Even though I don’t get suckered into conspiracy theories since I’m usually only a couple Google searches away from finding the facts I do find the dissection of them quite interesting. One of my favourites are Unidentified Flying Objects as for the most part they’re easily explained by natural phenomena or people mistaking things like illumination flares used in night training for various jet craft. What always fascinated me though was the idea of flying saucers as once I understood the idea of an aerofoil I was always fascinated by how one would actually work and if would even be feasible.
As it so happens it is and the USA put a lot of effort into developing one:
The aircraft, which had the code name Project 1794, was developed by the USAF and Avro Canada in the 1950s. One declassified memo, which seems to be the conclusion of initial research and prototyping, says that Project 1794 is a flying saucer capable of “between Mach 3 and Mach 4,” (2,300-3,000 mph) a service ceiling of over 100,000 feet (30,500m), and a range of around 1,000 nautical miles (1,150mi, 1850km).
As far as we can tell, the supersonic flying saucer would propel itself by rotating an outer disk at very high speed, taking advantage of the Coandă effect. Maneuvering would be accomplished by using small shutters on the edge of the disc (similar to ailerons on a winged aircraft). Power would be provided by jet turbines. According to the cutaway diagrams, the entire thing would even be capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL).
The Coandă Effect is an interesting phenomenon and its likely that you’ve encountered it before. In essence the effect is the tendency of a fluid jet, which is anything with a nozzle that has a medium shooting out of it, to be attracted to surfaces that it passes by. If you’ve ever been to Questacon or similar places you’ve probably seen the ball that hovers in mid air which seems counter-intuitive because the air is blowing out at an angle. This same effect is what can be used to make a flying saucer fly and according to the declassified documents the performance of such a craft would have been fairly impressive for the time.
To put those numbers in perspective one of the most iconic craft, the SR-71 Blackbird, was introduced nearly a decade after this project apparently begun and whilst it might have a range that’s 3 times greater than this theoretical craft the rest of the specifications are either on par or lower than it. Just the service ceiling on it alone would make it a highly valuable strategic craft but the ability to move at up to Mach 4 speeds would have made it immune to nearly all forms of anti-aircraft weaponry available at the time. Whether or not one of these craft was actually built is a question that has not yet been answered but considering that all the documents haven’t been released yet its possible we’ll know more as time goes on.
What I find really fascinating though is whilst the Coandă effect can be used for such exotic craft like the one pictured above it also has many uses in traditional aircraft, helicopters and even in air conditioning. Many large short take-off and landing aircraft make use of the effect to provide a smooth ride at low flying speeds. NOTAR style helicopters use the effect in place of a tail rotor to provide the counter rotational force required to stop them from spinning on the spot. When I started writing this I thought it was some kind of esoteric effect that didn’t have many practical uses but as it turns out it’s pretty much a very well understood and useful phenomenon.
Whilst I know this won’t stop the UFO enthusiasts from saying that the really truly saw one for me the simple fact that the USA was working on such a craft is enough to chalk up any sightings of it to a possible prototype of a craft like this, It might not have gotten past the planning stage but since there are other known craft like this out there (like the VZ-9 Avrocar mentioned in the article I linked earlier) you really have to be a special kind of crazy to keep on thinking that we’re being visited by extraterrestrials travelling in Coandă effect planes.