The existence of the text was revealed in 1952 by G. R. Josyer, according to whom it is due to one Pandit Subbaraya Shastry, who dictated it in 1918-1923. A Hindi translation was published in 1959, the Sanskrit text with an English translation in 1973. It has 3000 shlokas in 8 chapters and is was attributed by Shastry to Maharishi Bharadvaja, which makes it of purportedly "ancient" origin, and hence it has a certain notability in ancient astronaut theories.
Subbaraya Shastry died in 1941, and Venkatachala took his manuscripts into keeping. The Vaimanika Shastra manuscript appeared at Rajakiya Sanskrit Library, Baroda by 1944. The text was published in Hindi in 1959 and later in English by G.R. Josyer, titled Vymanika Shastra. Josyer's edition, also added illustrations drawn by T. K. Ellappa, a draughtsman at a local engineering college in Bangalore, under the direction of Shastry, which had been missed in the 1959 edition.
Its existence was first announced publicly in a 1952 press release by G.R. Josyer, who had founded his "International Academy of Sanskrit Research" in Mysore the year before. In the foreword to the 1973 publication that contained the full Sanskrit text with English translation, Josyer quotes a 1952 press release of his which was "published in all the leading dailies of India, and was taken up by Reuter and other World Press News Services":
Mr. G. R. Josyer, Director of the International Academy of Sanskrit Research in Mysore, in the course of an interview recently, showed some very ancient manuscripts which the Academy had collected. He claimed that the manuscripts were several thousands of years old, compiled by ancient rishis, Bharadwaja, Narada and others, dealing, not with the mysticism of ancient Hindu philosophy of Atman or Brahman, but with more mundane things vital for the existence of man and progress of nations both in times of peace and war. [...] One manuscript dealt with Aeronautics, construction of various types of aircraft for civil aviation and for warfare. [...] Mr. Josyer showed some types of designs and drawing of a helicopter-type cargo-loading plane, specially meant for carrying combustibles and ammunition, passenger aircraft carrying 400 to 500 persons, double and treble-decked aircraft. Each of these types had been fully described.Josyer then tells how he was visited by "Miss Jean Lyon, journalist of Toronto and New York" for an interview, and how Lyon in her Just Half a World Away (1954) concluded that he was "guilty of a rabid nationalism, seeking to wipe out everything since the Vedas".
A critical review pronounced Josyer's introduction to be "least scholarly by any standards." and said that "the people connected with publication – directly or indirectly – are solely to blame either for distorting or hiding the history of the manuscripts." perhaps in an attempt to "eulogise and glorify whatever they can find about our past, even without valid evidence." By tracing the provenance of the manuscript, interviewing associates of S. Shastry (including G. V. Sharma to whom the text was originally dictated), and based on the linguistic analysis of the text, the review concluded that it came into existence sometime between 1900 and 1922.
The propulsion of the vimanas according to Kanjilal (1985) is by a "Mercury Vortex Engines, apparently a concept similar to electric propulsion. Childress finds evidence for this "mercury vortex engine" in the Samarangana Sutradhara, an 11th century treatise on architecture.
J. B. Hare of the Internet Sacred Text Archive in 2005 compiled an online edition of Josyer's 1973 book, in the site's "UFOs" section. In his introduction, Hare writes
The Vymanika Shastra was first committed to writing between 1918 and 1923, and nobody is claiming that it came from some mysterious antique manuscript. The fact is, there are no manuscripts of this text prior to 1918, and nobody is claiming that there are. So on one level, this is not a hoax. You just have to buy into the assumption that 'channeling' works. ... there is no exposition of the theory of aviation (let alone antigravity). In plain terms, the VS never directly explains how vimanas get up in the air. The text is top-heavy with long lists of often bizarre ingredients used to construct various subsystems. ... There is nothing here which Jules Verne couldn't have dreamed up, no mention of exotic elements or advanced construction techniques. The 1923 technical illustration based on the text ... are absurdly un-aerodynamic. They look like brutalist wedding cakes, with minarets, huge ornithopter wings and dinky propellers. In other words, they look like typical early 20th century fantasy flying machines with an Indian twist.
A 1974 study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore found that the heavier-than-air aircraft that the Vaimanika Shastra described were aeronautically infeasible. The authors remarked that the discussion of the principles of flight in the text were largely perfunctory and incorrect, in some cases violating Newton's laws of motion. The study concluded:
Any reader by now would have concluded the obvious – that the planes described above are the best poor concoctions, rather than expressions of something real. None of the planes has properties or capabilities of being flown; the geometries are unimaginably horrendous from the point of view of flying; and the principles of propulsion make then resist rather than assist flying. The text and the drawings do not correlate with each other even thematically. he drawings definitely point to a knowledge of modern machinery. This can be explained on the basis of the fact that Shri Ellappa who made the drawings was in a local engineering college and was thus familiar with names and details of some machinery. Of course the text retains a structure in language and content from which its ‘recent nature’ cannot be asserted. We must hasten to point out that this does not imply an oriental nature of the text at all. All that may be said is that thematically the drawings ought to be ruled out of discussion. And the text, as it stands, is incomplete and ambiguous by itself and incorrect at many places.