The Weird World of Folk Aviators
With his whimsical sculptures, Gregory Bryant celebrates early ideas about winged flight.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, May 2012
Eric Long, NASM
During the Civil War, engineer William Powers came up with an idea for breaking the Northern blockade of Southern harbors. “His idea was to create this—again, steam-powered—helicopter-type design,” says Bryant, “which he was going to use to bomb the northern ships.”
"The engine was to rotate a shaft and gears," writes historian Juliette Hennessy, "and drive two pairs of rotors or air-screws, one pair to raise the craft vertically, the other pair to drive it horizontally. A rudder was provided for steering and a rolling weight for balancing the craft fore and aft." After completing his design, Powers worried that it would fall into Yankee hands, so he hid the plans in his attic, where they remained until 1940. That was when Paul Garber (the first curator of the Air Museum, which later became the National Air and Space Museum) acquired the model and the drawings.
After modeling his first two flying machines, Bryant began casting about for other things to build. “It's a fascinating, fascinating field,” he says. “We know about people like William Powers, and because Tom Crouch happened to stumble across A.A. Mason, we preserve his memory. But how many others are there? We have no way of knowing. In North America [alone] it could be dozens, or even hundreds of people. We just don't know the scope of folk aviation.”
Made of Federal Express cardboard boxes, paper, found materials.