Francesco Lana de Terzi
Francesco Lana de Terzi (Brescia, Lombardy 1631 – 22 February 1687 Brescia, Lombardy) was an Italian Jesuit, mathematician, naturalist and aeronautics pioneer. Having been professor of physics and mathematics at Brescia, he first sketched the concept for a vacuum airship and has been referred to as the Father of Aeronautics for his pioneering efforts, turning the aeronautics field into a science by establishing "a theory of aerial navigation verified by mathematical accuracy". He also developed the idea that developed into Braille.
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In the year 1670 Francesco Lana de Terzi published a book titled Prodromo, including a chapter entitled saggio di alcune invenzioni nuove premesso all'arte maestra ("Essay on new inventions premitted to the master art"), which contained the description of a “flying ship”. Encouraged by the experiments of Otto von Guericke with the Magdeburg hemispheres, in the year 1663 Lana de Terzi had developed an idea for a lighter than air vessel.
His airship design - while never having been built - had a central mast, to which a sail was attached. The airship would be steered like a sailboat. Its design called for four masts which had copper spheres attached. The spheres would be made of very thin copper foil, and each sphere would have a diameter of 7.5 meters (about 24.5 feet). Terzi had calculated that the weight of a sphere would be 180 kilograms (396 lb). He also calculated that the air in the sphere would weigh 290 kilograms (638 lb). The copper spheres would be pumped to vacuum conditions, and thus being lighter than the surrounding air, would provide enough lift for 6 passengers to ride along in the airship.
At the time no one possessed the ability to manufacture such thin copper foil, besides, the pressure of the surrounding air would have flattened the spheres. Its idea was never practically tested. In addition, Francesco Lana de Terzi was conscious that one could use such a vehicle as a weapon of war and attack cities from air. He wrote: “God will never allow that such a machine be built…because everybody realises that no city would be safe from raids… iron weights, fireballs and bombs could be hurdled from a great height".
The fact that such an airship with vacuum spheres was physically not possible wasn't proven until 1710 by Gottfried William Leibniz, and to this day such a vessel hasn't been built. Although Leibniz's conclusion was made with materials known at the time, the discovery of graphene and recent advances in its production may render this conclusion obsolete. A model of Lana de Terzi's invention is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C..
Blind writing alphabet
In his book Prodromo he also introduced an entirely new alphabet for blind people of his own invention. Unlike previous blind writing systems, Lana's alphabet was based on the idea that it did not have to mimic the regular handwritten or printed letters, but had to be based on signs (dashes) that could be recognized by the touch of one's fingers. The one detail which prevented the success of this invention is that Lana failed to understand that dots were more easily recognizable than dashes by the touch. Louis Braille made this fundamental intuition and devised the blind writing alphabet that was named after him.
- "Francesco Lana-Terzi, S.J. (1631-1687); The Father of Aeronautics". Retrieved 1 May 2010.
- Francesco Lana, visionario tra velivoli e l'alfabeto dei ciechi, by E. Raggi, Giornale di Brescia, 30 December 2011.