The Weird World of Folk Aviators

With his whimsical sculptures, Gregory Bryant celebrates early ideas about winged flight.

(Eric Long, NASM)

Nicolas Margalis

(Matthew Breitbart, NASM)

Shortly after World War II, a Greek laborer named Nicolas Margalis sent the Smithsonian his concept for an interplanetary airplane in a 22-page workbook titled Planes, Planets, Planes. “Apparently what happened is that the workbook moved around, and it finally landed in Mr. Garber's lap. And Mr. Garber wrote Margalis a very nice letter thanking him, and telling him we shall keep your plans on file at the Smithsonian. And that was the end of it." The file sat there from 1947 until 1983 or so, at which point Bryant and his coworker Elizabeth Hand found it in the course of cataloging the Museum's technical files—sorting and photographing every document, newspaper clipping, magazine article, and letter in the collections, a decades' long project. “We just fell in love with Margalis' workbook," Bryant says. "He spends all this time developing this [vehicle] that will fly to all the planets. The scale of it...here we go. It's 630,000 feet across. It's so ambitious. The propeller blades themselves are 300,000 feet, or 60 miles long.'”

Nothing more is known about Margalis. “He could have been a teenager,” says Bryant, “he could have been in his 60s, we don't know.”

Bryant got it in his mind to make the Margalis Planet Plane. “I had to do it from memory because I hadn't seen the book in almost 25 years. And I see I got a great deal of it wrong. I tried to do it to scale; I couldn't, really. The base of it is the map of Greece. That was to get it to scale. If I were to build it to Margalis' scale, it would stand taller than my office.”

Made of cardboard, fingernail polish, colored pencil.

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