The Ezekiel airship

My thanks this morning to several correspondents who have told me their early aviation stories, but especially to the estimable Lord Jowls, who calls my attention to the Ezekiel airship, designed and built at Pittsburg in East Texas, which lifted briefly off the ground in anno 1902.

As I mentioned yesterday, the (1903) claim of Orville and Wilbur Wright to precedence in launching a man-piloted, heavier-than-air o’plane, cannot be challenged. This is because it has been lawyered so carefully, that it might as well be phrased: “The first flight by a member of the Wright family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with all susceptible media in attendance.”

I rank it myself somewhere below the proud claim of Mrs Graham (“first ascent in a balloon at night by an Englishwoman,” 1850).

Of that feat I was entirely aware, yet knew nothing of this Ezekiel airship — one of innumerable aircraft, considerably heavier than air, built before the Wright Flyer, in which pitch, yaw, and/or roll were not perfectly under control, as they often aren’t today. Its builder was the Reverend Burrell Cannon, itinerant Baptist minister and sawmill operator, whom God rest.

Working from a design he had abstracted from the Book of Ezekiel, it consisted of curtain hoops of angelic sailcloth stretched on metal frames to make a great dipping circular wing, and a gas engine turning “wheels within wheels” of gearing to rotate four larger “paddle wheels,” or caged propellers. A man, harnessed standing within, bridled the parts by various levers.

The machine rose ten feet above the cow pasture in which it was demonstrated, drifted downfield and was safely landed before it could endanger a pack of fleeing, joyous children.

Satisfied that he could repeat this performance, the good pastor had his machine loaded on a railway flatcar, for the St Louis World’s Fair. Unluckily, it blew off in a considerable storm, and was smashed to pieces. The Rev. Cannon then speculated that God had not meant men to fly. (Uncertain of this, however, he had another go at it himself a decade later.)

In tracing this story, overlooked by the Wicked Paedia, I found a detailed refutation attempted by someone named Scott Gold, consisting mostly of acid sarcasm spat towards the good folk in East Texas, of a sort that would be actionable for “racism” had it only been directed against “African Americans,” or Muslims. This poisonous liberal gasbag sneers at every detail of the story in turn, while bleating his obeisance to the Wright brothers and the received, extremely selective account of the history of flight from the functionaries at the Smithsonian. He disproves absolutely nothing, demonstrates abject ignorance passim, and finally proves only the grave illness in his own soul.

Gentle reader may have noticed that on the point of dripping sarcasm I am not beneath replying to liberals in kind. I take my signal from Saint Thomas More who, in his epistolary replies to one Martin Luther, proved that he could out-gutter the greatest guttersnipe of his age.

Suffice to add that Rev. Cannon (born in Coffeeville, Mississippi; 1848–1922) was from an inventive family. His father held patents for various devices including a marine propeller, a wind-driven water pump, and a specialized camera. The son had been working on his ideas for an airship since the 1890s. This Bible Belt Hick spoke eight languages. His 80-horsepower, four-cylinder gas engine was custom-built by himself, and the four “paddle-wheel” fans were pivoted and directional so that they could, in principle, control pitch, yaw, and roll. There is copious contemporary documentation for the project, including many local newspaper accounts, and we may see the original Ezekiel airship in a photograph. (It has also been rebuilt.)

An ingenious mechanic, to be sure, but Rev. Cannon was also a man of burning faith, which is exactly what makes him so distasteful to the atheist vipers who drool for the Wrights.

God bless Baptist pastors in East Texas! God bless every God-haunted, Walker Percy character in the Deep South! And God bless all Lutherans, too, but only if they are true religious nutjobs, in the manner of mystical Catholics.

Verily: God bless all godly, and Saint Michael defend them against the legions of the depraved!