The USAF and DARPA today treated the press to the first demonstration flight of an ‘anti-gravity’ vehicle. After 70 years of development, the demo finally lifts the lid on the secret research at Groom Lake airbase, also known as Area 51.
The unmanned aircraft has the discus shape reminiscent of comic books and sci-fi movies. This saucer-like shape accommodates the torus which forms the magnetic levitation propulsion system, with the controls and payload area located in the center.
When powered up, the craft floats about a metre above the ground and emits a low humming sound. Subtle changes in the magnetic balance can send it zooming into the air, or soaring across the earth’s surface.
“We’ve known how to do magnetic levitation for years,” said Chuck Berger, “like the maglev trains in China, but the generators required were too heavy to lift.” Advances in nanotechnology provided the liquid piezo crystals for powerful, low voltage magnetic fields, while hydrogen turbo-cells create the electric current.
The aircraft reacts with the earth’s magnetic field, and can travel at high speeds at moderate altitudes. Stability and flight controls have to be managed by a complex computer program, making a pilot redundant. The Air Force has decided to de-classify the plane, as it is not suitable for fighter or bomber roles, though it is capable of delivering a payload over large distances with great precision and virtually no noise.
FedEx UPS is expected to be the first customer for the civilian version of the aircraft.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
What if it were possible to build a light-weight electromagnet that could repel the earth’s magnetic field sufficiently to levitate above the ground?
With the right materials, power source and control mechanisms, such a scenario might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Certainly the impact on construction and logistics would be profound.
However, such ‘flying saucers’ are unlikely to be suitable for personal transport, and will never be spacecraft! Consider this excerpt from the Antigravity Propulsion website:
But what of the effects of gravity-control machines here on Earth? As a starter, all other forms of transportation would become obsolete! As efficient 3-dimensional travel becomes practical, automobiles, trucks, railroads, ships, and even conventional airplanes would be considered impractical for commercial uses. Highways, bridges, railroad tracks, harbors, and airports as we know them would no longer be needed and therefore would mostly fade away from our landscapes.
Transformation of our cities would be phenomenal and can only be guessed at. Intra-city transportation would be by air thereby eliminating the need for streets. No limits on building height would be necessary as deliveries could be made at any floor with ease, and structural problems of massive buildings would be alleviated by adequate application of gravity-control in the architecture.
Many factors affecting the location of cities, such as good highways, waterways, would no longer prevail as supplies would be readily available from any part of the country within very short time frames and with great efficiency. Indeed, cities might not remain at ground level at all, and many may be built as islands in the sky.
There have been several reports of ‘anti-gravity’ effects and levitation achieved in laboratory environments. Most notably, the Searl Effect generator allegedly powered a ‘levity disk’ that could fly using inverse-G forces.
David Hamel claims he was instructed by aliens in the method to build magnetic propulsion machines. No-one seems to be able to re-create his ‘experiments’.
Wikipedia tells us: “The first step towards applying significant financial, industrial, and academic resources to develop anti-gravity theories and materials commenced during the summer of 1948 with the creation of the Gravity Research Foundation by Bostonian investment tycoon, Roger W. Babson (Science section, 1948; Babson, 1950). The purpose of the Foundation was to nurture gravitation research for the goal of developing gravity shielding technology that could reduce airplane crashes. It held annual gravitation essay competitions that awarded up to $5,000 and sponsored yearly Gravity Day conferences.”
Although enthusiasm for anti-gravity propulsion research waned after the mid-’60s, various experiments were reported as recently as 2004.
More reliably, there is evidence of supercooled ceramics, which levitate above electromagnetic fields. While this is a far cry from anti-gravity craft, we know that magnetic levitation can produce frictionless high-speed transport systems, such as the maglev trains in use in Shanghai.
New Scientist cautions: “Any talk of superconductors producing weird gravitational effects makes physicists uneasy. A decade ago, Russian scientist Eugene Podkletnov of Tampere University of Technology in Finland claimed that a rotating superconductor would partially shield objects from the Earth’s gravitational pull. Before his results were published, the story of the “anti-gravity device” leaked to the press. In the ensuing melee, Podkletnov withdrew the paper and returned to Russia.
Other researchers have also run aground after being drawn by the siren song of superconductors and gravity. In 1989, Huei Peng of the Institute of Applied Mathematics in Beijing and Douglas Torr of the University of Alabama in Huntsville published a paper claiming that gravitational waves in the fabric of space-time should affect superconductors. This could lead to a new kind of laboratory-based gravitational wave detector, they said. Raymond Chiao of the University of California, Merced, has also claimed that such a “gravity radio” is possible.
No one has succeeded in realising these predictions. “The enthusiasm for an antigravity device is so great that sometimes people see what they want to see. You have to exercise a lot of caution,” says James Overduin, a theorist from Stanford University in California.”
The innovation challenge
The challenge is to produce both light-weight electromagnetic material, as well as powerful generators of electric currents, so that sufficient magnetic repulsion can be obtained from a self-contained vehicle, to levitate above the surface of the earth. While this is no easy task, nanotechnology will likely provide the solution to the first problem, and hydrogen fuel-cell technology might solve the second.
After all, the earth is a giant perpetual-motion dynamo, spinning unaided for billions of years, with differences in rotation speeds between the liquid core and the outer mantle generating a magnetic field that inexorably drags a compass needle to the north. If we could reproduce these forces on a nano scale, then scale them up to a critical mass, perhaps maglev craft could indeed become a reality.
The business impact
If flying saucers from Area 51 ever became a reality – life would never be the same again. Forget space travel and aliens – the simple advantages of logistics, construction, travel and production, and the implied environmental and economic benefits, would radically alter the way the world works today!
Of course, true ‘anti-gravity’ is science fiction at this point, but magnetic levitation to counter the effects of gravity is a well-established process. The first ‘saucers’ will probably skim a few inches above an electromagnetic ‘road’, but even that may be revolutionary.
This scenario has no timeline or probability rating, but if these developments could be achieved in say, 20 years, what would that mean to you and me, and civilization as we know it?