Bill Rose, Flying Saucer Technology, Ian Allan (Midland Publishing), 2011.

The title gives the misleading impression that this is just the latest in a succession of cranky books about anti-gravity devices and other unlikely propulsion systems for spacecraft, going back to Leonard Cramp's Space, Gravity and the Flying Saucer (1954), and possibly earlier. However, this book is about aircraft, including many with more or less circular wings, which could be reported as flying saucers or UFOs.

The origin of the use of spinning discs originates at least as long ago as 708 BC when the discus became an established part of the Greek Olympic Games.

During the early 20th century a number of circular-winged aircraft were designed, and some of them actually flew, though usually on short test flights. It seems that most such aircraft, some of very ingenious design, never left the drawing board. Towards the end of the 1930s, improvements in aircraft engines stimulated attempts to design aircraft which could take off and land vertically or by using short runways and travel at high speeds in level flight. A number of aircraft with approximately circular wings resulted, though some never flew.

The chapter on the post-war era is particularly interesting. Rose states: "Although there have been vigorous denials, it appears that the RAND Corporation (Research ANd Development), began to study UFOs soon after Arnold's sighting." He also states that "this work remains classified".

It is at this point, where the author starts to deal with somewhat contentious issues, that the lack of references becomes irritating to the serious reader, who will want to refer to them if only to assess their reliability.

Rose connects official US interest in UFOs to what began as informal discussions between engineers and military officers at Technical Intelligence at Wright Field. He states that the engineer Alfred Loedding and Brigadier General George Schulgren "both appear to have been in agreement that the most likely explanation [for UFO reports] was long-range Soviet reconnaissance aircraft developed from advanced Nazi technology".

Whatever the true motivations may have been, the US government devoted considerable resources to attempting to develop high-speed saucer-shaped aircraft, but without much success. Rose details the technical problems encountered and provides many illustrations, some of which may perhaps inspire keen aeromodellers.

There is a short chapter on possible sightings of secret tests of unconventional aircraft, including the alleged sighting - well known to keen ufologists - by Oscar Linke and his daughter in East Germany, of a circular flying object and two occupants, who got into the device, which then took off. Rose thinks this report might be genuine, even though it was originally reported to have occurred on 9 July 1952, but Linke later changed this to 17 June 1950, and Rose suggests possible reasons why the story might have been fabricated.

The final chapter is about airships and balloons, including Project Mogul and Roswell. There is also a discussion of the American 1897 sightings of mysterious airships and similar reports from other parts of the world. The author admits that most of these must have been misidentifications and hoaxes, but remarks: "On the other hand, it is probable that some of these reports can be attributed to test flights of privately built experimental airships that have never been revealed." He does not explain the failure to trace the origins of such enormous, noisy, slow-moving flying machines, however.

This book's large format and profusion of illustrations not only provides a useful summary of the history of unconventional aircraft, but will make it a worthy adornment of your coffee table. -- Reviewed by John Harney.

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