Artillery, Arms & Ammunition

    Aerial Bombers  "Designs Ahead Of Their Time"

Ballooning began in America in 1793 and by the end of 1861 the Union army, with the influence and guidance of Thaddeus Lowe, had five hot-air balloons- their first "aeronaut corps". All of the balloons in use during the Civil War were used strictly for reconnaissance. While many aeronautical designs were submitted to the U.S. Patent Office during the Civil War years, only a few inventors combined the idea of flying machines with offensive military operations; none of these saw use during the Civil War.

In June 1862 Luther C. Crowell of West Dennis, Mass., received a patent for a flying machine capable of carrying a bomb load. The sharp-edged hollow wings of the machine were designed to hold hydrogen gas, and with the power of a steam engine located in the cab, the wings were to pivot from a horizontal to a vertical position. Dual propellers linked by chains or bands were to revolve in opposite directions, and they were also hinged so that they could function both vertically and horizontally. This aerial bomber had a cone- or pyramid-shaped rudder, and the craft was designed to take off and land vertically.

In February 1863 Charles Perley of New York City was awarded a patent for an unmanned aerial bomber. His design was a hot-air balloon that carried a basket containing a timing mechanism. The timer would trip a hammer on a cylinder to eject a hinge pin, opening the hinged basket at the bottom so that the bomb would drop out. The ejection on the hinge also ignited the bomb's fuse. Perley recommended that operators first send up test balloons or gas bags to check the speed of the air current so that they could set the timing device accurately. Of course the aerial bomber also had to be sent up directly to the windward side of its target.

A Confederate veteran recalled an attaché' to the Confederate War Department who appealed for money through Richmond newspapers to build a big balloon. "He said that with it he could fly over Grant's army, and by dropping explosives annihilate them."

Fascinating Fact:  In the Civil War era, men envisioning aerial bombers were considered cranks, not progressive forward thinkers ahead of their time.


Back to index page