swedenborg aviation

Flying Machine (Swedenborg)

Swedenborg's Flying Machine was first sketched by the Swedish scientist Emanuel Swedenborg in 1714, when he was 26 years old. It was later published in his periodical in 1716. It is recognized as the first published description of a flying machine.


In 1710, Swedenborg travelled from Sweden to London to complete his studies. Here he saw many cutting edge intellectual discoveries, which inspired him to try and invent gadgets of his own--for instance, a submarine and a flying machine. We know about this because he wrote about it in a letter home.

The sketch from his notebook was found in 1868 in Linköping, by a visiting researcher from USA. The notebook is from 1714. It is referred to as "The Manuscript" as opposed to the published description, which is called "The Published Account".

The Published Account

When Swedenborg returned to Sweden in 1714, he met with inventor Christopher Polhem and together with him published the periodical Daedulus Hyperboreus. When Swedenborg mentioned publishing the Flying Machine, Polhem was skeptical as to whether it was possible to ever build a machine that could fly. He compared it to building a perpetuum mobile. But Swedenborg replied (somewhat ironically) with a quote by French author Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle:
The art of flying is hardly yet born. It will be perfected and some day people will fly up to the moon. Do we pretend to have discovered everything, or to have brought our knowledge to a point where nothing can be added to it? Oh, for mercy's sake, let us agree that there is still something left for the ages to come!

Swedenborg published it anonymously with the title Machine to Fly in the Air. It did not contain an image.

Swedenborg knew that the machine would not fly, but suggested it as a start and was confident that the problem would be solved. He said, "It seems easier to talk of such a machine than to put it into actuality, for it requires greater force and less weight than exists in a human body. The science of mechanics might perhaps suggest a means, namely, a strong spiral spring. If these advantages and requisites are observed, perhaps in time to come some one might know how better to utilize our sketch and cause some addition to be made so as to accomplish that which we can only suggest. Yet there are sufficient proofs and examples from nature that such flights can take place without danger, although when the first trials are made you may have to pay for the experience, and not mind an arm or leg." This greater force would not become possible until the motor was invented.

Technical description

The image shows the flying machine from above looking down. It consists of one large wing. In the middle of it is a hole with a basket, where the pilot stands. There are two "paddles" on the wings. These are used by the pilot like oars in a boat, except in this case they only move up and down. Underneath the ship is the landing gear. It consists of four long poles, which we can not see since they are below the ship. We can see the end of two of them though. In between them is a weight, which is used to keep the ship balanced.

The wing is a light frame covered with strong canvas. The large wing would work as a glider, and by working the paddles up and down the pilot would keep the plane in the air, Swedenborg initially hoped.


The Flying Machine was not widely known until the discovery of the notebook in 1876. By the time aviation took off, with the Wright Brothers, it had still not been examined, and therefore did not play any part in the development of powered flight aviation.

The first time it was examined was in 1910, by the Royal Aeronautical Society. They called it "the first reasonable suggestion to build a heavier-than-air flying machine." It was then analyzed by the Smithsonian Institution in 1962 who compared its features with that of later aircraft. A model of the ship was also created and stood for many years on display in the museum.

See also


  • Söderberg, Henry En machine att flyga i Wädret, from Daedalus, Sweden 1988, ISBN 91-7616-018-1
  • Söderberg, Henry Swedenborg's 1714 airplane : a machine to fly in the air (1988), ISBN 0-87785-138-7
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