Spherical Flying Machine

Guess I’m on a Spherical Kick ;-) what with the spherical engine thread and the spherical steam engine in the comments.

I ran into a chain of links that ended at this video of a Japanese Flying Sphere.

It’s just so darned cute. And it works. And it’s efficient in flight. And you can make one out of off the shelf parts for about $1400 or so. And I want one. Especially a really big one to ride in ;-) I do have to take exception with their claim to being the first spherical flying machine, though. Seems to me some Europeans back in the 1700s or 1800s had some nice spherical balloons to fly in…

I found this video at this link:


That I ended up at after a click or two from this comment:


so h/t via indirection to R. de Haan. That link he posted to a “pulse jet” idea at gizmodo is also interesting.

At any rate, the flying sphere is just a cool little toy…

It also has a use that I’ve pondered, but not figured out how to make the propulsion part work well. This solves that niggling little issue. Imagine a laser rangefinder that encodes 3 axis coordinates, then sends them to a little ‘flying bomb’ that any soldier can launch. So you are a patrol that gets ‘pinned down’ from someone in a foxhole 1/2 mile away with a bit of minor artillery. Just send your ‘flying autonomous bomb’ over to take it out. “If you can see it, or someone ELSE can see it and send coordinates, you can kill it”. Kinda changes things… I’d been pondering ‘smart mortars’, but this would be more fun. (Though the low speed might be an issue. Maybe need to put a bigger, spherical, motor in it ;-)

On a less practical note, imagine a thousand of these things going off to drop water balloons on forest fires… I could easily see a computer controlled ‘swarm’ approach with these things making a ‘sky hose’ from any nearby lake or pond to a fire zone. Putting out small forest fires, one gallon at a time. 1 Gallon payload. 10000 of them. 1/10 th hour trip time. 1000 gallons / hour. 24,000 gallons in a day. So, long before you get the forest fighting crew in place, or the big Water Bombers warmed up, you could send the swarm off to hit the thing while it was still small. If you lose a few in the fire, who cares. No pilots at risk.

Yeah, completely fantasy. But it would look cool ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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40 Responses to Spherical Flying Machine

  1. Hi E.M.,
    Nice new clean fresh theme! Inspired by??
    (I noticed that your ‘about’ still refers to the volcano image.)

    This little machine is fascinating, as you said, very cute.
    Its practical uses might be limited by fuel/flying time constraints, perhaps load “carrying” ability.
    Interesting to know what size issues apply.
    No doubt the military will be excited about it if can be used for surveillance, or whatever?
    Most of the surveillance robots used for indoors, are floor constrained. This would be ideal for the likes of nuclear accident monitoring if remote control and camera telemetry was suitable. It could maybe carry radiation metering equipment..

    Thanks for your blogs.
    Regards, Ken.

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    @Ken McMurtrie:

    Inspired by Adrian Vance getting a new LCD monitor with poor contrast ;-)

    “we aim to please”…

    I’m (someday?) hoping to get the volcano pic back in place (but it needs to be trimmed to exactly that pixels / aspect ratio first) and/ or maybe swap to an even better theme (if I take the time to find one… suggestions welcomed.)

    I think the ‘gizmo’ will scale reasonably well to different sizes, just like fixed wing aircraft. So I’d expect more load to come with larger size and longer duration to come with bigger motors and larger sized fuel tanks.

    A double diameter one ought to have an 8x or so times load capacity. (It’s not exactly that, as the lift of a wing does not exactly scale that way; but look at a 707 vs 747 vs Piper Cub. Larger planes have smaller percentages in wings (due in part to higher speeds). So scale it up some and it will have a faster prop in it and much larger load capacity.

    Oh, and the ability to run around on the floor is kinda cool too. I’d put some tiny rollers on the ‘down’ edges, though…

    In the end, what makes it ‘cool’ is that it’s a novel way to make a ‘crossover’ vehicle that can both hover and fly in winged flight, but without a lot of tilt rotors and gimbals and stuff. ( I suspect ‘fuel’ use in hover is not that good, though… as you are basically hanging on the prop…)

  3. Interesting connection bringing about the change of theme. Your respect for Adrian is understandable, I suppose the problem exists for others, as well.
    My laptop handles all graphics well. ASUS I3, dont know exactly the type of screen. Also, no clue about my desktop monitor, a HP L1706, but it also works well.
    Have you thought about commenting on TV’s and Monitor pros and cons?
    LCD, plasma, LED/LCD?

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    Hadn’t thought about a monitors and TVs comparison posting. Don’t know that I know enough … today… ;-)

  5. R. de Haan says:

    We’re already flying an amazing sphere, all 7 billion of us.
    It rotates around it’s axis with a speed of approx. 1000 mp/h and it rotates around the sun with a speed of approx. 67.000 mph.
    Our entire solar system moves around the center of our milky way with a speed of approx. 586.000 mph.

    And this lifelong ride doesn’t cost us a single dime.

  6. R. de Haan says:

    The Verticopter comes close though

  7. R. de Haan says:

    Or the flying saucer

  8. R. de Haan says:

    As for the flying sphere you would need a gimbal kind of cockpit installation.
    Some engineering is required but it can be done off course.

  9. P.G. Sharrow says:

    This would appear to have a glide angle less then that of a brick. :-( not sure I would want to pilot such a craft higher then the level of ground effect. pg

  10. R. de Haan says:

    P.G. Sharrow (05:53:31) :
    “This would appear to have a glide angle less then that of a brick. :-( not sure I would want to pilot such a craft higher then the level of ground effect. pg”

    Not any different from the Apollo Lunar Module or the Hawker Harrier
    for that matter.

    Or how about the Jet Pack where “ground effect” gets a whole other meaning.

    But I feel with you.

    I prefer wings myself.

  11. R. de Haan says:

    Taliking about “Ground Effect”.
    This is pure fun. No hassle with rules, regulations and no license needed in most countries

    On the other side of the scale we have this baby.
    It was designed and build by Hanno Fisher who worked for Rhein Fluzeugbau in Germany but the basic design was made by Alexander Lippish. It’s a WIG flying under the certification rules of a ship.
    The engine is a Chevy V8.
    It’s now series produced in Australia.

    The Russians build their “Monster of the Caspian Sea” but today have 2 small “ekrano planes” on production.

    The scaled up versions of the Flightship Design are susceptible for side wind
    making it very hard to steer it into a harbor but this problem has been solved with the use of steerable electric thrusters in the wing tips.
    So much bigger versions can be expected.

  12. bruce says:

    R. de Haan,
    re monster
    that thing is a work of art, sort of sad it isn’t hanging on a wall somewhere.
    Granted its an eye you have to develop.

  13. adolfogiurfa says:

    This take us to the issue of “gravity” and its place in the electromagnetic field.
    Another kind of “gravity” pull keep us entangled in a soup of words to define the only one force in the universe: energy. From the One, the force, to Zero, the void, from yang to ying, a triangle of forces: Active, passive and neutral (the space between them, which is power). Those baloonsSeems to me some Europeans back in the 1700s or 1800s had some nice spherical balloons to fly in… really were anti-gravity devices, as the hot air or gas which made them fly were not other than ionized molecules, as water in clouds: charged hydrogen hydroxide, zillions of tons floating over our heads, which when discharged ….just fall down: Not having anymore enough charge are attracted acquiring the same polarity as ground (electrostatic attraction) they become what we call “rain” (hydrogen peroxide).
    Thus, all we have to do is to free ourselves from preconceptions and get disentangled from that soup of words. Every flying machine, rockets included, are anti-gravity artifacts, as this funny ball. Anti-Gravity won´t be invented because it has been already invented.

    Click to access unified_field_explained_9.pdf

  14. R. de Haan says:

    For who’s interested in the best and most affordable tech for drones outside the military market including gps autonomous flight:


  15. R. de Haan says:

    Thank you Adolfo, well said.

    What I see with all this flying projects and the fast integration of technologies is that there is no limit to human creativity.

    Unfortunately the same goes for the criminal potential that currently has infected our government bodies and our elite’s.

    I really hope the entire parasitic system will collapse short term and the pundits get tarred, feathered and driven out of town.

  16. P.G. Sharrow says:


    Gravity = about 60 hp per 1000lbs. Add 60hp to 1000lbs and walla. You are off the ground. anti-gravity is easy, just an engineering problem. 8-)

    I prefer electricity myself. pg

  17. adolfogiurfa says:

    @P.G. Sharrow Electricity is the “verbum dismissum” (the forgotten word): Electron. Boil up water it will “evaporate”, will go up. Those 60 HP (~44.13 kw)
    just add it to a confined gas (like when heating up air in hot air baloon). It´s all only a matter of semantics…. :-)

  18. E.M.Smith says:

    @R. de Haan:

    Well, add an electronic ‘release’ and that hexacopter is nearly ideal for me ‘dirt cheap man portable precision autonomous bomber’… So take the ranging laser goggles and tie it into the existing gps controls and “viola”; it can take a kilo up, over the heads of “whoever” and let it drop… then return for another…

    If I were a squad leader of a squad of grunts, having one guy with one of those and a few kilo bombs would give me a nice warm feeling about having my own ‘air force’ in a hurry when I needed it…

    Suppose ‘bad guys’ could also use them to deliver kilo baggies over the border, too…

  19. Doug Jones says:

    R. de Haan (04:40:00) rminded me of this-

    Galaxy Song

    Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
    And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
    That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
    A sun that is the source of all our power.
    The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
    Are moving at a million miles a day
    In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
    Of the galaxy we call the ‘Milky Way’.
    Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
    It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
    It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
    But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.
    We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
    We go ’round every two hundred million years,
    And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
    In this amazing and expanding universe.

    The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
    In all of the directions it can whizz
    As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
    Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.
    So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
    How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
    And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
    ‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.

  20. Richard Ilfeld says:

    @R.De Haan The fish reminds me a little of the Bugatti (aircraft) for purity of design. The Bugatti flew well, and there is a replica underway I think. The gliders you fly are tending towards an optimum shape as well — sort of a “if it looks good it’ll fly good”. But of course, that’s not the only path to flight –
    Barney’s Facetmobile….? As a homebuilder – I tend to think that if it flies, it’s pretty, A Lover’s eyes sort of thing. probably true al all these designs too although that russian beast is something only a mother could love :<)

  21. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. “In the end, what makes it ‘cool’ is that it’s a novel way to make a ‘crossover’ vehicle that can both hover and fly in winged flight, but without a lot of tilt rotors and gimbals and stuff. ( I suspect ‘fuel’ use in hover is not that good, though… as you are basically hanging on the prop…)”

    Tesla’s famous steam turbine was, so he said, originally conceived as a power plant for a vertical take off aircraft. He said that upon his arrival in America, he already had some preliminary sketches of his design (this would have been in the 1880s) but he did not receive a patent until the 1920s.
    The basic design was a biplane with an over-sized propeller and an engine that could be temporarily (for a few minutes) run at several times its normal rated power output. The pilot flies normally in the horizontal mode, but, as you phrase it, hangs on the prop in hover mode with the engine maxed out. Would it work? Maybe with modern controls and materials, but likely not with Tesla’s original design.

  22. Jason Calley says:

    @ P.G. Sharrow “Add 60hp to 1000lbs and walla. You are off the ground. ”

    I have just such a design on my drafting table, but so far have not been able to find a supply source for the sky-hook I need to place on the end of my winch.

  23. Jason Calley says:

    @ Doug Jones

    Wow! My brother and I were talking last night, saying, “How hard would it be to scale up a hexacopter to carry a person?” I did not realize it had already been done. Cool! I want one. Or two, or three.

  24. E.M.Smith says:

    @Doug Jones:

    One of my favorite songs!

    Oh, and I want one of those copter thingys… just don’t fall into the props…

    @Richard Ilfeld:

    While I generally subscribe to the notion that ‘beauty flies well’, I’ve seen some awfully ugly things that worked really well… The Warthog comes to mind… (A-10)

    @Jason Calley:

    Ah… an understanding happens… The Tesla Turbine is about 90% efficient at low power / low flow rates, but as the flow rate goes way high, efficiency drops down to the 45% range (steam takes a more radial path with less contact time to the rotors). In modern use that is seen as a ‘problem’ as the max power comes at very low efficiency.

    However, if making a device that needs a short ‘way over power’ surge to take off and land: a profile of very efficient at cruise, with inefficiency but the ability to ramp power ‘way high’ with no added weight at TO, it becomes a feature. Just like the Harrier has crappy efficiency in hover mode.

    Ought to make a decent motorcycle motor then. HUGH surge at ‘take off’, then a long time at lower power cruise… Anyone want to make a steam motorcycle to try it out? ;-)

  25. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. Lots of argument over the years about Tesla Turbines. I have read that some of the arguments are caused by experimenters who do not build the actual patented design, but modify it slightly. There are some design features — for instance the various rivets which hold the plates in alignment — which seem to be not needed with modern alloys. Builders leave them out, but do not realize that they do, in fact serve subtly to constrain flow, especially at start up. Then the builders report that Tesla Turbines do not work well, not knowing that their own “improvements” have invalidated the tests.

    I have wondered whether a Tesla Turbine could be placed in a magnetic field and made into a all-in-one steam turbine and homopolar generator. Not sure what I would use 10,000 amps at two volts for… maybe hydrolysis?

  26. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Jason wants to know what to do with 10,000 amps at 2 volts? ;-) Tesla would have turned that into 10,000 volts at 2 amps.

    Interesting idea, to spin generator / turbine as one. The field and power coils would have to be stationary as the turbine speeds would destroy anything on or in the rotor. pg

  27. Jason Calley says:

    @ P.G. Sharrow You are probably right about Tesla. :)

    Still, no, not exactly spinning generator / turbine as one. The point is that they would actually BE the same. A homopolar generator does not have normal power coils — and these days (with the advances in magnets) would probably use a permanent magnet as the field. The rotor plate itself is the “power coil.” The current induced in the flat rotor is taken off as the generator output. It is almost a one turn power coil. The result is very high amperage, but equally low voltage. The most common difficulty in their construction is designing a good brush arrangement — but Tesla actually came up with a novel approach to that as well.

    One of the things that still mystifies me is that a homopolar generator has a certain type of asymmetry. You spin a conductive plate by a stationary magnet and you get power output. You hold the plate stationary and spin the magnet, and you get… nothing! Seems very odd, but there it is.

  28. P.G. Sharrow says:

    @ Jason; I am afraid you have been misinformed about generator construction. Whether spinning the conductor or the magnet the results are the same. The devil is in the construction details. The need is to cut lines of force created by the “magnet” with a conductor so that the energy can be removed to the “load”. Many generators or alternators spin a magnet, powered or permanent, to cause power generation in fixed coils. In others the “magnets” powered or permanent are fixed and power is created in the rotating member.
    To create a Tesla turbine /generator you would have to solve the problem of making the rotor serve double duty as well as the turbine housing. The needs and problems of one is greatly different from the other. This is why the prime mover (power) is generally coupled to the generator on a common shaft arrangement, equal but separate. Just an engineering problem. ;-) pg

  29. Jason Calley says:

    @ P.G. Sharrow

    Well, Lord knows I have been never afraid to be wrong (and sometimes way too certain at the same time!) but I think that in this case there is a fundamental difference between standard generators and the homopolar type. I even managed to turn up a wiki about it.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_paradox I did a quick read of it, but not cloes enough to understand their take yet, so below is just my version of the paradox.

    You are absolutely correct about normal generators not caring whether it is the field that rotates or the conductor, but it is a little stranger — actually simpler in some ways, but counter intuitive — with the homopolar generators (let me call them “HG”s.) In an idealized HG, the conductor is a spinning circular plate and the field strength is constant and unchanging across the radius of the plate. Let’s call this test number one: The plate spins, and the passage through the field induces a radial electric field from the axis toward the rim ( at right angles to both the field and the direction of motion.) OK, this sounds right, everything is normal and expected. But repeat the experiment (let’s call this test two) and keep the plate stationary while the magnet spins. It really does seem to me that you would again get a current. After all, why should the electrons care whether they are standing still or the magnet is standing still? All I can tell you is that in the real world it does not happen. It seems like it ought to! So why doesn’t the plate carry a current when the magnet is spun and the plate stays stationary? The best I can come up with — and I admit that it is kind of hand waving on my part — is the because the magnetic field is symmetric about it’s axis, there is no way for a test particle to tell whether the magnet is rotating or not. The field is the same either way. OK, but if that is the case then how does the plate in the first test, test one, tell whether it is rotating in the field? If the field never changes, how do we detect rotation? Oh, and it gets worse! For test three, glue the magnet to the face of the plate and spin BOTH of them at the same time. Now we have NO relative motion between the field and the plate, and we get….current!

    Ow! My head hurts! This does not make sense! Faraday discovered this in the first part of the 19th Century, but it does not make sense!

    Somehow — and Einstein would shoot me if he were here — it seems (at least to me) as if there really IS some preferred reference frame, at least for rotational motion, even if not for linear motion. It seems as though the conductor has to rotate in space and who cares about the field, at least as long as it is symmetric, as long as it is “hairless”. I am not bold enough to claim that there really IS a preferred frame, but that is sure what is looks like.

    P.G., you may be able to explain this to me, and if I am wrong about this, I hope you WILL explain it. It just mystifies me, and honestly it would be much simpler if I really am just plain old wrong about these things.

  30. Jason Calley says:

    @ P.G. By the way, from a practical point of view, you are probably correct that a combined turbine / generator would cause more engineering problems that would be worth while. As you say, “just an engineering problem”, but probably one that would be better side stepped.

  31. P.G. Sharrow says:

    @ Jason; Two things come to mind,

    #1 Electrons seem the exhibit mass and will move to the edge of the spinning disk.

    #2 Electrons push against each other and migrate to the edge of the thing they are on.

    Both of these behavior are used for electrostatic generators.

    My impression;
    Flying saucers use this to create powerful fields outside the craft by using magnetic fields inside the craft to push a skin of electrons on the outside.
    The most powerful fields wind up on the saucer edge.
    At this point we are getting out into the ozone of what is and is not known. 8-) pg

  32. P.G. Sharrow says:

    @ All; site that offers “Tesla” type turbine:


    I haven’t had time to dig further into this site as I stumbled into it while getting up to date on Rossi’s Ecat. pg

  33. R. de Haan says:

    @Richard Ilfeld (14:54:08)
    Just curious, what did you build?

  34. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jason Calley:

    The rivets were added by Tesla after the first design. They aid low RPM start up and don’t hurt high speed efficiency that much.

    Many folks make T.T.s and put too much gap between the blades (thinking that the tiny spaces in the original would give more power if only more steam could move – missing the whole surface drag thing… )

    Then there are the variable nozzle designs. Lots of room for “oopsy” there, too.

    Oh, and the Tesla valve was rather special too.


    as it had no moving parts and only let a fluid move one direction…

    Another thing folks screw up is the annular conduit space (the holes in the middle that let the steam out) and then there’s the ends where if you don’t have the ‘fit’ right you get losses at the ends of the turbine stack…

    Oh, and lots of folks ‘juice’ the steam volume to get max power and then report poor efficiency. Now we know that’s a ‘feature’ as it is optimal for cruise efficiency and that ought to be considered an ‘overload pulse power’ setting, like running a jet with afterburners…

    I think it would be interesting to make one out of modern materials and see what happens, following the original design very closely…

    Hmmm…. Homopolar generator eh? Well, just take 100 of them and you have 200 V…

    @R. de Haan:

    Interesting things can be done with cylinders… you can even use them as sails…


    and since any sail is a wing… of some sort and efficiency…

  35. P.G. Sharrow says:

    During my R&D to develop a better fume scrubber, I created a tesla turbine stack and drove it at various speeds to test for air flows and mixing. The most interesting thing to me was that it created an axial tornado toward the central openings, this stayed together for some distance in front of the device. Blower inlets generally require close fitting inlet cones to reduce suction losses. The tesla turbine blower could have a much looser fit and not leak. pg

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