It wasn't Stipa's fault, though: His primary interest was in demonstrating the efficiency of the engine prototype, and it actually succeeded in that regard well beyond expectations. It's just that, like all eccentric geniuses, he got so focused on getting one thing perfect that he plain forgot to bring the rest of the plane. The end result was a brilliant, stable, efficient new power source ... with two stubby wings plugged into each side and a pilot comically strapped directly on top of the engine like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove.
"Uh, hey ... Ground Control? I think someone circumcised my plane."
The Stipa-Caproni was a universally terrible plane, but the concept was sound; it is commonly believed that Stipa's design was the inspiration for the modern jet engine. That's right: That flying garbage disposal up there was the great-granddaddy of those bitchin' fighter planes from Top Gun.
Engineers in the early 1900s frequently used tetrahedron cells -- an open-ended pyramid-shaped design -- in civil engineering because they had a good strength-to-weight ratio. Then Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the metal detector and patent fraud, heard they were "good," clapped his hands and ran off to build a plane out of them.
"And we'll use the leftover parts to start American Gladiators a century early!"
Fortunately, nobody thought to remind Bell that just because something is strong, that doesn't mean it can fly -- gorillas, for example, rarely get airborne -- and that just because he invented the telephone, it doesn't automatically make him an aircraft engineer. We say "fortunately," because Bell's building-inspired aircraft, the Cygnet, actually flew. It consisted of 3,393 tetrahedral cells forming a massively bulky wingspan that stretched 42.5 feet, but only weighed a paltry 208 pounds. An unmanned flight was conducted in 1907, with the Cygnet tethered to a steamship on a lake. When the steamship took off, the Cygnet -- looking for all the world like a set of bleachers at a high school football game -- inexplicably launched into the sky. Less inexplicably, it crashed upon landing. Bell was undeterred by the whole "can't ever come back down" problem and had the Cygnet repaired for another test run.
Only this time there was a person in it.
We're not sure if he was in there on purpose or just got his foot caught at the worst possible time.
Just like the initial run, the Cygnet lifted off and was able to ascend 168 feet. And again, just like the initial run, the plane made entirely out of K'Nex roughly slammed back into the water after seven minutes of flight, flipped over, snapped in two and sent the world's bravest and least surprised pilot into the icy lake. Thankfully, said pilot survived ... only to become the first person to die in a manned air flight some seven months later while testing another lunatic's experimental aircraft.
A lunatic named Orville Wright.
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For more haphazard pieces of aviation history, check out 7 Planes Perfectly Designed (To Kill The People Flying Them) and 8 WTF Aircraft Designs That Actually Caught Air.