A few years ago, a man named Andreas Epp claimed in a television interview that during World War II the Nazis experimented with strange disc-shaped aircraft. He was not talking about alien spacecraft, but about a striking and unique aerodynamic solution for vertical takeoffs and high speeds. Is there some reality to this?
According to Epp, these ships were built in the then occupied Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, in the Skoda car factory. After the war, Epp and other German scientists and engineers were allegedly captured by the Soviets and continued to develop these unique aircraft in the U.S.S.R.. Epp went on with his vicissitudes explaining that some time later he managed to escaped from the Soviet Union and offered his services to the United States of America. A relevant detail is that there is no proof that the U.S. had ever showed any interested in hiring him, possibly because they did not believe him.
But Andreas Epp is not the only one nor the first one who tells a similar story. Major Rudolf Lusar began the controversy over five decades ago now, when he devoted a couple of pages to the subject in his book "Secret German weapons of World War II" (published by the publisher J. F. Lehmann, of Munich, in 1958). Based certainly on rumors, he wrote that the designs of these so-called "flying saucers" had been outlined by the German experts Schriever, Miethe and Habermohl, and by the Italian Bellonzo. Habermohl and Schriever would have chosen a wide-surface ring that allegedly rotated around a fixed, domed cockpit. The ring supposedly consisted of adjustable wing-discs that could have been shifted to the proper positions for takeoff and for level flight, respectively. It would had been envisioned the capability of reaching speeds of 4000 km/h, all supposedly. He claimed that experts and collaborators in that alleged work would had confirmed that the first projects of "flying saucers" were in development from 1941. Miethe presumably developed a disk-shaped plate having a diameter of 42 meters in which adjustable jet engines were inserted. Shriever and Habermohl, who allegedly worked in Prague, would had taken off with the first "flying disc" on 14 February 1945. In 3 minutes they would had climbed to a supposed altitude of 12 400 m and would had reached an alleged speed of 2000 km/h in horizontal flight.
As Chuck Yeager, in the United States of America, broke the sound barrier (about 1200 km/h) only in 1947, here is advised to pause and take a deep breath. It is true that the effort and money invested by the world powers in this war led to enormous technological breakthroughs, such as radar, ballistic missiles, jet aircraft and even the atomic bombs. But these projects were so colossal that tons and tons of material and documents (even before considering the engineers themselves) survived the war and later were publicly exposed. But there is no trace of aircraft shaped in the form of flying discs in the military archives. With two notable exceptions.
THE FLYING PANCAKES
At that time, in the United States, Charles Zimmerman designed for the Navy of his country one of the strangest experimental aircraft ever built. It is known that one of the biggest aerodynamic problems of aircraft are the vortices formed at the tip of each wing. An airplane flies because the air pressure over the upper surface of the wings is less than that of the bottom surface. But at the tips the higher air pressure from the bottom tends to escape sideways and go up onto the upper face. This movement creates eddies that slow the plane. One solution is to use elliptical wings (as seen from below), so this tendency is reduced gradually as we get to the tips.
Another problem is that by raising the nose to climb, the wings could get into a position so steep that the air flow will tend to become detached from the upper surface, jumping and generating large eddies. To avoid this, wings are designed with a long distance between the leading edge at front and the trailing edge at rear, so if we look at the plane from below the wing seems very wide between front and rear.
If we look at an aircraft that has an elliptical wing which is very wide from front to rear, it will inevitably evoke a rounded shape or disk.
What Zimmerman did was an extreme application of these principles: his XF5U aircraft built by the Vought company had a wing so elliptical and so wide that it actually had the shape of a pancake, that tortilla-like food.
The theoretical advantage of the XF5U was that it would have been able to take off very easily from the short deck of an aircraft carrier. Unfortunately, its two engines were mounted in the fuselage and they drove the two propellers on the tips of the wings by a complicated transmission. This mechanism vibrated too much and the problem could never be solved. With the end of the war the project was shelved.
Going back to Nazi Germany, a young farmer named Arthur Sack had a similar idea. He presented his project as humble as possible: during a model airplane competition. His model flew very bad but either way a general in the audience became interested, and he received support to develop a manned version.
The Sack AS-6 was finalized in 1944. One advantage over the U.S. prototype is that it was a simpler design, with a single engine at the front. But paradoxically, the problem now was the lack of power. Never got off the ground, beyond a few jumps. With the end of the war the only prototype was destroyed, but photographs and other documents were spared.
Both prototypes of circular-wing aircraft could, in theory, take off within very short distances, but they were not vertical-take-off aircraft: they had conventional propellers that moved them forward but not upwards.
After the Second World War the state-of-the-art in aeronautical engineering were jet engines. The brilliant British engineer emigrated to Canada Jack Frost carefully studied ways to improve these engines. He experimented with a model that instead of having the typical shape of a cylinder or drum was much shorter and flattened, almost like a disk. Theoretically it was more efficient, but now the problem was that the diameter should be disproportionately large. I did not fit in any plane... unless its disk was put horizontally in a large wing.
In this unique engine the air was coming in through the center (from above) and the jet went out through the periphery, that is, on all sides. Different methods of concentrating the whole jet to the back of the plane were researched, but in 1958 the idea was abandoned and now they were satisfied with deflecting it downward, so that the aircraft would now move vertically.
The artifact interested the U.S. Army, which was looking for a "flying Jeep". Millions of dollars were invested in the project and the company AVRO Canada built two prototypes, designated VZ-9 AV or simply "Avrocar".
But the system was too complicated and could not generate enough power to climb more than a few centimeters. Apart from that, the car was very unstable, slow-moving and generated too much noise and heat. Finally, the Army found its "flying Jeep" in the helicopter and the Avrocar was canceled.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE FOUR "ENGINEERS" OF 1945?
Apparently Habermohl and Miethe never existed. Bellonzo proved to be Giuseppe Belluzzo, a senior Italian official who when interviewed about UFOs, in 1950, revealed an opinion that those should be some Nazi development. And Rudolph Schreiver proved to be an employee of the United States Forces in Germany who liked to create flying-saucer drawings, whose qualities from a technical point of view never generated much impression to anyone: he was assigned the rank of office boy.
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Originally published in ABC Color, on 23 July 2007. A slightly retouched version of this article, joined to many other related articles from this website making a compilation titled "Do you believe in UFOs?", is available for sale in electronic book format at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GF0REFI. Photo: The Sack AS-6 in Brandis, Germany, in 1944. Credit: Luftwaffe.