Duck! It’s the Discopter…

Alexanger Weygers (1901-1989) initially trained as an engineer in the Netherlands before moving to America in 1931, where he began to make a name for himself as a sculptor in California.

In 1941 he joined the US Army and worked in intelligence during the Second World War, and it’s during this period that he designed the Discopter, a hovering, Vertical Take Off and Landing rotor-based aircraft like an enclosed helicopter, that earned him US Patent #2377835 in 1945.

Weygers may have been inspired by the clear need to develop short or vertical take off aircraft as World War II unravelled. This was the first all-out air war, and if your airstrips were bombed then your grounded aircraft became sitting ducks for the enemy flying overhead. The alleged German flying saucer prototypes emerged as a solution to this problem, inspiring designer John Frost’s Avro Silverbug in the mid 1950s, while the US Navy sought STOL aircraft to minimise take-off distances from aircraft carriers, leading to the development of its own pseudo-saucer, the XF5U ‘Flying Flapjack‘.

Years later, however, Weygers told a reporter that he first had the idea long before the war:

It must have been 1927 when the idea came to me. I was working as a draftsman and we had been talking about propellers. It seemed to me the helicopter was a unfinished piece of engineering. You cannot just lift it up. It must move as a pendulum, which makes it very limited in use. (The Daily Review, August 9, 1985.)

As I discuss in Mirage Men, disc-shaped aircraft were being planned – and flown – by humans long before anyone was talking about alien flying saucers, and Weygers’ design is but one example of this approach to launching man and machine into the the air, and the greater problem of keeping them there.

Weygers’ philosophical outlook, his breadth of knowledge and his skills as both an engineer and an artist lead to him being described as a modern Leonardo and, true to form, he didn’t just imagine the Discopter itself but whole cityscapes shape around the concept. The Discopter wasn’t just an aircraft, but a vision of a possible future.


More on Weygers / you can also buy discopter prints

About Mark

Author of 'Mirage Men' & 'Far Out' and publisher/editor at Strange Attractor Press.
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One Response to Duck! It’s the Discopter…

  1. Maury Markowitz says:

    Just for the record: there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that John Frost developed the Avrocar (“Silverbug”) with anything other than his own impetus.

    The history is very well recorded. The Avrocar started not as a vehicle, but as a jet engine design. Frost felt that Whittle’s “reverse flow” burners were a problem, and started looking at engine designs that lacked this feature. He tried a centrally-located centrifugal compressor surrounded by a series of burners arranged like the spokes of a wheel. Around this was a fan-like turbine that was geared to power the compressor. The result was a very large engine, but very thin, like a pancake.

    Now how would one use such an engine? Well, had it been a naval company he was working at, the answer would be obvious. But as he worked at an aviation company, the engineering team spend the next couple of years trying to figure out how to wrap an airframe around this engine. The result was the Spade and Omega designs, which strike me as hardly practical.

    After a time, Frost happened upon papers on the Coanda effect. Presto! His new idea was to arrange one of his disk engines over a convex surface, blowing horizontally across the top. The curved surface would bend this down to produce upward thrust. Because the airflow was in a large ring, equal or larger than the size of the craft, it would naturally be stable. The rest is history — as you know, the craft was not stable in any fashion.

    I have seen many claims of links between Frost and/or Avrocar and any number of previous projects. However, no evidence of such a link exists, and there’s ample reason to believe Frost was able to develop these concepts on his own (he was certainly more successful as a designer than any of the projects he supposedly was inspired by).

    BTW, the design illustrated above would not work. It would not work for the same reason the Avrocar ultimately failed. Essentially any VTOL aircraft that is supported by a central column of air will be naturally unstable as the airflow will “neck down” into a thin column (like water coming out of a faucet) and you end up trying to balance the aircraft on top of a rod. Some sort of additional, and powerful, stabilization is required.

    With a helicopter, this is provide by suspending the weight of the aircraft under the lifting surface, and making the lift very much larger than the fuselage. Even when it necks down, the lifting surface is larger than the craft. With the Harrier, a series of support points are used to spread out the lift across the area. The Avrocar tried to spread it out through nozzles around the fuselage, but this simply didn’t work in practice, and it failed to work out of ground effect.

    The aircraft above features a large fuselage with an inlet on top that is smaller than the craft. This is bad. Then the exhaust compresses this into a smaller area. Without active stabilization, which became possible in the 1960s at the earliest, this would have suffered the same stability problems as the Avrocar (“hubcapping”). And as it has no obvious thrust enhancer, its highly unlikely it would have flown at all.

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