“Mystery Plane” flaps Self to Pieces in Trial Flight (Jan, 1929)

“Mystery Plane” flaps Self to Pieces in Trial Flight

Built with flapping wings and bird-like body, this “American Eagle” plane collapsed before its inventor could get the novel machine off the ground!

THE mystery attached to the so-called “mystery airplane” built by James A. Crane of Ellsworth, Maine, seems to be— “Why doesn’t it fly?” Built with flapping wings designed to lift it straight up into the air, the strange plane collapsed a few minutes after its motor was started up. The inventor, however, was undaunted. He expects to rebuild his plane, which he calls the “American Eagle,” substituting metal wings for the wooden ones which the first test proved to be too flimsy. The cranking arrangement by which the wings were flapped is clearly shown in the above photographs.

  1. KD5ZS says: February 3, 20102:32 pm

    I wonder if there were motion pictures taken of the a/c– I could imagine it on the movie, Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines.

  2. Firebrand38 says: February 3, 20102:51 pm

    Haven’t found anything yet, but this website documents some successes with large scaled piloted ornithopters that I was unfamiliar with http://www.ornithopter….

  3. Sean says: February 3, 20102:52 pm

    Not much mystery in why this didn’t fly…..

  4. Firebrand38 says: February 3, 20104:54 pm

    Maybe the mystery is why it was built in the first place?

  5. Neil Russell says: February 3, 20109:47 pm

    It’s featured in the movie “Gizmo”, you get to see it beat itself to death.
    If you search “gizmo” on google videos it’s the first choice, I don’t know how to get the direct link to it.
    The plane is about 3/4 of the way through, but the movie is well worth the watch anyway.

  6. Neil Russell says: February 3, 20109:54 pm

    It turns up in “Gizmo” at about 1:01:40, right after the Triphibian burns up

    This link should to take you to the movie.


    Check out that old sourpuss that describes the glorious future of aviation while this thing “works”

  7. StanFlouride says: February 5, 201012:23 am

    Maybe if they’d only had faster horses…

  8. Professor_Fate says: February 6, 20102:58 pm

    To KD5ZS:

    IT’S IN THE MOVIE – right at the Red Skelton intro, recorded among other Man’s “Many Successes”…

  9. Cowboy says: May 2, 20119:59 am

    Wow, this is very cool. I knew this guy when I was a little kid, I have a stock certificate for his plan company and a painting he did! I would be very interested in anyone has any more info! Thanks!

  10. Percy G. Billings, Jr. says: June 10, 20113:10 pm

    In 1929 Mr. Crane of Ellsworth, Maine designed and built a contraption known as an ornithopter (bird-like flapping wing craft). My dad being a local pilot was beseeched by Crane to test hop it. Dad knew it could not possibly get off the ground but humored Crane by performing the test. When he started the engine and engaged the wing flapping mechanism, the (should I call it an aircraft?) shook so badly that a 12 volt battery ended up in his lap. Crane was ecstatic, he said “I saw daylight under the wheels!” That craft had a bird-like nose and no propeller. He made a second craft with wings containing hinged flaps that opened when the wings lifted and closed when the wings moved downward. It had no bird-like nose. I don’t recall any test flight of that one. I don’t remember any propeller on it.
    Percy G. Billings,Jr.

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