Inspired by the 1st and 10th Chapters of the Book of Ezekiel in the King James version of the Holy Bible, Baptist Minister Burrell Cannon designed and constructed this airship, several years prior to the Wright brothers first flight. An accomplished engineer, Rev. Cannon held numerous patents for wind and water-driven machines, in times which preceded electricity.
Judge for Yourself! Could this airship fly? Whether it did or did not fly, it stands as a testament to one man's faith in God and Holy Scripture.
Rev. Burrell Cannon was a visionary Baptist preacher, but was an accomplished engineer and held several patents relating to wind-driven water pumps, windmills, etc. in a day and age without electricity. The design of this airship includes complicated but ingenious design features for propulsion and control of the craft which are marvels of engineering and mathematical calculations.
While modern engineers may debate its ability to actually fly, it was certainly a very serious project in its day. Rev. Cannon believed he was led by God to design and build the ship and God would insure its success. Here is how Rev. Cannon propelled and controlled the Craft:
PROPULSION. Four large outside wheels in the fuselage section contain smaller wheels which contain paddles. The gas engine turned the wheels and paddles at a rapid rate, creating, vertical and horizontal blasts of air which moved the machine forward as well as providing upward air flow to assist in flying and controlling, the craft. The'-paddles are pivoted, and on eccentric wheels, so that when the control levers were moved, the paddles on each side would create smaller, or larger, amounts of propulsion by controlling their angle of attack on the atmosphere.
CONTROL: The ship would be turned by varying the amount of airflow on each side with each set of paddles, and by varying the angle of the sail. Four small, brass hydraulic cylinders in the vertical corner posts of the fuselage, would raise or lower the sail from front to rear, or side to side. coordinated with the paddles, and thus allow the ship to do what is known in modem aviation as "side-slipping." This would run the airship, or make it rise or descend, depending on the angle of the sail and control of the airflow with the paddles.
THE ENGINE: The four-cylinder engine, hand-made at the Foundry where the craft was constructed is described as a "gas" engine. It does not specify if it was "gasoline" or something more like "natural gas". Rev. Cannon's notes do indicate the "gas" was contained in the hollow tubing from which the fuselage was constructed, as there appears to be no fuel tank aboard.
Rev. Cannon was very secretive about his engineering solutions, so this project is barely mentioned at all in the Pittsburg Gazette during the two years the ship was under construction in Mr. P. W. Thorsell's Pittsburg Foundry. Engineers and aviation buffs all over the world (including, the Wright Brothers) were attempting to develop heavier-than air crafts of all sorts hence the secrecy surrounding the project-- to prevent others from stealing Rev. Cannon's ideas.
Reverend Cannon received 5 patents from the U. S. Patent office between 1893 and 1914 on machines ranging from windmills to marine propellers.
The Dallas Morning News reported on August 1, 1901 that:
"the best mechanical thought of all ages has been directed toward solving the question of aerial navigation with noticeable success and today in almost every country under the sun some mechanical genius is putting, forth his best efforts on the problem."
"The unique features of this machine, is its motive power and propelling apparatus, and the most astonishing feature of it is that the whole machine and all of its intricate parts is fully set forth in the Holy Bible."
The Ezekiel Airship Company was organized in 1898, and $25,000 worth of stock was immediately sold. A circular explaining the Scripture verses used b Rev. Cannon was available for a 3-cent stamp, a photograph for 50-cents.
The airship was destroyed in a storm while enroute on a train to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1902, and never rebuilt
Lees Set the Record Straight
For those who believe the Wright Brothers' magnificent accomplishment at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903 represents the beginning of powered flight for man, may we respectfully say: "Balderdash!"
Fully one year before Orville took wings, history was actually made when an airship built by the Reverend Burrell Cannon flew through the skies over Pittsburg, Texas. A replica of the odd-shaped craft now rests in honored display in town. And the story behind it is as fascinating as its appearance.
It could be said that the contraption was inspired from the heavens themselves. The Rev. Cannon, then a minister in the Pittsburg area, was a lifelong devotee of Bible study. He was particularly intrigued by the account of Ezekiel's vision of God and strange flying creatures that were propelled by wheels.
"The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the color of beryl; and they four had one likeness; and their appearance was as it were a wheel within the middle of the wheel." Ezekiel 1: 16 "And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from earth, the wheels were lifted up." Ezekiel 1: 19
An Idea Takes Wings
And from such inspiration an idea was born in the Rev. Cannon's mind. Cannon also was an inventor and machinist and for the next twenty years he would draw plans and make models. The result was an airship designed after Ezekiel's example with large, fabric-covered wings powered by an engine that turned four sets of paddles mounted on wheels. By means of a lever the pilot could take off vertically and maneuver by controlling the angle of the paddles.
In August 1901, Cannon convinced his friends such an airship could indeed fly. The Ezekiel Airship Manufacturing Company was incorporated and $20,000 in stock was sold at $25 each. The first airship was built on the upper floor at P.W Thorsell's Machine Shop, which stands to this day in Pittsburg.
First Flight, First Crash
The craft was flown in 1902 from a pasture owned by Thorsell. The pilot, a Mr. Stamps, had also worked on the airship at the machine shop. Those present at the flight said that upon starting the engine, the airship lurched forward for a short distance before rising vertically in the air. It traveled a few feet and then began drift for some distance. The airship was vibrating considerably, so the engine was turned off and it came back to earth.
It was then shipped by rail to St. Louis where it was to be exhibited at the World's Fair. However, a storm blew it off the flat boxcar near Texarkana, Texas, and it was completely destroyed.
Legend claims that Rev. Cannon said, 'God never willed that this airship should fly; I want no more to do with it." And he left it where lay.
Try, Try Again
But Cannon later became interested in the .airship and again sold stock in the Longview, Texas, area in 1908-1913. A second ship was built in Chicago, Illinois, and a pilot by the name of Wilder flew it in 1913. But as the craft lifted into the air, it struck the top of a utility pole and knocked out the bottom of the airship. This accident caused Cannon to give up his flying machine once more.
From 1914 through 1921, Cannon made his home in Longview, and at his death in 1922 he resided in Marshall, Texas. Although 74 years of age, until his death Cannon was in the midst of technically perfecting a cotton picker and a boll weevil destroyer.
Today, pilots wing through the skies and remember the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk. Wouldn't it be interesting if all this time they should have been recalling the Reverend Burrell Carmon and his wheel-within-a-wheel airship? You can reminisce about what was and what could have been by visiting the Ezekiel Airship and driving by Thorsell's Machine Shop. And there's a lot of other things to see as you step back a century to historic Pittsburgh, Texas.
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