Horatio Phillips’s Extreme Multiplanes

Sep 30, 2021 0 comments

British engineer and aviator Sir George Cayley suggested, as early as 1843, that an airplane with multiple wings will generate more uplift and become airborne with less effort. Many aircrafts introduced during the early years of flight adopted this principle. A clear majority of aircrafts taking part in the Great War were biplanes. The Fokker Dr.I, made famous by the German ace fighter Manfred von Richthofen, had three wings and it was a great airplane. The success of the Fokker Dr.I triplane persuaded airplane designer Anthony Fokker to add more wings to his craft, leading to the five-winged Fokker V.8. Unlike its successful cousin, it barely flew and was soon abandoned.

Horatio Phillips’s flying machine

Horatio Frederick Phillips also loved wings on his airplane, but he did not stop at five. In 1893, Philips built a flying machine with 50 wings. He upped this number to 120 in 1902. His final airplane, built in 1907, had an incredible 200 individual lifting surfaces.

Horatio Phillips was born in 1845 in Streatham, a suburb of London. The son of a gunsmith, Philips reportedly became interested in aviation at a young age, and closely followed the research conducted by the Royal Aeronautical Society using a whirling arm and wind tunnel. In the early 1880s, Philip began experimenting with airfoil design in a wind tunnel of his own design. Philip’s wind tunnel used a steam injector to suck air in through the entrance of the tunnel, producing an airstream that was of better quality than earlier wind tunnels had produced.

Horatio Phillips’s flying machine

Airfoil shapes patented by Horatio Phillips

Phillips used the results obtained in his wind tunnel experiments to design a series of cambered airfoils based on the shapes of birds' wings. He called these the “Phillips entry,” or “blades for deflecting air.” These airfoils had greater curvature on the top than on the bottom, that he called “double-surface airfoils”. When the curvature of the upper surface of a wing is greater than that of its under surface, the air flows over the upper surface at a greater velocity and produce lower pressures than on the underside. This creates an upward force known as lift. This is the basic working principle behind all heavier-than-air flight. Horatio Phillips was not the first to discover this concept; it was Sir George Cayley, who is deservedly knows as “the father of aviation.” However, Philips did contribute immensely to the design of cambered wings.

In 1884, Phillips received a patent for eight of these airfoil sections, which were of various widths and curvatures. He received a second patent in 1891. In the 1891 patent, he describes his “double-surface airfoils”:

The particles of air struck by the convex upper surface 4 at the point E are deflected upward, as indicated by the dotted lines, thereby causing a partial vacuum over the greater portion of the upper surface. The particles of air under the point E follow the lower convex and concave surface C D until they arrive at about the point G, where they are brought to rest. From this point G the particles of air are gradually put into motion in a downward direction, the motion being an accelerating one until the after edge F of the blade is passed. In this way a greater pressure than the atmospheric pressure is produced on the under surface of the blade.

While other aviators soon adopted cambered airfoils and attained success (Otto Lilienthal in Germany, and Samuel Langley and the Wright brothers in America), Philips himself failed miserably because he was too absorbed in increasing the number of wings and neglected to pay attention to other aspects of flight. His experiments, however, were certainly dramatic.

In his first attempt in 1893, Phillips created a contraption that rather resembled a Venetian blind than an airplane. Known simply as the Phillips Flying Machine, it consisted of a long, slender, cigar-shaped fuselage with a rectangular frame fitted with 50 narrow wings called “sustainers”. The sustainers were between 19 feet and 22 feet long but only by 1.5 inches wide, and they were mounted two inches apart. Motive power was derived by a coal-fired 6-horsepower engine that turned a single twin-bladed pusher propeller at a rate of 400 revolutions per minute. The entire machine weighed about 160 kilograms. Instead of a pilot, the machine was tethered to a central post and ran around in circles over a circular wooden track 200 feet in diameter. Under the pressure of air generated under the sustainers, the machine rose some 2 to 3 feet in the air when at a speed of 40 miles an hour.

Horatio Phillips’s flying machine

Horatio Phillips’s 1893 multiplane.

In 1904, Horatio Philips made another machine, this time that could be flown by a person. It had 21 wings and a cross-shaped tail control surface for improved stability and was supported by a three-wheeled undercarriage. The multiplane was powered by a 22-horsepower four-cylinder water-cooled in-line engine that Phillips built himself. The machine was 13 feet long and 10 feet tall and weighed 270 kilograms. Phillips managed to take the multiplane on at least one short hop covering about 50 feet in distance, while travelling at 34 miles per hour.

Horatio Phillips’s flying machine

The 20-winged multiplane built in 1904.

For his final attempt in 1907, Philips built a machine with four banks of 50 wings each, for a total of 200 wings. The multiplane was powered by a 22-horsepower engine, similar to that of his 1904 Multiplane, driving an 8 foot propeller. The weight of the machine, excluding the pilot, was 225 kg. It was in this machine that Phillips had the most success, flying for about 500 feet.

Horatio Phillips’s flying machine

The 200-winged monster.

While Philips’s achievements were soon eclipsed by the likes of the Wright brothers, the English aviation pioneer did help demonstrate the importance of cambered wings. After his final flight in 1907, Philips stopped making airplanes but he lived long enough to witness the rapid advances in aviation that occurred during and after World War I. He died in 1924.

# Horatio Phillips & Multiplanes, Aerospaceweb
# Horatio Phillips and Cambered Wing Design, Centennial of Flight
# Horatio F. Phillips, Flying Wings


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