Friday, June 7, 2013

Seven-Wing Monstrosity

Sometimes, in order to understand how designers come up with their strange approaches to solving problems, you have to put yourself back into their mindset at the time. Such is the case with the Johns Multiplane, which appears from this and other photos to be a colossal jumble of wings and wires.

So how did engineers in the early 20th century deal with the need for bigger and stronger when machines had their limits? String several together. Need to get a heavy train up a hill? Hook up multiple locomotives in tandem. Need to haul heavy waggons of ore? Use 20 mules lashed together. Need to pull heavy sections of pipe to remote locations for the Los Angeles Acqueduct? Use several early Caterpillar Tractors in tandem.

With the Multiplane, this only comes into focus when you see the patent drawing. Taking a cue from the above common solution to the problem of "more", Herbert Johns, Charles A. Herrmann (the patent holder) and crew at the American Multiplane Company of Bath NY, seem to have taken a similar appoach: design a larger plane by building two biplanes and a triplane together in tandem. Since this is three airplanes combined, it was natural to power it with three engines, in this case the readily available Liberty V-12. One was mounted in the traditional nose position, and the other two used as pushers, mounted between the wings.

The thing was humongous (as can be seen in this comparison photo) , but but bigger isn't always better, and the Johns Multiplane only made a few short flights, some ending very ungracefully. Our photo appears to show how one such flight ended. Note that the plane is not sitting on its landing gear, and that the aileron on the bottom wing nearest the camera is rather crunched. The orginal patent was filed n October 3, 1916. Records of the building are sketchy, but it appears that the testing on the Mulitplane took place between about 1918 and 1920, and that Johns' crew eventually gave up and scrapped the beast.

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