines that, according to Crickmore, would take the A-12 to about 50,000 ft. and a speed of Mach 1.6. CIA engineers accepted the offer after calculating that an A-12 equipped with a pair of J75 engines should be able to fly faster than Mach 2. The radar-deflecting shapes of the F-117A (top) and SR-71 (above) lend themselves to misinterpretations as UFOs.

"In order to placate the directors who controlled the agency's purse strings, [Lockheed test pilot] Bill Park dived an A-12 to Mach 2," says Crickmore. "[It] relieved some of the high-level pressure on the design team." Without intending to, Park also opened a new chapter in UFO history.

One of the features about UFO sightings that has consistently baffled the experts is their apparent ability to swoop downward, hover and then soar into the sky at impossible speeds.

Viewed head on, this is exactly how an A-12 or an SR-71–its J58-powered successor–appears to move at times during a normal flight. The maneuver is called a "dipsy doodle."

Col. Richard H. Graham, who commanded the U.S. Air Force 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing and has written a history of the SR-71 titled SR-71 Revealed, recently explained the dipsy doodle to PM. The pilot begins by climbing to about 30,000 ft. with the afterburners glowing. At about 33,000 ft., with the plane at Mach .95, he noses the aircraft over. Heading down at a pitch as great as 30 degrees, the plane falls as fast as 3000 ft. per minute. After 10 to 20 seconds, the pilot pulls out of the dive, then accelerates skyward at more than twice the speed of sound.

There is one more very UFO-like characteristic of the SR-71: The glow of its exhaust periodically turns green.

The SR-71 burns fuel modified to withstand high temperatures. It doesn't light easily. "One early 'hiccup' was ignition," Crickmore recalls. "The [J58] engine would not start no matter what procedure was tried."

Eventually the problem was solved by the introduction of a chemical that explodes on contact with the atmosphere. Graham says it must be introduced into the engine when it is started, and it also kicks-in the afterburners. This happens after each aerial refueling, which, given the SR-71's enormous thirst, is quite often. Each time, it produces another image that could be misinterpreted as a UFO–flashing colored lights.

The green flash and distinctive dipsy doodle can be spotted from miles away. Observing the pattern created by these strange sights provides a map to the SR-71's target area, giving those on the ground enough time to hide whatever the spyplane has been sent to photograph.

Curiously, the ebb and flow of UFO sightings in the Southwest correspond with the comings and goings of secret aircraft. Some of the most intense UFO spottings coincided with the testing of the F-117A stealth fighter, which was stationed just west of Area 51. These may account for the yet unexplained sightings.

What better way to hide extraordinary aircraft than to wrap them in the compelling fiction of aliens?

Ever since 1948 the CIA has maintained an interest in UFOs and remains tight-lipped to this very day on the subject, keeping evidence and documents on the phenomena many levels above Top Secret.

Flying Saucers and the CIA

After the Cold War ended, the culture of secrecy and the operational style of the CIA began to change. Its director appeared on a radio talk show, and it became possible for citizens to pressure the CIA in ways unheard of during that earlier era. Ufology has been a beneficiary of these changes.

The CIA's UFO History


Real Flying Saucers

During the Second World War the United States was looking desperately for anything that could give its fighter pilots an edge in combat. So in 1942 the Navy ordered the construction of an experimental aircraft designated the XF5U-1: A flying saucer.

In the years before the war an Aeronautics engineer named Charles Zimmerman became fascinated with the possibilities offered by an aircraft designed like a thin disc. Zimmerman, who worked for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, tested a series of unmanned models that eventually led to this design. The shape, commonly referred to at the time as a "flying flapjack," would allow an aircraft to both perform well at high speeds by producing very little drag, and at low speeds, by resisting a stall.

Lockheed was assigned patent rights for a passenger UFO. Its design was among several developed by the military and aerospace companies

Still, more aircraft designers found the saucer shape interesting. In 1954 Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, the same company that later built the super secret U-2 spy plane, SR-71 "Blackbird" and F-117A "Stealth Fighter", applied for a patent on a saucer shaped plane. Lockheed was convinced that the shape would allow for excellent structural rigidity, stable vertical ascent, inherent aerodynamic efficiency, and lots of room inside for fuel and payload. As far as anyone knows the Lockheed design was never built.

One flying saucer that has been built is the Sikorsky Cypher. It is a flying robot about six feet in diameter designed for remote reconnaissance. Unlike the V-173 and similar designs, this saucer is not a wing, but a shroud for a rotary-wing. Operating like a helicopter it can hover and fly slowly around using its video camera to spy. Designed for military operations, the saucer-like shroud keeps the spinning rotor from coming in contact with tree limbs and wires as it manoeuvres down tight city streets during urban warfare.

The shape has another property that has become important in the last ten or twenty years of aircraft design: It is stealthy. Military radar works by sending a radio wave out from a radar transmitter. When the wave hits an object it reflects some of the wave back. A radar receiver located at the same place as the transmitter can then detect the wave. By knowing how long it took for the wave to return, what direction it returned, and if the frequency of the wave was shifted, the distance, location and speed of the object can be calculated and shown on the radar screen.

Some objects reflect radio wave better than others. Flat objects will reflect a wave strongly in a particular direction. Circular or rounded objects reflect the wave more poorly because they scatter it in many directions. The F-117A and B-2 aircraft, known as the "Stealth Fighter" and "Stealth Bomber" respectively, hide by never reflecting radar waves back toward the radar receiver. In normal flight they are designed to present their perfectly flat surfaces away from potential radar sites at an angle.

A competing stealth design, though, would use a rounded aircraft, like a saucer, to scatter the waves. Before photos of the F-117A were released many engineers speculated that the plane would be round and flat with a short, sharp, pointed nose at the forward end. Could the government be developing a super secret, vertical takeoff and landing, stealth-flying disc somewhere (Perhaps at the famed Area 51) Problems that plagued earlier designs, like the Avrocar, have been resolved. Computer fly-by-wire systems have made inherently unstable aircraft, like the F-117A, very flyable. There is no reason why the same thing couldn't be done for a jet powered flying saucer.

Most traditional aircraft designs have to make a trade off: Long wings let an airplane land and take off at very low speeds. This means shorter runways and greater payloads. As the speed increases, though, long wings create too much resistance to the air and waste power. That's why modern jet fighters have very short, stubby wings. They can go very fast, but they are difficult to land because if you fly them too slow they will not produce enough lift to keep the plane in the air (this is called a stall) and crash. Some modern jets, like the United State's F111 and F14 solve this problem by using a "swing wing" that could be changed from short and swept back to long and square depending on what the plane was trying to do. Zimmerman's design promised to do the same thing without the mechanical complexities associated with moving the wing in flight.

The idea was tested with a manned prototype called the V-173. The V-173 made over 100 successful flights, so two prototypes of a fighter, the XF5U1, were built.

The XF5U-1 prototypes were powered by two 1600-horsepower engines which drove twin propellers on the front of the craft. The pilot sat in a bubble-like canopy that was roughly in the center of the saucer. Small vertical and horizontal tailfins were on the rear of the craft. Zimmerman estimated that the planes would have a top speed of 425 miles an hour and still be able to land as slow as 40 miles an hour. He hoped that with even more powerful engines the fighter might reach 550 miles an hour and be able to take off almost vertically.

By the time the XF5U-1 was finished, though, the war was over and the Navy had become interested in jet powered aircraft of more conventional designs. The XF5U-1s never flew and were destroyed.

There is some evidence that during WWII the Germans had some interest in disc shaped aircraft, too, though it seems unlikely that any of their designs were ever flight tested.

The next attempt to take advantage of the saucer shape was the VZ-9V Avrocar, Avro Aircraft, a British concern, designed an aircraft that was circular in shape and used a central fan, powered by three turbo-jet engines, to make a vertical takeoff. Once in the air the turbo-jet exhaust would be shifted to the rear giving the vehicle the forward movement it would need to let the circular wing generate lift.

The project was originally funded by Canada, but later was taken over by the U.S. Air Force in 1954. The USAF was concerned that it would need a fighter capable of vertical takeoffs and the VZ-9V was seen as a possibility.

The VZ-9V was about twenty feet in diameter with a five foot wide central fan. It flew well at low altitudes of five or six feet, but when it tried to rise further it became unstable. This had been recognized as a problem early on and the aircraft had a complex mechanical system that was supposed to automatically control the undesired movement and keep the craft stable. It never really worked, though, and, in 1961, after putting $10 million dollars into the project, the Air Force dropped it.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, the Nazis would begin development of new weapons like the V-2 rocket designed by Wernher von Braun the Nazi Chief Technology Officer at the top-secret headquarters in Peenemünde. Unknown by most at this time, was an even more secret development taking place in Prague using the unlikely resources of the Skoda company to develop a fantastic new flying craft.

By 1944 the war was not going too well for Germany and Hitler, seeking to reassure his ally Mussolini, invited him to Germany to visit the Skoda factory along with his weapons expert Luigi Romersa to see his fantastic new aircraft.

Luigi Romersa, now 84 and living in Italy, described what he saw at the Skoda factory: "It was something exceptional, round with a central cockpit made from plexi-glass, and with jets all around it as means of propulsion".

One of the men who helped create this first flying saucer was Andreas Epp. He had invented a disc shaped flying gunnery target and sent the prototype to the Luftwaffe high command suggesting it could be adapted for manned flight.

Epp discovered that his plans had been stolen and were being developed in Prague. He travelled to the Skoda factory and witnessed, and photographed, the first test flights of the flying saucer.

The saucer used a combination of technologies, including the Coanda Effect, helicopter principles and jet propulsion. It was fast, versatile and could potentially carry a heavy payload of bombs. But, perhaps most importantly, for a country that had lost most of it's runways to enemy bombing, it could take off vertically. According to Romersa, Hitler planned to use his new weapon in a devastating attack on New York which would be the final battle of The Third Reich. An attack which never came. As the Russians closed in on Prague, the scientists destroyed the evidence of their developments.

In 1947 pilot Kenneth Arnold was flying over mountains in Washington State when he saw nine objects shooting across the sky at incredible speeds. He described them as saucers being skipped on water, which is were the name flying saucers originated. The US government were concerned with these reports as it suggested the Russians had acquired the Nazi technology and were building the saucers. It turned out to be true. The Russians had gained the services of Andreas Epp.

By July 1952 an increasingly paranoid America sought to play down reportings of Russian flying saucers so adopted a two-pronged approach. Firstly denying that the Soviets had any such flying machines and then starting rumours that any such sightings could be of extra-terrestrial origin.

America, in turn, had managed to obtain the services of Wernher von Braun, and a good deal of V-2 technology but not much more. However in 1957 their luck would improve. Andreas Epp had a falling out with the Soviets and moved from East Germany to West Germany where he handed himself over to the Americans.

Flying Saucers - For Real

The secret truth behind

U.S. built flying wing disc aircraft

By the early 60's almost all of the major aerospace contractors, including Boeing, Convair, Lockheed and North American were working on concepts for saucer shaped vehicles. Spurred on greatly, by the realisation that saucers could make ideal stealth aircraft.

In 1961 the world was shown what it's builder's claimed was the first real flying saucer, invented by John Frost. The Avrocar had serious problems and while this new design was being shown to the public the project was abandoned. In truth the Avrocar was not a flying saucer at all, it was the world's first hovercraft. It was also the by-product of a far more secret and ambitious project which had everything to do with flying saucers. Project Y2 or weapons system 606A was run by Avro and utilised German saucer technology.

But, the fantastic, supersonic, flying saucer of Frost's imagination was a long way from becoming reality. His design was one of the purest uses of the Coanda or flying saucer effect yet. It had six powerful jets which sucked air over the saucer shape, these provided the saucer with it's lift and it's manoeuvrability. But, testing this craft was not going to be easy or safe.

This project died a death when the Avro Corporation got into financial difficulties and John Frost left the company and moved to New Zealand.

The American Air Force were far from happy, they still wanted a saucer and if Avro wouldn't build it, they would build it themselves. John Frost's supersonic flying saucer was about to disappear into the blackest recesses of the American military machine.

In the late 80's in Gulf Breeze, Florida there was a spate of UFO sightings largely unexplained, but Boyd Bushman believes he recognised the technology from his time spent working at Lockheed. It seems the American military are still working on this project and playing on the UFO believers as their cover story