History Behind The Card: ‘Flying ship’ of Francesco de Lana
Card #1 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910
Name: Francesco Lana de Terzi, 1631 in Brescia, Lombardy, northern Italy – February 22, 1687, Brescia, Italy.
As an Italian Jesuit, Francesco Lana de Terzi published a book in 1670 entitled: Prodomo, which contained a description for what is now described as the first serious lighter-than-air vehicle or flying ship.
The book held a chapter called: saggio di alcune invenzioni nuove premesso all’arte maestra (“Essay on new inventions permitted to the master art”), which contained the description of a ‘flying ship’.
Although never actually built, his sketch and concept described an aircraft – a boat-shaped car – under four large copper spheres from which all the air had been removed that would lift the car high up into the air.
Each of the spheres was described as having a diameter of 7.5 meters (24.5 feet), with calculated weight of 180 kilograms (almost 397 pounds). He also calculated that the air in the sphere would have a weight of 290 kg (638 lbs).
In theory, the copper spheres would have the air pumped to become akin to a vacuum–and since it would now be lighter than air, it would be able to provide enough lift to carry six passengers. That was the theory.
At this point in time, the ability to manufacture thin copper foil was not yet available, and Francesco Lana de Terzi was unaware that the air pressure surrounding a vacuum-filled sphere would flatten it—a fact that would be proven in 1710 by German mathematician Gottfried W. Leibniz.
As you can see from the diagrams, the airship would have utilized a central mast with a sail to help it move like a ship.The four copper spheres would be held aloft by four smaller masts.
Francesco Lana de Terzi was never really that keen on building his aircraft, as he thought man would find a way to use technology like his air ship for warring purposes such as the dropping of bombs onto other cities.
He wrote: “God would not suffer such an invention to take effect, by reason of the disturbance it would cause to the civil government of men… it may over-set them, kill their men, burn their ships by artificial fireworks and fireballs. And this they may do not only to ships, but to great buildings, castles, cities…”